Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ex 10 for Jan 30

In the story of the conflict between Pharaoh and Moses in Exodus 10 the details are very much contributory, but God's purposes continue to be explained as well.

We had already seen by Ex 8 a new detail, the making of distinctions between Pharaoh's servants and people, and God's (8:21-23). This "division between My people and your people" is reflected in some of the further plagues (9:11; 9:26), but Ex 9:20 stands out as an important detail about a moral aspect of the distinction.

These distinctions made by God (10:23; 11:7) or regarding God (9:21) are understandable also as demonstrations of God's mastery. Pharaoh attempts to mimic this by unsuccessfully trying to make some empty stipulations of his own (10:10; 10:24).

The narrative is very deliberately repetitive in its details about the hardness and hardening of Pharaoh's heart (10:27; 11:10). As a preview, in the original time with Moses, God announces to Moses "I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion ... after that he will let you go." (3:19-20). Very early, before Moses' meeting with the elders and the first meeting with Pharaoh, God tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh's heart (4:21).

Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15; repeatedly, perhaps in each case, 8:32). God holds Pharaoh responsible (7:16; 8:29; 9:2; 9:7; 9:17; 9:30), even though He hardens Pharaoh's heart. And our chapter for today's One Year Bible adds Pharaoh's servants to the puzzle! (10:1-2). Yet they too are responsible: "As for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear before the Lord God." (9:30). God through Moses asks Pharaoh directly, "how long will you refuse ...?" (10:3; cf. 9:2).

Part of the explanation from the text regarding the meaning of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart comes in the two purposes God mentions in today's chapter: "I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, [1] that I may perform these signs of Mine among them." That's the first reason God gives. Then He adds "and [2] that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD." (10:2). Yet it is not all for mockery.

We cannot be anachronistic from the point of view of thousands of years later, knowing the fame of the event and the story here and in the rest of the Bible. We cannot say "well of course God can demonstrate mastery over Egypt. Look at subsequent history!" We can't say in the first or second inning, "of course they won; look at the final score!"

So far, Genesis has been about the activity of God, beginning with Creation itself; it included His providence over the whole world (Gen 9:17), and in Egypt (Gen 50:20). With the patriarchs His activity was providential, but mostly interpersonal. The goal for these events in Exodus would not alone be for His people, nor alone to keep His promises, nor alone to show His making a distinction between His people and others, .... Not only to mock Egypt, but also for Egypt: "so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth" (Ex 9:14).

Why teach Egypt? The saying is that bad news travels fast. God wanted it to also travel far. God's providential care under Joseph, for Egypt, may have been forgotten (Ex 1:8). But in these events God's name may have been more successfully spread: "in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth." (9:16).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (p. 67)

1:16. In discussion when Paul says here that the gospel is the "power of God for salvation to everyone who believes," Moo says "the lack of an explicit object after 'believe' is also characteristic of Romans" (p. 67). However, Moo tries to supply an explicit object partially by being selective with the use of "believe" in Romans, and partially by looking at things far afield, slogans in our culture, and concepts from some people's systematics.

He begins well, by trying to stick with an explanation of why "believe" can stand characteristically in Romans without an explicit object: "the language of faith has become [in Paul's day] so tied to what God has done in Christ that further specification is not needed [by Paul]." (p. 67)

So let's look at the commentator's bane here, at least one of them, and take a lesson from it: if something is not explicit, can it be made clearer by making it explicit? Certainly! As long as it is "it," and not something else jumping in.

Why Moo does not do the work of mentioning the large number of occurences of believe and faith in Romans which do have explicit objects, and getting a consensus from them in their contexts what Paul means in his implicit uses of believe as here, is a lesson. Instead, he supplies his vote on some of the systematic war slogans.

Let's take one example of the attempt to cast a vote. In Romans 4:18, Paul says that Abraham "in hope against hope believed." Does this verse teach an act of the will on Abraham's part? "The will to believe" may be a famous phrase in philosophy and religion, but ... look for it in Genesis describing Abraham as Paul is in 4:18. We've studied Genesis together in our One Year Bible so far, and can we think of a place where Abraham geared down by an act of the will to believe or keep believing? Conversely, can we think of any of the many places Abraham by an act of the will expressed disbelief?

I think Moo is aware of the non-support of this verse, and Romans 10:9, which has "with the heart one believes" for the systematics war slogans he wishes to vote on, plus and minus, on this page. For two reasons: one, when he cites these two references, he says "cf." In other words, for what he is saying, compare and consider these verses. That's a hint he knows that the verses don't support the point.

Another hint is the backtracking. It's as if he announced his political party, and then rushes to explain with qualifiers what you should also remember about him: "we must never go to the extreme ... we must also insist .... as ... puts it ...." (p. 67). Things like that are the way backtracking is done, but why? Just use, non-selectively, places Paul explicitly describes the object of faith! Faith in Jesus Christ!

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 65ff)

When we comment on the Bible, we're also tempted to get a comment in that comes from what we, separately, also think, or from what our friends, separately, think: what "friends," as in our theological party, think.

Try reading a commentary from a vastly different theological party than your own, and see how often you "get mad...." Or, conversely, see how great a blessing it is when a commentary, or even a sermon, gets back to the text and says what the text is saying, or even implying.

Compare this to the visceral feeling of reading a commentary that exudes your theological party's ideas at every turn, but unsupported. Like the tonic that the orcs fed the hobbits when running them in the Lord of the Rings Two Towers, it's an anti-energy energy. And it runs afoul of Mt 15:9. When you do stuff like that, as most Ph.D candidates know after their verbal examination, you will be most readily cured by various forms of humor on the part of your examiners -- especially mockery of your method.

Commenting on Rm 1:16, "I am not ashamed," and asking the question whether it is an idiom, a litotes, Moo compares it to 1 Cor 1:18 in a surprising way on p. 65. He says the foolishness described in that verse "would make some degree of embarrassment about the gospel natural". Since this is so contre temps, so against the spirit of the times, it certainly deserves to be noted. How often do you hear a Christian say, "in a way, my religion is embarrassing"! Many people would be very refreshed to hear this, instead of the hype they always expect.

And that spirit can well be applied to a first-time reader (which we should always try and remember to imitate) hearing Paul say "it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...." Put the original hearer's ears on! "You mean to tell me that God is going to rescue people and the physical universe from all the horrors of death and decay, plus assured accountability for sins, by THAT? some piece of news? about the benefits coming from some death in the First Century, and what happened on the following Sunday?" How embarrassing!

Have you ever rescued someone, or been rescued, physically? It's embarrassing, very often, to be rescued. Rescue and embarrassment go even more well together when we're rescued from where or what we shouldn't have had to be rescued from. Then some time passes -- and we're thrilled about it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ex 8 for Jan 29

Warfare is not always solely military. Its goal(s) may not always be annihilation. Exodus 8 is about the progress of such a war.

The war had started with a setback after Pharaoh's first meeting (5:1) with the elderly brothers (7:7) Moses and Aaron, a setback summarized in 5:20-23.

We readers have already known the goal of the explicitly war-related actions of the brothers, the people, and God, at least from 3:20 on. Or have we? We can get one impression from Ex 3:8ff., but perhaps quite another from 5:2 and 7:17a. So chapter 8 begins with the opposition "dug in," that is, confident in their side (7:22-23). But they were digging more at this point -- literally (7:24).

This confidence on Pharaoh's part came because of a sense of parity which first shows in 7:11. It was not unanticipated, since the story of the setback has prepared us to understand that this was not a fake war.

People have a hard time understanding how if there's a God in a particular war, why that warfare of good and evil is not a fake war. "Isn't God orchestrating it?" people with and without belief in the existence of God ask.

Exodus 8 continues the description of the war that has setbacks, parity, and, as every soldier in wartime knows, odd stretches of time, in which there is nothing going on but what has already happened (7:25). But here in chapter 8 there are more indications of the genuineness of this war.

If the goal of the war is simply Ex 3:20, physical deliverance from Egypt, that's one thing. But if it's also Ex 3:21-22, an alteration within all of Egypt toward the Israelites, and the refutation of 5:9 with changes in the opinion of even Pharaoh from what he articulated in 5:2 -- then, the non-physical aspect of the war is also strategically important.

And that's what we progressively see in that line of description which begins with the startling example of parity, near-parity, or disintegrating parity in 7:11ff.

Chapter 8 continues that theme of the attempt at parity with an event that describes almost the very nature of what happens in conflicts of evil with God: conflict starts off looking like parity, as we saw in 7:11. Then it looks like the parity breaks down, 7:12. Then it looks, in 8:7, like the mimicry has gone wrong somehow, turning itself on its perpetrators, invoking more misery.

We could say that 8:8 describes a portion of this war that people in college call "RealPolitik," involving feigned diplomacy on the part of one side, to get an advantage. But on Moses' side, as part of the ideological, parallel goal, Moses engages honestly, saying what he says to Pharaoh about honor (8:9). (Pharaoh can have honor? which must sound shocking to sergeants.) In 8:10 it is very clear that this warfare is not just physical: this phase is explicitly for Pharaoh to "know that there is no one like the Lord our God." In 8:15 we see the proof that the diplomatic talk by Pharaoh was feigned or retracted.

In the next engagement (8:16-19), the suppliers to Pharaoh not only start believing that what Moses and Aaron do is superior, but that it is from God -- and they voice that belief (8:19). Another echo of the twin goals of this warfare. But Pharaoh is no Nebuchadnezzar: he doesn't change his mind.

In the rest of the chapter, the common warfare themes of pre-warning (by Moses; 8:23), attempt at partial settlement (by Pharaoh; 8:25), leniency (by Moses; 8:29); and retrenchment (by Pharaoh; 8:32) are described. Since this is warfare not only of physical goals, but of ideological goals, it makes some sense that it shares many aspects with other wars with these two aspects, throughout history. But why does GOD do all this? Couldn't God have set the Israelites running like Lot from Sodom and just nuked Egypt? putting up Pharaoh in the equivalent of Zoar? licking his wounds close by and admitting everything God wanted him to admit?

