Saturday, July 14, 2018

She will be saved through childbearing - 1 Timothy 2:15

1 Timothy 2:15
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
When we read this verse, even in context, in our own modern settings, we usually find ourselves scratching our heads in confusion. What on earth is Paul getting at about a woman finding salvation in bearing children? Gordon Fee, in his commentary on 1 Timothy, has some illuminating thoughts on this verse; but even his explanation takes a little wrestling. It helps to break it down in little bites. The chart below presents how I read Fee. Then, further down, I quote from Fee's commentary. I hope this method helps.

Fee's Comments, summarized by me
She will be saved through childbearingIf a woman is in transgression (like Eve in vs. 14), that is, if she is living out the Ephesian heresy of attempting to dominate men and to dress immodestly and jeopardizing her salvation, then she should return to a good Christian lifestyle of godliness. Godliness for a woman includes devotion in her marriage and in raising children (contrary to the Ephesian false teaching that promoted abstinence from marriage [1 Timothy 4:3] and, likely, bearing children).
provided they continue in faith and love and holinessThat is, the women (now plural) commit themselves to good works and, in general, good Christian living in all aspects of discipleship beyond the family duties they have been neglecting.
with modesty... which is where Paul began this subtopic (1 Timothy 2:9).

Gordon Fee, Hendrickson, 74-76. (Reprinted as Understanding the Bible Commentary, Baker):
There is a subtle shift here from Eve to the women in Ephesus. The subject of the verb will be saved is in fact the woman in verse 14. Obviously Paul is not talking about Eve's salvation but "the women" in Ephesus; hence the change back to the plural in the middle of verse 15.
  More likely what Paul intends is that woman's salvation, from the transgressions brought about by similar deception and ultimately for eternal life, is to be found in her being a model, godly woman, known for her good works (vs. 10; cf. 1 Timothy 5:11). And her good deeds, according to 1 Timothy 5:11 and 1 Timothy 5:14, include marriage, bearing children (the verb form of this noun), and keeping a good home. The reason for his saying that she will be saved is that it follows directly out of his having said "the woman came to be in transgression."
  But Paul could never leave the matter there, as though salvation itself were attained by this "good deed," so he immediately qualifies, "Provided of course that she is already a truly Christan woman," that is, a woman who continues in faith, love and holiness. This is obviously where her salvation ultimately lies, as is always true with Paul. It is assumed such a woman already has faith, which is activating love and holiness. But the whole context of the letter, and the present argument in particular, has generated this rather unusual way of putting it. Even at the end, however, he has not lost sight of where he began, so he adds, with propriety.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Anthropomorphism in Jeremiah 31:20

I recently stumbled upon a passage in Jeremiah that makes for a great discussion on the nature of a kind of figure of speech called anthropomorphism.
Jeremiah 31:20
Is Ephraim my dear son?
Is he the child I delight in?
As often as I speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore I am deeply moved for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,
says the LORD.
An anthropomorphism is "an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics: HUMANIZATION" (Merriam-Webster software dictionary © 2018).

The statement "The breeze through the trees moaned in deep grief" is an anthropomorphism because a breeze is not something that can literally experience grief.

Is God really "deeply moved" or is that description of God an anthropomorphism?

The vast majority of English translations translate the clause to express deep emotions on God's part. The English Standard Version is typical.
Therefore my heart yearns for him.
There are many in Christianity who will teach that, since God does not really feel emotions, the whole notion that God is "deeply moved" has to be an anthropomorphism. Indeed, a Christian might argue that being deeply moved by anything is undignified for a being such as God. There is a word for this theory of theology.
Impassibility: The characteristic, usually associated with God, of being unaffected by earthly, temporal circumstances, particularly the experience of suffering and its effects (Grenze, Guretzki, Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, IVP, OliveTree version).
We must remember that an important aspect of symbolism is that the symbol has real meaning. When somebody says that something in the Bible is a figure of speech, then the figure must carry with it an evident meaning. The symbol needs to denote something. For example:
John 15:1
​ “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
Jesus is not literally a vine nor is the Father a vinegrower (well, maybe the Father is a vinegrower; but that is not the point of this passage). Jesus being a vine is a figure of speech. It is not an anthropomorphism in this case but it is nevertheless a metaphor. The meaning becomes apparent with further reading of John 15. It means that Jesus provides a kind of spiritual nourishment to the branches (his disciples) so that they can thrive and bear fruit. His point is that the disciples should draw from Christ their spiritual nourishment and they are thus expected to use that energy to bless the world.

