Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gen 1-2 for Jan 1

Of special interest, from Genesis 2:23-24, is the reason for a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife. In the man's own words, "she [lit., this one] was taken out of man...." So it is restorative from the prior event, that while she, "this one," the woman, was taken out of the man's flesh, a man will cleave to his wife to be united with her as one flesh: "therefore they [together] shall become one flesh." Ishah, the word for "Woman," is also, by the pun, "taken out," that is, derived from, Ish. The cleaving complements the original taking out.

Another special item of interest is the "givenness" of the woman. God brought her to the man. God was not parsimonious! He had placed man in the Garden of Eden as well. Prior to God bringing the woman to the man, the "search" that had been going on prior, in 2:20, is the way the narrative highlights the uniqueness of the woman compared all else to be a help corresponding to him. That highlights the language pun of above, that just as Ishah corresponds to Ish, the woman corresponds to the man. Whatever benefit the cattle and beasts of the field are, they are specifically not a help corresponding to the man.

In the "implied contrasts" department, without going overboard, it's also interesting to see that God makes "a" helper suitable for (corresponding to) the man in 2:18. God makes her. God makes one of her. God "brought her to the man" (2:22).

There is a second implied reinforcement of the significance of the relationship: The man is one man. God makes one helper for him. This is continued in the "one of his ribs" phrase in 2:21, and the "one flesh" phrase in 2:24. One for one is a correspondence made by God, logically (at least) prior to the provision of society, friends, relatives, etc.

God bringing the woman to the man strikes us hopefully with a smile: God had brought the animals to the man prior to that! And here, ostensibly not knowing it happened (he was asleep for the process, 2:21, a "deep sleep"!), the man, who had been brought the animals before to name them, sees God bringing the woman to him. Are we to think, as God did with the animals (2:19), that God was bringing the woman to the man "to see what he would call" her? Indeed, that! But more than that! There's some humor there. God had something better in mind than seeing what her name would be.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jm 1:1-18

1:3. What could be more boring than to be reminded simply that bad times and good times both come, and we should take the bad times with the good? But that's not what this text says.

It might be helpful to try and think outside the box about what James 1 is saying, and, once again, not reading what we think it's saying into it.

Because it might be the opposite. Wins and losses for example. "My team" won a big game yesterday. Lots of high fives on the sideline. That is, on one sideline. But the text doesn't say, in this case, consider it all joy, my brethren, when you win your various trials, but when you encounter them (1:2). High fives at the beginning of hard times. What? Not only that, but high fives particularly at the encountering of hard times -- particularly at encountering various trials of them.

The exhortation is like the depiction of the sun in Ps 19. Fewer things are more exuberant than "a bridegroom coming out of his chamber," which the Psalmist says the sun acts as if it does, and then? "It rejoices as a strong man to run his course" (Ps 19:5).

Somebody might say, well, that's the sun, and sunrise is inevitable, just as the run is. Really? Is either inevitable? If you know your science, you also know that science is based on the assumption of uniformity, not the guarantee of uniformity. Also, ask a runner, or a strong man! Or, this life! Is it a guarantee, that the course will be completed? Of course not. But the strong man rejoices to run, and our text says to consider it all joy at the beginning. Who can stomach that kind of advice!

One thing might help: the text doesn't say that winning the trial produces endurance, but the trial itself produces endurance. I once told a friend I'd like to go sometime into a discussion of the place of loss in the Christian life, and maybe the day after so many teams lost big games, I could start. Here is the start: Being in the game produced, and produces, endurance.

What if "it stunk" that you went through that, and that you're sick to your stomach and wanna go off and die, because of something that happened to you, something really bad? What if you failed at it, failed the test? Am I supposed to be happy that I failed the test? Certainly not!

Here is where there's another surprise in our text. What is the test, a test of? Somebody might anticipate that if I'm going to say "faith" I should go jump in the lake, because religious people should get over having to make everything into a religious act, and that the vast majority of doable things in this world have nothing to do with whether or not somebody has faith, of any kind. The vast majority of doable things would end up in failure if people trying to get something done were constantly checking for religious aspects of what they're doing. Of course.

But faith is not stuck with religion, religious activity, religious knowledge, religious feelings, etc. There's faith in getting out of bed! And there's no guarantee from God or anyone that you'll be able to do so tomorrow. Raising your arm to your face, if your arm works, still requires faith, and there's no guarantee of that either.

But why are various trials a test of faith? Ask somebody in a relationship. Have you ever had a relationship where you "have to" trust their judgment? I personally hate it. Inside of you is something that would rather die than not trust their judgment, you regard it so highly. Then, it seems like, by trusting their judgment, you will die, or have. So how are trials a test of faith?

I picture somebody again telling me to jump in the lake, because if I'm about to say that my sorry circumstances are put there by God, then I'm one sick individual.

Of course, not all circumstances are directly put there by God, as the text points out in one example (1:13). But we're not investigating the tornado, we're in the tornado. In the tornado, whatever your tornado handling skills are, may they increase! Even to strap yourself better in your seat, however. There's some faith there.

So to round out the idea, in relationships, trusting somebody's judgment is very hard. We may not succeed. In our trials in general, faith in God is very hard and it gets tested.

The last objection I'd like to deal with probably also occurs to you, if you're of a particular frame of mind. Why not just deal with hard times as they come, instead of this high five stuff, and thinking of trusting the judgment of others, even God? Partially, I of course agree with it, in saying above, that we have to concentrate on the particulars, not God and Bible verses (unless those are the particulars!).

My answer to that is, have you ever been told, "just deal with it?" It's an answer that usually comes from somebody to us, who has (temporarily, hopefully) forgot that they're in the tornado too, and the two of you might be of some help to one another. Maybe.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Heb 13

13:2. "Let love of the brethren continue." There are days when I plead for this for my own sake, to continue. 1 Cor 12 has that great section giving advice to two groups: to the first, it says (12:21), "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you.'" To the second, Paul says "if the foot should say, 'because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body." (12:14). It is especially sad when they -- er, we -- er, I -- mess up.

The passages that are listed to go together in the reading (Ez 33-34, Heb 13, Ps 115, Pr 27:21-22) all are pretty big in importance.

Ez 34 contains one of the great themes of the Bible -- man (people) messing up, so God taking it on Himself, encouraging us to plan on Him getting us going again, by doing it Himself. In Hebrews I mentioned only one small thing that's hitting me. Who can forget the rest of the chapter? It is this chapter that makes people think "Sure sounds like Paul to me."

The Psalm (115) has that great contrast between do-nothing idols (115:4ff) and God, the Doer (115:3).

Even the Proverbs! One of them makes me remember not to test people too much, and another, not to be a fool, but to accept correcting comments from people.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Heb 12: 14ff.

12:14. About this passage, there has been a divergence of opinion, just like about every passage.

And just as with other interpretations of texts (or lyrics, or literature, or poetry), sometimes a text catches us, and sometimes we attempt to catch a text and employ it for ourselves. It's fun, especially when "it really fits" some idea we're mulling over.

The divergence of opinion about Hebrews 12:14-29 often comes out when a presupposition, what we want the text to apply to, trumps what the text actually says, making us read the text in precisely the way we want it to apply for us. At the very least, we should be aware that's what we're doing, ourselves, by choice. And in literature and in pop culture, maybe lives don't depend on what we say, maybe they do. But at least most of the time they don't.

In the case of the Bible, with all the trust being put into it, it's a huge weapon in the arsenal of its interpreters. Some people look at it no more than as that, like the power of the phrase "Wizard of Oz, who lives in the Emerald City" in the story.

In the Bible's case, the claim is greater. It claims to be a huge weapon. In this case, take 12:14 as an example. How a person handles among those who care about it is important. One needs to do things do hold one's aim steady.

So, when we read, "Pursue ... the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord," what is an example of missing the mark?

How about a couple examples! 1. To read it as "Without pursuing sanctification, no one will see the Lord" -- that's not what it says!

2. To read it as "pursue ... the sanctification without which you will not see the Lord" is also missing the mark!

In this case, we have not only missed the mark, but tried to use a banana as a gun. This tries to make something a gun which is supposed to be food!

