Christianity 201

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)?

November 17, 2017

The Chosen Lady: To Whom Was 2 John Written?

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— because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

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.

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. 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 — the original substance of this C201 piece — 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.

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 commentaries are available at BibleHub

November 19, 2016

Do the Proverbs Come with an Iron-Clad Guarantee

Yesterday’s reading took us briefly into the book of Proverbs which we said weren’t hard and firm promises but statements of general principles. We quoted Paul Tautges and said we’d return to all six of the interpretive guidelines he gives for this book. This is his tenth time quoted here at C201; click the link below to read this (and more) at the website Counseling One Another.

Are Proverbs Sure-Fire Promises?

Last week, a church member emailed me this question:

I was having a discussion about a couple of Proverbs that I was reading with a friend and it came about in the discussion that he believed that Proverbs are promises. I had asked what his basis for believing that was. He told me because of the defined word “will’ which means it “will” happen if you do this or do that. Are the Proverbs indeed promises?

One of the ways I answered was to direct him to one of my top-three favorite commentaries on Proverbs, the Mentor Commentary, by John Kitchen. Here is how he helps us understand six principles for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

6 Principles for Interpreting Proverbs

“Proverbs can appear overly mechanical in its description of the universe, God’s sovereignty over it, and His dealings with man in it. Its observations are often stated in absolute terms, apparently leaving little room for variance. For example, consider the sequence in Proverbs 3, which demands that if one fears the Lord he will experience great health (v. 8), material prosperity (v. 10), peaceful sleep (v. 24), and protection from calamity (v. 26). How should we view such sweeping statements? Are these guarantees? Is any lesser experience a sign of moral and spiritual failure? To arrive at God’s intention, several observations should be kept in mind as one interprets and applies Proverbs.

First, the proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

Second, the proverbs must be read in context. Many view the aphorisms as individual nuggets of gold scattered randomly along the path of wisdom. There is, they assert, little help to be found in the context. However, each proverbial saying does reside within the whole of Proverbs and its teaching. They must be read against the balancing treatment of wisdom in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the fuller span of the poetic books. Then, too, the inspired Scriptural circle must be drawn to include the whole of the Old Testament and, ultimately, the entire Bible.

Third, we must understand that, by their very nature, the proverbs are truth stripped to the essentials. They are seldom qualified, balanced by surrounding statements, or extensively defined. They are stripped down, stated, and left to stand – all with the goal of arresting our attention and engaging our minds.

A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. Murphy well says:  ‘The proverb’s declaratory nature catches our attention, but it also conceals, for it achieves only a slice of realty…. The truth of a saying – call it a partial truth – usually needs another saying to counterbalance it.’

Fourth, though Proverbs can appear simplistic to the uninformed reader, we must realize that Proverbs does not intend to present life as void of ambiguities. Consider the juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory words of Proverbs 26:4-5:  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ The one who comes to Proverbs for simple answers requiring little thought will leave disappointed. We want to know, ‘Which is it!?  Do I answer him? Or do I not?’ Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation.

Fifth, we do well to unearth the assumptions inherent to a proverb. Because a proverb is truth stripped to its irreducible minimum, all helpful qualifying and clarifying statements are implicit rather than explicit. Bullock helpfully observes: ‘The first hermeneutical principle is that the theological assumptions of the book are often more important than the textual context.’ For example, until we have carefully absorbed the instructions of Proverbs 1-9, we are not well positioned to rightly interpret the aphorisms of Proverbs 10ff. The theology of Proverbs 1-9 sets the stage for understanding the wisdom of the later sentence literature.  We must ask ourselves not only what is stated, but what is assumed about God, His relationship to, and role in, the world around us, and His purposes.

