Christianity 201

October 15, 2021

If It’s All Greek to You…

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Today’s article is less devotional and more about Bible study methods. Good and thorough study methods. The page Christ’s Words – The Mysteries of Jesus’s Greek Revealed is probably the most detailed verse-by-verse analysis of the New Testament in the original language that I’ve come across in years of sourcing material online. I searched for an author name, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and credit this to Gary Gagliardi, who describes himself as a “techno-linguist” who started his work studying ancient Chinese.

In the general introduction to the site he says,

Jesus’ words are unique for three reasons.

  1. His words were spoken, not written. Spoken language is inherently different than written language.
  2. His words changed the meaning of words, determining even how later NT authors’ used the Greek.
  3. His words were the basis of a unique historical revolution in the way people think.

What you’re about to see is only about 20% of the entire analysis of the verse in question, just to whet your appetite. And if you know someone who is a seminary student, you need to alert them to this website.

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory,

Spoken to:

Apostles

Context:

A parable about the final judgment of the sheep and the goats.

Greek :

Literal Verse:

When, however, he comes, this son of the man, in that acclaim of his, and all those messengers of his with him, then he will seat himself on a judge’s bench of his acclaim.

My Takeaway:

When it comes to a final judgment, Jesus chairs the meeting.

KJV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

NIV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects:

“Glory” is a word that means “recognition” and “reputation”. Translations as “glory” or “splendor” are found primarily in translating the Bible. The word “acclaim” comes closest to capturing the way Jesus uses the word.

“Throne” is from an untranslated Greek word that means “chair” but came to means “throne” (as the Greek source of our word). It also means the “chair” of a teacher, the “chair” of a state official, or the “chair” of a judge. Our English word “chair” is used in all of these ways as well. Jesus almost always uses it in the context of acting as a judge, so “judge’s bench.”. This is certainly its use in this story.

Related Verses:

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come

Mark 8:38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me…

Luke 9:26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words,


The article then continues with an analysis of all the Greek words used, an analysis of the English words used in the KJV, and an analysis of the English words used in the NIV.

Remember that what you just read is done for each verse.

Again, this is the link: Click here.

September 8, 2021

When Scripture Texts are Misused to Prove a Point

This article was jointly published by Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud. The article is contextually rooted in one Canadian province, but similar discussions have happened all over North America. The particular focus here is on the use of certain scripture texts to support the main argument, and whether those are being used correctly.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Now that vaccine passports have been officially announced for the province of Ontario, coming into effect Sept. 22, the rhetoric is intensifying. We all have one more thing about which to feel strongly, and on which to fiercely hold opinions. Which is understandable, considering the human rights implications and the endemic emotional fatigue.

Aside from our own gut reactions, we are looking for leadership, information, and (hopefully) wisdom on which to base our decisions about vaccination and its documentation in our lives. Many will simply never be convinced that it’s in their best interests, and will hold the line on remaining un-shot. As I write this, 16% of eligible Ontarians are still holding out.

Based on some conversations I’ve had, it seems (anecdotally) that people who identify as Christians make up a larger portion of that percentage than other faith groups. They give a few different reasons that I won’t recount here, because this article isn’t actually about vaccination, or about passports.

In fact, it’s about those leaders and information sources who have so much influence on believers. It’s about pastors, bloggers, vloggers. Like the people who are responsible for this document that is making the rounds:

https://www.libertycoalitioncanada.com/religious-freedom-from-vaccination-coercion

It must be good, right? It’s “confessionally orthodox.” It’s got scripture verses. It’s signed by people who call themselves Reverend Doctor, and Pastor. Heck, it’s even got Joe Boot, a name that means something to many.

Problem is, however well-intentioned, this document is a really awful piece of Scriptural application. However you feel about the principles the Declaration espouses (some of which are, IMHO, sound), the way the authors have used isolated Scripture passages to try to support their arguments is, just (pauses for a minute to find a diplomatic word… can’t) inept. If I had turned in this piece to my hermeneutics professor at seminary, his head would have imploded. As I said above, I think some of the authors’ theses have merit. But their scriptural arguments have not.

I’ve chosen two of the whereases (is that a word?) as examples of how we need to do our own homework when reading something like this, and ask ourselves whether Scripture is being appropriately exegeted, or whether it’s being proof-texted in order to lend the writers authority that they haven’t earned.

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AND WHEREAS Christians are commanded to live in light of God’s moral commands, including expressing love for one’s neighbour by resisting oppression and injustice, whether it be as a result of individual conduct or the actions of any State, agency or bureaucracy – including any immoral or unethical development such as coercive vaccination programs (Isa. 1:17; Matt. 22:39; Jam. 5:14)

Must be true, look at all those verses! Well, let’s take them one at a time:

Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:17

In this passage God is speaking to Israel, who have been taken into exile as a consequence of their covenant breaking behaviour and hearts. Cut and pasted, as I’ve done here, it certainly says what the Declaration authors want it to. But the context of this one verse, in the middle of a longer passage, is a call for Israel to return to her place, to rediscover God’s will. To wash the blood from her hands, to stop being an adulteress. This has nothing to do with opposing government. It has nothing to do with standing up for one’s rights. It does have to do with taking personal and national responsibility for crimes and sins. If one agrees that vaccine passports are ethically wrong, this passage might be applicable to the government and administrators who made the rules. It simply doesn’t speak to you and me today.

Of course, there are passage in which Jesus models for us, and the writers of the epistles teach that we should be looking out for the vulnerable, providing for those in need. This isn’t one of them, and it’s not relevant to the topic.

____

The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. – Matthew 22:39

Here Jesus is affirming the Jewish scripture’s teaching (Leviticus 19:18) (Look, now I’m doing it :-)). But again, the original passage discussed here is in a context of personal and corporate behaviour. How am I to treat the vulnerable around me? There is nothing here to support picket lines, civil disobedience, or making the hostess at Pizza Hut cry.

