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Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Easter services are much better attended than Good Friday services. I suspect this is inherent in human nature. We prefer the solution to the hardship getting there. We prefer the happy ending to the suffering that led up to it.

It’s not surprising that we do. Who doesn’t prefer those good times? Who doesn’t want to have as an affirmation of faith the proclamation: He Is Risen!

But our reality is much different. We live through hard times. We have those moments when it seems all is lost. We suffer through times of waiting, wondering whether things can get better or not. Moments of great victory come at a cost.

Holy week illustrates this so effectively. Jesus has toiled through the hardship of His ministry, facing rejection and opposition. Then all comes to a climax, not in victory, but in arrest, trial and death. Almost everyone concludes that things are all over. He’s dead. What are we going to do.

Then there is the silence and waiting of the Saturday between. What will happen as the new week begins? Will they be coming after us? What do we have to do.

And then there is Easter Sunday morning.

We say “He is risen!” with enthusiasm and joy, but many of those who first heard it said it with doubt, fear, and concern. What were they to believe now?

But it becomes more and more certain. They know He has risen from the dead. Triumph!

But what happens now? Is it all an easy run to the end?

No! It is time to be witnesses, to face the trials that come after.

Whenever we pretend that the Christian life is going to be easy and without difficulty, we set someone up for a failure of faith.

So what good did it all do?

There is something more important that Good Friday has to say to us. Yes, it tells us that God knows our suffering. Jesus has been through what we go through. I like to emphasize that when we explain why Jesus had to die the death that He did, we include the simple fact that it was the kind of death that human power provided for someone like Him at the time He appeared. Something different would not be experiencing what we experience.

It also tells us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has conquered death. He is not only sympathetic, but He has the power to do something about it.

But it also tells us that Jesus suffered with us for a purpose, and He takes us with us. I was strongly impressed with this as I read Ephesians 2 recently.

Here are some points:

  1. Jesus came to us when we weren’t ready for Him (2:1-3). We can know He means it, because it wasn’t our good looks or attractive personalities that brought Him here.
  2. It was because of love and mercy (2:4-5; see point #1).
  3. He makes us alive with Him (2:5). We have an eternal destiny.
  4. In Christ, we have a glorious purpose (2:6).
  5. It’s a gift. This is important because what we can earn, we can fall short of (2:8-9).
  6. We are his creation, so forget all the ancestry sites (2:9).
  7. We have work to do, but it is work that He planned, that He empowers, and that He carries out.

Ultimately, this lets us know that whatever we are, we are in the One who created us. We live for a purpose, a purpose that is created, assigned, and carried out through that one power. We do not live for futility, even in the greatest of darkness.

So if, on the Monday after Easter Sunday you don’t feel very much like an Easter person, remember that many who heard of the resurrection didn’t either, but God had a purpose for them.

In Him, everything (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Might I recommend slowly and meditatively reading the whole book of Ephesians, or at least chapters 2 & 3?

(The featured image is of my wedding wring, which has “Ephesians 3:14-21” inscribed inside of it. This passage was read at Jody’s and my wedding.)

Not Just Money

Not Just Money

On New Year’s Day this year I was struck by two texts and decided to make them a kind of theme texts for living during the year. I didn’t really make a plan or a resolution. I was just impressed to keep these two texts available and look at them. I’ve found that I actually end up looking at them at random times. They are Philippians 1:27-30 and Ephesians 5:1-2. At some point I’ll talk about the phrase “be imitators of God” in Ephesians 5:1, which I find challenging, or perhaps intimidating would be more the word.

Today, however, I read on after the end of chapter one into the first four verses of chapter 2. Here Paul challenges the Philippians to do nothing from selfish ambition or contentiousness (two  closely related ideas!) or from vanity (we could spend a day meditating on that word), but to count others as greater than oneself with humility. Again, we could talk about the latter. Have you ever experienced someone counting something else greater than himself with no humility at all? “Look how great I am! I count even this lowlife failure as more important than I am!”

But then there’s verse 4: “Don’t look out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.”

Now there’s the one. If the church should have a key verse, this would be it, I think. It contrasts to the world’s value, expressed to me once by someone advising me on my business: Ain’t nobody cares about your business like you do!

