Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Acts 4:5-28

Peter spoke, but both Peter and John had confidence (Acts 4:13), each enough to be noticed by the group in 4:5ff.  This interaction between Peter and John and those in 4:5-6 was clearly a situation in which Peter and John were outnumbered, so much so that it is surprising that the greater-in-number group did not intimidate the lesser.

They tried.  They "commanded" (4:18).  They "threatened" (4:21).  They said lots of things (4:23) to Peter and John, which Peter and John shared with their own (4:23).  But this group, Peter and John's companions, arrived at a conclusion about what had happened using an argument from the greatest confrontation with rulers in their Bible -- Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25-26).  Peter and John used the prophecy to explain their lesser confrontation, as we shell see in the next section. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Galatians 3

Of all the correctives that need to be used upon ourselves, Galatians 3 is the most timely for us, all over the world.  And indeed, Paul is not speaking about a local custom of limited scope here.

In order for something to be a corrective, then we will have had to first be  incorrect at some point.  Paul says "you foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you ..." (3:1)?  That's why 3:2 is a rhetorical question.  He's not asking for information, but for them to confess what they all know, that they received the Spirit by the hearing of faith (3:2).  This should be a corrective for them.  And he proceeds in 3:3 from there.  They have "begun by the Spirit."  Then the next rhetorical question is given; again, he is not asking them for information, but telling them what they already know, that they are NOT being perfected by the flesh (3:3).
   What a shock this must be to the congruentialist, who makes no distinction between the results of "the works of the Law" and the results of "the hearing of faith," as if they are interchangeable in their effects!  One does NOT result in the receiving of the Spirit, and one does!  They couldn't be more different in what they result in!  But isn't this some subtle point, about which Christians can and do differ?  No.  They do, but they can't.  Paul attributes it to some inconceivable bewitchment, that they would consider the works of the Law to result in what the hearing of faith resulted in!  Part of the factual proof of their foolishness is that they know the answers to Paul's questions immediately upon hearing them.

Next, Paul takes up the objection that things are like that ("hearing of faith") at the start, but are superseded by works of the Law.  He asks "does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (3:5)  This is about ongoing things.  Not only did they receive the Spirit at the beginning, but the Spirit is provided by God on an ongoing basis.  Does God do that, which is ongoing, by the works of the Law?  Or by hearing with faith!  It is also the same with the miracles among them!  In conclusion, he claims not merely that they started with faith, but that they have a permanent state because of it:  "Therefore, know that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (3:7). From the origin of it, to the current state of those who originated that way.  That is how you recognize a Christian among other religious people.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Mt 4:17-5:19

There is the same summary language for the initial preaching of Jesus (4:17) as John the Baptist's initial preaching in 3:2. Does that imply a connection between the content of their preaching:  Of course it does! Both men characteristically preached "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." In characteristic form, from conclusion to support for it, it is less understandable to our ears immediately.  We prefer the premise stated first, then, the conclusion?  OK.  1)  The kingdom of heaven has come near.  2)  So, repent!

So let's ask each other:  Of all the things you've heard said about   their sermons, have you heard that they preached that the kingdom of heaven has come near as much as you've heard that they preached repentance?  Not nearly so much.  We've often heard that John the Baptist preached repentance, and that Jesus did too, but very seldom heard their premise for it!  This cannot be explained in an excusable way.  Is the fact that the kingdom of heaven has come near of no consequence, either for anything else, or especially, for repentance?  It is very much of consequence.

Friday, February 06, 2015

1 Tim 4:1-5:2

It is always disheartening among those deeply interested in the truth of Christianity, that two things must be dealt with, having espoused it: the existence of the mundane (by comparison to the truth of Christianity), and the existence of opposition to the truth of Christianity from within the group.

Having a brand new shirt, we are stuck with having to launder it; it seems so unfair to deal with the grimy dirt, in something so brilliantly new.  But let's not complain that the task has no interest: having just read from the sublime expressions of 1 Tim 3:16, 1 Tim 4:1 is not an anti-climax, but an application: part of being in a group is dealing with "some" (4:1), although the reason for this group is hard for the Christian leader to stomach -- until we realize that one of the blessings of learning from the life of Jesus is the way he dealt with those whose disagreement was at this level, coming from "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars" (4:1-2).  But have things really changed since Galatia?  Did not the early Paul ask them who bewitched them?