In my view, the most loving thing I can do is to make myself less of a threat to others by wearing a mask. And to make myself more useful by getting vaccinated in order to stay healthy. Loving my neighbour, in the teachings of Jesus, is a direct and personal duty.

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Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

What possible connection this verse has to “resisting oppression and injustice” I don’t have the foggiest idea. So I’m just going to move on.

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AND WHEREAS God created human beings and all the earth’s resources and called them to work and enjoy the fruit of their labour as a pre-political duty and right (prior to the existence of the state) and further clarifies this requirement by commanding people to work six days and rest on each sabbath in order to develop culture in obedience to God and provide for their families, thus freedom to work is an inalienable right that no person should be unjustly denied (Ex. 20:9; 1 Tim.5:8)

First of all, take a moment to look in the Bible for anything that looks like an “inalienable right.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It’s not there. God never grants anyone an inalienable right. God grants us covenant. Grace. Partnership. Hope. Not rights. The basic premise of this thesis is unscriptural.

But, still, let’s look at these passages and see what they have to say about creation and work.

____

You are to labour six days and do all your work... – Exodus 20:9

As a click-bait reference, it accomplishes what the authors want it to.

In context, not so much. This is one phrase in one sentence taken from a paragraph:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11

What is this paragraph about? What is the core focus of this commandment?

Sabbath. Not work. The one day. Not the six.

If, as believers in the New Covenant, we opt to live according to some cherry-picked bits of the Old, our mandate here is to “remember the Sabbath.” Its importance to Israel is underscored in Exodus 35:1-2:

Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day you are to have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on it must be executed…”

Nobody’s being executed for not working. Whether or not I agree with an employer’s right to demand proof of vaccination, this scripture passage doesn’t apply. There is no “right” granted here.

Neither is there in our final passage:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Again, this is completely off topic if read in context. Timothy was giving leadership to a faith community who were figuring out how to support those among them who were in need, or vulnerable (ie “widows”). The passage is about how we should live in community, how anyone who can support themselves ought to, and how we are commanded to care for those in our biological and faith families.

When held in parallel with passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, it creates a framework of responsibility within which believers do what is necessary in order to live lives of accomplishment, altruism, and decency, thereby earning the respect of the broader community and avoiding bringing disrepute on the name of Christ, and on the gospel.

These passages about work are built on a foundation of covenant—we are part of the Body of Christ. As such it falls to us to do what we must in order to live up to the ethic that is presented here. If we refuse to make a personal sacrifice for the good of others, then that is “denying the faith” and “worse than an unbeliever.”

The Timothy passage has nothing to say about “inalienable rights.”

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As Christians, living out our faith in a world that is decreasingly friendly to who they think we are, blindly accepting such spurious teaching as this makes us look foolish. We must each think through our stand on these significant issues. Do our research. Use our discernment. Question our teachers.

I repeat that I think some (not all) of the points raised by this document are valid. But I was appalled by the low quality of the ‘scholarship’ used as an excuse to present it as a “Christian Declaration.” The exegesis of Scripture and its application to how we live our everyday lives is not brain surgery, but it ought to be done wisely and with skill. That is clearly not the case here.

Brothers and sisters, please take the time to understand what Christ has actually called us to before making decisions that increase our loss of credibility in the world and in our communities.

August 13, 2021

‘I’ve Never Heard That Interpretation Before’

Three days ago, I looked at a detail of The Good Samaritan story that I had not noticed before. I am constantly amazed at the depth of the parables, how many different lessons there are to be gained from what is always just a few short verses.

But we need to be careful when we hear something new that it conforms to everything else we have been taught. Someone has said, “If it’s new it’s not true.” I am not comfortable with such a sweeping generalization, but obviously in the course of Christian history, there have been many people who have come along with new ideas; some helpful and instructive; others rather off base.

In 2 Corinthians 3-4 Paul writes,

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.

Paul says this twice in the same paragraph in Galatians 1:7b-8

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine curse!

Years ago, I had the responsibility of coordinating two completely different Sunday morning services at our church. The first service was meant for believers, and I asked a friend, who specializes in cult research to do a message for which I gave him the title, “How Does a Rocket Go Off-Course?” In other words, I wanted him to share not so much how groups come along with something completely out of left field (i.e. The Book of Mormon) but rather how orthodox groups suddenly seem to take a turn down a road of questionable theology.

I suspect it starts out with one small particular point of doctrine. Perhaps it’s something a reader wishes was in the text. Perhaps it’s a word that has been less than perfectly rendered in one of our translations. Perhaps it’s a lack of attention to the context of a particular verse. Perhaps it’s just a lack of sleep the night before due to bad pizza!

The problem is once you start undoing a working systematic theology, because of the inter-relatedness of the parts, you can end up undermining its foundation as to the very nature of God, or the essential plan of salvation. Some may find the study of theology boring, but there is a real beauty in how the various doctrines can fit together, if the theology makes sense.

I also want to point out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:2

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (NIV)

It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you–unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. (NLT)

The second rendering, in the NLT suggests something that is true far too often, and that is many people have come into the faith family believing things that “were never true in the first place.” Again, using the analogy of a rocket that has gone off course, we need to apply what rocket scientists call “a mid-course correction.” We need to gently steer that person away from the false understanding which, left unchecked, will lead to other errors or perhaps lead to great frustration in their Christian growth and life.

However, in the case of The Good Samaritan story, the “new” insight added a greater depth of detail, or if you prefer, offered a slightly different way of seeing the cleric who stepped aside an opportunity to help the man injured on the road; a man who not only failed to help because of what he felt the law required, but one who in fact may have been going beyond what the law demanded of him.