Do you see how a figure of speech denotes meaning? If there is no evident meaning to a speech figure, then one must reject that a description of something is a figure at all without real strong evidence.

What is the meaning in Jeremiah 31:20 when God says "I am deeply moved?" The clause denotes no meaning relative to the figure; so we strongly come out in favor of the clause not being a figure at all but rather, it is a literal description of God having grievous emotions!

But it gets better!

Jeremiah 31:20 has a hidden anthropomorphism that most translations do not translate literally. They instead translate the obvious meaning that is denoted by the figure.

Here are a few translations that are more literal at Jeremiah 31:20 (italics mine).
Is Ephraim a dear son unto me? is he a child of delights? For whilst I have been speaking against him, I do constantly remember him still. Therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will certainly have mercy upon him, saith Jehovah (Darby).
Surely Ephraim is an honourable son to me, surely he is a tender child: for since I spoke of him, I will still remember him. Therefore are my bowels troubled for him: pitying I will pity him, saith the Lord (Douay-Rheims).
A precious son is Ephraim to Me? A child of delights? For since My speaking against him, I do thoroughly remember him still, Therefore have My bowels been moved for him, I do greatly love him, An affirmation of Jehovah (Young's).
The New Beacon Bible Commentary on Jeremiah 26-52 reports "The Hebrew phrase literally means, therefore, my bowels moan for him" (Alex Varughese, Mitchel Modine, Beacon Hill Press, 2010, print 140).

What we have in this verbiage is an anthropomorphism! The description of God's bowels making noise is a figure of speech. It denotes something. It describes God's real deep emotions about the trouble Ephraim suffered for the people's (nation's) sin.

The figure (growling bowels) denotes the meaning of deep emotional grief.

Let me draw a picture:

Growling bowels ⸻> deep emotion

Theologians that promote the doctrine of impassibility tend to prefer to call God's deep emotion here a figure of speech and then to move quickly along. More often, they see the weakness in their position and just avoid comment.

The NIV Study Bible provides only crossreferences to the verse.

The Reformation Study Bible (2015) completely avoids any comment on the verse.

Those who resist the notion that God has emotions are indeed forced to try to explain that this passage describes God having growling bowels (anthropomorphism) which denotes deep emotion which is itself an anthropomorphism which denotes... well, they don't know. It must be a mystery; but surely we should not accept that God is ever grieved about anything, right? A figure of speech denotes another figure of speech which denotes some mysterious meaning.

Growling bowels ⸺> deep emotion ⸺> unknown meaning

Just how gullible are we supposed to be?

I think this passage really helps us to appreciate the application of anthropomorphism. We don't just call it an anthropomorphism and quickly move on to something else. If we cannot discern an intended application of the figure, then we are strongly reluctant to accept the description as a figure at all.

John Calvin provides a good explanation of the meaning in this passage in his commentary on Jeremiah:
So also when God expresses the feelings of a tender father, he says that his bowels made a noise, because he wished to receive his people again into favor. This, indeed, does not properly belong to God; but as he could not otherwise express the greatness of his love towards us, he thus speaks in condescension to our capacities. (OliveTree version)
God wishes for things that do not ever come to be realized. God feels strong unrequited love. Exactly!

Monday, June 25, 2018

When is a church right to censure a teacher?

I am sometimes fascinated by the efforts people sometimes take to bend Scripture into the service of their own narrative. There are many contemporary examples I can cite but I am most interested in the biblical justification some leaders put forward for combating doctrinal error. I am seriously interested in your feedback on what I am about to write.

As a parallel example for what I will argue, I cite King Solomon's murder of Joab.

