Christianity 201

May 6, 2020

Look, Speak With, But Don’t Hug the Post-Resurrection Jesus

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
– John 20:17 NIV

Today we return again to Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source.

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection?

Q. Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection because he hadn’t yet returned to the Father? Why would Jesus object to Mary clinging to him … that is really puzzling. You would think he would have reciprocated with a bear hug for about an hour, if only for her sake. What’s the connection between the return to the Father and not clinging to him?

This is indeed a puzzling matter, and interpreters have offered many different explanations for it. Personally I like the way that Raymond Brown explains it in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

Brown suggests, first of all, that when Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” we should not think he is speaking of the ascension that Luke describes as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Brown feels that that particular event, in which Jesus was seen ascending on the clouds into heaven, was intended to indicate evocatively that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had come to an end. Brown believes that Jesus also went to be with the Father in less visible ways in between his appearances to the disciples. The first of those times would have been right after the resurrection, and Mary would have seen him, in effect, on his way there.

As Brown understands it, this timing is actually crucial to the point John is making. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me.” Brown says that when Mary sees Jesus, “she thinks that he has returned as he promised and now he will stay with her and his other followers, resuming former relationships.” Jesus had also said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Brown says that Mary is “trying to hold on to the source of her joy, since she mistakes an appearance of the risen Jesus for his permanent presence with his disciples.” But instead, by “telling her not to hold on to him, Jesus indicates that his permanent presence is not by way of appearances but by way of the gift of the Spirit that can only come after he has ascended to the Father.” (Jesus had also told his followers at the Last Supper, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

So Jesus is basically saying to Mary, “I’m not on my way back from the Father” (this is not what my continuing presence with you will be like), “I’m on my way to the Father” (so that I can send the Spirit, who will be my continuing presence with you). So this would be yet another place in the Gospel of John where a person mistakes a physical reality for a spiritual one and Jesus needs to explain otherwise (as in the case of Nicodemus misunderstanding what it means to be “born again,” for example, or the woman at the well misunderstanding what Jesus meant by “living water,” and so forth).

Brown argues convincingly that the present imperative used here means “don’t cling to me” or “don’t hold on to me” rather than “don’t touch me.” So this isn’t an issue of what Jesus’ post-resurrection, pre-ascension body was like and how it could or couldn’t interact with earthly bodies. Rather, the issue is that Jesus’ followers are not to “cling to” him as they knew him on this earth, but rather experience his continuing presence through the Spirit he has sent from the Father.


Go Deeper:

Because Christopher Smith mentioned Raymond Brown, I thought some of you might be interested in further research Brown did on this topic, as located at Stack Exchange. (Warning: There’s quite a range of interpretations here!)

  • Jesus’ wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched.
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body.
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact.
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus’ body.
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus’ intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say “don’t touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news.”
  • In John Calvin’s commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven.

Alternative translations mentioned by Brown:

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as “touch me,” implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read “do not fear me”
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read “do not fear to touch me”

…we see as though through frosted glass, says the scripture, so some passages are not going to be immediately clear to everyone all the time.

 

November 1, 2019

Michael’s Argument With The Devil (You Remember That One, Right?)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today, after a break of a few years, we’re returning to the writing of Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch. Clicking the header below will take you to the article directly.

Difficult Bible Passages: Jude 1:9

This is without question a rather perplexing text!

There are various biblical texts which can be rather difficult to interpret and understand. This verse would certainly be one of them. The verse in question says this: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’

There are a number of questions that arise here. While some linguistic and textual issues could be considered, it is the biblical and theological issues that I will mainly look at. I have chosen this verse for at least two reasons. One, because it is indeed a difficult passage.

And two, because someone once tried to use this verse against me. But he was clearly misusing this text as he sought to rebuke me for calling out a false teacher. As I said in my reply to him:

Slander, as commonly understood, means this: “the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.” It is illegal because it involves falsehood. So calling out a false teacher has nothing to do with slander. The Jude text is based in legal language, and the principle here is that God is the ultimate judge in this matter. So too, God alone ultimately knows those who are truly his, but that does not mean we have no place in exposing bad doctrine and dodgy living. We are commanded to do this constantly in the New Testament.

So let me try to bring some clarity as to what this passage is in fact saying. The general context of the verse involves Jude’s concern with false teachers, and those who are being rebellious and pushing sexual license. They are, as he says in verse 4, “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

It is admittedly a very difficult text, since we don’t even have a specific Old Testament source for this episode. All we have on this is Deuteronomy 34:5-6: “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.”

What we have here is one of those rare cases where a New Testament writer is quoting from or referring to a non-canonical, or apocryphal book – in this case, the Jewish pseudepigraphal writing, the Assumption of Moses, or the Testament of Moses (from, approximately, the first century AD).

Jude’s readers would be familiar with a later OT incident as recorded in Zechariah 3:1-2: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’

So why is Jude alluding to this other book? In this apocryphal story Satan is accusing Moses of sin, and saying that he should therefore not be allowed to enter into God’s presence. But we have to ask this question: against whom does Michael dare not bring an accusation?