But it doesn’t change the thrust of the story. It does not impinge on any major tenet of the church, any major doctrine, or any element of orthodox theology. Furthermore, the “new” teaching may simply represent an element of the narrative we’ve simply skipped over in the past.

If the premise makes sense to us, we can accept it, but if not, we can choose to dismiss it. The parable, and its applications to our lives, is unharmed.

April 10, 2021

Why Limiting the Role of Women Limits God Himself

An ongoing, front-burner debate among Evangelicals involves the role of women in the hierarchy of both families and churches. The article we’re presenting today obviously leans to one position over the other, but brings out an aspect of the discussion I had not considered before.,

Ernest Vance blogs at Sincere Son of the Sanctifier (say it fast ten times) where you’re invited to click the header which follows. The blog has been inactive for about a year now, but there are some great articles in the archives like this one!

When Bad Theology Mocks God

I have to say, I am not in a bad mood right now, so hopefully I can contain my angst enough to get my thoughts clearly on paper.

I am angry at the past leadership of the church for setting forth a theology that mocks God’s goodness in His creation as well as His goodness in His grace. What theology is this you might ask? It is the theology based upon two repugnant assumptions: Women, because of Eve are either easily deceived (flaw in God’s creation) or usurpers (cause of the fall of Adam).

How does this mock God? It mocks Him by saying that He created Women woefully flawed to the point that He supposedly had to lock her into a position of subservience, ‘aka submission to all male authority’ for all time. Never mind what He did on the cross that redeems us all, it wasn’t enough to keep women from usurping male authority or being easily deceived. Frankly we are humans and we are all easily deceived, so this one is just as weak an argument as any especially considering the logical follow-through as to why the daughters of Eve are supposed to remain in submission: Sons of Adam should know better. And isn’t it part of the curse against Eve that God ordained women would constantly covet man’s power? Seriously? Where does the ‘man’s power’, er, excuse me… authority, come from anyway? Did God tell Adam and Eve, ‘Now dear ones, please understand, Adam was made first, therefore Eve, you are in submission to him in all things. OK?’ No, God did not. The ONLY rule God set forth prior to the fall was that they absolutely NOT eat of ONE tree. An entire garden to choose from and the both find themselves staring at what is forbidden. The fall had already begun the moment they paused there. The fall continued as Adam did not remind Eve in that moment that they should go somewhere else. The fall continued further when neither one of them rebuked the evil one for mocking God and His one rule.

The fall had nothing to do with Eve usurping Adam’s authority. Eve was totally Adam’s equal. The Hebrew words, Helper Meet literally describe a word-picture of two equal beings face-to-face. God called them, ‘one flesh’. There wasn’t even a hidden message in how God talked with them. Yes, God addressed Adam first, but God did directly address Eve. He did not go through Adam as in a priest. Go ahead, read Genesis 2 and 3. It’s all there, no matter the version, though you will have to check an interlinear to see the Hebrew meaning of help meet, or the Septuagint which translates Helper comparable.

So in this bad theology where one might take meaning that men are somehow superior to women in that we somehow are less frequently deceived or usurpers of authority such that women must be ‘put in their place’ for all eternity, do we suppose that God is the one who set this up? Let us look at the wording of the curse in Gen 3. To the serpent God said,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”

It is absolutely clear what God is declaring as His action and proclamation toward the adversary.

But to Eve He said,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be [e]for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”

The first line is clearly God’s doing. Then the remaining three lines are simply statements of what will be. Leaving us to wonder, was this God’s intent, His doing? Or was this simply God saying, this is somehow the result of what happened. I am not doing this to you. Either one can fit. Thus it is not clear in the slightest whether God was forevermore putting Eve and all of her daughters in a place of submission. Nothing in all of the Old Testament clarifies this question. Indeed, Numbers 30 where we see that Fathers have veto power of oaths their unmarried daughters take as do husbands is the only hint at this. But it is further muddied by the fact that if there are women who have neither husband nor father, no one had veto power over her oaths. Widows, therefore, are fully autonomous according to the OT Law. There is no accommodation saying a brother or brother-in-law must take up the mantle of authority over her. Adding to this a Prophetess/Judge named Deborah in Judges 4,5 who had no one in authority over her as she administered these God-given duties.

Thus we get to the matter of Creation and Grace. Both male and females fell from the perfect state at the same time. Adam is clearly blamed for this throughout the NT by the same guy who arguably wrote 1 Tim 2. So why has much of history held women so responsible for the fall that they cannot even hold a position of teaching a Bible study with men present? It is not as clear as some would say and for more of that you can see my reasons for saying so here. But truly, as I have mentioned before, it is based upon two terribly misogynistic ideas that have been carefully couched in ‘holy speak’: women are easily deceived and inclined to be usurpers. The first I have shown to be weak, the second is even weaker. Eve has not shown up as a usurper in Genesis 3, at most she is curious and falls prey to the oily words of a good sales-man… er snake. But Adam has clearly not taken up a mantle of authority and simply allows the entire thing to go down without saying a word either to the snake, or to Eve. At best, in a complementarian view, we should be placing the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders and by extension the sons of Adam and telling all men to not give into their laziness and apathy. That leadership is, therefore, man’s mantle to take up since Adam failed so miserably. But failing that, women should not be left to wonder which way to go if a man does not lead. In a complementarian society that is both loving and fair, the women should never be told to avoid stepping into a leadership role that needs to be filled when there is no man to take it up.

