Christianity 201

December 7, 2019

No Bible Verse is Trivial

This article really resonated in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s from a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. The author is Wayne Jackson. Click the header below to read at source and then check out the other articles.

Why Is King David’s “Grocery List” in the Bible?

Louis Gaussen (1790-1863) was a Swiss scholar who served as professor of systematic theology in Geneva, Switzerland. He produced a classic volume, Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

In this work, he responded to several criticisms often made against the concept of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.

One of these is “the apparent insignificance of certain details,” that allegedly tend to nullify the lofty purpose claimed for the Scriptures (1840, 306ff).

On such example is a passage having to do with an incident in the life of David that is quite intriguing.

The Bible student is informed that when king David came to Mahanaim, three men, Shobi an Ammonite, Machir of Lode bar, and Barzillai of Gilead:

… brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people that were with him (2 Sam. 17:28-29).

The critic is prone to ask: “Do we really need an entire ‘grocery list,’ in this book that purports to be a spiritual document that guides one from earth to heaven?”

But the possible background of the passage could shed a floodlight of meaning upon this seemingly trivial list.

David’s beloved son, Absalom, was a rebel at heart. He was envious of his father’s success and wanted acclaim for himself.

So he carefully plotted to wrest the allegiance of David’s subjects from him, and transfer the same to himself.

And he was significantly successful. He “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).

Eventually, a full-blown rebellion was ignited.

David, with his remaining loyalists, fled Jerusalem. The king, with head covered, barefooted, and weeping, abandoned his palace for the sheltering seclusion of the forests east of Jordan (2 Sam. 15:30; 17:22ff).

Absalom hotly pursued his father, doubtless with the intention of assassinating the king. Such wretchedness!

David and his people were hungry, exhausted, and without adequate provisions.

What were they to do? Was there no assistance? Where was God?

Rather than acting directly, as in the case of dropping food from heaven for the Israelites (cf. Ex. 16:4), the Lord providentially intervened through indirect means that appeared altogether natural.

Jehovah sustained this man “after [his] own heart” in his time of distress.

Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 might well have been written to celebrate the answer to David’s prayers during this time of intense danger — especially verses 5-6 (see: Johnson 1981, 225; Kirkpatrick 1906, 124).

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.

If there is no specific historical connection between the song and this episode in David’s life, the events certainly illustrate one example of how David was cared for by his Shepherd in the face of his adversaries.

The sneered-at “grocery list” becomes a prime example of one’s “cup running over” — even in the looming shadow of a deadly enemy!

March 21, 2019

Compelling Holy Books

Is the Bible evidence for the existence of God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does the existence and nature of the Bible point to the existence and nature of God? Some people just love the Bible. Others find reading it a head-scratching experience. Perhaps, of course, there is some selective reading involved. I suspect that many who love it, and are never driven to question their faith by it, stick to their favourite bits. Likewise, I suspect that those who question Christianity tend stick to their favourite tricky bits. We want to consider the Bible in its entirety as we ask whether it is a compelling aspect of Christianity. Does the existence and nature of the Bible actually point to the reality of God?

Our expectations of the Bible play a big role in how we respond to it and whether we will find it compelling or not. There are two expectations that people often have as they consider the Bible. Either it is written by God, or it is written by men. Let us consider how these expectations pan out.

If the Bible was written by God, and if it was simply downloaded to us as if God sent us an email, then it is not what we would expect. It is convoluted. There are obviously so many authors writing at different times, under different circumstances, writing for different reasons, using different genres which reflect the kinds of writing humans do. It is not simply a “Here are some messages from God with all humans, at all times, and in all situations in mind” kind of book. Indeed what we think of as one book is really many writings written and collected over a very long period of time. That much is obvious.

In addition, the Bible answers questions we are not asking today. Have you ever wondered who the great-great-grandson of Esau was? The Bible gives us the answer.  However, the Bible does not answer questions we are asking. What about the dinosaurs? Who did Cain marry? How do we ethically use all our advances in medicine? If the Bible is simply a direct message from God, would we not expect it to be a simple message that anticipates all the questions of humanity?

