Scripture

An Introduction to Luke 10 Theology...

As I spend the next couple of weeks thinking about an upcoming opportunity for me to preach at our community Holy Week services I want to take some time here to express in a more systematic way some of things that I am wrestling with, especially as it pertains to themes of unity and mission. Why these themes I think are bound up in the story of the Good Samaritan I will get more into in the coming days, but right now I want to lay out the importance of this text for the life of the church in our Post-Christendom reality.

I am quickly becoming convinced that Luke 10 is perhaps one of the most important chapters in the New Testament for the crisis that the contemporary church in the West faces as it seeks to understand its new (marginal) role in Western culture. Allow me to explain.

In Luke you have three inter-related and extremely relevant stories. You find the story of Jesus' commission of the seventy(two) and their work in search of the people of peace (10:1-24). The second story is that of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), this story I think needs a deeper/closer reading (which we will get to in time). Finally this chapter concludes with a brief scene of frustration between Mary, Martha, and Jesus about who is expected to what in the name of hospitality and cultural expectation (10:38-42). So let me give you what I think these texts give us here and then I will spend the next few weeks unpacking each of these texts as we dialogue about the validity (if there is any) of reading these texts in this way in our context.

The story of the seventy(two) (10:1-24) is a story of MISSION IN SEARCH OF GOD'S ALREADY-PRESENT WORK.

The story of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) is a story of LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR ACROSS THEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE.

The story of Mary and Martha at dinner (10:38-42) is a story that DEMANDS THAT WE RETHINK WHAT IS EXPECTED OF US BY GOD IN LIGHT OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS AND NOT SIMPLY THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE CULTURE IN WHICH WE LIVE. 

There are a number of important things that are here for us to discover and to examine. Things that confront (and sometimes condemn) the way that we have thought about and acted out things in the past. But it is increasingly clear that as followers of Jesus, and as a particular Christian tradition (see our recent struggles) a failure to ask these questions and to be confronted by these texts seals our fate as a group of people who miss out on what God is doing in the world through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

So a couple of questions to ask before we begin...

(1) How have you read/understood these texts up until now?
For example, I assumed for a long time that the story of the seventy(two) was nice but not actually relevant to my life. It was about "them". I have learned much differently in recent years. 

(2) Are there any areas of your individual life or the life of your church that need to be reconsidered or even replaced? If so, what are they and how might any of these three narratives help us think about that. (More on how these stories address some specific issues soon.)

(3) What does it mean to engage Scripture not looking for practices and procedures, but instead looking for the character and nature of God, most clearly seen in Jesus and incarnated in his body, the Church? How might we need to rethink the way we think about the Bible in order that God has the space to speak afresh to us in these texts?

I think this will be a rich conversation, if you join it.

Book Review: How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

 

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from Zondervan for this review. I am thankful for this opportunity.

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens by Michael Williams is the latest in the "How to Read the Bible" series from Zondervan.

A couple excerpts from the introduction lay out plainly what Williams is attempting to accomplish in this tight reference work.

The simple truth is that all of the Scriptures--Old Testament and New Testament--testify about Jesus seems to be often overlooked. ... Reading the Bible through the Jesus lens is reading it the way it was intended. It keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God's grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son. Seeing how each biblical book makes its own unique contribution to that redemptive focus enables us to use these diverse materials with much more confidence and accuracy.

What this little book (less than 280 pages!) seeks to do then is give a brief overview of each book of the Bible and proceed through a five-step process.

  1. An overview of the book including a short statement about the overarching theme.
  2. A Memory Passage
  3. The Jesus Lens
  4. Contemporary Applications
  5. Hook Questions

In this brief exploration of each biblical book, Williams will examine the highlights that are especially pertinent for making the ultimate connection to Jesus. Obviously, for some biblical books (e.g., Ephesians) this is a much easier task. For others (e.g., Nahum) this is a little more difficult.

First I want to review his exploration of two books of the Bible (Nahum and Ephesians) and then give some final thoughts about the place of this book in our study, interpretation, and teaching/preaching of Scripture.

READING NAHUM THROUGH THE JESUS LENS

Now the book of Nahum is a prophetic "book" or oracle by the prophet Nahum against Nineveh.

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. (Nahum 1:1, NRSV)

Williams begins by contrasting the repentance of Nineveh in the story of the prophet Jonah with the contemporary situation in which God has had enough and will now punish them. The theme of the book of Nahum is summarized as follows:

The Lord is sovereign over all and will judge Nineveh.

Fair enough. The memory passage is Nahum 1:7-8:

The Lord is good,
   a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
   but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh.

Williams then moves into the "Jesus Lens" portion of the book. Here is where I struggle to connect the book of Nahum with his interpretive move. The prophecy against Nineveh is reinterpreted as an eschatological rescuing that God will do for us (through Jesus) at the end of history.