But I will take this one step further because there is no clearly defined passage that says women who do so are outside of God’s will. As such, there is not any valid, Godly reason for a governing body of a church to see a women with appropriate leadership qualities, well trained and suitable to teach yet avoid placing her in that position. It is just not there. Indeed, in Romans we see Paul greeting a female deaconess (Phoebe Romans 16:1) and many other women in leadership roles, yet we misrepresent him as saying in 1 Tim 3:12 that only married men can be a deacon. I could go on since there are so many women who Paul recognizes and then seems to later define women or even single men (except himself? Really?) out of positions of authority. But all we really need to recognize is that we have made a mistake and overly exegeticized (probably not a word, but I’m sure you get my meaning) certain things in accordance with some men’s presuppositions (giving them too much credit? Possibly).

It is past time we give up these notions that God meant what he didn’t clearly say, concepts that break both his creative goodness and his glorious satan-works-defeating grace, and therefore we must over-emphasize on his behalf and look the other way when someone brings up the fallacy of our too-long-held dogmatic belief in male superiority couched in holy-speak. I am done.

 

October 23, 2020

When You’ve Heard That Bible Passage Before

If you’ve lived a certain number of years as a follower of Christ, you’ve probably been in worship services enough times to have heard some popular narratives repeated many times. The speaker or teacher says, “Turn to Luke 15…” and before they can say “Verse 11,” you know it’s going to be The Prodigal Son parable, which, in all fairness, you’ve heard before.

At this point you might one of two possible reactions.

First, you can say to yourself, “I’ve heard this story before dozens and dozens of times. There’s nothing more you can do with this passage.” (The slightly more spiritual among you might add, with some resignation, “but maybe there’s someone else here today who needs to hear this.”)

Or you can breathe a quiet prayer and say, “Lord, reveal to me something in this narrative I haven’t seen before; something fresh you want to speak to me this day.”

I heard a Bible teacher once begin with a prayer that included, “…and if there’s anyone here who thinks they’ve heard all this before, help them to know that your desire is to imprint this indelibly on the tablets of their hearts.” (I actually have used that myself; see also footnote below.)

In Acts 8:26-40 Philip encounters a situation that looks like this:

NLT.26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.* The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

…if you don’t know the story continue reading here.

* The Voice Bible renders this, “a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated.”[italicized words supplemented]

Had the person in the carriage/chariot read this section of Isaiah before or was this a first reading? (That’s your homework question for today!) Either way, further illumination was needed.

But there’s a better example which for some of you is probably coming to mind. Post-resurrection (don’t you love that word!), Jesus encounters two people on the road to Emmaus, though only one of them is named.

NIV.14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

These two were not first-timers. They knew the scripture. They new the issue of the day. They, like so many, were looking forward to the coming of the anointed one, the Christ, the anointed one.

21 ... we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

There hadn’t been a breakthrough.

There hadn’t been that “Ah-ha!” moment.

Until…

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

…if you don’t know that story, continue reading here.

Can you imagine also being there and seeing the wheels start to turn in their heads? Or experiencing that along with them?

I’ve had many times when a book, a sermon video, a podcast, a Bible study group, or an in-person teaching has caused the wheels to turn, the light bulb to go off, and the… okay I ran out of analogies.

Some of these applications don’t stand the test of context, the test of the meaning of the original languages, or the test of consistency with the rest of scripture.

But most add to my understanding.

I may have heard it all before, but I need to hear it again.

Or hear it differently.


The idea of something “written on our hearts” can be found in these verses:

Hebrews 8:10  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord, putting My Laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them into their mind” (BSB)

 

 

October 14, 2020

Reading Biblical Literature

Passage One:

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Passage Two:

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone…”

In the first passage, Jesus knows who he is, where he has come from and where he is going. He then performs an act of great humility.

In the second passage, it could be seen by some that Jesus is distancing himself from God. The Reformation Study Bible notes:

Jesus’ reply does not mean that He does not consider Himself good. He rather wants to show the man that “No one is good except God alone,” so that the man may realize that all his works do not make him good, and that he is not capable of earning eternal life.

The question is meant to challenge the rich young man in the story, but if people are looking for Biblical contradictions — and many are — they might seize on this one.  It is for that reason I titled today’s thoughts “Reading Biblical Literature.” One needs to know what they are reading at the time.

Passage one shows the servant heart of Jesus, but it places that in direct contrast to his divinity. Again, the Reformation Study Bible is helpful here:

Jesus’ humble conduct was not because He forgot His rank as incarnate God the Son. His act demonstrates that rank and privilege are not occasions for arrogance, but are higher credentials for service.

I am always drawn back to the passage in Philippians 2, which I personally render as “…although he was God, he did not think his divinity was something to be leveraged.”

There’s a simple saying in real estate that the top three things in selling a house are “Location, location, location.” Similarly in Bible interpretation, the top three things are context, context, context.

But as easy at is to resolve Passage Two above by saying, “He was simply asking a rhetorical question” or “He was simply challenging the young man” (Some simply shrug their shoulders and say, “We cannot understand it; it is mystery.”) Those are good starts, and I don’t want to eliminate the element of mystery, but I think we can also resolve this by looking at the issue of interpretation through knowing the character of Christ.

This reminds me of the time someone said to me, “I don’t know everything about the book, but I know the author.”

Don’t you love the fact that Jesus knew who he was and where he was from and where he was going, but can also look into the eyes of someone and almost playfully, humorously ask, “Why do you call me good; there is no one good except God?”

When we engage in the academic, somewhat dry process of “reading Biblical literature,” we can easily get bogged down in the weeds.

We do it best when we see that we are reading Christ.


Dive Deeper:

This week in an exchange with a local pastor, I brought another friend into the conversation which resulted in a link to an article titled Jesus’s Humor. The article is too long to publish here, and I tried to think of a way I could incorporate some of the material devotionally. The author says,

…The entire Sermon on the Mount, in the original Greek, reads like a stand-up comedy routine. This has been translated out of the version you read in the Bible, but Jesus’s original words have all the hallmarks of humor…

I thought the phrase translated out was rather interesting and perhaps signals a systemic problem in understanding the interactions Jesus has with everyone from seekers to Pharisees.