When King David was old and on his deathbed, Prince Adonijah, made a move for the throne. Adonijah collected some high-profile supporters in this move including David's military general Joab and David's priest Abiathar. The prophet Nathan recognized that Adonijah becoming king would threaten the lives of himself, Solomon and Solomon's mother Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:12). As we know, Solomon finally became king and his coronation became a threat to Adonijah's life.
1Ki 1:50-53
Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. Solomon was informed, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; see, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword.’ ” So Solomon responded, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”
It turns out that Solomon watched Adonijah closely for any hint of intrigue. He found intrigue when Adonijah asked for David's concubine Abishag the Shunammite to be his wife (1 Kings 1:3; 2:21). Solomon ordered Adonijah's death and he banished the priest Abiathar. When Joab heard of it, he feared for his own life; so he ran to the altar and took hold of its horns (1 Kings 2:28). Indeed, Adonijah's execution set off a bloodbath of those who allied themselves with Adonijah during the struggle for succession of King David. Here is the text of the account:
1 Kings 2:28-34
When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the LORD and grasped the horns of the altar. When it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the LORD and now is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” So Benaiah came to the tent of the LORD and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’ ” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The LORD will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever; but to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne, there shall be peace from the LORD forevermore.” Then Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and killed him; and he was buried at his own house near the wilderness.
This account is fascinating to me and, I think, instructive. Solomon had decided to kill Joab because Joab had been a political ally of his devious brother Adonijah. Solomon was not able to execute Joab for political reasons because Joab had taken hold of the horns of the altar (Exodus 21:12-14)! What was Solomon to do? Here is what he did. He changed the reason for ordering Joab killed. Joab was protected from execution as long as he held on to the horns of the altar; but if Joab had blood guilt, he could be executed even while he grasped the altar horns (Exodus 21:14)! Thus, Solomon ordered Joab's execution because he had murdered Abner and Amasa (2 Samuel 3:23-27; 20:10). Just to make the point clear: Solomon wanted Joab killed for political reasons; but for scriptural reasons, he could not order the execution. Yet, Solomon found a scriptural reason to have Joab killed: blood guilt. Solomon had politics for his personal reason to kill Joab; but he gave a different reason to actually have the execution carried out: blood guilt!

The account of Joab's death is a case example of conscripting scripture into the service of one's own private agenda.

Christians seem to love total agreement. They love certainty about all things Bible. They want to be a part of a faith community (church) that agrees in lock-step on everything. They say they believe that minor disagreements can be treated as "We can disagree without being disagreeable." But if there are any other difficulties included—such as personality conflicts, then the minor disagreement inflates to a new perception of serious doctrinal error. They then go to the Bible to show that they are in the right to rebuke the error.

This bait-and-switch tactic rears its head again when Christians from different denominations try to work together in a ministry. Sage leaders on the side-lines are quick to point out the doctrinal disagreements and argue that joint effort ministry cannot happen until the doctrinal disagreement (read: error) is resolved!

I am not certain why the motivation is there to put doctrine in the forefront of any contact with people from other denominations. It really looks like the motivation is to keep everybody at the home church walking in doctrinal lock-step with one another. The real reason may have more to do with jealousy against the one(s) that are working together in God's work. If jealousy is involved, I must warn, that bad attitude can get a person in trouble with God (James 3:13-18).

In either case, or for any other reason that someone harps on doctrinal differences that must be resolved before any ministry can be done, Scripture is enlisted to support such fussing.

Here is an example of how it is done.
Gal 1:6-9
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
The contemporary exegesis continues something like this: "There is only one gospel; so if somebody is preaching something different from what is in the Bible, then that preacher is teaching a different gospel and therefore should be accursed. Yes, Paul has in mind the Judaizing teachers; but by extension, any doctrinal error should be treated the same way. We can have no fellowship with anybody who teaches doctrinal error until such time as the error is corrected."

One problem with that exegesis is the assumption that the speaker has figured out the right way to read every doctrine that is in the Bible.

The larger screw-up in that narrative is in misunderstanding the word "gospel" to apply to the whole New Testament. Gospel means "good news" and it applies to the message of salvation. "Gospel" is articulated best by 1 Corinthians 15:3-9; 20-23.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
How much more concise can you get? How about
1 Timothy 1:15
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.
Acts 1:9-11
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Acts 17:30-31
While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Gospel is not a terribly difficult concept. If the message of salvation is so central to Christianity, how can we refuse to share ministry with people from other denominations?