Now you see how my thinking turns toward business and the making of money. I have nothing against those things, but it’s actually quite easy to be generous with your money and to be contentious and vain with everything else. Thousands of brass plates on church pews, stained-glass windows, and other objects designated for “spiritual” use testify to the fact that there are people quite generous with their money while satisfying their vanity. If you don’t believe me, try removing one of those labeled pews or swap out the stained glass window. Even worse, leave the pew or the window there but remove the name plate. Vanity will jump up and slap you in the face!

Looking after our own interests crops up everywhere. Why is the color of the church carpet a very contentious thing? We all have colors that we’d like to look at, and colors that we don’t find pleasing. How many times have you heard people argue carpet color on the basis that it would serve someone else better?

What about a misspelled name in the bulletin when someone serves on Sunday morning? Have you ever heard the complaints about that? The church secretary ought to be fired!

I don’t mean to list all the ways we can be contentious, as they are so numerous, and so many of them do not have to do with money.

“Look out for the interests of others,” says Paul.

One of the great problems with our witness in the American church is that we are so much like all the people we’d like to witness to. We want to explain all the theology to them and get them all straightened out. But what we really need to do is look out for the interests of others.

And to be a good witness, we need to extend that action outside the church community as well.

On page 25 of his little book Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World (Topical Line Drives), Steve Kindle quotes 2 Corinthians 8:3-5. I’m just going to highlight one clause: “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” That’s the foundation of stewardship. It’s also the foundation of living in Christian community, and it’s the foundation of being an actual witness (not just a nuisance) to those outside the community. Looking out for God’s interests, perhaps. God is very interested in God’s children, in God’s creation.

Who is welcome in your church? How will they live with you? How will you live with them? Do you give yourself to God first and then look out for the interests of others instead of your own?

If you’ve followed me this far, let me suggest a question to think about. If a man and a woman entered your church this Sunday and the woman was wearing a hijab, while both clearly looked middle eastern, what would your reaction be?


(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)


Rambling Through Ephesians

Rambling Through Ephesians

Wedding Band with Ephesians 3:14-21 insideThis past Sunday I was reading the Lectionary passages for Christ the King Sunday in which the epistle is Ephesians 1:15-23, in which Paul gives thanks for the Ephesian believers. I find the style of Ephesians quite fascinating, and especially these long prayer passages. In fact, I used two of them in a pamphlet I wrote some years ago, Prayer Scriptures for Prayer Warriors in which I paraphrased some passages of scripture into the form of prayers.

The image to the left is of the inside of my wedding band, which is inscribed Ephesians 3:14-21. This passage of scripture was read as a prayer and Jody’s and my wedding, and it’s something we want to be reminded of regularly.

As I finished reading Ephesians 1:15-23 I couldn’t help but go on reading. I ended up reading the entire book and then going back and reading the first 14 verses as well. There were a number of things that struck me and I’m just going to mention a few thoughts that came to me as I read. One element, that of thanksgiving, stuck with me through the week. I’m going to blog about it for my Energion Publications thanksgiving message. This is a rambling post as the title indicates, so be warned!

Even though I read 1:1-14 last, let me start at the beginning of the book. Right in verse one the words “by God’s will” stood out to me. Paul is an apostle by God’s will. Frequently I think we remember our will and our gifts in connection with whatever vocation we follow. We may acknowledge God’s call, but we remember mostly the human process and recognition. I have heard people talk about who was involved in laying hands on them and praying, as though this was more important than the call of God. I do not want to diminish the historical connection to the community that’s involved in the human recognition, but I think we’re in much more danger of forgetting that we are who we are by God’s will. I can say, “I’m Henry Neufeld, publisher by the will of God.”

Now there could be a tendency to make this a matter of pride. I am what I am by God’s will, therefore all must recognize how important I am. But this isn’t the point here at all. In fact, we will see some comments on our call later, the call to be a servant, not an overlord. We like to read “chosenness” and “calling” as something that makes us special and puts us above. That’s not the way it works in God’s kingdom.

I’m going to skip past the entire Thanksgiving prayer of 1:15-23, as I plan to base a thanksgiving message on it, but it has been an encouragement to me all week. I’ve been thinking about thanking God  always, particularly for people. Who are the people you can thank God for?