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a message written and sent by God.

However, if the Bible is purely written out of the imagination of humans then likewise, it is not what we would expect. There is an amazing consistency in the presentation of God, the nature of humanity, the human dilemma, and the relationship between God and humanity. Despise the number of writings, the differing authors from different centuries living under different conditions, there is an incredible sense of unity in the Bible. There is also an incredible storyline that spans the many, many, many generations that lived while the writings were being written. Each generation would have had trouble making up its own part in that overall story.

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a product of the human mind.

So what is the Bible, then, if the Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, or if we made God up? The writings we find in the Bible are the kinds of writings we would expect, if God created humanity, then humanity rebelled, then God chose and called a specific people for the working out of His purposes, making covenant promises with them, rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the law at Sinai, establishing covenant promises and consequences, bringing them into a promised land where the people kept breaking the covenant, then God appointed leaders and prophets to get them back on track while continuing to reveal more of His purposes, then He came to us as a man, teaching, working miracles, was killed, then rose from the dead, appeared to many, gave the Holy Spirit, then the many people who saw him alive went about as witnesses telling others what they knew to be true, while God gave the Holy Spirit to people who were not from His specifically chosen people so they could be in relationship with Him also, while groups of believers gathered together in assemblies which sometimes needed instructions which was given through letters written by Paul and others, while the stories about, and teachings of, Jesus, were committed to writing by four men in what came to be known as the Gospels. If all these things happened and more, then the Bible is exactly the collection of writings we would expect.

The opposite is true. If these things did not happen, then why do the writings that make up the Bible exist, why do they take the shape they do, and why do they say the things they do?

The writings that make up the Bible are records of the ongoing relationship between God and humanity throughout many centuries in history until God finally revealed Himself most fully through Jesus:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

So are these writings from God, and therefore to be considered “The Word of God,” or are  they simply what humans wrote? They are both. As the Bible says of the sacred writings, what we now call “The Bible,”

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The writings that make up the Bible are “God breathed.” That means they are not simply written by God and downloaded to us, nor are they simply written by men without God’s involvement. Both God and humans are involved. They absolutely passed through the minds of people, they were absolutely penned by people, but they absolutely have God’s blessing as expressing well what we need to know. God would not have a long, long history of relationship with humanity, culminating with His very coming to us to enable relationship with Him, without providing for an accurate representation to be written and collected for future generations. So the writings of the Bible are “God breathed,” which means they are neither “God written,” nor “human invented.” Both God and humans are involved. When the writings of the Bible seem to be from another time and place, we are not surprised. They were written by people in another time and place. When the writings of the Bible seem timeless we are not surprised. The creator of time, Who still relates to us in our time, was involved!

This being the nature of the Bible, we want to check our expectations. The Bible is described by Paul as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and useful for “training in righteousness.” This means it is not a handbook to answer every question and satisfy our curiosity. Neither is it an idol to be worshipped. It does help us know God in Christ, Whom we do worship. Knowing about reconciliation in Jesus is infinitely better than knowing about the dinosaurs, or where Cain found a wife!

The Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, nor if we made God up. However, it is what we would expect if God has had a long relationship with us, interacting with us throughout history. The Bible itself, in all its convoluted mess, in all its wonderful consistency and amazing storyline, is compelling evidence that God exists and that God loves us.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

November 23, 2013

Finding the Divine in the Human Transcripts

The mere suggestion that today’s devotional, yes devotional comes from Rob Bell is enough to cause some eyes to glaze over; and the sound you hear is the sound of some people clicking away at this point. Rob Bell has, in very little time, emerged as a very controversial writer, whose work probably asks more questions than it answers.

But he makes you think. And that’s consistent with my goals here at Christianity 201. He’s started a series on his blog robbell.com titled “What Is the Bible?” (Not to be confused with Phil Vischer’s excellent DVD series for kids, “What’s In The Bible?”)  As I write this, Rob has 14 chapters posted, and I do admit to having no idea where he’s going and what he’s going to say next.

