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trying to see it from all sides, and not just from the stands

This is something I wrote for my brother early last year. It’s a brief(ish) exposition on John 3.16–the favorite verse placarded at football games. This exposition was mostly me thinking out loud. I’m completely open to further insights and/or criticisms.

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1. Historical Setting
The meeting with Nicodemus takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry.  To summarize: in Galilee, Jesus calls a small handful of disciples; with his disciples and mother, Jesus attends a wedding-feast in Cana (of Galilee), at which point he performs his first miracle—although the source or cause of the miracle is known only by the disciples; he then makes a short stay in Capernaum (15 miles east of Cana) before traveling roughly 80 miles south to Jerusalem, in order to attend the Passover.  However, instead of celebrating Jesus is enraged by what is being done in the Temple, and his actions bring him into immediate conflict with the religious elite.

It is on the heels of this conflict that the meeting with Nicodemus occurs.  Since 2.23 says Jesus remained in Jerusalem for the Passover, and since 3.22 says Jesus and his disciples traveled into the region of Judea, and since the encounter with Nicodemus falls between these passages; it is safe to assume that the conversation takes place while Jesus is still in Jerusalem.  Whether or not the conversation occurred specifically in the Temple proper, we cannot be absolutely sure; it seems reasonable enough to assume that it happened somewhere within the Temple complex.

With regard to the meeting itself, two points should be noted.  First, Nicodemus comes with an awareness of the “signs” (or miracles) that Jesus performed in the Temple (see 2.23).  We can assume either that news about the “signs” quickly spread to Nicodemus or that he himself witnessed the “signs.”  Second, Nicodemus meets with Jesus at night, most likely in an attempt to safeguard himself from the Jews, those angered by Jesus’ previous statements (see 2.18-20; cf. 19.38).  Although it is entirely possible that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because it would ensure an “uninterrupted conversation” (Beasley-Murray 1987: 47).  Both of these points (i.e. “signs” and night-visit) will be crucial when we come to the question of theological themes.

2. Literary Relationship
John 3.1-21 is both preceded and followed by a discussion of Jesus’ identity, a discussion that pervades the entire Gospel narrative and one that has a specific goal (see 20.30-31).  At the start of chapter 1, we read a theological summary of Jesus’ true identity, one that remains virtually unknown to many throughout the narrative.  (Only the readers of the Gospel have knowledge of Jesus’ true identity).  Following this we read various testimonies about Jesus, although they tend to be quite vague and even cryptic.  Moreover, it becomes apparent in these instances that those testifying about Jesus are unaware of the full implications of what they are saying.

In chapter 2, we find illustrations of Jesus’ identity revealing itself in what he is able to do—e.g. water into wine, prophesying, performing signs and wonders.  It is here that we find evidence of the disciples (and others witnessing the words and deeds of Jesus) as not fully aware of Jesus’ true identity; they simply marvel at what he does.  In one text, John provides a parenthetical statement about the disciples’ later understanding of the events they witness now—see e.g. 2.20-22 (cf. 12.16).  Then, following the dialogue with Nicodemus, we have John the Baptizer’s testimony about Jesus’ identity, although once again we are confronted with vague and cryptic remarks (see 3.22-36).  However, despite the vagueness, these testimonies function as clues for understanding Jesus’ identity as the Gospel unfolds.

Between the descriptions of what Jesus is able to do and who he is, there is a discussion of why Jesus came.  This specific discussion is the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus, where the conversation begins with a question of identity but quickly moves to the topic of purpose.  To say this differently: we see how Jesus’ identity is necessarily connected with his role in God’s plan of salvation, a plan that remains hidden but is being revealed in and through Jesus.  Absolutely central to this conversation is the dilemma of how one is able to know Jesus’ true identity and purpose, and it is here we find a necessary distinction between ways of knowing.

