Sunday, August 13, 2017

Genesis 12:1-20

Genesis 12:1-20

God tells Abram to journey through territory that eventually becomes the inheritance of Israel. This oracle may have come to Abram when he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans or perhaps it came to him after his family had settled in at the place they called Haran. In any case, this journey kicks off God’s plan for Abram to make of him a “great nation” that will be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

Similar cases of covenantal language appear in chapters 15 and 17 but God’s statement to Abram in 12:2-3 is central to the whole Bible. It is the Bible’s thesis statement. God planned to make a people for himself through whom he would reach the world. The core thought defines the vocation of God’s people:

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

It is not the vocation of God’s people to be God’s exclusive people—the only ones who are saved and at the expense of those who, by their very heritage, will never find God’s favor. No. It is the vocation of God’s people to channel God’s favor to the world.

The meaning of that vocation became more evident to the writers of the Bible as they experienced more and more contact with Gentile nations. We will see it in a chilly way in the early days of the nation and during the Assyrian crisis when the kingdom of Israel was destroyed beyond recovery. We will see it in a prominent way when the people of Judah are carried into captivity. We will see it in the days of the Roman oppression. We will see it in the preaching and ministry of Jesus Christ. We will see it as the primary vocation of the church.

Everywhere Abram journeyed he built a monument to Yahweh and he worshiped God. We all have secular lives; but everywhere we go, we should be leaving monuments in people’s minds that testify to the reality and character of God. Do people see God working in me?
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NET)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Promoting Enns' "The Sin of Certainty"

I just started to read Pete Enns' book, The Sin of Certainty. My stack of books "to read" is getting a little tall. (Sorry, Dr. Enns). This book is going to be great! I wish to transcribe a few nuggets from the introductory material in the book. -Neil

Most Christians―I'd be willing to bet, sooner or later, all Christians―have unexpected uh-oh moments that threaten familiar ways of believing and thinking about God, moments that show up without being invited, without a chance to prepare for what's coming and run for cover.

Maybe we've read a book, listened to a podcast, watched Secrets of the Bible Revealed on cable TV or a Disney movie on a plane that introduced instability to our once stable faith. Maybe we've met new people who don't share our ideas about the Bible or God at all, but who are just plain nice and what they say makes sense. Maybe we've experienced a deep loss or an unspeakable tragedy that leaves us questioning everything we ever thought we believed about God, the world, and our place in it.

I believe these uh-oh moments get our attention like nothing else can. In fact, I believe they are God moments. I don't claim to know how it all works, and I've learned the hard way over the years not to think I can speak for God, but I believe uh-oh moments serve a holy purpose―at least they have for me. They help break down the religious systems we create for ourselves that sooner or later block us from questioning, wondering, and, therefore, from growing. (7-8)

When we are held captive to our thinking, moving to what is not known and uncertain is automatically seen as a fearful development. We think true faith is dependent on maintaining a particular "knowledge set" and keeping a firm grasp on a tightly woven network of nonnegotiable beliefs, guarding each one vigilantly, making sure they all stay above the water line no matter how hard the struggle―because if what we "know" sinks, faith sinks right down with it. (17-18)

Dr. Enns writes his books in a very contemporary style. His books are broken up into little bite-sized subchapters―much like blog articles. A reader can pick up the book and literally read for five minutes and not have to back-track to get back into the thought-flow. His writing style is easy-reading even for readers who find it difficult to focus on what they are reading. His books are great serious content packaged in a format acceptable for readers who otherwise obtain most of their "knowledge" from Facebook.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Salvation by faith alone. Genesis 6

Genesis 6:1-22

We learn a number of important characteristics about God in this chapter.

God is capable of regret (vs. 6). See also 1 Samuel 15:11.

God is able to grieve (vs. 6). He is able to experience emotional pain. See also Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 19:41-42; John 11:33-35; Ephesians 4:30; Hosea 11:8-9.

God reacts to human action (vs. 7). See also Isaiah 9:11-12; Jeremiah 18.

When we compare vs. 7 to Genesis 1:31 we see that now God has changed his mind about the goodness of the world.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

God is able to change his mind. See also Exodus 32:14; Psalm 106:23;  1 Samuel 2:30; Jeremiah 15:6.

We learn in this chapter that Noah found favor in the sight of God (vs. 8). It is certainly evident why. He was faithful all the way to chapter 7. He followed God’s instructions and built the ark. It was Noah’s obedience that save his life and the lives of his family. I am certain Noah would have said that he was saved by grace alone yet we can see that Noah’s real faith was required.

A covenant (vs. 18) is an agreement between two parties. If one of the two parties violates the terms of the covenant then the covenant is broken. If Noah had been disobedient, he and his family would have perished in the flood—no matter how much favor he found in God’s eyes.
Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

You must master it. Genesis 4

Genesis 4:1-26

Central verse: Genesis 4:7. Sin is lurking at the door; it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.

At this point, Cain’s future is open. The nature of Cain’s future depends on Cain’s choices. God gave Cain some really good advice. “You must master it.” God did give this good advice while knowing full well that Cain would fail to follow it. God advised Cain to do something completely possible for Cain to accomplish.

The Bible does not characterize sin as something we cannot master (James 1:14-15). We are able to master it (1 Corinthians 10:13) and we are able to call on God in prayer for additional strength (Luke 22:40, 46) and strategy (James 1:5) to master it.

What we are not able to bear is the consequence of our sin. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Genesis 4:13). When Jesus forgives, he carries something of ours that is too much for us to bear.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). This response is extraordinarily snide on Cain’s part. It’s like Leonard McCoy from Star Trek when he said, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Just because I have a defined responsibility or vocation (tilling the ground/subduing the animals) does not mean I am not responsible for other things.

The first consequences of sin: Genesis 3

How do people write books? It seems the best way is to spend the winter secluded in a large resort in the mountains. I want to write a book of approximately 300 devotionals that a reader can use as a guide for reading approximately half of the Bible... the core stuff. You know. Skip Song of Solomon and Esther, for example. They will be for Volume 2. I don't think I will be able to do it "in my spare time." Anyway, here's what I wrote today.

Genesis 3:1-3:24

The serpent redirected focus to what God has forbidden. The serpent offers freedom, fulfillment, pleasure, discovery and autonomy. God does too—except for autonomy.

I am impressed by verse 11: “Who told you that you were naked?” God is offering these first two humans an opportunity to confess and to express regret; but each of them transfers blame to someone else. They never regret. Mending damaged relationships begins with expressed regret.

However, the violated party in a damaged relationship can do a lot to mend the damage. God set for us a really good example by providing only natural consequences of the infraction. There were three parties involved in this sin: the serpent, the woman and the man. The only one of these three that actually was cursed is the serpent. There is no curse language directed towards the woman or the man. We recognize God’s mercy in these consequences.

The consequence that sent a shock wave through the ages is what God said to the woman. “He shall rule over you” (vs. 16). None of the consequences detailed by God are results we should happily embrace. That the man shall rule over the woman is not some beautiful new pecking order. It is not divine notice of the woman’s new “place” in the social order. Rather, it is a natural consequence of sin.

There is every good reason to make work easier and more efficient (less sweat), to try to live longer (no hurry to return to the ground), to ease the pain of giving birth and to eliminate female subjugation.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God hardens Pharaoh's heart after the plague of boils

I want to give special attention to two of the plagues mentioned in Exodus. In that short text it becomes clear that self-hardening and divine hardening are both the same thing. I will intersperse my own comments as important points need to be made.

