OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

T 1.1.1 Tradition in Original Christianity: The Importance of Doctrine, Reproof, and Correction in Christianity With Its Emphasis on Love

Christianity is about love.  And we are in the administration of grace.  So surely no persons or churches should be reproved, rebuked, or corrected, right? There should be no criticism of any kind, constructive or destructive, right?  Terms I hear expressed are to be loving, forgiving, “giving grace” and “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” instead of being critical.

To this I refer the charge Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where they were focusing on the parts of the law they thought were important:

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  Mat 23:23 ESV

Everything is important in the Word of God!  Yes, we are to endeavor to walk in love, share grace, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the other parts of the Apostle’s tradition.  The charges to love, give grace, and maintain unity in peace don’t pre-empt us from striving to have the same mind and make the same judgments which are the mind of Christ :

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 ESV)

This verse is from the diverse church at Corinth.  The church today has been compared to Corinth for many years.1.  Maybe we don’t have the severity of sin that Corinth had, but we have more factions.  The Corinthian Church wasn’t just off base because they were sinning by divorcing indiscriminately, practicing homosexuality and other sexual immorality, or turning communion into a food party among other things, they were off in their Christian doctrine by allowing sects to develop, incorporating philosophy into Christianity, and denying that Christ was raised from the dead among other things.  In 2 Corinthians we read of false apostles, messengers of “new” light”, bringers of a different gospel than the one preached by the original apostles.  Notice these false apostles “disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:13) Putting all this together we are talking about sects, denominations if you will, boasting that they are the true Christian Church.  Paul isn’t talking about other religions or secular ideas taking over, he’s talking about Christian denominations at Corinth who teach a Christian gospel different than the true Apostles’, all claiming to be the true Christian church.  Especially doctrinally, it’s not that different from all the denominational jockeying that is going on today in the Christian Church.

Nothing is impossible with God.  It is possible to reduce the amount of division in the church.  The Reformation may have looked impossible to many with the Catholic Churches’ grip on the Western World in say, 1200 AD.  Pentecostal and Charismatic movements bringing the manifestations and gifts of the spirit to more and more churches may have been unthinkable to many people a couple of hundred years ago.  How is Christ leading the church today for something that will be recognized as another major movement of God?  Yes, there have been revival movements in the last century, there is a 24/7 prayer movement now.

The standard for our mind is Jesus’ mind.  And Jesus mind was focused on what he saw the Father doing:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV)

Do you really see the Father telling one group that manifestations of the spirit have ceased and others that they have always been available, and still more to not deny the spirit but don’t teach or encourage it?.  Do you see him telling some groups that homosexuality is okay and others that only a man and wife can be holy in bed? Do you see the Father saying to some that alcohol is an abomination that no one should partake and others that alcohol can be a blessing in moderation?

No, the Father is not telling one group to do one thing and another the opposite. The list of disagreements is huge and the church today is as factious or more as the Corinthians were.

To have true unity of the spirit in the bond of peace is when members all can see what the Father is doing, and they follow along together.

I believe that the Father is calling believers to do just that.  I see it actually going back to the Reformation and even before when people have called for restoration to apostolic doctrines.  Now, not that every “Christian” movement is of God or even every single thing in a movement genuinely inspired of God is from God but there have been a number of movements that started with the Reformation that I see as God moving the Body of Christ back to the Apostles traditions.  The return to the writings about the Apostles as the true source (sola scriptura) of knowledge about the faith show movement by God to restore the Church to its foundation of apostolic tradition.  The Restoration movement, which is more geared to restoring the Church to apostolic doctrine than the Reformation was inspired by God to further restore the Church to its apostolic origins. Other movements show to me God working to restore the Church over the centuries.   The Holiness Movement was inspired to return to holiness.  The Pentecostal Movement was inspired to restore the manifestations and diversity of gifts. The Charismatic movement expanded the Pentecostal Movement from the Full Gospel realm into mainline churches and further grew the use of the spirit in the body of Christ. These are just some of the movements.  Steering the huge body of believers is like steering the Queen Mary, while some of us would like to see it happen in an instant,  it appears to be happening slowly and incrementally.  But all these movements combine to show that there is a movement to get truly back to apostolic origins.  And the more that believers follow these incremental moves back to the apostolic traditions the more they will enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

One element of the Apostles tradition is the purpose(s) of Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16 ESV)

Doctrine is teaching, the presentation of the knowledge of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, his mission, and our part in it.

Reproof is a statement pointing out the error in some one’s ways.

Correction is the explanation of what someone should be doing instead of the error they have been practicing.

Doctrine, reproof, and correction are all part of God’s love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.  (Pro 3:11-12 ESV)

Let’s look at examples of doctrine, reproof, and correction.  This section of scripture is about how the spirit works:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.  (1Co 12:4-11 ESV)

This section is all doctrine.  Now it could be part of a bigger section and so be part of the correction from some other doctrine, but, as is, it is just teaching about that is right, holy, and just on how the spirit works in the body. These verses by themselves aren’t telling anyone that did something wrong, they are just teaching the right way to think about these things.

Now consider this section:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1Co 11:27-30 ESV)

This is reproof.  There were Corinthian believers who were participating in communion without regard to what it means.  And they are being told here in no uncertain terms that it was wrong.

But alongside this reproof is the correction.  Look at these verses:

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…. if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment…  (1Co 11:28, 31-34 ESV)

Interwoven with the reproof, the pointing out that someone is doing something wrong, is the correction, the replacing of wrong doctrine or practice with right doctrine or practice.  In this case, the offending Corinthians are told to eat at home if they are hungry and to examine themselves, that they reflect on what the bread and wine signify, that is, the broken body and shed blood which was done to for our healing and forgiveness.

