Wednesday, February 7, 2018

John 19:37 = Zechariah 12:10. They will look on the one whom they have pierced.


Here is an interesting verse.
John 19:37 (NRSV)
And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The cited is Zechariah 12:10.
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
John, interestingly, did not explicitly say that the soldier's piercing Jesus' side fulfilled a scripture; however, as much can be inferred from context. The previous verse says that the incident fulfills Psalm 34:20.
John 19:36
These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”
Thus, we can comfortably conclude that John means to say that the Roman soldier's action fulfilled scripture. When a New Testament writer says some event "fulfilled scripture" we should not assume that the quoted scripture had a New Testament context in view. For a detailed explanation of the meaning of "fulfilled scripture" see this link.

John 19:37 deserves individual attention because it is often highlighted as a specific case example of how an Old Testament prophet predicted some detail of the Lord's Passion.

On the subject of prophetic prediction, the original Zechariah context is sufficiently vague as to permit a careless interpreter to apply it any way he wishes.

It is clear in John that the writer intends the passage to be read in his particular context. How should we understand its context in Zechariah?

Zechariah 12 warns of a building threat of war but also predicts that Yahweh will defend Israel. After the promise of protection there comes a word of comfort in verse 10. The text does not report who was pierced but it implies that it was someone from the house of David. Further, the common translation "when they look on the one whom they have pierced" is a traditional rendering influenced by translation tradition. The phrase is difficult to translate. There are textual variants within the Hebrew tradition that, it turns out, are easy to explain. One of the two most likely meanings is,
...they will look to me, the one they have pierced (NET).
Because this translation introduces a difficulty in meaning, that Yahweh has been mortally wounded, some scribes "corrected" the text to make better theological sense while further confusing the reader. It is for that reason that I believe a translation indicating Yahweh as the one who is pierced is the best translation.

Before we move on, I will tip my hat to a suggested alternative by Pamela J. Scalise.
An alternate translation of the MT is preferable here: “they will look to me concerning the one they have pierced.” Looking to the Lord indicates commitment and awareness of God’s power (see Ps. 34:5; Isa. 22:11), and their mourning demonstrates remorse for the killing. (UBC)
Schalise that someone is pierced (presumably from the house of David). Then the house of David (Zechariah 12:12-13) and all Jerusalem grieve to Yahweh about it.

This understanding is supported by Rodney A. Whitacre (John, IVPNT).
Here God seems to be identified with the leader of his people, a shepherd who is raised up by God (Zechariah 11:16) and yet will be struck by the sword (Zechariah 13:7).
Gerald Sigal believes it is accurate to understand the one pierced to be Yahweh himself through the suffering of Israel.
In the context of Zechariah 12 we are told that God will defend His people and destroy their enemies. On that day, “they [the nation of Israel, i.e., the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, mentioned at the beginning of verse 10] shall look to Me [God] whom they [the nations, spoken of in verse 9, that shall come up against Jerusalem] have pierced; then they [Israel] shall mourn for him [the slain of Israel as personified by the leader of the people, the warrior Messiah who will die in battle at this time].” The only admissible interpretation is... that the Gentile nations shall look to God, whom they have attacked by the persecution, death, and general suffering they inflicted on the nation of Israel (“him“), whose dead will be mourned by the surviving Jewish people. (Does John 19:37 misquote Zechariah 12:10? http://jewsforjudaism.org)
It really is unclear who did the piercing but the victim is either a Davidic leader or God himself through the suffering of Israel.

John is thus making a fairly apt correlation between Jesus' suffering and this verse in Zechariah. In that first century event, the one pierced was both the Son of David and The Father himself.



Permit me to float a trial balloon. Haggai and Zechariah hot-dog Zerubbabel the governor (and descendant of David) as a potential messianic figure. Zerubbabel abruptly drops off the radar with Zechariah 4:10. He is no longer mentioned and the prophets of the time start looking elsewhere for hope. It seems that nobody knows what happened to Zerubbabel but the likelihood is high that the Persian government or some other smaller national neighbor heard about Haggai's and Zechariah's messianic expectations and they had Zerubbabel put to death. In that case, the one pierced may be understood to be Zerubbabel and that, after Yahweh does what he is going to do as described in chapter 12, the house of David and the rest of Jerusalem will finally be able to complete their mourning for Zerubbabel. I think that understanding is consistent.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mathew 26:54. What, exactly, needed to be fulfilled?