Exodus 9:1-12
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, "Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them,
My comments: Notice the conditional language in verse 2. This language ought to inform our understanding of verse 12.
3 the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.
4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.' "
It is interesting that there is no report of Moses actually delivering this warning to Pharaoh; but obviously he did.
5 The Lord set a time, saying, "Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land."
6 And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died.
All of the livestock? But Exodus 9:19 reports that there was more livestock to die. This "all" language appeared recently in Exodus 8:31 where it seems Egypt had not a single fly remaining in the land. Not one fly! This language is called hyperbole. "All" type language is rarely to be taken literally but rather in a specific context. The point here is that there were many-many dead livestock animals.
7 Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh.
9 It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt."
This plague, interestingly, comes upon Egypt this time without warning.
10 So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals.
11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians.
12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Remember the conditional language in verse 2? It shows that Pharaoh's behavior was not under God's control. Divine hardening is actually self-hardening but in the context of Divine pressure to repent. Exodus 9:27 calls Pharaoh's behavior a "sin" which, by definition,' is a personal act of the will. Exodus 9:34 calls self-hardening a sin, even though, two verses later, God calls Pharaoh's self-hardening divine hardening (Exodus 10:1). The obvious conclusion here is that self-hardening against God's invitations to repent is the exact same thing as divine hardening.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

He was destined before the foundation of the world. 1 Peter 1:20

It is very easy to misinterpret 1 Peter 1:20. This passage is all about Jesus' existence long ago and his dearness to the Father―long before his miraculous birth.

There is much that can be misunderstood about the passage even by Greek scholars. I am no Greek scholar myself; so I will write as if I were a fly-on-the-wall and listening to the scholars argue. Here is the verse in the NRSV:
He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
The most interesting phrase in this verse appears to be "before the foundation of the world," but, surprisingly, the word "destined" is equally interesting.

This verse appears to say that God planned our redemption by the blood of Christ before he even began to create. I will dispute two common conclusions from this verse. I dispute
  1. that this verse refers in any way to the time God created the world
  2. that this verse makes any claim about God's plan for blood redemption
foundation of the world?
The meaning of "foundation of the world" is not as straightforward as it appears in translation. The Greek is καταβολῆς κόσμου (katabolē kosmos).

Katabolē, according to Strong's, means "a throwing or laying down." Figuratively, it means to deposit semen into the womb or to plant seed in the ground. Secondarily, it means, according to Strong's, "a founding (laying down a foundation)." It seems that the English translations follow the King James Version which followed the Geneva Bible which followed the Vulgate. Someone, somewhere at some time (cough-Jerome) decided that katabolē means to lay a foundation. There are scholars who honestly question that assumption. Since the primary meaning of the word is to throw something down, some smart-types have suggested that katabolē ought to be understood as a moral falling or decay. Indeed, "throwing down" is the primary definition in Strong's.

Add to this investigation the fact that kosmos in the Bible indicates not "the world" but the people in the world.
For God so loved the world (kosmos) that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
So, "foundation of the world" is very likely better translated as "the moral failure of the people in the world." This understanding suggests the condition of the world in Genesis 6 that resulted in God destroying all life in the flood (but for those who were saved on the ark). Now, the New Testament sometimes mentions stuff that happened "from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; Hebrews 9:26; Revelation 13:8; 17:8) meaning "after the moral decay of the people of the world." The rest of the time, the New Testament refers to stuff that happened "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3; and 1 Peter 1:20) meaning "before the moral failure of the people of the earth."

In my mind, the only difficult verse of the collection is 1 Peter 1:20. The NRSV says that Christ "was destined before the foundation of the world." What does it mean? What was Christ destined for?

Again, we examine the Greek (leaning heavily on the experts). From the context, this verse smells like Jesus was destined before the great corruption to be redeemer. That smell is not correct. Please understand, I am not claiming that Jesus is not our redeemer. Jesus is definitely our redeemer. All I am claiming is that this verse does not describe Jesus as our predestined redeemer.

The word translated by the venerable NRSV as "destined" is the word usually translated as "foreknown" (προγινώσκω proginōskō). Apparently, the translators thought "foreknown" did not make sense since Jesus "was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2); so maybe they figured Peter meant "destined." Well, "foreknown" means "known" in some contexts (Acts 26:5 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 6:13) and possibly "foreloved" in others (not in the "Biblical" sense, Romans 8:29). "Knew" means "loved" in these contexts: Amos 3:2; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 10:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 7:22-23;  1 Corinthians 8:3;  2 Timothy 2:19. Several translations understand proginōskō as "known" including ESV, NASB, NET Bible, God's Word, World English Bible and Young's Literal translation.
"He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you...." (NASB).
Although, I think "He was loved before the moral decay...." makes better sense.

In conclusion: "The foundation of the world" almost certainly refers to the moral decay of the people of the earth. In 1 Peter 1:20, "foreknown," "known" or "destined" means, in its clearest sense, "loved."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Devotional on Genesis 1-2

I plan to write a book of devotionals that will take a reader through approximately half the Bible in a year. Here is the first entry. I solicit your thoughts.

Genesis 1:1-2:25

The first creation account (1:1-2:4a) establishes God as the creator and that mankind is created in the image of God. It refutes any attempt to deify any created thing. It establishes the seven-day work week with the seventh day being a day of rest. Theologically, the first creation account may be deliberately worded in a way to look like the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:14ff). The point may be to highlight God as the one legitimate creator. Israel and Judah repeatedly relate to God as the creator who keeps on creating as he keeps on saving.

The second creation account (2:4b-25) establishes that God created both responsibility and delight. He intends mankind to find satisfaction in their work. He intends each person to balance his/her work schedule with such recreational delights as beautiful scenery, delicious food and a marriage partner.

God created us to enjoy these blessings in balance and moderation.

A special note is seen in 1:27. God created humanity in his own image and he made them male and female. In the short time between the forming of Adam (the man) and the forming of the woman from Adam’s side, the image of God was not present in the world. The image of God is present in the presence of humanity as both male and female. They are created as partners. He did not create them with such roles as one having authority over the other or as one supporting the other without there being mutual support.

We may reflect upon how we apply today’s reading to work, recreation, family and church.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Praise teams

I have recently experienced worship with worship music led by praise teams (worship teams). I am speaking of a kind of worship music that is in line with the "a cappella" flavor of "doing church" that is characteristic of the churches of Christ but is not in line with the traditional song-leader led worship.

This experience (with congregational singing led by a praise team) happened to me while I was attending the 2017 Pepperdine University Bible Lectures. Participants in these worship activities came from all over the country.

I had a personal reaction to this experience and I confess that the response was negative. I also had some conversations about it with several of my children, ages 13 to 21, and their own reactions to praise-team worship leadeship were positive. With a lot of thought, I have attempted to work through the disparate reactions. I have considered what would be a reasonable way forward for the churches of Christ with respect to their worship music.

My biggest complaint with worshiping with praise-team leadership is that I felt left out. I knew only about half of the songs. Each song service had the songs' words displayed on a screen so that everybody could read them; but there were no music notations included with the words; so I could not get the hang of any unfamiliar song before it was over.
BUT! I noticed that almost everyone in attendance was singing the songs. They knew them and enthusiastically joined the singing in the usual congregational way. Did everyone sing? No. About 80 of the attendees sang. The rest did not. That ratio is pretty typical any any congregation no matter how the local church handles its worship music. In my case, if I did not know the song, I just kind of sat there and watched the words on the screen. How did all these people from so many different churches know those songs? I don't know; but I suspect that there is some kind of inter-congregational network for the sharing of songs Maybe there is a newsletter, or praise-team retreats or some-such that permits churches to end up with similar repertoires of worship songs.

Other non-singers involved themselves with the song in other ways that buck against my experience. For example, some lifted a hand or two in a kind of prayer posture (as did some people who were also singing). Lifting the hands is not a church-of-Christ thing. Many of the participants who did the hand-thing did not hold their hands in the proper biblical way. The proper way to hold the hands is with palms up towards heaven, or, in a Jewish context, with the palms  facing in the direction of the temple, Jerusalem or Israel (depending on how far away those sites are from the worshipers). So, how vigorously should I criticize people for lifting their hands wrong? Most of us would criticize people for lifting their hands correctly! We do not lift hands up in worship in the churches of Christ. Now, think about that. Is NOT lifting hands a tradition we want to enforce? If so, admit that "not lifting hands" is one of our rules that excludes people who find meaning in lifting their hands.

How strongly do we want to enforce the singing of traditional pew-hymnal songs? Again, we must realize that our cleaving to a certain kind of song excludes some people who find meaning in a different kind of song. For perspective, recall that I said I felt left out of the worship led by praise teams; but my 13 to 21 year-old children felt included in the worship.