Sixth, while Proverbs is not highly prophetic in nature (though see Prov. 30:4 and the commentary there), it ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). ‘Lady wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 is probably best understood as a personification of a divine attribute for didactic purposes, rather than a reference to the second Person of the Trinity specifically (see the commentary at 8:1, 22). Yet, it is only as we embrace Christ through faith that we are then able to enter into the wisdom that His Spirit sets forth here. When Christ becomes our very life (Col. 3:4), we find Him to be the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). We should, therefore, look to the New Testament not only for clarification and balance, but for fulfillment of the wisdom so gloriously set forth in Proverbs.”

 

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.

 

June 17, 2016

Clear as Mud

It’s three verses that critics of the King James Version frequently use to show why we needed — and continue to need — new Bible translations.

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:12-14 KJV

Did you get all that? Not the stuff of a great Bible study for today, but hopefully it leaves you with some empathy for those who struggle with Bible understanding, even if this is a rather extreme example. Can any of us say that our scriptures are “easily understood?”

All of this leads us to your word for today: “Perspicuity.” Say that ten times!

Instead, you might actually find the Latin easier, Claritas Scripturae means what you think it does, the clarity of scripture.

A bit of context is needed. The doctrine of Claritas Scripturae is a Protestant idea which stands in contrast to the Catholic view that the scriptures are not clear. Rather, the holy writings belong to the realm of mystery and the average person cannot fathom it; the lay-reader can never fully understand it. Instead, someone needs to be the broker of it, the arbiter of it for the rest of us. This could be the clergy class in general, or in a Catholic sense, it refers The Magisterium or what some simply call The Vatican.

The Protestant perspective stands in opposition to this. The gospel is so simple that a little child can understand it, and in fact, that is the only way you can experience salvation:

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

There is a sense in which this is true. But we also realize that on a personal level, we are extremely grateful for the sermons, the podcasts, the commentaries, the Study Bible notes. Paul appeals to the idea that we need set apart ones or sent ones.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)

In 2008, blogger Ben Johnson, then a Masters student at Western Seminary, put this far more succinctly than I can in this short blog post:

One of the things that becomes evident when you begin formal Bible study is that you begin to question the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Here is what I mean by this. As you begin your ‘formal training’ you begin to acquire what can only be called ‘special knowledge’ (sounds very gnostic). You now know Greek and Hebrew (and for those select few, Aramaic). You know more of the historical backgrounds of the texts (or at least what current scholarship thinks it knows about those backgrounds). You begin to exercise, what your professor tells you is a ‘sound hermeneutic.’ All this is ‘special knowledge’ that the average person in the pew does not have.

Now, imagine yourself in church and people begin asking you questions (they know you’re in seminary after all). You begin to rattle off what you heard in last week’s lecture on the book of Romans, talking about historical background and the Greek root of verbs, and the average person begins to doubt in their own ability to read the Bible themselves.

Here is my problem. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture came about (at least the Protestant formulation of it) in rebellion against the medieval catholic view that only the church (i.e., non lay-people) could interpret Scripture. When I look at the church today, it seems to me that we have replaced the ‘church’ with the ‘academy.’ If you haven’t written a critical commentary on the Gospel of Mark who are you to interpret it? As I begin to be a true (whatever that means) student of Scripture I find myself utilizing my recently acquired ‘special knowledge’ and finding great insight from it. However, as a Christian and a churchman I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study. All that is to stay, I think I still need to confirm the basic idea of the perspicuity of Scripture (to say nothing of post-modern, or reader-oriented hermeneutics) but I’m still working out how.

I really need to repeat Ben’s second-to-last sentence:

I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study.

But in his final sentence, he affirms that it’s complicated.

Do you think the average person can process the basics of the gospel, or do they need the help of those better-trained in theology?


Here are some verses from the cutting room floor today!

The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NLT)

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith– (Romans 16:26-27)

For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:16 HCSB)

All scriptures NIV unless otherwise stated, I think!


Go Deeper: Here’s a scholarly article by D.A. Carson where I first began today’s thoughts.

Note: The title of today’s article was deliberately provocative.

