Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Matthew 10:29 - Does God determine when sparrows die?

Matthew 10:29 (NKJV)
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.

This verse suggests that sparrows do not fall to the ground (die?) without God's authorization. In other words, God limits the lives of sparrows on a sparrow-by-sparrow basis.

This understanding requires a Bible translation that characterizes falling sparrows as God's will (NKJV, RSV) and ignorance of the verse's context. The passage is offering multiple reasons to not worry. Why not worry? Because God's judgment will come to your persecutors; because your persecutors cannot kill your soul; because of the thing about sparrows and because God has your hairs numbered.

This verse in Matthew has a parallel in Luke:
Luke 12:6 (NRSV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 
The point in Luke is more clear that God is paying undivided attention. Luke also mentions an example of ravens. God cares for them.
Luke 12:24 (NRSV)
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
The point of the sparrows example in Matthew is that God is keenly aware when believers are being persecuted and they are never going through it alone. The old spiritual has it right: "His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me."

I am motivated to put a little sharper of a point on this reading of Matthew 10:29. A very common interpretation of the verse is that sparrows die only by God's permission. Insisting on that really alternative translation and meaning forces the passage to lose coherence. The meaning becomes something like, "None of you will suffer a violent martyr's death without the Father's permission and providence." The better and more obvious meaning, especially in light of the parallel passage in Luke 12:6, is that the Father cares for sparrows even when they fall. Your souls are safe with the Father if you "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matthew 10:28).

Here is Grant Osborn.
God registers and cares for the smallest sparrow; how much more will he care for us. ("Matthew." Zondervan Exegetical Commentary)
And here is Anthony J. Saldarini.
Their fear, which might impede them from disclosing Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 10:26-27), is groundless because human opponents can kill only the body, not the soul, and because God, who cares for sparrows and knows the number of hairs on people’s heads, will care for them (Matthew 10:28-31). The comforting reminder of God’s care for birds and humans does not change the harsh realities of following Jesus, nor does it bring about social peace. Joining Jesus and his “household” causes disruption and conflict within one’s family (Matthew 10:34-36; cf. Luke 12:51-53 and Q, which depend on Micah 7:6), as already predicted in this chapter (Matthew 10:21-22). Contrary to the most fundamental social values of the Near East, those who follow Jesus must love him more than their parents or children and take up his cross, that is, be willing to suffer violent and dishonorable death and all that goes with it (Matthew 10:37-38). Though the imagery is familiar through frequent repetition, the author of Matthew envisions a catastrophic loss of everything which is humanly valuable and necessary for social and individual survival. He rebukes those who would preserve (“find”) their lives and promises that those who lose their life will find it in return (at the end). ("Matthew," Eerdman's One-Volume Commentary)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Duane Warden's commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: a book review

I am quite excited to acquire Duane Warden's Truth for Today Commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude. Warden's writing came to my attention when I was recently studying 1 Peter 1:10-12. Warden is strongly Restorationist in his approach to Scripture; but he is not a card-carrying member of the Restorationist club. That is, he is unwilling to toe the Restorationist line only on the basis that a particular teaching has been taught among Restorationists for a hundred years. I hae seen a propensity on occasion for teachers and commentators in the churches of Christ to teach in lock-step behind Jim McGuiggan, Burton Coffman, Guy Woods, Foy Wallace, Barton Stone or even Alexander Campbell. While the teachings of these gentlemen (and others) carry weight, they are not above Scriptural scrutiny. Unfortunately, nobody bucks against traditional church teaching without push-back. That's probably a good thing as long as the push-back includes personal unbiased Bible study. Unfortunately, again, many people look to the Scriptures in order to only refute something they just heard that bucks against traditional teaching. That's not honest Bible study. I have recently been on the receiving end of such buck-back and it can be handled very unfairly.

But I digress.

It is refreshing to discover a Restorationist writer who is willing to challenge long-held assumptions. Warden brilliantly challenged standard assumptions in his handling of 1 Peter 1:10-12 with thorough examination of the Greek text and with comparisons to similar Greek structures. He also appealed to the natural reading of the text. His conclusions qualify as a minority view; but he supports his conclusions upon very strong pillars. I approve.

Warden digs into the text without apology. For example, he forcefully challenges the standard Reformist teaching about baptism when he comments on 1 Peter 3:21 which reads:
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...

I have several commentaries from Evangelicals who, on this verse, write pages trying to explain how the verse does not say what it appears to say. None of the arguments (which come across to me as waffles) are persuasive. They treat the verse like it is difficult. Well, it is difficult... if you march in lock-step with standard modern Christian thinking. Warden writes, in part,
[The original readers] would have understood that [baptism] was no mere mechanical act. Its efficacy springs first from the work of Christ who "died for sins... the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). Second, it springs from the faith response of his readers. What is clear is that "baptism" is a human act, but it is also a divine act. The penitent believer is saved whet he is baptized (Romans 6:3, 4). Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers were correct in many of their criticisms of Roman Catholicism, but they were mistaken when they rejected the notion that God acts when faith is expressed in baptism.

