Category Archives: Discussion

Pour Out Your Grief Before Him

Friday, November 2, 2018

7:45 AM I woke up tired this morning, physically drained. And why not? Four weeks ago — a half marathon. Three weeks ago — an ultramarathon. Two weeks ago — a 52-mile bike. One week ago — a marathon. And this weekend? You know when you have a tough day coming and you dread it? It has to take place, but you still lose sleep over it. Loss is just plain tough. It’s hard to understand, deal with, work through, endure. God allows it for a reason but does that lessen its pain? If you ever feel the need to pour out your grief before Him, believe me, I understand. This morning, at 5:00 am, sitting on my front porch in the dark, I read the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Holy cow. What can we learn from this?

  • That aging and death are inevitable.
  • That God disciplines us because He loves us too much to let sin destroy our lives.
  • That, like the Philosopher who wrote this book and who “studied proverbs and honestly tested their truth” (v. 9), so we too can speak openly and honestly about our pain.
  • That reverence for God is not a feeling, it’s a choice.
  • That you can be confused and still trust Him.
  • That God doesn’t despise our fragility but created us with real, raw emotions like sorrow.
  • That suffering has a noble purpose.

Exactly five years ago this morning, to use the words of the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 12, the silver chain snapped, the golden lamp fell and broke, the rope of the well came apart and the water jar was shattered. A body returned to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life went back to God, who gave it to her. A major part of our lives was ripped from us, and just as it takes time to heal from surgery, it takes time to heal from loss. But no matter what our loss may be, the words of the Bible remain true:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Let me mention four things that have helped me cope with grief through the years. Maybe they can help you cope with your own losses as they come to you in life:

Be yourself. Others may try to “fix” you, but you don’t need fixing. Embrace your grief and learn from it. It is a great teacher.

Expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. Grief is like that giant wave that pummeled me at Sunset Beach years ago. When waves break, they smother you, and you struggle to survive. But waves eventually run out of energy. They expend their power and calm returns. Struggling against a wave is an exercise in futility. You must yield, accept, and even embrace it. The quicker you do that, the more you will recover.

Force yourself to look to the future. Turn your heart and mind to what God still has in store for you. I am grateful my kids helped me to see the importance of doing this. “Daddy, why not start running?” “Daddy, why not go back to Hawaii and surf again?” “Daddy, we’d like you to come and visit us for Thanksgiving.” By forcing ourselves to look to the future, we begin, little by little, to cope with the past.

Help others. One way God carries our burdens as His children is by sending someone into our lives who’s experienced something similar to what we have experienced. All around us are people who are hurting, who have needs (spiritual or financial), and when we reach out to them, we help not only them but ourselves.

Suffering is one of the hardest parts of our faith. But beauty after ashes is possible. Becky died with her family by her side. We wept over her still-warm body. Then we sang a hymn and prayed, expressing our gratitude to God for her life and that finally she was in pain no longer. I quietly asked everyone to leave the room. I caressed Becky’s hand one last time, reluctant to let her go. I wept as I said a final goodbye to my beloved friend and partner. Then I left the room to plan her memorial service. Becky would have been surprised at how many people attended her homegoing celebration on campus. But I wasn’t surprised. Becky was an honest and decent human being whom everybody admired.

I have many more special memories to offer, but this is not the place or the time. I miss you so much, my darling Becky. I wish you could be here to enjoy your grandchildren like I can. But I bet you’re watching everything from above and smiling. I grieve for my adulthood without you, but I accept it. I’m so glad we were always together, perhaps in sickness even more than in health. I have no right to feel self pity. Your life was a pure blessing to me. You taught me about so many things and I will hold on to every one of those truths. I can’t imagine having another intimate relationship. At this point in my life, I have plenty to do just keeping up with our kids and grandkids. I know that your spirit of love and generosity lives on in their hearts, and for that I am grateful. I hope that someday I can learn to trust God like you did. Deep down, I know that losing you will help me to discover who I am, now that I am on my own. I love you, sweetheart. I hope you can hear/see/feel that.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Black.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Meditating on the Opening Verses of Hebrews