What follows are some common criticisms of praise-team style song-leading. These criticisms have been my own criticisms up until very recently. Most importantly, my mind is not closed to the conversation. I am not strictly "on a side." I encourage everyone towards open-mindedness. I don't mean that we should be wishy-washy or that we should whimsically change our minds; but we should be willing to consider the arguments and be willing to change our minds.

Praise Teams lead a lot of hard songs. Since praise teams are composed of some of the best singers in the congregation, they are able to sing some pretty hard songs. Many of those songs may be otherwise beyond the skill-level of an average congregation. To a certain extent, it is a good thing that a church can sing songs that are a little more difficult than they could using the traditional song-leader method. Having several song leaders at once (i.e., a praise team) permits the congregation to hear the song the way it needs to be sung. Thus, the praise team method opens up some songs for use in worship that might otherwise be closed. For example, the song, The Lord Bless You and Keep You, with the seven-fold amen, is beyond the skill levels of most congregations, especially if the song is led by a one-person song leader. It can be done. One solution is to have the praise team intermingled throughout the congregation. They are almost undercover song leaders. They might have gotten together during the week and practiced the song. Then, when it is sung congregationally, there are people throughout the congregation who know the song. That system works pretty well for congregations smaller than 200 members.

The other method is to just have the praise team up front as worship leaders. If that is a problem then my question is, what is the difference between leading from the pew and leading from the front of the auditorium? What is so special about the front of the auditorium that is less special about the pew? I am not seeing a lot of difference.

It feels like a concert. This is the other side of singing hard songs. Some of the songs may be so difficult that a congregation cannot get the hang of them even with a praise team leading it! The church won't learn the song ever! When I witnessed praise teams singing really hard songs, I saw a congregation in which very few people were singing along. Almost everybody was just listening. Interestingly, most of the listeners were still obviously involved with the song. They were paying close attention. I could not tell if they were paying attention to the terrific sound or the meaningful words... or both.

... Except in one circumstance. One of the praise teams sang a song that really had no meaning. Each of the parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) sang a particular line that repeated unendingly. The soprano line was something like, "O Lord, you are my Lord." They sang that line repeatedly for the duration of the song that seemed to go on forever. The song had a real cool sound to it; but there was no content. Many attendees were positively engaged with the song. I have a lot of trouble believing they were involved in a spiritual way since the song had almost no meaning. Obviously, praise teams should steer away from songs featuring weak meaning (as should traditional song leaders).

Now, before we criticize praise team song leading for having a new set of problems, we need to look in the mirror. Traditional song leading has its own set of problems that traditional song leaders usually handle well enough. Speaking for myself (as I am a traditional song leader), I try to stay away from songs that have shallow meaning (Have A Little Talk With Jesus), doctrinally dubious words (Jesus is Coming Soon) or are so difficult the words loose their meaning (The New Song; O Lord, Our Lord). Other questions that are on the minds of traditional song leaders include
  • Do the songs go together in a meaningful flow of thought?
  • Is there a sufficient variety of key and time signatures to thus prevent boredom?
  • Does the congregation know this song well enough to worship with it as the participants prepare for the Lord's Supper?
  • Is this song sufficiently familiar to be sung during the after-sermon invitation?
Praise teams face the same questions but with new trappings. They will want to avoid songs that draw attention on the skill of the praise team rather than on the meanings of the songs.

So, what about those songs that have deep meaning but few worshipers can sing along it because they require a lot of musical skill? How critical should we be of a worship song like that? Is not the point of worship music that all worshipers in the assembly lift his and her voices in praise to God?

I personally know that I am worshiping God when I am singing praises. There is biblical support for worshiping by singing while I am alone (James 5:13), amongst other believers (Colossians 3:16) and in formal worship (Ephesians 5:18-20). Singing together is a way we worship God and also teach and admonish one another. God is attentive to the prayerful communication that is going on in the worshipers' hearts yet fellow Christians are supposed to be attentive to the teaching aspect of the worship songs. Singing is a special kind of teaching. If teaching is the nice thing worship singing does for our fellow believers, then why singing the message. Why not just say it? Experience provides the answer. Songs are poetic, so the words are memorable. They stick better in the memory and therefore have a more lasting affect on the learner. Secondly, singing takes effort. It demonstrates that the singer believes the message is important enough to preach it in the most effective way he can; so it is important to sing with good voice, on key and with good enunciation.

The question that I will now explore is, "Is congregational singing the only biblically authorized way to worship with singing?" I have already answered part of this question by focus on the teaching aspect of worship singing. If singing is teaching then somebody must be listening to the singing. Obviously, everybody can be singing and listening at the same time. There is no problem with that; but is it scriptural for one person or for a part of the congregation to be singing while the rest listens, enjoying the music and learning from the words?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul coaches the Corinthian church how to "do church" in a way that is less disruptive and more instructive. He is especially suspicious of exercising the spiritual gift of tongue-speaking in the assembly. He all but says that tongues have no place at church.
Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. (1 Corinthians 14:22)
In chapter 14, Paul is not criticizing the activities with which the members were involving themselves. He is criticizing the way they were doing it. They were sabotaging the teaching aspect of those activities. So, in 1 Corinthians 14:26 he says
What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
This verse shows that some members came to the assembly prepared. They had something to share. The verse describes, for example, a person who has a tongue that he wants to share. The person may have even practiced the tongue so that he does not stammer through it. The tongue-speaker also comes prepared with a partner who has prepared the interpretation. Nevertheless, says Paul repeatedly, revelations are better than tongues; therefore the tongue-speakers may not get their turns to share what they have prepared.

I want to focus now on the particular gift or talent of hymn singing. What was that hymn-singing gift? How was it done? Let us consider the other teaching activities listed in the verse. They include the lesson-giver, the revelation-giver, the tongue-speaker and the tongue-interpreter. Notice that one person (or a person with a partner) presents something to the church and the church is built up by it.

lesson-given ⇨ church
revealer ⇨ church
tongue-speaker ⇨ interpreter ⇨ church

Since the various activities are presented by a single person or a small partnership, the passage strongly suggests that the singing of a hymn was, at least some of the time, presented by a single person or by a small partnership for the building up of the church.

hymn-singer ⇨ church
hymn-singers ⇨ church

To put it in modern church jargon: Some people practiced their songs ahead of time and came to church prepared to sing their song to the church, either as a solo or as a small ensemble.

Maybe they taught the song to the whole church so that they could all sing it together, as suggested by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15 (which also mentions the worship activity of praying). Maybe, instead, they sang their song and then yielded the floor to a lesson-teacher. One thing we can know with near certainty: At least part of the time, a soloist or a few singers were sang a hymn for church edification while the church listened and was built up.

We return to the question, "Is not the point of worship music that all worshipers in the assembly lift his and her voices in praise to God?" The answer is, "It is a point but it is not the point."

Music in worship may scripturally feature congregational singing when everyone sings. It may also scripturally feature songs that are sung by one or a few members for the building up of the whole church. One may effectively argue that worship music ought to include both types in order to properly model first century church practices.

I grew up in a church experience where the worship music was exclusively congregational and I learned how to worship God and be personally edified with congregational worship music. The closest we ever came to singing while others listened was when there were divided parts in a particular song, as in:
Women: Who saved us from eternal loss!
   Men: Who but God's Son upon the cross?
(James M. Gray and William Owen. O Listen to Our Wondrous Story)
Personally, I have trouble feeling comfortable when part of the church, especially a praise team, is singing and I am unable to sing along. I feel left out. I feel excluded. There is a very good chance that the reason for my discomfort has more to do with my experience than with human nature. My 13 to 21 year old children were comfortable with being sung to without joining in and they believed they were edified (because they were taught, not because they felt adrenaline).

I have, in two different churches, experimented with singing that featured half of the congregation singing to the other half. I took the song Lead Me to Calvary and asked the women to sing stanzas 1 and 3 and I asked the men to sing stanzas 2 and 4. In one congregation (a noninstitutional church, by the way) the method was well received. Almost everybody participated and there were no complaints. In the other (a mainline church) the activity was met with a lot of criticism. At that time, I decided to never try something like that again in that church; but I am beginning to wonder if never doing (again) something that makes some people uncomfortable is the right course of action. Should not occasionally cause a little discomfort for one another as a means of teaching and as a means of inclusion for all brothers and sisters? I will talk about this question more generally before I am done with this article. For now, I want to get back to the main topic of praise teams.