Like the people of God in Nahum's day, we can look forward to comfort and relief from those who trouble us, because God "will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled. ... This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7). Jesus is the one who will judge between those who are his people and those who are against his people. (pg. 139)

The contemporary application summarizes this book as a reminder that we have been set free from the destructive judgment of God and that we should therefore have an urgency about telling others how they too can be reconciled to God and escape judgment.

The Hook Questions end with asking questions about God's judgment and determining who is in charge of our lives. Good questions to ask for sure. But can we get these out of Nahum?

Summary: While the introduction to the book of Nahum is helpful, and the text for memorization is important both for our formation and our understanding of the book itself, the "Jesus lens" seems like a big stretch. It's like those times you heard a sermon that started out, "The Bible says, 'He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.' And speaking of rain and water this brings me to my subject of baptism." The observations that Williams makes about God's judgment of those who are rebellious and his salvation for those who trust in him are not wrong, they just don't really come from Nahum without some significant hoops to jump through.

READING EPHESIANS THROUGH THE JESUS LENS

The book of Ephesians, written by Paul (questions of authorship are not raised here), to the church in Ephesus is one of the most theologically dense of Paul's writings. A tall order for four pages!! In a brief overview of who the recipients were and a discussion of the brokenness that comes from sin, Williams summarizes the theme of Ephesians as follows:

God establishes the church as the firstfruits of his shalom.

This is true. (One might question, as I do, if this however is the main theme of the book of Ephesians.) Williams uses this theme to tie together the recurring themes of unity (in contrast to the brokenness of sin) that flow throughout Ephesians.

The memory passage is Ephesians 2:17:

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

In the next step, the "Jesus Lens," Williams makes the point that Jesus is the one who brings this shalom back into our lives that was taken from us in our sin. He alone is the one who could heal the rift between ourselves and God, and that when this rift is healed we are then able to close the gap between ourselves and others as well.

The contemporary application revovles around the unity of the church and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for such a life of unity both with God and with one another. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3)

The "Hook Questions" are intriguing:

  • Do you know peace in your life? Why should there be any brokenness at all?
  • Do others see peace in your life? How would they be able to see it? What have you done to promote the gospel of peace?
  • Where do you look for peace? What is the difference between what unbelievers call "peace" and what you call "peace"? Could you explain the difference to an unbeliever. Have you?

SUMMARY: There are some good things here. Is the theme of "peace" important in Ephesians. Absolutely. But again, it seems that this simply makes the most logical jumping off point for a people-centric reading of Ephesians. What does peace mean to you? How do you live out peace? If we read Ephesians carefully, I think we will see a much more God-centered framework for understanding how peace works in the community. In this section I struggle to see how the contemporary application and hook questions connect with the overarching narrative found in Ephesians.

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FINAL WORD ON "HOW TO READ THE BIBLE THROUGH THE JESUS LENS"

Ultimately, I think this will be a good starting place for those who want to get some clues as to how we can be informed about the connection points between Jesus Christ and the breadth of Scripture. Is this a perpetual challenge for the church? Yes. Is this why we often neglect especially the Old Testament? Sure it is. But a couple words of caution for those who will employ this resource (and for "hunting for Jesus" anywhere in Scripure, especially in the Old Testament):

I disagree with Williams overall premise that "all of the Scriptures--Old Testament and New Testament--testify about Jesus" (pg. 9)

I would be curious to see the "Jesus lens" of the laws about sexual relations in Leviticus 18, or David's "collection" of one hundred Philistine foreskins (yikes!) in 1 Samuel 18, or the lists of greetings that conclude many of the Epistles "testify about Jesus". In other words, the burden of such all-inclusive langugage only causes us to jump through hoops that simply aren't there.

There is a danger in "jumping" to the "Jesus lens" especially in the Old Testament.

It is a serious danger that we jump too quickly to Jesus in our understanding of Scripture, especially in passages that are either (1) in the Old Testament or (2) that are difficult to grasp or explain. We can be tempted to "rescue" God's reputation.

We look at the Canaanite genocide where God commands Israel to kill everyone (and I mean everyone) in those cities. We then hurry to the "Jesus lens" and say something like, "Because of Jesus no one has to die anymore." This doesn't mean that it is wrong, but we have not stopped to hear Scripture, to wrestle with what that text (hard to swallow as it may be) tells us about God or about God's people or about us. We have spared ourselves that difficult and sometimes unsettling work.

If this is the extent of your study of any particular book in the Bible you are on shaky ground.

I don't think by any means this is the intention of the book. He even tells in the introduction that a more detailed class taught at a seminary will be soon available that goes through much in the same way that the book does. But my point is this: This might be a good tool, but it is A tool.

Ultimately, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens will be a nice addition to your library for study and preaching/teaching if:

(1) You recognize it is a place to stimulate your thinking.
(2) You spend time in the actual text itself and its meaning and implications BEFORE you "use the Jesus lens."

GOD GIVE US MERCY TO READ YOUR WORD WITH EARS TO HEAR, EYES TO SEE, AND A WILLING AND RECEPTIVE HEART.