I recently stumbled upon an interesting passage from the Second Temple period. This passage strikes me as helpful in understanding how Jewish people in the first century read scripture.

1 Maccabees 3:48
And they opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles consulted the likenesses of their gods. (NRSV)
The Common English Bible reads this way:
In addition, they opened up the Law scroll to find answers to the kinds of questions Gentiles would ask of their idols.
In other words, these soldiers, before going into battle, read from the Law to see if there was something in there they could apply to themselves. Can they find something that might be fulfilled in the coming battle?

The Gospels are sprinkled with many "fulfillment" passages. Consider this one.

Matthew 26:54
But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”
Claims like this sometimes defy modern exegetical sensibilities. Here is the verse with some relevant context.

Matthew 26:51-56
51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
What does Matthew mean by quoting Jesus this way? Based upon our modern notions of "prophecy" we expect to find some very specific Old Testament prophecies describing soon-to-happen events in Matthew's Gospel; but if we look very closely, we fail to discover any such prophecies, especially any that detail events that include the arrest, trial, suffering, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

What scriptures did Matthew's Jesus have in mind that describe things that "must happen?"

Whatever events or scriptures Jesus had in mind by this statement, the actions of the people in this scene will affect whether or not current events will play out to fulfill (in the Matthean sense) the scriptures he had in mind.

Consider the way Second Temple Jews applied Scripture in light of 1 Maccabees 3:48. They were comfortable to contemporize the readings as if they were about themselves rather than about (or, in addition to) their original contexts. They were comfortable finding in the classical (Old Testament) literature similarities to current or recent events and name those events fulfillments of scripture.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Genesis 17: Don't even think about neglecting covenant

Central passage:
Gen 17:9-14 (NRSV)
9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Covenant is in fact something Abraham must keep―beginning with the sign of circumcision. It is not ethnocentric. It is family-centric. Slaves obey it too which gives slaves full human dignity. To add a point on it, slaves are included in the Abrahamic covenant with the divine. We shall see that the definition of "family" eventually expands to include anybody who enters into the Abrahamic covenant (Isaiah 56:3-8; Galatians 3:23-29; Ephesians 3:1-6; Romans 8:29). The sign of circumcision is retired (Jeremiah 3:15-16; 4:4; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:11-14).

The point is not that there will be consequences out of a violated covenant; although there are certainly consequences. Particularly, the benefits of covenant will no longer be active and there will be danger of experiencing the fate of the Canaanites (Genesis 15:16). The land holding will not be perpetual (Genesis 17:8).

The point here is that the people who enter into the covenant must not even think of neglecting this covenant.
posted from Bloggeroid

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Acts 4:28 commentary: What was predestined to take place?

Acts 4:28 is one of those pro-Calvinism proof texts. It is invoked to show that God predestined all the terrible things that happened to Jesus in The Passion events.

