Monday, December 25, 2006

Doctrine and Conduct (20)

The way of grace.

We have looked at six triadic sayings in the sermon on the mount, following the pattern "you have heard that it was said ... but I say unto you ... so therefore ...". These sayings point to the traditional approach to righteousness, the causes of failure, and the way of grace.

This pattern reveals that Jesus was not instituting a new law or a string of new commandments which are idealistic and almost impossible to obey, but rather He is building on the theme of God's deliverance which He announced in the Beatitudes. The way of the Kingdom is the way of grace, and Jesus is calling everyone to participate in God's graciousness. The sermon has real, grace-based, practical guidance for living the Christian life. The way of grace empowers and enables people - it transforms lives and relationships, freeing us from the vicious cycles which lead to failure.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Doctrine and Conduct (19)

Having looked the Beatitudes as the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount I'd like to look at some of the key teachings of the remainder of the sermon.

First we should note the structure of many of the sayings in this sermon. Understanding the structure is important because we can otherwise easily misinterpret them.

Six of the sayings begin with the words "You have heard that it was said ..." and go on to say "but I tell you ..."

This immediately poses a problem for us, because some of them are direct quotations from the Law of Moses, or an allusion to a Mosaic law. The Law of Moses was the Law of God, so Jesus was in effect saying "you have heard it was said [by God] ... but I say ..." - He appears to be presuming to change, correct or add to the Law of God! If so, it's amazing that no one in the crowd seems to have been shocked or asked on what authority He was altering the Law of God.

The second problem is that if the Law of Moses wasn't onerous enough, Jesus now appears to be making it even more difficult to please God. The Law had said "don't murder", and that commandment would have been easy enough for a lot of people to keep, but if "don't be angry" becomes a commandment with equal force, then many more people become law-breakers. Indeed, a law that may have seemed difficult to keep would now become almost impossible. Even Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5) and called people fools (Matt 23:17) which would contradict His own commandment and make Him a sinner!

Is that what Jesus intended? Did He intend to replace the Law of Moses with an even more difficult law? Is he saying that if anyone missed the point that they couldn't be saved by law-keeping that He would now give them a law which would completely dash their hopes of being obedient or pleasing God? If so, then these six sayings would run counter to so much of His teaching about the graciousness of God and His generosity in "giving" the Kingdom to people who who previously been excluded from the community of God's people.

So what did He intend?

These problems are created because interpreters often make the mistake of seeing them as sayings in two parts (i.e. a dyadic pattern):

1. You have heard ...
2. But I tell you

The sayings then become hard sayings containing high ideals and making impossible demands.

In fact, five of these six these sayings are in three parts (triadic) and are followed by a statement beginning with "so ..." or "therefore". These statements are often seen as illustrations tacked on to the 'new' commandment. However, in the Greek the second parts all use participles describing an ongoing action and the third part ("so/therefore") are all imperatives.

The third part of these sayings are not merely illustrations - they are in fact the climax of the teaching. In Biblical teaching the third element of a teaching is where the climax regularly comes and Matthew's Gospel has about 27 teachings with a threefold or triadic pattern, with 14 of them in the Sermon on the Mount (see Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics).

The threefold pattern in these five sayings then becomes a statement of a commandment given through Moses or a traditional approach to righteousness, followed by a comment by Jesus about the root causes of failure - the vicious cycles that lead to these commandments being broken - and in the climax we have "the way of grace" or "the way of the Kingdom".

These five sayings should be read as threefold teachings, as follows:

1st saying:

(1) The commandment: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'

(2) The cause of failure: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

(3) The way of grace: So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

2nd saying:

(1) The commandment: You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'

(2) The cause of failure: But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

(3) The way of grace: So, if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

(The saying about divorce is in the dyadic form, and is connected to the saying about adultery. They share the same "way of grace" imperative).

3rd saying:

(1) The commandment: You have heard that it was said the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'

(2) The cause of failure: But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.

(3) The way of grace: So, simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

4th saying:

(1) The commandment: You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'

(2) The cause of failure: But I tell you, do not retaliate revengefully by evil means.

(3) The way of grace: So, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

5th saying:

(1) The commandment: You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

(2) The cause of failure: If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(3) The way of grace: But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

To be continued.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Baptised "by whomsoever"

There are two strange yet important words in the consitutions of many Christadelphian ecclesias. Robert Roberts Guide to the Conduct and Formation of Christadelphian Ecclesias ("The Ecclesial Guide") on which many ecclesial constitutions are based, says:

"That we recognize as brethren, and welcome to our fellowship, all who have been immersed (by whomsoever) after their acceptance of the same doctrines and precepts."

Why were those words in parenthesis put there?

First, they recognise what is sometimes called "the priesthood of all believers". In other words, baptisms don't have to performed by ordained clergy in order to be valid. Anyone can perform a baptism.

Second, they put the emphasis on the person being baptised, not on the baptiser. In fact, the person performing the baptism doesn't necessarily have to have the same faith or beliefs as the person being baptised. For quite some time the identity of the person who re-baptised John Thomas was unknown (although some recent research has brought to light some convincing evidence that it was John Tomline Walsh, who never became a Christadelphian*).

Third, these parenthetical words allow for the possibility that some people may have been baptised while members of other denominations while believing "the same doctrines and precepts" as Christadelphians.

From my own family history there is an interesting account of three people who were accepted as Christadelphians although they were baptised in another church.

The Christadelphian Shield for June 5, 1941 has this intelligence from Granville (NSW) ecclesia about the baptism of my late father:

This was followed by a record that Granville ecclesia had received into fellowship three other people (including my late grandmother and late uncle) who had "previously been baptised into Christ believing these principles and doctrines". My grandmother had, in fact, been baptised in the Church of Christ and my uncle in an independant Christian Assembly, but after joining the Christadelphians they were members of Granville and then Yagoona ecclesias until they died, without ever being re-baptised by Christadelphians. The report says these three "had not met in fellowship with any ecclesia" although they had, in fact, been meeting and were "in fellowship" first with the Church of Christ and then with an independant Christian Assembly for some time before joining the Christadelphians.

* Peter Hemingray John Thomas - His Friends and His Faith 2003 p.145

Doctrine & Conduct (18) - The Beatitudes - 6

So far in my series on the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes, I've looked at how Jesus' statements beginning with "happy are ..." are an announcement of God's deliverance for the oppressed. Together with Luke 4:18-19 (quoting Isaiah 61), these two statements are a declaration that God's promised deliverance has commenced in the ministry of Jesus and that the Messianic Age has begun.

In this message I'd like to look at how each of the beatitudes end.