Most commentators take it to be Satan, but some have argued that Moses may in fact be in view. The scholars are divided on who is being referred to here. At best, I can offer a few quotes from those on either side of the debate. Let me run with the minority view on this. Dick Lucas and Christopher Green say this:

It is easy but very confusing to think he means Satan. But the Zechariah allusion to Joshua makes it certain. Jude means that Michael refrains from accusing Moses. The NIV brings out the difficulties of Jude’s subtle word-play well. It is important to notice, though, that the phrase translated bring a slanderous accusation has nothing to do with being rude or offensive. It is a legal phrase, meaning ‘to pass a judgment or decision about slander’. Satan was apparently accusing Moses of slander. Even Michael did not dare to make a legal decision about Moses in this case, but handed the decision over to God and rebuked Satan for his presumption.

As to those who take it as a reference to Satan, Douglas Moo says this: “Presumably, Jude’s point is that the false teachers are so presumptuous as to do what even Michael, the archangel, refused to do: rebuke, without the Lord’s authority and backing, Satan or his associates. For Michael did not himself rebuke Satan; he called on the Lord to do so. The false teachers, however, disparage evil angels on their own authority.”

Or as Thomas Schreiner comments, “Michael refused to utter a word of judgment against the devil. The verse, then, has a simple contrast. Michael did not dare to pronounce a condemning judgment upon the devil. He left the judgment of Satan in God’s hands, asking God to finally judge him. Such a reading of the verse fits well with our understanding of 2 Pet. 2:10-11.”

Richard Baukham offers an explanation about how this text ties in with the larger context of Jude’s letter:

Michael’s behavior contrasts with that of the false teachers when they reject the accusations which the angels, as spokesmen for the Law, bring against them. They do so because they claim to be above all such accusations, subject to no moral authority. In fact, even if they had the status of Moses or Michael, they would remain subject to the divine Lawgiver and Judge. Given the context of the allusion, which Jude’s readers knew, v 9 effectively exposes the spiritual conceit of the false teachers, whose attitude to the angels reveals a resistance to authority which will not even be subject to God.

Questions will likely remain about this passage. It is certainly a tough one, and one that I do not claim to have the final word on. But the general point is the rebuke of the immoral false teachers who seemed to be pushing a hyper-grace sort of message.

N. T. Wright offers this by way of a summary statement:

Once you reject supernatural authority, it’s easy to reject human authorities as well, whether in the church or in the wider world. And once you do that, the most obvious thing is to cast off restraint in any and every aspect of behaviour, not least in relation to sex….

The teachers are overthrowing or ignoring the proper structures of authority, and the result is moral chaos and pollution. . . . The teachers appear to offer a way of life which is exciting, different and liberating; but the only thing they achieve is shame, darkness and chaos.

Given all the difficulties involved here, it is always helpful to bear in mind this general principle of biblical interpretation: it is always wise not to use a perplexing text and allow it to form the basis of discussing or refuting more clear passages. Instead, we should move in the opposite direction: use the clear(er) passages to help illuminate and explain the less clear texts.

 

May 4, 2019

What Does Romans 11:29 Mean?

NIV.Rom.11.29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

We were discussing this verse this week, and the way that a mutual friend of our had mis-interpreted or mis-applied it.

Here’s some alternatives from BibleGateway.com

  • God doesn’t take back the gifts he has given or forget about the people he has chosen. (CEV)
  • God never changes his mind about the people he calls and the things he gives them (Expanded Bible; NCV)
  • God never changes his mind when he gives gifts or when he calls someone. (God’s Word)
  • For God does not change his mind about whom he chooses and blesses. (Good News/TEV)
  • For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (KJV)
  • For once they are made, God does not withdraw his gifts of his calling. (Phillips)
  • For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn; he will never go back on his promises. (Living Bible)
  • For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. (NLT)
  • And when God chooses someone and graciously imparts gifts to him, they are never rescinded. (Passion Translation)
  • You see, when God gives a grace gift and issues a call to a people, He does not change His mind and take it back. (The Voice)

Even in these translations, we see some variance as to the intent of this verse. Is it about gifts? Calling? Blessing? Election (choosing)? (We’ll come back to the translation challenge at the very end.)

In the meantime, here are four search-engine results answering today’s question, as to the meaning of this verse.

From BibleInOneYear.org :

…In Romans 11 Paul is answering the question, ‘Has God rejected his people?’ His answer is, ‘No, no, no’: ‘God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable’ (v.29). As The Message version puts it, ‘God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never cancelled, never rescinded’ (v.29, MSG).

Yet Paul still grapples with the apparent reality that most have not accepted Jesus. He speaks about them ‘stumbling’ (v.11) and experiencing a ‘hardening’ (v.25). They are now like olive branches that have been ‘broken off’ (v.17). In this passage he tries to explain how this can fit with the unbreakable promises that God has made to the Jews. He highlights three key points:

  • First, this hardening was only partial. There has always been a remnant, chosen by grace (vv.11–16).
  • Second, the hardening was fruitful, since it led to riches for the Gentiles: ‘When they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in’ (v.11, MSG).
  • Third, the hardening was temporary. ‘“Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No’ (v.11, MSG). ‘This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary’ (v.25, MSG). ‘Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!’ (v.12, MSG).

