Christians and Politics in America

Monday, January 14    

5:10 AM N. T. Wright addresses the issue of church and state (i.e., the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world) in this You Tube:

I link to it because much is being said these days about why evangelicals should become involved in political activism. I am not against activism per se. I do have some concerns, however. I will probably not support a so-called “conservative Christian” political agenda if its proponents:

1) Give the impression that they are more “moral” than other people. If Paul could consider himself “the very worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), it will not help your cause if you pit “moral people” (like us) against “immoral people” (like homosexuals, prostitutes, and abortionists, etc.). Jesus’ holiness did not repel sinners. He did not go around promoting “faith, family, and freedom.” He attracted tax collectors and prostitutes while the Pharisees kept their distance.

2) Think it will “bring America back to God.” America has never been a Christian nation.

3) Identify the church with any human institution or political party. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Please do not suggest that agreeing with your particular political position is a precondition to belonging to the kingdom of God. It is not.

4) Fail to submit to God’s reign in every area of life, including Jesus’ command to love sinners. Nonconformity to the world means more than opposing social evils such as abortion; it includes a humble, peacemaking, servant-like, self-sacrificial love. It means revolting against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God’s kingdom, including the temptation to grab Caesar-like political power.

5) Claim that their position is the only “Christian” position out there. We must always be on guard against the seductive lure of a kind of hubris that implies that all “sincere” and “godly” evangelicals share the same view about controversial political actions. They don’t.

6) Imply that “inalienable rights” and “the pursuit of happiness” are biblical concepts. They are not. I love democracy. I’d much rather live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. But nowhere is democracy or political freedom elevated to a virtue in the New Testament.

The Gospel is a beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement. No, it does not rule out political activism. But the truth is that the kingdom does not look like the thousands of social movements abroad in the land today. The heart of Christianity is simply imitating Jesus. What is needed, then, is to develop a Christian mind on these matters and that means informing ourselves about contemporary issues, pouring over the Scriptures, voting in elections (as the Lord leads us), sharing in the public debate (to the degree, again, that we are led to do so), giving ourselves to public service if that is our divine calling, etc. At times the church may be led to go beyond teaching and deeds of mercy and take corporate political action of some kind, but we must not do so without making every effort to study an issue thoroughly and seeking to reach a common Christian mind. 

Set Free for Freedom

Saturday, January 12    

7:48 AM Sweet, sweet time in Gal. 5:13-15 this morning.

I read the text. Then I meditated on it. Then I consulted Stott’s commentary.

He outlines the paragraph as follows:

  • Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge the flesh.
  • Christian freedom is not freedom to exploit my neighbor.
  • Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard the law.

As usual, his summary hits the nail on the head. The freedom for which Christ has set us free (5:1) “is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbor, but to serve our neighbor; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfill the law.” As for me and my house, we will try and put this into practice.

Off to bike in the cold. Yes, I can be slightly insane.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.)

Linguistics and Correctness

7:22 AM Ward Powers has written a fine introduction to New Testament Greek. He introduces the middle voice on p. 71 by writing:

Commonly, the middle voice is used for intransitive verbs, or where the action of the verb does not carry over to an object but solely affects the subject. Often the subject of the middle voice verb is acting for himself or in his own interests.

In addition:

Closely related to the first use, the middle voice can have a reflexive sense — the action was done to or for the subject.

Powers emphasizes that these two usages can “shade into each other,” though many examples can be given where two distinct usages are obvious, as with:

Jesus washed (active voice) the disciples’ feet.

Pilate washed (middle voice) his hands.

They put on (active voice) him his own clothes.

Do not put on (middle voice) two tunics.

You yourself keep (active voice) the law.

They are to keep themselves (middle voice) from idol food.