In the very first section, he echoes words being said by other writers that we are putting too much pressure on the Bible to respond to questions it was never intended to answer. That whatever level of inspiration we ascribe to scripture — and there are three or four — we are beginning with words that flowed from some individual’s pen (so to speak), or as Bell puts it, “Someone wrote something down.”

The following is some of the first section of What Is The Bible?, however, as we do here at Christianity 201, I’ve taken the liberty of formatting obvious scripture citations in green and indented:

Rob Bell 2013Many of the stories in the Bible began as oral traditions, handed down from generation to generation until someone collected them, edited them, and actually wrote them down, sometimes hundreds of years later. That’s years and years of people sitting around fires and walking along hot dusty roads and gathering together to hear and discuss and debate and wrestle with these stories.

The people who wrote these books had lots of material to choose from. There were lots of stories floating around, lots of accounts being handed down, lots of material to include. Or not include.

(There’s a line in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 11 where the author writes

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign-all he did and the wisdom he displayed-are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon?

Well, yes, I guess they are…it’s just that we have no idea what the author is referring to. Interesting the assumption on the author’s part that not only do we know this, but that we have access to these annals. Which we don’t.

We see something similar in the gospel of John where it’s written

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of disciples, which are not recorded in this book

and then the book ends with this line:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

It’s as if the writer, just to wrap things up, adds Oh yeah, I left a ton of stuff out.)

The authors of the books of the Bible, then, weren’t just writing, they were selecting and editing and making a multitude of decisions about what material and content furthered their purposes in writing and what didn’t.

These writers had agendas.

Luke: I too decided to write an orderly account for you…
The Book of Esther: This is what happened…
John: These are written that you may believe…

There were points they wanted to make, things they wanted their readers to see, insights they wanted to share. These writers, it’s important to point out, were real people living in real places at real times. And their purposes and intents and agendas were shaped by their times and places and contexts and economies and politics and religion and technology and countless other factors.

What does it tell us about the world Abraham lived in that when he’s told to offer his son as a sacrifice he sets out to do it as if it’s a natural thing for a god to ask…?

The David and Goliath story starts with technology-the Philistines had a new kind of metal, the Israelites didn’t. The story is under-girded by the primal fear that comes when your neighbor has weapons that you don’t have-like spears. Or guns. Or bombs.

Why does the Apostle Peter use the phrase there is no other name under heaven…? Where did he get this phrase and what images from military propaganda would it have brought to mind for his listeners?

Real people,
writing in real places,
at real times,
with agendas,
choosing to include some material,
choosing to leave out other material,
all because they had stories to tell.

Of course, in the broader world of hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) this might be just one of many approaches. But I offer it today as refreshing way of rethinking scripture. Later in the section Bell writes:

When people charge in with great insistence that this is God’s word all the while neglecting the very real humanity of these books, they can inadvertently rob these writings of their sacred power.

All because of starting in the wrong place.

You start with the human. You ask those questions, you enter there, you direct your energies to understanding why these people wrote these books.

Because whatever divine you find in it, you find that divine through the human, not around it.

Each section of What Is The Bible? links to the following section, and new sections are currently being added almost daily.  Here again is the link to part one.

Related:

February 7, 2012

Jeff Mikels Fields Some Questions – Part Two

I love it when pastors do a Q&A (question and answer) session after their sermons.  Yesterday we met Jeff Mikels, pastor of Lafayette Community Church in Indiana, who has blogged some of the questions he wasn’t able to answer in previous messages. Today we conclude with three more questions.

Some of the questions may apply to your interests.  Each question is a link to the full article.  You are encouraged to read each question at its source and leave specific comments on the applicable article.  When you click through, you can also use the articles you read to link to the rest of his blog.  I promise there won’t be Part Three tomorrow, but I equally promise that I believe we’ll return to Jeff’s blog in the future. 

I’ve also added some comments at the very end that apply to both parts of this short series.

The Bible: Do NT verses on Scripture apply to both Testaments?