God has a tertiary goal. It is not just the physical goal of rescuing individuals, It is not just the spiritual goal of showing that there is none like Him. God has a third goal.

What is it? A nation? That might be a guess, from 3:8. To demonstrate faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, etc? That might also be a guess, from 6:4.

Beyond covenant. Identity. God says something to Moses that we haven't seen in the story of the Bible so far, and that, almost in passing, trumps all the above: He tells Moses -- to tell Pharaoh! -- something. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is my son, My firstborn. So I said to you, 'let My son go that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go" (Ex 4:23).

In Exodus, God "wins" -- we're getting ahead of ourselves, only in chapter 8, but ... -- God wins, as the Hebrew language often describes it, "in" Israel his son.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 63-64)

We want to read the Moo commentary critically (non-hagiographically) and fairly.

1:16-7. What is a precise relationship between righteousness and faith/belief in these two verses? Moo, introductively, says there is a "connection between righteousness and faith" (p. 64). What is it? He says that righteousness is "based on faith" (p. 64). But is that the whole story of what the phrase "from faith to faith" means here?

It says that in the gospel, righteousness of God is revealed, from faith to faith. The Greek prepositions connote "from" and "to" in the motion sense. We might hear the Greek prepositions connoting "coming out from faith; headed toward, landing on faith" ( ἐ κ   ...   ε ἰ ς).

Let's explore the connotations of such a phrase. This is more specific than "based on."

If I used Twitter to send a message to a friend, and I said, "I'm coming out from Dallas, and headed toward and landing in Dallas" -- someone might smile. Not going very far, are we? Exactly!

"Based on" is one of the most general relationship indicators, in English. A knowledge of calculus is "based on" knowledge of arithmetic, but we can't get our calculus from everyone whose knowledge is based on arithmetic. The problem then with "based on" is two problems. It's too vague for some purposes in English, and it's not the same thing as the twin locators ek ... eis.

Just past our 18 pp. / week schedule target for today, on p. 76, Moo summarizes helpfully what the conclusion is that he reaches, regarding "from faith to faith." He says "the combination is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and 'nothing but faith' can put us into right relationship with God."

... "Can"? God, through faith, does put us there, Rm 5:1. Moreover, the nuances of righteousness ek faith (out of it), and eis faith (directed to it, landing on it), are rich. We'll see soon (p. 76) that Moo's list hits only some of them.

Mt 18 for Jan 28

The parable of the "Unmerciful Servant" could easily be called that of the "Wicked Slave" (Mt 18:32).

The "ethical" teaching of the parable is in 18:33 in summary form, refined to a sharp point in 18:35. The first question, however, should be how is this parable an implication of Peter's question about forgiveness and the Lord's answer in 18:21-22.

Surely part of the point of the parable is the vast disparity between two amounts of debt. The wicked slave's debt was upwards of 20 billion dollars by modern American reckoning, and the fellow slave's amount owing was about $8000. In the transactions among the world of fellow-slaves, the smaller amount of money, while it's not like just a few coins, is in the common financial-debt range, while 20 billion dollars is in the infinitely greater and impossible to conceive of, much less ever pay, range.

Was the slave wicked before 18:28?

The context of the parable is the interpersonal forgiveness of sin. The Lord says that the reason for the parable is what just was discussed with Peter about forgiveness of sin against us by our brothers (18:23). The debt of "one of his fellow slaves" (18:28) pictures this in the story.

Just as the $8000 debt can stand for interpersonal sin and its forgiveness or non-forgiveness, the 20 billion dollar debt that "the one who owed him ten thousand talents" (18:24) owed to the king -- that can stand for the debt of sin owed to God. If so, then yes, the slave was wicked before 18:28, hugely so, culpably so. The original readers of the story would hear the debt amount and see 18:25 as a righteous punishment.

If we cannot clearly see 18:25 as righteous, it is because of our modern tendency to look at debt as civil and almost not culpable in any way. Especially in the current debt climate! Not so the ancient world.

The Lord has been speaking in mostly non-parabolic ways about the seriousness of sin in this chapter, ever since, really 18:6. People who cause someone to sin (18:6), or internal things that cause someone to sin (18:8-9), or the sin of despising of "these little ones" (18:10), is about the seriousness of sin.

The parable of the lost sheep, because it is dealing with someone who has "gone astray," (18:12), is about the extent to which rescue of someone who sins should go, using another image, that of wandering. On the shepherd's part, seeking and finding those who wander, compared to just hanging around with the ones who aren't lost, is a dealing with sin.

However, the parable of the lost sheep has an uncertain, warning element to it that will prepare us for the direct-assault-on-sin lessons of the rest of the chapter. It says "if it turns out the he finds it," speaking of the shepherd searching (18:12-13). At risk of talking about yesterday's text, I'll just mention that we can't turn that parable on its ears, and say it is about Jesus the shepherd who always finds all the lost sheep. In this parable, if he finds ONE lost sheep, "he rejoices over it more than over the nine-nine" (18:13) -- in this case, because of the implied work and risk. Shepherds of souls know that their work is not inevitable success. They are happy for each individual one, because of the work and risk.

The relevance of 18:15-20 to the topic of sin is left as an exercise. ;) By the time we hear the discussion that Peter brings up we are prepared to deal with interpersonal sin in both stark and risk-taking ways.

So when the kingdom of heaven is brought in, it is precisely to show how God deals with sin in both stark (18:25) and risk-taking (18:27) ways, at the great cost to Himself signified by the size of the debt. Again, because of our cultural side-with-the-consumer presuppositions, we'll fail to see that the sympathy of the parable is naturally toward the gracious king. It is the wicked slave who is wicked, not the king. We should repeat that to ourselves until we remember it, I would think.

Do you have qualms about "his lord, moved with anger, handed him [the wicked slave] over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him" (18:34)? This lord does not bail out that corporation! It is impossible to see the point of the parable (18:35) if we do not see that the slave is wicked, not his lord.

In light of how the parable ends, 18:23 troubles many people because of the stark relationship of comparison: surely the king represents God here, and the slaves represent men and their debt of sin. The parable is to illustrate something about the kingdom of heaven's king, that we humans are liable for our debt of sin to God, and because of that, we must forgive the $8000 around us.

Don't read salvation ideas into this parable. This parable is about our interpersonal sins, answering Peter. This is about you as the big debtor way beyond all fathoming or paying back. What are you going to do with your fellow slaves' $8000 debts to you?

Where does Jesus put you or me, when He turns and looks you and me in the eye in 18:35? Does he put you or me among the torturers? No, He puts us right before 18:28, at the point of choice about that, having had our previous meeting with the king that went a certain way (18:25-27).

So we see the questions about "you mean I'll go to hell if I don't forgive that $8000?" and such things, are questions of impertinence. That's how the parable answers Peter's question! Why is it, Peter asks by implication, so many times, seventy-times seven? Do the math! what is 20 billion compared to 8000? Far more, a far greater ratio, than that small number of 490. Are you complaining, Peter? Would you tell the king settling his accounts with you that you're about to go choke your fellow slave for $8000? What would the king do when he found out?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ex 4 for Jan 27

The commission of Moses can be both seen from "Moses' side," and from God's "side" in these two chapters and the previous chapter. This is an amazing story of the interaction of God with a sinful man in direct confrontation but toward a good end.

Moses has already voiced two questions, in 3:11 and in 3:13. Here in 4:1 is his third. God has answered the other two, and He answers this one. The first two were full of content (3:12; 3:14). This is an answer with actions associated with it, "that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham ... has appeared to you." (4:5).

God speaking: Promises, assurances. God demonstrating, and providing a repeatable demonstration. Followed on Moses' part by ... -- PLEASE GOD I AM WEAK AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN FOR THAT KIND OF THING.

What kind of thing? Speaking! He wasn't weak in 2:12. He was tough. He was self-confident in 2:13. He was self-confident about himself ... but for representing God as spokesman, no (4:10).

Again, God gives promise and assurance about that (4:11-12). Followed on Moses' part by a "polite" no (4:13). Moses had run out of things to think up as excuses, and had nothing to do but be polite with his no.

This refusal, in spite of what God has already shown and done, is a pattern with human beings. We see it in Romans 1:19-21. In Numbers 14:20-23 there is a very famous example of it that is also carried into the Psalms (95), "today if you hear His voice." We already saw it in the One Year Bible New Testament in the upbraiding of the Cities in Mt 11:20ff.. We also see it in matters of the message of salvation, in Jn 3:16-18. It is the "no" of disbelief / rejection.

And we see the extremity of the Lord's understanding of how a certain weight of responsibility is unbearable for some people. There is no greater unbearable responsibility that a man could feel, than that which makes a person say to God, to His face, "please, please, no, send somebody else, anybody" like Moses did.

So perhaps that is why we know so much of this face to face (cf. Dt 34:10) between God and Moses. God lifts the responsibility in a way, off Moses, and proves that He is capable of it: by calling Aaron (4:27)! Moses had already heard (4:14-17) that in some sense the responsibility could be off him, onto his brother, But God did not get a commitment out of Moses then. He got a Moses who was looking into it. In the narrative Moses wants to go back to Egypt to see if his people "are still alive." (4:18). God works with him, positively (4:19-23), and in a severe negative event that we only see the resolution of (4:25). Moses needed outside help, and God saw to it that he knew that.

Therefore, when God brought Aaron to Moses by directly speaking to Aaron (4:27), perhaps that was what got to Moses; at least, it was the immediately preceding thing. Then Moses divulged everything to his brother (4:28), and the rest of the speaking, and meeting, and displaying of the signs God gave him were completed, with two results: "the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped" (4:31). And we are at the beginning of a great story.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ps 22:1 for Jan 26

Ps 22:1, "... Why has Thou forsaken Me" sounds so much more proper than "why have you forsaken me?", but in this case, is the "proper" improper, and isn't the improper, really proper?

In all forsakings, the closer the relationship, the worse the forsaking.