The first and last beatitudes conclude with the words "... for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (in the present tense) while the others conclude with statements in the future tense.
... they will be comforted
... they will inherit the earth
... they will be filled
... they will be shown mercy
... they will see God
... they will be called sons of God
I pointed out at the beginning of this series that the sermon on the mount follows immediately from Matthew's statement that "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23) and is in fact a summary of what Jesus taught about the kingdom. This is confirmed by the structure of the beatitudes, beginning and ending as they do with the words "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".

While the full benefits of the Kingdom were to be experienced at some time future to when this sermon was given, the reality was that the Kingdom had already begun and that the poor in spirit, those who hungered for righteousness, the peacemakers, etc, were entering the kingdom there and then.

Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God would come in stages. Like the prophets of Israel He taught about the Age to Come, and taught His disciples to pray "Your Kingdom come" (Matt 6:10). But He also taught that the power of this coming Kingdom was breaking in to the present age - "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28).

The "now" kingdom reality is a "taste" of the "not yet" final consummation in the age to come. The citizens of the Age to Come are living now as the community of God. Jesus was calling His audience to be Kingdom-people, and to live Kingdom-dynamics. The writer to the Hebrews picks up the point and speaks of believers as "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age" (Hebrews 6:4-6). We are to live not only in expectancy of the Age to Come, but can be empowered, enabled and energised by the powers of the coming age to live a Kingdom-life today.

When we look carefully at the future-tense endings of the beatitudes we see that we do not need to wait for the Age to Come to enjoy these blessings to varying degrees. For example, Jesus says the peacemakers "will be called the sons of God". Paul wrote "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14) and "you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). John said: "to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). Being the children of God is a relationship we can enjoy now by receiving Christ, trusting in God and being led by His Spirit. So too we can be comforted, be filled, and receive mercy in our present Christian lives. Inheriting the earth and seeing God are the two which we might expect have only a future application. I want to discuss "seeing God" in this post, and will look at inheriting the earth later.

Quite a few of Jesus' sayings and miracles were about "seeing". He talked about the blind leading the blind, about people who had eyes but couldn't see, and about the eye being the light of the body. In one notable miracle he healed a blind man in two stages so that he first could see hazily, then clearly. Some of these teachings are telling us that we see what we want to see. The religious leaders came face to face with the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, yet they couldn't see Him for who He was. On the other hand people who were mad and demon-possessed recognised immediately who He was.

Jesus spoke in a similar way about listening. He said, for example, " My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:3-4, 27). Elihu in the book of Job answers Zophar's complaint (Job 11:5) "how I wish that God would speak" by saying "God does speak - now one way, now another - though man may not perceive it" (Job 33:14). He goes on to give several illustrations of how God speaks to us.

We can hear the voice of God, and we can see God. But sometimes God is speaking to us or appearing before our faces and we do not recognise Him. Paul wrote: For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6). Having said that God revealed Himself through Jesus, He goes on to say that Jesus is "revealed in our mortal body" (vv. 10-11). Sometimes God reveals Himself to us through mortal people, but we don't recognise Him because all we see is the "mortal body".

If we want to see God then we have to be "pure in heart" and look for God revealing Himself in other people. If we do not see God it may be because when we see other people we only see 'defiled', weak, human, sinful, mortal creatures and not the Creator in whose image and likeness they are made. But the pure in heart will see God - not only in the Age to Come, but in the here and now as He reveals Himself through His people.

I am reminded of Elisha's prayer: "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." (2 Kings 6:17 see also v. 20).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Sincerity without truth cannot save"

In an earlier post I mentioned a sign that I've sometimes passed on a local Christadelphian hall which says: "Sincerity without truth cannot save". I said that I've been tempted to pin a note to their door saying "Truth without sincerity cannot save either. In fact, neither truth nor sincerity saves - we are saved by grace".

I received an email from a friend asking for some explanation of salvation by grace. He asked: "Is God's Grace unconditional, or it is conditional with ACCEPTING the Crucifixion of Christ (John 1:17b)? What should one DO to be saved by Grace?"

It's a good question. I thought my answer to that question is also relevant in the context of looking at the ethical teachings of Jesus, so I've reproduced it below.

I think one of the problems with the issue of grace and works is that many scholars (beginning with Martin Luther) have made it an either/or situation. Are we saved by grace OR by works? When we answer, according to the Scriptures, that salvation is by grace, then some people will argue that works have no value then. However, Paul does not set grace against works – rather, he sets grace (or faith) against “the works of the law”, which were those particular aspects of the Law which distinguished Jews from Gentiles and led to Israel’s nationalism and exclusiveness. In Romans, for example, Paul is not arguing against works, or the Law, but is arguing the case for the inclusion of the Gentiles. He argues that we are saved by faith, and that those features of the Jewish Law which made them a distinctive group have no relevance to Gentiles.

I say that as a way of background to answering your question, because some people have wrongly argued that “good works” have no value, on the basis of their misunderstanding of Paul’s argument against “the works of the Law”. In fact, Paul elsewhere commends good works (quite frequently in fact) and James says that faith is demonstrated through works. In Paul’s terminology there is a big difference between “works of the law” and “good works”, and good works are the sign and seal of our faith.

“Grace” literally means “a gift”. There is nothing we can do to deserve or earn it – otherwise it would be a payment for services performed, not a gift. So in this sense grace is unconditional. Your reference to John 1:17 is interesting. Just a few verses earlier (v. 12-13) John said this: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God”.

John says some important things here.

(1) First he said we are to “receive Him”. Salvation is God’s gift (grace) but we have to receive it. If we do not receive it then we will never benefit from it. In this sense, we could say that grace is “conditional” on us receiving it. In other words, unless we do something to receive it (or accept it, to use your word) then it will have no effect on us.

(2) Secondly John says that if we receive Him He will give us the “right” (Gk. exousia = literally, the power of choice) to become the Sons of God. So it is dependant on us to make the choice to become a Son of God.

(3) But then John emphasises that our new birth is entirely the work of God - “born of God”.

In other words, what we do is to make the choice to accept everything God has on offer to enable us to live the new life - which is another way of saying we are to have “faith” or “trust” in God (faith and trust mean the same thing) to provide us with everything we need to live this new life. The new life, being born again, is the work of God. We cannot change ourselves through our own efforts.

But God, on the other hand, will not change us without our co-operation. This is why “grace” and “Spirit” are almost interchangeable in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s writings, because God’s grace is exercised through His Spirit. It is the Spirit which works in us and enables and empowers us to do God’s will and to live the Christian life. Then the Spirit working in us will produce “fruit” - which is the evidence that God is at work. Much of what we "do" (what both Paul and James would call “good works”) are not the results of our own efforts, but are the signs that God is at work in us, and God works in us because we “trust” Him to do it (“faith”). So we could say that for His grace to have an effect in our lives it is dependant on us having the faith/trust in Him to do it.

I hope this helps. I think the most important things for us to do are to:

(a) receive whatever God offers;
(b) choose to co-operate with Him; and
(c) submit to His authority (the “Lordship” of Jesus).