Sunday, June 17, 2018

8:55 AM Good morning, guys, and Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there. This morning I thought I’d continue blogging about the book of Hebrews, which is my favorite New Testament writing outside of the Gospels. This morning I’m meditating on the opening verses of the book. I used to spend a lot of time in the prologue of Hebrews when I was writing my journal article on the subject. What moved me greatly was to see the absolute beauty of the passage. At the time, I profited eminently from the work of Johannes Louw on discourse analysis, and so I called my essay “Hebrews 1:1-4: A Study in Discourse Analysis,” which appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal and can be accessed, free of charge, here. My study of this text was invaluable. It set a trajectory for me in my subsequent studies in Greek discourse analysis. In this opening paragraph of Hebrews, the exalted Christ is found, front and center. And the Greek of this text? It’s perhaps the most exalted Greek in the entire New Testament, which is what you’d expect when the theme of the book is “Christianity Is Christ.” I often tell my students to look for issues of style in a New Testament book every bit as much as matters of theology. The way something is said can enhance its effectiveness. Today I simply want to note the opening two adverbs of the letter. Here the author uses a figure of speech called alliteration in introducing how God spoke in the Old Testament — “in many parts and in many ways” (Greek: polumeros kai polutropos). Note the initial “p” sound. This was designed to make the audience attentive and receptive to the speaker’s message. God, he says, spoke in many parts and in many ways through His spokesmen the prophets. Here the words polumeros and polutropos have to do with the varied and manifold nature of Old Testament revelation. It helps, then, when studying the Old Testament, that we at least try and understand how all of these parts fit together. Likewise — and here’s the main point I’m trying to make this morning (cf. Heb. 8:1!), I believe we can apply these same two adverbs to the letter to the Hebrews. Has not our author (1) used a great variety of parts in order to communicate a single message, and (2) used any number of rhetorical devices (alliteration, assonance, anaphora, asyndeton, metonymy, hyperbole, etc.) in order to increase the impact and appeal of his message, the “hitting” and the “drawing” of his letter on his audience? What this means, at least to me, is that if we are to understand the book of Hebrews aright, we have to begin by understanding at least two things:

Its discourse structure (that is, how all the parts fit the whole), and

Its literary devices (that is, how the message is enhanced by the style of the writing).

What an achievement if we could even begin to understand these two components of meaning! For this reason, I’d like to call your attention to two essays of mine that might help us do just that. They are both accessible online, free of charge:

“The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews” available here, and

“Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” found here.

At one time, as you can see, Hebrews occupied a good deal of my study time. I do hope you will not find these essays to be “scholarship for the sake of scholarship.” I well recall in the 1980s having to come to grips with a serious academic issue. Would I write for the academy, or would I try to ensure that what I wrote (both my essays and books) would be of some use to the church at large? I have suffered from that schizophrenia ever since. But ultimately I decided that my writings would, hopefully, be useful to more than scholars. Hence my essays and books have tended to be, not less scholarly necessarily (at least I hope not!), but more geared for a broader reading audience. I’ve never had occasion to regret that decision.

Please read these essays if you can. I’m a little embarrassed to call attention to my own essays. Writing is, in fact, at best a supplement to what I do in the classroom. But since most of you can’t attend class with me, I suppose the next best thing is to put my thoughts into words. God has called me to write, and I have tried to obey that calling, but others will have to decide how effective I’ve been.

Below: Heb. 1:1-7 in p46.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

Key Hebrews Passages

Sunday, May 27, 2018

8:45 AM Hey guys, and welcome back to my little blog. I was up early this morning working on the syllabus for this fall’s exegesis of Hebrews class. It’s crazy to think that anyone can cover the entire 13-chapter epistle in one week, so I’ve forced myself (ugh) to select portions of the letter to focus on. What do you think of my choices?