1) Does it at least make us squirm that some "otherwise very smart people" think that a Creator not only tolerated a religion that sacrificed innocent animals, but required it specifically, at one time, the sacrifice of animals "without defect" (Lv 5:18)? The forsaking -- putting to death -- of these animals should very much make us squirm, and lament the "unfairness" of such a stipulation by the Creator of those animals and the galaxies. They say He stipulated it, and participated in it, and it made them shout (Lv 9:24).

C.S. Lewis has the temerity to call this kind of use of sacrifice a "deeper magic from before the dawn of time," before the galaxies, God having a plan involving an even deeper "unfairness" than that to animals: Paul says "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). And this, no less than the participation by God in Lv 9:24, is not just ledger-logic, an "I'll take it as if you were on this side of the ledger, and Christ on the other side" -- but, the logic of reality: Christ was made sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

2) When the Lord "cried out with a loud voice" this verse (Ps 22:1) in Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34, He was about to die. He was innocent. He did not deserve death. Who forsook Christ on the cross? Was Christ mistaken in believing so? He did not ask God if He would, but why He did. Some "otherwise very smart people" think this actually was what happened. A perfect Creator forsook His perfect Son, for the reason that Paul gives as if in answer to Ps 22:1.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gen 50 for Jan 25

How is it that so many people cannot remember a verse like Gen 50:20, but can remember most of the events of Genesis 3?

I don't think I would choose Gen 3 to memorize over Gen 50:15-21. Doesn't fixing take priority over etiology, if you had to have one or the other? Diagnosis only, or recovery, which do we want, given one of the two? But then again, people prefer sunsets. Go figure....

The two issues raised in this chapter are raised every day when we join in to work in the "fallen" world around us. The first issue might be called a theodicy. Can it really be true that God meant what his brothers did to Joseph in Gen 37 for his good and the good of others? Someone might say that 50:20 is espousing an end-justifies-the-means ethic, at least in God's case. Rev 21:4 talks about such an end, although it doesn't say that such things justify God. He has already justified Himself in Christ, Rm 3:4.

The second issue is the dealing with uncertainty regarding forgiveness. It's common nowadays to say that "we don't know" if God has saved (including forgiven) somebody, that only God knows. 50:19, is not, by the way, Joseph saying that. Otherwise it must have be written, 'you may need to be afraid, for am I in God's place?' But as it stands, it says "do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?" The reason they need not be afraid, is it's out of Joseph's hands to pronounce on the issue. Joseph however knows and expresses God's verdict, saying about his brothers, "God will surely take care of you" (50:25).

This deference to the decision of God regarding events goes way back through the book, even through Laban and sister's odd comment -- didn't you think it odd at the time? -- in Gen 24:50. (What if Eve had been the same way toward the serpent? What if Eve had said "This matter comes from the Lord. We cannot speak to you bad or good" !!) Let's learn this! Laban had his own opinions about the proposal, but when we see that the Lord meant something to happen a certain way, we need to properly get out of the business of ultimately judging that the result will be bad. Joseph is not interested in doing that. His tears (45:2) had taught him, and have taught us.

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 53-63)

In going through Romans with Moo (about 18 pp. week), it's certainly beneficial to notice the things he is noticing about the details of grammar. Very few things are unavailable so far to us in the English, at least in the parsimonious translations. The details are reflected in the English which he often expresses as what the Greek says. That's encouraging!

1:6-7. Moo overlooks the repeated use of "called" -- as an adjective -- in these two verses (as well as far back in 1:1). The Romans are "the called of Jesus Christ" (1:6) and "called saints" (1:7). Describing the meaning of called, he describes a verb: "the powerful and irresistible reaching out of God in grace to bring people into his kingdom" (p. 54). Hearing that said makes us want to ask Moo, did God do so here? If so, and they are in fact "called saints" -- then they're "in." You can't have a powerful and irresistible reaching out of God without an effect! I.e., they're in! This reticence is especially unusual in that Moo also says this call is "effectual" (p. 54).

Moo has no such reticence about Paul himself. On p. 42, he says "Paul, as a called apostle, has been set aside by God." If it is a fait accompli in Paul's case, it is a fait accompli by God Himself no less in their case, when Paul says that the recipients are "called saints" and are "the called of Jesus Christ."

Our prior calling entails work. Not to be called, but because called.

1:12-14. Going into the nuances of the division of humanity as Greek/barbarian, wise/foolish is fine; however, he misses Paul's humor as he applies the division to Rome: you Romans, whether it's to the Greeks or barbarians among you, to the wise or to the foolish among you, I'm eager to preach the gospel to you whoever you are!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mt 15:29 - 16:12 for Jan 24

There are times of little or no opposition to what is good, but if any times should have been purely that, it would be those times we're reading about here in Matthew, during this stage of the Lord's ministry. But they weren't such.

The opposition story (16:1ff.) is similar, in the way it is introduced, to how chapter 15 begins. Pharisees and scribes (15:1) are natural co-workers, but "Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:1) are not. Between the two of them, however, they held the field in the area of religion, for those who weren't off in the Essene monastic movement, or among the Zealot party versus Rome. So to hear, as we do in this passage from Jesus to beware "of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:12), is equivalent to someone coming to us and saying "beware of most teaching around here."

So what was the original reference Jesus made (16:6) a reference to, exactly? A straight-across comparison of 16:6 and 16:12 indicates that the teaching of the Sadducees and the Pharisees is one, in this respect. It is a "teaching" that the Lord wants them to beware of: their teaching is equated with leaven. What is it in the "teaching" (16:12) that the disciples need to beware of, that is like leaven?

Well, what is leaven? We have already heard a parable narrating its characteristic behavior in bread: it is inserted into unleavened bread and gets mixed together until the bread is all leavened (13:33). So the teaching of both parties is a leaven to beware of. What incipient thing that works like leaven does "the teaching" of both groups have in common, and is also what the disciples need to beware of?

The Pharisees and Sadducees had come to the Lord just prior to that comment of His: "testing Jesus, they asked Him...." (16:1). This, without having to go any further, provides one of possibly many examples of teaching that is like a leaven and must be avoided.

"They asked Him to show them a sign from heaven." With all the healings, and the two miraculous feedings of thousands, and the walking on water, by Peter also, only interrupted by Peter's doubt, not the Lord's ability, the reader must be wondering, what possible sign could be lacking?

The analysis about such questions is still fresh in the reader's ears: "an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign" (Mt 12:38). Here, in today's section from the One Year Bible, it is "testing Jesus, they asked Him." To test Jesus, in the manifest presence of His works (the magnitude of which attracted crowds time after time) is similar to the testing of God in the wilderness. As the biblical commentator about those Old Testament events said, take care that there is not in any of them "an evil, unbelieving heart" (Heb 3:12). This dovetails with the criticism of Mt 12:39, and the further explanations about an adulterous generation in our chapter.

What the Pharisees and Sadducees had in common was their unbelief toward Christ despite what has manifestly happened again and again. Not skepticism alone, but unbelief in the presence of overwhelming and convincing evidence. It is completely contradictory to have seen God's work and test God at the same time. It is completely contradictory to know what Christ has done and to test Him at the same time. In the wilderness, they had not simply a skeptical heart, but un unbelieving heart after all that God had done. Here, their teaching led them to test Christ, in spite of what everyone knew that He had done.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was their unbelief despite what they knew the Lord had done. Such a thing resisted the many instances of what had already happened, and demanded more, "on demand."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gen 46-47 for Jan 23

If you're the type that skips the endings if they're not about conflict, you'll want to skip here too. But that might mean that you have a hard time entering into the happiness of others. We often can't stand it, but it should now be OK to elaborate on the fact that others have been made safe, and are now safe, having seen it done here. Otherwise we would be forced to slight God Himself for saying something as sweet to Jacob as "Joseph will close your eyes...." (46:4).

God appears to Jacob when the conflict is resolved. Is it "un-American" for God to show up when we don't "need" Him anymore, or again ... how would we know that? We don't.

There is something seldom noticed in 46:4, in God's words to Jacob there when he was in Canaan: "I will surely bring you up again" (46:4). God tells this to Jacob, even though Jacob dies in Egypt (50:1-3). But God surely brings "him" up again to Canaan -- about seventeen years later (47:28) -- after he has died.

Jacob adopts this view of himself in saying "you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place" (47:30). Is it merely a way of speaking? Was it a way of speaking in the case of God's words in 46:4? Look at Mt 22:31-32. Jesus understands this in the same way as Jacob, and evidently, as God Himself does.

What should be made of the difference between Jacob's instructions to his brothers about what to say about their occupations (46:34) to Pharaoh, and what they actually say to Pharaoh right away, instead (47:3)? Although it doesn't seem to make a difference to Pharaoh in the story, there's a slight slur, perhaps, about them, that the Pharaoh makes to Joseph: "...if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock" (47:6). Joseph had only brought half of his brothers into the meeting in the first place (47:2)! It may be nothing. But it also may be a continued testimony to Joseph's predictions in 46:34.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 50-52)

Moo is near the end of his comments on the first paragraph of Romans, 1:1-7. Paul's first words should give us a way to see the direction we are invited to walk with him as we read his letter.

Let's imagine ourselves as recipients.... Has Moo helped us think of ourselves as recipients? Certainly. Paul says "among whom [among the Gentiles] you also are the called of Jesus Christ." The called of Jesus Christ are among the Gentiles. It is "unto" (ε ἰ ς) obedience of faith among all the Gentiles that Paul received grace and apostleship, and so writer and readers are matched.

The major events of the turn of an age are all here: the good news of God -- the death and resurrection of God's Son who is also a descendant of David; the designation of the Son's Lordship; the grace received, through Christ, which is behind Paul's mission as well as behind all of their calling as saints, his and theirs. This turn of an age is worth writing a letter about! The Messiah has risen from the dead, given apostleship (to Paul) and sainthood (to both) through grace (to both) and by calling (to both); this is all new, and the ongoing spread of the news is great and important.

There are some problems when Moo descends from what Paul says here in 1:1-7 to what readers of the commentary might be thinking. (Like a documentary film, a narrator is describing a situation, then, we are jolted when the narrator turns and talks to the camera, looking at it in the eye and saying "I know what you are thinking. Here's what I say about that!" It's an unfortunate distraction from being a commentator on Paul, and we should notice when he does so, commenting on the comments of our day, if you will.