Another example of doctrine is that the bulk of the epistle of Ephesians.  Just start reading Ephesians and look at all the doctrine:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  (Eph 1:3-14 ESV)

Look at all the doctrine there, the glorious teaching about who we are now that we have received Christ!  Ephesians is full of awesome doctrine!

in Ephesians, we read a little doctrine about reproof and correction.  Here’s it is:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11 KJV)

The above verse says that we are charged to give reproof. Yes, there is a time and place for things and sometimes it is more loving to overlook a matter, at least for the time being.  Don’t take this wrong; I am not saying the bible calls us to nag people, reminding them of their faults every time they do something wrong. In fact, if you can’t come together on an issue after a couple of attempts you need to stop.  But anyone that says the Bible teaches that we are charged to always look past a person’s or group’s faults is just disagreeing with this scripture in the apostle’s tradition.

The book of Galatians is full of reproof and correction.  At the beginning of the Gospel Paul charges the Galatian Church of twisting the Gospel:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:6-7 ESV)

There is that term, distorting the gospel of Christ.  At issue in this case, what is twisted, is the fulfillment of the law.  Paul later recounts the famous confrontation with Peter where Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles because the “circumcision party” came in pushing doctrines of the Law with all its eating laws and rituals like circumcision on Galatians who were never Jews to begin with.

Part of the correction in Galatians is how walking led by the Spirit frees us from walking under the law:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  (Gal 5:16-18 ESV)

It is pointed out in Galatians that the circumcision promoters were Jews who were unwilling to give up elements of the Jewish religion in which they were raised.  That is a trap for all of us.  I was raised Catholic and, even with all the questions I had, it was no small feat to change my thinking from the Catholic doctrine system to the leading of the Spirit and the supremacy of the apostles’ traditions as contained their writings. Every Christian tradition that differs in any way from the apostle’s tradition has raised up believers with baggage that hinders them just as it does me.  The Christian traditions that have been developed over the ages rarely include the precepts of the Law, but they nevertheless have doctrines that differ from what the apostles taught and practiced mainly because they almost invariably come out of the Catholic tradition that started right after the apostles and contain all manner of deviations from the Apostles’ tradition because the Catholics believe that they believe that the doctrine they developed after the Apostles is the continuation of the Apostles.  After all, it teaches that it is the one, holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church and outside the Catholic church there is no salvation.  They believe that the pope speaks ex-cathedra, equating his proclamations as equal in truth to the word of God.  And the Catholic Church embraced the inclusion of philosophy in direct opposition to its rejection to the apostles, citing its necessity in the arguments of early Christian apologists to refute heretics who were arguing philosophically against Christ and his church.  Remember, the reformers chose to reform the Catholic Church, correcting what they considered offenses like indulgences and Vatican excesses and in the process chose to proclaim scripture as authoritative over Church magesterial doctrines.  They still accepted much of the inclusion of philosophy in writers like Augustine. Augustine is credited with infusing Christianity with Neoplatonism in the fourth century2.

The goal of this website is doctrine, reproof, and correction.  With so many competing doctrines being taught in churches that embrace Christ, some of them have to be “the unfruitful works of darkness'”  For example, the apostles taught us that there are nine manifestations of the spirit and diverse gifts given to the church, including prophets and healers among many others.  I  say that teaching otherwise is an “unfruitful work of darkness.”  A huge part of the Gospel is the energizing power of the spirit and  I say that the churches rejecting or even avoiding all the things of the spirit including manifestations like prophecy, miracles and healings, gift ministries, and abilities, teach a darkness that needs to be corrected.  That’s just one example.

Now, let’s contrast that with criticism.  According to Google, criticism has several different meanings.  One is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of something.  This has to do with evaluation. Anyone who has ever undergone a job evaluation has experienced this form of criticism which is not of itself, negative. But a common understanding of criticism in interpersonal relationships is the expression of disapproval over perceived faults or shortcomings.  This is the one that most people dislike.  No one likes to be told they are doing something wrong, especially repeatedly.

Here are some things we are taught about being critical:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29 ESV)

Here we have a key element in our talking to other people: whether or not it is building up and giving grace.

Contrast that to this:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (Jas 4:11 ESV)

There are times when someone is falsely accused, and this is just criticism in the worst sense.  Satan is also called the accuser.  And, if that is what someone is doing, then they are just doing Satan’s work.

A believer’s response to that is:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  (1Pe 3:9 ESV)

If someone is negatively criticizing us without merit, then we are called to bless them.  Furthermore, there are times when sins are “covered” lovingly:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  (1Pe 4:8 ESV)

So, there are many times when someone offends us and it is loving to “cover” for it.

But, criticism can a different thing when what is said is not false.  So, if the item being addressed is true, and it is said to help someone perfect their walk in Christ then this is godly reproof and correction.

Also, we need to remember that there is guidance in the bible that there are times when we will be disciplined and that process is uncomfortable:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him [empasis added]. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [empasis added] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [empasis added], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  (Heb 12:1-13 ESV)

Discipline is uncomfortable, but these verses say it is what a loving father does.

There is another verse used in the Bible related to doctrine, reproof, and correction.  Leaders are charged to rebuke with authority.  They are not supposed just to let everything go:

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.  (Tit 2:15 ESV)

Titus, in this verse, is charged to rebuke which is a synonym of reprove and means to tell someone what they are doing wrong. In fact, the words reprove and rebuke are the same word in Greek.

Yes, we are always called to love.  Of course, he is dead, but I love Martin Luther.  What a stand he took that enabled the bible and the writings of the Apostles to gain pre-eminence for so many of us over church doctrines and practices that were so bad that the Reformers called the Catholic Church the Anti-Christ.  I have the utmost respect for him and am so thankful for what he did.  So do many, many Christians.  But many of us are not Lutherans because the Lutheran Church, like so much of Christianity, has not moved to where we see it as the best place to fellowship around what we can see to be the truest church to what Jesus and the apostles started.  That doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  We do.  We rejoice in their saving knowledge of Christ.  We rejoice that they embrace the writings of the apostles, prophets, and the psalms as their guide over the church council edicts, papal bulls, and other church laws that their predecessor, the Catholic Church promoted as supreme.  For that matter, we love and are thankful for any Catholic that embraces the saving work of Christ.  We are called to love everyone, even unbelievers.   In all of the discussion of what the Apostles’ tradition calls us to do, it is always done in love.  I have met so many loving, God-fearing people in so many churches from many denominations and “non-denominational” churches.  If we say that this church or that is teaching something that is not in line with the apostles’ traditions, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them any more than Paul didn’t love the Corinthians while he was reproving them:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  (1Co 1:3-4 ESV)

I am thankful and praise God for every person that calls Jesus Lord.  All of us called to love even when we find that people believe things differently than the apostles’ doctrine.