Can we generalize New Testament verses on the authority of Scripture (eg. 2 Tim 3:15-17) to the NT since in the original context they were referring only to the Old Testament?

I didn’t get to answer this one on Sunday, but it’s a good question and deserves a little time. Basically, the question raises the issue that the New Testament authors use the word Scripture to refer to their Scripture which would have been the Jewish Scriptures or the Old Testament. Therefore, one could argue, the New Testament passages on Scriptural authority apply only to the Old Testament. As a result, how do we get our idea that the New Testament is also authoritative?

This is a very rational line of thought, but it misses on one small point. When the New Testament writers used the word “Scripture” they were not talking only about the Old Testament. In fact, there’s a fascinating passage in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. — 2 Peter 3:15-16

What’s fascinating in this passage is that Peter considered Paul’s writings to be Scripture. The word “other” near the end of v. 16 demonstrates that. Another fascinating thing about this passage is that Paul was still alive when it was written. So follow the logic: Peter knows about Paul’s writings. Peter calls them Scripture. Paul most likely is aware of Peter’s writings. He surely would have been told what Peter thought about his letters. Paul doesn’t deny it, ever. The most likely conclusion is that Paul and Peter both knew that what was being written in their day was to be considered Scripture.

Therefore, the answer is “Yes.” New Testament passages on Scripture refer also to the other New Testament writings.

The Bible: What about the apocrypha?

On Sunday, I was asked about the apocrypha, but I later found out that the answer I gave was partially wrong.

What I said was that back in the days before Jesus, there were a number of books that were circulated among Jewish people. However, back then, no one considered them to be on the same level as Scripture. In fact, after the prophet Malachi wrote his prophecy it was widely understood that there were no more prophets, and that was 400 years before Jesus. Nevertheless, history still happened during those 400 years and Jewish teachers still speculated on spiritual realities. That’s where the extra books came from. Nevertheless, as I said, the Jews of the time did not consider them to be authoritative or on the same level as the other Scriptures.

When the Hebrews Scriptures were translated into Greek, the translators decided to also translate some of the other documents into Greek as well. Eventually, the collected Greek translations came to be called the Septuagint after the supposed 70 scholars employed to do the work of translation.

By the time of Jesus, the majority of the Septuagint had been translated, and both Jesus and the Apostles used the Septuagint version as the version they quoted from. Nevertheless, no New Testament writer quotes from or refers to any of the books in the “apocrypha.” (see this article) Further, when the Rabbis finally and fully agreed on which books were the authoritative Hebrew Scriptures, they included only the books we now have in our Old Testament. Therefore, the reason these other books are not in Protestant Bibles today is that the Jews of Jesus day, though they used the Septuagint translation for their knowledge of Scripture, seemed to know a distinction between the books that later became the “Hebrew Scriptures” and those that later became the “Apocrypha.”

That’s basically what I said on Sunday, but I also made a claim that I have since learned was incorrect. I said that the Catholics followed the tradition of the Septuagint and included three sections in their Bibles with the Apocrypha in between the Old and New Testaments. However, that was wrong. Having been raised Catholic, my wife Jen has a Catholic Bible and showed me after the service that in their Bible, the “apocryphal” books are interspersed throughout the Old Testament. Furthermore, she told me that Catholics are actually quite offended by the term “apocrypha.”

So I was wrong about the Catholic Bibles. After a little more research tonight, I found that it was Martin Luther who first put the Apocrypha into a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, I’ll just say that the best way of understanding the difference between Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles is that Protestants follow the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Old Testament while the Catholics follow the tradition of the Septuagint.

I personally follow the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures endorsed by Jesus and the Apostles.

For additional information, these Wikipedia articles are quite interesting:

Understanding the Father

On Sunday, we addressed the third statement from [our church’s] Statement of Faith, but before we can look at it, we need to consider the relationship between human language and the reality of God.

The Limits of Our Language

What thoughts come to mind when you think of God? What images come to you? Is he some old man sitting on a throne? Do you imagine him in the ways of Greek mythology, like Zeus holding a lightning bolt and standing on a mountain? Do you imagine him as a highly exalted human being?