The bulk of my church experience has been with congregational singing. Being sung to feels more like a concert than worship. That feeling is especially noticed if I am being sung to by a group of really good singers who are well practiced.

When I was much younger (a 1970s teenager), I attended a number of concerts of choruses from Christian colleges. The concerts were scheduled on a weekday. Nobody would have ever suggested having one of those choirs perform during a Sunday morning worship service. However, even at that time, I noticed something interesting about those experiences. I was sitting in a pew at the church building and I was being sung to by a choir. The singers were singing to the best of their ability and they were teaching me with the songs they sang. Quite often, a program featured a "Sermon in Song." That was a part of the concert in which a series of song-book-type songs were performed in a meaningful way with a pointed and coherent message. Sometimes, the choir would hum one of the verses while a chorus member quoted a Bible passage. In all of this experience, I was taught and I was edified. It occurred to me that the edification affect was the same as that of a worship time that features congregational singing and preaching. The difference now was that I did not sing. According to our analysis of 1 Corinthians 14, listening to spiritual singing is just as much a worship activity as is singing.

If the praise team feels like a concert, it might be the fault of the praise team for singing a song that is too hard for the congregation—especially if it could be simplified to accommodate congregational singing. It may also be the fault of my own bias—especially if the praise team wants to sing something just once or twice that they hope will build up the church; but they don't see any profit in going to the extra effort to actually teach the song to the congregation because the message is too situation-specific or because, while the meaning is very hard-hitting, the song may be too difficult for the congregation to sing. There may be other good reasons for a praise team to sing a song that is beyond the skill-level of a congregation. Some bad reasons are to show off the skill of the praise team and to get the church's blood pumping.

It is man-centered. A strong criticism of doing anything different from tradition is that the motivation for the change is "because I like it." The assumption in the argument is that if we do anything in a new way because we find meaning in it, then our focus is on ourselves and not on God. There is some validity to that argument. For example, when churches began to introduce musical instruments into the worship services, they did so because they wanted to have something that appealed to the youth of the church. There is something wrong with the argument; but it is not what it seems on first inspection. It sounds like the problem is that the church wanted to feature something in worship that had meaning for a particular segment of the congregation. That motivation is not the problem. The problem is with the willingness to introduce something completely alien to New Testament Christian practice into a modern Christian worship system. We can talk about the wrongness or acceptableness of instrumental worship music in another place. The reason that the churches of Christ do not worship together with musical instruments is because it violates the New Testament model.

The use of praise teams for leading the singing conforms to the New Testament model just as well as does the use of a individual song leader. Furthermore, having a part of the congregation sing to another part that listens does indeed conform to the New Testament model. It violates our experience but it does not violate Scripture. I will put it bluntly. It is not unscriptural to have a choir in the worship of the church. Gasp! Strict adherence to the New Testament model would include some congregational singing and some "singing to one another."

As we have noted above, singing teaches and encourages in ways that regular verbal teaching cannot. Thus, the affect of the music, poetry and sound are a part of the edification experience. Corporate worship is supposed to affect people in a building-up and edifying way. Thus, those who present something for worship do so in the best way they can to drive the point home for the learner. While worship is God-centered, it is man-sensitive. It is something we are doing together; so in every case and in every way we worship together we are concerned that what we are doing has a positive affect on everyone present. Being concerned that people are getting something motivational out of the worship service is not really scandalous. What we do in worship together has some focus on one-another (man-focus). That does not stop it from being God-centered. Should we try to sing on key? After all, God sees the heart. Of course we should try to sing on key. Our brothers and sisters nearby are encouraged by our effort. If my neighbor at church sees me singing while checking my text-messages, my neighbor knows that I don't care if he is edified.

It threatens our identity for how we do worship. Rarely does anybody make this argument; but it is the main reason we are resistant to doing anything in a different way. In the churches of Christ in the United States, for example, the usual way to handle the worship music is to have a lone song leader in front of the congregation. He has prepared a list of songs and has practiced them. He pitches them well and he leads them with what he believes to be an appropriate tempo. That method is not explained in the Bible; but congregational singing is indicated in the Bible, which infers that some system or method be devised. So, we came up with the song-leader method. We have done it that way for so long (generations!) that it has become a part of our identity. Some people may actually think that having a song-leader is precisely the biblical pattern. In reality, it has become our identity. It is a tradition with which we are reluctant to part. The notion of introducing a different method of leading the singing threatens the traditional song-leader model. I feel it too. I have led the church's worship singing for decades and, if I do say so myself, I am pretty good at it. It is one of my hard-honed skills. What is going to happen to that talent if the church moves to a different method of congregational singing? I feel threatened.

Now that I have admitted my underlying resistance, I can handle it and perhaps think about what is good for the church over what is good for me.

(By the way, if a church starts using a praise team in the worship, that does not mean the church will quit using the song leaders. There will probably always be a place for a song leader to lead that church's worship music. I will add that I personally would feel threatened if a church were to hire a full-time song leader and that hire were not me. My song-leading services would be more squeezed out than they would be by the introduction of a praise team.)

On one hand, I do not see a problem with a church having an identity. A church may want to have a really loose kind of worship service in which a lot of members participate whenever they feel motivated to jump in and lead some worship activity. Another church may want to have a more somber and [what they believe to be more] reverent kind of high-churchy type service. There is nothing wrong with either type; but a worshiper may feel uncomfortable in one kind when the other kind is more meaningful. Some churches are devoted to the use of one particular Bible translation while others are happy with a variety. While having a style increases comfort, it has the affect of being exclusive. People often do not feel welcome if they do not fully embrace the style. If your congregation is devoted to the exclusive use of the King James version of the Bible, do you really want to turn away people who do not want to read that particular translation? Is it important enough to you that you are willing to work real hard to convince people that they should embrace exclusive use of the KJV? Your style becomes a means not of inclusion but of exclusion.

While my generation does not "get" praise-team led worship music and while we love and adore song-leader led worship, we should examine the weigh the importance we place on our style. Is it important enough to exclude fellow Christians who actually "get" praise-team led worship and are edified by it? If our style is that important to us, we should just admit it and encourage my 13 to 21 year-old children they should either get all their "building up" from what we traditionally do for worship or they should go find their edification somewhere else (Luke 5:39).

The use of a praise team to lead the singing means the use of woman leadership. I have argued elsewhere that our use of the Bible to keep woman out from in front of the church is a gross twist of the Bible at the expense of half of our membership. Nevertheless, if we try to apply 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (on married women asking questions at church) and/or 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (on woman teachers―meaning woman authoritarian teachers) to leading the singing, we are playing the game in the wrong ballpark. The Bible does not take a stand against woman leadership anywhere. In fact, it supports woman leaders and teachers in a number of places. I am not going to argue the point here. See my other blog article.

Some conclusional remarks
There are good reasons for appeal to tradition. Above, I observed that the real problem most of us have against the use of praise teams is that we feel our identity is threatened by their introduction. The value of doing something in a comfortable way is that those worship activities are not distracting. If we sing, pray, read Scripture, share the Lord's Supper and make our offerings by using methods that we are used to, we can focus more on God, one another and personal devotion. Instead, if everything we do in group worship features some new (to us) way of doing it, then some of our proper worshipful attitudes are distracted by the shock of the new method. Most churches can handle a little bit of the discomfort but it is not fair to push a church too hard to experiment with different methods of "doing church" that, while scriptural, may shock the long experience of many members.

This concern is especially true when considering the fact that every church has members who are under a certain amount of personal anxiety regarding issues in their own lives, families and jobs. Doing something at church that is outside of these members' comfort zones just raises that anxiety level even more. Maybe you and I are prepared to do something differently but there is a good chance that somebody else in the assembly is not able to handle a whole lot of change. There is a very good chance that several members came to church this Sunday morning looking forward to a kind of spiritual retreat from the anxiety of the week. If the worship service consists of a pile of tradition-challenges, these members may be pushed to the breaking point. They may seek spiritual solace somewhere else.