So, back to reproof and correction, while we all are uncomfortable with it, it is part of the Christian walk. If God is calling us to speak the same thing, and Paul does say so, then we will not want to ignore this important part of the walk while we endeavor to walk in love, giving grace, and striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  We should all endeavor to see what the Father is doing and repeat it together so that we all have the same mind, the mind of Christ, and speak with the same judgment.

September 25th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Theology, Tradition | no comments

T1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available

Here is a picture of an ancient Greek manuscript page from the Digital Walters (link opens new tab to view page) which are released for free under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (link opens new tab to view page) license for anyone who wants to use them:

This page is somewhere in Acts or the Epistles. It is written in Koine Greek. Notice the punctuation or lack of it rather.  While there are lots of accent marks, what’s missing to us modern readers of English and other languages are periods, commas, dashes, and all of the other punctuation that we use to help determine what the line says.  In this article, we will be discussing the importance of understanding the translations of words and punctuation.

So, what are we talking about and why are we getting into so much detail?  In the previous post,
T 1.3 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 3, Prophets and Prophecy Were Vitally Important,
we looked at Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem in the discussion of the role of prophets.  This is a powerful topic.  I have heard powerful emotions being expressed where pastors have praised Paul and extolled his bravery for going to Jerusalem in spite of prophecy that he would be captured and bound.

It is hard to change when you have been taught something and what you believe, even though possibly wrong, has inspired you in the past.  But with so many differences on so many issues in the word of God, if we are ever going to get to the point of having one mind, some of us are going to have to be willing to change our thinking. Perhaps all of us will have to change our minds on different things.

So, this is a controversial topic and there are people on both sides as to whether Paul disobeyed the Spirit.1  The majority of articles that I have read declare that Paul didn’t disobey in going to Jerusalem and that the believers that told him not to go were mistaken in telling him that even though it shows the great concern they had for him.  Some go so far as to say that those speaking in the spirit misread the message from the spirit and the spirit wasn’t really saying not to go.  One argument I read said that this is an example showing where prophecy in the New Testament is inferior to that of the Old Testament and this inferiority is reflected in the teaching of John Piper and the theology of Wayne Grudem.  For example, in this argument, the people in Acts 21:4 were wrong in telling Paul not to go as they were just showing their concern, and in Acts 21:11 Agabus was wrong in the details of his prophecy because it doesn’t say the Jews specifically bound him with his belt while it does say that the Romans did, but with chains. Also, according to some, Agabus prophesied that the Jews would deliver Paul to the Gentiles while the text reads that the Romans came and arrested him. These arguments follow the modern-day tradition that says new Testament prophets were inferior and made mistakes like Agabus here.

As far as it is the majority argument I will say this; the majority of Christians in the world are Roman Catholics so if your argument is that the majority wins then you should be a Roman Catholic.  Likewise, you would have been in the crowd that disagreed with Noah because the overwhelming majority of people thought Noah was a fool.  No, siding with the majority can definitely lead you to places you don’t want to go.

As far as the people in Acts 21:4 being mistaken, the verse says they spoke “dia tou Pneumatos”, through the Spirit.  It wasn’t their determination that Paul shouldn’t go.  It was the Spirit’s!  There is nothing about the peoples’ thoughts or feelings in Acts 21:4.  The Spirit’s message was that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem.

As far as the mistaken Agabus, the text doesn’t say that Agabus prophesied the Jews will bind Paul with his belt, just that the Jews will bind the person who owns this belt and deliver him to the Gentiles.  That the Jews specifically bound Paul with something themselves is not in the text, but the Jews laid (epiballo, to throw upon) hands on him (Acts 21:27) and took (epilambanomai, lay hold, seize) Paul to kill him (Acts 21:30).   Thus Paul was bound by the Jews. Furthermore, he was being beaten (Acts 21:32), and that possibly requires the subject to be bound also for that to happen. And verse 33 says the Romans arrested him while the Jews had him so they must have handed him over.  Agabus said the Jews would deliver (paradidomi, surrender, yield up) Paul to the Gentiles which is what they did.  This is an example where the word used in translation isn’t necessarily the most accurate.  So, I do not accept that Agabus “misread” the prophecy.  His prophecy came to pass.

Finally, one verse that has been used to substantiate the Paul didn’t disobey argument is Acts 20:22.  The Modern KJV reads:

And now, behold, I am going bound by the Spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall happen to me there,  (Act 20:22 MKJV)

This looks like it is saying the spirit bound him to go to Jerusalem

But look at this:

And now, as you see, I am going to Jerusalem, a prisoner in spirit, having no knowledge of what will come to me there:  (Act 20:22 BBE)

What the ESV version translates as “constrained in the spirit” is translated as “a prisoner of spirit” in the BBE version. “Dedemenos to pneumati” doesn’t have to mean that the spirit was forcing him to go to Jerusalem, rather that the spirit was telling him if he goes to Jerusalem he will be a prisoner!  Paul was being told he would be a prisoner if he went to Jerusalem, just like Agabus prophesied.  That might mean he couldn’t understand that he was being told not to go.