The article is long, but it might be the best thing you read this week! I find approaches like this really make the Gospels come alive.

January 14, 2020

Distinguishing Between P1 and G1 Issues

Today’s devotional arrives from an unlikely source for a blog that aims to avoid topical issues and stick to to doctrinal discussions. I found this towards the end of my reading of Bruce B. Miller‘s book Leading a Church In A Time of Sexual Questioning: Grace-Filled Wisdom for Day-to-Day Ministry (Thomas Nelson, 2019). Learn more about the book at this link.


…Some theological issues are worth fighting for. When do we, like Martin Luther, say, “Here I stand,” and when do we agree to disagree? Let me suggest we distinguish between P1 and G1 issue, Philippians 1 and Galatians 1. In both chapters there is conflict between people who identify themselves a Christians. Paul wrote to the Philippians,

NIV.Phil.1.15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

Some people were preaching the gospel from bad motives. Likely, in their selfish ambition they were trying to get people from Paul’s church to come to their church while Paul was in prison. I imagine they had reasons why their flavour was better than Paul’s. How did Paul respond? “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

Paul did not condemn them or try to shut them down. He did not critique them or tell people not to join their group. Paul said the important thing is that Christ is preached  no matter what the motive or what the flavour. If Christ is preached, let’s rejoice… Our Christian churches may have different names… but we are all on the same team. We are all for Jesus Christ.

Now look at Galatians 1. How is G1 different from P1? Paul wrote to the Galatians,

NLT.Gal1.8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

How is the situation different in Galatians 1 than in Philippians 1? In Philippians 1, the other people are preaching the true gospel of Christ, but in Galatians 1, the other people are preaching a different gospel. Paul used some of the harshest language in the entire New Testament. He fought for the truth of the gospel. Why? Because people’s eternal destinies are at stake. If you sincerely believe a false gospel, you are not saved, even though you might wrongly think you are.

So when do you fight for the truth? When do you stand up and say, “So help me God, I will die for this truth”? When the gospel is at stake. When the issue is motive or minor matters, you rejoice that the gospel is preached, even if you would not personally go to that church or belong to that group. When the gospel is perverted, you condemn those who are throwing people into confusion. We must distinguish P1 issues from G1 issues. Is this a minor matter, a personality issue, or is the truth of the gospel at stake? If the truth of the gospel is at stake, we fight against those who pervert it because people’s eternal destinies are at stake.

These days some groups in the American Christian church are using the word gospel for nearly everything – from marriage to songs. While it’s commendable to bring the gospel of Jesus to bear on all of life, and it’s true that the gospel has been truncated in recent American popular evangelicalism, such as in simplistic salvation tracts, it can be harmful to use gospel as a heavy adjective to turn P1 issues into G1 issues…

pp.149-151

 

 

December 22, 2019

The Tower of Flock and the Birth of Jesus

Recently I reconnected with a longtime friend who is now working for Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. While checking out their website earlier today, I discovered their blog and the article below. Its author Bruce Scott is the director of Program Ministries at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and is the author of The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah. Click the header below to see the article in full — which deals with context, cultural conditions and historical background in interpreting this type of text — of the following is a portion:

The Jewish Life of Jesus

What Is the Tower of Flock?

We read in Genesis 35:19-21, “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

The phrase “tower of Eder” literally means “tower of flock.” In those days when a flock of animals, particularly sheep, were being cared for and watched, the shepherd would oftentimes be in a tower overlooking his flock, keeping an eye out for bandits or wild animals. This particular tower of the flock was near Bethlehem of Judea, and it was here that Jacob pitched his tent after Rachel died.

The only other place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew phrase “tower of flock” is found is Micah 4:8:

And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Targum Jonathan (an ancient Aramaic translation) sees the word “tower” in this verse as referring to the Messiah, and the word “flock” as referring to Israel. It therefore translates the beginning of the verse as, “And you, O Messiah of Israel . . . .”

Based on these verses, therefore, later Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah would come, He would be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen. 35:21).

No Ordinary Shepherds

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Scriptures say, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). What is interesting about these shepherds is that according to Jewish law, small animals from herds and flocks were not allowed to be raised in the land of Israel because they could damage people’s fields (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7; Demai 2.3; Talmud, Sukkah 29a; Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 2.3). They were, however, allowed to be raised “in Syria or in the wildernesses that are in the Land of Israel” (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7).

But in Luke 2:8 it states “in the same country,” meaning the same region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching their flock. If there was a prohibition against keeping flocks so near a community with cultivated fields, why were these shepherds in the same region as Bethlehem?

When you learn the value of these [Jewish] contexts, they will richly enhance your understanding of the Scriptures.

One explanation could be that by the phrase “in the same country” Luke meant a wider territory than first thought, a territory that included a nearby wilderness area used for keeping sheep.

Another explanation could be this. The rabbis taught that if a male sheep, one year old or younger, had strayed and was found one month before Passover roaming around in the area between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or the area equidistant from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder in any direction, then the sheep could be used for sacrifice at Passover (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). The inference is that sheep found anywhere from Migdal Eder near Bethlehem to Jerusalem were most likely used for Temple sacrifices.

Therefore, could it be that the shepherds watching over their flock by night when Jesus was born were not ordinary shepherds? Instead, could it be they were shepherds specifically hired to watch sheep that were destined for sacrifice?

If so, then how appropriate it would be that God should first reveal the arrival of the Messiah to those particular shepherds near the tower of the flock not far from Bethlehem. And how appropriate that these shepherds wanted to go to Bethlehem and watch over the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, who was destined to be, as the Lamb of God, the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world.