Ephesians 2:8-10 provides one of the greatest encapsulations of the gospel in a few words that we’re going to find anywhere. I think if we read it frequently, it would help us. We’re saved by grace through face, and it’s not the result of works. But at the same time one of the gifts God gives is to begin restoring to us the purpose for which we were created. One analogy I like to use for salvation is that it is like the gift of a toolkit. A toolkit is a wonderful thing, but merely having it is not very useful. There are many things it can do. Now the toolkit analogy can break down. All happens as God works in our lives. Both our justification and our sanctification are God’s gifts to us. We may debate the matter of choice between Arminians and Calvinists, but whether we have a choice about receiving this gift and remaining in God’s plan, but in either case it is totally God’s power.

2:20-21 – the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ the cornerstone remind me of Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-4, an interesting set of parallels.

3:12 – both “access” and “boldness” remind me of Hebrews 4:14-16.

4:1 – walk/live in a way that is worthy of your calling. I tie this back to verse 1, by the will of God. Our temptation is to think “special me.” God seems to see it the other way around. We need to live up to the calling. Continuing through verse 14, look for all the instances of various forms of “one” and “all.” It’s an interesting theme. Again, this looks back to our calling. We are always called to help build up the body.

4:15 – “speak the truth in love” is one of the most difficult ones to keep, but the most important. We are often tempting to abandon truth for a form of love, or, on the other hand to abandon love while we boldly defend some height of truth. Very few are the vigorous defenders of truth who nonetheless are able to do so with respect and in love.

4:22 – I’ve heard Ephesians and other epistles divided between the faith and salvation part and the “works” or the “what then” part. Ephesians mixes these together with another example here. It is because Christ is faithful that we can leave behind the former behavior.

4:34 – giving grace to others. There is a call of grace. We are treated graciously and called to gracious living. God provides the example

5:1-2 – imitators of God. That’s a high standard, but it’s one that is quite common in scripture. This is one reason it’s very important to look at the nature of God. If we are to be imitators, we need to know what God is like. Is God a God of violence or gentleness? Love or hate? Or are those alternatives actually appropriate? Perhaps God combines characteristics in ways our minds find difficult to comprehend. “Be imitators” is a challenging task.

We should note further that this opens the section on family relations, which is often read as though it is about authority. But as we get to 5:25 we realize that husbands, whatever else they may be charged with, are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That means being ready to die for her. If we’re fighting for any position here it’s for the privilege of being the first to die. Any volunteers?

Of course chapter 6 brings us the familiar “armor of God” passage. We should remember that this armor is designed to be used in fending off evil, not in attacking other people. The spiritual warfare metaphor can be very helpful, but if someone doesn’t pay attention to the entire message, it can be used very destructively. I’d strongly recommend the entire book of Ephesians so as to understand the context in which the armor is provided.

Be imitators of God. Imitate God. Ouch! Wow! I think that one will stick with me for some time.

You may wonder why I wanted to ramble through this book. There are two reasons:

1) I’m frequently asked how one can enjoy reading the Bible. Many people find it to be a task. I don’t find it easy to answer this question empathetically. For me the odds are more that I will get carried away reading the Bible and get lost in thought. I didn’t come by that attitude by my own efforts. To a large extent it started with the way my parents taught me. Scripture can be hard to follow in early reading. The first time you read through the Bible or even just the New Testament you may find it slow going. But the more you know, and the more you can draw connections, the more interesting it gets. My early studies of computers were similar. I had to put the work into early reading so that later reading could be much easier. In the case of the Bible, my parents got me started, and it’s a start I’ve been thankful for ever since.

2) It’s important to do devotional study. One of the strong temptations of my life is to neglect my devotional life while telling myself it’s OK. I’m reading plenty of Bible passages in preparing to teach Sunday School or to write something. I’m usually at some point in the editorial process of a good Christian book. So my excuse for not doing devotional reading is that I’m reading plenty of scripture. But you also need to spend time with God through scripture, not checking references or debating someone’s theology or preparing a manuscript. Ephesians  has stuck with me through the week and helped me deal with certain things that were going on. If I hadn’t let God lead me to do this reading, I would have had a more difficult time during the week.

So I encourage you to find time for devotional reading, time when God can lead you to the next passage or the next thought. And keep at it until it becomes second nature to you, however long that may take!

 

 

 

What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

What Could Be More Dangerous than Liberalism?