Also, this verse doesn’t say that the Spirit told Paul to go to Jerusalem.  These are Paul words, his thoughts, giving his thoughts on what was going on.  He was a prisoner in spirit, not knowing what was going to befall him there,

Now, it’s not that believers can avoid all persecution, trials and tribulations because the word of God says that there will be persecution and more.   And there are martyrs in the word, the ultimate persecution.  Paul is an awesome example of enduring persecution as evidenced by the list in 1 Corinthians:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.  (2Co 11:23-33 ESV)

But this was not news to Paul as he was told that he would have to suffer many things for the Lord.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  (Act 9:15-16 ESV)

There is no doubt that Paul endured incredible ordeals. While not in scripture historically the story is that after all these ordeals Paul died a martyr in Rome around the mid 60’s AD.

Martyrs are incredible.  The first martyr in the Christian era after Christ is Stephen.  The record of Stephen in Acts 7 is overwhelming to me as an example of someone dying for the love of God and his word. It is so inspiring.  It is just glorious, and it must have appeared to the Sanhedrin as such:

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.  (Act 6:10 MKJV)

And looking intently at him. all those sitting in the sanhedrin saw his face as if it were the face of an angel.
(Act 6:15 MKJV)

Next, we read of the glorious testimony he gave which cut them to their hearts. Then here is the record of what happened after that:

And hearing these things, they were cut to their hearts. And they gnashed on him with their teeth. But being full of the Holy Spirit, looking up intently into Heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, Behold, I see Heaven opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. And crying out with a loud voice, they stopped their ears and ran on him with one accord. And throwing him outside the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid their clothes down at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen, who was calling on God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  (Act 7:54-60 MKJV)

Stephen laid down his life.  There is nothing in this record that says that there was any way out.  I have nothing but admiration for the bravery, courage, powerful spirit, and love of God he exemplified.

On the other hand, sometimes the Lord offers deliverance and people don’t take it or get it, for one reason or another.  The first example I can remember is when Moses sent the spies into the promised land.  The Israelites were on the verge of entering the promised land.  But when the spies came back, all but two were full of doubt:

And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  (Num 13:27-33 ESV)

Deliverance was at hand for the Israelites!  They had been in captivity in Egypt for generations.  Now they were walking in the desert without a home.  They had the chance for deliverance, but they couldn’t see it.  They were afraid! None of the Israelites save Joshua and Caleb who did welcome the chance to enter the promised land would get to go into the promised land.  The rest didn’t accept deliverance and never got to go in.

Alternately, we have Jesus Christ himself who until it was his time to suffer and die for all of us, accepted deliverance, and walked out of one dangerous situation after another. See
Jesus Quietly Passed Through Those Trying to Kill Him for more. And Jesus said that the things that he did we would do also! Again, one of the things he did was escape danger.  I’m not saying it will happen every time any more that than when someone prays for healing it doesn’t always happen because we know there are the same principles of believing involved, But it requires listening to and obeying the Spirit.  And Paul was definitely told not to go to Jerusalem by the Spirit.  He was given an escape.  He just had to accept it.

And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.  (Act 21:4 ESV)

One thing that is very interesting here is that we have seen all the records where Paul has heard directly from the Spirit including miracles, healings and other deliverances for people, and also the abundance of revelation about the mystery and other things in his epistles, as well as guidance as in the Spirit telling him not to go Asia.  Yet, apparently, he didn’t hear or couldn’t hear from the Spirit on this.  Thus it was necessary for the Spirit to send other prophets to him with the message.

Paul rebuked the Spirit’s message through the prophets not to go to Jerusalem with his statement, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” After all, he had been told he would have to endure many things. But the key to deliverance is hearing the Spirit and following it.  And when the Spirit tells you not to do something and you do it anyway, you are not following the Spirit.  And you may not get the results you hoped.

Hebrews chapter eleven is an incredible record of believers who both were delivered and not delivered. The chapter starts off with the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah with their progeny, Moses, Rahab, and then it says this:

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah; also David, and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the strangers. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance [emphasis added], that they might obtain a better resurrection.
(Heb 11:32-35 MKJV)

Then the record lists terrible ordeals that believers withstood in faith.

“Not accepting deliverance” is very interesting.  First of all, it indicates that they made a choice.  Second, the choice was to be delivered or not.  Yes, it does say the people mentioned did it to obtain a better resurrection. But not all deliverances are an ungodly way out.   Peter and John spoke the words by the Spirit and wound up getting released in Acts 4?  Peter was delivered, freed from jail, by the angel in Acts 12? So, what if it is the Spirit leading you to be delivered to allow the Word of God to further grow by your actions? Now, that’s a deliverance somebody should accept.

Now, let’s go back to the record of Paul being told not to go to Jerusalem.  Let’s look at some of the unpunctuated Greek and the word for word translation of some of those verses2.

Here is Acts 21:4

This is pretty much what the translations say, that disciples said by the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem.

Here is Acts 21:9:

That looks pretty straight forward.  The ESV translates that as “He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.”  Well, that is pretty easy.  Looks pretty good too. right? Here is the next verse:

The ESV translates above as “While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.”
You can see how the above verses line up with the translation of the words.  A lot of verses are straightforward like that.  But not all of them are.

This one is trickier:

So, rearranging the words as translated just to make it more readable the translation of this Acts 21:14 reads “And since he was not being persuaded we stopped saying the will of the Lord be done.” In other words, the prophets and believers stopped telling Paul to do the will of the Lord.  But this is where it gets tricky.  Tradition evidently had grown to the point where the translators believed Paul followed the will of the Lord here so a straightforward translation of 21:14 doesn’t fit with that.   So, if you add some commas you can change the meaning of this verse.  Look at this verse:

“And since he would not be persuaded,  we ceased, saying, the will of the Lord be done.”  That could mean that they reversed their position, or that they were saying that the will of the Lord is going to happen here even though Paul was warned.

So, without the punctuation, the disciples around Paul stopped saying “the will of the Lord be done.  But, with the punctuation, the disciples said it one last time.  The punctuation completely changes whether “the will of the Lord be done” was said or not.