100 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! If you’re already a WordPress blogger and want to consider being an editor here, let me know. In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

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.

 

July 25, 2019

Claiming to be Wise, They Became Fools

The Apostle Paul wrote to communities that were engulfed in things from superstition, to religious pluralism, to decadence and depravity in the name of religion. He wrote,

NLT.Rom.1.21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

They may have been foolish before, but their pretense at wisdom confirmed it.

For example, how can you know that there is no God? (I was taught you never try to prove a negative hypothesis.)

NLT.Ps.14.1 Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

At Truth Magazine, Irvin Himmel writes,

If there is no God, how did intelligent life originate? How could an impersonal force produce a personal being? How could that which neither thinks nor wills produce that which thinks and wills? How could lifeless matter ever by chance grouping of the particles produce that which is not matter, a soul? How could that which has no self-consciousness, and consequently no purpose, ever produce that which is self-conscious and which shows the. result of purpose? How could that which has neither life, consciousness, intelligence, nor morality produce a living, conscious, intelligent, moral being?

I agree.

But then the writer looks at I Corinthians 4:6,

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. NIV

and comes to this conclusion

Some people are just sure that it pleases God to accompany the singing in worship with the playing of musical instruments. It is not so written in the New Testament. If it is, where is the passage? Others are positive in their minds that sprinkling will suffice for baptism. It is not so written in the Bible. They are exceeding what is written. And others insist that burning incense is perfectly lawful as a part of our devotion to God. But where does the New Testament authorize us to burn incense to God?

I didn’t grow up with sprinkling or incense, but I did grow up with musical instruments. The writer implies that this is not scriptural, yet there’s Psalm 150, which is like a giant catalogue of brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. The inclusion of that paragraph robs the article of the impact it might have had. It brings in personal biases of the writer’s church culture, and thereby drifts miles and miles away from the examination of the first chapter of Paul’s epistle.

There is saying,

It is better to remain silent and appear to be a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!

I would propose that “Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” is a broader principle which can apply to both within the church and without; that Paul’s word to the Romans has both a primary and a broader application.

There are things in doctrine and theology which are above my pay grade. I might not be the target of Paul’s words in Romans 1, written to members of a society filled with debauchery beyond comprehension, but I can be the guy who has completely missed the point, but feels compelled to pontificate about that which I do not comprehend.

I simply don’t want to be that guy!

 

May 29, 2019

Misreading Paul’s “Keeping of Special Days”

I have a birthday coming up in the next few days. Over the years I have had discussions with people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

  • Paul sees the keeping of special days — and it’s the Old Covenant feast days he has partly in view — as going back or reverting to a series of rituals they had been freed from.
  • The Galatians were doing this to try to please God. They were adding to what Christ’s death and resurrection had made no longer necessary. They were wanting the structure of religion with its dos and don’ts.
  • Others of Paul’s converts may have come from pagan religions which each had their own feast days. Old habits die hard. Imagine if you had a family tradition that had been practiced for generations that was suddenly stripped away. These pagan feasts day were incompatible with Christian faith and could not be retained in a Christ-following life.

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday over the years, I trust that my family had these aims:

  • I’m not being venerated. Their purpose isn’t sacred. Their actions are not sacramental. Some people argue that we can’t separate life into the sacred and the secular, but some things we do are merely perfunctory, like getting dressed, brushing our teeth, checking the mail, etc. A birthday serves no spiritual purpose.
  • Recognizing and celebrating the encouragement that someone’s life brings you is scriptural. Over and over we are told to encourage one another, to build one another up. A sincere expression of thanks and appreciation — personal, not what the greeting card writer came up with — should really be an everyday occurrence, not a yearly thing; but we we do need prompting to do this.
  • We are reminded of the passing of time. Our lives are “but a breath;” we are “here today and gone tomorrow.” We live sometimes in the “myth of continuity;” believing that things will always be as they are, but in fact, age will eventually catch up with us, it will happen quickly or when we are not looking. It’s good to be reminded of the fragility of life. That may seem to make a birthday bittersweet, but as you get older, it really is.
  • It’s not wrong to buy people things. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God gave us. Going to a dollar store (or for my UK readers, a poundshop) to buy something that will be broken a week later is not wise stewardship. (Perhaps the earth’s resources should never have been used to manufacture the item in the first place.) But there are things people both need and desire, and having an excuse at least provides a context to nudge someone to acquire something that might be beneficial to their hobbies and interests, but that they might hesitate to purchase for themselves.
  • Children need to identify and celebrate friendships. If you can do a birthday party without excluding anyone, and at the same time not incurring great expense, it’s nice for kids to gather their friends around them. You can also do a party where instead of gifts, people make a contribution to a charity of the child’s choice. (Try Compassion International, Partners International, Christian Blind Mission, etc.)

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

When your turn rolls around, I do, with all sincerity and with all intention, wish you a Happy Birthday!

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?

 

January 7, 2019

Scripture and the Road to God

NIV Ex. 21.23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

NIV Lev.24.19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

NIV Mat.5.38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Today’s thoughts are from author Richard Rohr. It was forwarded to us by someone who I believe subscribes to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because he is a Franciscan, is very ecumenical, and leans heavily into meditative and contemplative practices, he is considered controversial by conservative Evangelical standards. Nonetheless, I’ve made a deliberate choice to share this short devotional with you today which both I, and the person who sent it to us, found helpful.*

Midrash

More than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized or ignored. Beyond fundamentalism or literalism, Jesus practiced a form that the Jewish people called midrash, consistently using questions to keep spiritual meanings open, often reflecting on a text or returning people’s questions with more questions. It is a real shame that we did not imitate Jesus in this approach. It could have saved us from so many centuries of righteousness, religious violence, and even single-issue voting.