There are good reasons to modify our traditions. The church's worship assemblies are not supposed to be pure spiritual retreat. It is not the spiritual equivalent to a nice mineral mud-bath or a solitary scenic walk. We are supposed to leave the assembly challenged (Hebrews 10:25-26). Doing everything like we did 30 years ago may work for my generation but it has the effect of excluding other, younger Christians. Fortunately, the "Generation Y" are accepting of the old ways of doing things. They find them interesting. They also bond easily with the senior citizens in the church―as long as the seniors show that they value the younger members as brothers and sisters. The Y and Z generations are spiritually edified by scriptural yet nontraditional worship music. Churches ought to promote some measure of the Y and Z styles into the public worship―just enough to make the seasoned members a little uncomfortable and enough to provide a meaningful worship experience for the Ys and Zs. Churches should also promote a measure of traditional material in the worship services―just enough to make the Ys and Zs a little uncomfortable, maybe a little left out, but enough to give the seasoned members a meaningful worship experience.

In my Pepperdine experience, when there was a praise team leading the worship singing, the team led all of the singing for the whole service. However, I did notice something else. Most of the teams were deliberate to lead approximately half of the songs from the traditional church of Christ repertoire. I was able to sing along with those songs. They let them straight. They did not "jazz them up." Thus, while I felt left out some of the time, I felt included some of the time too. Several of the teams asked the congregation to stand for a song. When it became evident that I was supposed to keep on standing for the next three or four songs, I sat down. I did not feel like a nonconformist. I still sang the songs I could sing. After some thought and after several more conversations with my own Y- and Z-generation children, a responsible praise team may be alright after all.

Monday, May 29, 2017

On woman spiritual leadership

6 He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition." (Mark 7:6-8)
When this passage or the parallel at Matthew 15:7-9 (or Isaiah 29:13) is read in a church Bible class the comments from the class go along the lines of assuming that we ourselves are not the ones who enforce traditions that we cannot distinguish from real Biblical doctrine. It is a good thing we are not like those King-James-Version-Onliests!

The truth is that we are up to our necks in tradition and we cannot tell the difference between Biblical doctrine and our traditions.

(Calm down, Neil. You may lose your readers. Breathe.)

There is a lot we do that we think is straight out of the Bible and it is mere tradition. Most of it is harmless but some if it is very harmful. I am speaking in this article about the way we treat our female members. The particular problem tradition I am about to address is a feature of most Restorationist churches but also any other male-leaders-only groups.

Our justification for treating our women the way we do comes from two Bible passages:
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
1 Timothy 2:12
Below, I will examine these passages briefly and critically; but they need deeper examination beyond the scope of a blog article. My goal is to show that these verses do not forbid woman leadership in the church. Without those two passages, we don't have Biblical authority to silence women.

Before we dive in, I want to present some of the ways these verse are (mis)applied in church situations. It may be easier to face our convictions and later realize they are personal biases than to examine the Scriptures first and then check ourselves for biases. The following rules are typically applied in "complementarian" churches.
  • A Christian woman can teach Bible classes composed of other Christian women but she cannot teach Bible classes if there are Christian men in the room.
  • Christian women can teach secular topics to any audience; but if the topic drifts into the spiritual, there had better not be any Christian men present.
  • Christian women can teach young boys and girls; but if any of the young boys become Christians, then either the teacher of the class needs to be replaced by a Christian man or the young Christian boys need to be transfered to a class being taught by a Christian man.
  • (This one is really difficult for me to tolerate). Young, non-Christian boys are encouraged to step into pseudo-leadership roles‒roles such as leading singing and/or reading Scripture‒from which women Christians are barred.
First Timothy 2:12 says this:
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
Even if we interpret this verse literally and grossly out of context, it is impossible to conclude any of the above four bullet-points! The verse says nothing about whether or not the man or woman are or are not Christians! To apply this verse or the one in 1 Corinthians 14 that way is very shifty hermeneutics!

There are many ways these two passages can be explained without conscripting them into the service of church patriarchy.

As far as silencing women goes, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are the easiest to dismiss as non-applicable; so I will dismiss them right now. Here is the passage with a little context. First Corinthians 14:29-36.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.
32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets,
33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints,
34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.
35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)
First Corinthians 14 is all about keeping a little orderly sanity to the church's worship services. Paul is particular suspicious of tongues as being extra disruptive. In fact, ungifted attendees think tongue-speakers are crazy.
If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Paul concludes in verse 40, "... but all things should be done decently and in order."

Notice too that the key verses 34-35 sound remarkably like verses 28-33 regulating tongue speakers and prophets.
28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.
32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets,
33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints....
Under certain circumstances, tongue speakers are to keep silent because they only disrupt and they edify nobody. Paul also suggests a rule that prevents more than one prophet from speaking at the same time (vs. 30-31). The same problem of worship disruptions is again resolved.

Paul is suggesting ways to reduce the amount of disruptions during the worship services.

When we come to verse 29 we learn that only two or three prophets should speak per worship service and everybody else‒or perhaps only the other prophets‒will weigh what is said. Verse 32 suggests that the prophets are able to regulate themselves so that they work together in an orderly way. All this evidence clarifies our understanding of the women thing. Verses 34-35 has to do with keeping the "weighing what is said" period orderly. It is very likely that "let the others weigh what is said" means the rest of the church. In any case, what Paul intends by those verses is another suggestion for reducing disruptions. So, some of the women (the married ones) are asked to keep silent during the Q&A session. Considering that many married women at the time were married young and had inferior educations compared to that of their husbands, we suspect these women were bogging the conversation down by asking tons of silly questions that their husbands were perfectly capable of answering for them later.

If we think about it, it does not make a whole lot of sense that Paul would call for the silencing of only the married women. What? So the unmarried women can chat up a storm during worship? Everybody is invited to learn. The women with spiritual husbands are encouraged to ask the basic questions outside of the services. Verses 34-35 do not forbid women from speaking at church. Otherwise, the injunction would contradict another passage in the same book.
... but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. (1 Corinthians 11:5)
Did you catch that? Women prayed and prophesied in the worship services in Corinth! The only thing Paul had to say about women leading the church in these capacities is that, at least in Corinth, they should veil themselves.

There is a lot that can be said to understand 1 Corinthians 14 better; but for now, we can be quite certain that the meaning is not to silence women in public roles at the Christian worship services.

First Timothy 2:12 also has nothing to do with silencing women in worship. Here it is in context:
8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes,
10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.
11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.
12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
This passage is difficult to begin with, which raises questions about whether it should be applied to the subjugation of anyone in the church's membership.

To begin with, look at all the injunctions that we comfortably ignore. Many of us are comfortable praying at church without lifting our hands (a common prayer posture in New Testament times). We are comfortable with women braiding their hair and wearing jewelry. But when it comes to women serving in leadership roles at church, some argue that it is a blanket rule applying to all churches.

Secondly, if the injunction against woman authority is a blanket rule for all churches, what does Eve's deception have to do with it? How does childbearing salvation apply and what does that even mean? The confusion surrounding verse 12 should raise suspicion that the way the verse has been applied to keep women out from in front of the church is likely incorrect. Could it be that Paul was teaching something other than the general silencing of women? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the specifics of Paul's real meaning are a little difficult to pin down. This is one of those passages on which we can be pretty certain what it does not mean while being less certain about what it does mean.

So what is 1 Timothy 2:12 about?

My view is that there were some heresies that had worked their way into the church in Ephesus and they derived from a blending of sound Bible doctrine and the local pagan Artemis cult. One version of the Artemis birth myth is that Artemis was born shortly before her twin brother Apollo. She immediately went to work as a mid-wife to assist in delivering of her brother. I can imagine this birth myth easily blended with the Bible's creation account and had Eve formed before Adam. Growing out of that assumption was a view of female preeminence over males. Some women lorded it over the men (the meaning of "have authority" in verse 12). The heretical doctrine that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:16-18) motivated some women to unchastity (1 Timothy 4:3; Mark 12:25) and immodesty (1 Timothy 2:9) and to promoting an antediluvian diet (1 Timothy 4:3; Genesis 1:29; 9:3). I have gone through the book of Ephesians while keeping a lookout for evidence of Paul addressing this particular heresy. They are indeed there. I was a little surprised to find them, actually, since Ephesians is one of those books for which the authorship is disputed. I wrote up my findings in a more lengthy study that I will link below.