More important, whether commenting on Paul, or on us, is how Moo deals with other views, and how he supports his own assertions. Moo's distinctive way of interaction is to mention other views, and the sources of where they are discussed, but then to give an opinion as if to break the deadlock of other views that are different then his. Moo will sometimes give a reason for his chosen view, not always.

The hardest thing to do is notice one's own blindspots. These take the form of what we think is "obvious," most of the time. "Of course -- that's obvious." Think of what you have heard others say under that rubric!

Even when an opinion is not is not contradicted by other commentators, that doesn't leave it in the clear, as if by default.

On these three pages, the problem is trying to set up a complex relationship between two concepts which are yet to be explained properly, obedience and faith. But let's let it pass for now. We are only in the first paragraph of Paul. And Maybe Moo is only winking at us.

Gen 44-45 for Jan 22

If it has ever been that your "heart grew numb" (45:26), like Jacob's here, may it have been for similar eventuality, that your spirit revived, as Jacob's here (45:27).

Just read the story, please, and close this blog and read again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ps 18:16-36 for Jan 21

Unmercifully chopped by the One Year Bible, to stop reading Psalm 18 at verse 15 yesterday was to miss the point! To get to David in 18:16, 18:6-15 was what He did. But such are the "requirements" of the fifteen minutes a day goal. Enough said about that.

The Psalm has the greatest and hardest parts of religion embedded in it. It's truly embarassing to be stuck. It's life-threatening for a warrior, like David, to be stuck. It's like being able to take a mountain in a single leap (18:33) when a warrior sees himself rescued by his God.

And that's not even seeing it from the 18:6-15 perspective!

To depend on God is to be out on a limb, but there's the post-event, after you see it, and you notice, "my feet have not slipped" (18:36); you notice, "He trains my hands for battle" (18:34); you notice the lawn where you're able to relax now, and say "He brought me forth into a broad place" (18:19).

So that's some of the greatest parts of religion, that God rescues David the individual. What are some of the hardest parts, besides the embarassment of actually depending on God?

What does the skeptic often say: "if you really think God answers prayers, why don't we set up a controlled experiment? In one room, we'll have people praying for God to prevent sugar from being added to the water by people in the next room. If God prevents the people in the next room from adding sugar to the water, which we told them to do, we have our proof." (We did read about Jesus comment to such things a few days ago in the One Year Bible, Mt 12:38-39).

It's not hard to refute such talk. What's harder for the individual is to figure out our own contributions to the war. "He delivered me" (18:17), yes, but "He trains my hands" (18:34) -- for battle! So, passivity is completely out. When there are two agents trying to accomplish something, there is a coordination issue, no?

One part of the answer is certainly that both work together: "He makes my feet like hinds' feet" (18:33); i.e., the feet that jump are something I certainly didn't create. "You enlarge my steps" (18:36), i.e., my efforts get me farther than they would otherwise.

And part of the answer certainly must be 18:20-24. But that's the hardest part, I think! Can we see our own work in a piecemeal way, as David does here, and not take total credit for it, as religion does when it goes bad?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mt 13:24-46 for Jan 20

The New Testament passage of the One Year Bible for today has five parables, one explained, and an explanation of the scope of the use of parables to "the crowds" (13:34).

In the previous day's parable, the lesson described the receiving of seed by an individual; here, there is first of all a wide-angle view of a whole field (13:24). What is the field (13:38), what has its owner done (13:24)? What else was done in the field, by whom and to what effect (13:25)? The first parable was a close-up on soils, four different kinds; the second parable is about seeds, two different kinds: "sons of the kingdom" and "sons of the evil one" (13:38). The first parable invites the listener to compare soils, and the second invites the listener to understand what has already been sown in the world, and refrain from a full weed-out (13:28), because going through everything is risky to the good plants (13:29); plus, reaping is for reapers, and for later (13:30).

Soils and seeds; mustard seed and leaven; treasure and pearl. Three groups of two related parables. Just as the first (from yesterday) was a close-up on soils, the second (from today) is a panorama on the whole field; the third is a panorama (13:32) of a spacious tree, and the fourth a close-up on what is hidden (13:44). This chiasm makes things easy to remember. In the last two parables, the alternation continues, from what is hidden (13:44) to what is purchased openly (13:46).

All the parables mark the importance of the passage of time. Enough time, and we see what different soils produce, what different sons produce, what the small beginning of the kingdom produces, and what properly fills the time after the kingdom has been found.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 44-50)

1:2-3.   You know that you're not in Kansas anymore when BAGD is quoted not as an authority settling an issue, but one source with a view on the meaning of a phrase (p. 46 n. 34). And that's OK. Moo is taking pains like that, to do some things to help us understand Paul's letter, and such things as that are worth it. As we are following along in Romans we certainly should listen to one another, without the compulsion to believe one another. Reading a commentary should remind us of that, the distinction between the Word of God and comments.

One thing Moo does in his discussion of 1:2-3 on p. 46 is the reminder that in the Greek of 1:3 you get what doesn't come out in English. "γ ε ν ο μ έ ν ο υ   ἐ κ"   is very well discussed as not simply "born of," but we hear the Greek "become from." The Son of God wasn't simply "born of" a seed of David, but "having become from" him, he was also .... His Son is after all, God's Son, and He was not simply "born of" so and so, as His beginning.

It well may be learned, about the Incarnation, that we must do "first things first, but not necessarily in that order." In this case, one group may say, "We don't talk like that, 'became from,' in English. It's not understandable English. It needs to be conveyed differently." To which the answer is, let not our English ALWAYS constrain how we think, and what we think about.... The Son of GOD -- became from a seed of David. Nicely put in Greek. Hard to say in English.

One thing that also bedevils us, besides our English, is our theology. Sometimes we want to do "theology talk." Moo wants to discuss "promise beforehand" in 1:2, and rightly recognizes that this has a "redundant" (p. 44) ring to it. A promise is already something beforehand, so what is that which is beforehand to something beforehand? He says (p. 44) that Paul "emphasizes the temporal sequence of promise and fulfillment." Well sure, but the word says more. The promise is promised beforehand! The good news has promises in it. And God promised those promises beforehand. It's OK to hear that the Lord "told us way back that He was gonna ...."

1:4.  Concerning the meaning of "declared" or "designated." Moo prefers "designated," which is a fine word to describe something connected with an event. Moo rightly points out the Resurrection is not the manifestation of something that has always been true, as if it only needs to declared again. Instead, it is an event combined with an appointment. This appointment "has to do not with a change in essence" (p. 48), but with "a new and more powerful position in relation to the world" (p. 49).

That is an understatement, compared to Matthew 28:18. But in both places, there is constraint of language. In Matthew 28:18 it is "all authority." Here, it is "with power." Power is an attribute of God. God is not an attribute of power. The worship of God is not the worship of power, or pleasure, or of abstract goodness. These can be idols. Christ was designated the Son of God with power.

One thing that Moo might be missing in the discussion of what designated means regarding Christ Himself, is the characteristic Hebraism of discussing the actions of God using the passive voice. When Paul says "was designated," there is no doubt that it is God who designated ... whatever He designated Him to be, as we've been discussing. But God did it. That's why it is natural for Paul to add "according to the Spirit of holiness," which Moo thinks is so difficult (p. 49). Again, Moo points to the solution for understanding "the Spirit of holiness," which, if it refers to God as it does -- is not good Greek for that. Moo points out the solution: it is good Hebrew (p. 50 n. 55).

Gen 39-41 for Jan 19

Are we truly prepared now to read one of the greatest and most beloved narrations in all of world, the story of Joseph in Egypt? How could we be ... :)

In our reading, we can't even go six verses without seeing God's visible blessing (39:1-6). In summing it up, our culture wants to say that God's blessing is equal to Joseph's competence, his becoming a successful or prosperous man (39:2). Within six verses, Joseph goes from the one who was kidnapped (40:15) to being in charge of the home and property (39:5) of the head of the Secret Service for Pharaoh. But are we allowed to read this as Joseph's competence?

There is a cause-and-effect relationship between Joseph's success and God. "The LORD was with Joseph" (39:2), using God's proper name here, where in the original language it certainly stands out.

OK, "with." Next verse: "the LORD caused ...." Next, "SO Joseph found favor," from what the Lord caused. Then "the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house," i.e., Potiphar's personal bottom line, "all that he owned," including land (39:5). There's a quick lesson in the meaning of trusting someone, courtesy of Potiphar directly to us. Potiphar trusted Joseph so fully about something, so as to fully leave off concern about it completely to Joseph (39:6).

Joseph's competence is of course implied (39:8). The text leaves no room for a fictitious idea that Joseph's "hand" (39:4, lit.) was idle. Overseers (39:5) make decisions and give orders.

However, "the LORD's blessing was upon" everything (39:5), and that is given as the primary cause, by so much repetition. Once in verse 2. Twice in verse 3. Twice in verse 5; all of them explicitly associated with God by proper name.

And what about the snake in the grass, Potiphar's wife? What is going on behind the scenes, "day after day" (39:10)? A huge fight upon which the whole setup could go down, and does, even though Joseph is successful in the fight.

The readers of this story, then and now, are deliberately led to consider God's blessing in the midst of a war over its very continuance. And the battle is not over what God is blessing, but of some seamy underbelly kind of thing, having nothing to do with the up-front failure of managing the fortune. This war is secret, and follows a different logic than what can be dealt with in public. It is the bottom of a rock, with slime all over it, while the top of the rock is beautiful.

Could Joseph have brought it all out into the open? Let's think it through. This issue, if Joseph brought it forward to the head of the Secret Service, would get him what? Scarcely much different than what happened. A Catch-22 situation, dxxxxx if you do or don't. Potiphar's interests were not at-home materials-management, or property management. He was the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard.

This is very true-to-life, isn't it, regarding a person's strengths and weaknesses in general? Speaking of Potiphar, what he was good at was at work. The wife? Well, when Potiphar finally dealt with a domestic issue, how did he do (39:19-20)? As quickly as he trusted Joseph, his anger flared up. The quickness was dual. But don't count Potiphar out yet. His role in the story is not finished.