Rather than seeking always certain and unchanging answers, the Jewish practice of midrash allows many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?

While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy. Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists. Hebrew rabbis and scholars sometime use the approach of midrash to reflect on a story and communicate all of its underlying message. Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.

The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history. Deep meaning offers symbolic or allegorical applications. Comparative study combines different texts to explore an entirely new meaning. Finally, in traditional Jewish exegesis, hidden meaning gets at the Mystery itself. Midrash allows and encourages each listener to grow with a text and not to settle for mere literalism, which, of itself, bears little spiritual fruit. It is just a starting point.

Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver. [1]

This statement from Aquinas was drilled into me during seminary. People at different levels of maturity will interpret the same text in different ways. There is no one right way to interpret sacred texts. How you see is what you see; the who that you bring to your reading of the Scriptures matters. Who are you when you read the Bible? Defensive, offensive, power-hungry, righteous? Or humble, receptive, and honest? Surely, this is why we need to pray before reading a sacred text!

Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. For example, referencing two passages from Exodus (21:24) and Leviticus (24:20), Jesus suggested the opposite: “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you . . . turn the other cheek” (see Matthew 5:38-39). He read the Scriptures in a spiritual, selective, and questioning way. Jesus had a deeper and wider eye that knew which passages were creating a path for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions.


References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 75, 5. Original sentence: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), x-xi; and

Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.


* This is actually the third time Fr. Richard Rohr’s writings have appeared here; the other two being:

November 7, 2018

Studying the Envelope vs. Reading The Letter

I didn’t set out to give this devotional the title it bears, but at the end of spending about two hours considering a particular aspect of John’s Epistles, it seems an appropriate conclusion. (Perhaps I’m just tired.)

But I know that in my own life, it is easy to get caught up in discussions about — I don’t want to use the word superficial — tangential aspects of a text to the point where we miss the core of what the text is saying. I can think I’m going deeper (which is part of C201’s tag line) when in fact I’m devoting my energy to an aspect of the text that isn’t the primary emphasis. 2 John isn’t in our Bibles so that we can debate the salutation.

Its message is that love means walking in obedience to His commands. (verse 6)

This week I found myself revisiting a passage of scripture that we had studied here a year ago. It is the subject of much discussion among Bible scholars, and I’m only scratching the surface here; perhaps whetting the appetite of those who want to go deeper with this one.

The text section at the beginning is the same as we presented before, but for subscribers, everything that follows is fresh content. Since it represents a complete rewrite of the original article, I thought I’d share it here as well.

1 John:1 The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— 2 because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

7 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. (NIV click here for the full text)

So who is this woman?

The IVP Bible Commentary offers this:

The congregation to which he is writing is designated metaphorically as the chosen lady and her children; we would say “the church and its members.” Regularly in the Scriptures Israel or the church is designated as a woman or the bride of Yahweh or Christ (Is 54:1, 13; Jer 6:21; 31:21; Lam 4:2-3; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Gal 4:25-26; Eph 5:22; Rev 18—19). Chosen recalls Jesus’ statement in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The church is not a voluntary organization but the fellowship of those called together by Christ. For such a fellowship, family imagery is all the more appropriate, for it suggests the bonds of intimacy and love that bind the family together. Family imagery also underscores that it was not by the children’s initiative that this family came into existence.

Matthew Henry* would disagree:

The apostle here salutes an honourable matron and her children…This lady and her children are further notified by the respect paid them, and that,

1. By the apostle himself: Whom I love in the truth, or in truth, whom I sincerely and heartily love. He who was the beloved disciple had learnt the art or exercise of love; and he especially loved those who loved him, that Lord who loved him.

2. By all her Christian acquaintance, all the religious who knew her: And not I only, but also all those that have known the truth. virtue and goodness in an elevated sphere shine brightly. Truth demands acknowledgment, and those who see the evidences of pure religion should confess and attest them; it is a good sign and great duty to love and value religion in others. The ground of this love and respect thus paid to this lady and her children was their regard to the truth

So why not just name her? Jamieson-Faussett-Brown’s (JFB)* commentary notes:

Dionysius of Alexandria (in Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, 7.25]) observes that John never names himself in his Epistles “not even in the Second and Third Epistles, although they are short Epistles, but simply calls himself the presbyter, a confutation of those who think John the apostle distinct from John the presbyter…”

So both writer — admittedly John — and recipient are anonymous here. Or is it? JFB continues:

The address of the Second Epistle is more disputed. It opens, “The elder unto the Elect lady” (2Jo 1). And it closes, “The children of thy elect sister greet thee” (2Jo 13). Now, 1Pe 1:1, 2, addresses the elect in Asia, &c., and closes (1Pe 5:13), “The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you.” Putting together these facts, with the quotations (above) from Clement of Alexandria, and the fact that the word “Church” comes from a Greek word (kyriake) cognate to the Greek for “lady” (kyria; “belonging to the Lord,” kyrios); Wordsworth’s view is probable. As Peter in Babylon had sent the salutations of the elect Church in the then Parthian (see above on Clement of Alexandria) Babylon to her elect sister in Asia, so John, the metropolitan president of the elect Church in Asia, writes to the elect lady, that is, Church, in Babylon. Neander, Alford, and others, think the Greek “kyria” not to mean “lady,” but to be her proper name; and that she had a “sister, a Christian matron,” then with John.

Clarke’s Commentary* offers not one, but two possible names:

The elect lady – Εκλεκτῃ Κυρια· As Κυρια, kuria, may be the feminine of Κυριος, kurios, lord, therefore it may signify lady; and so several, both ancients and moderns, have understood it. But others have considered it the proper name of a woman, Kyria; and that this is a very ancient opinion is evident from the Peshito Syriac, the oldest version we have, which uses it as a proper name koureea, as does also the Arabic kooreea.