Spiritual (Re)Formation Reboot...

Is anyone out there?

Have I really been gone from here since August? Wow. A lot has happened since my last post, and it is clear that it is time for a fresh start. So here we go.

I hope you will join me as I "start fresh" here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. A new look, hopefully some new topics, and a much greater consistency in writing will mark this new season here.

Let me give you a preview of some of the things that will be appearing here in the near future...

I have recently resurrected a series at the Central Church of Christ where I teach/preach where I am answering questions that are submitted to me from the members of my congregation.

Many of those questions I will soon be sharing here on Spiritual (Re)Formation. Some of those questions include the following:

  • Is instrumental music a salvation issue?
  • Why did Jesus cry out from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"
  • When does seeking to be obedient become legalism?
  • How should we use church history to shape our theology and practice?
  • Who served as deacons in the first century church?
  • What should be the relationship of the church and the state?
  • How should we interact with (or pull away from) people with whom we disagree about theological matters?

These and other questions will arise as time goes on. Also, feel free to submit any questions you might have by sending me an email.

We will also be talking about issues of church and culture. What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? How are we to react to and engage with the culure(s) in which we live?

Maybe more specifically, how does a movement that has been preoccupied with the "first century church" maintain a faithful and culturally appropriate posture in the places in which we find ourselves?

This obviously brings in larger issues about definitions of culture, what we mean by "church" and some of the ways that we read, interpret, and use Scripture to define both belief and practice. In time, we will lay some of this groundwork and see where it takes us from there.

I also hope to begin some sporadic posts about our history, traditions, and some of the major shifts that have taken place in our heritage (both good and bad). The goal here is to better understand our roots and the places that we have "gone off into the weeds" as some like to say.

My hunch is that many of us don't know the richness and depth of our heritage. While it can be easy to be negative and cynical about our tradition (this is from the voice of experience!), I believe that there are powerful things from our own history that can and should be reclaimed in the present.

Finally, I hope to raise some questions (and propose some options) in the realm of hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. The way in which we read Scripture dictates much of what we understand (or miss). Understanding the ways we have been influenced by forces and ideas that we have never formally been taught is important. Here we will be listening to voices both old and new, both local and around the world. Reading Scripture is both a wonderful privilege (that many in history have not had!) and a deep responsibility and challenge.

We will look at some of the ways that the people in Scripture have interpreted and used Scripture, we will explore some passages that seem to reveal some tension both in perspective and understanding, and we will also talk about ways that are dangerous to our engagement with Scripture.

Overall, I think that the future is bright here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. I believe that the Spirit of God is moving in powerful and sometimes shocking ways in the church today to make us more into the image of His Son in the world. The most important part of this journey here however will be your participation. So stop back often, comment when you can, and most of all pray that each of us will be continually (re)formed into the image of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Universal Command or Cultural Response?

We have come a long way in this series as we have explored the sometimes contentious passage about women being silent found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. 

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

If you have missed any of the previous posts in the series I would suggest you go back and read them (in order):

New Series: 1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women...

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Textual Challenges

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Who are these Women??

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Cultural and Historical Background...

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: "Silence", "Submission", and "Disgraceful"...

And now we come to the question that has required all of the previous effort:

Is Paul here commanding something that is universal (for all people, time, and cultures without exception) or something that is specific and cultural (e.g. the situation in Corinth)?

First, the text in question with a larger portion of context (both before and after)...

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

 39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (1 Corinthians 14:26-40, NIV)

In interpreting this passage we have drawn the following conclusions...

  • The universal qualifier ("...as in all the congregations of the Lord's people.") belongs to the previous unit of thought contained in 14:29-33.
  • This unit of thought (14:34-35) is original to the text and is found in the correct placement in the text.
  • The "women" that Paul addresses can only be one demographic of the women in the church at Corinth. They must be married women with believing husbands. No other segment of the congregation is able to fulfill Paul's commands to "ask their husbands at home" and expect to be able to receive an answer that will help them learn.
  • The particular problem that Paul is addressing is that these married women with believing spouses are asking questions in the public assembly. These women are not asserting leadership, they are attempting to learn. 
  • Such an action is culturally unacceptable, and therefore Paul works a solution for everyone. These women should stop asking questions in the assembly and ask their husbands in a setting (at home) that is not inflammatory to the life of the congregation.  
  • This arrangement is one that is for the benefit of everyone involved. These women still have their questions answered and the "heartburn" that it is causing in the congregation has been dealt with. 

So does this help us to understand whether or not Paul was offering a universal command (or as I like to call it, "for everyone, everywhere, forever without exception, amen.") or was he addressing and specific situation that he never intended to "bind" on all women and all congregations?

It seems that the only answer, considering the things that we have looked at in this series, is that Paul is giving a command to a specific group of people (married women with believing husbands) about a specific situation (the conflict that it was causing in Corinth). 

