Christianity 201

March 22, 2022

Musical Instruments in Worship

Psalm 150 NLT

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!

Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!

Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!

Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!

Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.

Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

It’s difficult to read the above and then realize that there are entire denominations within Christianity which do not accept the use of musical instruments in worship. The passage seems not only prescriptive in the literal sense, but seems to represent a pattern where “Praise him with electric guitars;” or “Praise him with keyboard synthesizers” would not be out of line.

And yet…

Ten years ago local church in Texas wound up as a newspaper story over their debate as to whether to go against the denomination and include guitars.

…Churches of Christ have traditionally called for instrument-free worship services, believing New Testament Scriptures and church traditions affirm and require the practice.

Some members, like Hicks, see the inclusion of instruments as a departure not just from tradition, but also from God’s word – and therefore, a matter of salvation.

Others appreciate the denomination’s a capella worship tradition, but question whether it is a Scriptural requirement…

The article pointed to Ephesians 5: 19-20

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (NIV)

But there is a principle of hermeneutics — which we’ll get to — that just because something isn’t expressly mentioned, doesn’t necessarily mean it is forbidden.

The article — and this is actually quite commendable for a local newspaper story — goes on to note that this simply wasn’t true for the Old Testament.

Numerous Scriptures, like those in 2 Chronicles 7 and 29, Psalms 33, 92 and 150, affirmed instrumental worship, the leaders decided.

An apologetic from a leader in that same denomination states,

As further proof that we should expressively forbid the use of musical instruments in worship, we know from the first several centuries of church history that singing was unaccompanied in all Christian worship. The Latin phrase “a cappella” comes to us from ancient times with the meaning of singing without instrumental music. Literally translated, “a cappella” means “at chapel.” Clearly, this is evidence that at some time in the past Christians routinely worshiped God with unaccompanied singing. Even as recent as the 19th century, religious leaders of most denominations condemned the use of mechanical instruments during worship.

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies.

But that statement also reminds us that worship was for many centuries conducted in Latin. This creates two problems. First, Latin would be unknown to the early church members. Did they not worship in their vernacular? Second, if that is and should be the pattern, why have we drifted from Latin today? The logic of the argument pales on close examination.

In the Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn’s entry on Psalms states,

the Greek title for the book in the Codex Alexandrinus is psalterion, which is the name of a stringed instrument used to accompany songs of worship.

Scott Smith, the writer who quoted Hahn went on to note:

…This isn’t just the Church of Christ who discourages, if not expressly forbids, the use of musical instruments in worship. These other churches do the same: some Presbyterian churches, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, the Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Amish and Mennonite communities…

In addition, it is said that the practice of using instruments was “opposed vigorously in worship by the majority of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Alexander Campbell.” Go figure.

These New Testament verses are often cited as a basis for not using instruments in worship: Mathew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12, 13:15; James 5:13…

However, they are merely invocations to sing, not denouncements of instruments. In these verses, Christ’s apostles find themselves alone on the Mount of Olives, imprisoned, etc. … Hey! Why didn’t anybody remember to bring a lute to prison?? Yikes.

Responding to the verse in Ephesians, a writer with the opposite viewpoint says,

…Since Paul is giving a command, if he had reference to playing a mechanical instrument of music we would all be obligated to do so. It would not be optional, but mandatory for every Christian. The early church did not understand it this way, as they never worshiped God with a mechanical instrument. Therefore, instrumental music in worship is an addition to the word of God. From passages such as Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 and Revelation 22:18-19 we learn that God would not have us to add to His word. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:6, “Learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (ASV). In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul admonishes, “teach no other doctrine”. Remember, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God” (ASV).

He then goes on to list several things wrong with instrumental music, but you’ll need to scan that list of bullet points for yourself and see how your spirit responds to the flow of the argument.

The quotation from 1 Corinthians leads to the final thought on this topic, and for this I am thankful for having two “theologians” in the family, particularly my wife Ruth and my son Aaron, who pointed me this morning to the difference between the “regulative principle” for worship and the “normative principle.”

The most straightforward explanation I saw was this from the Compelling Truth website,

Regulative worship relies upon Scripture to dictate specifically what is allowed in worship. If it isn’t in the Bible, it cannot be in a worship setting. Normative worship looks at the other side of the coin. If it isn’t prohibited in the Bible, then it is allowed in worship.

The site provides a simple comparison:

Churches which choose regulative worship do not use musical instruments, for example, because there is no New Testament command to do so. Normative churches may use drama, music, and other expressions in worship because they are not forbidden in Scripture…

…Both regulative and normative churches claim they are following God’s Word…

The article continues in a direction which may be familiar to longtime readers here when we discussed the differences between rules and principles.* In other words, the goal is to appeal to the highest principle.