This last point is particularly important to Paul, who cares passionately about his people. He eagerly anticipates the full inclusion of the people of Israel (v.12). He goes on to say that ‘all Israel will be saved’ (v.26). He does not say ‘if’ this happens, but ‘when’ this happens. He uses an olive tree as a picture of the Jewish nation (vv.17,24). Christ came. The nation rejected him. The tree was chopped down but the roots were left. The gardener grafts in the Gentiles (v.17).

The time is coming when the Jewish branches will be grafted back (vv.23–24, MSG). Then the whole tree will be complete…

At the Bible Q&A Forum eBible.com (click the link to see the references as links):

Paul made this statement from Romans as part of a discussion concerning the salvation of the Jewish people.

Ever since God’s calling of Abraham in Genesis 12; God had chosen Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (also known as Israel) as the people from whom the Messiah — Whom God had promised immediately after mankind first fell into sin (Genesis 3:15) — would be descended.

God provided greater detail concerning this promise over time, indicating that the Messiah would be specifically descended from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and then from the lineage of David (Psalm 132:11 and Isaiah 9:7).

Although many centuries elapsed prior to Jesus’ birth, God’s promise was realized when Mary (who was descended from David through his son Nathan (Luke 3:23-38)) gave virgin birth to Jesus. (Although Mary’s husband Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, he was also descended from David through the royal line of Solomon, as recorded in Matthew 1:1-17.)

Although Jesus and His original followers had all been Jewish, the Jewish people, for the most part, had not accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior. Starting in Acts 10; God opened the Christian church to the Gentiles, and, over time, the Christian church became an institution that was composed predominantly of Gentiles rather than Jews.

However (according to Paul in the passage being asked about), this does not mean that God’s calling of, and promises to, Abraham and his descendants have been nullified or superseded. The covenant that God made with them is, as Paul characterized it, “irrevocable”, or, as the questioner put it, “without repentance” on God’s part. As indicated by Paul in Romans 11:25, after all the Gentiles who will be saved will have come to Christ, God will show mercy on the descendants of Abraham, and they, too, will finally accept Christ and also receive the gift of salvation.

From a longer answer at BelieveTheSign.com (click also for footnotes, etc.)

The “call” of God clearly refers to the election according to which the Jews were God’s chosen race. The “gifts” may then be combined with “call” as one idea — “the benefits of God’s call” — or be taken as a distinct category — “the gifts and the call of God.” The relationship between this passage and Romans 9:1–5 suggests that Paul referred to the “gifts” as a summary of those privileges of Israel that he enumerated in Romans 9:4–5. God’s “call,” then, is probably to be seen as one of the most important of those gifts: “the gifts and especially, among those gifts, the call of God.” The rare word “irrevocable” emphasizes the point that Paul made at the beginning of his argument: “The word of God has not failed” (Romans 9:6a).

“Without repentance” is translated in newer versions as “irrevocable” but the basic meaning is “without regret,” as in 2 Cor. 7:10, the only other use place where this term is used in either the Old or New Testament: “repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.” The meaning of this term is confirmed in the writings of Aesop (“but his coming was without regret” – τοῦ δὲ ἀμεταμελήτως ἐλθόντος, Fabulae 83.2.6) and Plato (“of a deed done without regret”).

Although God was free to withdraw the privileges extended to Israel (like humans often come to regret and then to renege on their gifts and commitments), God’s faithfulness remains firm. In the end, despite the current rejection of the divinely designated Messiah by a large portion of Israel, the divine gifts and calling will achieve their intended purpose of salvation.

What is very clear is that the passage does not refer to the gifts of the Spirit. It refers only to the nation of Israel.

From AnswersFromTheBook.net :

But what about all those promises the Lord made to the nation of Israel?  Has He now changed Him mind because of their unbelief?  No, He has not!  Romans 11:29 tells us, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”  This means that the blessings and promises of the Lord are unchangeable.  What He has promised to Israel, He will perform.  There will come a day, when Israel is taken up once again as the chosen people of God.  During the seven-year Tribulation period, the Lord will once again raise up this nation and will bless them according to His promises.  As we read in Romans 9:26-27, “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.

There is also a wonderful and practical truth to Romans 11:29.  We can rest assured that when the Lord makes a promise to us, there is nothing that can change that promise.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Titus 1:1-2, “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”  While the world is full of broken promises, we can rest assured that the Lord never breaks a promise that He makes to us.  We read in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)”  (133.4)

…Is it clearer for you now? I thought it was interesting after I previewed today’s article and then did a word search on it, that only one writer spoke in terms of covenant. It would seem that this word most clearly expresses God’s covenant to Israel.

Now then…if you took the time to read all four commentaries on the verse, go back and read the various translations at the beginning of today’s piece. Do you think the rendering of this verse by the various translation teams could have been done differently?

 

September 13, 2016

What is Meant by Binding and Loosing

NIV Matthew 18:18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

binding-and-loosingThere are many variances on the meaning of this particular verse, as outlined below.

Barnes Notes:

He employs them here to signify that they all had the same power; that in ordering the affairs of the church he did not intend to give Peter any supremacy or any exclusive right to regulate it. The meaning of this verse is, whatever you shall do in the discipline of the church shall be approved by God or bound in heaven. This promise, therefore, cannot be understood as extending to all Christians or ministers, for all others but the apostles may err.