 

 

 

 

 

February 13, 2016

The ‘Gratuitous Violence’ of the Old Testament

Judges 4:21 NIV But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

Click here to read all of chapter four.

Peter Enns is a renown theologian, Biblical scholar, author and teacher at Eastern College. This is his 4th time here at C201, and his style seemed like just the right thing for a weekend study/devotional. For some of you today’s subject may raise more questions than provide answers. You may disagree with one of his conclusions, but I do believe that Peter has great respect for the text. Click the title below, not only to read the post, but see an image based on the verse cited above!

“people are just dying all over the place”—reading the Old Testament historical books

This semester [I’m] teaching a course on the Old Testament “historical books”—Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. (I cover Chronicles as part of my Biblical Hermeneutics class under “midrash.”)

As I always do for my biblical canon courses, I read through that portion of the Bible during break. And as I’m revisiting these stories, I’ve found myself thinking, “Please, Lord, let these be greatly exaggerated if not largely manufactured stories.”

With hardly a break, I am struck (pun intended) by how casual and heartless the ancient Israelites were about violence and vengeance. The ancient Israelites, by and large, were plain old nasty, mean, and not the kind of people you’d want to cross—or even playfully tease.

. . . Or better: the Israelites we meet in the Old Testament were that way.

Frankly, I have no idea what “ancient Israelites” were actually like—those tending the sheep, growing their grain, telling stories to their children, hiding from invaders. We don’t really know anything about them. We just know of a precious few, and we only know them through what anonymous writers said about them probably many centuries later.

How fair were these writers? Were they even trying? What ax were they grinding? What was their deal?

At any rate, regardless of how they got there, the people we meet in these stories have issues, and you can’t help but wonder what the point of all this is in a holy book. If I were writing the Bible, I’d throw in some more positive stuff—like not glorying in impaling or beheading your enemies or people who want to take your stuff.

Or at least have God step in now and then and say, “Hey, will you people cut. it. out?! Enough of this already! If you only knew the shelf life these stories will get and how people are going to use them. . . . ”

But God seems OK with it. At least that’s what the writers have written.

Yes, reading the stories from conquest to exile can be an eye-opening experience, not for the faint of heart, and probably not without someone to talk it through with. Sometimes I wish the Bible came with a toll-free customer service number. (And no, that’s not what prayer is. Sheesh.)

Even leaving aside the whole conquest of Canaan (aka extermination of Canaanites and any other living thing), people are dropping like flies. It seems like major death is the end result of nearly every story you read. People are just gonna die. Brace yourself. And often those killings are portrayed as good, just, honorable, and normal—like, “What’s your problem? This is just what happens, you know?”

I started going through these books and listing the violence and general vindictive nastiness, but then stopped. I have a busy schedule. Plus it’s getting discouraging.

All of this reminds me of a couple of things I tend to harp on, and I think for good reason.

  1. Knowing something of when and why these stories were written might help us understand something of what the writers are trying to say. Discerning all this isn’t straightforward by any means, but I think it’s worth the effort.
  2. And after you’re done with all that, we readers of the Bible still have to decide what WE  are going to do with all of it, how we are going to process it for our life of faith here and now. And that’s not easy either.

In The Bible Tells Me So, I basically come down on these two things as follows:

  1. I think at that these stories were written in a tribalistic context, and thus reflect that context—this is how stories of gods and nations were told.  Further, the writers exaggerated and/or freely shaped the past for theological and/or propagandistic purposes.
  2. I do not think these stories should be read theologically uncritically, meaning simply accepted as prescribing what God is like. The Bible isn’t a rule book or owner’s manual, and we don’t get off the hook so easily. What God is like transcends the stories written about him.

I’ve said a mouthful here, I know. Agree or disagree, but my thinking comes from reading the Bible respectfully and carefully, not from an antagonistic or dismissive point of view.

The Bible—as it always has—raises plenty of questions on its own. And when we engage those questions, we are joining a long and honored conversation.

October 12, 2015

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.