The problem is that none of those images are valid. None of those images work. None of those images are allowed. They are all idols. In the burning bush, God used no mental images to describe himself. The fire was a portal for his voice, but his self description was simply “I AM.” In the march from Egypt to Israel, God confirmed his presence before the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the days of wandering, God confirmed his presence by the golden box called the Ark filled with the ten commandments. And near the top of the list at number two was the command against having any idols, any objects of worship that were visible and tangible.

Our mental images are just as idolatrous because they put representations of God in our mind that are not actually God as he is. The most important thing to know about God is that he cannot be contained, he cannot be imagined, he cannot be imaged by humans. Our concepts are too small, our brains are too childish, our language is too limited, our knowledge is too elementary.

Even as we talk about God, we must keep in mind that God is bigger than the words we use. When we say God is love, we mean that he has revealed himself to us with the word “love,” but that his love is more loving than our love.

By way of disclaimer, then, I just want to say that God is the standard for the attributes we describe. It is not the other way around. We can’t use our words, define our words, put our own concepts into our words, and then apply those labels to God. We can’t say, “Well, to me, love means… and therefore, since God is love, he should act like…” You can’t come to know God by learning more about the attribute. You can’t study fathers to learn about your Heavenly Father. You can’t study lovers to learn of God’s love. You can’t study morals to learn about God’s goodness

Instead, we need to let God and his reality fill out the definition for the words we use. If God is love, we must let God’s character and actions define for us what love really is.

Now, we can turn to the statement.

The Father

[Our] Statement of Faith reads thus:

God the Father is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love. He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of each person, He hears and answers prayer, and He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 32:4-6, Psalm 139, Matthew 6:6-8, John 3:16-17, John 4:24, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Implications

What I find to be most fascinating about all of this is that the statement starts with a God who is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, and it ends with a God who pays attention to the prayers of individual people.

In talking about this with our congregation, I walked through the statement point by point, showing supporting verses and providing brief explanation where helpful. Then, at the end I addressed some live questions from the congregation. Those questions were fascinating because they all seemed to revolve around the one big issue of God’s will versus human freedom.

Answering those questions adequately requires us to fully grasp the meaning of the first sentence of our statement above. Here are a couple bullet points to flesh out the statement:

  • As the only infinite personal spirit, God is boundless with regard to time and space, without physical properties, but able to mentally relate to other intelligent beings.
  • Perfect holiness means that God is completely distinct—other than—everything in Creation. He is above and beyond his creatures. His essence, attributes, and behaviors cannot be fully comprehended by any created being.
  • Perfect wisdom means that God always fully understands all possible courses of action. He perfectly understands the past. He can perfectly predict the future. Therefore, he can perfectly select the best course of action in any circumstance.
  • Perfect power means that God is always able to accomplish what he intends to do. It doesn’t mean that he is able to create logically impossible realities like a circle with four right angles. It does mean that he always gets what he wants. His power extends so great that he is even able to create a world where the independent actions of free beings bring about the end result he desires.
  • Perfect love means that God is first of all in a perfect love relationship with the other members of the Trinity. His very nature allows for and demands a loving mutuality of deference, equality, respect, and affirmation. Love is intrinsic to the nature of God. Therefore, because the Trinity is at work cooperatively to bring about God’s desired plans, the Father deeply loves his plans and the execution of those plans by the Son. Finally, the Father loves the individuals of the world because they are his prime agents working out his plan on planet Earth.

In the posts to follow, we will be addressing questions regarding the will of God, but to conclude this post, I want to affirm the most personally compelling reality of the nature of God.

God, the one who is unbounded by time and space, who knows the best thing to do at all times, who is fully capable to bring about his will regardless of circumstances, made you to be who you are at this moment in history. God, who always knows what’s best and always gets his way, made you.

Take pride that God has chosen you to be part of his plan. Take warning that God expects you to play by his rules. Take comfort that God has done everything possible to empower you to do just that.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. — John 3:16-17


Now that we’ve freely “borrowed” some of Jeff’s writing; I’d like some of you to return the favor by bookmarking or subscribing to Jeff’s blog.