3. Logical Structure
Based on the content and flow of the passage, John 3.1-21 divides fairly evenly.  In the first half (3.1-11) we have Nicodemus (and ostensibly a select group of Jews—many of the pronouns in this section are plural) expressing a particular view of who Jesus is.  It becomes obvious that this view is inadequate or even faulty, and the failure stems from an improper way of understanding or interpreting reality.  In the second half (3.12-21) we have Jesus (and ostensibly his disciples—cf. 3.11 and Jesus’ use of “we”) expressing an alternate view, one that is perfectly adequate or reasonable—and not simply because Jesus is the one giving it.  It is adequate or reasonable because it is consistent with the proper way of understanding or interpreting reality, and in this case that proper way is shaped by God’s revealed wisdom.

4. Theological Themes
In terms of order, the first theme to recognize is the tension between darkness and light.  As noted earlier, Nicodemus “came to him [Jesus] at night” (3.2).  While it might be historically the case, John’s interest in the time of the encounter is more theological.  John has already used “darkness” as a description for the state of the world at the time of Christ’s incarnation, which he further describes as “light” coming into the world (see 1.4-5, 9-10).  Moreover, the “darkness” is portrayed as unable to know (or comprehend) the “light,” and as a result the “darkness” rejects the “light.”  The sting of 3.11 is that while Nicodemus and some of the Jews are sympathetic to Jesus because of his deeds (cf. 2.23; 3.2b), they remain opposed to him because they reject his testimony concerning who he is (see Lincoln 2005: 152).  This introduces the second theme.

John 2 ends with Jesus not trusting those who only came to him because of the “signs” he performed (see Haenchen 1984: 1.192), a theme that reappears in the Gospel (e.g. 4.46-48; 6.14-15, 25-27).  In short: faith dependent upon “signs” (or miracles) is neither a stable nor adequate faith (see Bultmann 1971: 131).  Moreover, such faith operates according to a particular way of understanding or interpreting reality—especially the things of God—and this way is insufficient.  However, it is this faith (or belief) and this particular way of understanding that stand behind Nicodemus’ question and dialogue with Jesus.  Nicodemus understands only on a superficial (tangible?) level, which therefore hinders his ability to understand Jesus’ (hidden) meaning.  For Jesus, true belief (or true faith) is about seeing beyond the “signs” and coming into the presence of the one who has the power and authority to perform them (see 6.32-40, 51-58).

This (in)ability to see beyond the superficial represents the third theme: the tension between ignorance and knowledge.  Jesus’ refusal to trust those only seeking “signs” is said to be rooted in his knowledge of “what was in man” (2.25), which suggests a knowledge of identity and purpose, whereas Nicodemus’ failure to understand Jesus’ teaching is rooted in an improper way of knowing.  In other words: Nicodemus is ignorant of God’s revelation in Jesus whereas Jesus has full knowledge of God’s wisdom.  To put it yet another way: Nicodemus attempts to know God’s wisdom via human efforts or reasoning (bottom-up), while Jesus says such wisdom can only be known by God’s revelation (top-down).  Thus, only by a transformation of mind can one know God’s wisdom and thereby his salvation, which results in entering the kingdom (see 3.3, 5; cf. 3.13; Rom 12.1-2; 1 Cor 2.10-12).  Hence, one must be “born from above” (3.3).

Closely associated with this is the last theme: the tension between death and (eternal) life.  Throughout the conversation the emphasis falls on (eternal) life, with death being primarily an implication (cf. 3.16, which contains the only [direct] reference to death in the entire passage).  It is worth noting that the discussion on (eternal) life occurs in the context of God’s kingdom, God’s revelation, God’s salvation in Jesus, and the appropriate way for understanding all of these things.  Moreover, it is no mistake that only here in John’s Gospel is (eternal) life necessarily linked with Jesus’ identity and purpose (see Brown 1971: 1.147; Ridderbos 1997: 136-39) and true belief in Jesus’ identity and purpose as the only way to (eternal) life (cf. Acts 4.12).  We see this in 3.14b where Jesus affirms: “it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up”, with the reason for the necessity given in 3.15: “so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.”  Thus, the possibility of (eternal) life is dependent upon Christ being “lifted up” (i.e. crucified) and participation in that (eternal) life is dependent upon belief in both the purpose and work of Christ.

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a modicum of solace

Yesterday The Guardian provided the results of an American-based survey on various conspiracy theories. Interestingly, the headline focused only on one of the 26 questions: Obama as the Antichrist. Two things–one about the headline, and one about the survey–and then a third, which is less troubling.