Don’t you love the fact that he 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 do it best when we are reading Christ.

 

July 11, 2015

Reverse Engineering The Promises

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

A few days ago, we re-ran a piece on Thinking Out Loud that has also appeared twice here at C201, though not for three years. Apparently this time around, it really resonated with some people.

The idea was to look at areas in my life where it might seem like “it’s not working” and ask ourselves if maybe we’re doing something wrong.

We need to watch the logic of this however. A Biblical statement of promise such as, “If you do _____, then I [God] will do ______ …” is of the form “If ‘A” then ‘B’.” But we can’t logically automatically assume from that, “If ‘not-B’ then ‘not-A.” Moreover, some of the promises in scripture are guiding principles of how things work. For example, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it;” is a statement of general principle, but not an iron-clad assurance that every child raised in the love of Christ will not wander from the faith. Clearly, some do. (I realize some will say, ‘I have to believe that eventually they find their way back, or the Bible isn’t true.’ I guess we can debate that some time!)

All that to say, here’s what I wrote as it appeared (without this long introduction) a few days ago…
 
 

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord


If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.


If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.


If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.


If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.


If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

 

March 8, 2015

The Lord That Heals

…I am the LORD, your healer – Exodus 15:26

As I write this, I am recovering from one of the worst night’s sleep — or lack of sleep — ever. Whether or not I was food poisoning we might never know, but 24 hours ago I was feeling fine and now I feel like I survived a massive physical ambush.

I have experienced longer, more sustained illness, but this type of thing has been rare for me in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, I am always amazed at systemic healing; how the body has created in such a way that it want to right itself when things go wrong. You see this most in a cut finger; clotting begins almost immediately and in successive days, as long as you properly care for it, the gash begins to disappear. Thankfully, our modern medicines allow us to give the body’s natural tendencies a hand and speed the healing of infections, or reset broken bones.

(As an aside, I think this is why various cancers are so dreaded, they don’t follow this pattern; almost by definition things get worse.)

It’s easy to place this systemic healing in a category of “all things work together for good;” not the misquoted and mis-applied version of the verse, but the idea that the body is naturally pointed toward healing, and in this God deserves equal credit as he would in a situation where his intervention is more sudden and more apparent, as in the case of a condition that has been lingering.

I believe that God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to hear and answer our petitions, including those for our physical bodies. I wrote about that phrase in this article.

But like the Romans 8:28 reference there is more to be said about God’s healing power in Exodus 15:26 than what I quoted above. See the three dots (ellipses) before the verse begins “…” ? You have to be very careful when people quote verses that way.  The full verse reads:

[The Lord tested them] saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

This immediately tells the verse is

God affirms his position as “healer” but even there, the promise is preventative. Does this mean God’s can’t heal you of the physical need you face right now? Of course not. But I believe it means we should ask not claim.

Physical healing is part of the hesed or grace of God. Our faith should be such that we ask; asking for even the greatest miracles. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. But do this in faith in God’s limitless ability, not his obligation that is based on a verse that may be out of context or have conditions you are required to meet.

Ask expecting not a miracle of healing, but an undeserved administration of grace. A lyric that often runs through my head — part of a song I wrote myself — in times like this is

Touch me, heal me
You’re a God of mercy
Touch me, heal me
You’re a God of grace
Touch me, heal me,
Lord I cry out to you
Won’t you touch me and heal me I pray.


Speaking of song lyrics reminded me of this song by Don Moen, I am the God that Healeth Thee.

 

 

February 27, 2015

The Eagle in Your Living Room

As I scan various online writers, a recurring theme in the last few months has been making a mid-course adjustment to our simplistic understanding of key Bible verses. Author and blogger K.W. Leslie addressed this recently at his blog More Christ. In visiting his blog I was reminded of the wealth of material he has. Some of the pieces are longer than what we do here, or I would consider stealing more of them! To read this at source, click the link contained in the title below.