1:1–4

2:1–4

3:1–6

4:1–11

5:11–6:12

7:1–28

8:1–13

9:11–15

10:19–25

11:1–7

12:1–3

13:1–6

I know that some of you who read my blog are runners and, like me, read the Bible for echoes of the sport. Some passages, such as 12:1-3, are obviously running-related, but others are less obviously so. Here I’m thinking of 2:1-4 or 3:1-6, for example. There are two principles at work in these passages. I’d call 2:1-4 “The Danger of Doing Nothing.” In other words, when you do nothing, something always happens. That’s a principle of life you can bank on. Just don’t mow the grass or change the oil in your car. As for the readers of Hebrews, they were in danger of slowly, imperceptibly drifting away from their moorings in Christ, much like a sailing vessel can drift away from a dock. During our lives as runners, we face a moment of truth every time we wake up in the morning. Running for life is a choice we have to make over and over again. Piece by piece, day after day, we are adding to the mosaic of ourselves as runners. Together, inspiration and perspiration carry us through. Every run we do can become a spontaneous celebration.

As for 3:1-6, my takeaway is another often-forgotten principle of life: You don’t have to make someone else look bad in order to make someone look good. You’ll recall that in this passage the author is comparing Moses and Christ. His goal is to show how vastly superior Christ is to Moses. Had I been given that assignment, I probably would have said, “That’s easy. No problem. All I have to do is show how Moses sinned and how Moses failed and then compare him to the sinless Christ.” But the author of Hebrews was much wiser than that. Rather than denigrate Moses in any way or attempt to “unhitch” himself from the Old Testament, he shows how Moses “was faithful in all of his household.” Moses, he says, was a super great leader, perhaps the greatest leader Israel ever knew. Then he goes on to say, almost in a stage whisper, “Pssst, and guess what? Jesus is even greater than Moses, and if He can be greater than Moses He must really be Something.” You see, the author isn’t contrasting Moses’ faithfulness with Christ’s faithfulness. Both were equally faithful. But there’s a catch: Moses was faithful as a son in the house. But Christ is faithful as the Son over the house. Thus the point of comparison has nothing to do with faithfulness but has everything to do with status. One of the reasons I love the running community so much is because it’s so affirming of every runner who makes an attempt to get out there and run — even those of us out of shape slobs who started out running at a caterpillar-like pace. The possible suddenly seems possible, and no one offers you more encouragement than people who have been running all their lives. “Trust me,” they tell you. “If I can do it, so can you. All you have to do is keep training, keep improving, and keep ignoring the naysayers.” You are living a life, my running friend, that only a short time ago would have been a complete fantasy.

Of course, in our Hebrews class, we’ll be covering these passages not in English but in Greek, and believe you me, the Greek of Hebrews can be a bit on the challenging side. But if I get the syllabus up in the next 3 weeks, that should give my students plenty of time to work ahead if they so desire. The course is by default (more than design) merely an entrée into this wonderful epistle. And in addition to exegeting specific texts, we’ll also be covering such macro-issues as authorship. Here’s what they’ll be reading on this subject.

  • Allen, David L. Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010.
  • Black, David Alan. The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. Energion, 2013.
  • Guthrie, George. “The Case for Apollos as the Author of Hebrews,” Faith and Mission 18.2. (2001): 41-56.

Of course, when they read my little book, I don’t expect them to agree with me, though I hope they’ll get a glimpse of the remarkable joy of discovery I experienced as I began to study the church fathers for themselves.