Returning to the text in Galatians 1, we ought to reconsider what Paul's real concern was: Judaizing teaching. The problem with that teaching was that the teachers said converts to Jesus must be circumcised! No wonder Paul said, "It's really not another gospel" (Galatians 1:7, CEB). It is not good news at all! By requiring circumcision, the false teachers were actually compromising the truth of the gospel. Teaching that compromises the gospel really needs to be handled. That is the role of the church.
1 Timothy 3:14-15
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.1
It is also the role of church leaders to refute doctrines that compromise the gospel.
Acts 20:28-30
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.
We must stop assuming that when two people draw different conclusions from their Bible study, then one is in error and must be corrected. Doctrines that demand correction are doctrines that compromise the gospel.2

1. It is worth noting that the error Paul means for the church in Ephesus to resist taught that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:16-18), that believers must not marry (1 Timothy 4:3, and maybe that they should behave as though they were not married), and they were developing doctrines based upon speculations about genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3-4). This odd collection of doctrines was a direct affront to the gospel. In fact, Paul even began his epistle by confronting the post-eschatology feature of the heresy (1 Timothy 1:1) by asserting that Christ Jesus is our hope (that is, the resurrection is yet future).

2. I am not advocating a reunion of all the denominations. There are some conflicting doctrines that are very difficult to coexist under the same roof. For example, Premillennialism and Amillennialism have difficulty mixing in a single congregation. Calvinism and Arminianism/Wesleyism don't mix very well. I am advocating that people who hold conflicting doctrines ought to still be able to enjoy gospel fellowship together and work together in ministry. The apostle Paul would agree.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Attributes of God

I wish to compare two contrasting views of the attributes of God. The standard Christian view generally is a list of attributes based somewhat on Scripture and to a large extent on what seems appropriate for someone like God (dignum deo).

I refer you to sample lists here and here.

I wish to focus on five attributes that people in general seem to accept without question: Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Immutability and Impassibility. In the first three, people tend to get defensive when somebody else says, "Really?" They often question the motives of the questioner as if there were some surly goal behind the question. "You don't accept omnipotence? You are trying to limit God!"

Anyway, it is my goal in this article to present two contrasting lists. One is the standard Christian list of divine attributes. The other comes from the article on "God" by Terence Fretheim in the Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. I wish to highlight the features of this lists that do not overlap. In the interest of time, I will present an edited list from Fretheim as well.

Theopedia, et. al.
Omnipotence: God is all powerful. Matthew 19:26
Omnipresence: God is everywhere. 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 139:7-10
Omniscience: God has all knowledge. 1 John 3:20; Romans 16:27; Psalm 147:5; Hebrews 4:13
Immutability: God does not and cannot change. Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 6:17
Impassibility: God has no emotions. (no Scriptures, but it follows from omnipotence and Immutability)
Simplicity: God is not composed of parts. (no Scriptures, but it follows from the dignum deo assumption)

Active: God acts within the world. Romans 3:29; Genesis 1:1-11; Romans 11:36; Hebrews 2:10; Amos 9:7
Effective: God's actions are effective. Creation; Exodus; Incarnation; Cross; Pentecost; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Genesis 22:12; Deuteronomy 8:2
Present: God fills heaven and earth. Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 139:1-24; 33:5; 36:5; Romans 8:38-39; Ephesians 4:6; Acts 17:28
Intentional: God acts from his own will. 1 Timothy 2:4; Genesis 12:3; Romans 11:32
Situational: God's actions are situationally appropriate. Galatians 4:4; Exodus 3:7-10; 9:16; Isaiah 43:25
Relational: God is interested in relationship. Psalm 31:2; Isaiah 65:1-2; Genesis 8:21-22; Psalm 8:1-9; Hebrews 8:8-12; Genesis 15:7-21
Vulnerable: God's activity is not inevitably successful. Ezekiel 2:7; Zechariah 7:11; Jeremiah 6:10; 23:17; 3:19-20; Luke 8:12; Hosea 11:1-9

Saturday, May 19, 2018

How may I know if I am a false teacher?

Most of the false prophets in the Bible seem to be aware that they are charlatans. Most. There are some who seem to be certain that they are preaching the truth while they are in gross error on some points. There are no clearcut rules for identifying false teachers, or prophets, in the Bible. There are some indicators; but they are more in the category of "evidence" than proof. What I have been interested in doing is turning the false-teacher-detection scrutiny inward on myself. Are there ways I can know whether or not I am a false teacher? Trying to answer that question will be the burden of this article.