I find it interesting that the example Powers focuses on in his ensuing discussion is the verb phulasso. As he puts it, “Thus Matthew and Luke use the active voice of phulasso in a passage where it is appropriate for the middle to be used, whereas in this passage Mark does use the middle:

Matthew 19:20  All these things I have kept (active of phulasso)

Mark 10:20         All these things I have kept (middle of phulasso)

Luke 18:21         All these things I have kept (active of phulasso)

This was precisely the evidence I used when I sought to respond to Robert Stein’s argument for Markan Priority based on this very construction. Stein, however, chose to take the evidence in a different direction. He argued that Mark used an incorrect form of the verb phulasso (the middle), and that this incorrect form was corrected by both Matthew and Luke into the active voice. I argued, in response, that I did not think there was anything inherently incorrect about Mark’s use of the middle here, especially when you take into consideration the use of the middle voice of phulasso in the LXX in contexts dealing with keeping the commandments of God. (See Some Dissenting Notes on R. Stein’s The Synoptic Problem and Markan “Errors.”) This is merely a small slice of the relevance of linguistic study to the interpretation of New Testament texts.

Lately it’s become clear to me that the question concerning correctness and incorrectness in language is not so much a linguistic one but a sociolinguistic one. In other words, it is people who determine what is correct and incorrect in language, not textbooks. In a sense, then, if everybody says “It’s me,” then this construction is correct. (One “should” say “It is I.”) I have the happiest memories of debating this issue with my fellow students while in Basel, as even then I had begun to question the Markan Priority Hypothesis and especially the so-called linguistic arguments for the posteriority of Matthew and Luke. I determined then and there that one day I would study the matter in greater detail, since my own teachers at Talbot had all espoused the consensus view regarding Synoptic origins. It was fascinating contrasting the arguments put forward by Stein and others with the statements of the church fathers. What struck me most, however, was the need to rethink the primary linguistic data in the texts themselves. I must also mention the work of William Farmer, who once invited me to spend a week in Dallas with his working group on the Synoptic Problem. It is a remarkable privilege, this process of thinking and rethinking one’s views about this and that. My task as a Greek teacher now is not to try and convince my students that I am right and someone else is wrong but rather to equip them with a tool (Greek) that will help them all become better Berean Christians.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.

Baby Goats and the Incarnation

8:20 AM With a baby bottle in one hand and a baby goat in the other, it’s easy to think about what took place at the incarnation. When God became man He didn’t do so as a king, aloof and invincible. “He became a little baby thing/that made a woman cry” (George MacDonald). Christ took our nature and accepted our limitations, exposing Himself to our temptations and experiencing the full bitterness of our sorrows. He lived our life and died our death. A newborn goat can’t rise to your heights. You must stoop to its depths. And that’s precisely what Christmas — our “Incarnation Festival” —  represents. Jesus became one of us without any loss of His own identity. He descended fully into our human reality. He who had been the Creator of the universe became a creature. He who threw the stars into space was now wrapped so tightly in swaddling clothes He couldn’t even move His own arms. He who was the Word of God was now speechless except for the cries of a newborn infant. And He on whom all things depended was now dependent upon His earthly mother and father. Then, when He grew up and matured into manhood, He changed the rules of the game forever by insisting that He was the only way to God. And so He demanded from His followers their total allegiance and even promised them that such allegiance could cost them everything, even separation from their earthly families. The baby that was born to two Jews in a stinky barn eventually grew up to become my Savior and my Lord, and, I hope, yours too.

Today churches will be filled to capacity with people who’ve come to hear the Christmas story again. I will be among them. But I must never forget that the baby grew up, and that today He does more than drool and coo.

(Nativity scene credit: Openclipart.org.

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.)

Fruit of the Spirit

(Thursday, September 20, 2018) Like most people, I think of lots of things when I’m biking (or running, or walking).

Today my random thought was: I wonder why Paul used so many agricultural metaphors in his writings. Specifically, he mentions the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians — a book I’ve been pondering of late, as you can probably tell. Please tell me I’m not the only person who likes to take a metaphor and translate it into non-metaphorical language. So, why did Paul say “fruit” of the Spirit when he could have said “deeds” or “works” or “expressions” or “products”? He must have thought there was an important distinction between the “works” of the flesh and the “fruit” of the Spirit, ya think? I once heard someone say that it’s the difference between the fruit on a tree in an orchard and the ornaments on a Christmas tree in your living room. The Christmas tree ornaments have no living connection to the tree. They are completely independent objects that we hang on the tree. But fruit has a vital connection to the tree. Without the life in the tree, there can be no fruit on the tree.