If you let your eyes wander up to the header you’ll see that my tag line includes the word “liberal” and not in a negative light. I’ve even written about being a liberal charismatic believer. So if you’re wondering how I can use both labels at once, follow the link. But in certain circles, “liberals” make good enemies, you know, the kind of enemies that you know will help make other people your friends—the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

And so Adrian Warnock points to a post by Micah Fries, titled simply Fighting with Scripture. In this post he speaks of the joys of being Southern Baptism following the conservative resurgence, and how nice it is to know that those around him embrace infallibility and inerrancy. In this portion of the universe, the old enemy, liberalism” has been laid to rest and it is easy to ridicule, at least in these sanitized domains. Now my point here is not to beat up on Southern Baptists. I do not consider those who believe in biblical inerrancy to be either worse Christians or scholars than those who do not. In fact, I hope that more moderate and liberal theologians will read and engage with conservative scholarship. I do like to make the point that those of us who see biblical inspiration differently are not the enemies, and may have something to contribute as well.

Just a couple of lines from the post:

Liberalism, of course, reduces God’s word, and in doing so attempts to make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value. It assumes a position of great authority, in fact it could be argued that it assumes a position of greater authority than scripture itself as it attempts to “rectify” the “errors” found in the bible.

When I see “of course” in a sentence like that I must confess that it gets under my skin a bit. You see, I don’t think I “reduce God’s word.” Rather, I attempt to understand God’s word as clearly as possible. I don’t “make a mockery of those who would dare take that word at face value,” in fact, I try to avoid mockery. (There are those who assume that disagreement, especially vigorous disagreement is mockery. I’ll just have to live with that.) But still, the issue here is not whether to take “God’s word” at face value. The question is just what that face value is.

Let’s illustrate this for a moment from Genesis, the great controversy these days. I’ve just edited, and my company has published, a book titled Creation in Scripture by Herold Weiss. It takes a look at the various ways in which creation is discussed in scripture. What it taught me as I edited it was how much more there was to the “face” of what the Bible has to say about creation than most people realize. There are major texts in scripture that are rarely part of this discussion. Many people who try to discuss creation see a “face” of God’s word that is like viewing a large mountain through the trees. You see a little bit of the mountain where light gets between all the trees. But the mountain is more than what you see in that way.

And how do I get the face value of scripture? Do I read Genesis 1 & 2 as a 21st century citizen of a scientific era? Do I try to get into the perspective of someone from the ancient world? The face looks considerably different depending on which of those perspectives I take.

My intent here is not to demonstrate what particular view is better, but rather to show that the simple statement that “liberalism reduces God’s word” is somewhere between inadequate and false. It’s inadequate in the sense that it doesn’t do justice to what moderate and liberal students of scripture do when studying. It’s false because very often the liberal interpreter is actually seeing more of the “face” from which the “value” is derived.

This reminds me of my discussions with KJV-Only advocates. They refer to any word or phrase that is present in the KJV but not in a modern version as something that has been removed from scripture. In vain does one point out that the best Greek manuscripts do not have the word or phrase in question, and that one might just as well say that the KJV added it to scripture. What are you taking as your standard? More importantly, how are you using and applying that standard?

In order to have valuable discussions of these points we need to state the questions a different way. Conservatives, moderates, and liberals understand scripture differently. We need to discuss passages on that basis, and examine our hermeneutic first. It’s often valuable to take a passage that is slightly less controversial and ask how we look at that passage. We may well continue to disagree (doubtless in many cases we will), but perhaps we would have a better understanding of why and how.

I share the concern of the authors I linked with reference to legalism, though I don’t think the accusation that it is “adding to scripture” is the best way to address it. I suspect legalism is more a matter of where we place things in our thinking and acting. Having just taught from Ephesians 2 and done preparation to teach from Ephesians 3, I see a fairly clear relationship between grace and action. It’s not that legalists do too much, though some do, it is that they place rules and their actions in the wrong place in their relationship to God. Grace, God’s grace, comes first.

In pursuing correct theology, I think we often fall into the same danger. We make theology our works and become legalistic in terms of what people should believe. But placing barriers of knowledge and belief ahead of grace is just as damaging as placing barriers of action. We can get into the position of earning God’s favor through getting things right just as easily as through doing things right, and often with even greater damage.