If Paul was told by the Spirit not to go and he was in 21:4, then it wasn’t the Lord’s will that he be captured and bound.  It is important to note that the decision to go to Jerusalem marks a sharp change in Paul’s activity.  Yes, he got to stand before kings and rulers but he could have done that anyway in his travels.  What did happen is that he spent years in prison, at least two years with Festus and his successor, and then a couple of years under house arrest in Rome, probably five years in all.  Yes, Paul did a miracle or two after this but Paul was indeed captured and bound, and his missionary journeys were stopped.  I submit the Spirit told Paul not to go to Jerusalem to avoid this and enable him to be free to continue his missionary journeys.

Its so amazing that a few commas completely reverse the meaning of the text.  Just remember there are no commas in the manuscripts that this verse is translated from.

The lesson here is that the translator has a lot of power just by adding punctuation.

The situation with Paul is so unique. Yes, we remember that there is an example in Acts where the Spirit forbade Paul to go into Asia, and Paul obeyed. But the book of Acts is the story of the apostles and disciples following the spirit for the most part, but not all.  There are miscues by believers in Acts and also confrontations.  Ananias and Sapphira held back part of the price of the land they pledged.  Part of the believers criticized Peter at first for teaching the word of God to the Gentiles before accepting it as God’s plan.  Peter and Paul had a big confrontation about the food laws because certain believers challenged Peter and he stopped eating with non-jews, leading to the Jerusalem council about 48AD.  That was in Acts 15.  Also in Acts 15 Paul and Barnabus split up because Paul didn’t want to take Barnabus’ cousin John Mark with them after John’s leaving the mission field in Pamphilia.   Despite the abundance of righteous activity, not everything in Acts is somebody doing the right thing.

If what I say is true and Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem is a story about a powerful man of God with gift ministries who made a foolish, stubborn mistake then the lesson is that the rest of us should be on guard for that.  What thinking are we stubbornly holding onto while the Lord is trying to tell us not to do something we want to do? What teaching is the Lord trying to show us is just a tradition other than the apostles’ tradition and stopping us from knowing the full truth of God word that the Apostles taught and practiced? That God still worked with Paul after this decision is not proof that it was what God wanted in the first place.     You know, I have heard the argument that what some group teaches must be right because they have seen healings or miracles.  But I have seen miracles and healings, or at least what looked to be valid claims of them in groups that teach different things on some issues.  God rewards believing on the part of imperfect people everywhere.  In other words, it is not a requirement for someone to be doctrinally perfect or even perfectly holy for prayers to be answered, or the spirit to be manifested.

Jesus was the only sinless man.  The rest of us have fallen short, including Paul. Everybody will quickly admit that Peter was impetuous and on occasion dead wrong.  But Paul is treated differently after his conversion.  But remember he was very hard-headed and it took a miraculous event for him to be converted.  Remember he heard Stephen speak with such power and he wasn’t phased.  Is it so inconceivable that he could make a stubborn, foolish mistake at some point in his ministry?  Do you think that 1 John does not apply to men and women of God?

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1Jn 1:8-10 ESV)

There are a number of lessons in this post.  One is that translation from one language to another is not simple.  There are differences in the punctuation from the original language to the language it is translated to. There are also problems with meanings of words in the original to meanings of words in the translation. Second is that because of the difficulty in translation we need to acknowledge that the translators used punctuation that was not in the original to give the meaning they believe the original contains.  But translators can be influenced by what they believe as doctrine so as to influence how they translate. Next, what people perceive as blown prophecies need to be examined carefully.  And lastly,  while we should be ready to endure whatever persecution comes our way, if the Spirit gives us direction to avoid something, then we should listen and obey.


August 15th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Divisions, Tradition | no comments

The Not Enough Information Rule – Sticking to What is Revealed

Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 29:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deu 29:29 ESV)

This verse is fairly plain but let’s just look at some of the words to clarify. The word “secret” in the verse is the Hebrew word sathar which means secret, hidden, concealed, or absent. The word “revealed” in the verse is the Hebrew word galah, which means revealed, denuded, disclosed, or uncovered.

The things that God told us through his prophets are what he has revealed. According to the word of God, those are things that we can know about God. That is what revelation is about. God has revealed to us certain things that we can know, But there are many things that we cannot know about God. There is no amount of philosophizing, speculating, hypothesizing, or inductive reasoning that will allow us to break the revelation barrier.

God’s mind is literally on a plane so above ours that there is no comparison. Unless God tells us things about how he and heaven and eternity work we simply can’t know them. We can’t figure them out. Look at these verses that say just that. First, we can’t even understand how great God is:

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psa 145:3 ESV)

We can’t think like God. Unsearchable means that there is no place that we can look to find out what we want to know. God says we can’t figure him out:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9 ESV)

What does that even mean? Here’s an example. The vast majority of us humans think of everything, even eternal things in human terms. For example, time is a human reality with beginnings, middles, and ends. Everything is linear; one thing happens, then another. You wake up, you eat breakfast, you get dressed, and then you go to work or school.

A common timeline belief is that you live, and then you die and go to heaven. N. T. Wright, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, says that belief actually comes from a philosophy called middle Platonism that was common around the time of original Christianity. But, according to Wright, original Christians didn’t actually believe that; rather they held a belief that heaven and earth were twin halves of the Christian life at the same time. According to this belief, heaven and earth exist at the same time!i

Sound too strange? Look at these verses:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [emphasis added], so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7 ESV)

Look at the tenses involved here. The people reading this are alive in this world. But they are being told that that they are seated in heavenly places, i.e. they are in heaven like they have died or been caught in the rapture! This already happened the way this verse reads! But the people reading this are alive in this world! Yet the verse is talking like we have passed on and are no longer alive and are residing in heaven? Or rather, that we are alive now, but also seated in heavenly places at the same time! There is the earth plane and the spiritual plane, and they co-exist! We are alive now and seated in heavenly places at what we perceive as the same time. Wright says this is more like how original Christians thought.

Now, a common explanation for these verses is that God foreknew that we would believe so he has a place reserved for us, which makes sense for people like us with our analytically based educational system that has foundations back to Greek philosophy.  It certainly sounds like a good explanation to me.  It makes sense.