In grimy dirt example #1 in the first paragraph, there is an asceticism based on foods and the state of some sort of chaste singlehood (4:1-5).  In number 2, it is failling into "worldly fables fit for old women" -- some kind of fictional stories of idealized people and their feats could fill that bill.  Rather than fables about people, looking to ourselves -- "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" -- be the hero yourself!  Don't single out the Saviorhood of God, only applying it to some stylized, idolized people.  

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Luke 2:8-40

Let's not miss the irony between the generalism and hubris of the Roman announcement ("all the inhabited earth") in 2:1, and the particularism and greatness of 2:14, "and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."  There would be two things that might make us miss this: first, an anachronism which the ASV mg saves us from in 2:11, "Savior, who is anointed Lord."  On the on hand, earlier described was "Caesar Augustus," Latin for the august king, the Romans thinking of him as Lord over everything inhabited, but "in those days" (2:1), born in an out-of-the-way corner of the empire "a Savior who is [the] Anointed Lord." We'd miss that if we think of Christ as merely part of His name.

The second anachronism is to worry about election in the theologically disputed sense when reading 2:14.  To counteract that, we can ask ourselves the question: which had greater scope, the reign of Caesar Augustus over all the inhabited earth so-thought, or the "news of great joy which will be for all the people ... glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased..."?  Who's in the highest?  Caesar counting his subjects, or the Savior come among those same subjects?  Which had greater scope at the time?  the pax Romana over the "inhabited" portion, or the peace that the angels invoked "on earth"?  Which had greater glory upon it?  Caesar's glory, or the "glory to God"?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Rm 3:21-4:25

Leon Morris calls Rm 3:21-31 "possibly the most important paragraph ever written."  Certainly I agree with that!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

1 Peter 3

The difficulties with the soteriological statements at the end of this chapter are no greater than some perhaps with the exhortations near the beginning.  And Peter ties them both together with 3:18, the statement that Christ also died for sins once for all.  By this Peter means to explain better both the previous suffering of 3:17 and the future salvation of 3:21.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Jn 2:13-3:8

When John says in 2:25 that Jesus "knew what was in man," the reader supplies the contrast to the end of the litotes, "and it's not good."  That certainly allows a smooth segue to the ideas in 3:3.

We should hold the universal common idea of Protestantism, the idea of being born again, just a little bit behind our back in our hearing Jesus speak to Nicodemus of it "the first time."  Jesus was not alluding to "just like they say in the hymns, born again...." but stating it for the first time.  It touched Nicodemus that way too.  And doing that a little, we may notice that being born again is preparation for something in the future, the seeing of the kingdom of God (3:3), and the entering of the kingdom of God (3:6).  It is preparation of the most necessary kind, a "sine qua non" preparation, a "without which, none" preparation.

Notice the gentleness of the argument Jesus makes toward Nicodemus.  It is the Lord's response to Nicodemus' attempt at deference in 3:2.  Jesus is teaching him what he needs to know, and we know from reading about Nicodemus later, that it had fruition in him.  Jesus first speaks of it in the third person, which is a teacher's way not to inflame resentment at feeling insulted.  Then he cautions Nicodemus even as he applies it to him, don't marvel.  Don't get your dander up.  A model of teachers' patience.

Mk 2:6-22

A good question to see if we have heard the point Jesus makes in Mk 2:9-10 is this: does the fact that Jesus says to the man to pick up his pallet, and go home, enough to convince them (and us) that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins (and us)?  If we were there, would we have not gotten it (2:8)?

Similarly, in Mk 2:14.  We're "kind of" aware, especially if we were brought up on Genesis 1, that God does things by fiat: that is, that He speaks, and it occurs.  But we don't apply it much to other things.  (That's a good thing, in general!  Awful difficult to cause things by fiat!)  So, when Jesus says to Levi "follow Me!" does it occur to us that Jesus is doing anything by fiat?  Or, do we just say that it was the normal command / obedience instance, or maybe invitation / response, or opportunity / enlistment?  But notice the verbal parallel Mark "sneaks" in to 2:14.  What did Levi do?  He "got up and followed Him."  What did the paralytic in the previous story do?  "He got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone."  Hmm.  In 2:17, Jesus uses the word "call" -- we must remember, that God uses "calls" for things like that (Is 45:4), forming, and causing, and doing (Is 45:7).