Christ is already, our sanctification (1 Cor 1:30). It's not that we are without Him. The food is there!

On to the pursuit!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heb 12

12:11. Somewhere along the line you've had similar experiences to apply to what we've been reading in Hebrews. Let me tell you a couple of mine.

Who hasn't, in a math class, trying to read a chapter of a math book, wanted to skip to the problems?

Second, when I was learning repelling, there was a learning session back in camp, and a learning session on the site, before we attempted to each try it. In the learning sessions, it all seemed so theoretical, and everybody (maybe) was having a hard time concentrating. We wanted to get into the practical stuff.

Same with Hebrews here. There has been all kinds of theoretical stuff about comparing ceremonies with Jesus, and this and that line of priests and what had to be repeated and what didn't. All kinds of stuff hard to concentrate on when you want to just get to the practical part, what I'm supposed to do.

In my repelling experience, so I got up there on the mountain, waited for them to stop talking, took it all in, belay on, on belay, and all that -- and promptly landed on my rear, the very thing they just finished guaranteeing would NOT happen if we followed what they said.

But Hebrews is gonna do the same thing to people who "skip" to the practical part, as they do sometimes in Romans, to get to the "good stuff," what we get to be doing.

However, Hebrews has another trick up its sleeve besides the technique of Romans, to do the training first. (Paul, in Romans, finishes the (more) theoretical part, and then commences in 12:1 with "Therefore...".)

Sneaky Hebrews starts weaving the practical stuff in slowly, a little at a time. And then, he refers back to the theoretical stuff right in the middle of the practical stuff.

In 12:3 he sneaks in a veiled reference to EVERYTHING he's said so far, in the two little words "consider Him."

The writer's whole practical concern is for his readers that they won't "grow weary and lose heart." Instead of barking "STOP IT" he writes chapters and chapters of foundational stuff, points out some pitfalls, gives them the foundation, and starts talking more and more practically about faith in chapter 11. So we're comfortably settled in to get our work done -- and he sneaks in his theory again in 12:3! "Consider Him!"

He sticks you with the summary of his theory right there in the practical part, where you weren't expecting it.

Might work.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ps 111

111:10. There's a difference between a "grunt," which is a not-so-great name for a worker at the bottom of the chain somewhere, doing "grunt work," and the highly trained specialist doing the work only a few can. Thinking about this Psalm is a chance to take a breather and use it to talk about that kind of thing.

Number one, it's "only" a Psalm: but the Psalms do the grunt work for most people who read the Bible, the grunt work of showing just how people express their own garden variety feelings -- fears, hopes, etc., to God.

The first thing to notice is that this Psalm is part of the Bible (and the One Year Bible schedule we're following in the blog) too, part of the older part of the Bible, before all the controversies of Christian doctrine within and outside of Protestantism even existed. Therefore, guess what -- work can get done that's not specialist work, that doesn't have anything to do with this New Testament verse and what it means, versus what somebody else reading it thinks it means, which is exhausting, however necessary. If the New Testament is like livin' in New York, a Psalm like this reminds you of a national park out west.

"splendor and majesty is His work" (111:3). That sure does sound like a national park out west, or somewhere.

"He has made His wonders a memorial" (111:4). None of this dwelling on the fact that the stars don't care that you exist. The makers of the memorial, not the memorial itself, are the ones who want something remembered. If the stars are actually a creation, then there are possibilities that a creator cares you exist enough to notice some memorials. It depends on how good -- in both senses -- the possible creator is. And how good the memorials are. In nature, there are some very memorable parts.

So Psalm 111 comes from a time in which there was no New Testament, very few if any copies of sacred writings which hardly anybody knew about. What is around for this writer to talk about? Well, this writer is one who writes that there's a compassionate God who makes a covenant that He will remember forever. As we get older, the claim to remember for things for a long time seems impressive. To remember something forever -- that's a pretty staggering claim.

Especially if it includes some kind of gifting for me. That seems to have inspired the writer to start writing, back there in verse 1. We can be somewhat self-centered, wanting to write things down, but not actually getting it done, until it maybe includes us somehow ...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heb 11

11:1-4. If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, then what does verse 4 mean? There are some possibilities to sort out.

By faith, the men of old obtained a testimony, verse 2. Abel is the first "men of old" example. Faith ... and the testimony they obtained. Two things. Let's look at the Abel example of these two things, plus whatever else it says.

Abel's sacrifice was offered to God by faith. Abel's sacrifice was something through which Abel obtained a testimony. That's three things: the testimony, the sacrifice, and the faith. What kind of testimony? That he was righteous. Who testified? God. What did God testify about? Abel's gifts ... and what did the testimony say? that Abel was righteous.

Abel obtained that testimony: that is, he was not only the beneficiary of it, but got the benefit of it.

Abel offered his sacrifice, his gifts, by faith. Adding the point of verse 2, although it was through the sacrifice that Abel obtained a testimony from God that he was righteous, he offered his sacrifice by faith.

Since this sentence directly compares one sacrifice to another, and calls one better than the other, we have warrant to do so ourselves, and follow along with why one sacrifice was better. Also, Genesis 4 itself makes a comparison. Why was Abel's sacrifice better than Cain's?

It is faith (the assurance of things hoped for ...) -- by that, that Abel offers a better sacrifice, and that leads to the rest. Therefore faith stands at the head of the whole sequence in time. Faith leads to Abel offering a sacrifice; that leads to God testifying about that; that leads to the testimony that Abel is righteous; that leads to Abel obtaining that testimony from God.

That's the time sequence. The logical sequence, "because," is the reverse. Abel obtains the testimony that he is righteous, because he obtains it from God, because God testifies about his gifts, because Abel's gifts were a better sacrifice, because Abel offered them by faith, because he offered them by the assurance of things hoped for / the evidence of things unseen.

So the whole thing begins with Abel's faith. That's why it's in this position. Faith is how Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain.

It's a microcosm of how the work of a single day -- two very different people, although brothers, putting something supposedly together for God -- look so similar on the outside ... and one is a better sacrifice than the other, and brings back something to the giver, and why.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heb 10

10:26. BAGD says that "no sacrifice for sins remains" equals "no sacrifice for sins can be made" -- this accords well with the same use of the word, same TVM, "remains," there in Heb 4:6, where a future is being discussed. If we sin willfully as Christians, there is no sacrifice for sins that can be made in the future. There are no more sacrifices for sin coming down the pipe; cf. 9:28.

Thinking about Ps 95 in Hebrews 4, and seeing the phrase "since it remains for some to enter it" there in verse 6, the idea there is that Hebrews is explaining what 95:7-11 is talking about concerning God's rest.

Back in Heb 3:19, the exodus generation failing to enter Canaan is explained. Then Hebrews explains further about the rest from the fact that 95:7 addresses the readers of that psalm, long after Joshua (4:8), calling that time a "today." David "fixes a certain day, 'Today (4:7)'," the time of David's hearers. Hebrews explains that if Joshua had given them rest, David would not have spoken like that. The very fact that David addresses his hearers with a "today" makes the promise of rest apply to David's hearers, and by extension to the present hearers (4:3,9-11).

Hebrews then states that this "Sabbath rest" still remains "for the people of God." (4:9). Here is again the use of "remains" to refer to some future event in the plan of God. In 10:26 there is no sacrifice for sin that remains as a future event in the plan of God. It is not that sacrifices for sin that have already come about -- in particular, Christ's final sacrifice -- will be undone for certain people -- that would be an unfortunate ad hoc, an idea shoe-horned into the verse -- but that what he has been saying all along is continuing to be important for the readers -- the sacrifice for sin is Christ, since, among all the other reasons for Christ's excellence, also this reason exists too, that no sacrifice for sin remains to come in the future.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Heb 9

9:28. This chapter emphasizes the importance of the blood of Christ, Christ's "sacrifice of Himself" (9:26), and its finality. To post about it is a privelege far beyond what I deserve to do. I ask that if you're reading this, perhaps rather than doing that, to re-read this chapter, Hebrews 9. Thank you God for this explanation of the greatness of Christ's sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ez 18

18:32. It's interesting that "the house of Israel" (18:29) complains about something in the teaching of this chapter (18:25), in particular, the case of the righteous man who "turns away from his righteousness" (18:24), who, God says through Ezekiel, "will die." Why so? is one question, and how so, another, and for what, a third.

Why so, for the sins committed by turning away from it. Plus one, including one, in particular one, that stems from turning away from righteousness: "treachery" (18:24).

Perhaps the house of Israel imagines two piles, two sets, one of their righteous deeds, and another, of sins committed, and says that God's way is not right because the first pile is ignored ("will not be remembered," 24) when the righteous man "turns away from his righteousness." Perhaps they think it should be balanced somehow, the sets weighed comparatively. Ha! Not so. Not only are they not summable together like an accountant's credits and debits, but it is treachery to sin.

The treachery is to turn from the good. The relationship between righteousness and life is generative: when there is righteousness, it is not alone, having no effect. It brings life. Therefore to turn from righteousness is also to turn from the life which it brings. That's treachery. That's unplugging from a "live" source, unplugging the life support, turning away from life as well as from righteousness. Sin doesn't subtract from righteousness, it ruins it.

If that is true, that we cannot mix sin and righteousness like a sum of positive and negative numbers, then that answers the complaint. How so, then, is it true that the soul who sins dies? The soul who sins dies in the same way that the soul who turns from all his sins lives. The relationship between righteousness and life is generative. Life ensues from that. There is only one thing that righteousness brings, whenever it occurs: life! whatever point it occurs notwithstanding.

Again the complaint (18:29), this time perhaps about this side of the coin. Isn't it unfair that a person's transgressions in this case "will not be remembered" (18:22)? Again, the desire for a totaling might be behind the house of Israel's complaint. In this case, what is complained against is how turning from wickedness saves the life. They wanted to count the wickedness against the turning from wickedness, as if wickedness could veto the life.

We don't get to keep our former righteousness to balance to current sins. We aren't forced to keep our former sins as if they veto today's righteousness and life. That's quite an invitation, especially in light of such complaining.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ez 16

16:44ff. It's interesting that the RSV/ESV/NIV start a new paragraph at 16:59, not 16:60, and not just for pedantic reasons. God's dealings with the nation in this chapter are famous for their uniqueness and difficulty of categorization: what "everlasting" covenant, again, is coming (16:60)? For what reason(s)? How, again, will the nation fare under it (61-63)? What is this relationship between being confounded and the expressly stated act of God, "when I [!] atone for you for all that you have done" (ESV), or "when I forgive you [!] all that you have done" (RSV), (16:63)? This is very characteristic of Ezekiel, but very difficult to spot in other parts of the whole Bible: usually, complete forgiveness is not followed by the result that they never open their mouths again because of their shame, as it is in Ezekiel 16:63.

This combination is not just a chance result of a translation of a phrase or two. The whole idea of a restoration by God, combined with putting others in the relative right because of the comparatively greater record of wickedness of the people being restored, boggles the mind. How is it that the nation of Judah, as the nation being addressed by Ezekiel, as a group which God Himself pointedly is restoring Himself (16:53), has two sisters, corrupt, but less corrupt than she has been (16:46-47) as co-objects of restoration along with itself (16:53)? That in fact consoles these "sisters"! The nation must take these two in (16:61), so that it will remember, and be ashamed, and never open its mouth anymore! Is this like any description of a future new covenant you have ever heard of elsewhere?

This description of a covenant being made by God is similar to a section in chapter 36, which many Christians like to cherry-pick for 36:25-27, but should know better. You can't stop at 36:27, you have to go on to 36:28ff -- which breaks the spell, and Christians must see that vv. 25-27 are not for them to cherry-pick. In 36:31 there is that same restoration combined with remembrance and self-loathing we notice in this chapter, chapter 16. Let's not forget to whom both these chapters are addressed (36:32; 16:2), and regardless of the timing of these restorations and who Jerusalem and her sisters "are," let's all marvel at the common stated outcome of these chapters (16:62; 36:38): they will "know that I am the LORD."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Heb 7

7:25. We know that the writer is arguing for the greatness of this "change in the priesthood" (7:12). Heb 7:18-19 talks about the changeover between "the former commandment" and "the better hope."

"He continues forever ... consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost" (7:24). And this was not true of the former system. Its priests died.

What are the implications of Christ living forever? Less for us, if it is our death that ends all our relationships and our existence. However, this is not the perspective here: Christ's ability to save to the uttermost, because He continues forever, is stated. If someone says "that just means to the uttermost of our lives," what is that? Is that a time reference, or not?

Assume first of all that it's not a time reference. To save to the uttermost would then possibly mean "in every type of circumstance throughout life, until death." That implies, by restricting its domain of discourse in such a way, that Christ can rescue us from everything -- until we die.

How is that "a better hope" than the human being has who is unhelped by Christ the Priest? Isn't everyone, including every unbeliever, saved from dying until he or she dies? That is kind of a tautology.

If that were all there was to it, then the reason the writer gives for why Christ is able to "save to the uttermost" doesn't make much sense. It's two reasons: 1) He always lives; 2) He always lives to make intercession for "those who draw near to God through him." That's a time reference.

The geneology-based priests of Aaron, as long as they lived, made intercession for those who lived during their lifetimes. Therefore under the Old Covenant there was always a priest available to intercede. But there wasn't the same priest over all time. Christ continues forever.

Remember one of the things that the writer claims Christ has accomplished: having tasted death, to destroy the one who has the power of death, 2:14, delivering those "in subject to lifelong slavery" through "fear of death." (2:14).

There are those, soldiers and warriors for example, who are trained to not fear death. Countless stories of their courage show that they in fact do not fear death. This is slightly (!) different than the description of Christ in 2:14. There, it is a deliverance of those who, whether they fear death or not, were subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of it. Unfortunately, banishing the fear of it once, doesn't mean it's automatically and forever gone.

Soldiers sometimes call the necessity of re-training a "re-qual." The skills, both mental and physical, are subject to the "re-qual," the re-qualifying tests and training. In the same way, the Old Covenant needed to repeat things "daily" (7:27). The writer constantly brings out the necessity under the Old Covenant do things repeatedly, yet it never made anything perfect. But Christ "has been made perfect forever." No re-qual applies to Christ's work -- and he remains alive to intercede for us.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Heb 6

6:20. Calvin makes a good point at the beginning of his comment on the chapter, in saying "they then act most unreasonably who remain in the first elements, for they propose to themselves no end, as though a builder spent all his labor on the foundation, and neglected to build up the house."

How many of us by illustration have books that we've started, should have finished, but didn't or haven't until now? Books. Tasks. Careers. Family matters. It also applies in matters of salvation -- not its foundation, but going forward from the foundation.

Here is even a place in which the common practice of younger Christians is appropriate in mocking those "who remain in the first elements." Didn't the Lord also explicitly mention the mockery of those not finishing their tower, in Lk 14:29-30? How appropriate this is, in view of the letter to the Hebrews' purpose, for exhorting the hearers to not go back to "first principles," in particular, the Old Covenant. Calvin says "the foundation is laid for the sake of what is built on it."

We can develop an understanding of the place of 6:4ff. in this context as well. The author's concern is to "go on to maturity." (6:1). "And this we will do if God permits." (6:3). Then, as a final codacil to this task, (not as the main doctrine of salvation, as some would have it), before he starts with the things pertaining to going on to maturity, the writer of Hebrews brings up a strategy that doesn't work. Why? Perhaps there is yet another reason he hasn't explained why some want to go back to the foundations he mentions in 6:1. There may be a well-meaning attempt to re-gather those who have fallen away, by starting at the beginning again with them. The author does a very short recap of why this fails.

In short, if someone is "crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm...," (6:6), they are not going to be helped by the "foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God," lesson one, again. They have gotten to farther in the book and harmed themselves by rejecting not only the book, but their own later experience. They need not chapter one, water, but their weeds to be burned.

A well-meaning attempt (by going back to what all agreed upon before, and starting over with the Old Covenant beginnings), in order to regather those who are exposing Christ to open shame, the writer says is impossible. So he goes on. So consider that another reason to move on to maturity -- even for the sake of the possible deserters -- going back to first principles doesn't help.

What does the writer of Hebrews says helps! Surprise, the "unchangeable character of God's purpose." (6:17) This is good to remember in all cases: "the soul," here (not "some souls," as in a "you're soul is out, mine's in..." -- the writer is not separating wheat from tares here!), "the soul," as such, has something to hold onto, not just itself or the Old Covenant temporariness. And as we know, if the anchor of the soul were only a weight inside of us, whether we're far away, or close, we would really sink. But it's outside us.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ez 9

9:9. This is a paradigm verse for handling some of the current popular atheisms in the culture. Before we dismiss the idea as unfair, to criticize someone's atheism as borne along by sin, let's look at the passage.

We all are aware, or can easily become aware, of how insurgencies and counter-measures proceed and escalate: one act is said to be justified as a response to some other recent act, and it seems like so long ago that it originally started, that it is impossible to assign blame to a beginning.

That's the kind of "explanation" offered here for the actions of the house of Israel and Judah. First point: the Lord did this and that in the past. Second point: the Lord doesn't see what we're doing anymore.

This is not the only form of atheism, but this form of it, where its assertions are both an excuse ("the Lord does not see") and an attempt to explain the cause ("the Lord has forsaken the land") -- are not self-consistent! If the Lord has forsaken the land, it is because He saw what they were doing! Indeed, that's one of the points of Ezekiel in today's One Year Bible chapters. Ezekiel is NOT pointing out what they are doing TO God, God is pointing it all out TO Ezekiel!

C.S. Lewis describes a state in his atheistic days when he was both asserting that God did not exist, simultaneously with being angry for God not existing. This, we notice, is the Ez 9:9 thing too.

9:4 says what people in the meantime can do about it. Groaning gets noticed, by God at least. People wonder what good groaning can do, but sighing and groaning (9:4) is an honest response to it, far more honest than some other forms of response, such as, as perpetrators try and do sometimes, making empty promises, or making excuses.

And so the etiology of a kind of atheism is showing here, we back in the day, about 590 B.C. The doing of destructive stuff, coupled with saying that God has left the building, coupled with saying God doesn't see it. Those kinds of patterns have been around while.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Heb 4

4:10. Sometimes the newer translations help solve an exegetical concern -- sometimes not. In this verse, with all the substitutution (RSV/ESV/NIV) of proper noun or capitalized pronoun compared to the older (AV/RV/ASV) translations, I think we might have gone retrograde. The question is if 4:10 is a sabbath rest, or just another word for heaven.

"It all starts" with a common ad hoc, the presupposition that everything about what happens to people "must be" about their going to heaven or hell, and laying that down onto Old Testament stories. For example, it is pure presupposition -- and incorrect -- to think that whoever did not enter the promised land with Joshua due to disobedience was also going to be going to hell! That is incorrect (as well as ad hoc), since of course Moses himself did not enter due to disobedience. It's a good idea to read this chapter remembering that Moses did not enter the promised land, due to disobedience.

Although 4:3 is very clear that we who have believed enter ("do enter," AV/RV/ASV) that rest, the rest hearkens back to 3:18 and 19, where the OT people are spoken of, by God Himself, that they would not enter His rest, in the Psalm. Again, this warning should not be taken to be about heaven and hell, due to the counter example of Moses, if for no other reason.

There is a rest that the OT generation in the wilderness did not enter, but others do, and others might not. Heb 4 elaborates on it.

From 4:1-3 we know that the promise of entering his [God's] rest still stands, and that "we who have believed" enter that rest. Since the readers are not of the time of Joshua, we are not talking about entering the land with Joshua here! And we might be about to think of it as being heaven, until the writer brings up something very extraneous to that thought: "although his [God's] works were finished from the foundation of the world." at the end of verse 3. The prospect comes in that we are talking about the rest that God rested when he finished his work of creation.

The rest that the wilderness generation did not enter was not just Canaan, but the rest of "another day" (4:8). Just as the wilderness generation did not enter Canaan because of disobedience, God appoints another rest, speaks of it as different than that of Joshua's conquests (4:8), and speaks of it as remaining yet, for the people of God.

Now verse 10. Without the capitalization, you might just see that it is the rest of having finished your own course of what God has wanted for you to do, the set of works that God has put aside for you! 4:10 (RV) says "For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his." Notice the lack of capitalization, and the resultant parallelism. If you've entered your rest, you've rested from your own works, just as God rested from His own. That is what we should be diligent to enter: to finish the course of the good works that God has called us to do.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heb 3

3:6-7,14-15. One problem the author was addressing is the constancy not only of the current hearers of his letter, but of all of what he calls God's "house" (3:6). God's house is composed of those with a unique confidence (10:19) and a unique boast of their hope (3:6). Consider that this confidence and this boast of their hope may be part of what the writer calls "our confession" (3:1). Jesus is the apostle and the single high priest of this confession (3:1). This is a contrast to the previous system, with different priests and their limitations (10:11).

One interpretive issue throughout Hebrews is the nature this letter, which the writer calls "my word of exhortation" in Heb 13:22. Exhortation tries to get us to go on in some way. The interpretive issue can often be looked at whether the exhortation comes solely by warnings, or also by pointing out what is solidly the case. More on that in a moment.

This "house" includes the writer and his "holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling," (3:1 ESV), and is being built by God (3:4), whereas Moses was (but) a servant in the house (3:5), to testify about things talked about later (3:5; 9:11). This kind of language is definitely of the "what is solidly the case" variety.

The author's perspective looks back to the "day of testing in the wilderness" (3:8). (By the way, this "day of testing" was of man testing God, not God testing man -- keep this in mind in the understanding of what the author is using for an illustration!) In those times, God was angry with all (3:16) of that generation "who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness" (3:17), who "heard and yet rebelled (3:16)." Yet now, "as long as it is called 'today,'" -- there's the time marker -- the writer addresses all who read him, since then as now is a time that is still called "today": exhort one another every day. Without doing that, there may be similar hardening of his hearers (3:13), and "an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God" (3:12) may appear in any of them, as what led to God's anger for forty years.

Whether by warnings, or by pointing out solid things that are the case, the author is going to go on to give something to combat that possibility, so that they will exhort or encourage one another today. Let's see what the argument to support that is. That's why 3:14 starts with "for," which colloquially we could translate "because -- ... " or "since -- ...." Now for some detailed observations about 3:14.

What is the "original confidence" (3:14, ESV) that if we hold, "we have come to share in Christ" (ESV 2007)? Peering into the Greek, we not only see that the 2007 version of the ESV was right to go back to the perfect tense, "we have come to share" (lit., " we have become sharers"), but that "firm" doesn't have the right case-ending in the Greek, to refer to ourselves. (It would have had to be "-ous", but it's "-an": "bebaian.") Not firm people, but -- either -- a firm "original confidence," or a holding of it firmly.

Something else jumps out from the Greek. "the end" -- what does the ending of that word say about it, in Greek?! It's plural!

There are two possibilities about "the ends" It can refer to things at the end, or the ones at the end, i.e., people. In the first case, it is part of the idiom "from beginning to end," which they say in Greek by saying "from beginning to the ends," then "to the ends" refers how long the "original confidence" lasts. It is the "our confidence," the source of our confidence referred to by metonymy, that lasts that long, just as it refers to it by metonymy in 10:35. It does not refer to how long the "holding" lasts, because of its placement in the sentence. If the author is using that idiom, "from beginning to end" as we say in English, the idiom is stuck in between the article and the noun it modifies, which is the way to do it in Greek, but only very awkwardly in English.... "if the beginning-to-end confidence, we hold firmly." By sticking it at the end in English, because we have no place else to put it, we lose where the Greek may have stuck it, in order to modify "confidence." By putting it at the end, instead of between "the" and "confidence," we mistakenly think that "to the end" refers to how long we have to hold it. We lose confidence in "the confidence" because we are thinking the writer tells us we have to hold it to the end. But luckily, if the author is using the "beginning to end" idiom for "to the end," he is definitely referring to the confidence, not to the holding of it supposedly to the end. A relief.

The second possibility is really hard to say in English, no wonder it's not attempted in that language! Telous is plural, accusative, masculine or neuter: only one referent fits that adjective: ourselves! ... "WE HAVE COME TO BE sharers in Christ, if we hold "firmly" (or, "our firm") beginning confidence, until we as the ones at the end hold it." Telous! We, the ones at the end.

Let's step away one moment from the sentence and look at its place in the structure of the argument. This will help us see its place: it is given as a reason to exhort one another so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Remember how he started this section, how he addressed his hearers: shares of a heavenly calling. That should help us decide if he is motivating us here by warnings of a non-future or by referring to a solid future.

In all cases, we are told "therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward" (10:35). Christ does not change, yet they were exhorted not to throw away their confidence by trying to place confidence in the old system. This old system was becoming obsolete and growing old and is ready to disappear (8:13).

Therefore we can see that before A.D. 70 the fact that Temple was still standing may, by its enacting of sacrifices, have posed a temptation to Christians. The Hebrews readers were Christians, who share in a heavenly calling, holy brethren with the writer, but tempted to rely on those sacrifices and that system rather than holding fast "our original confidence." "We who have believed enter that rest," as promised in the next chapter (4:3). However, let none of us have an evil, unbelieving heart, for reasons stated, leading to any one of us seeming to have failed to reach the his rest (4:1).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lam 1

1:18-21. I don't know enough literature to say this for certain, but what religious literature in the entire world is as ongoingly self-critical of its own adherents than the Old Testament? The New Testament has things like this too, in places like Mt 5-7 and Mt 23, but the large amount of such teaching is in the OT. In this tragic description in Lamentations, it's not the thing that Hitchens moans about, the ritualistic repetition of a public formula about being a miserable sinner. It's an assessment of oneself and one's culture in light of recent events. It's an attribution and vindication of God's activity at that point in time, right when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C.

This passage in Lamentations illustrates one of two ways to confess a failing or fault purely. Etymologically, "confess" means to agree/acknowledge that something is true. That should not be confused with promising to do better, especially with a promise to do better offered as payment for the damage of the fault. "I did, I was the one who did that. We did, we truly did that." NOT followed by "and we promise to we'll never do it again," or "we promise, promise, promise, vow, pledge, indemnify ourselves not to do it again, so let us be be restored." No.

I get a strange sensation when some people recite things like "I humbly confess" -- pat yourself on the back, why don't ya, while you're grovelling. (That's hard to do, even physically!) It makes the confession itself suspicious. "We humbly confess our pride ..." Huh? The self-congratulation in that makes the whole thing false!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Titus 3

3:4. The strange case of the missing philanthropist! Dunno what happened, but just as I thought there was a textual variant to explain the various readings of this verse ... ("certainly there must be something in my book on the various manuscripts..." no!), and then I thought there was a cultural axe being ground somewhere ... ("certainly God's love for MANKIND won't be thought to not be gender-neutral enough ..."), I was just as surprised to find that the Greek word in question was ... philanthropia, philanthropy! What happened to the Divine Philanthropist?!

And then, suspecting the worst, that there was some kind of systematic stubbornness laying down precepts like "in translating, thou shalt not deny any version of the eternal decree of election and reprobation by explicitly asserting a GENERALIZED love for MANKIND related to any saving activity of God," I noticed the same problem in the RSV as the ESV ... so THAT theory had to go out the window too!

In some cases, we'll just have to admit -- "the Greeks had a word for it." I hope Paul won't mind being called Greek, at least long enough for us to notice that here, in Titus 3:4, God displays philanthropia.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Titus 2

2:11-14. We don't and never naturally expect God's grace -- His favor -- to teach or discipline us to "deny ungodliness" -- after all, somebody's smile is gonna provoke a different reaction than their frown, right? But the text is right here saying that it does teach us that, and maybe we'll spell out something today to help us believe it.

One way to "escape" the text, to our own detriment, is by redefining things. In the First century, Paul tagged the Greek culture of the time as looking for wisdom (1 Cor 1:22), and sure enough, the Christian appeal was often couched as providing wisdom -- but got into trouble by trying to provide just more of the same Greek wisdom, instead of the wisdom of God (1:24).

Similarly, nowadays, our "escape" from the text plays to the current culture, to our own detriment and theirs. We tend to redefine things like "gospel" and "grace" into synonyms of power. Just as in the First century, ears perked up if you offered wisdom to the audience, today, ears perk up if you offer power to the audience.

And so, explanations blithely go about telling us that when Titus 2:11 talks about the grace of God instructing us, it's "really talking about" the grace of God empowering us. And we clap for that! Just like in the First century, and for hundreds of years afterward, we clapped when we were told that the grace of God produced wisdom in us. The Protestant Reformation was a strong reaction to the "in us" mentality, giving God back the right to act, to do things "on His own." The "sola's" became famous slogans for that.

And so the Reformation beat back hundreds of years of the redefining of grace solely as the empowerment of us, or of wisdom as solely what wisdom was in us. God's favor is big -- huge -- and is as high above what we have inside us as He is.

But I was going to say something about how God's grace teaches us. God's grace must first have the prequisite recovered by the Reformation -- that it's His, not a redefinition for something inside us. Let's be glad for that! If the only teacher we had to learn from to deny ourselves, was ourselves, we could very often find the teacher somewhat unmotivated.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pr 26

Pr 26:13-16. Today's One Year Bible proverb refuses to go away. The passage on October 9 (Pr 24:30-34) was almost my choice for that day. But here, there's humor (26:15), imaging (26:14), caricature (26:13), and a surprise conclusion (26:16). Plus, it could be me, not just you.... ;)

The point of v. 13 is obviously not foolhardiness: a lion in the road or streets must not kill us! But we read who says this: it is this sluggard, and this sluggard is not giving us a faithful news report. He's giving somebody an answer for not working! So we are invited to consider the answer. What kind of excuse is it?

Number one, it's exaggeration. Are there difficulties on the road? Sure. Are they lions? The sluggard "says" -- i.e., characteristically says -- they are. Assume the sluggard is taking a difficulty, and saying it's a life-threatening difficulty. Why is the sluggard doing that? In order to not work.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a life-threatening difficulty normally calls for something dramatic to be done. That's where the second part of the idea comes in. The difficulty is "in the road ... in the streets!" In other words, where we would normally go TO GET work done, is where the life-threatening danger is. The sluggard here is not asking to sleep all day, but to not go out! The very means of working is blocked, so "obviously" no work today.

The caricature is that the sluggard (characteristically) is someone who "says." What's absent is the action item. The sluggard actually never gets to the subject of taking action. Have you ever wondered if someone would ever bring themselves to act? Here, once the excuse is expressed, there is nothing after that. No plan about the lion. No plan about the streets. The pocket veto. Not even subsequent observations. Why? Maybe the next verse!

The better we know a door, the more unsurprised we are at its current location. It's never far from the location we saw it last time at. Depending on the door, about 180 degrees. Its hinges move the least. So, the sluggard is on his bed in one position, on his bed in another, but never very differently; all the positions are on his bed.

Later that day. Major progress. The sluggard is up: initiative has been taken! We're hoping that it will continue (although it is only as far as the food). Another image here (26:15). Was there initiative? Yes. Is it a good initiative? Sure. We might even be very proud of the initiative: we might call it energetic! To bury your hand into the dish is certainly a great start at the meal, and might even take a great initial thrust! But first of all, that doesn't do anything for the goal, which is to eat. To eat, the sluggard has to get it "back to his mouth," and that is the day's work. In the ESV it's done, but it's all that's done. Don't expect anything post-breakfast. Other translations hint that only one bite gets done, or even none.

Now (26:16), a very startling and shocking concomitant of the sluggard's behavior, that we would have never expected by observation alone: inside the sluggard's head! What in the world is there ... but an opinion of himself seven times greater than good sense would allow. All those problems behaviorally -- accompanied by a sorry high opinion of himself. The idea of "seven men who can answer sensibly" is standard hyperbole: In other words, way too much self-approval, seven times as much as if he wasn't a sluggard.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ps 95-96

95:1-2,6; 96:11-12. "Let us .... Let the heavens ... the sea ... the field." One of the hardest parts of doing anything is getting to do it with someone. Whoever is thrilled by anything knows that there's a point at which you're totally bonkers, because you have no clue, when you say "let us," whether you'll get any response on the other end. So it is with anything that depends on somebody's choice, not just your own.

So the Psalmist here resorts to this embarassing "let us" language, asking for others to go to God with him. He's stuck! He can't compel people to go unwillingly to God, or wouldn't even want to. Many of the best things are better when there are many. The more, the merrier. Not always, but often.

But by the second psalm (which if they were not both in the One Year Bible for today, people may not read them together much!), the confidence of the writer is huge. He's inviting the heavens and the sea and the field. Again, whoever has been thrilled by anything knows that there is a point at which you're totally bonkers too, because you're thrilled enough that you don't care how big the entity you invite to be glad with you is: "the heavens" -- be glad with me! "the sea" -- roar at me if you want! and with me! -- "the field" -- you ordinary field, you ... jump up and down!

And of course God has something to do with all this... (:<>)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ps 94

94:18ff. Induction. "When I thought, 'My foot slips,' your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.... He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness."

This can be seen as a form of syllogism or induction by the writer. What can be concluded from the fact that God held his foot up when he thought (maybe wrongly, but maybe even dead-on) that he "slips" -- i.e., it's happening, I'm falling .... ? Then God lifted his foot up, i.e., he got back on track, and if it was not so, the writer would not have been shy to say "where were you, God?" He wasn't shy to say that earlier in the psalm (94:1-5). So the writer is not playing, not saying "let me imagine and play make-believe that God helped me." He's not embarassed to say to God "how much longer?" whenever it is the case that he doesn't see anything being done by God.

However, the wiping out of the bad guys, coming as a corollary, or conclusion about the future, like the principle of induction, comes as a shock to some, including me, reading the psalm.

But there's some logic to it! Why should we believe that God holds us up, and not also believe that God will bring back on "wicked rulers" (94:20) their iniquity, wipe them out, etc? The same sun that rises on our parade, will set on theirs. One indicates the other.

This is much stronger than the mere assertion that "there's a first time for everything." That's just empty rhetoric: it doesn't start with any fact behind it at all! The writer here had a fact: somehow God had helped him. Therefore he drew a conclusion.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Jer 42

42:6. A very modern model of loyalty, enacted by the "remnant of Judah" (42:19). They had a predisposition when they went to Jeremiah, but didn't express it. Instead, they expressed one thing, and implemented another. Let's walk it through.

In 42:1-3, everybody comes to Jeremiah and wants to know what he's got to say. They want to know what he's going to say they should do next -- after all, he was the one who has been right before! Even the Babylonians knew that, and let him decide what he wanted; they didn't force him anywhere, and didn't even demand to know what he was going to do next (39:12; 40:4)! So here we have the amazing thing, that the Babylonians trust Jeremiah's judgment. Will the remnant of Judah do so too?

They start with the big words. Not only do they ask for mercy, they make oaths and promises to obey (42:5-6).

The word of the Lord to Jeremiah about all that is a big "if": "if you remain in this land ... but if you say 'we will not remain in this land' ...." So the prophet shows how much the Lord thinks of the words of 42:5-6, and 42:1-3 (and such things): no chance!

Why is this a very modern model of loyalty? Because it's an outcome-based loyalty. Their words are to elicit what Jeremiah has to say. Then, when he says it ... because they don't want that outcome ... their loyalty is gone! The leaders, and everybody from the top down, not only remain unconvinced by Jeremiah's conditions for God to build them up (42:10), they call him a liar, defy him, drag Jeremiah to Egypt -- then finally show what they had behind their backs to implement the whole time: 44:16-17.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jer 41

41:18. Jer 40-41 is as good a basis for a suspense novel as any current bestseller by Brad Thor. There's a warrior, Johanan the son of Kareah. There's his boss, the naive Gedaliah (40:16). There's insurrection (40:14). There's deception (41:6). There's the chief bad guy (41:11), who can sometimes get away (41:15). And there's a cliffhanger ending (41:18).

One of the things this passage does for me is remind me that the good is not all harps and music, and that evil can use tears and sweet talk. In other words, the Bible has always had room for the warrior. God is a warrior. Look Him up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jer 38

38:28. It is an odd turn-around, more than once, the relationship between Jeremiah and the king or kings just before Jerusalem is captured in the next chapter. Zedekiah takes Jeremiah out of prison (37:17), asks for prayer (37:3, perhaps because of seeing a circumstantial change, 37:5). But in 38:5 he assents to Jeremiah being captured ... then changes his mind again (38:10)!

Taking a cue from 37:5, and 37:17 we may recognize that game of roulette the wicked sometimes play with God in many religions, gauging what God must be saying by what circumstances "must be" saying, and expecting changes to percolate up from changing circumstances all the way to the oracles of God! Jeremiah resists that (37:17).

The surprise is in reality the tone Jeremiah takes with the king in 37:18-20, and the consequence in 37:21. There is an ongoing relationship there. There is a respect and a deference on Jeremiah's part. He had at a prior time even told the king as much positive news as could be expected, given the fall of Jerusalem: the king would be buried with spices, just as his fathers (34:5), and die in peace!

This is a good OT reflection of the responsibility to do good to all, and the varied results that may come from it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jer 36

36:2. One way to look at this section from the One Year Bible is from the perspective of time.

There's probably not anyone who goes through a reading schedule that doesn't say "this takes SO long." For example, the One Year Bible itself sets aside 26 consecutive days for Jeremiah! But here in our passage for today, Baruch, after Jeremiah dictates his words to him, reads the whole thing "in the Lord's house" (36:6, 11). Then another guy repeats the thing to another group (36:13). Then Baruch reads it again to some officials (36:14-16).

36:23. Then someone had an idea for a shortcut (AV/RV/ASV/NAS/NKJV), or, in another reading, a long cut (RSV/NIV/ESV).


Well, the king, in the first reading, was of the "this takes too long" mindset, and could only hear three or four columns, then burned the scroll. I doubt if the font was very small, so maybe just a few verses were read, before the king lost his conscience (36:24) and burned the whole scroll.

Time. No time to read? Do we even burn the scroll, i.e., remove the possibilities provided to us to read, either them from us, or ourselves from them? Because what we've read before (maybe even as little as a few columns?) is not a flattering reflection on us (36:29), do we somehow ban it (ESV) or restrict it (36:5)? I confess to have done this many a time.

The king, in the second reading had plenty of time. Two or three columns AT A TIME, he would cut and throw the verses into the fire, sitting, by a fireplace, until the whole thing was finished. Oh boy, is that bad. It's one thing to have no time. It's another level of evil entirely, to put time into attempting to destroy the words. Of course, that doesn't succeed (36:32). It becomes part of the fulfillment of the words.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jer 33

33:8. I promised a glance at Calvin. "If the grievousness of our sins terrifies us, yet all diffidence ought to be overcome, because God does not promise his mercy only to those sinners who have slightly fallen, either through ignorance or error, but even to such as have heaped sins on sins. There is therefore no reason why the greatness of our sins should overwhelm us; but we may ever venture to flee to the hope of pardon, since we see that it is offered indiscriminately to all, even to those who had been extremely wicked before God, and had not only sinned, but had also become in a manner apostates, so that they ceased not in all ways to provoke God's vengeance."

Not to use this in the Calvin vs. Calvinism debate about universal offers and the impossibility of apostasy, let's rather take note that Calvin reads Jeremiah 33 as showing the character of God, whence he applies it to whoever is reading his commentary! On this I think everybody can agree, that Calvin does this.

But today there's a prior question that needs to be addressed, and that is, how do we speak to people whose grievousness of their sins does not terrify them whatsover, and whose categories of thought and of action don't include sin? Two thoughts on that: first, the more lost the person, the farther the trek to find the person. Some ambassadors are in countries very far away from their own. Such also are ambassadors of Christ, and their work is very lonesome.

Secondly, God is not a do-nothing God. It's amazing how much evangelistic technique is predicated on a do-nothing God. To be saved, by so many accounts, is to do 1,2,3. Even if something about God is thrown in there somewhere, it's usually about something God did way back, and the only things done in the present, are things the sinner must do! Horrible! To be saved -- is, by definition -- to be saved by God. God does it! You can't do it by 1,2,3.

But I said this was one of two answers to people whose grievousness of their sins does not terrify them. How is the answer that God Himself does the saving help that situation? The ambassador may sometimes point out what the alternative to God Himself doing the saving is. Without God doing the saving, there is no 1,2,3, or even a 1.

That's one possibility. Another possibility, very seldom attempted, is direct: take a look at John 13:20.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

1 Tim 3

3:16. There's a fancy Greek word for the figure of speech in which you expect the writer to have one conclusion, and the writer surprises you with another conclusion which you didn't even think was in the discussion. Such is this verse: godliness!

These things are about godliness?! People may say, well, we're not sure of the punctuation, after all, the colon has been added by the translators.

I hope you can imagine how Paul would be taking pot-shots here by the spirit of pragmatism: how in the world, in today's "but what does this mean for me? how does it affect my life? what difference does it make in the concrete day-to-day decisions I'm faced with" mindset, that the mystery of GODLINESS is connected with "Christ manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory."

Most people give a little summary statement like "there's no life outside of Christ." And hope for the best, that the reader will be content to see some remote connection.

I don't think the verse allows that! Probably the first step to taking this verse in, is to assent to it: God, this is truly the mystery of godliness, including any godliness I'll ever have or presently aspire to: Christ's life, His vindication by the Spirit, (even!) His being seen by angels (how's THAT possibly connected?) and the rest.

The second step is to not stuff the verse away! Godliness, the stuff that non-students care about: its mystery connection is somehow to the teachings that usually just students care about.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jer 31

31:26. Instead of mastering what is only a system of eschatology, why not master Jeremiah 31 instead! Instead of lifting a passage out of context, why not let a passage lift you up instead! Then after reading today's passage from Jeremiah in the One Year Bible, you yourself might get a good, pleasant sleep, like Jeremiah did (31:26)!

Of course, I'm referring to and mocking the desire to merely shove everything into an already-held system. Don't you also think the person should be pitied who gets through Jer 30:1 - 31:26 with no thrills about those told by God, "I have loved you with an everlasting love," but has all its sentences figured out in a system?

Ask those who start by saying "it can't mean ..." if, after saying what it can't mean, they could tell us what it does mean, commensurately so that there will be those who not "be dismayed" (30:10); that "the voices of those who celebrate" will not be few (30:19); that there will be "watchmen" who want to take a rather short trip to see ... the Lord! (31:6).

In any case, whatever system, we can all agree that most religions and philosophies try and get you to go from point A to point B, however defined. A very very few of them, comparatively, see point B arriving to where we are, all on His own.

Friday, October 16, 2009

1 Tim 1

1:20. Going from 2 Th to 1 Tim 1 is, in a way, like going from a sunny day yesterday and waking up to a stormy day. Paul is dealing almost right off the bat with harsher realities -- the teaching of different or strange doctrines, speculating, lists of heinous sins and sinners, the necessity to be waging war in some sense, and the last verse in this chapter, about Paul handing two people over to Satan, to be taught not to blaspheme. Evidently in their case they previously rejected faith and/or a good conscience, which on the face of it doesn't seem so impossible to do to some degree.

However there are some things overlooked about this stormy day. "Christ Jesus our hope" (1:1). If this one line were in Romans or one of the more quoted epistles there would be a ton of theology books about it, because it's quite unique. If it seems foolish to unconditionally hope in anyone outside our family, or to "get our hopes up" for anything, how in the world will we identify with saying that Christ Jesus IS our hope, hands down, altogether, categorically so? This idea deserves to be put right alongside Paul's other categorical statements about what Christ became to us, namely, from 1 Cor 1:30, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. Here, hope. We have to add that as significant.

Therefore if 1 Tim is a storm, it starts with the sun coming up extremely bright first, and in a big way. Garden variety hopes evanesce. Especially hopes in people. For Christ Jesus to be our hope, permanently so, not just a means, a plank, to hold till we get to some other hope to get to some other hope to get to some other hope, etc., ad infinitum -- a relief!

And how great it is that He's not a concept or a cause or an "inspirational thought" or something like the things we often concoct to inspire ourselves. Ask anyone who can't swim. To stay afloat, you need something outside yourself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jer 26

26:24. How is a person of the time going to judge between the prophecies of Jeremiah and those of the false prophets, who Jeremiah says are lying to them (27:15)? Chapter 26 provides two surprising answers.

The university paradigm does not work here, a paradigm in which impartial listeners hear both views and decide. Not Jerusalem before the Exile. That would have worked, if it was available (Jer 5:1). But there weren't any such listeners. That's important to keep in mind.

The listeners there debated an "outcome of their lives" criterion. Their test was this: has anybody else prophesied like Jeremiah recently, and what happened to them? Initially, it seemed that Jeremiah would be spared from being condemned because they at first brought up how that Micah, who taught like Jeremiah, was not killed (26:19) by the then king; but then, another prophet just like Jeremiah in his message, Uriah, was brought up, and he was killed by the current king (26:21-23). The test was inconclusive ... making the people want to kill Jeremiah anyway (26:24!)

Then Ahikam removed Jeremiah from the scene (26:24). Whatever their reasoning about the outcome of prophets' lives was, what the current king approved of was perhaps too overriding to them.

These are helpful answers to anyone who hears competing claims about God. The first one is, beware of your preferences (26:11), which will tend to govern your decision irrationally, preventing you from doing "as seems good and right to you" (26:14), in favor of your preferences. The second is that you can't decide by stories you know about how people seem to turn out. Micah was not killed, but Uriah was. You can't determine what's true by looking at how people who believe it turn out. Some die for it, some don't. You have to use your moral sense: what seems good and right, not political expediency or preferences.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ps 84

84:11. This verse may serve as an apt illustration of a very common confusion: we often turn an accompaniment of an attribute into a statement of conditionality -- as if the accompaniment of an attribute is conditional, based on the attribute. Got that? Then you don't need to read the rest! You are a rara avis, a rare bird. Let me try to explain, since I can't understand all that abstraction either.

Reading the verse "no good thing does he [God] withhold from those who walk uprightly," don't add to the verse! Don't add -- "because they walk uprightly."

Even worse, don't add to that some "only's", as if the verse said 'no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly, because they walk uprightly and only to those, only because they do, and only as long as they do." And finally, don't add, "and if they aren't doing so right now, he'll do this and that."

So how about it? Do you understand the abstraction better now, not to turn attributes into conditions for obtaining that which accompanies an attribute? In terms of the verse, that means we read into this verse. We think it is saying that walking uprightly is a condition for obtaining any good thing.

Another side effect of looking at our religion as a set of conditions we must fulfill in order to be blessed -- besides it being wrong, and restricting us to the blessings of our actions, is often also unnoticed. I haven't mentioned this yet: it is a false starting point! In other words, to start with a set of conditions we must fulfill -- ignores the past! God, in publicly displaying Jesus as a propitiation in his blood through faith (Rm 3:25) -- pointedly -- does not ignore our past. God, and only He, accomplished in Christ what was necessary -- and sufficient -- to prevent our past from securing our condemnation.

Now -- we are done with the caveats -- let's, by all means, believe the verse! Namely, that innumerable good things accompany those who walk uprightly. When you stop trying to take control of these good things, stop claiming them to be yours by you meeting a condition for them, the real verse shines through the clouds! You're walking uprightly? Good things come down from the clouds, i.e., from the Lord. Cause for rejoicing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2 Th 1

In 2 Th 1:11, the difference between God making (ESV) us worthy of our calling, and God counting (non-RSV-based) us worthy of our calling may seem large in light of the Reformation understanding of worthiness. There's a good discussion of the Greek behind this difference in the Expositor's Bible Commentary, EBC.

Some people solve this by resorting to a self-originated worthiness versus a God-generated worthiness dichotomy, all the while pointing to their own works!

I don't think that solves anything, especially in light of Luke 17:10, where Jesus tells us to remember to consider ourselves not us just 'formerly unworthy' slaves, as if we are worthy slaves now, but as currently unworthy slaves! And that, AFTER we have done all the things which are commanded. So that helps us keep the proper estimate of ourselves in the future, since we have still some things left to do, of all the things which are commanded!

Nevertheless, it's not necessary to exclude the RSV-based language: it is applied by Paul to what is to us piecemeal. So even though Christ says to consider ourselves unworthy slaves of God in this life, in 2 Th 1:11 is Paul praying, over and over again, always, for God to count or even possibly make the Thessalonians worthy of their calling, not as a new permanent status (otherwise he would not be praying for them more than once!), but to be worthy in the day-to-day. He's asking for God to make our hands stay up, otherwise they would droop.

And besides all that -- there is also no need to be so introspective about a prayer that, after all, Paul is praying about others in. Instead of asking "have I now become worthy, have I now become worthy, ..." how about more praying for God to count and make, in the present, believers we know worthy -- up to the tasks for the day!

Calvin says eloquently that "he [God] is said to account us worthy when he conducts us to the point at which we aimed." Paul "always" prayed for that (2 Th 1:11).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pr 25

Pr 25:7b-10.

Today's excerpt from the reading of the One Year Bible is so subtle in its nuance that I probably won't even get it after I type it in. Also, I promised my friend I'd check out the ESV translation in some of these posts.

"Lest" -- use that word in a sentence! Give it a try, lest I have to explain it myself.

OK? Give it a try, or else I have to explain it myself. (25:8, ESV mg). Aren't those two sentences slightly different in meaning? The first is talking about a possibility that something might happen if you don't give it a try. The second is making an assertion, a teacher's threat, that if you don't try, I definitely will have to explain something myself.

So Proverbs 25:10 addresses us, as people considering, deliberating with the writer, whether to talk about somebody, critically, "offline," i.e., behind their back.

Deliberate whether to "reveal another's secret" with 25:10. Don't do it, lest the person you tell bring shame upon you! "Or else" is too strong for that idea.

The person you reveal the secret to may not bring shame upon you actually. It's not at the level of "threat." But the mere POSSIBILITY of it should be enough to deter you from doing it. Lest. Not "or else."

So go with "lest" in the 25:8 mg (RSV, NAS) and 25:10 (ESV). Let the mere possibility -- not even the level of "threat" of it -- deter you, from revealing secret evils about people. What possibility? That the one who hears you, in return, change your reputation for the worse, and that "have no end!" It's one of those wisdom sayings about payback.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jer 17

Jer 17:1,5,9-10. Contrast "the heart" in those verses with "the Lord" in Jer 17:5,7,13,14. This is a very unpopular thing to do! We usually reserve our best praise for others' hearts, and even our own. My heart and the hearts of friends were certainly tried (17:10), or searched (ESV) this week, and found to be sick (17:9) and corrupt (RSV) in a succession of events by which the Lord tried and searched them.

Yet the heart is the Lord's chief opponent for our trust -- what we rely on, our "arm." (17:5, ESV mg). Whether we rely on our own heart, and/or the hearts of others, maybe the psychologist with only one thing to say to our problems, "stop it" -- is not so far from the mark! Actually, to trust the Lord is the alternative to reliance on heart(s).

I like how Jeremiah will correct us if we want to split our bets, trusting partially in the Lord, partially not, in 17:7. Do we want to partially trust the Lord, partially trust something else, like self or others? Whoever "trusts in the Lord" (17:7) sometimes, Jeremiah reminds, that it's better to be someone "whose trust is the Lord." If our trust IS the Lord, then our investment IS the Lord, not split.

Friday, October 09, 2009

1 Th 2

1 Th 2:12. Two days ago was a discussion about nuances. In this passage, there is another phrase whose different translations have "only" a nuance difference, but make a real difference in the Christian life.

Start by thinking of a to-do list for the day, say, given to you by your wife. Groceries. Check. Birthday card. Check. Live a life worthy of God. Uhhh, ...

People call this a composite obligation, an over-arching obligation, or whatever they call it: it can't be marked off today. It's like a mountain you've landed at the foot of. The best mountain climber? Still too big a step.

Here's where the nuance of a phrase (ESV, NAS) helps: "walk in a manner worthy...." Does the nuance come across to you differently? With this help, I can take a good step. With the other (NIV,RSV) I can't.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

1 Th 1

1 Th 1:4-5. Paul says he knows something that many theologians say is impossible for one person to know about another: Paul knows "that he [God] has chosen you." How? "Because (ESV) our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

Calvin concurs with this idea in his commentary, I'll show. Nevertheless, it which rings so odd to us: can we really know that God has chosen somebody by how the gospel came to them? Yes! In a surprising statement, when Calvin says "the election of God, which in itself is hid, is manifested by its marks--" we would expect him to then describe the visible marks upon the lives of those "elected." But the surprise is how he describes "its marks." He goes on, "--when he gathers to himself the lost sheep and joins them to his flock, and holds out his hand to those that were wandering and estranged from him. Hence a knowledge of our election must be sought from this source."

What source? The source he just described! Is Calvin serious, in saying that what God did at the time, the gathering and the joining and the holding out of his hand, are marks?

In order to not be too assertive about God, we think that of course God will testify to the truth of the gospel, and that's it. But Paul describes how the gospel came to the Thessalonians as an act of God as well!

Calvin, in commenting under "in power, and in the Holy Spirit" says that too is an act of God, "as though God had strewn from heaven that he had ratified their calling."

What??!!!! This is very, very odd to many modern evangelistic efforts. To think that God would actually do something, among those who hear us bring the gospel, that tells even us, that God has chosen the very people to whom the gospel came "in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" -- is anathema! We keep thinking we have to wait until the days of their nursing home experiences to see how they'll turn out in the end!

However, the nursing home is not the end -- for anyone! But that's another post. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Col 3

The nuances of a word are a real puzzle for translators. One nuance may sound horrendous, and a generation later, the substitute offered by a "helpful" modern translation is the one that sounds horrendous. "Submit" (AV, ESV) and "be subject to," (RSV) with variations like "be in subjection to" (ASV) all have their nuances. We're talking about the translations the imperative of Col 3:18.

Which sounds more stringent to you, to be in subjection to, or to submit? The wife who wants a less stringent nuance may say "I'll be subject to my husband, but I won't submit to him," meaning she'll have an attitude of being subject to him at all times, but will not respond to a bare demand to submit. Or vice versa! The same wife may say "I'll submit to my husband, but I won't be subject to him," meaning that submissive behavior is fine for her, but it does not mean every detail is only by his orders. What is a translator to do? One thing not to do is be governed by the Zeitgeist. Whether the Zeitgeist wants a more or less stringent nuance is irrelevant. Besides, Afghanistan and Los Angeles have different angels of the Zeitgeist, in this case.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jer 8

In honor of my friend's birthday today, I'll be going through the One Year Bible with a glance at Calvin's commentaries, and the ESV.

In Jer 8:8, how is the "lying pen" (ESV) or "false pen" (ASV, RSV) capable of making what the scribes had (the law of the Lord) into a lie (ASVmg, ESV) by what they wrote? The answer may be in the pen, the image Jeremiah uses to describe their writings! The writings are so false and lying that the explanation of easiest resort would be something horribly evil in the pen! What a metaphor for the evil done by the scribes! Calvin adds a colorful image: "in short, their whole life proclaimed them to be wholly insane."


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