But, as God’s word says, God’s ways are not our ways! His thinking is so advanced it looks like gibberish to us. We have to stop thinking like we can figure everything out! It doesn’t matter if its the first century, the twenty-first century or the forty-first century if the Lord tarries that long, God’s ways are beyond our reach to understand. So, maybe on God’s plane we are here and seated with him at the same time! How can that be, since we can’t be in two places here in our universe? I don’t know that it is, but, well, God’s ways are unsearchable and it may be just that in God’s reality. Again, he says that in Ephesians 2 above and in Romans 11:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom 11:33-34 ESV)

Deuteronomy states that some things are hidden with God and the above verses say that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are his either. Again, we don’t think like God.

A little more on God’s view of time can be seen from verses like:

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  (Psa 90:4 ESV)

I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days; Your years are through the generation of generations. Of old You have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yea, all of them shall become old like a garment; like a robe You shall change them, and they shall be changed; but You are He, and Your years shall have no end.  (Psa 102:24-27 MKJV)

These verses above are comparing God’s time to our time in terms we can understand.  But make no mistake, they are also saying that God doesn’t have the constraints of time that we have.  So we don’t really know what time is like for him.

Look at this. I can take a picture of a beautiful vase of flowers. That picture is an image of those flowers, they can reflect the beauty and intricacy of design the colors and outside structures of the flowers, but they are in no way the equal to the flowers. Likewise, we are made in the image of God but are in no way the equal of him who created us. We have an image of God’s thinking, but we in no way have God’s thinking on a lot of areas. We’re not even in the same ballpark!

Look at ants. They are impressive creatures really; they live in highly structured social colonies. They all know their jobs and they work as a team, building incredible colonies. They communicate with each other. ii They can carry 20 times their body weight.iii  Did you know that ants farm other animals? Yes, some ants farm aphids, maintaining herds of them and milking them for food.iv  And just because you haven’t figured out how to talk to an ant doesn’t mean that it doesn’t think in at least some rudimentary form. There are scientists who say that many animals have a wide range of thoughts and feelings.v Ants are pretty sophisticated creatures. vi

But we are so far advanced over ants, or so we think. that there is no comparison. And I don’t think that we are even like ants compared to God, he is that incredible! Yet so many of us think we can figure so much out about God and heaven and eternity! Science has its big bang theories and Christians since the apostles have been taking fragments of writings and extrapolating wide-ranging theologies. They do this utilizing Greek analytical methods of deduction and especially inductive reasoning, an epistemological tool from philosophy.

Wisdom and knowledge in the world come under the heading of philosophy. Philosophy is broken down into branches. There’s ontology or metaphysics which is the study of being. There’s epistemology which is the study of knowledge. There’s ethics which is the study of morals.vii Another division is called aesthetics which in its simplest definition means beauty.

This website has a small section on philosophy because it is referred to in the bible. Whether we realize it or not philosophy has been incorporated into the education of most people in civilized society and recognizing our philosophical indoctrination is crucial to our understanding of the topic of differentiating revelation from world influences.  Our educational systems engrain philosophically based analytical thinking into our brains starting in kindergarten.  While our educational systems have yielded great benefits in worldly pursuits in areas like medicine, transportation, communication, industry, and science, they can hinder us greatly when we think we can use them to understand God beyond what God has revealed in his word,

Especially, to those who say that you believe the Bible, I am going to ask, what does the Bible say about how the world teaches us to think? Look at this:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Co 1:17-25 ESV)

Do you think because you live thousands of years after the apostles that things are different now? Do you think because we invented computers and sent people into space that we smart enough now to figure out God?  The bible says we are not.

Paul asks rhetorically whether God has made foolish the wisdom of the world! He declares that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. God says he is going to destroy the wisdom of the wise. So where does that put the wisdom of God? The answer is way, way, way up there, beyond our comprehension.

Remember that theologians include philosophical arguments in their reasoning about theology when they use things like deductive, and especially, inductive reasoning. What are deductive and inductive reasoning you say? Deductive reasoning is “the process of figuring out things that are necessarily true, provided that the assumptions that we start with, are true.”viii If A = B and B = C then we deduct that A = C.

On the other hand, inductive reasoning is “drawing conclusions from particular evidence: if certain things are true, we can induce that other things of the same kind will probably be true.”ix A keyword there is probably. Inductive reasoning comes without absolute certainty.  It’s taking a bunch of facts and drawing conclusions about them.  We can do this with some success in the natural world but the spiritual world is different.  There aren’t any verses that say that men of our time are different and will be able to figure out things that were previously secret.

So what are we to do? Study the scriptures as the prophets searched the scripture: carefully:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, (1Pe 1:10 ESV)

The prophets looked to see what was revealed. Yes, they look for small details that might help them understand better. But they stuck to what was written. And they didn’t take a group of details and induce a new theory, then teach it as truth.

Now, being like the prophets and sticking to what has been revealed can give us great understanding:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (Col 1:9 ESV)

All doesn’t mean absolutely all. You have to derive the meaning of words in the bible in the context of all of God’s word.  If all in the above verse meant that we could have absolutely all spiritual wisdom and understanding that would contradict the previous verses we looked above that declare that God has secret things that belong just to him and his mind is unsearchable to us.  No, in this case, all means all that is available to us.  But still, to be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding is an awesome thing!  And next, we will read about being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance and knowledge of God’s mystery, in Christ.

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (Col 2:2-4 ESV)

That sounds awesome because it is; being encouraged, knit together in love, with full assurance!

Now, I want to talk about the plausible arguments mentioned in the verse.  Remember when we defined inductive reasoning, drawing conclusions from pieces of particular evidence. In our universe scientists do this all the time, looking at what is known about something and then drawing conclusions.  So many scientific theories are formed this way, That the theory of evolution is an exercise in inductive reason is something that is well taught.x There are a lot of things about the theory that are plausible, believable. In many scientific minds, it is so plausible that it is accepted as true, but it is not a proven theory. Much of science is like that. And so is a lot of theology!