D. A. Carson was mistaken when he suggested that churches of Christ have a peculiar view of baptism without historical roots in the Christian tradition.... Many biblical scholars who have no connection with the churches of Christ point out that in the New Testament and the early church, baptism, conversion, and the remission of sins were inseparably connected. They may not agree on the way the modern church is to be guided by the practice of Christians in the New Testament, but there are many who understand that for the early church there was no such thing as a Christian who had not been baptized. (190-191)

The structure of the book is quite good. It is a nice hardback with sewn-in pages.

As far as I can tell, this commentary is available only from its publisher, Resource Publications, but it may be available from other sources.

posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Prophecy in 1 Peter 1:10-12

1Peter 1:10-12 (NRSV)
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

This passage appears to say that the Old Testament prophets directly predicted the suffering of Christ and they knew their prophecies of Christ applied to a time well into their future and not for their own times.

There is an exegetical problem with that understanding of the passage. It is a problem with Biblical consistency. The real problem comes in verse 12 where the writer says, "they were serving not themselves but you." That is, the prophets knew what they were predicting applied to people hundreds of years into the future. There is no prophecy that I know of that has no message for the people of the prophets' times (except one, discussed below). Verse 11 mentions "the sufferings destined for Christ" (NRSV) which might motivate us to look at the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Indeed, Peter cites in this epistle that very chapter in Isaiah (1 Peter 1:19; 2:22, 23, 24, 25); but a careful look at those passages reveals that the writer is not citing them as prophetic of Jesus but is citing them because they appropriately apply linguistically to Jesus. However, 1 Peter 1:11 comes pretty close to saying that the Lord's suffering was predicted by prophecy.

I will report without extensively arguing the point that the suffering servant in Isaiah 40-55 is captive Israel (Isaiah 41:8-10; 44:1-2; 44:21; 45:1-4; 48:20 with Isaiah 42:1). Occasionally, the identity of the Isaiah servant blurs into that of the prophet himself; but never is the suffering servant a prophecy of a distant future Messiah.

Could the writer of 1 Peter mean the one prophecy that was definitely far reaching? God told Abraham:
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families on the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
That statement by God to Abraham is prophetic and the rest of the history of God with his people in the Old Testament is obvious (in my view, anyway) divine working towards the salvation of all mankind through the seed of Abraham (e.g., Isaiah 11:16; 19:18-25; 24:3; 62:10). That is, in the Old Testament, Israel's vocation was to restore the world to God. That promise was finally fulfilled with Jesus and the establishment of the church. God is still working with the church for the salvation of all mankind (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Could that prophecy be the one identified in 1 Peter 1:10-12? As far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no prophecy of Israel's outreach vocation that includes suffering either for a future generation or for a Messiah at least as it might point directly to the Christians of the writer of 1 Peter's day.

Was the 1 Peter writer just reading the Old Testament wrong? I am not willing to resort to that solution without very strong argumentative proof.

What if the prophets mentioned here are not Old Testament prophets? What if they were prophets like John the Baptist? What if they predated the ministry of Christ just a little bit in advance (a few decades)? John Baptist had some predictive things to say about Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself had some things to say about the sufferings of his disciples once their own ministry began. There were definitely plenty of prophets contemporary with John Baptist. If they were the ones who predicted the suffering of Christ or the church (Revised English Bible translates 1 Peter 1:11 to mean Christian suffering), then the passage comes into contextual agreement with the rest of the Bible. If we understand the "prophets" as people prophesying around the turn of the millennium (shortly before Jesus and during the Lord's youth), the tension of the passage with the rest of the Bible is resolved.

Just how popular is this view of the identity of the prophets of 1 Peter 1:10-12? The vast majority of scholars believe the 1 Peter writer means Old Testament prophets; but the view is not unanimous. None that I consulted went so far as to accuse the writer of reading the Old Testament wrong; but the way I see it, they must have to accept that uncomfortable conclusion. One commentator who says the prophets here are John Baptist types is Edward Gordon Selwyn in a commentary he wrote in the 1940s. Another, and more interesting to me, is Duane Warden. He said the prophets here were John Baptist types. He argued the point in the Restoration Quarterly, volume 31, 1989. Unfortunately, that particular issue is not available online. In Warden's commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude (Truth for Today, Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2009), he effectively argues that the prophets were New Testament prophets rather than Old Testament prophets, which include Christians who had the Spiritual gift of prophecy (pp. 56-59). (Some readers may be interested in an article by Warden in Evangelicalism & the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol 2. In that article, Warden speaks quite favorably for Open Theism and the fact that, for the most part, it is already mostly accepted by Restorationists today. They just don't know it yet.)

First Peter 1:10-12 does not force a new way of reading the Old Testament, that is as prophecy that becomes suddenly clear when looking back through Christ. When the New Testament writers see Jesus in the Old Testament, they see him as an type of the things written there. The old words can be applied appropriately to Jesus.