Legalism will not be defeated by making sure people’s theology of grace is thoroughly correct and orthodox. Legalism is defeated by grace in action. God’s grace, and yes, God’s grace displayed through God’s people.

Ephesians 3 in The Voice

Ephesians 3 in The Voice

Well, I continue to read The Voice and it continues to annoy me.

But first let me note that in reading Ephesians 3 I don’t find anything that will lead you astray in your understanding of the chapter. In many cases the material in italics just seems unnecessary. In other words, the translators have already clearly translated the message. You can leave the italicized material out of your reading and you’ll get pretty much the same message.

For example, the first part of verse 20 reads: “Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things great than we ever could ask or imagine ….” Now read the verse without the italicized material. Has anything been contributed? It does make it a little more exhortative, and that might be the intention.

On the other hand, breaking out the prayer of verses 16-19 as a prayer, rather than as a report of a prayer, does fulfill the goals of the translation and is helpful, in my view. Helpful, at least, if one’s goal is to get a more dramatic presentation, which is one of the purposes of The Voice.

This prayer passage has a special place in my life, because I adapted it into a prayer some years ago and it was used as a blessing at my wedding. Our wedding bands have the reference inscribed inside as well.

Ephesians 2: The Radical Nature of the Gospel

Ephesians 2: The Radical Nature of the Gospel

As I’ve been reading this passage repeatedly this week, I have been repeatedly struck by the radical nature of what Paul is saying here. I’m surprised we don’t spend more time on it, because it seems to me to clarify many things that are left unclear in Galatians and Romans.

Of course, considering the discussion of authorship, if one thinks Paul did not write the letter, one would hardly go there for a clear statement of Paul’s view. I think a similar corrective would be provided if one added the undoubtedly genuine 1 & 2 Corinthians to the mix when one wants to determine Paul’s theology.

In the meantime, however, Ephesians 2 remains radical. There are two ways in which this impressed me.

1) Contrary to what many modern readers imagine, the gospel message of grace received through faith does not treat works negatively, provided they are in their proper place. If I walk a couple of miles a day with a view to reaching Australia, I will likely be disappointed. There’s an ocean between here and there, and I keep winding up at my starting point. If I do the same thing for exercise, however, it’s a good thing.

Works done to earn God’s favor are destined to fail. Since all that we do is by definition a result of God’s gift to us (of life, before salvation), we can’t actually create something that God needs in order to make God owe us something. But to fail to attempt good works, however imperfectly we may accomplish our mission, after we have received God’s grace, is not only ungrateful, it is a rejection of the gift. The gift of grace makes good works possible.

For by grace you are saved through faith. Yet this is not from you. It is God’s gift. It’s not from works, so nobody can boast. For his creation is what you are, created in Christ Jesus for good works, so you can walk in them (2:8-10).

I also note that the exclusion of boasting as a reason why works are not the source of our salvation also excludes an intellectual sense of achievement in grasping and accepting the gospel. We are also not saved through intellectually comprehending the theology of salvation. We are not better than the person who cannot comprehend the theology.

2) This radical gospel could not have been produced using a modern hermeneutic. It must add to, and in some cases transform, what came before. I do not mean to suggest that Judaism was a graceless religion. I think it was filled with grace. I think the transformation is rooted in the Torah and developed in its early stages by the prophets.

But that entire process required just that—a process. God’s message came at various times and at various places before God finally spoke to us through God’s Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). Is there a more profound way for God to speak than through the incarnation? I don’t think so. But there is the possibility that we will more and more deeply understand the implications of God’s message.

In the face of this radical gospel, our hermeneutic of God’s entire revelation is often not radical enough to let us hear God calling us ever deeper.

I apply this idea to my previous note on egalitarian and complementarian texts. Rather than seeking a filter for those commands that are eternal and those that are temporal (and I suggest that all commands are both eternal and temporal; always given for a time and place, always deriving their force from an eternal principle), we need to be asking how God’s revelation should continue transform our natures and attitudes, both individually and as Christ’s body.

I think this is the failure both of many of us (definitely including myself) and of much of  the 21st century American church.

 

Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

It wasn’t as funny as if they’d gone into a bar, but it was considerably more enlightening. It might appear that having two complementarians against one egalitarian was unfair, but Rachel clearly had no problem with the format, and the host pointed out that, though he was playing neutral moderator, he was more inclined to Rachel’s position.

