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Archive for the ‘Exegesis’ Category

Ephesians

While the standard issue retreat ended up not happening, I did some background research on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians over the last 8 or 10 months.

Here is the resulting outline. You’ll notice it’s mostly just a book report of Hoehner’s Ephesians commentary – he was the most recent of the commentaries that I referenced, and leaned heavily on my other sources – I figured his distilling of their arguments was sufficient.

Anyway, let me know if you need anything else on the book, before I forget it.

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Previously, I delved into my views on the Biblical concept of speaking in tongues. In brief, the charismatic understanding of “tongues” is something of a ubiquitous swiss army spiritual language. Having no intrinsic earthly meaning, this language is something heavenly, channeled through an earthly medium, conveying some divine concepts.

I am opposed to this understanding. Not because I am aspiritual. I think that the charismatic conception of tongues is not biblically supported.

The first item of business is to figure out what Paul means when he uses the word “tongue” in his epistles. You need not go too deep into this investigation until you run into a problem – he’s primarily talking about languages, not fanciful mystery jibberish.

The word, in Greek, is “glossa”. I am a layman, but based on its nearly 50 references in the New Testament, it is used in roughly the same way that we use the English word tongue. A tongue is both a physical organ and a figurative representation of speech; glossa seems to be the same. Go here, and browse the 47 locations that the term is used in the NT.

I am interested in these usages. Is the word unrelated to our discussion; for instance, is it used to describe the organ inside your mouth? Is the word ambiguous? I’d like to understand whether Paul is talking about a miraculous spiritual language, or whether he’s talking about foreign languages, heretofore unknown to the speaker. Many of these usages can mean either, and the context doesn’t help us disentangle them. Is the word used in the spiritual sense? Is it used in the language sense? Understanding the context of the word when it is used in the 1st century will give us a better understanding of how we should interpret it.

It should be noted before I begin that I don’t take the language application to be any less miraculous. I think that early believers were given an understanding of language beyond what they should have known without the help of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure if it still happens today – that’s a different question.

Here’s my breakdown of the verses:
Unrelated
Mark 7:33
Mark 7:35
Luke 1:64
Luke 16:24
Acts 2:3
Acts 2:26
Romans 3:13
Romans 14:11
Philippians 2:11
James 1:26
James 3:5
James 3:6
James 3:8
1 Peter 3:10
1 John 3:18
Revelations 16:10

Ambiguous
Mark 16:17
Acts 10:46
Acts 19:6
1 Corinthians 12:10
1 Corinthians 12:28
1 Corinthians 12:30
1 Corinthians 13:8
1 Corinthians 14:5
1 Corinthians 14:6
1 Corinthians 14:9
1 Corinthians 14:13
1 Corinthians 14:18
1 Corinthians 14:19
1 Corinthians 14:23
1 Corinthians 14:26
1 Corinthians 14:27
1 Corinthians 14:39

Spiritual
1 Corinthians 13:1 (see 13:8)
1 Corinthians 14:2
1 Corinthians 14:4
1 Corinthians 14:14

Language
Acts 2:4
Acts 2:11
1 Corinthians 14:22
Revelations 5:9
Revelations 7:9
Revelations 10:11
Revelations 11:9
Revelations 13:7
Revelations 14:6
Revelations 17:15

Your place for disagreement with this list is in my determination of the “ambiguous” usages. Some of them are clearly not aligned with a language interpretation or a spiritual tongue interpretation. Others are a little more hazy, especially if you want to believe one or the other interpretation badly enough. Take 1 Corinthians 14:18 and 19, for instance. Paul is talking about speaking in tongues – more of them than others. That might mean that he has a more profound manifestation of this spiritual gift, but how would someone prove that, how would someone measure it? What if Paul, the super-missionary to the Gentiles, spoke several languages. Easily verifiable and even plausible, yes? Would it be strange for him to claim that? “Listen folks, you want to talk about languages – I know languages. I could talk to you all day in Thracian, but it wouldn’t make one iota of sense would it? Five words in a tongue that you understand is worth a thousand in one that you don’t.” That is my plain, common, straightforward interpretation of the passage.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contain three chapters that provide the ENTIRE basis for the concept of a heavenly language spoken by inspired people on earth. Of those three chapters, I count four verses that seem to speak to a spiritual language. The most clearly stated of these verses, 1 Corithians 13:1, is, in my opinion, certainly a literary device. Paul is saying that no quantities of spiritual gifts are worth their weight in salt without love. It’s like owning a Porsche and driving it 55 mph on the interstate – fantastic car, but you’re missing the point if you use it like that. Paul took the most potent language he could think of, “heck, it doesn’t matter if you’re trumpeting the language of the angels themselves, without love, it’s worthless noise!” That’s what the verse means. He’s not talking about the literal use of a angelic language, nor is he indicating that the option is available to us. That’s not what he’s trying to accomplish in the argument.

We are then left with a cluster of three verses, tightly spaced in one chapter. This is what we call “proof-texting”, when we read something external into a difficult passage to pull something out of it that is not really there. The point of the first two verses listed in Chapter 14 is not about tongues, but instead about the usefulness of prophecy. I think he’s saying, “hey, you’re our missionary to Ghana, great, your spiritual gift is good and useful in its context, but not here. I’d rather edifying teaching in English.” I will freely acknowledge that my interpretation here is less supported than what I feel is a very strong argument regarding the previous chapter’s verses.

In fact, the second paragraph of chapter 14 (14:6-14:12) goes on to make it very clear that Paul is speaking of earthly languages. If someone doesn’t understand him, he is a foreigner to that person, despite the fact that all languages have intrinsic meaning in the appropriate context.

I don’t know what 14:14 means. One difficult verse does not an entire enterprise of spiritual expression make.

So, then, where did this all come from?

It seems to me that the straightforward explanation, that missionaries were given the ability to communicate with those who they were ministering to, is the simplest and most natural reading of the word glossa. As you can see, the idea of tongues was utterly unimportant to Jesus – he never mentioned it in clear terms, and barely used the word at all. Luke, in Acts, and John, in Revelations, use the word with stark clarity, speaking indisputably about earthly languages. Luke’s account of “Pentecost” is unequivocably language based, and yet the Pentecostal denomination is the most tonguey sect around! James and Peter never use it, and Paul only speaks of it in the tail end of one of his many letters – even then he does it in terms of speakers and translators. We use translators today in the United Nations. Nothing magical there. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the New Testament’s only foreign missions author is the only one who brings it up. Languages of other nations wasn’t an issue within the Jewish church, where Peter, John and James operated in Jesus’s similarly narrow wake.

The idea of mystery cults have been around since the time of Christ. Gnostics had a special knowledge of spiritual things – gnosis means literally “knowledge of deeper truths”. From the Free Masons, to the Mormon Temples, to most every modern religion, we love mystery. We also love being elitist. In my mind, and you can feel free to use the scriptures to dispute me, the simple explanation is that Paul is talking about language. And we want it to be more.

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Begotten Not Created

I’m going to join a church, officially. It’s something of a big deal over there in the erudite PCA, and so SPEP has us taking a 13 week course on the core beliefs of the church, which lean heavily on the reformed theology of John Calvin and friends. Today was my first class (though they had three without me), and we discussed how one would answer the question regarding whether Christ was a created being. The context is Colossians 1:9-20, but no man is an island, neither is any scripture.

Specifically, 1:15 is used as a so called “proof text” for this Christological heresy. The difference between a created Christ and a pre-existent Christ might not seem like much, but it ends up manifesting itself in a subservience (in nature) to God. Christ becomes, then, some kind of super-human, a man with the attributes of God as opposed to God himself. This is at the very core of Christian theology, that Christ is both man and God, fully and simultaneously.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

To address this issue, one of the elders (a church councilman in the Presbyterian church) rightly led the discussion to verse 18, where we see “firstborn” in context once again. It is clear from other scripture that Christ is not create, ergo we need to investigate 1:15 more to find out how we’re getting confused. An investigation of the word “firstborn” is in order.

18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

The NIV uses supremacy, whatever translation we were using (probably ESV, they seem to like that one) used “preeminent”. His main argument was that Christ’s preeminence made him a non-created being.

I do agree, in a way. The other elder mentioned the creedal “begotten, not created” phrase from the Nicene Creed. I brought it back to that seminal verse, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (italics mine). You see, I think that pre-eminence is a quantitative difference. Vladimir Putin is the preeminent Russian, but he is still a Russian, qualitatively similar to other Russians. I think that the firstborn terminology here is to indicate Jesus’ relationship to God, as principle heir and responsible fiduciary.

Jesus, on the other hand, as the only begotten son of God is qualitatively distinct from the rest of us. We are created, he is begotten. If I have a child, I don’t say that I have created him (OK, maybe I say that, but only because I think it sounds funny). I don’t say that I’ve begotten him either because the English language doesn’t work like that colloquially, but that is actually exactly what I mean. Jesus, in these terms, is God’s son. We are his handiwork. There is a qualitative difference.

While a created individual could still be preeminent among his peers, the distinction between begotten and created enforces the age old concept that Jesus, while being fully human, is also qualitatively different than us. It so happens that this difference is also one of quantity – he is supreme, preeminent as well.

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Exegetical

I’d appreciate any grammar or theological critiques on these two writings. There will be a third within the week.

Jonah 1

Jonah 2

As always, the pagans are welcome to cavort around for the sake of seeing their words in writing.

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Wax On, Wax Off

This is what happens when I try to wax epic. Ready, attack!

Money is a thing. Before we can understand how we need to view this thing or any “things”, we need to understand how we should view our world in general. We rent this universe from a God who created it and us within it for His own good pleasure. It is given to our care, but it is not our own. By extension, we ourselves are not our own; we exist solely because God willed that we exist. Apart from Him, we are nothing, we have nothing, and we live for no reason. Given that the universe is God’s and we ourselves are God’s, it should be a small task to lump money in the Lord’s jurisdiction as well. Like the rest of the universe around us, it is given to us for safekeeping, not for self-glorification.

The problem develops because we live in a world which many times values money more than God. Fathers forsake their children, husbands their wifes, and Christians their God for the relentless pursuit of something which gives them an objective, quantifiable sense of self-worth. In forgetting who and what is in charge of our lives, we are left attempting to justify our existence to a world who see nothing of us beyond the numbers attached to our bank accounts. In the end, money becomes our master, and once the shadow of this world passes from our view, we will be left naked and cold, taking nothing more with us to death than we were given in birth.

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Rolling the Dice

You know how I mention that a have a few entry buffer in case I don’t write one of these for a full week? Well, I didn’t write one this week, and I’m currently so diverted writing one now is not possible. Furthermore, I think I’m going to diverge from my past New Testament walk-through trend and start focusing on topics related to some research I’m doing for someone, as killing two birds with one stone is something which I am all for.

Anyway, here is a little something something from a few weeks ago. Matthew 11:28-30

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Surrender

This week’s exerpt (sp?) is Matthew 10:38,39. It’ll put hair on your chest.

Unrelated,
car_in_woods.jpg

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