In the extreme, the regulative principle would also, in addition to the manner in which sung worship takes place, dictate the content of what is sung, as pointed out in an article in Breakpoint.

…Of course, this raises questions of where to draw the line between elements and circumstances. For example, singing is commanded in Scripture, but what are we to sing? Some denominations that adhere to the Regulative Principle argue that we should only sing Psalms as words mandated by God, perhaps supplemented with biblical texts such as the Song of Simeon. Others argue that the command to address one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs allows for a broader range of songs than just the Psalter. The rejoinder is that those terms represent different types of psalms…

The article says that in contrast,

Although the Normative Principle might seem to be less concerned with biblical fidelity than the Regulative Principle, it too looks on the Bible as the final authority on how we should worship God. However, it does not interpret the biblical text as a set of rules for worship but rather as guidelines showing us how to worship in Spirit and truth without mandating every last thing that can be done in worship. It allows for more creativity, including the use of a range of arts.

Each person reading this will decide for themselves if “doing what God commands” means “doing only what God commands.”


*I was greatly enlightened on this subject by a booklet published by InterVarsity Press (IVP) in 1981, What’s Right? What’s Wrong by Donald E. DeGraaf (sadly out of print.) In it he talks about the difference between rules and principles. A rule applies to one group of people, or people in one particular place, or at one particular time. A principle applies to all people in all places at all times. Rules derive from principles. If rules appear to be in conflict, appeal to the higher principles which govern them.

 

 

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February 13, 2022

Comparison Verses

On Valentine’s Day, 2011, I asked readers at Thinking Out Loud to name their go-to verses when checking out a new Bible translation. Five of the responses are below. Later that year, the NIV2011 would emerge, but using what I had at the time, NIV1984, I reproduced their lists in full.

At the bottom with references only, are two other lists. One gives the reason for examining each passage, which is closer to the more rigorous Bible scrutiny we see more frequently today.

If nothing else, today you get to read some great scripture selections, so slow down and allow each to speak to you.


Joe’s list:

John 3:3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Romans 1:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Cynthia’s list:

I John 5:7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Col 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form

Cloudwatcher’s List:

II Tim 2:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.   [her list continued through verse 14]

Hebrews 10:10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

David’s list:

Deut 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you,
saying, ‘Destroy them!’

Psalm 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect:
The LORD’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him

My own list (you’ve seen two of these passages frequently here):

Col 1:9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[b] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Phil 2:5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Titus 3:5(KJV) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost

The criteria in this question was rather unusual, but I don’t think we’re ever poorer for contemplating the scriptures.  Some of the verses I wanted to choose had already been selected (i.e. Hebrews 10), so I added the Titus verse which had fallen in my radar the previous summer. The Philippians passage is still my go-to when checking out a new translation.


Appendix:

Dave’s list with criteria:

1) Philippians 3:8 to see if someone is finally brave enough to translate “skubala” as “dogsh*t”

2)Galatians 5: To see if they scored a win (like the New NIV finally did) and translated “sarx” as flesh, not “sinful nature”

3)The gospels: To see if (like The Voice did) someone translated baptism as “ritual cleansing” or
literally as “dip” or “immersion”

4) 2 Tim 1:7: “sound mind” or “self-discipline”

5)Psalm 2:12, capitalize “Son” or no; also “his son” or “the son”?

Albert’s list with equal weight to OT and NT:

Old testament:

1. Genesis 1
2. Psalm 23
3. Isaiah 7:14 (because everyone seems to care whether it’s “virgin” or “young woman”)

New Testament:

1. Matthew 5-6
2. Ephesians 5-6
3. Philippians 2


If you have an idea for an out-of-the-box devotional article here let us know. Also, it’s been awhile since we ran the “Quotations” series, so if you have an author to recommend, we’ll consider it.


Go Deeper:

While we’re on the topic of translations, last month Bible Gateway decided to remove The Passion Translation (TPT) from its site. If this type of thing interests you, and you’d like to read more, with links to more detailed articles, click here.

December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

November 13, 2021

The Bible’s Top 6 Verses Used as Random Maxims

In many respects, I’d like to think that regular readers here don’t need today’s post, but for each one of those, there are others I hope find this via a search engine, and do a reset on the misapplication of certain scripture passages. (If you’re in the “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” category, then skip to today’s bonus article by the same author.

It’s been awhile (not sure why) since we last visited Driving Thought, the long-time blog of Scott McCown. Here’s one quoted article and two linked articles. Click the header below to read direct from the source.