Then the works (or “fruit”) that are produced in our lives are really the works of God and God gets the glory.

One example of this in practice is baptism. Some people say that “baptism is essential to salvation”. In other words, being baptised is something we must do in order to be saved. I would put it differently: I would say that salvation is God’s free gift, and that a person who has received or accepted that salvation will then be baptised as the sign and seal of their new birth. Do you see the difference?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (17) - Separatists

The letters of John provide us with an example from the New Testament of how a doctrinal issue affected conduct, and how the early church dealt with this.

The dating of John's letters and the fourth Gospel are the subjects of speculation. We cannot know exactly when they were written, or in what order. It is generally agreed by most scholars that the Gospel of John, or at least an early version of it, was written first but that as a result of confusion or misinterpretation arising from this Gospel John later wrote an explanation or commentary that we now know as the First Epistle of John (although it doesn't have any of the usual characteristics of a 'letter' or 'epistle' and it would be more accurate to regard it as an explanatory treatise on the Gospel). It's possible that 2 John and 3 John were written as covering letters to individuals or churches and sent along with the treatise we call 1 John. It's also possible that around the same time a new beginning and conclusion were added to the fourth Gospel (which would explain why the opening and concluding verses of the Gospel and 1 John are so similar).

Precisely what the issues were that John was addressing in 1 John is also open to speculation. Based on evidence from Iranaeus (c. AD 180), the Nag Hammadi texts, and elsewhere, we can be fairly certain that John was dealing with an early form of the philosophical movement we now call Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis = knowledge) because knowledge played a major and central role in their understanding of salvation.

What we do know from 1 John is that there was a connection between the doctrines taught by certain people in the churches with which John was involved, and their behaviour. It appears that the immediate reason for writing this treatise is that these people had recently broken away from the other Christians in the area: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (1 John 2:19). From this verse this group of people are commmonly referred to as the "separatists" or "secessionists" for convenience.

From 1 John we can determine that the doctrine which led to this division involved the nature of Christ and whether or not He "has come in the flesh" (4:2). Most scholars have concluded that the separatists embraced a Christology which elevated Christ's divinity at the expense of His humanity (e.g. see G.M. Burge The Epistles of John). However, John pays at least as much attention to the ethical behaviour that resulted from this teaching as he does to the theological issues. For John it was not simply a matter of whether their theology was right or wrong, but about the implications it had for Christian living. The separatists boasted that they "know God", but they hated their fellow Christians who did not have the same "knowledge" (2:9; 4:20). A large part of 1 John deals with the importance of love as the defining characteristic of a Christian (e.g. 3:11-18; 4:8-10).
"While christology was the main battleground in the community, the tangible expression of these disagreements came in the form of open conflict and hostility. Faulty christology spilled into unethical conduct" (G.M. Burge).
John says that the separatists are "not obedient" and they are not "walking in the light". There is no evidence that they were living immoral lives. What made them "disobedient" was that they were intolerant of those who disagreed with them, and conflict resulted from their superior 'knowledge'. John refers to this intolerance as "hating" their fellow Christians.

Eventually this intolerance led to the group with superior knowledge separating themselves from the rest of the Christian community, and John says that their secession was evidence that they never truly belonged.

I believe there is a warning here for modern believers who make their knowledge of certain doctrines a reason for separating from other Christians, or feeling superior to them. Divisions within the Christadelphian community have largely been over fine details of doctrine. Sociologist Bryan Wilson observed that these differences are often of such a detailed nature that an outsider wouldn't be able to see any difference at all. However, the heatedness of the conflict, the harsh words exchanged and the abiding nature of the divisions are often out of all proportion to the importance of the doctrinal details themselves. I believe this is precisely the kind of thing John is talking about: a doctrinal difference which leads to 'hatred' of fellow-Christians.

Going beyond the divisions within the Christadelphian community, I personally believe that Christadelphian separation from the wider Christian community should also be judged as the kind of 'separatism' that John condemned. Differences of understanding should be discussed and healthy dialogue encouraged. Common ground should be established and bridges built. I am not suggesting that doctrinal distinctives should be ignored or forgotten. However, fellow Christians should always be treated with respect and in love, and acknowledged as brethren.

It seems to me that when Paul dealt with the problem of Judaisers and legalists, and when John dealt with the issue of the separatists that they were dealing with the same kind of things that our Lord taught against when He encouraged inclusion, not exclusion, and when He demonstrated that holiness, not defilement, was contagious. There is no need to separate from people with differing views - we won't be 'defiled' or contaminated by our contact with them. To the contrary, when light comes into contact with darkness it will always overcome the darkness. Holiness is transferred, not defilement. 'Knowledge' does not transform people - love does.

"Neither male nor female" - notes available

If anyone would like the posts in the series "Neither male nor female" as a single document please email me (the address is in my profile) and I will email it back to you as soon as I can.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (9)


· Scripture teaches the ‘headship’ of a husband in relation to his wife. It does not teach that all men have authority over all women.

· Women are to submit to their own husbands. Scripture does not require them to submit to other men. Additionally, there is to be a mutual submission in marriage with husbands submitting to their wives and, in the sexual relationship, both husbands and wives having equal authority over each other's bodies.

· In public meetings of the Church women can pray and prophesy (i.e. exhort, encourage and proclaim the Word of God). Their full equality with men is because the Edenic curse is being removed as a result of Christ's victory.

· In some situations, where uneducated women were spreading the doctrines of false teachers, they were prohibited from teaching until they had fully learned the truth with a quiet and receptive attitude.

· Paul severely criticised the Corinthians for preventing women from speaking, and demonstrated that the God-given ability to prophesy and speak in tongues was an indication of God's verdict on the matter.

· Women must be acknowledged as having an important and valuable ministry in the Church.

· It is likely that in the churches where women were educated in Spiritual matters they formed part of the ''presbytery" or council of elders.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (8)


Titus 2:1-5

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

The letter to Titus differs from the letter to Timothy in a number of ways. While both men had similar tasks to perform in setting the chur­ches in their area of responsibility in order, the circumstances and cultures differed. Hence, Paul gives different instructions.

While Timothy had to deal with a problem in Ephesus where uneducated women had been spreading the doctrines of the false teachers, Titus did not have to deal with this situation. Paul says nothing here about women speaking. However, he does say that in a church which does not have to deal with a problem of unedu­cated women, women have a ministry which is almost identical to mens'.

His instructions to Titus in this part of the letter are first about "the older men". The Greek word here is presbutas. The word is related to that used in 1:5 "appoint elders in every town" (presbuteros, the usual word for the office of church or synagogue elder). It was Titus' mission to organise the chur­ches in Crete and Paul is giving instructions on how to appoint the church leaders.