IMPLICATIONS

Some people (and you will know if I am talking about you) are reading this and their blood pressure has just shot up to a level that is dangerous for their health. The questions are rolling, "So is he saying..."

So before you go there, let me tell you what I think the implications of this interpretation of this passage are...

(1) This passage does not command all women for all time to be silent in the public worship of the church.

(2) This passage gives a great window into what it means to live and worship in a community of people where there are inherent tensions between the freedom found in the Gospel and the expectations of the surrounding culture. 

(3) This passage has nothing to do with the leading (or prohibition of leading) of women in the church. It has everything to do with how these women were learning, it does not address in any way, shape, or form any form of leadership or teaching. 

CONCLUSION

It seems to me that this passage is a fine example (if not the loudest one) of taking a small passage dealing with something that is important (but not all important) and making it way too important! I wonder if Paul were to read some of the things written about and preached about this passage and what his reaction would be. It seems to me that he would be surprised at the volume and the venom that has surrounded this short passage (only 35 words in Greek). 

We need to be careful when we "use" Scripture to shore up a position or practice in the life of our congregations. This text is a perfect example. And it should cause us to be more cautious, more honest, and more humble of the way that we stack up Scripture for any reason (no matter the motive). This is God's Word and it deserves our utmost care, humility, and effort. 

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Who are these women??

Now we come to the first of the important interpretive questions regarding this passage: Just who exactly is Paul talking about?

This question, as we will see, has a lot to do with how we understand the overall message of this passage. So we must start here. But first there are a couple of issues that we must get on the table.

(1) Translation issues...
The first translation issue is in regard to the word "woman" in this passage. Both times it is the Greek word gune (γυνη) which can be translated as "woman" or "wife". The only key to which translation is intended is the immediate context.

So what should the translation be here in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? Let's look to the passage itself to discern whether we should understand this as "woman" (everyone that is a female) or "wife" (which is a subsection of both women and as we will see of the congregation in Corinth).

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

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(TANGENT: ENGLISH BIBLES AND HISTORY OF TRANSLATION ISSUES)
This is something that is rarely (if ever) discussed when we talk about the challenges of translation of interpretation when we aren't dealing directly with the original languages of Scripture.

There are two things that are considered in translation of the Bible (at least in English) and that is (1) the understanding of the original language text(s) and (2) the history of translation. If you take a look through all of the English versions available for example at Biblegateway.com of this passage you will find that only The Message translates this term as "wives".

(Similar issues...and this is a whole post in itself...can be traced to the translation/transliteration of the word "baptism". It was in this move (one which all English translations that I am aware of have maintained actually obscures the idea of immersion which was the original intent/meaning of the term.)

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(2) Contextual issues...
So how does this text itself help us to determine whether we should understand this passage to apply to "woman" (all women) or "wives" (some women)? The passage itself gives us the only clue we really need.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV, emphasis mine)

Also, we learn earlier in 1 Corinthians 7 that there are other groups of women in the church at Corinth who do not fit this demographic. There are women who have never been married (7:27-28), women who are divorced (7:11, 15-16), women who are engaged to be married (7:36), women who have been widowed (7:8-9), and women who are currently married (7:2-5; 14:33-35).

Of all these various groups of women in the church at Corinth only one of them is able to keep this imperative (and it is a command) of Paul: the women who are currently married.

But I want to suggest that here Paul actually goes one step further in singling out (pardon the pun) this group of women in the Corinthian church. I want to suggest that the best way to make sense of this text is to understand that Paul is actually speaking about women who are currently married AND have believing husbands. This seems to me to be the only way that this instruction makes any sense.

SUMMARY

In the church in Corinth there are women at every stage of life, especially in relationship to marriage. There are women never married, currently married, formerly married, soon to be married, and those who are widowed. It also likely there were some women at each of these stages who did not have believing partners (whether husband, ex-husband, future husband, etc.)

The only way to make sense of this passage as it stands is that this is an imperative (a.k.a. command) of Paul for currently married women who have believing husbands. Any other way of reading this text (e.g. making it a universal command for all times and places for all people of the female gender) doesn't pay enough attention both to the context and to the actual text itself. 

 

IS THIS HOW YOU UNDERSTOOD THIS PASSAGE IN YOUR CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE? IF NOT, HOW DID YOU UNDERSTAND THIS PASSAGE BEFORE?

 

1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Textual Challenges...

(Some of these challenges were brought up by Robbie in the comments section on the previous post. I was already in the process of dealing with this information, but am thankful that he brought it up.)

One of the reasons that this passage (among others dealing with the issue of "women's roles") are often left alone is because there are some complex textual issues that surround the texts themselves.

Here we are talking about issues concerning translation, meaning, context, and paragraph endings/beginnings. A quick survey of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and its immediate context in various translations should highlight a couple of the more important textual challenges that we face.

 

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)
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 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.   

    As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ESV)

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33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

   34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

      35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (KJV)

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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?) (NRSV)

DID YOU NOTICE ANY SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES IN THESE TRANSLATIONS?