Act 4:27-28 (NRSV)
27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
It sure smells like this passage means to say the terrible things that happened to Jesus were predestined. If a person wants to quote this passage to show that The Passion was predestined, there are several problems with the argument.
(1) It is risky exegesis to draw critical doctrine out of something the Bible quotes someone as saying if the person is not speaking by divine inspiration. The exegetical method is more common than we might think. Consider John 9:31. A man was born blind and Jesus healed his sight. Jesus did not introduce himself; but the man was able to conclude that Jesus was a righteous man. He said that God does not listen to sinners. It is terrible exegesis to conclude that God does not hear the prayers of sinners based upon what this man said. He was not speaking from divine inspiration (Acts 10:31. See also 1 Kings 8:41-45). On a similar note, Peter's personal judgment in Acts 1:21-22 is frequently quoted as proof of the qualifications of an apostle. Peter was not speaking from divine inspiration. He decided on his own to set a precedent that there should be twelve apostles. He offered his short list of qualifications was a suggested rubric for selecting replacement apostles. Bad exegesis, although Paul seems to agree with qualification #2, that an apostle must have seen the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 9:1).
(2) It is not clear how this passage should be punctuated. Greek scholar Adam Clark believes verse 28 should be read as parenthetical (see below).
Adam Clarke:
There is a parenthesis in this verse that is not sufficiently noticed: it should be read in connection with Ac 4:28, thus: For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, (for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done,) both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, were gathered together.
It is evident that what God's hand and counsel determined before to be done was not that which Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, (Romans,) and the people of Israel had done and were doing; for, then, their rage and vain counsel would be such as God himself had determined should take place, which is both impious and absurd; but these gathered together to hinder what God had before determined that his Christ or Anointed should perform; and thus the passage is undoubtedly to be understood.
Clark suggests that verse 28 ought to be read parenthetically; but watch what happens when we remove the verse numbers and two commas.
For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.*
I believe this reading is how these two verses should be understood. We might even understand that Herod, et. al., actually worked to subvert Jesus' work that God had predestined. In other words, Jesus had more work to do and Herod, et. al., resisted that work.

In conclusion, this passage proves nothing regarding the existence of a divinely predetermined program for Herod's, Pilate's, the Romans' and the Jews' bad behavior.

* In fairness, the word order in Greek does not permit adding or dropping of punctuation in the way I have done with this NRSV quote (and is also possible with CSB, NET and Wycliffe). The word order in Greek is more closely followed in the ESV which reads a follows:
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Adam Clarke's view that 28 likely refers to Jesus' work rather than the actions of Herod, et. al., ought to be taken seriously. Even in ESV, it is not clear whose actions are in view in verse 28.

For more commentaries on confusing verses that are often invoked as proof texts, see https://godisopen.com/resources/verse-quick-reference/.

Confusion about "Gospel"

Gospel (Greek εὐαγγελίζω, euaggelizō) is central to the New Testament. The word is often translated as "good news."

It is clear to me that many people cannot tell the difference between "gospel" and "Bible" or between "gospel" and inspired preaching. This confusion has led to several case of bad biblical exegesis. It is the burden of this article to clarify the meaning of "gospel."

What is "gospel?"

In Matthew, the concept of "gospel" is connected with eschatology (end-times study), especially if we understand "kingdom" to be something that is partially realized in the present but fully realized in the future.

Matthew 4:23
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Matthew 9:35
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
Matthew 24:14
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. 
In Luke, the good news gospel is about fortunes reversal.

Luke 3:4-6
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Luke 16:16
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.
This theme is evident in Mary's song.

Luke 1:52-53 (c.f., 1 Samuel 2:1-10)
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
It is thus good news for the poor.

Luke 4:14-18
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free....
See also, Luke 7:22; 8:35; 15:35; 17:18.

In Mark, the gospel is realized by those who accept discipleship.

Mark 10:29
Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,..."
Mark 8:35
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
In Paul, it is the message about salvation realized by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 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, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (emphasis mine)
Romans 1:3-7
 ...the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)
1 Corinthians 1:17
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
The Christian message of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Romans 2:16).

"Indeed, for Paul, it was a synonym for the entire fabric of the Christian message (Romans 1:16)" (Allan J. McNicol, "Gospel, Good News," Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible. Much of the background information for this article came from this source).

In a nutshell, "Gospel" points eschatologically to a future event when Jesus returns and rights everything that is wrong. That time will be especially good news for those who are Christ's disciples.

A little song that was written by a friend of mine (Ben Mereness) back in the late '70s says it tightly:
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
I've got good news for you,
Good news my brother.
Jesus my King is coming back again.
Paul warns that there is only one gospel.

Galatians 1:6-7
6 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— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ
Paul declared that his ministry in the churches has been to preach this one gospel.

Col 1:21-23
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. (emphasis mine)
Did Paul preach the same gospel from one church to the next? Of course he did!