In 2:3 he gives advice about "the older women". The word here is presbutis, the femi­nine form of presbutas. The characteristics which follow for both the older men and older women are very similar to the qualifications given for elders/bishops in both Titus and 1 Timothy. The suggestion has been made that these older men and women are part of the council of elders. The older womens' ministry includes teaching younger women to be exemplary Christians, but is not restricted to this.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (7)


1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 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.

"women should remain silent" - since the same letter by Paul allows women to pray and prophe­sy in church as long as their heads are covered (11:4-5), this passage cannot be a prohibition on speaking or Paul would be contradicting himself.

The only kind of speaking specifically addressed in this passage is verse 35: "If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home". This implies that the problem at Corinth was that some women were speaking up to ask questions during the prophe­cies or Scriptural expositions, and disturbing the meetings. This would have caused an affront to the more conservative men or visitors.

The women were more likely to be asking ques­tions than men, because in Greek and Jewish cultures the women were less educated and unaccustomed to public lectures. Their asking of questions was a result of their eagerness to learn, but the resulting disturbance was preventing others from benefiting from the exposition.

"as the Law says" - what law said woman could not speak, but must be in submission? The Law of Moses made no such prohibition, and even so, Paul was unlikely to quote the Law for support as he nowhere else appeals to it absolutely, and he opposed the Judaizers who insisted on adher­ing to the Law. However, Rabbinic law contains an almost identical prohibition (Meg. 23a). While women were legally entitled to recite, and be called up to, the Reading of the Law in Synagogues, this Rabbinical enactment forbade this in order to preserve decorum (Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Religion: Women).

If Paul would not seek the support of the Mosaic Law would he quote a Rabbinic law in support? It’s unlikely. We need to view this passage in its broader context:

• 1 Corinthians is Paul's reply to an earlier letter written to him by the Corinthians.

• Their earlier letter contained questions and other material which Paul is now answering. His main responses commence in 7:1 and occupy most of the remainder of the letter.

• He sometimes quotes from their letter before answering it, e.g., "Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to marry’. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:1-2). I have put the words in italics in quotation marks because the words that follow show this is not Paul's view but is a quotation from their letter which he answers in the words “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband”. There are several quotations from their letter in the chapters which follow. (See also 6:12-14 where the NIV puts some words in quotation marks, assuming they are from the letter from the Corinthians.)

• These words in 14:34-35, or some of them, are likely to be from the Corinthians' letter and Paul is responding to them. They might quote a Rabbinic law but Paul would not!
1 Corinthians 14:36-40

Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

• Paul's response, in verse 36, is one of indigna­tion: "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" He challenges their right to impose a ruling which conflicts with the revealed Word of God, even to deal with a local issue. Verse 36 commences with the Greek adversative participle ay (“what?” in the KJV). Paul else­where begins with this participle when he wishes to challenge the Corinthians' behaviour (e.g. in 11:20-21 he states the situation and then chal­lenges it in verse 22, commencing with this parti­ciple.) The language of verse 36 has been described as "biting rhetoric" - "Who do they think they are anyway, is the implication; has God given them a special word that allows them to reject Paul's instructions, and be so out of touch with the other churches, and carry on in their own individualistic way as if there were no other believers in the world?" (Gordon Fee).

Paul's concluding words are his summary of the two main issues dealt with in chapter 14, with his conclusion on whether women should be prohi­bited from speaking: 'Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (verses 39-40). The ability to prophesy and speak in tongues by the Spirit of God was God's own verdict that He had empowered both men and women to speak in the church. To forbid anyone from speaking was to oppose God (he states this in verse 37, "what I am writing to you is the Lord's command").

However, their eagerness to prophesy led to too many prophets wanting to speak at once, and the women were so eager to learn that they interrup­ted the meeting with questions. Paul gave instructions to resolve this so that "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" but objected to their restriction on women speaking.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (6)

1 Timothy 2:8-15

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

There are several matters in the immediate context which should prepare us to think in terms of cultural relativity:

• v.8 "lift up holy hands in prayer." This posture for prayer is not often seen in the church today.

• v.9 "I also want women to dress ... not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes." The church today does not discourage or prohibit women from wearing gold, pearls or expensive clothes or braiding their hair (the opposite is more frequently the normal situation! We actually expect people to wear their 'Sunday best’.)

The structure of this passage indicates that the whole context is about public prayer:

- v.8 Men should pray without anger or dispu­ting (conflict among the men was probably a common occurrence in this particular church, and was affecting their public prayers, see 3:3; 6:4-5)

- v.9 The Greek literally has "Likewise also the women" i.e. Women should pray in public without drawing atten­tion to themselves by their clothing, hairstyles or jewelry.

v. 11 "A woman should learn" - this statement by Paul challenges the Jewish view that "Talmud Torah" (study of the Law) should be restricted to males. The Rabbis were critical of formal educa­tion for girls or women (Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Religion: Education).

v. 11 "in quietness" and v.12 "be silent" - This is the same word in the Greek and is a different word to that in 1 Cor 14:34 (see notes). The Greek here is hesuchia. A related word hesuchazo is used in some of the fol­lowing ways where silence is obviously not intended:

• Acts 11:18 (KJV) When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

• Acts 21:14 (KJV) And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

• 1 Thess 4:11 (KJV) And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.

• Luke 23:56 and rested the sabbath day accord­ing to the commandment.

Another related word hesuchios is used in the following ways:

• 1 Timothy 2:2 (pray) for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
• 1 Peter 3:4 ... the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

Grimm-Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the NT) defines hesuchia as "descriptive of the life on one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others" as in 2 Thess 3:12 ("Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat"). The use of these words indicates that silence is not intended in this context, but, rather, a quiet and receptive attitude should be adopted by the women to their learning. The same word is applied to men in the immediate context (v. 2) and to believers in general in most passages.

v.12 "I do not permit a woman to teach"- The Greek word for "teach" here is didasko and means formal teaching which comes with disci­plinary authority (it is the opposite of learning quietly and submissively).

Paul’s intention here is that women should not teach until they have first learnt [the same is true of men. Not all men qualify as teachers. Elders are to be chosen because of their ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Teaching was seen as a particu­lar gift in the early church (e.g. Ephesians 4:11; Romans 12:6-7) and James even discouraged men from aspiring to this responsibility (James 3:11).]

v. 14 "it was the woman who was deceived" - some interpreters of this passage have thought that Paul was saying that all women are gullible and therefore untrustworthy as teachers. His respect for Priscilla, who instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26), his wide use of women fellow-workers (see notes on Romans 16) and commendation of the teach­ing given to Timothy by his mother and grand­mother (2 Timothy 3:15; 1:5), and instruction that older women should teach the younger (Titus 2:3-4), all argue against such a position.