What Does that Verse Say?

Everywhere I go, I hear Christians and Bible-minded people quoting passages of scripture or I see certain passages on signs, bumper stickers, or on personalized car plates (tags). At first glance these passages seem to be encouraging or seem to be full of promise. Yet, often, after a deeper look at the context of the passage, they do not say what the sign, sticker, or tag implies. I have selected three of the more popular of these scriptures from the Old Covenant and three from the New Covenant to share and explore.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” People quote this verse implying that God has a plan of my welfare for a future for hope, He has a specific plan for my life. I just need to let go and let God take control. But that is not what that verse is about. It is not about you. It is not about me. Unless of course, I want to wait 70 years like the verse before says. Contextually, God is telling the nation of Judah, “You have abandoned me, I am going to send you into captivity for seventy years, then you will come back here and call on My name – returning to Me, Then I will lay out the plans I have for you.” The plan was to restore them so the Messiah – Christ could come.

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Many use this verse as if to say that if the United States of America would just pray, God will make America great again. I hate to disappoint you, but The United States is NOT God’s chosen people. The USA is not God’s nation. To be honest, we are not really a Christian nation. We are a democratic-republic who elects leaders. In the context of 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon has finished construction of the temple and God is warning Israel about becoming unfaithful and telling them He will punish their unfaithfulness but will forgive when they repent. Any application today is not to the United States of America but to God’s chosen people today, His kingdom, His body – the CHURCH. If the church wants to grow, we need to be a people of prayer and reliance on God.

Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” I heard someone on the radio using this verse as a promise. Their statement was along this idea, “You are going through a tough time, but God is taking you through that on purpose. He has a plan. A plan to give you something new and better.” Then they explained how their first marriage broke apart and how devastated they felt, but God lead a new spouse into their life and it is the best that has ever happened to them. All that sounds fantastic. That is until you realize the Lord is making a comparison. He is comparing the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to a new way and a new covenant He will make through the Messiah. The new thing is salvation through Christ and the promise of eternal salvation in Him.

Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Many times, this verse is used when you or I do not want someone saying what we are doing or are about to do is wrong (dangerous, immoral, sinful, etc.) But that is NOT what Jesus is saying. Contextually, Jesus is saying before you tell someone about their sin, know that you will be judged by the same standard. So, make sure you are aware of and admit your own weaknesses before you condemn others for theirs (Matthew 7:1-5). Other passages us teach Christians to watch out for, edify, encourage, and even to judge one another (1 Corinthians 5:12). I want you to help me become more righteous, so please judge what I am doing and offer correction when I am in the wrong. Just realize that you do not have the ability to know my motives. You can judge my actions but only God can judge my heart.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Many times, we apply this verse to tasks, education, tests, sports and more. We use it to say we are invincible in this life and communicate that we will always come out on top when we rely on the strength of Christ. In Phil 4:10-14, Paul is thanking the Philippians for assisting him in his time of need. He shares that he is able to endure the hardships of persecution, need, hunger, as well as the joy of acclamation, abundance, and feasts. He has learned to take life in stride because his life is about Christ not about himself. If we apply this to sports, then I can win graciously because my life is in Christ and I can also lose graciously because my life is about Christ not about my ability (or lack thereof) on the basketball court.

John 13:7 “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Many use this verse in connection with Isaiah 43:19 (Behold I am doing a new thing) and claim that what hardship we are going through is from God and that although we do not understand it, we will when He gives us a new blessing afterwards. So we say, “God, I don’t know why you caused my house to burn down, but I know you have something new and better planned for me. I don’t understand what you are doing, but I have faith that everything happens for a reason.” That is not what this verse is about. This verse is about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and coming to Peter who tells Jesus, don’t wash my feet. Jesus replies, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” A few verses later he explains so that Peter and the rest would know what He was doing, “. . . Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17). Jesus is teaching them about humble service and servant leadership. If He, Jesus the Christ, stooped to wash feet like a lowly house servant, then His followers and the leaders of His people (the Church) are servants not tyrants. That is what Peter and we are to understand from John 13:7.

My challenge to each and every one of us is to not use the Bible as a book of maxims to be randomly applied to make us feel better about life. That we not look at the Word of God as a book of various promises to demand (claim) from God. We need to take time to learn the context of a passage, take time to learn the over-riding message of the Bible – God’s plan for redeeming man back to Himself for eternity.


Second Helping:

By the same author, check out Break the Chains and/or Grace is Grace (a scripture medley).

 

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.

____

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.

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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!

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