Equip.org:

[no quotation available; commentary focuses on what it does not mean — binding demons — but does not provide a clear explanation]

Pulpit Commentary:

The Lord solemnly confers the grant made to Peter (Matthew 16:19) on the whole apostolate. The binding and loosing, in a restricted sense, and in logical connection with what precedes, refer to the confirmation and authorization of the sentence of the Ecclesia, which is not valid, so to speak, in the heavenly court till endorsed by Christ’s representatives – the apostles. Whether the verdict was the excommunication of the offender (“bind”) or his pardon and restoration (“loose”), the ratification of the apostles was required, and would be made good in heaven. The treatment of the incestuous Christian by St. Paul is a practical comment on this passage. The congregation decides on the man’s guilt, but St. Paul “binds” him, retains his sins, and delivers him to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:1-5); and when on his repentance he is forgiven, it is the apostle who “looses” him, acting as the representative of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10). In a general sense, the judicial and disciplinary powers of the Christian priesthood have been founded on this passage, which from early times has been used in the service of ordination. Each body of Christians has its own way of interpreting the promise. While some opine that, speaking in Christ’s name and with his authority, the priest can pronounce or withhold pardon; others believe that external discipline is all that is intended; others again think that the terms are satisfied by the ministration of the Word and sacraments, as a physician gives health by prescribing remedies.

GreatBibleStudy.com

Binding is like a temporary spiritual handcuffing. You can bind a demon spirit, much like tying something up with rope or chains. You cannot bind a person’s free will, but you can bind the demons affecting or influencing that person. Binding is NOT the same practice as casting out demons, casting out demons brings fourth lasting results, whereas binding is only to tie them down for a period of time. If you are trying to talk to or minister to somebody, and they seem impossible to get through to it can be helpful to bind up the spirits inside that person, which will handcuff the enemy so you can directly and effectively minister to that person without having them continually held back by the enemy’s interference. Another good time to bind is when the person isn’t ready for a deliverance and you are not willing to put up with their demonic personality.  (emphasis in original)

Loosing, like binding, can be done here on earth, and takes effect in the spiritual realm. Loosing however, refers to the loosing of a captive or person in bondage. You bind demons, and you loose the captives. When Jesus set free the woman with the issue of blood, He said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)

GotQuestions.org

Jesus is speaking directly to the apostle Peter and indirectly to the other apostles. Jesus’ words meant that Peter would have the right to enter the kingdom himself, that he would have general authority symbolized by the possession of the keys, and that preaching the gospel would be the means of opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers and shutting it against unbelievers. The book of Acts shows us this process at work. By his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40), Peter opened the door of the kingdom for the first time. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common to Jewish legal phraseology meaning to declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed.

Peter and the other disciples were to continue Christ’s work on earth in preaching the gospel and declaring God’s will to men, and they were armed with the same authority as He possessed. In Matthew 18:18, there is also a definite reference to the binding and loosing in the context of church discipline. The apostles do not usurp Christ’s lordship and authority over individual believers and their eternal destiny, but they do exercise the authority to discipline and, if necessary, excommunicate disobedient church members.

Christ in heaven ratifies what is done in His name and in obedience to His Word on earth.

IVP New Testament Commentary

Bind and loose refer to the judicial authority of gathered Christians to decide cases on the basis of God’s law. Most scholars thus recognize that this passage applies to church discipline (Cullmann 1953:204-5; R. Fuller 1971:141). The more popular use of “binding” today in many circles (exercising authority over the devil) resembles instead an ancient practice in the magical papyri-also called “binding” (see note on 12:29)-of manipulating demons to carry out a magician’s will. (The Bible does support Christians’ authority to cast out real demons-compare comment on 17:17-but the only “devils” in this passage are fully human ones, and they are being cast out of the church!)

Not found

One version I did not find online was that this passage is referring to the yoke of a rabbi, and refers to whatever you forbid and whatever you permit. That’s possibly closer to the context than you might at first realize, but it has a completely different nuance.

Translation comparison

A look at various translations however is more supportive of what you just saw in the preceding paragraph. The Amplified Bible has, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven.” This meaning may appear to be ‘bound’ (for lack of a better word) to what is first established in heaven (by the inclusion of the word already.)

The HCSB also is unique in its time-frame with the phrases “is already bound in heaven,” and “…is already loosed in heaven;” as opposed to the more broadly used “will be.”

The ICB renders this as “I tell you the truth. The things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. The things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.”

The Message Bible is very different on this “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”

Finally, Young’s Literal Translation expresses the verb-tense challenge, “Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Sometimes in our Bible study we have to accept that certain passages are challenging in terms of meaning. For many years, the KJV dominated the English Bible landscape, and often their word choices became set in stone as far as the meaning of the words goes.

But I don’t believe God intends us to be confused or bewildered. Don’t feel you need to buy into what a particular pastor says on this. Ask God to give you wisdom as you read, so that you might end up with an interpretation which you own. Dig into the whole chapter and see what God shows you.


Go Deeper: Today’s graphic image appears at a much longer article than anything we’ve linked to here and from a Pentecostal perspective. (Appropriate, since this verse is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics.)