There are two textual challenges associated with this text that must be dealt with before we attempt the task of interpretation...

(1) Translators aren't sure where to put "as in all the churches of the saints".
You see for example in the NIV and KJV that this phrase belongs with the previous paragraph about God not being about disorder but of peace. The ESV puts this phrase with the discussion of women in 14:34-35. The NRSV does something similar but makes the entire discussion of women in chapter 14 parenthetical.

Part of the challenge comes from the fact that early manuscripts were written in either all capital letters (called Uncials) or all lower case letters (called Miniscules) and lacked three very important things that you and I take for granted: spaces between words, punctuation, and paragraphs.

This means that in some places (this being one of them) it can be complicated to discern the unit of thought and proper translation of the text, especially when it comes to where sentences begin and end.

(2) Scholars debate the originality and placement of this unit of thought.
Some scholars (most notably Gordon Fee in his influential commentary) see this entire unit as an interpolation (inserted by another author, editor, copyist) and therefore the text should be discarded as a whole. Others think that this passage should be placed at the end of the chapter after 14:40. Still other scholars think that the text should be understood as it is and in the place in which it is translated in our English Bibles.

SO HOW DO WE RESOLVE THESE TWO TEXTUAL ISSUES?

(1) The placement of "as in all the churches of the saints..."
There are two things that will help us understand better the placement of this phrase. It is my contention that this phrase more appropriately belongs with the preceeding paragraph (as is seen in the NIV and KJV). The first thing we can look at is how Paul uses a similar statement elsewhere in 1 Corinthians.

"...He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with with what I teach everywhere in every church." (1 Corinthians 4:17)

"Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches." (1 Corinthians 7:17)

"If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice - neither do the churches of God." (1 Corinthians 11:16)

Paul's pattern (and note that all of these examples are in the same letter) is that such a "universal" statement always concludes a thought or element of an argument. Paul does not use such clauses as a foundational stating point for his argument.

The second thing to be considered is how poorly the grammar of the passage would be if this disputed phrase were to be attached to the discussion of the silence of these women in the church at Corinth.

"As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches." (ESV)

"As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches." (NRSV)

For Paul, who writes with some of the greatest rhetorical flourish in 1st century literature, and especially within the New Testament, such a sloppy expression seems unlikely. Therefore, I believe that we are better off to understand the "universal statement" of "as in all the churches of the saints..." as belonging to the preceding unit of thought about God being one who is concerned with and by his very nature is a God of peace and not disorder.

(2) The originality and placement of 14:34-35.
Both the interpolation (inauthentic insertion after the original) and the rearrangement (putting it after 14:40) have been soundly refuted in the influential scholarly article by Curt Niccum, professor of New Testament at ACU entitled "The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External Evidence for 1 Cor. 14:34-35" (New Testament Studies, vol. 43, no. 2, April 1997, 242-255.) The internal textual flow and external manuscript evidence support show that this text is in its proper place and contains Paul's original instructions regarding the situation.

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US AS WE BEGIN INTERPRETING THIS PASSAGE?

This passage should be understood as a digression (Paul saying, "And while I'm talking about this...") in the larger context of Paul dictating to the Corinthians the proper actions regarding speech in the corporate gathering of the assembly (what we might call Sunday morning). This context is most pressing in chapter 14 but extends also as far back as chapter 11.

We are therefore in the best position (I believe) both textually and contextually to interpret this passage when we begin with it as our starting point in the translation of the 2011 NIV as follows:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

     34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

NOW THE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS BEGIN...

How Not-to-Read the Bible...

As a minister, graduate student, and learner of Restoration Movement history I have become increasingly aggrivated by and sensitive to a couple of very important dangers:

(1) The Power/Danger of Assumptions

When someone has already figured out the "right answer" to an issue or subject to the exclusion of a careful reading of the biblical text.

When people don't realize (or don't care) that their assumptions on other texts almost "demand" a particular interpretation of other texts and issues.

When people assume that they have already "studied that" (which can range from in-depth study, to what they learned from someone else, to "what makes sense" to them) and therefore it doesn't need to be discussed again.

(2) The Power/Danger of Language

Here are just a few of the phrases, questions, and statements that set my blood immediately to boil:

"The Bible clearly teaches..." (Somehow, this is only employed when the text under discussion has a significant amount of disagreement surrounding it.)

"Why can't we just believe what the Bible says?"

"Any reasonable person..."

"I thought we solved that (insert time period here)..."

"Well, that's just your interpretation..." (This one only shows up when your interpretation goes against my interpretation.)

"Why are we even talking about this?" (This one I find to be dangerous because it is dismissive and reflects an unwillingness to engage in conversation at all.)