This lengthy (but it could be more lengthy) study of "gospel" is going somewhere. Some preachers make the very correct point that Paul preached only one gospel from church to church; but they then assume that everything he said was consistent from one church to the next. That is, some make the incorrect extension from "gospel" to "everything Paul taught." The argument is meant to diffuse the possibility that Paul gave some instructions that were church-specific.

Did he always give the same instructions on "how to do church" (or whatever) from one church to the next?

Does every command apply universally? Consider the doctrine of the head covering. Paul says that his instruction is based upon a custom in the churches (1 Corinthians 11:16). He also argues that it is something, given their unique situation, for which they can judge for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:13).

Consider, for a really obvious example, the "holy kiss." Paul writes four times a command that church members greet one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Even Peter gets in on the command (1 Peter 5:14). Hardly anybody today considers this command to be something that should be followed. We easily dismiss it as being culture-specific. Today, we shake hands, hug, bow or, essentially, greet one another in a culturally meaningful way.

When we read an instruction in the New Testament, we need to examine carefully and try to determine its intended meaning. Was it local-church specific? Only after we make that determination should we look for some universal principle that applies in all churches for all time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Euodia and Syntyche

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Here are the comments by Gordon D. Fee, IVPNTC.

Paul proceeds directly to his final appeal. Given its verbatim repetition of Philippians 2:2 and its specific naming of persons, very likely this is where much of the letter has been heading right along. In a media-saturated culture like ours, where naming the guilty or the grand is a way of life, it is hard for us to sense how extraordinary this moment is. Apart from greetings and the occasional mention of his coworkers or envoys, Paul rarely ever mentions anyone by name. But here he does, and not because Euodia and Syntyche are the “bad ones” who need to be singled out—precisely the opposite. That he names them at all is evidence of friendship, since one of the marks of enmity in polemical letters is that enemies are left unnamed, thus denigrated by anonymity.

These longtime friends and coworkers, who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, are no longer seeing eye to eye with each other. We know very little more about them. Syntyche was named after the goddess of fortune, indicating pagan origins; both were given names (roughly “Success” and “Lucky”) indicative of parental desire for their making good in the world. That Paul had women as coworkers in Philippi should surprise us none, since the church there had its origins among some Gentile women who, as “God-fearers,” met by the river on the Jewish sabbath for prayer (Acts 16:13-15). The evidence from Acts indicates that at her conversion Lydia became patron both of the small apostolic band and of the nascent Christian community. By the very nature of things, that meant she was also a leader in the church, since heads of households automatically assumed the same role in the church that was centered in that household. Moreover, Macedonian women in general had a much larger role in public life than one finds elsewhere in the Empire; in Philippi in particular they were also well-known for their religious devotion.

Paul now entreats these two leaders to agree with each other (phronein = “have the same mindset”) in the Lord. Given (a) the brevity of this letter, (b) that the letter would have been read aloud in the gathered community in a single sitting, and (c) that appeals to “have the same mindset” are part of the stuff of letters of friendship, one can be sure that the present appeal is to be understood as the specific application of the earlier ones in Philippians 2:2 and Philippians 3:15. Given its position at the end, it is also probably related to the foregoing warning and appeal (Philippians 3:1-21).

Paul refuses to take sides, thus maintaining friendship with all. He appeals to both women—indeed the identical repetition of their names followed by the verb has rhetorical effect—to bury their differences by adopting the “same mindset.” As in the immediately preceding appeal, it is qualified in the Lord, evidence that we are not dealing with a personal matter but with “doing the gospel” in Philippi. Having “the same mindset” in the Lord has been specifically spelled out in the preceding paradigmatic narratives, where Christ (Philippians 2:6-11) has humbled himself by taking the “form of a slave” and thus becoming obedient unto death on a cross, and Paul (Philippians 3:4-14) has expressed his longing to know Christ in a cruciform way.