I very rarely listen to something that long. I much prefer the written to the spoken word. If you want to get my attention, write. But the participants were enough to get me started and the quality of their discussion was enough to keep me listening.

It will surprise nobody who reads this blog that I agree with Evans down the line, though I might be a bit more liberal than she is on hermeneutics. The important points on hermeneutics came out more toward the end, though you’ll miss some references if you skip to that point, where Owen Strachan talks about having to obey all of scripture and not pick and choose and warns of a slippery slope. Evans quickly points out that there are other things we don’t follow, yet somehow we don’t feel we’re on a slippery slope.

The fact is that nobody obeys “all of scripture” in the sense of keeping every command. Everyone has some way to distinguish between commands that apply and those that don’t. It’s just that they generally tend to ignore the ones that they have, in their own view, really excellent reasons to ignore. In ignoring them, they hardly notice the fact that they are ignoring commands.

So the question is whether one’s application of a scripture to a situation (or failure to do so) is justified or not. I commented some on this on my Participatory Bible Study blog.

I would add to this discussion this note: When Owen Strachan refers to using the simple or plain portions of scripture to explain those that are more obscure, I find it interesting that he sees commands and theological statements as simple, while stories and history are apparently more obscure. I would see it as precisely the reverse. When Paul says in one place that he doesn’t allow a woman to speak, and in another we have a very clear indication of a woman in authority, I think it would be best to find an interpretation of the command (or theological statement) that doesn’t suggest that Paul was violating his own command, rather than trying to explain away the action and make it appear that it didn’t violate our view of the command.

Thus if Junia stands out among the apostles in Rome, while women submit (and don’t speak) in Ephesus, I’m going to guess that the command has something to do with Ephesus.

 

Sunday School Notes – Ephesians

Sunday School Notes – Ephesians

Ephesians: A Participatory Study GuideWe’ve completed the first two lessons of Bob Cornwall’s study guide (Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide) in my Sunday School class. I planned to write some notes earlier, but I’ll try to catch up.

These first two lessons complete the first chapter of Ephesians. There’s quite a lot of material just in the first couple of verses, and Bob doesn’t hesitate to lead the study into potentially deep waters by bringing up the issue of authorship. Just about anyone with theological training knows that the authorship of Ephesians is disputed, along with a number of other letters attributed to Paul. More people are aware of the dispute with regard to 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, but Ephesians, Colossians,  and 2 Thessalonians are also disputed by some.

Bob Cornwall does a good job of giving the basics of the dispute, insofar as one can in a small study guide of this nature. In fact, the way Bob tackles this and other disputes is one of the great features of this particular guide. We went into greater detail in the class, as this was what interested most people there. I was gratified to note that most people had studied the lesson, and so we could safely pick and choose.

There were three major issues we discussed:

1) What is the basis for the claim of authorship?

One of the things that disturbs me concerning Bible study in mainline churches is that many people will simply state that it’s the “scholarly consensus” or more likely “the best biblical scholarship says,” and they’re satisfied with that. I see this as parallel to the conservative tendency to say, “this is traditional.” One side dismisses and the other accepts the results of critical scholarship, while neither side actually understands what is going on.

We had a good discussion of the theological issues and possible historical connections that indicate to some scholars that Ephesians is not a Pauline work. I tend to think the balance is in favor of Pauline authorship, but at the same time, I tried to make sure people understand that the other view is not just plucked from air. There is valid reason for the dispute.

2) Was pseudonymous writing an accepted standard in the ancient world?

I’d reduce this more to whether it was an acceptable practice amongst the early Christians. I don’t know the answer to this. We know a number of books in circulation were not written by the person to whom they were attributed, but whether everyone realized that this was so and found it acceptable, I don’t know.

Bart Ehrman (Forged) has recently claimed that this practice was not acceptable. I haven’t read his book, so I can’t respond in any detail. This is a topic I’ll be interested in studying further.

3) How does the authorship issue relate to inspiration?

In this case, I pointed out that when we dispute authorship of Matthew, for example, we’re dealing with authorship that is attributed outside the text. In the case of Ephesians, the text itself says it’s from Paul, and I know of no textual dispute on this point.