People have been constructing plausible arguments on everything from soup to nuts including theology, the study of God, using a lot of inductive reasoning since Adam. Sometimes the argument does prove to be true. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the flaw in the argument. Other times the flaw in the inductive reasoning becomes obvious rather quickly. So much scientific investigation is based on inductive reasoning, looking at collections of facts, drawing conclusions, hypotheses, that are further tested to see whether they bear out as true in the long haul.  It’s right at the fabric of how we think in the world these days.

But, when it comes to God and eternity, and the universe, we can’t know everything we need to be able to induce reliable conclusions about eternal realities because the secret things belong to God. So a lot of theologies are based on the faulty premise that we can know things that we cannot know because God has hidden them!

Again, the knowledge of God that we can know can bring a peace that passes understanding which is so awesome.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Php 4:7 MKJV)

I have tasted that peace and it is so soothing, so comforting. On the other hand, philosophy and its methods can drive you nuts! If philosophy has such perfect and true reasoning then all the philosophers would agree, but they don’t! Frederick Schuller wrote:

We are all aware that philosophers are even more prone to disagree than doctors, and probably all of us are ready upon occasion to contribute our quota to the disagreements that mark, and scar, the face of philosophy. xi

The wisdom of the world is a fickle master. And God is going to destroy it in the end.

On the other hand, Jesus didn’t quote any philosophers, he quoted the word of God, and referred to what prophets said, people charged with delivering revelation, messages from God.

Col 1:9 and 2:2-4 are so very interesting because they acknowledge the reality that we can have great spiritual wisdom and understanding but also that we can be deluded with “plausible arguments”, also translated “enticing words”. The trick is to stick to the text of the word of God, as original as can be found, not adding or subtracting from it. And sticking to what is revealed. Especially remember the downfall of inductive reasoning, that we will never in our current form have enough information to inductively conclude things on God’s plane.

So don’t be afraid to say that there isn’t enough information to know something.  It’s a basic rule in understanding the word of God.

iThe New Testament Doesn’t Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven, N.T. Wright, https://time.com/5743505/new-testament-heaven/

vii The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy, Jay Stevenson P.h.D, Alpha Books, (Penguin Books), 2005, p.6-7

viiiIbid, p. 21

ixIbid, p. 22

x The Origin of Species, article, Spark Series teaching notes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/origin/themes/

xi Disagreement in Philosophy An Optimistic Perspective, HERMAN CAPPELEN, http://hermancappelen.net/docs/DisagreementinPhilosophyCambridge.pdf

May 17th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

T 1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 1, Rightly Dividing the Word of God

In T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, we discussed that a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another. We also looked at the verses that charged believers to follow the tradition that was handed down by the Apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
(2Th 3:6 ESV)

From the above verses we know:

  1. There is a tradition, a set of belief(s) and practice(s), that was set up in original Christianity.
  2. Believers were expected to follow these traditions.
  3. Believers were charged to avoid brothers who walked in idleness or didn’t do the things talked about in this letter, including following the tradition handed down by the Apostles.

To see the tradition talked about in the above verses in more detail we really need to look at the beliefs and practices that the Apostles held forth. We don’t have any recordings of their words spoken, but we do have what was in their letters and the book of Acts:

That set of beliefs and practices is what this website is all about. There is no way to cover the entire tradition in a single post so I will give a sketch of some key points along with references to original Christian beliefs and practices in other posts.

There are already some points about the tradition that started in Original Christianity in the introduction, Welcome to Original Christianity.Net,  to this website.  Here are some of those points about original Christianity with links to posts on the subject.

Also in T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, I discuss that Jesus taught against the practice of establishing any tradition that negated the word of God. In fact, Original Christianity was devoted to rightly dividing scripture to keep the Word of God to full effect.

Listen to this story about something I experienced at a church not too long ago. At a service that I was attending the pastor geared the service around an exercise. Instead of chairs lined up in rows or circles even, he had the auditorium set up with tables and chairs like for dining. People gathered together in groups, and they were assigned a passage of Scripture, to be used as a starting point for discussion as to what that Scripture meant to them.
The exercise certainly had a good motive for it. The point was to set up a meal like setting and show how easy it was to talk about things around the table. The pastor was encouraging the congregation to evangelize; no problem with the motive.
There were about half a dozen people around the table where I was sitting, and I waited to hear what each would say. Now, to be sure, people took the exercise seriously and endeavored to communicate the impact of the Scripture to them. They each interpreted the verse as best they could,
However, when it came to my turn, I decided to talk about what the words meant in the context and where it had been used before. Immediately, some of the people’s heads picked up, and said, “that’s right I’m going to change what the verse means to me to that.” But not all. One person especially kept promoting a viewpoint that was full of Christianese but was not what was being taught in the verse, and maybe not true at all.  Evidently, in that church, it was perfectly acceptable for people to get different meanings and people were allowed to let loose with their ideas in what scriptures meant.

There are verses in the bible that speak directly to how scriptures are to be handled, Here’s one:

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)

Rightly dividing in the verse above is the Greek word orthotomeo, literally “straight cutting”.  Second Timothy 2:15 sets up a pair of opposites. On one side is the unashamed workmen of God’s word who “cuts the words” straight. That means he derives the correct meaning. On the other hand, then, is the workmen of the word who should be ashamed because he derives meanings that aren’t there.

Another verse that talks about how Scripture is to be handled is in second Peter:

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 ESV)

The words that I want to focus on here are “someone’s own interpretation”. The Greek here is very interesting.  Idios epilusis are the words here and they are very interesting.  Idios, meaning “one’s own”. is used elsewhere in the Bible.  But epilusis is the single occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament.  “Interpretation” is an okay translation, but my interlinear translates it as “explanation”.  I’ve seen it also translated as “letting loose”, as in letting loose with one’s own thoughts.