Other theories about the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are that Paul is addressing a particular woman and a particular man, possibly a married couple, in those verses. The Greek certainly supports that understanding.

Another view is that Paul was suggesting a temporary injunction, specific to Ephesus, in order to give time for the women to spiritually grow before they assume leadership roles.

It is unfortunate that we have to resort to theories about the 1 Timothy 2 text; but one thing we should avoid is pretending that we are confident about the text's meaning and that the meaning is to keep woman out from in front of the church!

We must recognize that God provides each local church with gifted individuals who are able to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8). If we gag some of those individuals because we are upset by what they believe (like me and my egalitarian convictions or because they are women), we are very possibly resisting God's efforts to work within the local body of believers.

Suggested resources:
My more detailed write-up on this subject:
ODT format Word format

Keener, Craig. "Women in Ministry: Another Egalitarian Perspective." Two Views on Women in Ministry‒Revised Edition. Zondervan, 2005.

Towner, Philip. 1-2 Timothy & Titus. InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The work of the Spirit in inspiration

If you have a reaction to this article; please give me some feedback. Having to adjust my assumptions about the Bible was, at times, kind of painful. I think my faith has grown through it; but it is not a smooth ride.

I have been thinking a lot about the function of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to the inspiration of Scripture (the Bible). I have been thinking about it for a really long time. Close to twenty years ago I began to study the book of Isaiah in earnest, it became clear to me that the section of Isaiah that consists of chapters 56-66 were hostile against the official Jerusalem priesthood in the early second temple period. The view that the authors had of God and his character was sharply opposed to the view of God portrayed in other canonical books in the Old Testament, notably Ezra and Nehemiah. Thus, a significant chunk of the Old Testament is an argument over the character of God, what it means to to be God's people and who, really, are God's people.

The Bible appears to have been born from writers' struggles with events of their times and how they should be interpreted with respect to the work of God. It seems that I am not alone with this approach. Paul Hanson wrote this:
Inner-community strife is never benign. The weak, both individually and in groups, inevitably are hurt, and as the contending sides harden in their respective positions, the essential elements of the dialectic of faith polarize; the visionary elements (which focus on a transcendent order calling under divine judgment all existing mundane structures) part company from the pragmatic elements (which concentrate on the embodiment of the divine in human institutions). The Old Testament is not immune to such strife. Indeed, in all periods of the religion of Israel tensions are visible between men with differing notions of what it meant to be God's people, although, at times of crisis like the sixth and second centuries, those tensions are exacerbated to the point of breaking the community into hostile factions. For the modern individual or group which confesses that the Old Testament records the self-disclosure of divine will within Israel's history as a nation, either such inner-community strife and polarization must be ignored, or God's self-disclosure must be discerned precisely within the field of tension between the vision of the transcendent divine order and the Israelite's sense of solidarity with his community's institutions and practices. While the latter alternative arises many questions which must be addressed anew by thoughtful persons of faith (e.g., the meaning of canon, the sense in which a unity of scripture can be ascertained), it does resonate with certain aspects of the modern religious person's experience: God is the unconditioned and is beyond facile comprehension by the human mind; the religious life therefore involves struggle, and can even be characterized as a dialectic of faith. (Hanson 259-260)
Michael Heiser said the following in one of his podcasts:
How can you [I] say the Bible was edited? Well, basically the short answer is because it was; because if you actually read it closely, you can tell. Inspiration is a process, not an event. It’s not a paranormal event. It’s a process. God used many hands to produce the final form of this thing we call the inspired word of God. It’s all God. It doesn't matter if you know who touched it or you don't. You either believe that God is behind the process or you don't. I do. (Heiser)
I sat in on an interview of Pete Enns and I was able to ask him about this question of the definition of inspiration. I transcribed from the poor recording the best I could.
Neil Short: I'm thinking about that passage that Jesus said, when he's talking about the sunrise and the sunset, he says, "You guys know how to interpret the weather but you don't know how to interpret the times that you are in." I wonder if that's kind of what inspiration is. People are struggling with their times and they are wanting to interpret them on a theological level. You know when Solomon was - when the Holy Spirit came on him - what did he get? Wisdom. He didn't blurt out prophecy. In the Old Testament, that is the gift of the Holy Spirit: wisdom.
Pete Enns: Wisdom is about knowing the times. It is about being able to navigate life, in a sense.
Neil Short: Right. So I wonder if the Old Testament view - even the Biblical view of inspiration is that God gives wisdom to help you understand the times and interpret them on a theological level.
Pete Enns: I think that's a very promising way of looking at it because of what it comes out of. The Bible point of view truly isn't what what many Christians think of as a rather flexible understanding of inspiration. Which is, the Bible can be interpreted multiple different ways legitimately and they can all be right. I think what you are saying is this "flexibility of inspiration" whatever that means, accounts for the human drama that we find ourselves in. And if God is present, that makes all the sense in the world. (Enns)
I will make a slight addendum to what I said. In Old Testament examples of the Holy Spirit coming upon a person, the usual understanding of the result is a supernatural dose of wisdom (1 Kings 3:12). However, not always. On occasion, the result is that the person gains superhuman strength (e.g., Judges 12:6). It seems that, on occasion, the manifestation of the Spirit on a person is a strange behavior called "prophetic frenzy" (1 Samuel 10:5-6, 10-13; 19:20-24).

I mentioned above in my question to Dr. Enns the passage where Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for their inability to interpret their times.
He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, "It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, "It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:2-3)
The point really seems to be that Jesus expected people to be able to scrutinize the events of their times and to learn from them something about God.

In light of this conversation, the following becomes a little more interesting.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. (James 1:5)
... and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.... (2 Peter 3:15)
As far as religious Scripture goes, the Bible is exceptionally earthy and situational. It stands in contrast to strongly unified religious scriptures such as the Mormon scriptures and the Koran.

I believe the Bible is God breathed and inspired. That means that God used the situations surrounding the writers and editors to show them himself and God helped them to understand God through the transpiring of those events. The final result of all those questions, arguments and emotional struggles is the Bible.

Enns, Pete. Interview on 2017 05 04 at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Hanson, Paul D. The Dawn of Apocalyptic. Fortress: 1975.

Heiser, Michael. Naked Bible 111: Introducing the Book of Ezekiel. Accessed 2017 05 18.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My very critical critical analysis of the English Standard Version

I lost my respect for the English Standard Version (ESV) real soon after its publication. My reasons for disrespect follow in this article. In sum, I believe it was hastily put together in order to support (usually subtly) certain doctrines promoted by its publisher, Crossway. In the examples below, I do not argue that overt translational bias is provable; but the evidence for bias is stronger than innuendo. They are subtle; but they are there.

I am writing this article because many have asked me, "What's your beef with the ESV?" My answer is always lengthy and somewhat rushed. Now, for people who want to know, I can point them to this article.

Quick disclaimer: This article is strongly opinionated.

Seed or seeds?
In my mind, ESV's treatment of the Hebrew in Psalm 89:4 is a hallmark example of Crossway's biased agenda. Keep in mind that the ESV is allegedly an update of the venerable Revised Standard Version (RSV). Note how the RSV reads in Psalm 89:4.
'I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.'" (RSV)
Realizing that the ESV is a revision of the RSV, I am perplexed over how the revision team chose to alter the RSV in this passage:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’” (ESV)
Why did the scholars over at Crossway decide to change RSV's "descendants" to "offspring" in the ESV? Possibly, since the Hebrew word there is singular, in a collective sense, maybe they believed RSV's "descendants" should be switched out for a singular word. Well, sure. Go with "seed" or "posterity." But they went with "offspring." I suggest that Crossway wanted to force the verse to apply directly to Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.