If writing in someone else’s name was an acceptable practice, for example, honoring a teacher, again there would be no particular issue for inspiration.

I would tend not to worry in either case, because I would depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the church accepting the work as canonical. I don’t see inspiration primarily as a characteristic of the text, and if the author was imperfect and did something he should not have (by the standards of his time), that would not disturb me.

All this said, however, I would note that I find the balance of the evidence to lean in favor of Pauline authorship, partially based on the text. When the authorship claim is integral to the text, it seems to me it requires greater evidence to overturn that attribution than when the attribution itself is later.

So again, thanks to Bob for setting up this discussion.

The next chapter has such a huge amount of material, even though it again covers only a few verses, well, 21 verses. Bob emphasizes the worship aspects, while my class got completely involved in the word “predestined.”

Here most of the class came to the same conclusion as Bob did in the lesson. In this case the predestination is more corporate than individual. It refers to God’s eternal plan to bring the gentile believers into God’s people. As agreeable (!) as we all were, we still spent most of the time talking about words like “chosen” and “predestined” and other places they occur where the intention is not quite as clear as it is in this chapter.

A class using this lesson would ideally spend more time on prayer and worship, which is clearly Bob’s intent in the study guide. We started with the prayer in the book and ended with the hymn at the end, but we didn’t quite stay on the track between the two. But others can do so. Don’t assume you have to spend your time on predestination!

 

Moving on to Ephesians

Moving on to Ephesians

Ephesians: A Participatory Study GuideIn The Way Sunday School class at First UMC Pensacola we just completed The Journey to the Undiscovered Country by William Powell Tuck. We used that book as an interlude between Philippians and the Ephesians study to follow.

The entire class really appreciated the book and the discussions that resulted. Unlike some books you may have read about the afterlife, this author doesn’t consider all the questions already answered. He is willing to let you look at various alternatives and to admit that we know only a little. But, as he affirms through The Journey to the Undiscovered Countrystory in the final chapter, we may not know precisely what is on the other side of the door, but we do know that our master is there.

The logic behind continuing with Ephesians is simply a vote of the class. Our intention is to study the Bible and communicate what we learn creatively, both with one another and with others. The study guide is Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide by Bob Cornwall.

 

The Value (or not) of the Spiritual Warfare Metaphor

The Value (or not) of the Spiritual Warfare Metaphor

My daily lectionary readings for the day included both Ephesians 6:10-24 and Mark 5:1-20. (I get my readings from The Voice.) It’s an interesting combination, because the Ephesians passage is the famous one about the armor of God and thus features in just about any discussion of spiritual warfare, while the passage in Mark, regarding the healing of the demoniac on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, is spiritual warfare.

Now what interests me here is the demonstration of what is meant. In his just released study guide to Ephesians, Bob Cornwall notes:

For Christians uncomfortable with military imagery, this passage can prove challenging. The ingenuity of it, however, needs to be recognized. The author took a picture that every one of his readers would immediately recognize, and used it to encourage them to become actively engaged in their faith, thereby helping to bring to an end the rule of the evil one. Such a calling would be difficult, which is why the word of encouragement is central to this message: Stand firm.

There are several points here that I’d like to emphasize, because I believe spiritual warfare is often misunderstood and certainly misapplied.

  1. Spiritual warfare is a metaphor. It is not intended as an endorsement of violence. Notice how Jesus behaves in Mark. There is no violence or fighting, except on the part of the demonized man.
  2. Spiritual warfare is not a method. We’re not the ones who defeat evil by practicing some set of techniques. I know people who feel that they need to “pray on” the armor of God every morning or they might be susceptible to the attacks of the devil that day. Now as a spiritual exercise, I see no problem with praying through this passage, but this is not some magical ritual that protects you. It’s about belonging to Christ. Bob uses the excellent phrase “actively engaged in their faith.”
  3. A metaphor may be especially valuable to a particular time. I think spiritual warfare provides one way of understanding the conflict with evil. Unfortunately, when it gets into the hands of those who think violence solves everything, it just imports ungodly habits and behavior into our spiritual lives and the damage can be substantial.

I really liked having these passages together, because the way Jesus is portrayed in the gospels is peaceful and confident. The evil spiritual realm falls, not to combat, but to a confident faith in God.

Stand firm indeed!