Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Acts 1

Since we might have difficulty because of different questions than the apostles have in Acts 1, we need to imagine what it was like to have been given orders by the resurrected Son of God, as Luke starts here by describing (Acts 1:2).  As we read.

They wouldn't be asking about the relationship of the Lord's divine and human nature, or what was the best form of church government.  What they did ask and learn was very much of-the-moment: they received "many convincing proofs" that the Lord was alive, for one thing.  Also, they received orders to wait for "what the Father had promised" -- this, an amazing confirmation of what He had said the day He ate the fish with them (Lk 24:49).

As we continue to read in Acts 1, the whole series of events comes upon us so fast!  "Forty days" is not a long time to be around "the first and the last, and the Living One," as He will explain later to John and us (Rev 1:18), that  He "was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore" with these "many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3). 

It would not be unfair to wonder why He was to go after He said those things in Acts 1:8.  And thus we are not far off from needing what the angels said to the apostles at the very time they could have been distressed: "why do you stand looking into the sky," they ask (1:11).  But their exhortation wasn't something like "get to work!" but, as per the way things are done under the aegis of the new era, a promise was given them: the Lord "will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go" (1:11).   A good question we can ask is "why was that told to them? What would that have added to their step, knowing what we do, two thousand years later?"  Or is it, really, a good question?  Lots of those "knowing what we do" assumptions should be revisited!

The disciples could not have but understood this as encouraging to them, that the Lord would come in just the same way as they watched Him go.  To the theological mind, this might need "rephrasing," but don't dare do so.  Keep the verse, lose the philosophy that prevents the significance of the verse from hitting you!

The rest of chapter 1 takes the form of a procedural issue that would seem to be a secondary matter to us, compared to other issues, but there it is.  Another corrective of our common practice of reading what happened, but putting its significance as low for us.

One way to see why it was so significant to Peter, to replace the place of Judas among the apostles, is to remember what Jesus had been doing.  He "presented Himself alive" ... "to them."  Jesus was not presenting Himself to everyone, "not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead" (Acts 10:41).  That's the background of the importance of the selection of Matthias (Acts 1:22ff).  We want arm-chair discussions of why Judas, and Peter wants to make sure he synchronizes the actions of the apostles with the fact that the witnesses were "chosen beforehand by God."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Acts 18

Acts 18 has a very action-oriented pace and pragmatic aspect to it. In one case, people want an extended teaching time with Paul, but even he himself postpones the opportunity with them (18:21).  In another case, he curtails his teaching to a group that "resisted and blasphemed" (18:6).

A good question, with all his traveling, is just how Paul was "strengthening all the disciples" during such a whirlwind trip "through the Galatian region and Phyrigia."  (18:23).  The outsider in Corinth heard little but "words and names and your own law (18:15)," which theological discussions sound like to an outsider, often nowadays as well.

Paul worked.  He worked alongside "a Jew named Aquila" in the same trade (tent-makers, 18:3).  All very pragmatic.  But what did Paul do "in his spare time," as we say nowadays?  "He was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."  (18:4).      

In our day, "reasoning" and "trying to pursuade" is almost ridiculed.  A current popular movie unconsciously testifies to the attempt to segregate a time of choice and deliberation to a very narrow time of life and a narrow set of choice points.    One of the points of this movie (Divergent) is the fallacy of restricting the time and scope of human choice and deliberation.  

"Trying to persuade Jews and Greeks" goes also against many theological systems which say in effect, that the attempt to pursuade is of very little use.  That idea should be scuttled, since Paul did that kind of things for "a year and six months" (18:11), and did not leave due either to conflict (18:12) or to being forced to (18:18).

A detail we might overlook is that in "trying to persuade Jews and Greeks (18:4)," Paul very likely doubled his persuasion efforts, because of the separation normally likely to be the case, between groups of Jews and groups of Greeks in their social and religious gatherings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lk 3 Studies, Pt 2

Continuing the discussion of Lk 3.

Lk 3:8

Q1.  Can the presupposition that he was preaching to fake repenters in this verse be sustained?