Click to read the article Enrichment Journal of the Assemblies of God Church.

 

October 27, 2015

Does God Stack the Deck Against Us?

It’s been a couple of years since we last visited the blog of Joel J. Miller; and this article is a very, very good fit here at C201. You may have noticed I usually give the republished articles a different title above than the what follows below, but today I think the author’s title very accurately captures the dilemma in reading the Matthew and Exodus passages.

Click the title below to read this at the author’s blog along with some comments people have added there.

Does God stack the deck against us?

There is a curious passage in Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus rebukes several cities. “Woe unto you, Chorazin!” he says, repeating the same for nearby Bethsaida and Capernaum (11.21, 23).

Why? Because Jesus performed miracles in each city and they ignored the wonders. They observed the miracles and did not repent. They failed to respond as they should have. But can we blame them?

Who’s fault is it?

Right after upbraiding these cities, Jesus thanks God for hiding “these things from the wise and understanding . . . for such was thy gracious will” (vv. 25-26). How can these cities be responsible for not responding if God denied them understanding?

It’s really the same question that arises from the Exodus. We hear repeatedly that Pharaoh hardened his heart. But we also hear that God hardened his heart. How can Pharaoh be responsible for his actions when God prevented him from showing mercy to the Israelites?

The answer lies in the opening of Romans.

“[T]he wrath of God,” says Paul, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1.18). God can be “clearly perceived” in his creation (v. 19), but according to Paul, we’ve pushed that perception out of our consciousness.

What we have in the case of the three cities and Pharaoh is not a case of God judging for what God makes impossible. Rather, God’s denial of revelation is simply confirmation that they’ve rejected the truth that was already available to them.

God did not, in other words, stack the deck against. He confirmed the already-existing state of affairs—that they had denied the truth and wanted nothing to do with him.

Him who has, him who has not

Jesus gives us another angle from which to view this problem a bit later in Matthew. After Christ tells the Parable of the Sower, the disciples ask him why he won’t give it to his listeners straight. Why all these opaque stories?

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given,” says Jesus. “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (13.11-12).

The curse of the cities manifests the drama of this dynamic. The three cities have little, and what little they have is being taken away. Meanwhile, the disciples have much and so to them more is given.

Why do they have little? Because, as Jesus quotes Isaiah, “this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed. . .” (v. 15).

This is just another way of saying what Paul says in Romans 1—only perhaps more so because, as Paul also says, the Jews had extra revelation from God.

They closed their eyes to the revelation that was offered. What right do they (or we) have to complain for God’s refusal to grant more?


Joel J. Miller is a writer and editor with more than fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry, including as a vice president and publisher for Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins. He is part of the Orthodox tradition and blogs at Theology that Sticks.

Digging Deeper: How does today’s article relate to the subject of free will versus divine election?

 

June 30, 2014

Assigned Texts: When You’re Given a Tough One

In preparation for today’s study, read Revelation 8 and chapter 9.

Sometimes the circumstances of preparing a series necessitates navigating through some tough texts. Ian Paul is a writer from the UK who recently discussed the challenges he was facing in some tough chapters of Revelation. You can read more at the blog Psephizo.

I’ve just been writing some Bible-reading notes for Scripture Union (due out next year) on the first half of Revelation. It has been quite a challenge to writing something accessible and devotional on this complex text!

In fact, the first few chapters were not too bad. There is much to say about the opening section, and the vision of Jesus it presents. The messages (not ‘letters’!) to the seven congregations (not ‘churches’!) also have plenty of scope for devotional reflection—perhaps more easily than any other part of the book as a whole (excepting ch 21), which is why I guess there is so much written on them. The visions of worship in chapters 4 and 5 are also relatively easy to engage with, though perhaps not in the way many people think—the blending of imagery from the OT with contemporary images from Emperor ‘worship’ offer a specific challenge to us. The saints under the altar in chapter 6 offer a way into this section, and chapter 7 gives an extended reflection on what it means to be the people of God—disciplined as an army, suffering in combat, but praising God not so much for what God has done or is doing but for what God will do. (Warning: book coming on this one day!).

And then we reach chapters 8 and 9. What do you do, devotionally, with hideous, war-mongering locusts with women’s hair and human teeth, clanking and rattling their iron breastplates? How will these help you to live for Jesus today? (A clue: this is not a futuristic vision of attack helicopters, as some would have you believe.)

I have been helped by going back to a number of commentaries—Caird, Boxall, Beale, Mounce—and I have previously spent quite some time dwelling in some of these passages. But I was particularly helped by what I would call the critically-informed theological reading in Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. What is interesting about this book is that it includes some introductory comments, but then goes on to offer a reading of each section of the text—not in a verse-by-verse format you would find in a commentary, but looking at the issues, the flow of the text, and how we might make some sense of it. Koester also has a great style of writing.

The opening observations about the structure of these two chapters caught my eye:

With each successive scene, disaster strikes earth, sea, and sky, until the demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8.7–9.21). The cycle is all the more ominous because the destruction unfolds in a relentlessly measured way. the effect is something like an orchestral performance in which the strings scrape dissonant chords while woodwinds shriek, trumpets blair, and cymbols crash in what seems to be wild discord—except that all the players move to a steady beat that is set by the conductor’s hand: one, two, three, four… (p 93)

I love this metaphor, and it captures well the theological tension in the text reflection by the juxtaposition of literary structure and symbolic chaos. God is in control—and yet, within this, the chaotic forces of evil appear to be shaping the world.