 

Linguistics and Interpretation

8:15 AM I’m taking a scheduled break from writing. (Okay, okay, so I didn’t really schedule in this break. I’m really a pretty spontaneous guy.) Anyhow, I’ve got a couple of thoughts roaming around in my brain right now — not that there’s anything earth-shattering about them. First of all, I argued in our LXX class this week that if anyone should be interested in linguistics — the art and science of how language works — it should be students of the Bible, and especially students of the biblical languages. Not all would agree, of course. To some, linguistics remains a “secular” science, one that can hardly be “evangelicalized.” Not surprisingly, I’ve been taken to task for suggesting that biblical scholars have much to gain from the science of linguistics. But when I study Paul, I do not see him despising or excluding the world of creation from his theology. A dualistic tension between faith in God and the scientific perception of the nature of creation has no place in his thinking. God was responsible for creating heaven and earth, and He made all things good (Gen 1:31). Far from being a threat to modern exegesis, I believe the facts show that the immense problems facing modern exegetes are sometimes best resolved when they are treated from a linguistic point of view. The discourse structure/theme of Philippians is a case in point (see my Novum Testamentum essay called The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Textlinguistics). Hence Paul’s juxtaposition of worldly and divine wisdom in 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 need not be construed as a contrast between faith and reason. What Paul is fighting against in this passage is not science per se but man-made religion and hubris. Translated into modern diction, though all human endeavors can clearly become futile and hostile to the honor of God, they are not necessarily evil.  I’d like to think that my students would be open to learning a thing or two from modern linguistic science. If you would like to as well, there are a number of places where you can start. My own Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek will give you a basic overview of the field, while Logos has bundled numerous resources that will help you dig a bit deeper (Studies in New Testament Greek). If you take me for Greek 3, we take a linguistic approach to exegesis and work though some of the major works in the field. Steve Runge’s On eclecticism in linguistics is also very helpful. Listen, some trends in biblical studies, like some fashion trends, are questionable. I suspect that you, like me, are cautious about new approaches to anything. Still, there’s some good work being done today by New Testament scholars in the field of linguistics, and I’m fairly sure you can benefit from being exposed to it.

Alright, now let’s talk about the letter to the editor that’s been making the rounds on the ‘net. You can read about it here. The letter gives a very realistic glimpse into a slice of America many people are perhaps unfamiliar with. The only question I would ask is, Do we see the face of Jesus in the homeless and refugee population (Matt. 25:34-36)? Few things capture the spirit of Christ better than the way we welcome the stranger into our midst. After all, God is a God who is beautiful not because He’s cutesy and looks like Santa Claus. He’s beautiful because He adopts into His family His enemies and then lovingly transforms them from the inside out. Personally, I think I’ve had enough of cries for vengeance/caution/national security to last me for at least a couple of million years. Let’s try taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and loving our enemies and then watch what God can do. If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you join me in praying for the Syrian refugees who come to our country, praying that God will use us Christians to follow the example of Jesus and be willing even to give our lives for the sake of the gospel? Yes, I know that this model of transformation I’m calling for doesn’t exactly fit the politically-oriented paradigm of modern social conservatism. But if significant numbers of Christians were to engage in this kind of sacrificial service, I believe that the church could have a transforming impact on our culture that social activists could only dream of having.

Anyway … like I said, I’m taking a break from writing and my “schedule” says I need to get back to it. Trying to write a book about my life is not an easy thing, so keep me covered, will you?

And start studying linguistics!

Peace,

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

True Saving Faith is Manifested

 

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

5:22 PM Today I’ve been working on the new syllabus for my Greek 2 classes this spring semester. I’ve done my best to figure out what needs to be covered, now that so many of our students fail to go on to Greek 3. I think one of the best moves I can make is to introduce the basic principles of exegesis in Greek 2 and then walk everyone through the interpretation and application of one entire New Testament writing. Our textbook already covers major portions of 1 John but I will also be taking the class through the book of Philippians in its entirety. Of course, the themes of both of these books are very similar. 1 John teaches two things:

1) True saving faith is manifested in those who practice the truth (and not just know it).

2) True saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers.