(3) The Power/Danger of Not Reading the Biblical Text Closely

I am not suggesting that everyone break out their critical Greek and Hebrew texts with the full apparatus and we start discussing textual variants and the history of interpretation starting with Augustine and John Chrysostom. (Although admittedly, for some of us, this would be enjoyable.) But what I am suggesting is that we have to read the biblical text that is in our laps with care and seriousness.

A number of textual, hermeneutical, and theological issues can be resolved by applying this one principal. Read closely, be honest.

I am thankful to be from a religious tradition that takes Scripture seriously. I am thankful that in our past we have a strong legacy of ministry and scholarship in conversation with one another. I am thankful that we are returning to this part of our legacy that for a time we left behind.

We owe it to our children to be honest in the way that we read and approach Scripture. We owe it to each other to be open and honest with Scripture. More importantly, it is God and his mission that deserve our careful and honest reading of Scripture. Otherwise we find ourselves in danger of distorting the image of God both in our own lives and in our participation in his mission.

FLASHBACK: "A True Fish Story"

Jonah 1

 1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

 3 But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.

 4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

   But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)

 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.

 17 Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

In verses one and two Jonah hears more bad news than he ever wanted to hear. He first hears from God that he is supposed to go to the very wicked city of Ninevah and not only is he supposed to go there but he is to teach them about God. There are many reasons that Jonah was probably afraid to do this. One of the reasons that he was probably afraid was because he could lose his life. The other thing that probably made him angrier than before was the fact that God was showing favor to anyone but His chosen people, the Jews. To top it off Ninevah was the capital city of the Assyrians who had earlier taken the Jews captive and killed many of them. 

Ninevah was probably over 300 miles northeast from where Jonah was when he was told by God to go there. Instead, Jonah decided to go over 200 miles south toward Tarshish. Jonah tried to outrun his duties, and he probably hoped that God would forget that he had told him to do these things.

God often throws a monkey wrench into the clockwork of our lives when we least expect it, and sometimes when it is very inconvenient. Jonah thought that if he ran away he could escape God's will. (It turned out that Jonah got himself into more trouble and even though he ran away, he was saved when God made the fish that swallowed him.) One of the things that Jonah probably didn't realize is that even though he tried to run away from God so that he would not have to tell anyone about God that was not a Jew; he ended up converting all the men on the ship. God's will was still accomplished even though Jonah did not follow directions.

So the lesson that we can learn from chapter one is that God's will is always carried out, and even though we disobey God and get in the rough seas of life he will always rescue us with a "great fish".

---------------------------------------

I must admit I chuckled a bit when I read this. A monkey wrench?!?!? But the thing that strikes me when I read the story of Jonah (and this devotional) are the implications of the last paragraph particularly the idea that "we disobey God and get in the rough seas of life". The consequences of doing things our way, of choosing to participate in our plans instead of the mission of God can have such enormous consequences and yet at the same time God remains faithful.

There has been more than one occassion in my life where God spared me although I certainly felt as though I deserved to be thrown overboard and drowned in the depths of the sea. Thus far in the story we haven't learned too much about Jonah, but we have learned volumes about the God that pursues those who are disobedient... not in order to punish them but to show them mercy. What an amazing God. 

New Series on Spiritual (Re)Formation... FLASHBACK

I am going to start a new series here on Spiritual (Re)Formation that I am calling Flashback. Here I will reproduce old material that I have written in the past. The first entires in this series will be some devotionals on the Minor Prophets that I wrote as a part of a high school Bible assignment. I submitted these devotionals just a few weeks after my 16th birthday. I will reproduce the full-text of these devotionals as both an opportunity to express where my views might have changed and just to share.

So check back often. I am going to try to get ahead and schedule them so that there will be 4-5 a week for the next 3-4 weeks. It should be interesting (I haven't even looked at them yet... but hey I got a 100% on the assignment... that means something right??)

Hmmmmm... A Woman Deacon...

This was something I noticed in preparing for a class on leadership in the early church this week, and it has to do with deacons, specifically women deacons.

In fact, the only time that we have the term deacon (διάκονος) attached to a proper name in the New Testament who doesn't have another "role" or some other reason why we shouldn't translate this term as "servant" is in Romans 16:1: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae." (TNIV)

There are a few other instances where the term "deacon" or "servant" (both the term διάκονος) are used in connection with a proper name, but all of these the case can be made should be understood as "servant" instead of "deacon." Here are the other cases...


Timothy as a διάκονος of God (1 Thessalonians 3:2)
Here Timothy is referred to as "God's coworker (διάκονος). The idea here is of a "servant" not what we would refer to as the role of a "deacon."

Epaphras as a "fellow διάκονος" (Colossians 1:7)
Here Epaphras is referred to as "our dear fellow servant (διάκονος)". He is a "fellow διάκονος" of Paul and Timothy (the authors of Colossians) and therefore cannot be considered here to hold the role of "deacon."