Paul is not arguing for male supremacy on the basis of the order of creation (such an argument would therefore have to accept the supremacy of a flea over a man, because fleas were created first). Nor is he arguing that all women are more gullible, and therefore should not teach, because Eve was deceived. If so, it would logically follow that all men are rebellious, deliberate sinners because Adam was, and therefore men should not be leaders in the church.

The reason Paul may not have wanted women to teach in Ephesus is that much of the false teach­ing there, while originating with men, was being spread through women in the church. In the first century Ephesian culture the uneducated women provided the network the false teachers could use to spread their doctrines (see 2 Tim 3:6-7 'They (i.e. men who oppose the truth) are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” See also 1 Tim 5:13 Younger widows "get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house (po­ssibly meaning house-church to house-church). And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips phluaros) and busybodies (periergai), saying things they ought not to." The word phluaros is never used in Greek to mean "gossip", but is used in contemporary philosophical literature to refer to ''foolishness' that is contrary to 'truth'. The word periergoi is used in Acts 19:19 when speaking of 'sorcery' in referring to Jewish exorcists in Ephesus who were "invoking the name of the Lord Jesus". Some of the Christian women may have adopted the methods of these wandering exorcists. "Saying things they ought not to" could refer to their magic spells, or their false teaching.

Paul is therefore prohibiting these uneducated women who have been indoctrinated by the false teachers from teaching in the church. He sup­ports his argument by referring to Genesis:

• "For Adam was formed first, then Eve." i.e. Eve was not present when God gave the com­mandment, and was thus dependent on Adam for instruction. She was inadequately educated, like the Ephesian women.

• "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." The best way to read this is as an analogy. Paul elsewhere uses Eve as an analogy of the gullibility of the whole Corinthian church, men and women (2 Cor 11:3). The uneducated Ephesian women are deceived like the inadequa­tely educated Eve, not because they are women. Paul reminds them that teaching from a position of ignorance will have inevitable consequences, as it did in Eden.

Paul's final reference to the effects of the curse (pain in childbearing) shows that he wants no-one to misunderstand his appeal to Genesis: elements of the curse are passing away because of Christ's victory. Once the Ephesian women have “learned in quietness and submission” they will no longer be able to be deceived. They will then be acknowledged as fully capable of teach­ing as the men. The other effect of the curse - marital strife and inequality of the sexes (Gen 3:16) - will then also pass away. The fact that Priscilla, acknowledged by Paul as a competent teacher and "fellow-worker", later lived in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19) could suggest that she moved there (or was sent by Paul) to help in educating these women and continuing Timothy's work of setting things right in the Ephesian church.


Paul's argument in this part of 1 Timothy can be summarised as follows:

• Men are to change the way they pray publicly.

• Similarly, women are to dress appropriately when they pray publicly.

• Women should learn the truth with a receptive and quiet attitude.

• Because of the problems in Ephesus with uneducated women spreading the doctrines of the false teachers, they are not to teach until they have properly learned the truth.

• The Ephesian situation is analogous to the situation in Eden where an uneducated Eve was also deceived.

• However, as Christ's victory causes the effects of the Curse to be phased out, so women will be eventually delivered from the curse of a conflict between the sexes.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (5)

Romans 16:1-2

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [a] of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

[a] Or deaconess.

"Servant" - diakonos - servant, deacon. If a male name appeared in this context virtually all commentators would agree on the translation "deacon" as an officer of the church, and few would note that he was only a servant.

In view of this reference to Phoebe as a deacon it is likely that 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to women deacons, not deacons' wives (see notes to follow).
Romans 16:3

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.

"fellow-workers" - i.e. they were both Paul's collea­gues in missionary service in the fullest sense. The mention of Priscilla first confirms that she was an active missionary, not merely a compa­nion for a missionary-husband.
Romans 16:6

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Romans 16:12

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Paul uses this word 'work' elsewhere to refer to his own missionary work, as well as the work of the elders and those whose work was teaching and preaching.
Romans 16:7

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

"Junias" - the KJV has the feminine "Junia" fol­lowing several Greek manuscripts. There is no occurrence of the masculine "Junias" in any Greek literature. Andronicus and Junia were outstanding among the apostles, i.e. they were regarded as outstanding apostles, not 'highly regarded by the apostles'. Scripture applies the term 'apostle' to others beside The Twelve, including Paul, Barnabas, James and Silas. Andronicus and Junia may have been a husband-and-wife team, but they were regarded equally as apostles.
Philippians 4:2-3

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

This passage indicates some sort of team-effort and does not hint at separate work done by the women. The women are regarded as co-labourers, colleagues of Paul’s in the fullest sense.

Colossians 4:15

Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

House-churches met in Nympha’s home, and the home of Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:5). This expression suggests a role in the house-church beyond providing the venue for their meetings, as no other mention is made of leaders or elders. This role probably involved leadership of some kind.

"Neither male nor female" (4)

1 Corinthians 11:3-5, 11-12

Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.


"head" - The significance of the head of a body was not appreciated anatomically in NT times as suggesting control or direction of the body by the mind. They used the word to mean 'origin', as in the source of a river. Headship does not neces­sarily imply authority.

"woman" - the Greek word gunee means both a 'woman' or a 'wife' (it is translated 'woman' 129 times in the KJV and 'wife' 92 times).

"man" - the word for 'man' is aner, which means both 'man' and 'husband' (it is translated 'man' 156 times in the KJV and 'husband' 50 times).

The verse could therefore read: "The head of the wife is the husband." Note that Paul says "the head of every man is Christ", but does not say "the head of every woman is man". Paul is not encouraging the submission of all women to all men, but speaks only of the headship of husbands to wives.

v. 5 “prays or prophesies" - the context of the passage shows that this is "in the church", not in private (see, for example, v. 18).

• Scripture records several women prophets, including Anna (Luke 2:36) and Philipp's four daughters (Acts 21:9).

•"The prophets were really the equivalent of our modern preachers. It was they who brought the message of God to the congregation." (Barclay).

• "Commentators in recent years have been at pains to point out that prophets were forth-tellers rather than foretellers, and this is supported by the fact that their characteristic function seems to have been exhortation (see Acts 15:32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.)" (Leon Morris).

• John Thomas used Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 4 regarding "prophesying" as a basis for instructions regarding "exhortations" in the first known Constitution of a Christadelphian ecclesia:

"Ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted". (1 Cor 14:31) "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort". (1 Cor 14:3) "Exhortation is, therefore, a part of prophesying, and, in being attempted, must be done without debate "to the edifying of the Church", or not at all." He said that in listening to an exhortation we "suffer prophesying from uninspired men of ordinary talents and information".

The early Christadelphians obviously thought of the exhor­tation as the modern counterpart to prophesying.