In relation to chapter 9, Koester highlights really well the feature of the ‘macro-structure’ of Revelation: the alternation between the heavenly scenes of peace and order, and the earthly scenes of chaos and destruction. (This is the main reason why the lectionary selection of passages does not work; it picks out mostly one kind of scene, the heavenly, and the significance of this is lost when such scenes are no longer contrasted with their earthly counterpoints.)

Revelation depicts life under two forms of rule. The vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 4–5 showed a rightly ordered universe, in which creatures offered praise to their Creator and to the Lamb, who are worthy of power. But in Revelation 9, grotesque figures create a demonic parody of the created order, showing what conditions are like under the lordship of the king of the underworld, whose names Abaddon and Apollyon mean Destruction and Destroyer (9:11). Each of the winged creatures that attended the Creator had its own distinct face, one with a human face and another with the face ofa lion, etc.; but the winged beings that accompany the Destroyer have a hideous collage of traits: lions’ teeth protrude from human faces, while in front their chests are plated with iron and in back they have tails like scorpions. Where the elders in the heavenly throne room cast their crowns before God as they raised a harmonious song of praise (4:10-1 1), the demonic locusts continue to wear crowns on their heads as they raise a pounding and clanking roar, like chariots going into battle.

The judgment depicted here is not direct divine punishment, but a revelation of what it would mean for God to hand over the world to other powers…(p 100)

Koester here nicely draws out the way that, in Revelation, literary structure is a key bearer of meaning. And his reading is theological, in the sense that this last phrase helped me make connections with Paul’s language of ‘handing over’ in Romans 1.24 and elsewhere. He also highlights the allusion to OT images (of locusts, plagues and the like), and would want to add in echoes of things in the first-century world, such as the ‘blazing mountain’ reminding readers of the eruption of Vesuvius.

This does not solve all the problems and challenges of Revelation, especially with the violence of its imagery. But it reminded me of the depiction of evil in Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. Interestingly, Tolkein’s vision was less an indulgence in fantasy as an expression of the reality of evil that he had encountered in the death and destruction of the Western Front in the First World War.

November 25, 2013

Difficult Texts: Christ Proclaimed to the Spirits in Prison

NIV I Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water

This article by Mike Leake appeared recently at the blog, Borrowed Light under the title, Does I Peter 3:18-20 Teach A Second Chance?  You’re encouraged to click through to read.

Martin Luther was a very confident and opinionated man. So when you read something like this it gives you pause:

“A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.”

The “wonderful text” that Luther referred to was 1 Peter 3:18-20. The most difficult part being verse 19, “in which [Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison”.

I had Mormons at my house the other day explaining that this verse taught that we have a second chance to receive the gospel after we are dead. They read this verse as saying that Jesus preached to spirits of men after they had died.

Is that true? If it’s not, what in the world is this verse talking about?

Context

The first question that we need to consider is why these verses are in our Bible in the first place. Peter didn’t just throw them in there for the fun of it. They are connected to what goes before and after. The word “for” in verse 18 is instructive. It means that what Peter says in this section is a ground—a reason for doing what is in the preceding verses.

In the preceding verses Peter is encouraging suffering believers to endure. Therefore, whatever interpretation of 3:18-20 that we adopt, it must provide help to suffering saints.

Options

There are four basic options to what this text is saying:

  1. Jesus was preaching by the Spirit through Noah to those trapped in sin during Noah’s day.
  2. Jesus went to the grave and liberated OT saints that were held in prison before his resurrection.
  3. Jesus descended into hell and preached to people, offering them the opportunity tot repent and be saved.
  4. Christ preached a message of victory and judgment upon evil angels.

The second and third options aren’t plausible because of the context. I find it difficult to see how the second view would be helpful to Christians suffering. Peter would be saying, “Persevere and continue in the faith because Jesus rescued OT saints in his resurrection.” The third is even more ridiculous. If accepted, Peter would be saying, “Persevere in suffering because you know that these unbelievers will be given a second chance to repent and believe”.

The first and fourth view would make sense of the context. The first one would be Peter saying, “Just as Noah was a minority and suffered under the hands of wicked men, but was also saved, so also you will be saved. Suffering is the way of Christ. It was true in Noah’s day and it’s true in ours. Therefore, endure.”

The fourth view would also make sense. Peter is showing how Christ has victory over evil angels. Therefore, in his victory over evil believers have hope. Knowing that the victory is won gives them hope to press on.

My Take

The context makes me lean towards the first interpretation. It’s also older, having been one proposed by Augustine. But there are some difficulties that make me wonder if the fourth option isn’t the best. One problem with the first view is that “spirits” is seldom a reference to people. Secondly, the first view doesn’t do justice to the word “went” or “has gone” (v.22) . As Schreiner notes, “God doesn’t really go anywhere if he preaches ‘through’ Noah”.