In another intriguing moment, Paul turns momentarily to address another coworker, asking him to help Euodia and Syntyche respond to the appeal: Yes, and I ask you [singular] also, loyal yokefellow (= “genuine companion”), help these women. What intrigues is that in a letter addressed to the whole church he should single out one person in this way (which he does nowhere else in his community-directed letters). Since the Philippians knew him well, rather than naming him Paul “authorizes” his assistance with the epithet “genuine companion.” The appellation yokefellow, along with the adjective “genuine” (which he uses elsewhere to refer to intimate coworkers), indicates the closest kind of partnership between him and Paul. Although well-known and currently living there, he is almost certainly not a native of Philippi (since the others named and unnamed certainly are). Most likely he is one of Paul’s itinerant coworkers who is presently on the scene there. Luke would fit the description perfectly. Not only was he such a “true companion,” but in Acts 16 the “we” narrative takes Luke to Philippi, where it leaves off until Paul’s return to Philippi some four to six years later in Acts 20:1-5. The author of Acts surely intends his readers to understand that he had spent these intervening years in Philippi. If so, then as one of Paul’s most trusted companions, he had given oversight to that work for some years in the past.

Paul’s erstwhile companion is thus asked to help Euodia and Syntyche, obviously to “be of the same mind” in the Lord. It is perhaps significant for our day to note the mediatorial role that Paul’s yokefellow was expected to play, rather than leaving the two women to work out the problem on their own. Even so, Paul’s focus is still on Euodia and Syntyche, not on his yokefellow, and especially, as throughout the letter, their (including the whole community) partnership with him in the gospel. His word order tells the story: inasmuch as in the gospel they have contended by my side. (On the athletic/military metaphor contended at my side, see commentary on 1:27; cf. Philippians 2:13-14.)

About Clement and the rest of my fellow workers we know nothing. The context demands that they are fellow Philippians. Why Paul should single out Clement is a singular mystery, made all the more so by the unusual way the phrase is attached to the former clause, along with Clement and the rest. This can only mean that these have also contended at my side along with Euodia and Syntyche in the cause of the gospel in Philippi. This is probably as close to an “aside” as one gets in Paul’s letters. Having just mentioned Euodia and Syntyche in particular, he includes the others who were with him in that ministry from the beginning, for some good reason mentioning Clement in particular, perhaps not wanting to mention the rest by name lest he exclude any. In its own way, therefore, the clause probably functions as a gentle reminder to all who lead the believing community in Philippi to “have the same mindset in the Lord,” even though that is not specifically said of or to them.

As so often in this letter, even here Paul concludes on an eschatological note. The ultimate reason for all of them (Euodia, Syntyche, Clement and the rest) to get it together in Philippi, as they await from heaven the coming of their Lord and Savior (Philippians 3:20), is that their names are in the book of life. This unusual (for Paul) language is common stock from his Jewish heritage, where the faithful were understood to have their names recorded in the heavenly “book of the living,” meaning the book that has recorded in it those who have received divine life (thus “the book of the living,” Ps 68:29) and are thus destined for glory. With these words Paul brings the specific hortatory sections of the letter to conclusion. In both verses Philippians 4:1 and Philippians 4:2-3 he has picked up the eschatological note from Philippians 3:20-21 that immediately precedes; and in both cases the note is affirmation and reassurance. If his concern in these exhortations is with the present—the believers’ steadfastness and unity for the sake of the gospel in Philippi—his focus has regularly been on their certain future. He and they together have their names recorded in the book of life, and for that reason, as a colony of heaven in the Roman colony of Philippi, they need to live the life of the future now as they await its consummation.

When the dust clears and one gets beyond the specifics about names and “women in leadership,” it is hard to imagine New Testament exhortations that are more contemporary—for every age and clime—than these. To stand firm in the Lord is not just a word for the individual believer, as such words are often taken, but for any local body of believers. The gospel is ever and always at stake in our world, and the call to God’s people, whose names are written in the book of life, is to live that life now in whatever “Philippi” and in the face of whatever opposition it is found. But to do so effectively, its people, especially those in leadership, must learn to subordinate personal agendas to the larger agenda of the gospel, “to have the same mindset in the Lord.” This means humbling, sacrificial giving of oneself for the sake of others; but then that is what the gospel is all about. So in effect these exhortations merely call us to genuine Christian life in the face of every form of pagan and religious opposition.