No.  That would be mistaking strong language for accusatory language in this verse.  It starts with the big "therefore" to the answer to his previous question.  "Therefore" ... in fleeing from the wrath to come, by coming out to be baptized by him, their obligation now (cf. 3:10-14) is to bear fruits.  It is not the obligation of those who have not repented, to bear fruits in keeping with repentance, but those who have.

Q2.  Is it irrelevant to true religion to have Abraham as father?

No.  Paul doesn't think so in Rm 4:13-17a.  Neither Jesus Himself, in Jn 8:39.  John the Baptist's argument is more complicated than that.  What is to be avoided, while bearing fruits in keeping with repentance?  Saying to oneselves, "we have Abraham for our father."  In the Greek, it's more of a categorical, using the accusative: "a father we have, namely, that Abraham."  John the Baptist is telling them not to make that argument about themselves, which is a "standing pat"-type argument.  Not that it's false.  But they are not to use it in lieu of bearing fruits in keeping with repentance.  They are to go with the repentance, over that fact.

Why?  Because "from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham." This is often taken as, therefore it is of no consquence, to be Abraham's descendant.   But God's ability to do this from stones  ... that is not the ability to do something that's unimportant.  To have repented, however, is a compelling fact, greater than to be Abraham's descendant, a fact to be taken as compelling action, no matter even that they are Abraham's descendants.

So to bear fruit worthy of repentance is far to be preferred to -- even -- being the great Abraham's descendants, because, though God is able to raise up children to Abraham from stones, in repenting and bearing fruit in keeping with it, they distinguish themselves from passivity.  It's an activist argument.  Act!  Don't stand pat!

It also closes the argument started in 3:7.  God has brought you to repentance.  That's a great thing.  What does God do?  Since God can even make stones into grown up children of Abraham, let this repentance be for you a source of action such that God can even do with stones, turning them from their passivity.  God can not only create children of Abraham from stones, but raise them up.  God brought you to repentance.  Go on in keeping with that! in keeping with how God can even do with stones!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Luke 3 studies Pt. 1

Something of a detour into the gospels will sometimes be shown, my having started a year-long study of them back on April 27.

Today, in looking at Lk 3:7-9, there are many questions for a person interested in the gospels and what they say on salvation to possibly consider; at least I think so.

Lk 3:7

Q1.  Are the crowds addressed by John the Baptist as "you brood of vipers" all Pharisees?

The crowds addressed by John the Baptist here are not specifically Pharisees!  These crowds were, therefore, broods of vipers, and not necessarily because they were Pharisees!  What we know about this collection is that there were many instances of them: many instances of these crowds, since John "came into" many places: he "came into all the district around the Jordan."  That refers to many instances of preaching.  Secondly, they "were going out to be baptized by him."  That refers to the same instances of the crowds, ones that were in all the district around.  Not just one.    The attribute "brood of vipers," therefore, cannot be restricted to the Pharisees.

Q2.  What is the implied answer to John the Baptist's question in this verse?

That God Himself has warned them!  John the Baptist uses this as the premise of what he says to them that follows.  If God Himself warned them to flee from the wrath to come, then what John the Baptist says next makes sense.  Since they fled, they must do what is in keeping with that flight.    Otherwise, if they were not fleeing from the wrath to come, or if it was not God impelling them to, then there was no repentance to be in keeping with.

This answer gains support also from the way the topic starts: "You brood of vipers!"  They are as he says they are.  Do vipers know to avoid God's wrath to come?  No.  But they are a brood of vipers, so who but God could possibly have caused this unexpected event to have be happening at this present moment? If broods of vipers are fleeing from the wrath to come, by going out to be baptized by John the Baptist, they must have been warned to do so by God.  And since they are coming out to a baptism of repentance, their repentance is something from which John also argues the ethical implications of: "therefore bear fruits ...." (cf. 3:7, RV/ASV mg, "worthy of your repentance" ... your repentance: John is arguing from its existence in them.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Something had already happened in Philippi before 2:12

Philippians 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.

If God hadn't worked in the Philippians before (2:13 says He is at work in them), Paul could be telling them to work out many things, but how could he be telling them to work out their salvation? "Your salvation," that is, "your own salvation" (RV et al), is  την εαυτων σωτηριαν.  Let's recognize the plurals, including  "your (pl) salvation."  "Ye have always obeyed," says the AV/RV/ASV/YLT, which keeps the "ye" form, reflecting the plural address.  So they were being told by Paul to work out their salvation.  All those other translations, plus the RSV/ESV, from our times, shows the emphatically placed εαυτων adjective as present, by translating "your own salvation."  Poetically sounding English, reflecting even more the Greek would say "the you-folks'-own salvation," the salvation that is you-folks' own!

What does this rule out?  Acquisition!  If their salvation is their own, it is not something they are to acquire.  This simple Greek word εαυτων here has a Protestantism built right into it, we could say! ... at least, a Protestantism as it had started, which Trent remonstrated against back in 1546, against which the natural man rails, saying, how dare God presume to give me that great sine qua non, which I cannot say I must do some one good thing to obtain (Mt 19:16), or even possibly many things, to inherit (Mk 10:17; Lk 18:18) and establish (Rm 10:3)? How dare Paul tell them that something, salvation no less, is already their own.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Forest and trees in Philippians 2:12ff.

What if Philippians 2:12-13 weren't there?  What would be lost?

Likely nothing, if the meaning is being shoved into the verses from some other presupposition.  The presupposition would likely show up, as an affliction upon other verses that are called upon to bear it.

If Philippians 2:12-13 were not there, where would there be as sweet an example-from-success, that would help us understand the Christian life as these two verses do, which build upon the success of "just as you have always obeyed..."?

We're not as familiar with success-driven tasks, as problem-driven ones.  Think of the beginning of Romans, the universal indictment from Rm 1:18 through 3:20.  Or 1 Corinthians, "now concerning the things about which you wrote," Paul says in 7:1, namely questions and problems.

Therefore wouldn't it be wrong to put a problem-fixing presupposition onto these two verses here?  "Just as you have always obeyed ..." is not even the greatest positive example in the passage!  Certainly it is this: "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and work for His good pleasure."  This positive is not a "conditional promise."  What condition is Paul making for it?

So, if Paul were writing a "study Bible" version of his letter, what would the section heading be here?  Isn't "it is God who is at work in you" a section-heading-level statement?

For the logician, we can merely ask what the possible implications are, of "it is God who is at work in you."  One of them, Paul says, is "work out your salvation with fear and trembling."  Fear and trembling, as a positive?  Yes!  He is not discussing any kind of "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" besides the kind that is an inference from "it is God who is at work in you," and in light of their past obedience already.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

working out your salvation in Philippians 2:12

Paul's "just as you have always obeyed ..." in Philippians 2:12 hopefully helps us understand what "work out your salvation" means in that same verse.  However, there is so much more that Paul has said to the Philippians in this letter up to this point, that helps as well.  In trying to understand what Paul means by the beginning of 2:12, "So then, my beloved, ..." we have to go back before 2:12.  What is 2:12 the conclusion from?

His first exhortation to them is Philippians 1:27, "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ": conduct worthy of the gospel of Christ is a unique phrase here, although conduct worthy of God and worthy of our calling is also in Paul's vocabulary.  Because of the familiarity of the words "gospel" and "Christ" to us, we forget to listen to them like a First Century Philippian would.  Conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the good news of Messiah.  Hmm.  Do we often think of conduct as something that is to line up with the recent good news we've been given (cf. 1:6,8,10,11)?

Their suffering is also very noteworthy to Paul, and He will mention the suffering of Christ in 2:8, although not by the word suffering, but by the word "obedient" (2:8).  Similarly, the working out of their salvation is compared specifically with their past obedience, as its initial measure.  Other than perhaps the military, we're not as familiar in our culture with devoted obedience as Paul's culture was.  They obeyed while Paul was with them.  But does it say to Paul?  The immediate context is the obedience of Christ to the Father (2:8), and even the assertion that God highly exalted Christ because of His obedience to the Father.  Only then does Paul say "just as you have always obeyed."