The definition of a prophet is itself difficult to determine. I want to touch on the definition of a prophet because I suspect there is little difference between a prophet and a teacher. I believe the two terms are nearly synonymous. We can safely talk about "false prophets" and "false teachers" together.

There are indicators that a person is a prophet; but each indicator seems to always have an exception. For example, a prophet
  1. has had a divine calling experience in the form of a vision or supernatural visitation. There are the examples of Isaiah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 1:7-10; Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; John in Revelation 1:9-17. The problem is, several prophets didn't have these experiences (that we know of).
  2. has made prophetic predictions that came true (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). The problem here is that not all prophets made predictions. How can you test a prophet who does not predict anything? Furthermore, several prophets made predictions that did not come true; but the Bible treats those prophets as true prophets. It's not a dependable test.
  3. has never taught the people to follow other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). That is a pretty solid one. If the prophet teaches the people to follow other gods, he is a false prophet. It does not matter how powerfully he testifies to the truth of his false message.
The office of prophet, it seems, is a skill-set that could be taught. Elijah and Elisha ran prophetic schools. There was some sort of prophetic guild in the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 10:9-13; 19:18-24). Prophets seem to base a lot of their oracles on how he perceives God's character. For example, when David talked to the prophet Nathan about an idea to build a temple for the arc of God, Nathan said Yahweh would be with David in this enterprise (2 Samuel 7:3). Nathan's answer was based upon his knowledge of God. Later, Nathan received different instructions. The writer says "the word of the LORD came to Nathan." Nothing in the Bible explains what is meant by the expression, "the word of the LORD came." It is possible that the meaning has more to do with the prophet's wisdom than with some kind of ecstatic experience, after all, in several places, the word of God is described as coming through much effort and study on the part of the prophet (e.g., unknown prophets in 1 Peter 1:10-12; Paul in 2 Peter 3:15).

It appears that a good deal of teaching and prophesying, especially in Biblical times, involved circumstances in which people in the faith community saw a teaching need and realized that they were in the right place and time to fill that need. Today, some people may refer to that realization as a "divine calling." I think of it as recognizing an unmet ministry need.

When I find myself in the role of Bible teacher, am I there for the right reason or for the wrong reason? If I am teaching because I saw a need and realized that I was in the right place to fill that need, then I think that reason is pretty good.

I now return to the main purpose of this article. How do I know that I am not a false teacher?

If I know that I am faking it, then I already failed the test. Most of the false prophets in the Bible were prophets for hire. They knew they were charlatans.

There are several examples of prophets who were false prophets but they did not know they were false prophets. I offer two parade examples.
1 Kings 22:24
Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?”
Zedekiah had delivered a prophecy about an upcoming battle. He was certain he had delivered a correct oracle; but another prophet, Micaiah, had contradicted Zedekiah's prophecy. In Zedekiah's case, Micaiah determined that Zedekiah had delivered a false prophecy out of his inadequate knowledge of God. Micaiah had better knowledge of the divine council than Zedekiah.

If we were to apply this principle today, we would make every effort to teach correct things about God. Such effort would be invested in study. When something we teach is challenged, we would solicit good Biblical arguments against our own view and examine those arguments carefully. That principle is seen in 1 Corinthians 14.
1 Corinthians 14:29
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
Paul says to in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21,
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.
Just because the person speaking has been identified as a prophet does not mean what the prophet says today is correct. Everything must be received through critical ears.

Another really good example false teacher is a prophet named Hananiah. He and Jeremiah had different prophecies to tell; and Jeremiah truly hoped Hananiah's prophecy was the correct one.
Jeremiah 28:11
And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD: This is how I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” At this, the prophet Jeremiah went his way.
Both prophets believed they were true prophets; but later, Jeremiah learned that Hananiah was a false prophet.