Paul's reference to women praying and prophesy­ing obviously means that he was allowing women to speak "in the church" and his later instruction that women are to keep silence must be interpreted against this background (see notes on 1 Corinthians 14 to follow). Paul's instructions to Timothy about women keeping silence also occur in the context of a specific instruction about how they are to pray in church. There is clearly no contradiction between the two and "keeping silence" is not a prohibition on praying and pro­phesying/ exhorting.

Vv. 11-12 - Paul reminds his readers that not only is the husband the origin (head) of the wife, as in the Genesis 2 account of creation, but that every sub­sequent man has his origin (head) in a woman. In Christ there is a mutual dependence on each other and a common recognition that both sexes are equally dependent on God.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Neither male nor female" (3)


Ephesians 5:21-24

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Many translations err in placing the heading "Wives and Husbands" before verse 22, because this section of his letter commences with verse 21 where he teaches that mutual submission is the Christian ideal for marriage. In fact, the word "submit" does not occur in the best Greek texts of verse 22, but is dependent on verse 21 to sup­ply it as implied.

The word "submit" could mean to "give in" or "cooperate" and need not mean "obey" (Barth: Ephesians).

Verses 22-24 are an exhortation to wives to submit to their husbands (note that Paul is not encouraging the submission of all women to all men, but only wives to husbands).

The NT always phrases 'headship' in terms of responsibilities, not rights, and here the husband is the 'head' of the family only insofar as he reflects Christ's headship of the church. (See the notes on 'headship' under 1 Corinthians 11, to follow.)

Ephesians 5:25-30

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their ownbodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

Verses 25-30 show how husbands are to submit to their wives and sets limits to the degree to which a husband can expect his wife to submit to him.

Paul elaborates his doctrine of mutual submis­sion with reference to the sexual relationship in marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 "The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." The sexual relationship is seen as one of mutual submission and both husband and wife have equal authority over each other's bodies.

Ephesians 5:31-33

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The structure of this section is, therefore:

1. Mutual submission in marriage (21)
2. How wives are to submit to husbands (22-24)
3. How husbands are to submit to wives (25-30)
4. The unity of the marriage partners (31-33).

"Neither male nor female" (2)

Genesis 3:16
To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

The Hebrew word for 'desire' teshuqah is used three times in Scripture: here, in Gen 4:7 and Song 7:10. The use of the word in the Song of Songs shows the desire can belong to either sex ("I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.") The reference in Gen 4:7 uses almost identical wording to 3:16 - "But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." The Hebrew word for "rule" and "master" are the same: mashal. In this passage "sin" desired to have Cain under its control, but he was encouraged to control it. This usage shows the likely meaning in the 3:16 passage, viz., "You shall desire to have your husband (under your control), but he shall rule over you".

Keil-Delitzsch explain that teshuqah means "a desire bordering upon a disease" from a root word meaning "to have a violent craving for a thing". It describes the urge to dominate rather than a desire to submit.

Gen 3:16 is not God's command or ordinance as to how the future must be. It is, however, a Divine prediction of the consequences of Eve's sin: there would be an ensuing struggle for dominance between the sexes, with the man, being physically stronger, having the woman in subjection as a general rule. This situation would be as a result of sin. It was not God^s intention in the beginning, nor is it the way it should be in Christ.

See comments on Ephesians 5:21-33 (to follow).

"Neither male nor female" (1)

An analysis of the Scriptures relevant to the roles of Christian women.

In response to a request for information on the subject of the role of women in the church, I will be posting a series of notes which I wrote some time ago which are an analysis of the Scriptures relevant to the subject.

This analysis is by no means exhaustive and its purpose is simply to contribute to the discussion of this subject by providing some comments on the context and meaning of the specific texts most frequently used.
Galatians 3:26-28
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Jewish men thanked God daily that they had not been born 'a Gentile, a woman or a slave'. Such a view was obviously affecting the church and Paul refuted it in no uncertain terms.

Paul here is taking up the original intention of God in creation: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the- air, over the live-stock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27). Both male and female were created in the image of God and jointly given 'dominion' without distinction, the two sexes together constituting 'man'.

For other comments on the Genesis background see the notes on Genesis 3:16 (to follow).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (16) - The Beatitudes - 5

The final two beatitudes are very similar.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute
you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

These beatitudes are probably the clearest of all that Jesus is not setting out a list of virtues that merit God's blessings, or as ethical requirements for acceptance into the Kingdom. As D.E. Garland has pointed out, being persecuted can hardly be an entrance requirement since this is neither something that one can do on their own, nor is it a virtue in and of itself (in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Blessings and Woes).

These final beatitudes summarise and climax the others. The persecuted are blessed if they are persecuted "because of righteousness" and "because of me [Jesus]". As we've seen, the concepts of righteousness and justice for the oppressed are closely linked in the Bible, and Jesus expects His followers to be righteous and to pursue justice.

Jesus never called for His disciples to withdraw from society, or to separate themselves from the communities in which they live. To the contrary, He calls for His followers to be a positive influence on the world around them - to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world", to overcome evil by doing good, and to infect the world with a 'contagious holiness'. Too often religious groups set themselves apart from (and above) their neighbours and make distinctions based on creeds, dogmas and rituals. This is not the way of Jesus or the way of the Kingdom.

The beautitudes are the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew's summary of Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom. It's no coincidence that the final parable in the final sermon in this Gospel is about the basis of judgment and how people have treated the hungry and thirsty, the poor and naked, and prisoners. Jesus began His ministry by announcing that God will bring deliverance to the oppressed, and He ended it by declaring that this deliverance would come in part through the outward-looking practices of His followers who are focussed on relieving suffering, promoting justice and acting righteously.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (15) - The Beatitudes - 4

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Purity was an important issue for the religious in Jesus' day, and the Gospels record several incidents and sayings when Jesus dealt with their wrong perceptions about purity, and I've looked at some of these in earlier posts. For example, by refusing to wash His hands before a meal Jesus declared that we cannot be 'defiled' or 'contaminated' through our contact with people who do not meet our standards of purity. By allowing 'unclean' people to touch Him, and even by reaching out to them, Jesus actively demonstrated that He was welcoming into His Kingdom those who were 'impure' by the standards of others and even those who were previously 'impure' by God's standards revealed in the Torah!

Purity under the Jewish law had an outward emphasis - as a result the religious distanced themselves from others and shrank away from outside ('worldly') influences and relationships, emphasising 'separation'. However, in a saying recorded in Matthew 15:11 Jesus emphasised that defilement came from a person's heart: "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "

Similarly, in this beatitude, Jesus is saying that purity is not an outward thing but is 'in the heart'. Later in this sermon He was to go on to say that religious observances and practices which are designed to get the attention of others come from a wrong motive and are therefore useless. After speaking of God's deliverance of the oppressed (the poor, the hungry, those who mourn), He turns to speaks of our role in bringing deliverance ('show mercy' - or actively bring deliverance). In placing this beatitude here He is emphasising that our motive in helping the poor and oppressed must spring from 'a pure heart' and not for any hope of recognition or praise by others.