The working out of their salvation is an obedience just like they obeyed while Paul was with them, and the "much more" he exhorts them to, is in working out their salvation in the present ("now ... in my absence,"), and for the reason he states in 2:13.

What is the obedience that they always had?  Obedience is a response word.  If what a person does is only the things that a person initiates himself or herself, what is there of obedience in that?  Paul deliberately refers them back to their time with him, and thus to what he has said about it in the letter so far.  He refers them to a finite interval of time, in which they always obeyed, i.e., they responded to imperatives they were under by complying with them.

Christ humbled Himself in "becoming obedient"  (2:8).  This does not mean a transition from disobedience, to obedience, but refers to actions of Christ that complied with the will of God, "to the point of death, even death on a cross." 

Therefore by directly discussing the working out of our salvation in the context of our obedience, Paul wants us to think of it together with instances of our past obedience, as motivation and standard (or if you prefer the order, as standard, and motivation).  He compares this obedience to what they already successfully had done, and to the obedience of Christ to the point of death.  Therefore our salvation places us under obligation to obey, in working it out, and this working out comes with accomplished examples of obedience, for them to consider, their own, and Christ's.  There is no working out of our salvation that cannot draw from them. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Arguing from the past in Philippians 2:12

Continuing with Paul's important exhortation to the Philippians in 2:12-13, "so then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

We looked some at the "following-support" to Paul's exhortation "work out your salvation ...", which is the text of 2:13.  But before the exhortation are the words from the beginning of the verse as above, which people often skip.  This is the tail-end of what brings Paul to the exhortation.  Why does he bring up their past obedience?  Playing on their heart-strings?  Emoting?  No, although he loves them dearly, and loved them when they had met, and they always did what he said while he was with them.  These two chapters to this point are filled with some of the most amazing expressions of warmth of heart, plus theology intertwined, ever written.  Does "so then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but no much more in my absence" add nothing to the meaning of his exhortation?  Of course it adds.  What does it add?

1. Paul wants them to consider their past time with him and all they participated in while he was with them.  

2.  Why was he not with them now?  He was in prison.  He's writing  a letter to those who he loves like crazy, from prison, saying over and over how great it was for them to have participated with him in this and that together.  How great was that?  

3.  While he's in prison, he wants something to be "much more." Paul's love makes him want to turn their shared, obedient participation with him in the past, into a quantity argument about the future.  He wants them to accept this quantity argument from him, that goes from their past obedient participation with him, toward  a "much more" version in the future.

4.  Why does Paul have the temerity to ask this, besides due to his love for them wanting the best?  What makes him want a "much more"?  Because although he's absent from them, he can remind them of God not being absent from them.  A greater than Paul, who is among them as he can't be, gives him the temerity to exhort like this.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Philippians 2:12-13 introduction

A friend asked me to not be so negative, and put some things up that he could criticize(!)  So here goes, some thoughts on Philippians 2:12-13, an important text in the Christian life, as if from a student, to another.  Lord bless our exploration.

What is the relationship between God being "at work in you," which Paul tells the Philippians is true of them, and what Paul exhorts them to do, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling"?

The simple answer is that the first is a reason for the second.  "For it is God who is at work in you."  That's the immediate reason that Paul gives them for what he asks and exhorts and commands them to do.  God is at work in them.  That's the reason they should work out their salvation.

So before we ask questions of the form "why doesn't it mean what I think, namely, xyz," we should look at the passage on its own.  The exhortation, "work out your salvation ..." is supported on both sides: before, and after.  2:13 is the "after"; 2:12a, is the "before" (if not the whole letter in some respects).

So we have prior-support, then the exhortation, then following-support.  The following-support is very interesting, because of the fact that it supplies the premise (2:13) for an inference.  How is 2:13 a reason for working out our salvation?

Has the fact that others are working with us ever given us a reason to work at something?  How about if it is God, working in us?  Should God working in us not give a sufficient reason to work something out?  Especially if the very thing God is working on is the means that we humans get things done by using: our wills, and our deliberate actions.  But how then is it our very salvation, that we are to work out?!  More soon.


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