The book of Jeremiah suggests several rubrics by which we can measure the truthfulness of our own teaching ministry. I want to come back to that after I talk about the Pharisees in Jesus' day. The Pharisees believed themselves to be true teachers. It took another prophet (Jesus) to point out the error of their teaching. If they had the right attitude, they would have taken Jesus' criticisms to heart and made adjustments to their teaching.
Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others."
There is much that is right about tithing. What the Pharisees missed is that justice, mercy and faith are more important. They neglected those important topics in their teaching. If they had made adjustments to their teaching, they would have quit being false teachers.

The book of Jeremiah points out that any prophecy that preaches only peace is false. There is always the risk of calamity, especially when there is no interest in repentance.
Jeremiah 23:16-17
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise the word of the LORD, “It shall be well with you”; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, “No calamity shall come upon you.”
The false prophets did not base their teachings on knowledge of God but rather on what the people wanted to hear. If you are preaching nothing but good news, you will have people who want to hear what you have to say. That's a problem.
Jeremiah 6:13-14 ( = Jeremiah 8:10-11)
For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.
Jeremiah 14:13-14
Then I said: “Ah, LORD God! Here are the prophets saying to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you true peace in this place.’ ” And the LORD said to me: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
False teaching is all about peace. If there is no balance of teaching that includes strong messages of repentance, then it is false prophecy. If we look back on Hananiah's prophecy in Jeremiah 28, his message was all about peace but nothing about repentance. Essentially, he preached salvation without repentance. That is false teaching.

When you look at yourself and try to determine if you a true or a false teacher, ask yourself, "Is there balance in what I teach, or is it all feel-good teaching? Is there a strong ingredient of challenge for people to grow in the Lord or do I try to make them be content with their current level spiritual maturity?"

Paul's teaching had balance and it made people nervous.
Acts 24:25
And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”
False prophets offer peace even for the wicked. They never tell the wicked that they need to change. True prophets announce Yahweh's judgment.

People are often quick to identify people as false teachers because they are sometimes challenging in their teaching. Indeed, this is one of the marks of a true teacher!

Some people are quick to identify people as false teachers because they teach something they don't agree with. When two teachers disagree it does not mean that one (or both) is a false teacher. It means they merely disagree. They should be able to study together on the point of disagreement. Maybe they will come together or maybe they will continue to adhere to their divergent views. That does not make one (or both) of them a false teacher. Quite possibly, it may not mean that one (or both) is in error.

Yes, there are some points of doctrine that are really difficult to come together on. For example, it may be difficult for amillennialists and premillennialists to work together. It may be difficult for Calvinists and Open Theists to work together. The answer is not to avoid those topics in the interest of unity. The answer is to try to disagree without being disagreeable. I mean that. It is not a cliche. Anyway, I am interested in your thoughts on this one. What do teachers do when they promote contradictory doctrines?

Friday, May 18, 2018

What to do with passages in which God says he will harden Pharaoh's heart?

What to do with passages where God says, "I will harden his heart?"
Exodus 4:21
And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Exodus 7:3
But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 14:4
I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. And they did so.
We need not make much of these predictions of divine hardening when we study divine hardening. What, exactly, hardening means is not at all clear. And if we are not able to determine what hardening is, we can indeed determine biblically what hardening is not. Divine hardening is not divine control. Contrary to general assumptions, it is also not some sort of "locking in" to a particular course of action. For a detailed blog-style treatment of the meaning of divine hardening, see this article. At this point in my study, I believe we can safely understand divine hardening as something God does for a person who is reluctantly obedient. The person strongly desires to act contrary to God's oracles; but, no matter how long he searches, cannot find a good enough reason to act in the way he desires. When a man wants to misbehave that badly and all he is lacking is an excuse, God is willing to provide that excuse or rationale.

Walter Brueggemann (New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Abingdon, OliveTree) explains it this way:
God does wonders that shatter all present reality, but God also sponsors resistance to the newness on behalf of the status quo. The juxtaposition makes perfectly good sense, even if we judge only by what is visible and conventional. Gestures and acts that violate the present and anticipate newness do indeed evoke resistance in defense of the status quo. Moreover, the response of resistance tends to be proportionate to the threat of the “wonder.” As the pitch of wonder intensifies, so the intensity of resistance is sure to increase as well. The text shows that Yahweh intends to escalate both the wonder and the resistance.
The additional factor below the surface, and which changes everything, is the fact that the “hardening” does not just happen, is not merely chosen by Pharaoh, but is caused by Yahweh, who is the subject of the active verb harden. The narrator is willing to entertain the awareness that Yahweh operates negatively to heighten the drama, to make the clash between oppressor and victim as pointed as is bearable in the narrative.
James Bruckner (Understanding the Bible Commentary, Baker, OliveTree) has this fascinating comment:
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is sometimes a red herring for interpreters. Pharaoh’s heart was already “hard” enough—he had harshly enslaved a whole people. The theological problem is not that Pharaoh was compassionate and the Lord made him “hard.” The more difficult issues arise from the fact that the hardening prolongs the enslavement of the children of Israel and eventually requires that the Lord kill the firstborn of Egypt.
I strongly suspect that there is very little difference between divine hardening and self hardening. Pharaoh's heart was already hard. It would be easy to anticipate his answer to Moses' first "Let my people go." When God offers an opportunity to "do right" but the invitation is rejected, there is a hardening effect. Every time Pharaoh said "No" to God, he grew harder. God hardened Pharaoh by repeatedly sending Moses with another message to "Let my people go." Bruckner further comments on Exodus 7:3,
Throughout the plague cycles Pharaoh expresses his hardness of heart in three different ways: Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34), Pharaoh’s heart was hardened or became hard (Exodus 7:13–14, 22–23; 8:19; 9:7, 35) and God hardened it (Exodus 9:12; 11:10; 14:8). God had also promised to harden it (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 14:4, 17). There are no special distinctions between these expressions. It may be concluded that God calcified Pharaoh’s own stubbornness and cruelty to accomplish divine purposes.
Now, when we look at the first text of Exodus 4:21, it appears that God anticipates hardening Pharaoh even before Pharaoh has the opportunity to obey God.

There are several ambiguities in this text which prevent us from being too certain of ourselves about what God is predicting. The ambiguities begin to surface when we look at a little context.
Exo 4:21-26
And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”
On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD met him and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”
The general wisdom of most Bible readers is that God's threat to kill Pharaoh's firstborn son refers to the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, as is indicated by Thomas B. Dozeman (New Interpreter's Study Bible, Abingdon, OliveTree).
The divine prediction to harden the heart of Pharaoh probably refers to the death of the Egyptian firstborn, since it is followed by the divine claim that Israel is the Lord’s firstborn. The firstborn status of Israel signifies kinship between the Lord and Israel and the divine claim on all firstborn (Exodus 13:1).
If Dozeman (and most other readers) are correct in this assessment of the saying, "I will kill your firstborn son," then the predicted hardening of Pharaoh refers specifically to the tenth plague. That means that the other divine hardenings of the king are not predicted this early in the drama.

There is another way to read "I will kill your firstborn son." Since God refers to enslaved Israel as God's firstborn, the nation of Egypt could very well be understood to be Pharaoh's firstborn son. If I am correct that Egypt is Pharaoh's firstborn son, then what is being predicted is the total ruin of Egypt. Such an understanding would motivate us to apply the predicted divine hardening in Exodus 4:21 to be something that happens in Pharaoh much earlier in the account.

Furthermore, it is fascinating that, in the verse following God's plan to harden Pharaoh, God attacks Moses and tries to kill him! Moses' wife Zipporah takes action and saves Moses' life. Nevertheless, the reader is shocked that the whole plan to send Moses to Pharaoh is jeopardized by God's own action against Moses. The narrative placement of this attack shows that God does not necessarily make divine plans in meticulous detail. God makes adjustments along the way. What would have happened had Moses died in this attack we can only speculate. Perhaps God would have selected somebody else to complete the mission. The narrative disruption of this attack strongly suggests that the divine plan to harden Pharaoh was a contingent prediction, no matter how strong the language, "but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go."

Finally, it is important to notice that the NRSV is correct in translating,
But you refused to let him go. (Exodus 4:23, also RSV, KJV, NKJV, MEV, REB, ESV, LXX)
Now, God may be telling Moses, word for word, what to say to Pharaoh after the execution of the ninth plague and in anticipation of the tenth plague. More likely, this statement is verbalized in the past tense because readers already know, even at this point in the account, that Pharaoh refused to let the Israel go. Not surprisingly, the reader also knows that Pharaoh's heart is going to grow more and more hard throughout the ordeal. The writer is right to anticipate these hardenings early in the account.

It is interesting to study the sequence of events in the book of Exodus; but we must return to the fact that divine hardening is not divine control of a person; nor is divine hardening a "locking in" of a person's preferred course of bad action.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Luke 22:22. What is the meaning of "determined?"

Luke 22:22
For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" (NRSV)

The burden of this article will be to explain what Luke's Jesus meant in this verse by the word "determined."

Luke adapted his own reading from Mark's account. It is interesting and instructive how Luke adapted Mark. Here is Mark 14:17-25.
17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve.
18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me."
19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?"
20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.
21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."
23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.
24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Matthew 26:20-29 quotes Mark almost verbatim except for a few clarifying improvements (Matthew's Jesus says the blood of the covenant is "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins;" and Mark's "kingdom of God" becomes Matthew's "my Father's kingdom").

In both Mark and Matthew, Judas fades off the stage, either after the prediction of betrayal or between the time Jesus' Institution of the Lord's Supper and the time of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. John adds some clarity to his account of the Last Supper my describing Jesus as indicating Judas by giving him a piece of bread (John 13:26). As soon as Judas received the bread, he left the intimate assembly. Since John does not document the Institution of the Lord's Supper, we still do not know if Judas participated in the sacred part of the meal. (However, in John, Jesus washed Judas' feet).

While Mark and in Matthew are not clear whether Judas participated in the memorial part of the supper, Luke is very clear. Here is Luke 22:14-22.
 14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.
15 He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves;
18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.
22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"

The fact that Luke reversed the order of Mark by placing the Lord's Supper before the betrayal prediction highlights the importance Luke placed on Judas' choices and upon his later invitation for redemption. The cup of the new covenant of the Lord's blood was poured out for Judas too! In Luke,the mention of a betrayer is an invitation for Judas to repent of the evil he is planning. Furthermore, if he goes ahead with the betrayal (and he indeed did) he is invited to repent after the fact. Thus, Luke softened Jesus assessment of the betrayer by omitting Mark's "It would have been better for that one not to have been born."

This understanding will help us to drill down on the meaning of Luke's use of the word "determined" in verse 22.

For clarity, let us scrutinize Mark 14:20-21.
20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.
21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
It may escape our notice that there is deeper meaning to verse 20 than just sharing a meal. John 13:18 helps us out.
I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me."
The fact that Judas shared bread with Jesus was widely connected with Psalm 41:9. First Century Christians knew that Judas shared the bread with Jesus and they knew that he eventually betrayed Jesus. They correlated those events with the passage in Psalms. For a detailed discussion of John 13:18, see this article. Psalm 41 is about the psalmist's betrayal by a close friend and confidant. The psalmist is very sick and might die. The psalmist's close friend comes to comfort the sick psalmist and says he hopes he gets well; but privately, the friend hopes the psalmist dies. Many Bible readers consider the psalmist as possibly David and the close friend as David's adviser Ahithophel who became usurping Absalom's adviser against David. For convenience, I will call the psalmist's fair-weather friend "Ahithophel."

When Mark's Jesus says, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me," he means to say that the betrayer (Judas) is another Ahithophel. The betrayer is fulfilling Scripture by conspiring against his master, as Ahithophel did. So, in Mark, what Jesus means by "The Son of Man goes as is written of him" he means to say that he is going to fulfill Scripture by means of parallel actions. Luke means the same thing but he uses the word "determined." Luke talks about these parallels with much stronger language.
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44)
Luke's citations of Scripture that are fulfilled are many; but all of them are understood as parallels (another Ahithophel) or as adaptations of old language to a new situation ("he was numbered with the transgressors"). The fact that Jesus fulfilled classical Scripture even in that non-direct way testified to his authenticity as the Messiah to a First Century Jew (or Jewish proselyte).

One more observation: When Luke changed Mark's "it is written" to "it has been determined" he may have intended to communicate that events have been set in motion that will be very difficult to derail. At this point, what is about to happen is essentially unavoidable. Determined.

Let us review.

14:20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me." 22:21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.The betrayer is another Ahithophel, like the betrayer in Psalm 41.
14:21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born. 22:22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"Events are in motion now that will soon be seen as fulfilling Scripture.