As I pondered this question while riding along, I thought back to the lecture I gave yesterday on what the apostle Paul says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the book of Galatians. It’s one thing to know the will of God. It’s another thing to actually do God’s will. And the amazing thing is that the obedience that God requires in our lives is exactly the same obedience that He enables. Because I wasn’t able to do this in my lecture yesterday due to time constraints, I want to point out here four additional metaphors Paul uses to describe how we are to live the Christian life. These are all to be found in the 5th chapter of Galatians. They are:

  • Walk in the Spirit.
  • Be led by the Spirit.
  • Keep in step with the Spirit.
  • Sow to the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to live by the power that the Spirit gives us. To be led by the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to direct our lives instead of our fallen, sinful natures. To keep in step in the Spirit is a wonderful military metaphor. “Left, right, left, right,” goes the drill sergeant, and likewise we place our feet wherever the Holy Spirit is wanting us to place them. Finally, we need to sow to the Spirit if we are to bear the “fruit” of the Spirit.

So you might wonder: How do I know whether or not I am walking in, being led by, keeping in step with, and sowing to the Spirit? The Bible is clear that this does not happen automatically. As Paul says in Eph. 5:18, we have to invite the Holy Spirit of God to control our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have to do this on a daily basis at least. Every morning, before I set foot on the floor, I pray a very simple prayer: “Father, thank You so much for this new day. It belongs to You. My goal this day is to please You. Lord Jesus, You are my King and my Master. My goal this day is to serve You. And Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your power and presence so that I may be enabled to please the Father and serve the Lord Christ.” Then I begin to proceed through my day. I’m constantly asking, “Lord, what would you have me do today? What shall I write today, if anything? How shall I serve you today? What emails and text messages should I answer and when? Who needs a phone call of encouragement from me today? What exercises shall I do today to maintain this temple You’ve given me? Where and for how long shall I meditate on Your word? Shall I cut grass today or tomorrow?”

As for prayer, for me the key verse is Eph. 5:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit.” I don’t want prayer to be a do-it-yourself activity. I want to pray when the Spirit is prompting me to pray, all throughout the day. Plus, keep in mind that prayer is much more than spoken communication. Prayer is also communion — a moment by moment, step by step, relationship with God. Not only do I pray when I get up in the morning, but I pray while biking or running, while doing the kitchen dishes, while standing in the grocery store line, while taking a shower. I’m not very good at compartmentalizing: This is spiritual, and this isn’t. Sometimes my prayer is a quick “Thanks.” Often it’s a desperate “Help me.” Prayer, for me, is like talking to my best friend. It’s spontaneous. While out biking today, about all I could think about was how thankful I am to God to be able to be outdoors doing what I love to do. Sometimes I pray with groanings that can’t be expressed in words, as I did for a long time last night. It’s at these moments that the Holy Spirit, we are told, “helps us in our weakness…. And the Father who knows our hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27). Finally, more often than I’d like, I find myself asking forgiveness of the One I love. That’s why, when I wake up in the morning, the first thought on my mind is, “Holy Spirit, please help me. Fill me with Yourself so that I may walk in You, be led by You, keep in step with You, and sow to You.”

My friend, whatever it is you are relying on today other than the Spirit for help in making progress in holiness, for God’s sake, get rid of it. Amputate it as you would a gangrene limb. He accepts you as you are. And the obedience that He requires of you this day, He will also enable. You can count on it.

Well, sorry folks, but my thoughts are totally random and scrambled after I work out. I think of a lot of things while exercising, and it just so happened that today you had to bear the brunt of my latest cogitating!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of books, many of them from Energion Publications, including The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching. This post used by permission.)

From Diagram to Message

(September 8, 2018) 6:25 AM Greek students, for what it’s worth, here’s my approach to doing Greek sentence diagramming within a paragraph. Note: It has nothing to do with English sentence diagramming!