Now to be fair, rabbis of Jesus' day understood this passage to apply to the expected Messiah. It is nearly certain that the Jews were referring to Psalm 89:4 in the following passage from the Gospel of John.
The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34, NRSV)
Fine. Nevertheless, the Psalmist did not have in mind a particular person but rather a lineage. Indeed, the RSV reads in Psalm 89:29,
I will establish his line for ever
and his throne as the days of the heavens. (RSV)
while ESV modified it to say,
I will establish his offspring forever
and his throne as the days of the heavens. (ESV)
The RSV reads in Psalm 89:36,
His line shall endure for ever,
his throne as long as the sun before me. (RSV)
while ESV made a change.
His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me. (ESV)
This odd revision of the RSV seems to obscure the meaning of the psalm; however, the revisers may have been emboldened to go with the change because other venerable translations also have "offspring." The HCSB/CSB for example, use "offspring" in verse 4 and 36 but "line" in verse 24. Thus, the guys over at Holman (owners of the CSB) were not interested in forcing a single application of the psalm. They were comfortable applying it both to Jesus specifically and to David's lineage in general.

Crossway really seems to have pushed an agenda with Psalm 89; and one wonders where else the translation may have been modified in such a way to make it less clear.*

"Hebrew" in Acts 19:17
The ESV modifies John 19:17 in a way that betrays an agenda. The revisers changed RSV's "Hebrew" to "Aramaic."
and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. (ESV)
"Aramaic" is correct here, by the way. I applaud the change. The Greek word is Hebraisti which translates to "Hebrew" but scholars are certain that the word should be translated as "Hebrew dialect" or just "Aramaic." For one thing, "Golgotha" is an Aramaic word meaning "skull." Acts 1:19 says that the people of Jerusalem called the field "Hakeldama" which is an Aramaic word meaning "Field of Blood." Wonderful. Good for ESV for improving RSV in John 19:17!

So, why did the ESV choose to keep RSV's "Hebrew" in Acts 26:14 instead of also revising it to "Aramaic" as it does in John 19:17?
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ (ESV)
I can only speculate. I will personally report that this verse has come up in some of my discussions with other Bible students. In discussion, I took the position that Jesus spoke Aramaic. No, said others, Jesus spoke Greek or Hebrew. I don't recall what is at stake with concluding that Jesus spoke Hebrew; but ESV totally confuses the study. What language Jesus spoke can affect how we interpret some passages. For example, there is Luke 4:17-19. Some readers may really want that language to be Hebrew.

Romans 16:7
The history of translating Romans 16:7 is fraught with church politics! N. T. Wright translates the verse this way:
Greed Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and fellow prisoners, who are well known among the apostles, and who were in the Messiah before I was.
There is a lot of scholarship that has gone into this verse. The manuscript evidence witnesses to many variations of it. Textual scrutiny has recently concluded that in this verse, Junia was an apostle. What we want to do with that information is up to us; but we must face up to what this verse says. Apparently, many ancient copyists had trouble with that notion too; so they made slight adjustments to the text. Either Junia (a woman) was really a man (Junias) and an apostle or Junia was a woman but not an apostle―and the apostles knew her.

Consider RSV:
Greet Androni′cus and Ju′nias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (RSV)
Both Andronicus and Junias are apostles; but Junias is a man. NASB1995 and NIV1984 follow this "solution."

Way back in 1989, the NRSV revised the RSV. In agreement with the best scholarship, Junia is a woman and an apostle.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (NRSV)
Translations that follow this textual understanding include NIV2011, NCV, NABre, NKJV (1982!), REB, BBE, CEB, GW and MEV.
Check out NCV:
Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me. They are very important apostles. They were believers in Christ before I was.
How does the ESV handle the verse? ESV correctly revised RSV's "Junias" to "Junia." I am puzzled, however, why ESV revised RSV's good "among the apostles" to "to the apostles."
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (ESV)
The evidence for "Junia" is stronger than that for "among the apostles." Evidentially, the men over at Crossway are not ready to let Junia be an apostle. They are in good company. Many venerable translations agree with ESV's solution, including CSB/HCSB, NET and CEV.

Even though ESV appears to be in pretty good company on this verse, the revision from RSV betrays a complimentarian bias. If it were the only such revision, I might overlook it; but it is not.

Deacons' wives
ESV revised RSV's 1 Timothy 3:11.
The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.
That verse falls right in the middle of Paul's list of qualifications for deacons. Most translations permit an interpretation that Paul is giving a special qualification for women deacons. They also permit the view that this qualification is about deacons with respect to the kinds of wives they should have. The ESV modified the RSV language and thus forced the second interpretation.
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
CSB/HCSB follows the ESV in this interpretive translation. This translation along with CSB's translation of Romans 16:7 may betray a complimentarian slant in the CSB. Also in ESV's complimentarian corner on 1 Timothy 3:11 are NLT, MEV, NKJV and NET.

Interestingly, some translations swing the other way and force the "women deacons" view. Consider the REB:
Women in this office must likewise be dignified, not scandalmongers, but sober, and trustworthy in every way.
We have already seen a few places where ESV should have revised RSV yet chose not to. One glaring example is seen at Hebrews 2:8b. RSV has
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
This verse does not directly teach Calvinism, not even in the ESV; but the phrase, "nothing outside his control" in contemporary usage is more loaded than it used to be. An emerging theology today is that God is handling everything. Want to prove it? Read Hebrews 2:8 out of the RSV or ESV! Here is the ESV.
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (ESV)
Current theological conversation has placed new meaning on the phrase "in control." The term should have been revised in order to accommodate contemporary language. Instead, ESV kept the old language which now comes loaded with Calvinistic meaning.

Fascinatingly, NRSV kept RSV's "in control" but corrected the pronouns (contextually) to show that the text is about "human beings" and not Christ.

Final thoughts
I do not study out of the ESV anymore. If I did, I might have more examples. What I have seen in the ESV is a subtle bias to standard evangelicalism. I am not impressed by translations that read the way they do in order to support certain doctrines. Translators should be translating first and interpreting only when required to maintain readability.

My household reads a good variety of translations but I have never encouraged anybody to read ESV. I am happy to say that nobody in my house reads it except me―and then only for translational comparisons when I encounter something interesting in another translation.

*Judges 5:30 comes to mind. While the ESV is more literal than the RSV, it is much less clear.
‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—
A womb or two for every man;
spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,
spoil of dyed materials embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’ (ESV)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus reveals the Father to anyone he chooses. Luke 10:22

Luke 10:22 says, "All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

The Reformation Study Bible notes (2015) say the following about the verse:
Only the Son can make the Father known, in accordance with His sovereign choice.
What I want to dispel in this article is the notion that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to some but he refuses to reveal the Father to others.

Context straightens out the meaning of this Bible verse. Luke makes a point of telling the reader that Jesus had a large following. Not only did the Apostles leave all to follow Jesus; but there was a crowd of people who had left all to follow Jesus. Many of these people were, according to the scribes and Pharisees, unsuitable candidates for good disciples (Luke 5:29-30; 7:34; 15:1). Luke alone of the four Gospels reports for us the mission of the seventy. These seventy missionaries were given authority to cure the sick (Luke 10:9) and we learn later that they were able to subject demons in Jesus' name. They were given protection from demonic forces of evil (Luke 10:17-20). This is the context in which we find Luke 10:21-22.
21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
The reference to children in verse 21 applies to the seventy missionaries. They are children in the sense of not measuring up to standards applicable to a good and righteous Jew.  They were the sort of folks that gave Jesus a bad name among the scribes and Pharisees. They were commoners. Jesus said these low-life sorts had more insight into godliness than did the clergy (Luke 9:48; 18:15-17). Clergy, by comparison, tend towards pride in their theological knowledge and they are not open to learning from "children" in the faith (James 3:1, 14-18). This feature of the righteousness of the children is evidenced in their role in the dethroning of Satan (see also Luke 7:21).

Verse 22 flows topically quite nicely. Jesus did not agree with the scribes and Pharisees that he should minister to more suitable disciples. He chose to minister to people whom the Jewish leadership called "tax collectors and sinners" but whom Jesus called "infants" (see also in Luke 10:38-42 that Jesus gave personal undivided teaching attention to a woman). Jesus was told they were not worth it but Jesus ministered to them and they had a role in the overthrow of Satan.