As 1 John 3:7 puts it, “It’s the person who acts right who is right.” I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize this teaching of John. The early church actively expected and anticipated that the Holy Spirit would change the lives of believers.

What, then, of Paul — the apostle of salvation by grace through faith apart from works? Many Christians consider that conversion — forensic justification — is the climax and consummation of Paul’s teaching. From the study of Paul’s letters we know this is most definitely not true. If ever a person knew of God’s saving work by faith through grace, apart from works of any kind, it was the apostle Paul. His supernatural encounter with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus is all the proof we need. But accompanying this work of salvation came another supreme step in Paul’s life — surrender.  As the objective accomplishments of the cross and the resurrection of Christ became realities in Paul’s life experientially, he was completely changed. In view of the mercies of God, he surrendered totally to the One who had forgiven and cleansed him. Little wonder that Paul always called Jesus “Lord,” for he indeed did have a new Lord and a new life as well as a new service and a new business — the Gospel business. This is the message of Philippians in a nutshell. The same Voice who spoke to Paul on the Road to Damascus now reveals Himself in the blazing light of a magnificent little hymn recorded for us in Phil. 2:5-11. A whole lifetime would not be sufficient to unpack the theological gems found in this profound passage. The revelation of Christ’s humility in service to others can only come gradually, like the dawn breaking over the wide-spreading landscape. Once Paul had surrendered to the all-powerful Jesus of Nazareth, for the rest of his life he served Christ in humble obedience, as did his friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. This is the outstanding need of the church today — people who are not only saved but who recognize the Lordship of Christ and yield to His mastery. This new mastery does not come easily. Evangelical hero worship is alive and well in our churches today. The way up is up, we are told. Bigger is better. Powerful is in. We love that smart jock exterior. Folks, many things in our churches are not fine, but there is only one proper place to place all of our evangelical superstars if we profess to love Jesus, and that place is dead last. True pastors will not object. They’ve read Phil. 2:5-11. It’s so maddening that Christians fail to see what Paul is teaching us here. I’ve been part of the problem, believe me. I wish I could go back to my twenties and thirties and deal with my own ignorance and selfishness and ego. Even today I still find myself having to overhaul my personal priority system. Ugh. But you gotta start somewhere.

Philippians it is then — along with portions of that great book 1 John (one of only two strictly anonymous epistles in the New Testament along with Hebrews). This spring we’re going to cut to the chase. This is where the chili meets the cheese friends. Obviously, this will be tricky business. How do you cover so much in a single semester? The best way is to have the students read some good books on the topic. In addition to Learn to Read New Testament Greek, we’ll be adding my Uncle Dave’s works Using New Testament Greek in Ministry and New Testament Textual Criticism. (I have this addiction for stuff written by my uncle.) I mean, this has got to get done. So brace yourselves, my dear students. I won’t lie. This is not going to be easy. But it will be worth it. Serving others is part and parcel of salvation. What an insane truth. But I love it!

Stewardship Conversation and Challenge

7:30 AM Much appreciation to Henry Neufeld for hosting an interesting and thought-provoking discussion about Christian stewardship last night on Google Hangout. You can watch the whole thing below.

It’s horrifying to confront my own lack of stewardship. “Sell all of your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.” K-thanks-goodbye. Jesus mocks our materialism, at least He does mine. Yet as Steve Kindle pointed out in the discussion, stewardship doesn’t begin with the question of “How much should I give?” Instead, the right question is “How much is mine?” — to which the answer is nothing. Hence, as David Croteau noted — David has now written three books on why tithing is not for Christians — the church still doesn’t get it. The consumer vortex that most evangelicals are (unwittingly perhaps) sucked into is just ignored. Well, David confronts it head on. The New Testament doesn’t require the tithe? Nope, and it never did. I stare blankly at David’s impeccable logic. “Love each other well and your needs will be met.” For me, the largest takeaway from last night’s Hangout was the reminder that Jesus came to set us free. He sees much deeper than what we see. He realizes that everything we have belongs to Him. 100 percent in fact. And so we have to make a choice. We can either draw people to a calculator or lead them to Christ. Jesus, You are the standard to which we all aspire. Teach us to love, to lead, to trust, to obey — and to give (back).