At the same time, here is one of those pieces of “mute” evidence for women in leadership in the New Testament, significant in this case for its offhanded, presuppositional way of speaking about them. To deny women’s role in the church in Philippi is to fly full in the face of the text. Here is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is gender-blind, that he gifts as he wills. Our task is to recognize his gifting and to assist all such people, male and female, to “have the same mindset in the Lord,” so that together they will be effective in doing the gospel.
posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Devotional on Jeremiah 2: Divine grief and God's desire for relationship

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
   your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
   in a land not sewn. (Jeremiah 2:1-2)

Jeremiah chapter 2 has a lot to say about remembering. The people of Judah had failed to remember and this failure got them into trouble (Jeremiah 2:32). The priests and prophets failed to teach the people about God (Jeremiah 2:8, 26). They are at fault for failing to bring the knowledge of God to the memory of the people; so they knew no better than to go after the worship of the idol Baal. They had either forgotten Yahweh completely (Jeremiah 2:5-6, 11), improperly understood Yahweh as a god who expects too much in exchange for protection (Jeremiah 2:20, 29, 36-37) or they believed it was alright with Yahweh for the people to divide their worship time between Yahweh and Baal (Jeremiah 2:26-27).

The people confused covenant with contract. They believed Yahweh needed to be obeyed in exchange for what Yahweh is skilled at giving, namely, protection from military threat. They approached Yahweh the same way they approached Baal. They gave what Baal wanted in exchange for what he is skilled at giving, namely, a good agricultural harvest, a growing herd of cattle and lots of healthy children.

The reason they approached Yahweh as a god that wants appeasement is because they really did not know Yahweh. Oh, they would go through the motions of worship the way they were taught; but they did not know God. If they did, they would not have appealed to Baal on the side.

Proper worship begins with knowledge of God. On the outside, proper and unacceptable worship both look the same; but on the inside, true worshipers relate to God in relationship rather than in appeasement.

Jeremiah chapter 2 explains the difference.

Yahweh comes near to his people as a husband does to his bride. Like a married couple, they remember the past and they fondly remember their wedding day.

A marriage is not a contract. It is a covenant. A wife does not behave towards her husband in such-and-such a way in exchange for something. She behaves towards him faithfully out of love and covenant. The same goes for the husband. He behaves towards his wife because of the relationship and not in order to take advantage of her.

Why the confusion? The priests and prophets did too much teaching about doctrine and not enough teaching about God! In the churches today, we have much the same problem. A steady diet of doctrine is equally out of balance as a steady diet of theology. Too much doctrine and people will not know why they worship or behave the way they do. Too much theology and people will think God has no covenantal expectations.

Jeremiah 2 is a really good study on the use of a metaphorical term called anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is a kind of metaphor in which something that is not human is described in human terms. Here are some anthropomorphisms from the chapter:
  • Yahweh is a husband
  • Israel/Judah is a faithless wife
These anthropomorphisms teach something. What do they teach?

They communicate to the reader that Yahweh is grief-stricken and wounded over his unfaithful wife (cf, Jeremiah 2:18). They help the reader to appreciate the sheer power of Yahweh's grief.

The following concepts are described in Jeremiah 2 but they are not anthropomorphisms:
  • God grieves
  • God is emotionally wounded
There are many sincere people today who do not believe it is possible for God to have those emotions. They will tell us that God's grief is also an anthropomorphism. The critical question we should ask is, "If divine grief is an anthropomorphism, what does the metaphor communicate about God or about his people? Does divine grief communicate anything other than that God grieves?"

In every case I have seen, those who hold God's emotions to be metaphorical cannot explain the meaning that should be derived from the metaphors. The reason is because God's grief is the meaning behind the metaphor of the husband of the unfaithful wife! God's grief is the teaching, not the metaphor!

It is the duty of the teachers in today's churches to teach about God properly.

Yes, we should draw near to God because there is something in it for us; just as God reaches out to us for relationship because there is something in it for him (see also Hosea 2:14-15).