It pays to re-read a story. Potiphar doesn't send Joseph out to jail, but ... down to jail. He's the head of the Secret Service. He has a house jail (40:3)! It's for select prisoners, including Pharoah's (40:3). And as we read along, we're seeing little hints of providential guidance in the details, no? To Egypt, yes, but to one of the highest-ranking officials. A slave, yes, but blessed by God to the point of total overseeing of much wealth. Treated completely unfairly by a slimy debauched but untouchable snake, but put in with a select group of prisoners, and immediately noticed by those in charge there!

We're prepared to grant providence this kind of activity. What we're not prepared for in our culture is -- time (41:1). Two years of imprisonment! This is not a Hollywood movie, in which the hero successfully negotiates every turn in the road and goes unscathed for -- five whole minutes! -- then is out of trouble. Two years, with its toll on Joseph (41:14).

And what explanation does the text give us, for how the LORD has done this? The cupbearer says in passing: "I would make mention today of my own offenses" (41:9). The text explains "the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (40:23).

That's it! That one verse can be as telling about how we must look at God's guidance as anything. Did God bless? Yes, no other explanation is possible. Was Joseph "forgotten" for two years? Yes, no other explanation is possible .. until what transpires after makes sense of it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gen 37-38 for Jan 18

Do you get the impression that Genesis is portraying the sons of Jacob as heroes from these two chapters?

Problems with the young Joseph: perhaps no tact (37:6), no ability to stay within himself (37:9); problems with Reuben: perhaps complicity (37:27), perhaps cowardice (37:22); problems with Judah: money-lover (37:2), and later, promiscuity (38:2); problems with all Joseph's brothers: hatred (37:4-5), cruelty (37:25), being liars and hypocrites (37:33,35). The failures of Judah in Gen 38 are left as an exercise....

On the other side of the coin, Jacob in this chapter, older, having buried his father (35:29), is not naive about the long-term meaning of the events that may come about in his family (37:11). His is entrenched in espousing Joseph as favorite, but it was never idolatry, since he rebuked Joseph about the dreams, twice. Parents of larger families know this routine, trying to love everybody "the same," i.e., no playing favorites, and having a total inability to react to each child always the same.

The text gives some hints of why this state of affairs obtained. Four of the twelve brothers are from Jacob's two "concubines" (the term used in 35:22 about them). Six are from Leah, and only two are from Rachel (35:22b-29). Benjamin, the youngest, is too young in this chapter to figure into the hostilities. That only leaves Joseph, as the birth-order hate object.

What a father holds precious (that which came through Rachel his first love), the children often "dis." And then it sorta gets out of hand. It's not as if the brothers started every day with a neutral view of Joseph, and every day he pushed them back into hatred. The text says they "could not" act right to him (37:4). Again, parents know this very sad situation: grown up children can get where they aren't teachable at some point, and they go on in some kind of tilt. A parent may try something (37:14), but the situation is beyond the remedy of the players who are there in it.

So in this "salvation history" story, isn't it ironic that Jacob, who did so well earlier in life of wrestling things to the point of getting things out of them, even God, being blessed by Him (32:29), has a family that is so out of control? They were good at Jacob's technique, getting things they wanted, but lost Jacob's direction.

That's part of the point of this story, which is of the activity of God, in the middle of the mixed-at-best activities of those God has chosen to work with. By the end of chapter 38, you are left with moral failure all over the map in the sons. Even well-meant things (37:14, 22) don't work. Chance: a passing caravan, actually two (37:25, 28), leaves the first-born Reuben with despair (37:30), and nothing to do but become a liar and hypocrite like his younger brothers, to their own father, over a long period of time (37:31-35).

Also, not to be lost in this story, is the fact that religion didn't make it to this generation yet. There were some consciences, but where was religion? The father is full of sentiments, and pre-occupied with grief (37:35), amidst sons all of whom (except for the youngest, Benjamin) are entrenched in lies, hypocrisy, and -- the reader gets a hint at the last verse (37:36) -- complete ignorance of what is going on.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gen 35 for Jan 17

The first three words of this chapter (Gn 35), "Then God said," are a theme of Genesis! Those words continue the story begun at creation (1:3).

When God speaks to Jacob in 35:1, it is none too soon! We have seen in story after story with Jacob that he does things with the goal of getting results, and marking the results of what happens to him. By the end of chapter 34, the results are not looking too good.

Let's review some of that, noticing a pattern in Jacob's life. In 28:18-22 he sets up some rules for himself, all on his own, by just vowing it (28:20). He'll do such-and-such, if such-and-such happens. He makes a mark of his decision right there publicly. With Laban, his time there (20 years!) is divided into what he said he'd do, for what, and he makes sure Laban knows the whole idea (31:38-41). The resolution of all is marked by a big ceremonial time, as "witness" (31:46-54).

When Jacob goes back toward Esau, he sets things up ahead of time for that, saying "I will appease him (32:20)." Jacob takes his pursuit of results even to God Himself, demanding, in one of the strangest stories in the Bible, that God Himself bless him before he will let God go (32:26).

If we hadn't seen Jacob's pursuit-of-results pattern yet, we see it in that part of the strange story, where he asks God for a name (32:29). Naming and categorizing are very important to Jacob (28:19; 31:47; 32:2; 32:30). But he doesn't get a name from God Himself. God however, switches the tables, and talks to Jacob in his own language, telling Jacob that God is marking the event by a name that God makes up -- for him (32:28)! "Israel" is a name that encapsulates the way in which Jacob has dealt with the world and God thus far: striving with it, and even with God. Israel means he who strives with God, with a double meaning too: God strives. Eventually Jacob uses that name in a monument as well (33:20).

What you do monumentally well, your family may do similarly, but different. And, in this case, not so well. Jacob went into his wives' maids (29:24; 30:4). Later, one of his sons does the same thing -- with one of the same maids (35:22). Jacob brought wealth to surrounding environment of Laban (30:27; 31:38), and married into it (29:20-28). Later, Jacob's daughter was forced by rape to join the surrounding culture of that time (34:2,26). Jacob made non-agression agreements in his area (31:52-53). Later, his sons make a joining/merging deal with their area too (34:15-18) -- to kill them off (34:13,25)! Families have a funny way of evolving, and in this case, at this point, ominously so.

We have seen Jacob's pattern. God's pattern of intervention interacts with Jacob's pattern of getting things done as he sees fit, and leaving a marker of events. There's some humor available to the reader in reading Jacob's speech, the part in 35:3 where Jacob says God "has been with me wherever I have gone." The truth is that every visit by God to Jacob has been at God's initiative, and this time -- God is flat-out telling Jacob to get out of that area and go to Bethel.

The reader definitely knows by this time that Jacob, the man of action, is dealing with the actions of God. God comes to Jacob on His own initiative, and has been rescuing all along (35:3; 32:11; 31;42). Jacob responds to God, in a "Jacob/Israel" way. When Jacob's personality shows here again, in his telling them as if it was own initiative that he wants to go back to Bethel (35:3), to do his typical thing, the thing he'd done chapter 28, making pillars and giving names to places (28:22; 31:47; 32:2; 33:20), the reader might well ask, did God ever tell Jacob to make all those pillars and monuments? That was Jacob's thing. God had never told him to do all that pillar setting-up (35:14), but God here is doing two things: telling Jacob to go to Bethel, and repeating the very same patriarchal promises, to Jacob, as what was important.

Where does Jacob end up? Ephrathah-Bethlehem (35:19), a few miles from what would later be Jerusalem. "God has been with me wherever I have gone," Jacob summarizes. True. And more.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 33-43)

We're going through Moo's 1996 commentary on Romans at about 18 pp. per week, for the year. Finally we are at the place where we're reading the first verse of Romans.

In talking about how Romans came to the Romans, Moo is good at getting us to think of what it might have been like to get such a letter from him if we were there ourselves in Rome. He reminds us that Paul was kind of introducing himself, hence the longer form than normally what a letter starts with.

The Roman Empire had slaves. "Bond-servant," which Moo translates "slave" (p. 39), is something that he elaborates in its Old Testament usages (p. 41 n.7). However, that's not its context here. It's the second word of the letter! Slaves wrote letters on behalf of their owners then, especially the important owners! It is this image, not the Old Testament examples like Jeremiah and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, that would be invoked in the second word of a letter. The Romans are getting a letter from a slave ... of the Messiah!

And when Moo elaborates on this as if Paul is proclaiming that "his life is totally dedicated" (p. 43), he's reading into the text here. Slaves don't usually lecture on their dedication, number one, they don't have time, and here, Paul goes on to his calling, not dwelling on himself, however devoted.

So slaves are called to be things; some slaves are called by their masters to be teachers of their children. Some slaves, as Paul here, are called to be sent by their masters on errands to do for them. Errands, together with an explanation of where the errands originate from, go hand in hand. Perhaps "apostle" gets a good image in our culture if we say "courier," someone who is sent. That takes away the weight of thousands of years of it being a "religious word."

Moo's translation says "called to be an apostle" (p. 39), but his commentary ignores this, thinking of it as "a called apostle," which is what he sees in the Greek -- klehtos apostolos." The English "called to be an apostle" is forward-looking, whereas the calling is at the beginning of Paul's ministry -- he already had got the call! (cf. Ac 9:15). So Paul is a "called apostle."

So the first "surprise" of the letter, or the second, after the surprise that Paul is a slave of the Messiah! Jesus, is that this slave Paul is a courier set apart for the good news of God. Great work....

And there you have the whole thing in a nutshell, according to Paul. Once he gets there, he's off on talking about that, which takes over from him referring to himself. Lots of the rest of the greeting is about the good news! "I'm a courier, I've got this good news, AND I MUST SAY IT RIGHT NOW! And he immediately launches into the fact of the good news and it being about the Messiah, and recent events surrounding Him. Moo wryly comments about how in the world the Romans could have handled all this early theology: they must have read Romans with "considerable perplexity" because of its "theological complexity." (p. 40) !! That's how commentators talk.