Now, to be sure, those words relate directly to how the prophet  gives the words as he gives them. When a prophet is giving a message from God. He gives the message that God says to give. He doesn’t let loose on his own with his own thoughts, meanings, or anything else other than the message that God directed him or her to give.  The prophet is charged not to explain the message with his own understanding.  (If you look at some prophecies like Jonah’s, you will see that he didn’t really agree with the message and want to give it.)

Let me ask you a question. If God is saying that the prophet is not allowed to put his own meaning on the message, what makes you think that you can?
The point of this verse is that it is the utmost importance that the message contains God’s meaning, not the prophet’s, and certainly not yours or mine.

Jesus and the religious leaders of his time conflicted over tradition. Jewish tradition contains the idea that every word that the Lord God revealed has 70 possible meanings. And the end result of that huge realm of possibility of what all the Scriptures mean with all the various meanings of words that are available is that it is impossible just to read something and know what it says. So there must be more than Scripture to help understand Scripture. Thus is the Jewish justification for the Talmud or oral law.
As we will see, the (Roman) Catholic tradition includes the same concept. Scripture by itself, according to Catholic tradition is insufficient. And thus there is the requirement of the church to go beyond Scripture and define what needs to be defined for people to live righteously.

There are not 70 meanings for every word in every verse in the Bible.  To be a true workman of the word we need to find the true meaning of the words we are given.

Again, remember what Jesus said what he thought about the Jew’s need for tradition. He said it made the Word of God of no effect. Yet that is what happened to the Jews and in the Catholic tradition which started right after the gospel of John as we shall see.
Original Christianity was concerned about stopping the use of tradition to interpret scripture and make the word of God of no effect.

This is a huge part of the Apostolic tradition that was handed down by the Apostles.

We will handle more of what was handed down in future articles.

 

February 15th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Tradition | no comments

The Marvelous Story of Esther, Absent From Early Canons of Scripture

The teaching in church this week centered on the inspiring story of Esther. In a nutshell when Xerxes was king of Persia the Queen was named Vashti. And in a moment of defiance Vashti refused the command of the King. After consulting with his advisers the king decided on a process to find a new Queen, and the beautiful Queen he chose was Esther. Esther had been warned of by her kinsmen Mordecai to not advise the King that she was a Jew because of animosity towards the Jews. As it turned out an Agagite named Haman conspired to get rid of all the Jews and in a thrilling story of bravery and courage Esther is instrumental in ridding the Jews of this direct attack, in elevating her kinsmen Mordecai and in providing for the welfare of all the Jews under Xerxes.  It is an amazing story of bravery, and deliverance.

As much as I love the story of Esther however I must report that there is considerable evidence that Esther, whether true or not, was not a book of the Old Testament according to at least some writings of the day.

Look at this quotation from you Eusebius’ church history:

Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting! Since you have often, in your zeal for the Word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our entire Faith, and have also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient books, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing your zeal for the faith, and your desire to gain information in regard to the Word, and knowing that you, in your yearning after God, esteem these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation. Accordingly when I went to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and I send them to you as written below. These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of Kingdoms, 1 two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs or Wisdom, 2 Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, 3 the Twelve [minor prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. 4 From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.[i]

Notice in the above listing that the book of Esther is missing.

With that  again I have to say that it pains me to have to present this because to me the story of Esther has always been a thrilling and inspiring story. But, besides being our Savior, the Lord Jesus was also the greatest prophet ever and he said this about reading the Scriptures:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (Joh 5:39 ESV)

While the story of Esther is certainly one of the Jewish people being saved at the time it holds the distinction of being one of two books (the other being Song of Solomon) that do not mention God.  It does not include any of the genealogy of the bloodline of our Savior. While Esther is a story of deliverance it doesn’t testify of jesus.   And as noted above it was left out of at least some of the early Christian centuries’ canons of Scripture.  Also throughout the centuries it has not been accepted universally.  Look at this quote from a website called patheos.com:

John Calvin did not include the book in his biblical commentaries and only referenced it once in the Institutes(see 4.12.17). Though he included it in his Bible, Martin Luther was highly ambivalent about it. “I am so great an enemy to . . . Esther, that I wish [it] had not come to us at all, for [it has] too many heathen unnaturalities,” he said in Table Talk 24. And in one exchange with Erasmus he said it “deserves. . . to be regarded as noncanonical.”[ii]

What this suggests is significant in a number of ways:

  1. the Canon of Scripture might not be as divinely inspired as some would have us believe.
  2. The statements of belief of many Christian churches today includes the statement that the 66 books included in the modern Christian Bible are divinely inspired, and the word of God. This is a relatively recent doctrine and not something that has consistently been believed throughout the ages.

I have said elsewhere in places on this website that many churches teach that they are the first century church living in the 21st century. But this is clearly not the case. There were at least some of the earliest church fathers who did not hold that Esther and some of the other books in the Bible were divinely inspired by God. And hundreds of years ago in the forming of the Reformation the founding reformers also challenged some of the books that current statements of belief propound to be true. In other words, churches in Melito’s time, in Luther’s time, in Calvin’s time would not have made the statement that the 66 books of the Bible are all divinely inspired pieces of the word of God.

It is vitally important to me to remember that the true word of God is not a book as much as it is the person of Jesus Christ. And it is helpful in recognizing that much of the disagreement among churches centers around a dogma that God authored the 66 books and the arguments that promote divisions weaken when we acknowledge that that statement of belief is a modern invention and not one held by the reformers nor the early Christians.

The faith of the early Christians as well as the reformers like Luther and Calvin was not based on the doctrine that the 66 books of the modern Christian bible are the word of God, and neither should ours be.

[i] The Face of the Early Fathers, William a Jurgens, volume 1, p.81. This is a quote by St. Melito of Sardes which is a fragment in Eusebius, history of the church, book 4, chapter 26. The estimated date of this citation is 170 AD.

[ii] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/06/youre-reading-the-wrong-book-of-esther/

August 20th, 2018 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments