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Is 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 Anti-Semitic?

Is 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 Anti-Semitic?

Dave Black writes on this passage today on his blog, as he prepares to teach it. I have extracted the post and put it on the Jesus Paradigm site (supporting Dave’s book The Jesus Paradigm), in order to have a permanent link.

Dave argues based on the way one should analyze the phrases and then punctuate. It’s well worth reading.

I would add that Paul is here commending the Thessalonians for behaving as the churches in Judea did, which is also a commendation for those believers who were doubtless all or nearly all Jews themselves. The logic here indicates that Paul is condemning those who killed Jesus specifically, rather than all Jews, as he commends a large group in the same passage.

Dave talks about vituperation. I think Paul was passionate and his language is often vigorous. It’s easy for hate to take over and reinterpret and apply words.

Just try to talk about “moderate Muslims” in today’s atmosphere. You’ll doubtless encounter those who don’t want to make the distinction between those who engage in terrorism, those who support it, those who are apathetic toward it, and those who actively oppose it.

Yet if we turn the situation around, we’re quite willing to make such distinctions or gradations regarding those in our own community.

This is how stereotypes are created, and hate against a group generated. An accusation, however just, is brought against one member of a group, and then someone focuses on that group, rather than on the person involved. Soon perfectly innocent people are subjected to hatred. This happens whether it’s a matter of a racial group, a religious group, or a profession. One police officer is caught in corruption and someone concludes that “the police are corrupt.”

On the other hand, some excuse members of a group because of prejudice (perceived or real) against the whole.

I think Paul makes his distinction here. Those who persecuted were, quite rightly, condemned. (That goes for Christians who have persecuted others through the centuries as well.) We need to make a similar distinction at all times between those to be commended and those evildoers we must deal with.

I’m reminded of my own reaction to the Duke Lacrosse Case. (Yes, that’s an entry on Wikipedia.)

When I first heard of it, I assumed that the accused were guilty. Why? They seemed to me to be privileged rich kids and I thought they were exercising their privilege and entitlement. Turned out I was wrong.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15, my emphasis)

Don’t do that, Henry!

The Importance of Breaking Rules of Style

The Importance of Breaking Rules of Style

When I was in the Air Force, I submitted a performance report on someone I supervised. The lieutenant who was the next person to endorse the report returned it to me, informing me that I shouldn’t use the passive voice so much. Problem was, I hadn’t used a single passive clause in the report. What the lieutenant didn’t like was my use of the perfect tense. He wanted to get rid of “has” and “have” because he’d heard they shouldn’t be there. And the fact is that my report did overdo the use of the perfect tense so I fixed it.

What I’ve found as an editor, besides my inability to properly edit my own work, is that the writing style people use is often the result of a number of rules of thumb they learned in High School English class. They don’t understand the rules, but they cling to them, because that’s what they know. They’re afraid of being wrong and looking uneducated. I often suggest to authors to make their written style closer to their spoken style. It’s natural to get a bit more formal when writing, but don’t overdo it.

My intention in writing this, however, is not to give advice about writing, but rather about reading and understanding.The value of a passive verb is in emphasizing something in a more subtle way than with bold print, an exclamation mark, or other more blatant approaches. It’s important to understand the way things are usually done so you can feel it when they’re done differently. In your native tongue this is automatic for most of us, though some people are more aware than others of the subtleties possible with language.

This is very important for those who study the Bible in the original languages. We still have a tendency to make exegesis a series of word studies, but the way the words are put together is extremely important. That’s why I emphasize reading quantities of a foreign language. There are many theories about the way to learn a language. I’m not going to jump on any one bandwagon except to say that one needs to have exposure to a large body of text in the language written by those who are proficient.

Modern tools provide many excellent opportunities to do this. Take as many of those opportunities as you can!

(For an example, see Dave Black’s notes on 3 John from 12/27/2016.)

Eschatology, Ezekiel, and the Glory of God

Eschatology, Ezekiel, and the Glory of God

Some Eschatology SourcesTonight I’ll continue my discussion of Ezekiel, which I see as a book that stands somewhat between classical prophecy and apocalyptic, though more on the side of classical prophecy. Nonetheless you’ll see aspects of the structure and language of Ezekiel in much of apocalyptic literature, enough so that I would suggest that being acquainted with Ezekiel is a prerequisite for serious study of Daniel or Revelation.

We’ll be focusing on the glory of God and how it moves and is used symbolically in this book, right up to the temple vision. Depending on how I manage to use the time I may finish talking about this book. I’m obviously not covering this in detail, but I hope this may provide a start for those who’d like to study more.

I’ll be following this study with some selections from Jeremiah and 2nd and 3rd Isaiah, and then I’ll move to some of the visions of Zechariah before going to Daniel. We’ll be doing a full verse-by-verse study of the book of Daniel. It’s important to get a look at these prophetic books so that we can see clearly where Daniel differs and think about why it does so.

For tonight, you can view/listen through the event page on Google+ or using the YouTube viewer below.

The Authority of the Longer Ending of Mark

The Authority of the Longer Ending of Mark

Here’s an interesting post on the longer ending of Mark and snake handling. (HT: Dave Black Online, Why Four Gospels?)

There’s obviously a serious question about hermeneutics lurking in the discussion, but what I would like to see discussed is just what text of Mark is authoritative. We tend to assume that what we want is the most original text. What did Mark write?

But we count as scripture what was recognized by the church councils as scripture. (I ignore here whatever reasons they may have had for their choice.) The Gospel of Mary or the Gospel of Peter are not authoritative, but Mark is. What text of Mark were the church fathers looking at when they made it canonical? Does that matter?

I think it would relate (in a distant way) to the question of whether a gospel retains its authority if one thinks it was authored by someone other than the traditional one. If the church fathers canonized a gospel they believe to have been written by Mark, and then it turns out he didn’t write it, should their decision be reviewed?

I ask these questions because we often try to dodge doctrinal difficulties through textual criticism. I think that is not always (or often) the right approach. It has its value, but creates its own difficulties.

Worth thinking on, I think.

Piacular View of the Atonement

Piacular View of the Atonement

I ran headlong into my lack of explicit theological training today while studying Hebrews. (Yes, I’m still working on my revised study guide.) Now I’m certain that I’ve run into the word “piacular” before. The reason I can be so certain is that this is the second time I’m reading James Moffatt’s commentary on Hebrews in the ICC.

In discussing the view of sacrifice in Hebrews he states that the author takes the “piacular view.” He then quotes John Calvin. My Latin isn’t up to such a translation, so I went to a translation of the Institutes that I possess (ii. 15. 6) to get it in English:

… end and use to be, that as a Mediator, free from all taint, he may by his own holiness procure the favour of God for us. But because a deserved curse obstructs the entrance, and God in his character of Judge is hostile to us, expiation must necessarily intervene, that as a priest employed to appease the wrath of God, he may reinstate us in his favour. Wherefore, in order that Christ might fulfil this office, it behoved him to appear with a sacrifice. For even under the law of the priesthood it was forbidden to enter the sanctuary without blood, to teach the worshipper that however the priest might interpose to deprecate, God could not be propitiated without the expiation of sin. On this subject the Apostle discourses at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the seventh almost to the end of the tenth chapter.

I have included one elision Moffatt made in the quote, between the first “intervene” and the final sentence beginning with “On.” I don’t think that makes a difference. In fact, the final bit before the elision, “piaculum intervenire necesse est” is part of my problem. Now of course the Latin definition need not match the English, but they seem to match in the dictionaries available to me.

After another quote, which he says parallels Calvin, Moffatt continues:

The interpretation of Calvin confuses Paul’s doctrine of expiation with the piacular view of our author.

I’ve read the section through a couple of times and I’m not sure I’m getting this. The difference Moffatt seems to be highlighting is that God, according to Calvin, is hostile to the universe through the curse, whereas the author of Hebrews sees no such thing. He is rather concerned with God’s wrath against apostates. On the next page (xxxvi) he adds, “What engrosses the writer is the need not so much of a medium between God and the material universe, as of a medium between his holiness and human sin (see on 12:23).”

I see a sense of the difference Moffatt is trying to make here, though I don’t completely understand it. At the same time, I’m not sure I see that the author of Hebrews has made the distinction Moffatt says he has.

Any thoughts?


Book Notes: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek

Book Notes: Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek

linguistics for greekI try not to call what I do here “reviewing” as I don’t really try to provide an academic review. In fact, I might do better to call these “Ramblings after Reading.” In the case of this book I need to provide an additional caveat. Dave Black is a friend, and I publish several books by him (The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, Why Four Gospels?, Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?, and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul). Since I own the company and have named myself chief editor, the fact that I’ve published that many titles by one author should indicate that I like his work. So don’t get the idea that you’re about to read a scholarly review by an impartial reviewer.

Probably more important than that, however, is the reason I read this book in the first place. I have long believed that we might do the church a favor if, rather than one semester (or even quarter) of a biblical language, we gave them one quarter of introductory linguistics. This is not because I don’t believe in the value of biblical languages for biblical teaching and preaching. Quite the contrary!

The problem is that there are many people using Greek or Hebrew in the pulpit, their Sunday School classes, small groups, etc. who don’t actually know enough of the language to support the use their making of it. I have come to the place where I tell those I can to beware. If a pastor or teacher says something like “What the Greek really says here is …” you’re about to be misinformed.

There are teachers and preachers who do have a solid knowledge of the languages and use them in their study. They’re not that likely to say “what the Greek really says” when they introduce their discussion of a Greek word or phrase.

Generally those who do that read the answer in a commentary or other study resource, and often they lacked even the skill to correctly interpret the commentary. In addition, the commentary itself may well have been wrong. I know it’s shocking, but even PhD’s whose books go through a serious editorial process can make mistakes.

There has been a great deal of effort put into correcting some of the most common errors, and so we have lists of exegetical fallacies, such as D. A. Carson’s aptly named book Exegetical Fallacies. I’ve even published one (via my company Energion Publications) titled “In the Original Text It Says …” which provides examples of some fallacies and suggests how to avoid them.

These tools are useful, but they only deal with the problem partially. Exegetical fallacies are committed because they often appear to work. Etymology often does point one to meaning, and thus one may become convinced, or just lazily assume, that etymology determines meaning. From valid observation to fallacy may not take that many steps.

There is no real substitute for some understanding of how language works, and to get that understanding you need to do more than learn the vocabulary of a foreign language. I don’t teach Greek or Hebrew regularly, but from time to time I’ll have a few students in the church who want to learn. I try to introduce some linguistics right from the start. I tell them I hope that they’ll keep going with their study of the language until they can use it regularly, easily, and fruitfully in study. But if they don’t, I hope they will at least remember a bit of how languages are put together. If you’re wondering whether I’m qualified to comment, you can discover how I pat myself on the back via footnote 1.1

So having outlined my view of the problem(s), what about the book?

I wish every person who was going to study the Bible using the original languages would read this book. I’ll concede the possibility of getting the same knowledge elsewhere, but it would be difficult, I think, to find a book that both sticks with the basics with such rigor, and then applies them so well to the problems of translation and exegesis. Both of those issues were problems for me in my study. I recall being told that “Greek doesn’t have syntax,” an obviously silly statement, and having to discover the details of syntax as I went through those later courses. We didn’t have a good text. I did read other texts, such as Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Language (a more recent and less widely accepted book in those days!) but getting down to what it meant for me was harder.

Even though I have read a number of the works Dave Black cites or suggests for further reading, I still found this book helpful, because it helps provide a framework and make sure one hasn’t missed niggling details that will catch up with one later. You can find more detailed information on every topic (Dave provides a suggested list at the end of each chapter), but you will do well to get some landmarks by reading the chapters first. I’m reminded of one of my professors who said he’d like to see an introductory style course in Old Testament and New Testament given at the end, rather than the beginning, of one’s Bible study, because of the value of tying things together and drawing connections. I fully agree! Many people know quite a number of details, but fail to understand how these details fit into a bigger picture.

So what does this book cover?

It starts by introducing linguistics. This is valuable again in setting the boundaries. There are those who think I am a linguist because I have learned a number of languages. Not so! Linguistics is a field of study with many subfields, some of which will become topics for later chapters. (One will get a helpful idea of what is to come if one reads the preface, but that may be too much to ask! In particular, “read not consulted”–this book is an introduction, not a reference.)

Following this are chapters on phonology, morphology, and then syntax. The latter is greatly neglected in biblical languages courses of which I am aware. If the teacher can force the students through enough vocabulary and basic morphology, perhaps that is all that can be expected with the limited time. A particular strength of this chapter is the presentation of the basics of immediate constituent analysis and later of transformations. Both of these concepts can look very difficult, but they are basic to being able to understand. We do some of this when we outline, but few people have the patience for that. Never fear! Dave will show you how.

Chapter 5, “Semantics: Determining Meaning,” however, is the core of this presentation. Don’t imagine you can just jump to it, but a great deal centers on the concepts presented here. You’ll learn about etymology (what it’s good for and what it’s not), the difference between word and concept, semantic range, polysemy, synonymy (and many others) and why those terms are important. I find myself over-using the term “semantic range” and several paragraphs in this chapter helped me come up with some better ways of expressing the necessary concepts in less time and less technical language.

Chapter 6 is a very nice introduction to the history of the Greek language. You’ll find such an introduction in most grammars, but those chapters won’t be this detailed, and they won’t give you the practical applications. After you read this chapter you should know why understanding how language develops is important to both language student and exegete.

I’m glad that the final chapter, “Discourse Analysis” was added to the second edition. I was fortunate to have teachers who got me started in this areas, though the field has developed some since I was a student. My personal observation is that the thing that prevents people from doing more discourse analysis is that it seems to be too much work. Unfortunately, you can’t reap the benefits until you have done all that work, so you don’t realize what the rewards are.

Well, follow Dave through Philippians. See how discourse analysis can shed light on many pesky questions regarding that letter. You can agree or disagree on details, but you will be much better prepared to understand any particular verse.

May I also appeal to students at this point to learn how to do this for yourself. Don’t just depend on someone else who has done the work. It is absolutely helpful and a good idea to look at what others have done. But too many people get the meaning of the Bible from the outlines, headings, and notes provided in their study Bibles. You may come to the conclusion that the book is structured precisely as it was in the outline provided. But once you’ve done the work to determine that, I think you’ll feel that the time spent was truly worth it.

This book requires some knowledge of Greek. Dave mentions advanced students. To some extent he is right. I’d suggest it after you have a good facility with the language. I would also recommend that teachers study it so as to get an idea of how to present this material to students. Many of these concepts can be presented earlier in class, preparing the ground for more serious study later.

In other words, I think this is an excellent book. I would rate it 5 stars, and I believe it can be useful to a broader audience than the one intended by the author, because there is always value in a book that applies important concepts to actual problems.

1. Do I have any business making these kinds of criticisms? After all, I’m a publisher with just an MA degree. Quite true. Yet I’d say one should question my knowledge more when I set out to talk about theology than about languages. My undergraduate degree was in biblical languages, including four years of Greek and three of Hebrew (actually I bypassed first year Hebrew through personal study). I also took a class in textual criticism at the undergraduate level, along with a minor in French. That minor language, along with growing up overseas (four years in Mexico as a child) gave me a different perspective on language as well. We sometimes get a distorted view of Greek and Hebrew because we’re trying to make them fit a preconceived agenda. Studying a language without that religious baggage can be a big help. I often refer to Max Knight’s translation of Christian Morgenstern’s Galgenlieder as an excellent example of the difficulties of translation, expertly overcome. Incidentally, I received a copy of those poems from my undergraduate German teacher, who knew my interest in translation and wanted me to learn from them. I am eternally grateful to him.

I followed this with an MA in religion, again concentrating in biblical and cognate languages. So unlike many seminarians, I came to my MA ready to make use of the expertise of professors rather than needing to work on the basics, and I also spent all my time on the languages. At the same time, I spent hardly any time on issues of theology, and none at all on things like church administration, church history (I completed a church history requirement by taking patristic Latin!), counseling, homiletics, and so forth.

Then I took one quarter in another master’s program in linguistics one I did not complete for a number of reasons. Since then I have continued my reading in this area.

Dave Black: 13 Things Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You

Dave Black: 13 Things Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You

Dave lists 13 things Greek teachers won’t tell you, but I must say that most of mine did. And Dave does admit that many Greek teachers do say these things.

But do students listen? Do people in the pews and those who read books get the message?

My experience is that many do not. Not infrequently someone will tell me that they trust my interpretation of a particular Scripture because I read Greek, or because I was reading it from the Greek New Testament. The same applies to Hebrew. There is a great deal of respect that is given to someone who knows their biblical languages. But as Dave points out in both items #1 and #2, Greek is one tool. It doesn’t mean you’re right.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a member of a Bible study group. He informed me that understanding the book of Revelation was really quite simple, because the author of the book he was reading on Revelation said it was quite simple. Not only that, but the author promised to present it simply so that anyone could understand. I told him that the problem was that I had a whole shelf of books on Revelation that claimed that they had the key and that it was really quite straightforward. No two of those books agree. In general, they don’t even agree broadly. Then there are the other books written by people who are more honest and admit Revelation is not that easy. And they disagree some more.

Which leads me to point out that whatever interpretation you hear argued by someone who reads Greek or Hebrew, there are many other people who also read Greek or Hebrew who disagree. Skill in biblical languages relates to knowledge of the Bible as possession of a toolkit relates to repair of a car. Just because you have a good toolkit doesn’t mean the car is fixed. On the other hand, without the toolkit, things may be difficult!

I’d also like to underline point #5. Greek words (and words in general) don’t have just one meaning. So when someone says, “What the Greek really means …” you’re probably about to get misinformed. Even those who might follow that intro with a carefully nuanced expression of the meaning of the word in that particular context ought to restrain themselves and choose a different way of getting the idea across.

And then there are the people who use Greek or Hebrew to back up mundane points equally well expressed in English. I’m referring to things like, “Jesus said to build your house on a rock. Now the Greek word here means ‘house’ or ‘a place to live.'” Um, yes. That’s why the translators translated it “house.” But the speaker now sounds so much more educated or sometimes more spiritual.

Then there are those preachers who have clearly been using their Strong’s concordance, but for the benefit of my blood pressure, I won’t go there.

To #10, Greek is good for more than word studies, I can but say “Amen!”

To #11, Greek can make you lose your faith, I’d add, “So can theology.” As someone who left the church approximately at the same time I left the seminary, only to return, though in a different denomination, about 12 years later, I can testify to this.

There are folks who think this is all the fault of liberal seminaries presenting pure and innocent young students with dangerous critical theories. But for me it was more a matter of losing my experience of faith while becoming deeply involved with the minutiae of doctrine.

In seminary I was studying the Bible many hours every day. With my concentration in biblical languages, my Bible study became almost constant. My attendance at church dropped off. In fact, I became so critical of sermons that I really couldn’t comfortably attend church. None of the stupid people who were preaching  could do a good enough job to suit me. So I just neglected the gatherings of the saints. At the same time my witness died out. I was no longer sharing. If I discussed with anyone, it was about the latest esoteric thing I had read. Christ and him crucified was forgotten.

If you behave as I did, you can lose your faith whether you are in a liberal, moderate, or conservative seminary, or even in school studying another subject.


Psalm 89: When Eternal Doesn’t Last

Psalm 89: When Eternal Doesn’t Last

This week’s lectionary (RCL) texts for this week (Proper B11) form an interesting set, complete with the occasional weird cut-off for the scripture. For example, 2 Samuel 7:1-14a chops off the last part of Nathan’s message to David, the part about both the eternal covenant and the potential for God’s discipline. As I read this, I was thinking that they didn’t want to go into that “eternal covenant” territory.

(Note that for this post I am reading the Old Testament as a Christian and I am not making use of Jewish interpretation. I use “Old Testament” when referring to the Hebrew scriptures as a part of the Christian Bible. I use “Hebrew scriptures” to refer to them as a literary collection or as the Jewish Bible.)

But then we have Psalm 89:20-37. Here they have all the stuff about the eternal covenant, but they don’t go on to deal with the most important topic of the Psalm. Verse 38 (not part of the reading) begins:

But you have spurned and rejected him;
you are angry with your chosen king.
You have repudiated your covenant with your servant;
you have thrown his crown to the ground (38-39 NET).

If you continue reading you get a scene that sounds very much like the Babylonian exile or thereafter, though there might be a couple of other dates that would fit in. In fact, the author of this Psalm is addressing God specifically because he doesn’t see the eternal covenant being fulfilled. Rather, at this point it is impossible for that covenant to be fulfilled as originally written because it called for a descendant of David to be on the throne “forever” and “forever” is not to be interrupted. Unfortunately “forever” has been interrupted.

Now there are a number of Christian workarounds for this issue, and most readers likely will have one so readily to mind that they may never have noticed the problem in the first place. We get so used to an imposed or traditional interpretation that we actually hear the interpretation when we think we’re reading the text.

Many of our common answers involve what I call in my essay Facing the Proof-Text Method “text trimming.” Using this method we trim a text down to size so we can claim either that we obey the command or that a promise or prediction has been fulfilled. In this case a common interpretation for this eternal covenant is that Jesus is of the lineage of David, and either is now sitting on David’s throne (conveniently, if figuratively, transported to heaven), or that at a future date Jesus will sit on David’s throne, thus fulfilling the terms of the covenant.

But somebody future sitting on David’s throne again, or someone sitting on a throne somewhere else doesn’t fulfill the terms of the covenant as expressed here. In fact, these terms cannot and will not be fulfilled because they have already been overcome by events–specifically there was and is a time when no son of David has been sitting on the throne of Israel. To make this seem like a fulfillment, we must make the covenant itself say less than it actually says.

If we transport ourselves briefly to a time when the door was still open, but this very issue was front and center, we may see some of the difficulties. I refer to the time when Jerusalem was under its final siege prior to the 586 BCE fall of Jerusalem. There we have some people saying that the city cannot fall because it is, after all, the location of God’s house, and God has promised that there will be a descendant of David on the throne.

Jeremiah has to argue that there is no safety here. The city can fall. The king can be removed. The temple can be destroyed. He makes an extended argument to this effect in Jeremiah 18, which is sometimes quoted to support God’s sovereignty. “Yes, indeed! God can do whatever he wants!” But that is not the intent at all.

There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it. And there are times when I promise to build up and establish a nation or kingdom. But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it (Jeremiah 18:7-10 NET).

I recommend reading the entire chapter. The message here is not so much God’s sovereignty, though that is a fundamental assumption of the chapter. Rather, it is that God responds to our actions. Eternal blessings involve responsibilities. You can reverse the blessing, but the good news is that you can also reverse the punishment.