But before we leave, I want us to “borrow” one more thing.  Look at the questions that appeared yesterday and today and while the substance of each answer is important, notice the carefully reasoned approach by which each is answered.  That’s the style your “always be ready to give an account” answers should have to your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.  You go from “A” to “B” to “C” to conclusion.

Consider the concept that you want to make progress with each new paragraph or thought, and the idea that one paragraph builds upon another which is based on a foundation or hypothesis.

But then, having said that, you have to content or substance.  Like the Bereans, you need to “search the scriptures” in order give people quality answers to the questions they might ask.  Christianity 201 is all about digging a little deeper.

October 18, 2011

Inspiration for Scripture May Have Rested on a Larger Number of Contributors

Ryan Peter lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is the latest blogger to join the Alltop Christianity Page.  This article will greatly expand your view of how the Pauline epistles, in particular, were written. He gave it the much more concise title, Paul’s Use of Scribes, Scriptural Interpretation and Scribes Today.

Many people might not have noticed that Paul, quite clearly, employed the use of scribes in his letter writing. Rom 16:22, for example, shows that Tertius wrote the letter (on paper) but the letter is authored and sent by Paul. There are other references and clues to this all over his letters. Just go to the end of each of them and see if you can find them (for example, Paul highlighting how he is writing a certain part of the letter in ‘his own hand’.)

But now why is this important? I’m going to come at this from three angles:

1) It has something to say about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, I think.
2) It has something to say about how scribes can be (and perhaps should be) used in the church and apostolic teams today.
3) It has something to say about certain letters where Paul’s authorship is disputed.

I’m a writer myself and something of what I do each day fits into what scribes used to do in Paul’s time (and even before, as we see Jeremiah also dictated his prophecies). Scribes used to either write a letter on behalf of someone else word-for-word (dictated); edit the letters of their client, getting sign-off once they were done; take down notes to get a general idea of what their client wanted written and compose the letter themselves, getting sign-off from the client; or, in extreme cases, write something they know their client would say and send it off without even getting sign off as there was a trusted relationship between them.

In the world of PR and communications this happens in various levels and many people, when they get into this world, are shocked to find out that the CEO of whatever company didn’t actually say what a newspaper article says he said, but rather the PR company wrote what the CEO would (or probably should) have said and he just rubber stamped it. He doesn’t have the time to think of all the right words to say, he pays someone to do that for him. Well, in the old days, kings and queens and Caesars and even the common person (who couldn’t write) would hire scribes to do pretty much the same thing, to various degrees, and Paul himself either hired a scribe or had scribes on his apostolic team. In fact, I think the latter is more probable, given the fact that Tertius feels at liberty to butt in and send his own greetings at the end of Romans.

Now, what does this say about scriptural authority and interpretation?

I’m coming off the back of a very interesting article written by Andrew Wilson from King’s Church Eastborne who thinks that the biggest theological debate for the next 20 years will be about how we read, understand and apply the Bible. It’s a very good article and point, and I have an inkling that the debate might be made a lot easier if we can understand how scribes would have worked with Paul in composing those letters.

The idea of a scribe ‘working with’ Paul has a number of implications for this topic that might not be immediately clear.

Firstly, it means Paul might not have dictated all this ‘word for word’, which means we can’t be too technical when it comes to his use of certain words across all of his letters. Secondly, it may also mean that it was not only Paul who was inspired by the Holy Spirit in writing those parts of the Bible, but also his scribe. Now that says a great deal about Paul’s own scriptural authority and inspiration, apostolic authority today, and a great deal about writers today, but we don’t have space to unpack all the implications in this one post (I might unpack it as I do more research).

That also perhaps wouldn’t be seen as much of an issue within Jewish culture, given the authority scribes seemed to have (many were seen as Rabbis). Now I’ll even take it one step further because, given what I see written at the end of some of Paul’s letters, and the style of the book of Hebrews and some of Paul’s letters, letters may have not just been composed by Paul and his scribe but letters could have been a collaborative effort by Paul and his apostolic team. I’m thinking of Paul in prison here, mostly, where we see a lot of greetings at the end of the letters.