On Publishing

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

“You can probably make more money by having a first-class yard sale” is the way Rachel Toor’s essay Things You Should Know Before Publishing a Book opens. If you’ve ever thought about writing your own book, you need to read this article. The author will regale you with publishing myths, how to boost your odds that a publisher will accept your manuscript, and even “What makes for a good author?” I write because I have to. It’s a virus. George Orwell (Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty Four) once wrote an essay called “Why I Write.” Here he laid out his four primary motives for writing, which were:

  • Sheer egoism
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm
  • Historical impulse
  • Political purpose

In short, I think he was saying that authors generally feel (1) that they have something important to say and that others should read what they write, (2) that writing is extremely pleasurable, if not for the reader then at least for the writer, (3) that by writing they hope to “set the record straight about some subject,” and (4) they desire to push people’s thinking and attitudes in a certain direction — theirs, of course. “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy,” added Orwell — and there is no little truth in that statement. I myself have got to be the most un-self-disciplined author in the world. I write when I feel like it. Otherwise, I’m doing other things. What drives me, I guess, is a felt need to get a point across. Thus Orwell again:

When I sit down to write a book I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

Or, as Gao Xingjian puts it, “Writing eases my suffering.”

I am now 63, and yet there are stories I still want to tell, ideas I still want to flame into reality, myths I still want to challenge, and students I still want to motivate. I do not know of a single publisher who would not honor those motives for writing. But your brain must lead, not your ego. For example, a book idea came into my head the other day as I was contemplating my next trip this summer to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Battlefields and to do some genealogical research on my paternal grandparents (the Millers of Sharpsburg) in Hagerstown. “Why not write a little book on personal valor during the American Civil War with an application to the Christian life?” This crazy idea was only reinforced when I was talking recently to a friend of mine from Pennsylvania who said he had never been to Gettysburg. It’s true: When you live in a certain place, sometimes tourists have seen more of the sights there than you have. The Civil War is one of the most riveting stories in history. At heart, it’s a family tale and one that is worthy of a Shakespeare tragedy. I entered this drama when I was contacted by the 1st Maine Cavalry many years ago in California to ride with them in battle reenactments. I knew little of Civil War history at the time, like so many Americans today. Sure, I had read “picklock biographies” that did little more than set the stage. Today I am more interested in books on the Civil War that amplify my understanding of how ordinary men and women faced the vagaries of those times so that I can better understand how I can face the vagaries of my own. The people of those times faced unflinchingly the vicissitudes of life and in so doing transcended them. Beyond that, the war provides us with endless examples of personal courage and valor. “Duty” was a word that still meant something, and as I face the closing years of my career as a teacher and writer I have come to see the value of that word and all that it means. Jesus said, “Happy are you if you know these things and do them” (John 13:17). One of the main spiritual challenges I’ve faced in my 55 years as a Christian is being strong on knowing and weak on doing. The head and the hand must go along together if we are to be happy. So says Jesus. Since I was 16 the word of God has been my constant delight, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I entered the fray of Christian warfare, at times taking the Gospel to the front lines in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I am slowly discovering that there is no simpler way to enjoy the Christian life than to translate doctrine into duty. Some of us who have been on life’s road for quite a stretch grow anxious and worry if old age will still find us useful for the kingdom. We need not worry. We can still fight the good fight. We may not mount up with wings as eagles, but we can run and not be weary — or at least we can walk and not faint. Walking along the Bloody Lane at Antietam or the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg or the Clump of Trees at Gettysburg, it feels like you are seeing what those soldiers saw in those bloody battles of 1861-1865. When the war was over, these Americans from North and South came together again and the nation was reborn, this time without the scourge of slavery. Today, buoyed partly by their example of reconciliation, I work together with believers in many nations to preach the Gospel of reconciliation and to expand the only kingdom that, in the end, really matters. But it calls for courage, tireless devotion, and sacrifice. As in Red Badge of Courage. (Oops, that title’s already taken.)