Tychicus as a "fellow διάκονος" (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7)
These two references to Tychicus are virtually the same. In Ephesians 6:21 he is referred to as a "faithful servant (διάκονος) in the Lord" and Colossians 4:7 has him described as a "fellow servant (διάκονος) in the Lord." Very much in the same with Epaphras. Tychichus could not be a "deacon" alongside Paul, but he could however be a fellow "servant (διάκονος)".

Paul as a διάκονος of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23)
In Ephesians 3:7 he is a "servant (διάκονος) of this gospel". Paul, here in Colossians 1:23, describes himself as a "servant" (διάκονος) of the Gospel. Both of these references exclude Paul as a "deacon" because he was unmarried and filled the role of an apostle.

Does Christ διάκονος sin? (Galatians 2:17)
Paul writes, "But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinner, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes (διάκονος) sin? Absolutely not!" (TNIV). Or looking at the ESV: "But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant (διάκονος) of sin? Certainly not!"

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I include it to be exhaustive in the usage of
διάκονος + a proper name.


Paul and Apollos as διάκονος (1 Corinthians 3:5)
Here Paul reminds the Corinthians that Apollos and himself are not "special" or "extraordinary". He says, "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants (διάκονος), through whom yuo came to believe..." (TNIV). We have no evidence to assume that Apollos could have filled the role of a "deacon" and we know Paul could not do so.


Jesus as a διάκονος of the Jews (Romans 15:8)
Paul writes, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant (διάκονος) of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."

Jesus could not and did not serve in the role of a "deacon."


Phoebe as a διάκονος of the church in Cenchreae (Romans 16:1)
This brings us to our last example of the term διάκονος + Proper Name in the New Testament. If there are any references in the New Testament to a specific person being a "deacon" this is it. Notice a couple of differences in this passage from the other references of διάκονος + a proper name in the New Testament.

 

(1) There is another term for "servant" (δοῦλος) that could have been employed.
(2) This is the only reference of the term
διάκονος that is tied to a specific, local congregation (the church in Cenchreae).
(3) There is no reason from the text itself to assume that she filled another role that prevented or made unecessary such a position (e.g. she is not mentioned as one of Paul's "fellow servants" (
διάκονος).
(4) The instructions concerning "deacons" (
διάκονος) in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are not gender exclusive in their instructions for "deacons" (διάκονος).

 

So what do we do with this? Hmmmmm... Let the conversation begin. 

Worship in Silence?

Sunday night we talked about the place of silence and solitude in the life of the believer as we strive to have lives that are more attentive to what God is doing in us, through us, around us, for us, and in spite of us. We talked about Elijah and the Prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The contrast that we focused on was the need of the prophets of Baal to "wake up" their deity (as Elijah so helpfully encouraged them to do), with the simple prayer for action by God for his own glory and the conviction of those around Elijah.

We then took note of Psalm 115:1-8 about the inability of an idol to do anything.

Finally we came to Habakkuk 2:18-20...

   "Of what value is an idol that someone has carved?
       Or an image that teaches lies?
       For those who make them trust in their own creations;
       they make idols that cannot speak.

      
       Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!'
       Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!'
       Can it give guidance?
       It is covered with gold and silver;
       there is no breath in it."

       The LORD is in his holy temple;
       let all the earth be silent before him. (TNIV)

Question: Have we become so focused in our worship on "saying something" whether it be praying, singing, or even preaching that we have failed to be silent?

The reason that those who worship idols must speak is that their God cannot.

The reason you and I must be silent is that not only can our God speak, but He in fact does. The question for you and I then is this: As the people of God do we believe God is speaking and if so, are we listening?

What to do with the Old Testament...

Tim Spivey had an interesting post the other day called What Good is the Old Testament? His primary question was simple: How do you view the Old Testament?

The question that I want to tackle (very briefly and somewhat tenatively) is a hunch that I have on how we might honor the Old Testament as Scripture and yet avoid some of the problems that have been created and experienced by other types of interpretation. Ultimately, this is a very sensitive theologial and hermeneutical issue for many of us in Churches of Christ.

My working hunch is this: What if instead of doing a hermeneutical dance with the Old Testament (keep the moral law, discard the ceremonial law), or just functionally throwing it away altogether (yeah, that's the OLD Testament), what if we were to read the Old Testament as Narrative.

Allow me to explain. I'm not saying that we only pay attention to the stories. (You know, ignore Leviticus altogether and focus on bears mauling kids and hills of foreskins.) I'm saying that we look at the Old Testament to discern what God is doing and what we can learn about God and His mission in the world. So for example, instead of simply reading the story of Hannah as a nice story about God giving a barren woman a baby who just happened to be Samuel we would read it as a narrative about the character and mission of God. In doing so, we would come to recognize that this story is not so much about a desperate, barren woman (although it certainly is about that), but more than that it is about a God who is sovereign over what seems irreversible. It tells us about a God who is at work in the world to turn the structures of the powers and principalities on their heads. It is about a God who raises up his "anointed" to put things back to the way they were always intended to be. So instead of this being a nice lesson about praying with emotion and sincerity without a mediator (although that is certainly here) we instead learn something about the nature and mission of God which transcends which part of the book it is from. 