“Those who wait on the Lord…”

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40.31 KJV

When I visit fellow Christians’ homes, a lot of ’em have a painting of an eagle hanging somewhere. Some of ’em are of an American bald eagle, and meant to express their patriotism. Others were purchased at the local Family Christian Stores, and are meant to express their trust in God, and are universally captioned with the Isaiah verse about mounting up with wings as eagles. And some try to blend the two sentiments—a patriotic American eagle, plus the Isaiah verse. God ’n country.

The eagle picture appeals to a lot of Christians because of the idea Isaiah expressed: The LORD, our creator, has inexhaustible strength, Is 40.28 and empowers the weak. Is 40.29 Even the strongest of us may fail, Is 40.30 but God can renew our strength. Indefinitely. Is 40.31

It’s great encouragement for those of us who have energy-draining jobs or lives. When our own batteries are dead, God can recharge ’em. When our resources are taxed, God always has more. Many’s the time I’ve told the kids, “I ran out of patience with you long ago. I’m drawing on God’s patience now.” Tapping God’s dýnamis power,” his dynamo of endless cosmic supply, is possible for every Christian.

Possible. Not promised. That’s where Christians wind up taking this verse out of context.

“Isn’t this a prophecy?”

True, Isaiah was a prophet, and Isaiah is a prophetic book. But Christians—mostly because they don’t read their bibles, and are unfamiliar with prophetic literature—don’t always understand what prophetic literature means.

Prophecy is anything God tells his people secondhand—though his prophets, like Isaiah or Moses or Elijah or John. He can, and does, speak directly to us. But sometimes we’re not listening, or too dense to understand him. Or sometimes we understand him quite well, but in order to be sure it’s really him, he’s gotta say the same thing to somebody else as confirmation.

But let me reiterate: Prophecy is anything God tells his people. Not just predictions of the future. Not just promises. Not just commands and declarations and instructions. Sometimes—as is the case of this scripture—it’s wisdom. Morsels of God’s profound understanding of the human psyche, or statements about life which, all things being equal, tend to be true.

Those who don’t read their bibles, tend to claim everything God says in the bible is a promise, is a “yes” and “amen.” As if God can’t speak in any other genre but wish-granting, foretelling, and thunderous divine decrees. Sometimes all he’s doing is telling us what he likes. How to behave. How to love one another. How to love him.

And that’s what a lot of prophetic literature consists of. It’s not just rants and threats for the wicked, and glories evermore for the righteous. It’s God talking to his people, about whatever’s on his mind. Treating it all like promises means we’re not trying to understand the mind of God… we’re just looking for things we can hold God to, like a contract we wish to manipulate in our favor. It means our relationship with God doesn’t have a whole lot of trust to it.

This particular part of Isaiah falls into the category of wisdom literature. They’re not commands; they’re not guarantees. (No matter how often people misquote them as if they are.) They’re situational. All things being equal, they’re true. Sometimes things aren’t equal, and there are exceptions.

“…They shall renew their strength.”

People read that word “shall” in the King James Version, and leap to the conclusion this passage isn’t just generically describing God’s followers. It’s not that when we trust in God, he tends to renew our strength when we’ve run low. It’s that he shall renew our strength. Isaiah says so. “Shall” turns it into a guarantee.

It’s really not. The verb yakhlífu/“changing,” which the KJV renders “shall renew,” isn’t a future-tense verb. Biblical Hebrew actually doesn’t have future-tense verbs. This is what we call a hifíl verb, which means the subject didn’t do the action so much as make it happen. Those who wait on the LORD haven’t changed their own strength from empty to full—they didn’t achieve it. But waiting on the LORD is what contributed to it happening. If we depend on God, he’ll strengthen us.

Usually. Like I said, wisdom literature is situational.

I point you to Samson. (He’s always a good example of what not to do.) Dude took God for granted, figuring God would always come through for him, no matter what. No matter how many commands and vows he broke. He trusted God to always provide him with supernatural strength to smite his enemies, and God did… till he didn’t, and let Samson’s enemies take him. Jg 16.20-21 Renewing Samson’s strength didn’t suit God’s purposes.