Instead, my goal is to identify all main clauses and then identify any clauses that are syntactically subordinated to those main clauses. Here’s a simple example from 1 Thess. 1:2-5:

As you can see, there’s only one main finite verb in the entire paragraph: “We give thanks.” This verb is marked in blue. There are other finite verbs in the paragraph (marked in green), but they are not main verbs. The main verb “We give thanks” is then expanded in a series of participial clauses, three in fact:

See how this works? Easy cheesy! At this point, your teaching outline practically jumps off the page:

1) The When of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

2) The What of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

3) The Why of Paul’s Thanksgiving.

In other words …

1) Paul gives thanks when he prays personally for the Thessalonians.

2) Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonians’ practical faith, sacrificial love, and unwavering hope.

3) Paul gives thanks because he knows that God has chosen them.

The next step is to produce a translation of the paragraph based on your own exegesis of the text.

The final step is to draw as many practical applications from the paragraph as you can. Here’s a sampling (for more you can go here):

  • Paul had no orphans. When he left the church in Thessalonica, he did not forget about them.
  • Paul wants his readers to know that he personally (note the middle voice of “mentioning”) prays for them.
  • Thanksgiving is not thanksgiving unless it is expressed.
  • “Faith without works is dead.”
  • True love always involve sacrifice.
  • We can endure suffering and persecution because we have placed our hope in Jesus and in His coming back to earth.
  • The church is a family (Paul calls these believers his “brothers and sisters”).
  • Teaching and preaching is more than “words.” It involves Holy Spirit power and full confidence in the efficacy of the Gospel.
  • “Examine my life,” says Paul. The selfless life he led backed up the Gospel he proclaimed.

Now that is true greatness.

Good day! (Said in my best Paul Harvey voice.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Word and Unhooked Christians

(Friday, July 20, 2018) 7:46 AM Hey guys. This morning I’ve been “in the Word.” Both of them. I think God worked overtime on this morning’s sunrise, don’t you?

And then there was this passage in Heb. 13:1-2:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t forget to welcome strangers into your homes and show them Christian love, for some did this and welcomed angels without even knowing it.

Two quick observations if I may:

First, I noticed the verbal aspect in the first command: “Keep on loving one another.” I find it interesting that the author didn’t rely on the tense of the verb to express his desire for continuous action. He used a verb that literally means “let it continue.” Perhaps our Greek textbooks should reflect this way of “mitigating” imperfective aspect?

Second, I noticed the morphological connection between “love of brothers” and “love of strangers.” This play on the phil-prefix is often missed in our English translations — “brotherly love” versus “hospitality.” Why should this be?

Finally, this morning I was reviewing my syllabus for the New Testament course I’m teaching this fall. This course is designed to cover Acts through Revelation. Its official title is “New Testament Introduction and Interpretation 2,” but I’ve entitled it “Becoming New Covenant Christians: Living a Life of Sacrificial Service to God and Others by Following the Downward Path of Jesus.” One of the books we’ll be using in class is this one.

I wrote this short treatise because, despite the proliferation of books about the church in recent years, no one had (to the best of my knowledge) ever exegeted 11 brief verses in Acts 2 that seem to practically “list” the hallmarks of the nascent church in Jerusalem. The early church was an evangelistic church, reaching out to the world in witness. It was a committed church, pledging allegiance to Christ alone in the waters of baptism. It was a learning church, devoted to the teachings of the apostles. It was a caring church, eager to share life together with one another (koinonia). It was a Christ-centered church, elevating His supper to a place of continued prominence. It was a praying church, asking God to help keep it pure and to give it bigger challenges to expand its territory. And it was a sacrificing church, generously caring for their poor brothers and sisters.

Today we read a great deal about “unhooked Christians,” Christians who’ve dropped out of the church. The reason they had done this was their disappointment and disillusionment with the local church. These churches seemed to lack a heart of witness, unquestioned loyalty to Jesus, devotion to biblical truth, genuine fellowship, Christ-centeredness, a keen sense of dependence upon God, and a sacrificial spirit, which is always a test of the sincerity of one’s love for Christ. With apologies to MLK, I have a dream of a church that is a truly biblical church, whose people love the Word of God and adorn it with loyalty and obedience. Such is my dream for the church. May it be one that all of us can share in our NT class this semester!