The same might be for the ceremonial law. What can we learn from rules and regulations about menstrual cycles, mold in the house, and dietary restrictions? We learn about a God who is serious about the implications of living together as God's representatives in the world. We learn that there is no area in life from which God and the reality of being his people is removed. We learn that the way we set ourselves apart from the culture in which we live, for their sake, is important to God and therefore important to us.

What do we do with the Old Testament? Maybe instead of looking for things that do or do not apply we need to understand that it is the story of God and of his people. Therefore, it is OUR story as well.

How should we interact with Scripture?

I have been challenged recently to think long and hard about the way that we engage and encounter Scripture. Part of the realization that I have come to is that more often than not the way we have encouraged people to engage God's Word is strange. We have encouraged and sometimes even equipped and expected people to engage the Bible alone. Let me explain why I think this is strange.

The New Testament books were written to individuals, but ultimately also to communities. Philemon was written to Philemon and the church that met in his home. The Gospels were written for large segments of people to come to understand who Jesus was and the implications of his life, death, and resurrection for everyone. The letters of Paul to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus and others were all communal. So why is it that the "default" way of reading Scripture in the West has been on an individual level?

Is it possible that in a community of people who are committed to living life God's way that the Bible could be read, understood, and properly interpreted without the input of experts, scholars, preachers, etc.?

Spiritual (Re)Formation as an Active AND Passive Process...

Paul writes to the church at Philippi: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2:12-13, TNIV)

Paul here brings forth an important element of spiritual (re)formation that we must understand as we strive to become more like Christ. The process of spiritual (re)formation is both active AND passive. Notice what Paul says: [you] continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Here Paul is reminding his beloved family in Philippi that a tangible element of our salvation is that we are "working it out", that we are striving to grow. But, in the same sentence he offers the counterbalance: for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The important lesson to be learned is this: Being conformed to the image of Jesus is an intimate, cooperative process in which we work to put ourselves in a position for God to work. It is not about being super spiritual or doing all the right spiritual disciplines (though these are good and helpful), but ultimately it is about making ourselves vulnerable and available to the God of the Universe working in us and through us.

Philipp Jakob Spener on Scripture and the Christian Life

This is an excellent quotation (although rather lengthy) from Pia Desideria (“Pious Longings”) by Philip Jakob Spener written in 1675. I think that there are some important messages for us in his words.

Thought should be given to the more extensive use of the Word of God among us. We know that by nature we have no good in us. If there is to be any good in us, it must be brought about by God. To this end the Word of God is the powerful means, since faith must be enkindled through the gospel, and the law provides the rules for good works and many wonderful impulses to attain them. The more at home the Word of God is among us, the more we shall bring about faith and its fruits.

It may appear that the Word of God has sufficiently free course among us inasmuch as at various places (as in this city [Frankfurt am Main]) there is daily or frequent preaching from the pulpit. When we reflect further on the matter, however, we shall find that with respect to this first proposal, more is needed. I do not at all disapprove of the preaching of sermons in which a Christian congregation is instructed by the reading and exposition of a certain text, for I myself do this. But I find that this is not enough. In the first place, we know that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Accordingly all Scripture, without exception, should be known by the congregation if we are all to receive the necessary benefit. If we put together all the passages of the Bible which in the course of many years are read to a congregation in one place, they will comprise only a very small part of the Scriptures which is nevertheless of the greatest importance. In the second place, the people have little opportunity to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures except on the basis of those passages which may have been expounded to them, and even less do they have opportunity to become as practiced in them as edification requires. Meanwhile, although solitary reading of the Bible at home is in itself a splendid and praiseworthy thing, it does not accomplish enough for most people.

It should therefore be considered whether the church would not be well advised to introduce the people to Scripture in still other ways than through the customary sermons on the appointed lessons. This might be done, first of all, by diligent reading of the Holy Scriptures, especially of the New Testament. It would not be difficult for every housefather to keep a Bible, or at least a New Testament, handy and read from it every day or, if he cannot read, to have somebody else read. . . .

Then a second thing would be desirable in order to encourage people to read privately, namely, that where the practice can be introduced the books of the Bible be read one after another, at specified times in the public service, without further comment (unless one wished to add brief summaries). This would be intended for the edification of all, but especially of those who cannot read at all, or cannot read easily or well, or of those who do not own a copy of the Bible.

For a third thing it would perhaps not be expedient (and I set this down for further and more mature reflection) to reintroduce the ancient and apostolic kind of church meetings. In addition to our customary services with preaching, other assemblies would also be held in the manner in which Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. One person would not rise to preach (although this practice would be continued at other times), but others who have been blessed with gifts and knowledge would speak and present their pious opinions on the proposed subject to the judgment of the rest, doing all this in such a way as to avoid disorder and strife.

Do you think that this could (and maybe should) happen in the church that you are a part of?