And sometimes renewing our strength doesn’t renew God’s purposes either. It just encourages us to take him for granted, and expect him to keep us away from burnout. Even though our lifestyles have no time management, no limits, and take no sabbaths. God commanded his people to rest, remember? Ex 20.8-11

Yet Christian ministers are regularly guilty of working seven days a week, with no breaks—and no surprise, we burn out. We figure we do wait on the LORD—we take little breaks for prayer, like Jesus did, Mk 1.35-37 and we’re doing the LORD’s work; shouldn’t he come through for us in return? Doesn’t he owe us one?

That’s why so many Christians like to reinterpret this verse to mean God will strengthen his followers. It justifies all the exhaustion, all the overwork, all the stress: “God will replenish me. He promised he would.” Worse, it justifies all the commitments we demand of those under us. Many a church has burned out its volunteers by promising them, “God promises to reward you for your dedication”—and he promised no such thing. (He did promise stress, though. Jn 16.33)

Fact is, if we’re not wise with our strength, if we’re depending on God to make up for the lack of self-control (which he wants us to practice), he may renew nothing. We’ll burn out. We’ll learn our lesson the hard way.

Really wait on the Lord.

Qoye/“one waiting for,” which describes those who wait on God, describes those of us who “trust in the LORD” (NLT), who wait for his help (NET), who put their hope in him (NJB). They’re following God. They’re not running ahead of him, and looking back to him once they get tired and are wondering why the guy with the water bottles hasn’t kept up. They’re running alongside. They’re stopping when he stops. They start when he says go.

It’s about closeness, intimacy, relationship. It’s not about working our hardest, then turning to God once our motor runs down. It’s about following him as far as he goes. And when we feel we can’t go any further, his strength (yeah, it’s another hifíl verb) causes us to rise up, like the wing of an eagle—it’s not about gliding or soaring, but about the way eagles raise their wings when they’re about to take off—and off we fly. When we’re doing the Lord’s work, we’d better be doing it with the Lord. It’s not the Lord’s work any other way.

October 29, 2014

Bible Metaphors

Bible Imagery

Today’s reading is adapted from the book The Ransomed Heart: A Collection of Devotional Readings by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart.


The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe our relationship to God at various stages.  If you’ll notice, they ascend in a stunning way:

Potter and clay.  At this level we are merely aware that our lives are shaped – even broken – by a powerful hand.  There isn’t much communication, just the sovereignty of God at work.

Is. 64:8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Shepherd and sheep.  At this stage we feel provided for, watched over, cared about.  But beyond that, a sheep has little by way of true intimacy with the Shepherd.  They are altogether different creatures.

John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Master and servant.  Many, many believers are stuck in this stage, where they are committed to obey, but the relationship is mostly about receiving orders and instructions and carrying them out.

Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Father and child.  This is certainly more intimate than being a servant; children get the run of the house, they get to climb on Daddy’s lap.  These fortunate souls understand God’s fatherly love and care for them.  They feel “at home” with God.

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Luke 11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father,…

Friends.  This stage actually opens up a deeper level of intimacy as we walk together with God, companions in a shared mission.  We know what’s on his heart;  he knows what’s on ours.  There is a maturity and intimacy to the relationship.

John 15:15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you

Bridegroom and bride (lovers).  Here, the words of the Song of Songs could also describe our spiritual intimacy, our union and oneness with God.  Madam Guyon wrote, “I love God far more than the most affectionate lover among men loves his earthly attachment.”

John 3:29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

Rev. 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.

Where would you put your relationship with God?  Why did you choose that “level”?  Has it always been that way?


 

This particular section of The Ransomed Heart is taken from The Journey of Desire Journal and Guidebook page 150. The scriptures are taken from the NIV and were not part of the original.

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