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

Turning to Our Great High Priest

(July 11, 2018) 10:16 PM This evening Sheba and I were sitting on the front porch watching the storms going through the area, casting a feeling of foreboding over the countryside. My mind went to a decision I recently made that I have since come to regret. It wasn’t a life or death matter, or even a right versus wrong matter. It was simply a choice I made, made too hastily and without sufficient forethought. The regrets have since piled up in my brain and are sitting there festering. Ugh. I’m often paralyzed by decision making. I have been guilty of making by-the-seat-of-my-pants decisions. Then I say to myself, “Wie dumm von mir!” (Okay, so I don’t really speak German to myself. Well, not often. But I love that line of Rommel’s from the movie The Longest Day. “How dumb of me!” said the German commander when he realized that the Allied invasion of Europe was taking place in Normandy and not at the Pas de Calais as everyone, Rommel included, had assumed.) Do you know what happened next? I opened the book of Hebrews and my eyes just happened to fall on Heb. 4:14-16. That was a God thing, big time. This text began whispering to me, “You’re ignoring your Great High Priest.” And I was. Not only was I not turning to the throne of grace for help in time of need, I was turning everywhere else for relief from my self-inflicted guilt. Evidently, Jesus understands exactly what I’m going through. “Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses.” And boy do I have weaknesses. Becky would have not made the mistake I made. But I’m not Becky. I’m me. We each had our own weaknesses, but a good many of them we shared, per Craig Koester’s description of “weaknesses” in his Hebrews commentary (p. 283):

1) Physical weakness.

2) Social weakness.

3) Vulnerability to sin.

Jesus enables weak people like me to “approach the throne of grace” (v. 14). “[H]uman beings are subject to forces beyond their control, and they need help to cope with daily life” (Koester, p. 295). There is something so nourishing, so healing, when we remember that our High Priest understands exactly what we’re going through. It’s like falling into a soft cushion. When I’m feeling down, I want to call Pizza Hut. When I fail to look unto Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith, I injure my own soul. A soul divided against itself will collapse, crushing everyone taking refuge under its shelter. Enter Jesus. Is there anything more we could ask for? Sure, we could spend our lives dragging our regrets behind us, but that’s our choice. Jesus allows us to move beyond our guilt and regrets by commanding us to look unto Himself (Heb. 12:2). “You’re not a failure.” “Everyone else struggles like you.” “I understand.” Jesus may have suffered, but I bet you a thousand bucks He was not whiny. I am His friend, beloved and treasured. If I ask Him for strength and mercy and grace, He will give them to me.

Obviously, I’m still working on this wisdom thingy. When we make silly decisions, He’s neither shocked nor horrified. Love still wins. Hope still triumphs. Faith still conquers. I may not be able to see my Great High Priest, but evidences of His presence are everywhere. All I have to do is pause and look for them. If any of you cared what I thought and asked for my opinion (right after Uncle Sam sends me a million dollar tax refund), I would say that we all need to give a lot more space in our lives for the concept of redemption. We need to incorporate a worldview that begins and ends with our Great High Priest, Jesus. I couldn’t fathom living a single day without Him. Could you? This has everything to do with Christian discipleship. Not only is Jesus the compassionate High Priest we’ve always wanted, He creates peace in us that we can only find in Him.

I’ve had many setbacks in life. And there will be plenty more to come. But the fact is, failure after failure has brought me to the place where I am today. The point is that I tried. I wasn’t afraid of failing. Mistakes are always learning opportunities.

Hey, Dave!

Try again.

Learn from your mistakes.

Never let fear paralyze you.

Fall down 10 times, get up 11.

Keep the faith even when you have no earthly reason to do so.

Never be the victim of your circumstances.

Stop beating yourself up.

Grab hold of your High Priest.

In celebration of Him, I’m gonna visit the throne of grace and tarry a while tonight. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus — not Jesus the tooth fairy, but Jesus the Redeemer and Lover of my soul. This is so cliché, I know, but it really is true.

Through all of my tough times, I will forever be grateful for Him.

(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.)

The Jesus Paradigm: A Book that will set you on a downward path