Either one of these are plausible in my opinion. At the end of the day our goal is to affirm that Jesus Christ is victorious. We also know that his victory comes through the path of suffering. Therefore, believers are to follow Christ in suffering on the road to glory. Because of the victory of Jesus we can endure, and we must!

Keep pressing on!

June 18, 2013

Does God Punish Children for their Parents’ Sin?

Today’s thoughts are from the Questions Answered section of the devotionals at Bible Gateway.  Simply go to Devotionals and then select from a variety of devotional formats. Note that in most categories, a new article is posted only every 4-5 days. This one appeared several weeks ago, but it’s a popular topic.

Numbers 14:18 (NIV)18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

God punishes people for their own, personal sin. Nowhere in the Bible do righteous believers pay eternally for their parents’ sins. God clearly states that a son who acts righteously, even though he has a sinful father, “will not die for his father’s sin” (Eze 18:14–20). The law states, ”Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt 24:16).

This is not to say, however, that nothing is passed on through the family tree. Sinful patterns of behavior are often passed on to family members. For example, an environment of alcoholism, sexual abuse or violence can scar children for life. But the children will answer to God for their own lives, not for those of their parents.

There are instances in the Bible where children experience the tragic consequences of their parents’ sins. For example, David’s affair with Bathsheba resulted in the death of the son from that union (see 2Sa 12:14,18). Today “crack babies” suffer for their mothers’ behavior of using crack cocaine. Until the addictive cycle is broken, generation after generation will be trapped by sin.

The good news of the gospel is that the cycle can be broken through obedience by faith. Hezekiah, the son of the wicked King Ahaz, broke the cycle when he turned to God. So did Josiah, the son of the tyrant Amon. When children break the pattern set by sinful parents, they can receive God’s blessing. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers power to break sin’s grip on families.

I think the verse in Numbers has to be tempered with the reference to Ezekiel given, not to mention a few other iterations of it in Ezekiel.  But I also think that we need to see the second part of this verse in the context of the first part.

This is a verse that exposes the nature of God; this picture of his “abounding in love” is actually a very New Testament image, and this verse is worth presenting to people who say the OT God and the NT God are simply too different to be the same.

But the verses that follow continue Moses appeal to God — and it’s important to note that the key verse in this is Moses speaking — and then God’s reply. Specifically, he is dealing with why the generation present at that time would not see the promised land.

We dealt with the topic of generational curses here last February. (I encourage you to read both that post and the first comment.)  At that time our key verse was different, but the passage also contained the juxtaposition of God’s judgment with his great love:

Exodus 20:5-6 ~ You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The writer there also noted that at no point does the term ‘curse’ appear in the text.  I think the passage has to be seen as referring to consequences. If you’ve ever watched a science fiction movie that has any reference to time travel, there is always the place where the time traveler has to be careful not to alter anything in the past or it has ripple effects which totally alter the future he or she must return to.

That is how I interpret these passages, however, I do allow that there are circumstances and situations where it does appear that very much un-blessing is passed down through generations. But where sin abounds, grace abounds more; the point at which lives are surrendered to God breaks the curse of sin and guilt.

February 7, 2013

Should You Call Out the Sin of Those in Leadership?

In the life of the local church, stuff happens. As you continue to follow Christ, you will be exposed to things that will frustrate you or even cause you to question how certain people got into Christian leadership in the first place. Some will tell you that you shouldn’t interfere with people who have spiritual headship over you. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed;” is the most commonly quoted verse. But others will tell you that sin is sin and needs to be so identified.

What will you do? Well, this blog is called Christianity 201 and not Christianity 101 for a reason: It’s about digging a little deeper into the Word, and that sometimes involves digging a little deeper into issues. So I decided to include this article by Steve Scott at the blog From The Pew. I always tell you to click through to read; I especially recommend doing so here because there is going to be at least one other part to this. (We’ll add the link as soon as it’s available.)  Steve called this: Elders Behaving Badly: Speak Up or Hush Up? (1)

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;”  Ephesians 5:3 NASV

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”  Ephesians 5:11-12 NASV

In the debate that has taken place over the rise of so-called “spiritual abuse” or “survivor” websites and blogs, one argument that has been made is that such people ought not discuss any sins of spiritually abusive pastors due to the above verses.  But before I go any further, I want to note that there has been more than one way that this passage is interpreted.  And the interpretations I have come across can lead to opposing beliefs about speaking up.  They are…

Hush Up

I have heard this interpretation my entire Christian life.  People have been taught to interpret these verses so that we should be silent about sin.  This is not a rare interpretation, and I think it has led to comments like this one.  The commenter asserts that it is shameful to even talk about their misdeeds.  Here’s the thinking behind the interpretation.  “…for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” v12.  One grammatical possibility for this verse (and there are more than one) is this.  I emphasized the word “even” to show the point.  Not only is it disgraceful to speak of the things done openly, it is even disgraceful to do so in secret.  So we can’t discuss the sins in question among us, even in secret, for it is a disgrace.  So, in this interpretation, the speaking about sin is what is in view and it is disgraceful. 

The sin itself is not in view.