The book of Jonah illustrates this point in narrative form. Jonah assumes the type of theology that Jeremiah states explicitly. Jonah is actually afraid that God will be merciful and won’t fulfill the promise, yet the story does not include any notion that Jonah preached a possibility of repentance. He hoped the Ninevites would not repent. He was annoyed when they weren’t destroyed. (Again, read the whole book! It’s only four chapters.)

So what do we do with eternal promises that don’t happen precisely as predicted?

First, Psalm 89 itself makes it clear that any variation here doesn’t involve abandoning Israel. Canonizing this as part of Christian scripture (or accepting it as canonical) indicates that we believe God is in action in Psalm 89, after the king has been removed. God is still active with his people Israel. We acknowledge through this act that Israel is not abandoned, even if we don’t always remember that we did.

Second, we have another explicit statement of God’s approach in Jeremiah, this time in chapter 31:31-34. (Again, if you are not well acquainted with this passage, shame on you, go read it!) This is the famous passage used extensively in the book of Hebrews. I am reading it in Jeremiah’s context (to the best of my ability), however, and what I want to note is that the new covenant made is not with someone else, but with the house of Israel.

There is an argument that God transfers his promises from Israel (Israel is said to have failed) to either the church or in some cases to another nation. There are those who think the United States has become God’s chosen people in some way. But a sudden transfer of the promises from Israel to the church is not a good option, because the new covenant is made with Israel.

I base my interpretation here heavily on Jeremiah, even though I started with Psalm 89, because Jeremiah is the guy who had to deal with this issue when it was live. He had to proclaim his view of the covenant and the results of violating it in the face of torture and death, not sitting comfortably in front of his computer screen or in a church office somewhere.

At the same time, if we as Christians are to understand this as God’s will, and ourselves as part of God’s will, we will have to see some way in which we become connected. Thus we “trim the text” in some ways, allowing modification, but it’s a modification that is, I think, well supported. Jeremiah maintains there is a new covenant. Even the old covenant called for Israel to bless the entire world.

Paul makes his argument in Romans 9-11, which is again less concerned with God’s sovereignty, though that is again a fundamental assumption of the passage, but rather with how God deals with Israel. Like a parent, God doesn’t say, “I think I’ll put aside this one son in favor of someone else.” Rather, he looks to extend his blessing. Thus we gentiles are grafted in and receive some of God’s blessing. (It would be interesting to spend some time on Paul’s use of scripture in Romans 9-11. He does some interesting things!)

It’s easy here to imagine that the Jews must somehow be blessed less. It’s hard for us to understand that God’s love and his blessings are not a limited commodity. When I became a step-parent I was careful never to suggest that my step-children should love their birth father less. I loved them as my own, but I knew the love was shared, yet I felt no loss. Love isn’t a limited commodity either. And we, limited as we are, can add more people into our circle of love. So can God.

But even here we can make a mistake. We often see “chosen-ness” as being chosen to receive blessings, to be the best loved favorite. But God tends to choose people to do things. Jeremiah was chosen, just as Israel was chosen. It was a different time and place and different purpose (though not as different as it might seem), but being chosen wasn’t fun for Jeremiah. In fact, it was quite miserable.

So the gentile church has no cause for boasting or for thinking of themselves as better than others. That’s not the point of being chosen by God. The point of being chosen by God is mission–whatever mission God has for you.

Thus while I say that the promise cannot be fulfilled as written, because it wasn’t, yet God is faithful to act with consistency. A rebellious church might consider a serious reading of Jeremiah 18.

Reading the Bible Frequently and Thoroughly

Reading the Bible Frequently and Thoroughly

I love it when someone famous says all the things I like to hear about Bible study. One thing I regularly say to Sunday School classes or to groups I’m invited to teach is that if they were looking for a five minute a day method, they invited the wrong person. It takes more than that to become acquainted with that.

I found this video by N. T. Wright via RJS on The Jesus Creed. It’s excellent:


Some of my notes include the lines:

Read it frequently and thoroughly …

We have cut the Bible down to size (referring to our methods of looking at short passages and dissecting them)

Listen in order to be swept along … (using listening to a symphony as an analogy to reading the Bible)

Until we wrestle with scripture like that we’re not honoring it.

The additional comments in the post regarding the doctrine of scripture to “… hold loosely to our particular theological commitments and our doctrine of scripture.” I would probably be more likely to say to loosen our doctrine of scripture, than to hold our doctrine loosely, though both options head in the right direction.

In my book When People Speak for God, I put it this way (pp. 13-15):

Typically, Christians have found proof texts in scriptures that make comments about inspiration. “All scripture is inspired (or God-breathed) . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). “No prophecy of the scripture came by human will . . .” (2 Peter 1:21). These texts are not only used to prove the inspiration of scriptures, ignoring the circularity of using a Bible verse to prove that the Bible is inspired, but they also provide the foundation for an  understanding of how inspiration worked. I most commonly hear 2 Timothy 3:16 quoted in this connection. I ask someone what inspiration means. “All scripture is  God-breathed,” comes back the answer. “God-breathed” is supposed to be obvious, but somehow the passage doesn’t enlighten us as to what God breathes and how. Another answer, that prophets speak as they are carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), doesn’t really answer the question either.

The process of inspiration is important not only in terms of how we understand God to behave in connection with people, but also in telling us what we would expect to result. For example, those who believe that God dictates the precise words that a prophet or other inspired writer puts on paper must in turn believe that those words, and not just the message they express, are important, and that they must always be the best words for the  purpose. On the other hand, someone who believes that people receive impressions from God and then express them in human words will place a greater emphasis on the human side of the equation. The message is important, and it may be illuminated by knowing the person who speaks along with his or her cultural background and spiritual experience.

As the author of Hebrews expressed it:

1In  old times God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets in many portions and in different ways. 2In these last days, however, he has spoken to us through a Son, one whom he has made heir of everything, and through whom also he created the universe.  3This Son is the brightness of his glory and the exact representation of his real essence. He sustains everything by his powerful word. He performed a cleansing from sins and sat down at the right hand of majesty in the {spiritual/heavenly} heights. — Hebrews 1:1-3

God’s message came at different times and in different ways, a process that the author of Hebrews states culminated in God’s message coming through a person, Jesus. In Hebrews 4:12 he continues by calling the Word “alive and active” again referring to the Word of God as portrayed in Jesus. Those who place a heavy emphasis on the words, rather than the message, should give serious consideration to the view of revelation expressed in the book of Hebrews. According to this one scriptural author, whom most scholars leave unidentified, inspiration doesn’t always work the same way.

I would suggest that instead of looking for statements about how inspiration works in the scriptures, we should look at the scriptures themselves. There is no good reason to assume that those who experienced inspiration would also feel it necessary to define it. In fact, when we look at the scriptures we see no real effort to provide us with a theory of inspiration. There were simply people who claimed that they had a message from God, and they expressed it with some force under their various circumstances.

Reading the Bible as a whole, or reading whole books (Wright suggests the Gospel of John, which should only take a couple of hours), will help you see inspiration in action. Then perhaps, rather than deciding on a theory of inspiration and trying to make the Bible fit, you can see how the Bible was inspired, i.e. inspiration in action, and form from that your understanding of inspiration.

(I do some commercials on resources from my company here.)

Ken Schenck on Women in Ministry

Ken Schenck on Women in Ministry

Ken Schenck outlines his reasons for supporting complete equality in ministry, and he even uses the t-word — trajectory, as I did in my previous post. The arguments are related to those used by Kubo, but Schenck goes into some detail on the specific texts rather than just laying out the approach.

I think all of the referenced posts illustrate the importance of going over our hermeneutics at the beginning of a discussion like this. Too often we shoot past one another because while we’re reading the same texts, we’re using a different method of interpretation. And the most varied aspect of interpretation is the way in which a text is applied to the interpreter’s context.