Now you know how a jetlagged brain works. There are many other publishing ideas dangerously percolating in my mind as well — things “that human lips may not speak” (2 Cor. 12:4), at least not yet. Any academic who has achieved a modicum of success in the publishing field knows that dreams often do not become a reality. But every book starts somewhere, and for me, the incubation period usually begins in the intersection of my personal interests at the time and my personal journey — where I find myself in life at any one stage of my earthly existence. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I suppose I love reading and writing books more than even surfing or horseback riding, which is saying a lot. Let me thank you for supporting my already-published books, and let me thank you in advance for your loyalty in praying for me as I contemplate future writing projects.

Dave

Luke 2:14 and Textual Criticism

9:10 AM Take your Bibles please and turn to Luke 2:14  — a Christmas verse if ever there was one. The critical text of the Greek New Testament reads as follows:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας

We might paraphrase this as:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of [i.e., who enjoy God’s] goodwill.

What happened to “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth goodwill toward men”? There are two readings here in the Greek manuscripts, and they are very similar:

“of good will” (genitive case) = eudokias

“goodwill” (nominative case) = eudokia

The latter reading is represented by the KJV and the NKJV. The former reading has been adopted by most modern English translation. So which is it? What is the original text here? In his blog LXX Studies, John Meade has an excellent discussion of the variant. He concludes:

Thus the angels are pronouncing peace to men of God’s favor, not peace on earth, goodwill to men [indiscriminately].

I tend to agree with this conclusion. The external evidence for eudokias seems definitive. Meade takes it a step further and suggests that the reading is a Septuagintalism or Hebraism. This may or may not be the case. But his discussion raises several important questions:

1) If you are a pastor, can you follow this discussion? If you had to choose between the genitive or the nominative here, would you know what to do and how to proceed? If not, why not?

2) Assuming that a knowledge of Greek is necessary to be able to resolve this problem, what about textual criticism? Few students study this area of exegesis. Yet it is an essential part of our task as exegetes/teachers/pastors. In fact, the bottom portion of our printed Greek New Testaments (the so-called textual apparatus) sometimes takes up half the page, so important are textual variants in the study of the New Testament. Can you make an intelligent decision here, based on the textual evidence provided to us by the Greek manuscripts, the early versions (Latin, Coptic, Syria), and the statements of the early church fathers (the “patristic” evidence)?

3) Can the LXX shed light on New Testament Greek? I imagine John Meade would answer, “Much in every way.”

As the God-man, Jesus presented the sternest challenge ever made to humanity. He demanded peoples’ total allegiance and obedience. Here Luke reminds us that “peace” is available only to those who enjoy God’s goodwill, that is, those who comprise the new humanity that Christ came to establish, the people of God. “Christmas, then,” writes Meade, “is not an empty hope for world peace.”

It is remembering [he continues] how God in Christ actually brought peace on earth to the people of his favor in the past, and that past historical reality is the ground for a certain hope that he will act in the future, that he will indeed come again to establish his justice and righteousness in the consummation of his kingdom in the new creation. “World peace” is part and parcel of why we cry, ”Come, Lord Jesus!” It is not a lament or a gripe to God, as if the first advent of Christ had failed. The first advent brought peace through the blood of Jesus’ cross. The second advent will fulfill or consummate what Christ’s first coming inaugurated.

It’s worth thinking about.

 

Nomos in Romans 7 and 8

8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul’s use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L “Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was “weakened” through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of “power” or “principle” at work in the believer’s life, as in Rom. 8:2: “The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death” (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God’s righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of “law” (small “l”) — including threats and punishment — to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God’s opus alienum, His “strange work.” As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.