Jesus built on this in His next beatitude:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

One of the marks of the promised Kingdom of God is peace, and the prophets repeatedly spoke of peace as a major characteristic of the Age to Come. "On earth peace to men" was announced by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and Acts describes the Gospel as "the good news of peace through Jesus Christ" (10:36). Paul said of our salvation that "since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1) and said of Jesus "he himself is our peace" and "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near" (Eph 2:14-18). Unlike the first 4 beatitudes which announced that God is about to bring deliverance, this beatitude concludes the a group of 3 which emphasise our role in bringing deliverance as Kingdom-people.

Jesus may well have had in mind the militaristic efforts of some Jews to overthrow the Romans. It's likely that two of the twelve disciples were previously members of underground 'liberation' organisations. However, rather than getting our needs met through the destruction of our enemies, Jesus taught the opposite. Ironically, it was a Roman soldier, someone who had previously been a target of the liberationists, who declared at the crucifixion "truly this was the Son of God" (Mark 15:39). As the Prince of Peace Jesus brought together those who would once have killed each other. As the children of God, and sons of the Kingdom, we are commissioned to not only preach a message of peace but to be peacemakers.

Even in our dealers with people who have different opinions, 'heretical theologies' or 'wrong doctrine', we must remember that we are called to be peacemakers and not separatists.

Doctrine & Conduct (14) - The Beatitudes - 3

The fifth beatitude (in Matthew - it's absent in Luke) is:

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

We often think of 'mercy' as forgiveness. However, when Jesus taught about forgiveness (e.g. in connection with the Lords' prayer) He used a different Greek word (aphiemi - Matt 6:12). 'Mercy' (Greek eleemon) in the Gospels can mean forgiveness, but more often it means an action of deliverance in the sense of healing or giving. For example, when a blind or crippled person cried out to Him "Lord, have mercy" they weren't asking for forgiveness - they were asking to be delivered from their affliction. So, in Matt 6:2 a related word eleemosune means giving alms to the poor.

According to Jesus, "justice, mercy and faith" were the weightier matters of the Law which were neglected by the religious leaders (Matt 23:23). On two occasions Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt 9:13; 12:7). In other words,

"what God demands is not so much activity directed Godward but
lovingkindness benefitting other people".*

* Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, Intervarsity Press, 2003, p. 44

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (13) - The Beatitudes - 2

The second beatitude (in Matthew's version) is:
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
In Luke's version this is the third beatitude:
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
The end of death and mourning form part of Isaiah's message of God's deliverance: "he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces" (25:8). The Revelation picks up this message as part of its climax: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:4).

The prophet Amos used grieving and mourning in an interesting way. He described in vivid terms the complacency of the wealthy and their neglect of the poor and oppressed. He lists the following among the sins of the powerful, influential and prosperous:
You who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground (5:7)

You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain. (5:11)

You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (5:12)
Despite their neglect of the poor, and their failure to ensure justice for the oppressed, Israel in Amos's time was very religious! This is what God said about their religion:
I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies. (5:21)
In the next chapter Amos delivers a stern rebuke for these religious hypocrites:
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion ...

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.

You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.

You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end. (6:1-7)

The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.

Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn? ...

I will turn your religious feasts into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day. (8:7-10)
In the first quotation Amos was saying that those living "complacently" without any concern for the ruination of their nation ought to have been grieving for the loss of justice in their society. Because they failed to mourn this loss, God would take away their liberty and prosperity and make them experience real loss themselves. They had two options: mourn for the injustice and inequalities in society and do something about it, or come face-to-face with oppression and hardship by experiencing it themselves.

Amos called on Israel to restore justice to their courts and in society in general:
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph. (5:15)

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (5:24)
It seems that in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus had a similar concept of mourning in His mind, because this beatitude was closely followed with this one:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
What does it mean to hunger for righteousness? In the quotes from Amos above, and indeed throughout the whole of the Hebrew Bible, righteousness and justice are closely related. We tend to equate righteousness with personal piety or the virtue of an individual person. But the Hebrew word tsedaqah primarily means the kind of justice which rescues the oppressed and restores the powerless and outcasts to their rightful place in the community. In the Hebrew Bible justice is a community thing - a society is "righteous" only when everyone is treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and their needs are adequately met.

"Justice" in the Hebrew Bible and in the teachings of Jesus is such a big subject that I will have to come back to it. In the meantime, take a look at Psalm 37 and note the similarities with the Beatitudes. For example, Jesus says "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (quoting directly from Ps 37:11) but the Psalm also says "those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land" (v. 9), "those the LORD blesses will inherit the land" (v. 22), "Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever" (v. 27), "the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever" (v. 29) and "Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land" (v. 34). The whole Psalm is about the tension between good and evil people, and how God will bring deliverance from their oppression to those who yearn for righteousness and justice (the message of deliverance climaxes in the final two verses). The wicked are those who "bring down the poor and needy" (v. 14) while the righteous "give generously" and "lend freely" (v. 21, 26) . Together with Isaiah 61 this Psalm is a seedbed for the Sermon on the Mount.

It should be clear by now that the Beatitudes are introducing us to the foundation principles of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' "good news of the Kingdom". God is going to deliver the poor and the oppressed. This deliverance will be complete in the Age to Come, but right now God is calling on people to live these Kingdom-dynamics by applying Jesus' teachings of justice, fairness, inclusion and generosity in their lives.

Quite "coincidentally" today's episode of Songs of Praise on ABC television was particularly relevant, so I add this as a footnote which gives an example of how this is lived out in community. This episode came from Manchester a decade after the IRA bombing. It included an interview with a property developer - Caleb Storkey, a graduate who stayed in the city and at 27 is now a successful businessman. Storkey told the story of how he asked himself "if Jesus was a property developer what would His business look like?" He decided to build his business on Christian ethical principles. His property business, Freedom Properties is booming.

...he only buys in run down areas where injections of cash will make a real difference; takes on tenants other landlords won't touch - like asylum seekers and people with addiction problems - and despite his company's success, he continues to pay himself a modest salary in line with an average teacher's earnings.

His business is fired by his Christian faith and built on the principles of justice, generosity and freedom from oppression.

It's a good question: if Jesus ran a business in your industry or profession, what would it look like?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (12) - The Beatitudes - 1

Matthew and Luke have different versions of the Beatitudes, and indeed of this whole Sermon. The simple explanation is that they are recording two different yet similar versions - Matthew's being a sermon 'on the mount' and Luke's being a sermon 'on the plain' given on another occasion. Some scholars dismiss this explanation as too simplistic, yet it fits neatly with the facts. William Barclay wrote that "there are good and compelling reasons for thinking that the Sermon on the Mount is far more than one sermon, that it is, in fact, a kind of epitome of all the sermons that Jesus ever preached" (The Gospel of Matthew, The Saint Andrew Press, 1975).