To associate "apostle" with "courier" is not to deny Moo's point that Paul is saying something with authority. It is a derived authority, as Moo himself points out in elaborating on it from Galatians 1, that Paul is sent from very high up (p. 42). Indeed, the higher up the Sender, the higher up the courier.

Mt 11:7-30 for Jan 16

Three little towns at the top of the land of Israel, within five miles of one another: someday their location will change -- intolerably, and downward (Mt 11:20-24).

This New Testament passage from the One Year Bible for today finds us hearing Jesus do for the culture of that generation what He did not come to do (9:13) for individuals of that culture: not only describe elements of it critically (11:16-17), but also denounce it (11:20) for such elements. We've been reading along in Matthew how repeatedly Jesus called and associated with the sinners, outcast, the infirm of a culture (11:4-6), even talking about the tiniest response to Him or His disciples -- like a common Middle Eastern greeting when they enter a house -- Jesus says that even such things will not go to waste (10:40-42)! In this section He expresses Himself about the proud elements of that culture, the civic and religious pride (11:23), including those famous for supposed wisdom and intelligence too (11:25).

But it is an event-based denouncement. Their denunciation is NOT because of what they started with when He arrived! It is because the Lord came to them, and they didn't change anything (11:20)! Whatever the problems were, whether different forms of pride, or just venting their common practice of criticizing everything (11:16-17), the arrival of John the Baptist, and His own arrival doing amazing things among them would have turned the legendarily worst cities of the Old Testament, like Tyre and Sidon (Ez 28) and Sodom (Gen 19) around (Mt 11:21-24).

The irony truly is astonishing. The Lord paints a picture of a Sodom that would have been standing right now, if He had done what He did in it (11:23). Sodom was thought to be down at the bottom of the Dead Sea area, which even now, is the lowest elevation area on the globe. So the Lord pictures the city of Sodom standing there today, for comparison with Capernaum, the proud town that will be going down lower than Sodom (11:23), much lower.

There are many places in which the New Testament is pretty clear that the Lord's judgment of a culture, however evil, is event-based: what did it do with Him, when He and His arrived (10:14-15; 10:40-42; 25:40; Jn 3:19; 1 Jn 5:5-10; Jn 6:40; 2 Cor 5:18-20).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pr 3:16ff for Jan 15

"How does this apply to me?" is the first question for some personalities, the last for others. It's good to avoid either extreme, to avoid both never and always asking it.

A cynic will often be heard taking a passage like this and ridiculing it because of something like the earthquake in Haiti, saying, "what length of days, what long life, did God give some of the wise people in Haiti this week?"

And the solution is not to pretend we didn't hear the implied question of the cynic: "if wisdom provides long life, peace, riches, honor, then why did some fools go on living and some of the wise die early in their lives?"

The implied question is the converse of the question "if you sin, is it really true you will die?" One answer, phrased as "you surely will not die!" in Genesis 3:4, is stated there by who the narrative says is "the serpent."

The cynic's question, the converse of the serpent's, is "if you are wise, is it true you won't die?"

In light of an earthquake in your city, you might not die right away even if you definitely sin now, and you might die right away even if you definitely have wisdom now. Same with peace and riches and "pleasant ways."

Many people get no farther than this, the assumption that all consequences must be immediate, or they don't count. It's like putting your son in kindergarden, and asking your son that same day to recite the Pythagorean theorem. (Well, not "recite," but apply. I know of a young boy who could recite it then ... ;) )

When we tell someone to make an investment, are we stupid like that? Do we say, "invest in oil!" and get upset when there's no immediate gain, or even loss of everything short-term? Therefore, in "investment" kinds of things -- one of which is wisdom -- there is risk taking. The cynic's case only considers short term: you may be wise, and yet die. But that's not the end of it. If the religion says it produces a long-term investment, then it must be judged as a long-term investment, just as other such things.

The investment analogy is a good one to show that behind this questioning of the promise about wisdom here is a collateral demand that the outcome of a promise be produced right away. Sure, the cynic also laughs at the demand that the outcome will be "someday." But that would only be decisive if there are no such things as long-term consequences of investments.

However, "someday" is NOT the only answer to the cynic's question. Wisdom is a long-term investment. But compared to folly, wisdom is a better short-term investment, now! Here, in the world of today's investment, with no guaranteed short-term results, wisdom holds its own against folly just fine. In the world of short-term results with no guarantees, in competition with its opposite, wisdom does just fine ... and in the world of long-term results, wisdom trounces. That's what the promise is. No need to be embarrassed about either contest.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gen 30-31 for Jan 14

One kind of specialty in the movies, and in detective stories, is a complicated plot that all gets explained, but not until the end.

The ancient world loved these kinds of stories -- even the ancient Greek plays sometimes had stories that were incredibly complicated, only to be explained at the end by the "deus ex machina." Is the story of the universe something that will be explainable and explained, at the end? Christianity, among the theistic religions, says with all of them, yes (e.g., Rev 21-22). So this part of the story of Jacob (Gen 31:11-13), in how it ends with explanation.

What needs explaining? For one thing, who is doing what? Is it Jacob's strategy (30:37-41) that causes the increase in the flock to belong to him, not his devious father-in-law ... or is it God (31:12)? Does Jacob think that it was his strategy, at first, and then change his mind, to thinking instead that it was God doing it all along (31:7-10)?

Meanwhile, intertwined with Jacob's strategy, we hear that Laban was strategizing too (31:7). Many people point out that in telling the story this way, Genesis is magnifying the aspect of Jacob's own character that was evident in the stories about him from the beginning, and even his natal position toward his twin brother (Gen 25:26).

Is everything significant? Are all the details of this man's life, from his natal position, to the promise he makes to God in exchange for safety, significant in some kind of plan, laid out like the plot of a movie -- to God? A similar claim is what Jesus makes toward His disciples: "the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Mt 10:30.

In a way, we all say "that's crazy: who can even get out of bed in the morning if they have to worry about what piece of a plot in a movie they have to enact during the day today?"

But the answer to that frees us up. You're not the writer of the plot. You're an agent in the plot. You and I don't have to know or worry about how the intricacies of the plot will be resolved. We're not keeping count of our hairs, and don't have to.

The idea that Jacob's behavior, which is some of the most detailed, spelled-out description of personality and character in the Bible, is circumscribed by the plan of God, may make you mad, especially if you think that means you don't have freedom to do this or that. But take this story and look: one of the main conclusions we should get from this story is definitely that Jacob acting as he chooses to act. And so is God. And things are going forward.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gen 28 for Jan 13

There are many boys-to-men stories that include even hatred between brothers.

Here too, there is typical "family life!" in the line of the seed destined to bless all the nations of the earth. The family life here is ... what? There are the same-o-same-o murderous hatreds (Gen 27:41), manipulation of one's father (27:24), even using a father's religious God language (27:20). The weakness of old age is also in view, in the father who also brings God into the picture, but completely unaware of reality and not knowing what he's doing (27:28)!

So here you have a family that's all messed up: sons murderous or manipulative, parents out of touch or manipulative, invoking God falsely or mistakenly, mothers trying to help yet very exasperated with life because of some of their children's choices, especially in marriage (27:46).

Yet, when it comes time for Jacob to get on with life, and find a wife, etc., as Gen 28 opens up, Isaac his father passes on the family's "culture," i.e., 28:3-5. Like many fathers, Isaac prefers his son get a wife "like I did," in some way.

Esau is pictured in the story figuring out things family-wise, but the text leaves it up in the air as to whether the adjustment in question does any good (28:9).

Meanwhile ... God intercepts, again: this time, Jacob, who, at this point, we're not sure what he's up to. He's just going off in the general direction of a long road trip (hundreds of miles), "toward Haran."

What do you do with a dysfunctional family member from a dysfunctional family? What God does here, is that He is not deterred at all! He sticks with what He promised (28:13-15). In a way, what is said in that passage is even louder in our ears, because we've just gone through that family life. And there is God, saying the exact same thing that He said, making unconditional unilateral promises (28:15).

The picture here is, as they said in the military, a SNAFU. Everybody's what we sadly see them to be: preoccupied with questions of rivalry, hostility, manipulation, angling for an advantage, bringing God into the service of family, family tradition and 'the way we do things.' : all the various types of disarray.... And not all the family tradition is bad! Then Jacob has his dream (28:10-15).

This communication of God to Jacob is interesting in that Jacob's reaction (28:16-22) is "so Jacob." We know about him from the previous family stories! He's thinking about ancillary stuff, commenting on his new knowledge (28:16), and on the environment (28:17), but not on any of the content of what God had said. He'd "heard all that" from his father (28:4), and right now ... he's not even married! But it was quite an unusual event, this dream. And so, "Jacob made a vow" (28:20): in typical "so Jacob" fashion, he sets a little, ad hoc, 'somekinda agreement' between himself and God, and reacts to what we might call the immediate situation: 'God says my kids are gonna be around here in every direction someday [28:14]? OK, first things first: if he gets me food, shelter, and back home safe, THEN I'll be fair with Him.' How many of these deals has God heard from us? Jacob wants pay-as-you-go with God. Haven't we thought of Him the same way?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 27-32)

If you were given the opportunity, by a respected publisher, to write a commentary on Romans, how long do you think (-- for how many pages, say -- ) you would be able to marshal your enthusiasm to tell us what you think the whole thing means, and go step-by-step, not saying anything but what you could adequately support? In this and the previous section, and in this one especially, Moo reveals what he thinks the whole ball of wax is about in Romans. A professor who is sensitive to issues of not going beyond what can be supported would probably tell us to skip these pages until we're done, and then see if the commentary has done what it takes to support these conclusions.

Then again, the editor has (p. vii) already told us that our author has "theological sympathies." Our author has given us a context for his dialog, his twelve commentators, nine in English, (pp. xx - xxiii) that there will be extensive dialog with. There's no real reason to be upset at the early statement of these conclusions, and we should really be only concerned about ourselves, that we will be tempted to adopt or reject them simply because at this early stage we might have an a priori liking for them (or disliking of them). So let Moo tell us what he thinks, and let us be the ones that show no prejudice for what he says or against what he says, both.