Some have thought that Eclecta was the name of this matron, from the word εκλεκτη, which we translate elect, and which here signifies the same as excellent, eminent, honorable, or the like. Others think that a particular Church is intended, which some suppose to be the Church at Jerusalem, and that the elect sister, 2 John 1:13, means the Church at Ephesus; but these are conjectures which appear to me to have no good ground. I am satisfied that no metaphor is here intended; that the epistle was sent to some eminent Christian matron, not far from Ephesus, who was probably deaconess of the Church, who, it is likely, had a Church at her house, or at whose house the apostles and traveling evangelists frequently preached, and were entertained. This will appear more probable in the course of the notes.

We could go on, but clearly we see numerous possibilities both for the woman and her role in the early church. This article is a good overview written in more modern language.

So why do we sometimes find generic characters in scripture? I often think of Barabbas, the name literally meaning ‘the son of his father.’ Barabbas goes free and Jesus is crucified in his place. The former is an Everyman type of character, standing in for both you and I. We should have been crucified, but Christ dies in our place.

The balance of 2 John is for all of us; all “who love truth” but especially those who lead. We can get caught up in to whom it was written and lose the importance of what it says. Reiterating a part of it and then adding a few more verses is probably an appropriate ending; and for this we’ll switch to The Message translation

4-6 I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.

7 There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist!

8-9 And be very careful around them so you don’t lose out on what we’ve worked so diligently in together; I want you to get every reward you have coming to you. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son.

10-11 If anyone shows up who doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner.


* At least two dozen more Public Domain commentaries are available at BibleHub

February 28, 2018

Typing Class

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2014. The above title is a reminder that many of us took typing classes, later called keyboarding, in order to learn what a new generation seems to come by naturally.


Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:2 NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, (John 3:14 NIV)

There is no record of his* father or mother or any of his ancestors–no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. (Heb. 7:3 NLT) *Melchizedek

What is Bible typology? The website Theopedia explains:

Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation.

Later, the same website gives examples:

People in the Old Testament frequently are seen to be types of Christ. For instance, Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the rest of the Promised Land, is clearly a type for God‘s Messiah, who leads his people out of slavery to sin and into the rest of the New Earth. A host of Old Testament characters can be seen, in this manner, to act as types of Christ, such as:

  • Adam, whose sin brought death to all. (see Jesus as the second Adam)
  • David, God’s anointed yet unrecognised King;
  • Esther, who saves God’s people even when God seems absent
  • Elisha, God’s prophet who raised the dead and fed the hungry.

Bible TypologyThere’s nothing new about this type of hermeneutic (way of interpretation). A few days ago, I noted that blogger Peter Cockrell had posted this quotation from John Calvin:

“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power. This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity. This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all His enemies.”

John Calvin’s essay “Christ Is the End of the Law” is included in Thy Word Is Still Truth, ed. Peter Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin.

There are dangers in overusing this approach. In a piece written to preachers, David Helm and Joel Miles write:

These correspondences may be broad—in which cases we simply call them analogies—or they may be narrower. When a person, event, institution, or object in the Bible narrowly anticipates some aspect of Jesus Christ, we call this typology.[1] There are many complex definitions of types. In simple terms, a type is usually a person (like Moses, or David) or an object (like the ark or sacrificial lamb) that anticipates or prefigures Jesus.

Because there are more types in the Bible than are explicitly named, preachers must be careful in how they approach typology. First, as preachers, it is easy for us to make more of typology than we should. Just because we see an object in the Old Testament that shares something in common with an object in the New Testament, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we have found a type.

For instance, just because Rahab’s cord is described as being scarlet, it doesn’t mean that God intends for us to connect it to the blood of Christ, as though both being red proves that God intended for us to bring them together. This is a fallacy. Ask yourself, if it had been green would you have been right to connect it to new life? Or, what if it had been purple? Would you have argued that God wanted us to tie it to the sign of Christ’s royalty? No, of course not.

Second, preachers often make the mistake of confusing typology for allegory. Gerald Bray explains allegory as “a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key.”[2] This, also, is easy for preachers to do.

For example, we might suppose: “The five stones David picked up from the river bank are not intended to be stones at all. Rather, they are emblems for spiritual warfare that go by the names of faith, hope, prayer, courage, and fortitude.” Clearly, this is a mistake, yet one we commit all too frequently. And when we do, we actually work against the kind of ballast typology and analogy were intended to provide.

Some other articles repeat much of the above information, but Noah Kelley points out two additional nuances as found in escalating types, and forward-pointing or prophetic types:

Two more characteristics are more debated, and I will mention them in passing. The first is the fact that the typological patterns escalate as they progress, so that the antitype is greater than the type (e.g. Christ is greater than the Passover lamb). While this seems to be a fair enough assumption, Baker says that the escalation from type to antitype has to do with the escalation that takes place when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament rather than the essential nature of typology (183).

What is more debated is whether types are forward-pointing like prophecy, or whether they can only be ascertained in hindsight. This is closely related to the question of whether the type is understood by the person recording the event, or if they were unconscious of the typological significance, or if the type was not part of the intended significance of the text but a later interpretation. While I don’t have all of these issues sorted out, I would think that it is important to affirm that the typological significance is part of the original intention of the text from God’s perspective, if not the human author’s.

My own thoughts: I believe that the types of scripture are part of the the Bible’s awesome richness and depth and that the types themselves are part of the intricate complexity of God’s purpose and plan for we, the senior inhabitants of this planet. This part of what is spoken as ‘the beauty of the Bible.’

•••Take a look now at the three verses I used to introduce today’s readings in the light of what you’ve just learned. Who (or what) is a type of who (or what)?

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