With regard to the headline, it’s a bit misleading. According to the numbers in the results (the full break-down is here), only 13% believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s hardly “one in four Americans.” The only way you can get close to a “one in four” charge (i.e. 25%) is if you lump the 13% from the “not sure” category, which is what Paul Harris does in the article. He does this on the basis that “not sure” = “possibly so” or “I could be convinced”. A bit shady on the method, but understandable. “One in four” sounds better and (slightly) more widespread than “one in seven(ish)”.

With regard to the survey, it too is a bit misleading. If we went on the title alone, we get the impression that 25% of (all) Americans believe Obama is the Antichrist. Given the population of the US (315,610,625, as of 8.30 this morning), that would mean something around 78,902,656.25. (Who is the .25 of a person!?). But that can’t be right. Outside of Garnier, who would survey that many people? Harris does explain that the survey involved only “a sample of American voters”. Okie dokie. According to this site, last year there were 146,311,000 registered voters in the US (a number that seems too clean for my taste, but no matter). So if we use that number, then, according to Harris’ “one in four” charge, that would mean 36,577,750 people surveyed believe Obama to be the Antichrist. (Thankfully, no fractions of people this time). But that can’t be right either.

Conveniently (or smartly), Harris leaves out the exact size of the sample, and he suspiciously leaves out any links to survey itself. Again, it sounds so much better and more–dare I say–condemning to say “one in four Americans” and let people assume that the number is huge. But what about facts? If you were to take the 12 seconds to do your own search and locate the survey in question (or just use the link I supplied–you’re welcome), you would see that the sample-size is . . . get ready for this . . . 1247. I didn’t leave out any numbers. 1,2,4,7. That’s all. Seriously, Harris: Asda’s got more stuff on sale.

Accordingly, if we use Harris’ bold figure of 25%, that would mean only 311.75 people believe Obama is the Antichrist. That’s not “one in four”. That’s like one in a million (I think; my maths are a little rusty this morning). But no one is going to care if Harris says that figure, so it’s no wonder that his misleadingly says, “one in four”. Things get uglier if we use the solid number of 13%, which would bring the total to a whopping 162.11 people. That’s just under one in every two million (again, I think). Seriously, Harris: you’re going to paint 1/4 of Americans with a brush admittedly used by only 162.11 people? Tsk! Tsk!

The third thing, and this is the modicum of solace: only 162.11 people admit to believing Obama to be the Antichrist. I don’t mean to sound crass, but it’s comforting to know that only 162.11 people have a faulty understanding of the Antichrist. If we follow what the Johannine Epistles say, the “antichrist” (ἀντιχριστος) is anyone who “denies the Father and the Son” (1Jn 2.22) and/or denies “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2Jn 1.7). While the Johannine Epistle seem to suggest a solitary figure–i.e. the Antichrist–appearing in the last days (cf. 1Jn 2.18; 4.3), nothing definite is said about him (or her–sorry, I have to be PC these days). However, since the language of the Epistles on this matter is apocalyptic, we can safely assume that this solitary figure is understood in apocalyptic terms–i.e. he (or she) ain’t human. And if he (or she) ain’t human, then Obama can’t be the Antichrist. Same goes for the new Pope–contra this guy–or any other person.

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just a hunch

Wondering about recent “street-level” books on Paul (just something I do from time to time; not sure why), I decided to check Christianbook.com–a book distributor that this guy thinks is absolutely wicked–to see if anything new has emerged. While I did find a couple that looked rather interesting, I was immediately struck by a book on the front-page:

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I remember hearing about and seeing this book when it first came out, and I remember thinking/hoping that it wouldn’t last. Partly because it follows a similar paradigm used in many “church growth” books–i.e. the system is shot, people have tried other ways to fix it and failed, they don’t know what else to do; I have a “new way” [nb: usually presented as "never-been-tried-before"], and if you use it in your church it will work wonders, etc. (Don’t writers of these kinds of books see that that paradigm/system is shot?) Moreover, the thrust of The Circle Maker, despite appearances, is not about God; it’s about self-interest and the delusion of entitlement. I figured (=hoped) it wouldn’t take long for people to see through the façade.