On p. 29, Moo says that "the theme of the letter is the gospel. And the message of the gospel is that God brings guilty sinners into relationship with himself and destines them to eternal life when they believe in his son, Jesus the Messiah."

Moo asks us not to impose categories onto an outline of Romans, like justification and sanctification. What is interesting is that the categories offered by Moo instead, the "two age presentation" (p. 32) is also a categorization.

Let's not balk too much, since the author hasn't made many assertions that must be derived from this. Let's go on and see how the two age presentation actually presents Romans. Does it cover it adequately, and do the parts of the presentation each make sense internally ? Does each one relate to the theme stated, the gospel of God?

These are questions for the future. However, I think we should always urge one another to postpone our opinions about an author's conclusions, when we're less than 4% along in a course of study. Good to hear them!

Things to pay special attention to, up to this point: the place of Romans 5 in the division of subject (p. 32); how much the subject of justification covers, thematically, in the letter (p. 28); the difference between "center" (p. 28), "starting point" (p. 25), and "theme" (p. 30).

When discussing "theme," what are the alternatives? He gives three main ones: "the relationship of Jews and Gentiles" (p. 27); "justification by faith" (p. 28); and his own choice, "the gospel." if we chose "the relationship of Jews and Gentiles" (p. 27), then how would the individual fit in? If we chose "justification by faith," (p. 29) then how would chs. 5-15 best fit in? In choosing "the gospel" as the theme (p. 29), he believes that the others are elaborations of that theme (p. 30).

We should also be careful of what the author places before us indirectly: the consideration that some themes may be "fruits, implications, or requirements" of others (p. 29). In reading the rest of p. 29, we should recognize how eloquently Moo speaks of his subject, even though it is strictly speaking, the espousing of his conclusions.

As predicted, we're almost ready to actually look at the first verse of Romans now! After presenting a short outline, Moo goes on to Romans 1:1.

Mt 9:1-17 for Jan 12

"It's in Matthew somewhere. Can't remember exactly." As Johnson said, the next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it. This passage is in that territory where we're always "remembering" that Jesus said this somewhere. Where did Jesus say flat-out to somebody, "your sins are forgiven?" Where does it show Jesus associating with non-religious people? HERE!

This first story should be a FAMOUS story too, and it would be more, if it didn't not upset our predispositions. We have the same predisposition about forgiveness as these scribes (9:3), or tend to: compare Mark 2:7, which elaborates their (and often, our) thinking: "who can forgive sins but God alone?"

The way we dovetail with that is a) our individualism about faith and forgiveness: we tend to think, for somebody to be forgiven, it requires their own faith (or faith plus yadayadayada) in all cases. But look at 9:2! Does it say "seeing their faith, Jesus said to them ...?" No, the punch of the story is who the forgiveness lands upon: "seeing their faith, He said to the paralytic...." Their faith ... and the paralytic's forgiveness! And healing, to seal the point for the skeptics ... "so that you may know" (9:6).

Another way we dovetail with these scribes is b) our indefinite postponements, our intractable bent to always say "maybe" to the question "are my sins forgiven?" or some variant of that, like "so far," or "no one knows, not even you or me, whether I'm real or a fake...."

In that sense, the crowd's reaction to the incident in 9:8 is more theologically astute than the scribes' one, and often ours. Their reaction was to think of it as blasphemy. What is the logic behind that? If we go by their assumption, it is that if only God alone can forgive sins, then Jesus "must be" claiming to be in xyz direct relationship to God, and that's impossible, because Jesus is a man, therefore blaspheming God. That's their logic.

Did the crowd then, fall into that category? No! They believed that Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins, and, accepted that God had given Him that authority. They accepted at face value the statement Jesus makes about Himself in 9:6, "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins."

So this story is a great example of how we can learn from examining our presuppositions critically. Was the crowd right, then, "glorifying God, who had given such authority to men" (9:8). Yes! They did not "veto" the facts by a prior system, an "a priori."

Often this story is given as an example of Jesus claiming to be God. In this story, that is not the case. That's what these scribes thought they had here, and many commentators. Did the crowd have it worked out exactly who Jesus was, His divinity, etc? No. But they did not use a system to deny that Jesus had the "authority on earth to forgive sins."

Don't also the next two sections (9-13, 14-17) also show this new versus old thinking theme? The "point" of all this is not all something so trite as "think new thoughts." It is not merely that we should not try to fit what Christ is doing and who He is to our prior thoughts. That is true, but the perspective is different....

The perspective is that of Christ Himself. He is the bridegroom in the presence of Whom it is impossible to mourn (9:15). He is the doctor for the sick. Sick people are too sick to do all this "new thoughts" thinking, but at that time, the doctor was present, right there, and He cures the paralytic! The bridegroom is as of then on the planet! And He among the "sons of the wedding place" (9:15, lit.), forgiving sins directly. Not only curing the sick, but dining with them. They are with the bridegroom, and cannot be mourning. Thus there is this matter of wine. He is the new wine. And the new patch of cloth. And he is not using old wineskins or an old garment. Your sickness will not deter Him. And faith in Him matters.

The difference in the perspectives is evident in many sermons. Many sermons are of the self-contradictory form: "only God can forgive sins; you need to do 1, 2, 3, for that to happen." Other sermons are of the form "God has done 1, 2, 3 for your forgiveness. He did that for your forgiveness to happen. Are you confident in what He has done?"

Why are "sinners" (9:11), not "the righteous" (9:13), characteristically "dining with Jesus" (9:10) in the gospels? We've talked about presuppositions, but there is another hint in 9:14 at a second reason. To see that, we can ask ourselves the following question: when "some of the scribes" (9:3) said that Jesus blasphemes, is it that they had a theory that ANY forgiveness claimed, any time, for any reason, is blasphemy? No. There was a system or set of systems for it. Sometimes it involved, among other things, the fasting that the disciples of John ask about in 9:14.

The direct forgiveness shown by Jesus is not only from a different presupposition than then current; it is a manifestly contrasting system to that which was then current. If we're not with the doctor, we'll try different things, some of which, like fasting, are not wrong in themselves. But when it turns out that the systems were not "who but God alone," but "who but God alone, in the old way," the new wine could not be held by such a system.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ps 10:1ff. for Jan 11

Whatever is well-known has a chance to be ignored or scorned. And we won't notice unique things about it. Such is Ps 10:1.

Think outside the box for a second here. What kind of religion does 10:1 imply? If God were a projection of an Ancient Near Eastern despot (pick one!), who would conceive of saying this kind of thing to him? The very fact that this question just gets "thrown out there" says that we're not dealing with projections of authoritarian mindsets. An authoritarian mindset would not allow this question, and would zap the questioner, not see that the question got put in the Bible!

So, is it true, that the bold, brash questions that the "new atheism" has about God, are new? Blank no! Here, right in Psalm 10, is God, in effect, sticking the question about Himself to us, through Psalm 10. 'You want some of Me? Go ahead. Get the questions out! Take your best shot!'

10:2 cannot be matched for the sheer disgust it implies as it depicts the evil it depicts. That would be an antogonistic position's "best shot" at God, that not only is evil merely "tolerated," but, over and over again, evil is agressive and is still being aggressive against what can best be described as its victims. At the top of the chain of nature in this category is -- man. "The wicked," 10:2.

So, if God has the "temerity" to get us to pose these questions to Him and see to it that they get put into the Bible, it stands to reason, if He is saying to go ahead and phrase the complaint as best we can, that the complaint has a resolution. I don't know why the One Year Bible stops at 10:15. Let's not be afraid to look at the whole of Psalm 10 for resolution.

But, if you want to stick with "today's" reading ... there's some of the resolution in verse 5.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pr 3:1-6 for Jan 10

"Sometimes the Bible promises too much, and has to be taken with a grain of salt." Let's check that ... as in, "and He will make your paths straight," Pr 3:6 in today's proverb section One Year Bible?

Or, "Sometimes the Bible demands too much, and has to be taken with a grain of salt." With these two restrictions, you'll have too much salt in your diet for sure.

The One Year Bible schedule seems to rush through Proverbs too fast at the beginning of the year, meaning we'll have some one-verse readings later in the year. The average for Proverbs should be five verses every two days, even using a Feb 29 year. In the blog, Lord willing, we'll drop and do a Psalm or Proverb commensurate with the amount of the rest of the Old Testament we're reading. We do the same with the New Testament, doing a New Testament passage commensurate with the amount of the rest of the Bible we're reading: about 1/4 of the time. Next year, we can flip it, hopefully.

So the Bible "demands too much," as in "trust in the Lord with all your heart," Pr 3:5? Remember, the original readers didn't have alternate translations to help them wiggle through with various presuppositional concerns. Translation: the original readers didn't have other versions of the text, to help them assert that this or that verse means whatever they want it to mean .... (Although many translations are always helpful, just as many observers are helpful, as long as they stick to observing, not inserting presuppositions and getting the very same ones out again... :) )

So is it a good question to ask about trusting the Lord with some of our heart? Last night, I trusted my bed to hold me up while sleeping. I didn't keep my arms up above my head in case the ceiling might fall on me. In the living room, there's a chair in which I can completely rest all my weight in, completely off the ground. I wasn't bracing myself in case the chair collapsed. These are everyday examples of doing things "with all your heart." No splitting of the bets.

Somebody might ask then, what is the splitting of one's bets, and not trusting the Lord with all our heart? I think it is to explicitly NOT trust the Lord but something else instead. This can be divided up into things, and times. There are things in which we explicitly distrust the Lord and trust something else instead. And there are times in which we explicitly distrust the Lord and trust something else instead. The verse would advocate the opposite of that, addressing things and times of explicitly distrusting God.

But some things are not so easily divisible. For example, if you're single, do you trust the Lord in that area? Many might say, "well, sorta," not necessarily that some days they do, and some days they don't, or that they will do so unless they're still single at 40 (or whatever age). They might mean that trusting the Lord for them does not imply doing nothing in that area. Trusting the Lord for food does not necessarily imply not working, unless you can't or shouldn't work.