Barclay explains that the words translated "and he taught them saying" are in the aorist tense and would be better translated "this is what he used to teach them". In other words, He gave this sermon, or versions of it, on several occasions and Luke's Gospel includes this same teaching but spread through the Gospel and associated with different occasions.

It's interesting, for reasons we shall soon see, to compare Matthew and Luke's beatitudes.

Matthew 5:3-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:20-23

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.
For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

The first thing we might notice is that Matthew has "blessed are the poor in spirit" while Luke simply has "you who are poor now"; and Matthew has "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" while Luke has "you who hunger now". In other words, it seems that Luke was describing actual poverty and hunger, while Matthew has a kind of spiritual yearning for righteousness. Perhaps this is why Matthew's account is generally more popular - it's easier to address an abstract 'spiritual' problem than to deal with real poverty.

Jesus almost certainly spoke in Aramaic, and the Hebrew and Aramaic words for "poor" carry both meanings: actual poverty, as well as poor 'in spirit'*. We don't have to look far for the reason why. As Stassen and Gushee** put it: "In the Bible, the poor rely more on God. Just spend some time serving the poor in a homeless shelter and talk with people long enough to get to know them. The poor - as a whole - do have less pride that gets in the way and really do trust more in God. ... The poor are blessed not because their virtue is perfect, but because God especially does want to rescue the poor. God knows that people who have power often use that power to guard their own privileges and to seek more power. The poor get pushed aside and dominated."

People who are "poor in spirit" will be able to identify with the needs of those who are materially poor, and have compassion for them. Jesus announced through the Beatitudes, as He did with His quotation from Isaiah 61 in His first sermon, that God is bringing deliverance to the oppressed. That deliverance will ultimately come in the Age to Come, the consummation of the Kingdom of God, but through the grace-based deliverance at the heart of Jesus' ministry we see the inauguration of His kingdom.

As a community Jesus' followers participate in this deliverance by caring for the poor and oppressed.

* See for example Brown Driver and Briggs Lexicon which gives the following meanings of the Hebrew word: poor, oppressed by the rich and powerful, powerless, needy, humble, lowly, pious.

** Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, Intervarsity Press, 2003, p. 38

Monday, November 20, 2006

Characteristics of Christian Leaders (8)

It's nearly a year since I last wrote something under this thread, but in response to some recent events and questions from readers I'm picking up the theme again.

I am convinced that Jesus did not come to build a ‘church’ (as in an institution or organisation), as I've probably made clear in my posts under other threads - He came to establish a community He called ‘the Kingdom of God’. Institutionalised churches generally aren’t communities, and nor are rule-keeping, legalistic, dogmatic denominations (unless we use ‘community’ very loosely in its broadest sense).

The King James Version of the Bible was intentionally mis-translated on King James’s instructions to ensure that the ‘authority’ of the Bishops - and more importantly from his perspective, the King – was maintained. So we have ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons’ instead of ‘leaders’ and ‘servants’, and we have verses which instruct Christians to "obey them who have the rule over you". A lot of Christadelphian ‘rulers’ have latched on to King James’s self-serving distortion of the Bible to serve their own interests, and so we have the mess that we see in Christadelphia today.

Hebrews 13:17 is one of the passages often quoted to enforce submission to the decisions of Arranging (or Managing) Brethren (and sometimes even committees such as the Bible Missions!). "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."

We should first look at verse 7 which says “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation”.

There are a couple of things we should note about verse 7:

(a) It is in the past tense but has been translated to read as though it were in the present tense.

(b) The word over (“rule over you”) in this verse has no corresponding word in the Greek and was added by the translators (humon means “of you” not “over you”).

(c) The phrase, "them which have the rule over" is a paraphrase of one Greek word - hegeomai - a verb - meaning to lead, to go before as a guide. In a Christian context hegeomai is descriptive of the act of guiding, going on ahead, leading the way as an example, not sitting as overlords.

(d) It is referring to those who have died in the faith, not to living individuals presiding over the body of Christ.

Hebrews 11-12 is filled with accounts of those who have gone before us as examples of those who have walked by faith. The reader is exhorted to remember such, to reflect on their faith, calling to memory "the end of their conversation" (or "the outcome of their way of life" NIV). These were some of the exemplary guides, the hegeomai that were to be remembered. So Heb 13:7 is saying “remember those who have gone before and follow in their footsteps”. The NIV has “remember your leaders ...” and “leaders” in this context means those who “led” the way.

The KJV translators also changed the intent of verse 17 to suit the King. The Greek word, peitho that was translated obey appears only 55 times in the New Testament. It is only translated obey seven times. The word peitho is in the passive voice and simply means be persuaded, as the following lexicons demonstrate.
"Peitho: To persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe. To make friends of, to win one's favour, gain one's good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one. To tranquillise. To persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something. Be persuaded. To be persuaded, to suffer one's self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing. To believe." (Thayer and Smith’s Greek Lexicon)

"peitho, to persuade, to win over, in the Passive and Middle voices, to be persuaded, to listen to.... (Acts 5:40, Passive Voice, "they agreed"); The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion." (W. E. Vine Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)

Acts18:4 is a good example of how this word is used in the NT: “And he (Paul) reasoned (dialegomai…'To think different things with one's self, mingle thought with thought. To ponder, revolve in mind. To converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss'. Thayer and Smith's Greek Lexicon) …in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded (pietho) the Jews and the Greeks." Here Paul is reasoning with Jews and Greeks in the synagogue. He did not command them to obey him. Rather, he persuaded them.

In this verse pietho means “listen to the reasoning of your leaders” or “be persuaded by your leaders”, but not “obey them”.

The Greek word that was translated submit in verse 17 is hupeiko. It occurs only here in the NT and means yield. Hupeiko in no way infers any kind of outward force being placed on the person yielding. It is a voluntary act. In the body of Christ you cannot demand that someone “submit” to your authority. If you do, it proves that you really do not have authority. He is not fit to lead who is not capable of guiding.

The Message translates this “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.” This conveys the sense of deferring to the wise counsel of wise leaders more accurately than the authoritarian language of the KJV.

Verse 7 is a call to remember those who led the way (e.g the faithful in ch 11), and verse 17 follows the theme with advice to follow the counsel and example of the present generation of leaders.

Authoritarian leaders cannot be trusted. It seems to me that these two things are related: a bullying, authoritarianism which attempts to control other people, and immorality. We often see these go hand in hand. Alarm bells should always ring when we see authoritarianism in the Body of Christ. Behind it there will always be abuse of some kind.