This is given support by the same type of interpretation of verse 3.  The two interpretations go together.  “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”  This interpretation puts forth the idea that the names given to various sins should not be used in our conversation.  The sins should not be named.  And this is proper among saints.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, or a coincidence, that some of the people speaking out against the abuse blogs are people influenced by John MacArthur.  I found a site that compares commentaries of scripture, and if you scroll down far enough here, you will see that he warns about describing sin in his Eph. 5:12 comments.

So what does this interpretation have to say about exposing sin, as in “but instead even expose them”?  As the commenter said in my first link, we expose sin by the light of our proper living before God.  The summary of this “hush up” view is, “we shouldn’t discuss or name the sin, but expose it by godly living.

Speak Up

A “speak up” interpretation might look something like the following.  Contrary to the “hush up” view, the disgrace mentioned in verse 12 lies not in speaking about the sin, but in merely speaking about it in secret.  Secrecy is not where the sin should be spoken about, but rather it should be exposed: “but instead even expose them.”

And the exhortation in v3 to not have immorality named among the saints does not mean that we should not name sin, but that none of us should commit those sins so that the name can be pinned on us.

This does appear to be a difficult passage to interpret and apply consistently.  I will attempt to speak more to it in another post.

March 14, 2011

Light The Fire Again

Although I’m now a confirmed fan of Brian Doerksen’s worship music, I didn’t immediately gravitate toward the song “Light The Fire Again” when it was first becoming popular.  Only a few days ago, as I was reading the text it is based on in Revelation 3 (the letter to the church at Laodicea) did I really come to appreciate the song.

To craft a song like this you would need several things to be happening

  • At the most basic level, an awareness of the text
  • Second, a familiarity and comfort with the text.  Many times we shy away from poetic images or prophetic images, or even the book of Revelation itself
  • Finally, that familiarity with the text has to extend to an ability to restate the text in words that are immediate and relevant to our modern church experience.

Here’s the text itself:

(NIV) Rev 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Here’s the video and some devotional thoughts on the song that appeared here just a month ago.

Let’s go a different direction with this today:  We’re not all songwriters, but here are some questions to ask ourselves…

  • Are there texts we are unfamiliar with?  A recent study showed that in many churches, despite owning a vast collection of hymnbooks, there were really only 27 hymns that were common to all.  These are the “popular” hymns, the ones that survive even in churches that do modern worship.  It’s the same with Bible texts.  We have our favorites, our “go-to” places in the Bible that we perhaps read at the expense of other places God would have us discover.
  • Are there texts we are uncomfortable with?  Parts of the Bible we avoid?  I’m not talking about obscure genealogies or Levitical laws, but other places that don’t resonate with us, so we tend to skip over them instead of prayerfully reading them, asking God to show us more of His nature and His character in the words He inspired.   They should become part of us.
  • Could we re-state certain passages in ways that would connect with people living 21st Century lives?   Have we captured the “gist” of a passage enough to describe it, paraphrase it, or even put it into a song?  Or do we just skim the words and then close the book?

I’m not there yet.  I just think when we see writers who are able to take these passages and literally make them sing, we need to look into the depth of our own reading and processing of scripture, and if it’s somewhat lacking, take steps to move from a Christianity 101 approach up to the level of Christianity 201.

February 26, 2011

Selwyn Hughes on the Hard Sayings of Jesus


” ‘Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offence at him.”  ~ Matthew 13: 56-67 

So many churches proclaim only half the gospel — the attractive half. It is true that our Lord is risen from the dead and offers peace, joy, and the promise of heaven to those who believe, but there is another side to the gospel — a side which regrettably in some sections of the Church is being played down.

I refer to some of our Lord’s sayings which seem to turn general ideas about life on their head, like dying in order to live, losing in order to find, going down in order go up, freedom in the midst of slavery, success through failure, and so on. Many Christians sidestep these issues and focus instead on more appealing ideas, like the prosperity gospel, healing for all, obtaining heaven now, etc.  When we ignore what have been called “the hard sayings of Jesus,” we end up with a form of Christianity that has little cutting edge and is devoid of power. Focusing only only on the attractive part of the gospel may fill the pews, but it leaves the heart half empty.

Now, as the more appealing truths of the gospel — comfort, rest, peace, joy, etc. — are so widely known and so well expounded, we need not make them our focus.  …Meditate with me on the less appealing but equally important truths, the knowledge of which will add depth and meaning to our discipleship. Someone has said that “it is only as we grapple that we grow.”

I think one reason the less attractive things are ignored or overlooked is because the hard sayings of Jesus contain thoughts and ideas that challenge our self-centeredness and cut deep into our carnal nature. Indeed, so contrary are our Lord’s principles to fallen human nature that at times they appear downright offensive. Take this for example: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8:22). Or this statement made to the Syro-phoenician woman: “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 RSV). These hard sayings of Jesus (and there are many more) present us with tough issues that we have to wrestle with in order to fully comprehend them.

Those who prefer to settle for a comfortable kind of religion prefer what theologians call “the comfortable words of the gospel,” such as “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What we must learn however is that in grappling with the seemingly hard and offensive sayings of Christ, we come up against important issues which strike at those things which encumber our lives and prevents us from being the kind of disciples Christ wants us to be. If we refuse to face these issues then, although we may call ourselves Christians, we cannot really call ourselves disciples.

~Selwyn Hughes, Every Day With Jesus (Sept 1/2 readings, 1992)