There is some helpful explanation in the next verse: "in all your ways acknowledge Him." What is this? Some people think it's like a "pray about everything" rule. At every undertaking, "pray about it." Hmmm.

"In," not "before starting anything." In computers, we call this multi-tasking, not sequential, activity. Before sleeping in my bed last night, did I ackowledge Him? Explicitly? I don't remember doing so, unless my very going to sleep in some way acknowledged Him. (It did). But explicitly, what is it to trust my bed at night, or the ceiling not to fall, or the chair in the living room? It is a trusting in the high regularity of how God's creation works, specifically, gravity, for one thing. I can acknowledge God explicity, by saying that gravity is one of the attributes of God's creation, which He made. Implicitly, in all the many ways in which I depend on gravity, I acknowledge Him, by believing it will regularly be there.

A surgeon or soldier, then, doesn't violate the proverb, by not starting each step by explicitly praying about everything. Turning your attention fully to anything, or anyone (except God), really, precludes being able to pray while you're doing it. Various ways of speaking people use, like "my spirit is praying," etc., use different words to make the same point. There is an implicit trust that is both possible and necessary.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 21-26)

"Bro, are we there yet?"

"No, we have to have almost two weeks of Moo's introductory talk before we read Romans 1:1."

"Why, bro?"

"Well, if a commentary was hard to write, it should be hard to read, too. Otherwise it wouldn't be fair to the writer...."


We've got the German names, but much more important, we've got the German term made famous and obligatory for "serious" students (Heilsgeschichte, p. 25).

We've got the "two 'eras,' or 'aeons'" (p. 26; let's call them B.C. and A.D. for short). We've got "participants," meaning, individuals who "participate in", among other things, both aeons. Perhaps so many people saying things like "in my B.C. days..." made this necessary. We've got things set up theologically, here, by the author, for the rest of our course, the whole year! What has he set up, and how good is it?

I think I can help get this idea of Moo's across, both in a value-neutral way, and for future reference. Imagine a piece of paper, writable on both sides, and every person ever created written on the back side, the side facing down, on this paper. The back side represents the idea that every person ever created has been written down here to represent a "B.C." existence. Human history is the time of the adding of names to this backside, beginning with Adam.

On the front side, there are some names, with more and more being added as time passes. "Heilsgeschichte" is roughly, the history of salvation, that time in which people are written onto the front side of this paper -- we can think of that act as representing to "be transferred" to the "new era," which is a differently characterized age (n. 93).

However, names have appeared since Adam. Moo says "All people start out in the 'old era.' ... But one can be transferred into the 'new era' by becoming joined to Christ." (p. 26).

How so? He doesn't say here. The plot thickens.

Gen 20-22 for Jan 9

It's hard having both strengths (Gen 18:8) and weaknesses (20:2). If nothing else, the timing of when they come out is off (21:5). Our obvious (21:11) and less obvious (20:11) failures protrude, and then, if we're trying an angle that shows that we have some strengths (21:33), how does that seem to work out (22:2)?

Then again, this story is becoming both great and scary at the same time for Abraham. Have you ever met someone that you just want to make go-away, because they are too much for you? They are great, but they are marching to their own drum, and when they appear, they are usually huge in your life, but completely scary at the same time. So the Lord. This story puts together a set of encounters between Abraham and the Lord that are completely uncontrollable by Abraham. In the space of a few years, God's encounters with Abraham feel like from zenith (18:33) to nadir (22:7).

Not to see him as victim. Abraham's actions, as we are reading along, are, logically speaking, inexplicable. A man whom God Himself visits, and promises things that have the sky as their limit (specifically! 15:5), punts (12:13), and punts (15:2), and punts (15:8), and punts (16:2). and punts (17:18), and today again, punts (20:2). So by the time we hear God telling Abimelech in 20:7 that Abraham is a prophet, we go, huh? Grace is odd, isn't it?

So the long story of 12:1 to here seems to climax in 21:1-8, and there in verse 8, Abraham, capitalizing on his strengths again, makes a great feast.

Maybe Abraham is thinking "well, it's obvious that God's got some plan for me; maybe I better be quiet and not mess it up." But passivity is not rewarded either, and Abraham finally stands his ground about a small matter, a well that had been taken from him (21:25-26) and he had not done anything about. After this, he takes the initiative again, perhaps learning that doing nothing doesn't work. He takes his stand on the matter of the well, business wise, and calls on God to notice it (21:27-33). At this point we certainly see Abraham having become an active moral agent. Sure, it's a well. But he takes a stand: he puts a nice tree by it (21:33).

Lest Abraham fall back from this progress, the Lord has a test (22:1). People are always saying, "what does God need to test us for?" A very good question, with a very good answer here. Everyone who has ever been trained by someone with good will knows that tests are timed to show progress. This is a one-on-one situation here, between God and Abraham, which makes the timing at God's discretion (22:1), and God already "knows" -- as we read this, we know He knows -- not only the test, but its outcome and things hundreds of years future -- God already knows what Abraham will do. So the test is not to flunk him, but to teach him. God makes the result of the test very clear to Abraham (22:12-18).

So let's take heart about our tests and training.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mt 7 for Jan 8

"Because I said so, that's why!"

The argument from authority. One of the reasons people hate Christianity, or morality ("do's and don'ts") in general, is because they think that the only way to support it is by the argument from authority. Certainly there are people do that, using that argument. In contrast, and judging by how Christianity is often packaged, some church people reacting against that, sometimes are just as averse to being directly told what to do, or sometimes just as averse to telling others what to do as anybody, in various movements; so you have the seeker-"sensitive" movement, the "inclusive" movement, the postmodern anti-assertions movement, etc. One of the great geniuses of reform movements is to give people another reason to do things besides 'the Boss says, that's why,' or to go off on a pendulum swing reacting to that type of religion.

In this sense, Jesus was and is a reformer too. He contrasted righteousness with that advocated by the Pharisees, who used God merely as an authority. Not that He was postmodern and didn't think anything could be said about God (Jn 4:24). Not that He was inclusive and didn't say anything that could send someone away (Mt 19:21-22). Not that he was seeker-"sensitive" and accepted everyone who applied on their own terms (Lk 9:57-62). But the Lord, here in Mt 7:1-5, gives a different way of looking at do's and don't's. He does so here with one word, "for," in 7:2, plus He elaborates on this kind of angle in the next three verses.

The "don't" here is of course verse 1. "Do not judge." Instead of "because I said so" (in this case), Jesus says "so that you will not be judged." If He had left it there, we would go off thinking that Jesus was saying that all morality has self-interest at its base, and become some kind of me-first Christian, the kind that says "I serve God because I'm out for my own best interest." That has its appeal a lot nowadays.

Instead, Jesus gives a reason for the "don't." "For ... " -- i.e., because, "in the way you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you."

Hmm. But why isn't this the counsel of prudence, in other words, if you want to be judged fairly, judge others fairly? Well, that's not what it says! How many things could be resolved, by pointing out simply, "that's not what it says!"

Remember the conclusion: "Do not judge." The Lord doesn't say 'Judge fairly (since you will be judged by the standard you use, and you don't want to be judged unfairly).' He does not say 'judge fairly.' He says "DON'T judge, the reason being, SINCE, you will be judged by the standard you use...." In otherwords, the standard we are using is bad, flawed, etc., so as a PROCEDURAL issue, don't judge (yet! ...)."

Our guns are dirty! They will backfire!

To use his words, actually, our eyes are blocked, obstructed bigtime! That's a very different reason than "because I say so," first of all. Second, this extremely poor "vision," i.e., moral vision, the kind you need to see clearly what other people are doing wrong, should be the reason to not do the judging at that point. The most eager and zealous person trying to correct something would pause at this kind of argument: the procedure is flawed!

In 7:5 he supplies the correct procedure, and the go-ahead for correcting others. The Lord wants accurate corrections, not faulty ones.

And so, in this small example, we see the zealous person who wants to correct something is given something to go by other than "don't do it because I said not to, that's why." The Lord wants accurate corrections, not faulty ones. That criterion is a pretty good one.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 13-20)

On the one hand, what we have so far in the commentary is a good illustration of going out and doing some investigation and taking into account the investigations of others. On the other hand ...

The "essay" format (as opposed to some strictly inferential structure) lends itself to freedom to express yourself. But it also lends itself to rhetorical laxity. One element of rhetorical laxity is the all too common pattern of suggesting something (for example, "Paul's purpose may be ...", p. 11), then repeating it in various ways while mentioning other things( for example, saying "this interpretation of the data is generally satisfactory," (p. 12)), such as facts that support, but do not establish, what you suggest.

However, there's a reason to comment on Moo this year! He is aware that suggestion is not proof! Indeed, you could say that these suggestions are brought up so that later, around p. 28 (we haven't gotten there yet) -- he brings this particular suggestion, that "the theme" of Romans is this and that, up for direct discussion -- and shows problems with it!

But here, back up through p. 20, the author is introducing the idea. If you're tempted to do this kind of thing in discussions: suggesting, hinting, making things sound plausible because of xyz -- AND, if you know in your heart that you don't have the proof -- then put in Moo in your life, who will listen to your stuff, and try to investigate it with you, and then ... look at it directly with you. A very stout drink, to correct our sneaking around like that.

Wasn't this a lesson learned many times in history? Engineers and those responsible for guarding human life, whether building bridges or watching for enemies, learn this lesson: check your materials! Subject your materials to a solidity check. The same should be true for arguments. Subject them to a coherence and verifiability check.

We may do this, or have it done for us later (which may not be as careful as we'd like). A bridge will be tested by its traffic and the winds. Why not check it for solidity first? An argument will be tested by opponents. So why not check it first?

So here at the end of pp. 20-21, we have Moo's bridge candidate. Let's continue and watch for opportunities to give it a solidity check: Paul "carefully rehearsed his understanding of the gospel, especially as it related to the salvation-historical questions of Jew and Gentile and the continuity of the plan of salvation."

I know, that sounds like theological gobbledy-gook. It's just technical language. But it is his candidate. Moo both checks others' materials, and provides materials for us to check!


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