Paul was the leader of an apostolic movement but he had many people on his team. Letters sent “from” Paul are sent carrying his authority as the leader of an apostolic movement, but what if they were composed collaboratively? Paul was there to OK the letter but he didn’t come up with the whole thing, rather doctrine was discussed, how things were to be communicated was agreed upon, the scribe wrote down what the team wanted, did some editing to make it more clear, less confusing, and a letter was sent? This means that Paul, although the leader, was not the only one inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scripture. This throws some interesting light on how scriptural inspiration could have happened, which greatly increases the authority of Scripture in my mind (it’s not just coming from one guy but from a team of guys who all have the Holy Spirit).

This also throws light on the role of scribes today. As a scribe myself it helps me understand the seriousness of what I write and how I write and it shows me how my gifting can be used apostolically and in the Church today. Many pastors and apostolic guys today aren’t good at writing well, and it’s not as if I think they should be, I’m not very good at half the things they do. They also don’t have the time. But a scribe can take the heart of these guys and, also being inspired by the Holy Spirit and carrying a certain authority, convey it in written words for them, which is necessary in an information driven world that is being dominated by the Internet.

That makes me excited. I’m also here to perform my function in the church and this function is a serious one. We leave it up to the pastors to lead, envision, and even write books. Why? Why aren’t we seeing more scribes do that? This is perhaps a lost art form that I think is much needed in the church today. Writing is not just about selling millions of books (and generally it’s only the big name pastors who sell lots of books anyway) but about helping leaders in the church to communicate effectively. No one really knows the name Tertius but he was perhaps an incredibly important cog in the scripture writing process. It’s not about having a big name but about being effective.

As to number (3) above, this article at the Religious Study Centre answers that, and I think pretty well. It also clears up a lot of how scribes used to work and I recommend it for further research.

I realise I haven’t unpacked everything I could in this post, but I probably will as time goes by and I give this all a think and more research.

~Ryan Peter

February 25, 2011

Maybe All the Letters Should Be in Red Ink

Red Letter Christians” is a popular term of late. Dan Phillips has a great article at Team Pyro that I want to encourage you to read in its original form. It will take you about 3-4 minutes. Just click here, and then you may skip everything that follows.

Don’t have 3-4 minutes?  Okay, here’s the snapshot:

  • The present trend is to put more stock in Jesus’ words than the words of the Epistles, probably because Jesus’ words are more palatable to certain audiences.
  • Jesus told the apostles to preach and gave them the freedom to draft their own text. At a literal level, they were not reading off the same page.
  • The apostles were promised the Holy Spirit to inspire and supervise their writing.
  • The above point goes deeper, the Spirit would “bear witness” with their spirit, John 16: 12-15 promises they would deliver their message with authority; a message than can be trusted.
  • The promise in John 16 also suggests that the apostles would receive “new things” which Jesus himself had not yet uttered.
  • These things would be “of Him,” in other words, their words would be His words.
  • The apostles knew this and realized the weight of their words. Dan phrases this: “”If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostle, in so many words, equates his writings with a command of Jesus Christ. His writings, Paul says, are (not merely “contain”) the command (not merely general notions) of Jesus.
  • Ephesians 2:20 says that the apostles are laying the foundation with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  This is God’s design, building for the generations that would follow.
  • Attempts to “segregate” the writings of Paul are negated by Peter’s affirmation of Paul’s writings in II Peter 3:15-16
  • Here are some concluding thoughts from the article:

..You really could make the legitimate argument that the apostles’ words should also equally be red-letter, in that they are the words of Christ conveyed by the Holy Spirit…

and

…In conclusion, I might come full circle and affirm that Christians should focus on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

But then I would hasten to say that those words and teachings are found from Matthew to Revelation.

If you’re reading this sentence, it possibly means you skipped the original, so now that you’re appetite is whetted for this discussion, here’s a second chance to just click here.