Thus God works under contrary signs — law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working “behind our backs” as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God’s universal rightness kingdom.

Today the Pakistanis — indeed the whole world — is asking, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world — Godworld — is coming into being through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God’s eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.

The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and “losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.” The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the “issues” and dragging in Scripture to support this or that “cause” is something else altogether. Don’t create “issues.” We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else — even the world’s greatest tragedies — are to be judged in the light of Him.

 

Taking the Plunge

8:55 AM When I was a kid and learning how to dive from the high dive into the swimming pool, I would stand at the edge of the diving board petrified of what lay below me. Eventually I took a big breath and — I made the plunge. “Gee, this is fun!” I told myself as I clambered my way back up the diving board steps. But the real heroes of this story are my friends who stood on the pool deck and encouraged me to step out in faith.

I find that learning to trust God for change in our very traditional churches is like learning how to dive. The hardest part is simply letting go of our doubts and reservations and trusting God. Let’s say your church is currently having to decide between take a step of obedience to what the Scriptures clearly teach or else maintaining the traditional set-up. You may agonize over your uncertainties and insecurities, but the easiest way forward is simply to step out and take the plunge. God is there to support those who trust, not in their own security and certainty, but in His.

In this regard, I find it interesting that Paul mentions three groups of Christians in the Thessalonian church (see 1 Thess. 5:14). There were the “idlers,” the “fainthearted,” and the “weak.” Let’s look at the “idlers” for just a moment. The term Paul uses here often carries with it the notion of “not in order, not conforming to the established law or practice, being insubordinate.” Apparently these people were insisting on their own way and were “out of step” with Paul’s injunctions. Some perhaps were also lazy and were refusing to obey the command of Paul to “work with your own hands.” In any case, these good folk had to be dealt with, and dealt with directly.

Now please notice the verbs that Paul uses with reference to each of these groups:

  • The idlers are to be “admonished.”

  • The fainthearted are to be “encouraged.”

  • And the weak are to be “upheld.”

There is something very important going on here, and it is easy to miss. The verbs must match the nouns. In other words, we fail in our duties should we, say, admonish the fainthearted or uphold the idlers. People in rebellion against God are not to be coddled. They are to be admonished (noutheteo). This verb is a Pauline word, occurring 7 times in his writings. It always has a sense of correction, but the correction is always based on instruction. It can never be correction alone or instruction alone. And it is never to be done in a vindictive or judgmental spirit.

If you are a church elder, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There will always be people who will refuse to obey the Word, so steeped are they in tradition, or in sin, or in whatever. Sometimes these people have been in the church for years and years and believe they are above reproach — and correction. But the fact is that none of us is ever above correction in some area of our walk with Christ. We all act against the will of God in some form or another. But that is no excuse for passivity.

Another observation, and it too is vitally important. Please, please note that Paul is not telling the church leaders to “admonish the idlers.” A thousand times no! His exhortations in this verse have the whole church in view (“We appeal to you, brothers and sisters ….”). This means that, while our congregational leaders will obviously play a huge role in moving the church forward in obedience to God’s Word, the obligation to instruct and correct each other is ultimately the responsibility of the whole congregation. This means that I, who am not a local church elder, still have the privilege and responsibility of speaking up when I sense the Lord is leading me to offer instruction and correction, under the leadership of my elders of course. There is no evidence that Paul would have ever delegated this responsibility to the leaders alone.

Now think about your own local church. Many Christians find it hard to obey the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Moreover, they find it hard to accept advice, instruction, or correction from others. In such situations, Paul exhorts the members of the church to speak truth to one another and to do so in a patient and long-suffering manner. Let there be instruction! Let there be correction! Let’s move forward as congregations into those areas of obedience that are clearly taught in God’s Word. Our churches will be happier and healthier if we do so — together.

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