The point of verse 22 is not that Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to some individuals and not to others. The point is that Jesus chose to reveal the Father to a certain sort of people, a kind of people that the scribes and Pharisees deemed to be religiously inferior. These disciples were working out to be very effective workers in the kingdom while the Pharisees stood by and criticized.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shipwreck in Acts 27 and a frequently altered prophecy

Biblical prophecy works a lot like regular predictions. As circumstances change, the certainty of the predictions are often affected. An example of a change of prophetic expectation appears in Acts 27. Paul, at that time, was a prisoner of the Roman government and he was on his way to Rome to appear before the emperor. At one point in the journey, he warned of danger.
Acts 27:9-12:
9 Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, 10 saying, "Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest.
Paul coached the centurion to delay the next leg of the voyage; but the centurion ignored the advice and pressed forward with his travel plans. Note that Paul had insight, possibly miraculously, that the the ship's cargo would be lost and that people would die.

Well, the storm came. They threw the cargo and the ship tackle overboard. The sailors wore themselves out fighting the storm for "many days" (Acts 27:20). Paul encouraged them with a vision he received.
Acts 27:21-26:
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22 I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.' 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we will have to run aground on some island."
That announcement must have been encouraging. But note that the prediction changed a little bit. Paul's original prediction was that the cargo and [at least some] lives would be lost. Now, Paul was divinely informed that no lives would be lost. The storm went on for fourteen days and some of the sailors tried to escape in the lifeboat (Acts 17:30). Paul made an announcement that might be shocking to some readers.
Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." (Acts 27:31)
Paul had earlier issued a prophecy that there would be no loss of life in this ordeal. Now, the fulfillment of that prophecy is threatened by the human action of these sailors! These cowardly sailors were about to undermine the prophesied survival of the whole crew! How could that be? The reason is that, as circumstances change, the expected outcome of an earlier prophecy can also change.

For another example of this phenomenon, see the book of Jonah. See also Jeremiah 18.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Does God create the wicked for trouble?

originally version written: 2013 04 08

A mistake some non-determinists make may be that of too much focus on "correcting" misunderstandings of common verses used to support determinism. While it is important to seek accurate meaning to these passages, it's also important to know why we must investigate non-determinist meanings. The reason is because determinst interpretations of these passages cause the Scriptures to contradict other Scriptures.

This article is about Proverbs 16:4.
The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (RSV, NRSV, ESV, almost NASB).
This verse seems to teach the determinst doctrine that God created some people with the purpose of sending them to Hell (a logical corollary to Calvinism's Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election). This interpretation contradicts several straightforward Biblical passages saying that God does not want anybody to be damned and he is grieved when somebody chooses that life destiny (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:11; Lamentations 3:33). That's why we check for an alternative interpretation for Proverbs 16:4! or we need to accept the determinist explanation and wrestle mightily with the other passages (as many determinists do with 2 Peter 3:9).

My instant reaction to the "destined for Hell" view is a question. Why would you grab a verse out of the Wisdom literature of the Bible and apply it mathematically - like an axiom or theorem? Think of any proverb from Proverbs. Is it a rule that is true in every circumstance? The proverbs are true in a general sense; but there are [almost] always exceptions. Once we understand exactly what Proverbs 16:4 actually says, we will see that the usual method of applying proverbs applies here too. In fact, reading this verse in the determinist way is reading it in some way other than as a proverb. What life-lesson is being taught by stating that some people are created by God for Hell? None at all. People incorrectly interpret it as a statement of universal fact amidst a vast ocean of wisdom proverbs. Point: When you apply a Bible reading, be sure to acknowledgement the kind of literature the reading is.

What does Proverbs 16:4 actually say?

The Hebrew verb often translated "has made" (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, KJV, ASV) can also be translated as "works out" (NIV, NCV, NET). The word translated as "purpose" can also be translated as "answer." Thus, the meaning of the verse is that God works things out so that the end of the wicked properly answers their wickedness. As a bonus, that reading appreciates Proverbs 16:4 as a proper proverb. The NIV has the best reading of this verse:
The LORD works out everything for his own ends―even the wicked for a day of disaster (NIV).
Let us not ignore the plain translation of the International Children's Bible:
The Lord makes everything work the way he wants it. He even has a day of disaster for evil people (ICB).
Best of all, this interpretation agrees with the full scope of Scripture, including Proverbs 22:8; Hosea 8:7 and this:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:7-9, NRSV).
The determinist reading contradicts its own context.

In Scripture, the individual man's eternal state (reward or disaster / Heaven or Hell) is always a consequence - something that results from something else. In other words, the nature of a person's eternal state of affairs is the result of an antecedent.

Proverbs 16:3-7 follows the proverbial format of antecedent - consequence. Proverbs 16:3 says to "Commit your work to the LORD" (first/antecedent) "and your plans will be established" (second/consequence). Verse 5 says people who are arrogant (first) "are an abomination to the LORD" (consequence). Verse 6 says people who are loyal and faithful (first) find atonement for iniquity (consequence). Verse 7 says when people's ways please the LORD (first) they have peace with their enemies (consequence). God sees to it. Verse 4, in agreement with the context, says people who are evil (first) will find disaster (consequence). God sees to it. But determinists want to read verse 4 to say God created some people to be evil so he can give them disaster! What?! Proverbs 16:4 means no such thing.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Exegesis of 1 John 4:1-12, two views

The following comparison is kind of an editorial commentary on my part. People naturally resist letting go of what they have believed to be true for years. This article, then is a companion to my article on Resisting Change. When faced with an argument that cross examines a cherished view, people more naturally attack the person holding the other view than carefully listen to the supporting points of the other person's view. They are likely to collect data that affirms their view and reject data that challenges it. In matters of religious convictions, having our views challenged tends to disrupt the way we read the Bible.

1 John 4:1-12, an exegetical comparison
Bible Text (NRSV) Reasonable Exegesis Self Serving Exegesis
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Test what people teach if it is presented as truth. Some teachers have an agenda that sabotages the nature of Christ (vss. 2-3). They claim divine inspiration but their teaching contradicts a particular apostolically established doctrine. Some preachers' teaching is influenced by the devil. We I will test them. See my comment on verse 6 below.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, John has in mind a particular heresy that claims that Jesus was not human. We are able to detect false teachers. Here's how. If two teachers don't read a Scripture the same way, one of them is under the influence of the devil.
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
Confessing Jesus means confessing Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3).
If a teacher is quoting Scripture to expose a belief that is unscriptural and is suggesting that the commonly accepted view needs review, he/she is teaching against God, Jesus and the church.
4 Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. A probable reference to 1 John 2:13. They conquered when they became Christians. John may also have in mind the Christians' confession that "Jesus is Lord" (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is impossible to say "Jesus is Lord" if you are teaching against the Lordship of Christ. What we have believed for decades is from God and anybody who reads the Bible and rethinks what we believe is the antichrist.
5 They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. Their teaching appeals to non-Christians. It only looks like they are reading the Bible. In reality, they are following an "-ism."
6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. John says, "We taught you correctly from the beginning when you were babes in Christ. If these teachers contradict what we taught you at first, then they are teaching error."
Thus, we can extend this Scripture to say that any teaching that cannot be argued from the Bible and furthermore contradicts apostolic teaching (= the New Testament) is error.
(On the relationship of error and deception, see 1 John 2:26; 2 John 1:7).
Listen to me.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. A child of God is godly. If he loves, he is a child of God. We love them as brothers and sisters. We can both love them and censor them.
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. The proper love act that Christians should exhibit is love for all persons, Christian and non-Christian alike. I love you; but this church really needs to kick you out.
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 1 John 3:16; John 3:16; John 13:14. Well. Jesus also ran money changers off the temple grounds (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15).
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 2:2. If God sacrificed for us... I'm sacrificing for you. I have put up with you for a really long time; and it is time for you to leave.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. ... we ought to sacrifice for one another. I do love you, brother; but I don't like you at all.
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. Now, God loves through us. If we claim that we love but we do not act like we love, then we are resisting the work of God (1 John 2:5-6; 4:17-18). I have my own way of practicing brotherly love.