Thus, I must admit my surprise seeing that The Circle Maker has hung around this long. But then again, it has been significantly reduced in price. There might be a (really good) reason why it’s been reduced 67%: the premise and ultimate focus of the book (i.e. the self) are crappy. At the same time, there might be a reason why the book is radically reduced rather than completely pulled: it maintains the cash-flow for the publisher rather than stopping it. This is the same reason why publishers and book sellers still put out (failed) doomsday/end-time books (e.g. this drivel by Hal Lindsey). That reason is not about endorsing content; it’s about making money. Just a hunch.

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asking for trouble

My day typically begins c. 6.45am; 7.00am if I’m feeling lazy. By 7.15am/7.30am the first round of coffee is about to be consumed, and I start my search for mental jolt. (For some reason, for me, coffee fails in the jolting business). This usually means finding a book or article that I know will bug me and put me on the defensive. The sooner I’m kicked into critical thinking mode the better. This morning, the chosen jolt was an article with the prickly title, “Who Is Wrong? A Review of John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” (R.L. Mayhue in The Master’s Seminary Journal 3.1 [1992]: 73-94).

To clarify the basic tension of the article (for those who are unaware): Gerstner’s book, as the tagline reveals, is a “Critique of Dispensationalism”, and his chosen adverbiage, “Wrongly” indicates where he comes down on that critique.¹ He ain’t in favor of it (at least its particular hermeneutic). The Master’s Seminary Journal is produced and disseminated by none other than The Master’s Seminary (California), and TMS, as their statement of faith indicates (briefly here and especially here), is an advocate of Dispensationalism. Since Mayhue is on staff at TMS, we can safely guess where his “review” of Gerstner’s critique is headed. (The implied either-or of his title and the choice to use TMS’s journal to offer the “review” are telling clues).

Here’s what bugged me about the article, and it’s something Mayhue said quite early in his discussion/monologue. Mayhue states (more or less; more on the less side) one of Gerstner’s key problems with Dispensationalism–i.e. it fails to do proper justice to biblical soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, and the necessary links between them. Mayhue accuses (albeit in subtle ways) Gerstner of allowing his Reformed tradition (i.e. Calvinism, specifically) to govern his interpretation of both the biblical doctrines in view and Dispensationalism. The implication is that Mayhue see such allowance as inappropriate. Then Mayhue asserts:

[Gerstner] seems to debate from the following basic syllogism, though he never states it so succinctly as this:

Premise 1: Calvinism is central to all true theology
Premise 2: Dispensationalism does not embrace Calvinism
Conclusion: Dispensationalism is a ‘spurious’ and ‘dubious’ expression of true theology (p. 2).

Thus, he strongly calls for dispensationalism’s quick surrender.

–Mayhue, “Who Is Wrong?,” 75.

The reason this bugged me has three parts. First, Mayhue (subtly) criticizes Gerstner for allowing his theological tradition (i.e. Calvinism) to dictate his interpretation. On this point, Mayhue (rightly) states: “Presuppositions and assumptions undergird all reasoned thought” (81). However, Mayhue does not acknowledge (or recognize) that Dispensationalism must necessarily be included in that truth. He overlooks the fact that Dispensationalism has its own presuppositions and assumptions and they necessarily govern the interpretative process. In fact, Classical and Modified (or Revised) Dispensationalism² essentially require loyalty to the interpretative system they establish in order to understand properly the theological conclusions they find.

Second, Mayhue’s “review” (=polemic) operates on the basis of the suggested syllogism, which Mayhue acknowledges as never clearly articulated as he gives it. This means Mayhue’s criticisms focus on Mayhue’s interpretation of Gerstner’s logic as though that interpretation is an accurate reflection of what Gerstner clearly argues. (Admittedly I have not read Gerstner’s book, so I do not know for sure how accurate Mayhue’s interpretation is).

Third, Mayhue’s own argument in particular and Dispensationalism in general are not exempt from the charges of the suggested syllogism. To say this differently: the same argument Mayhue uses against Gerstner can be turned around and used against Mayhue. In effect it would go something like this:

Premise 1: Dispensationalism is central to all true interpretation of Bible (i.e. “rightly dividing the word of truth”)³
Premise 2: Non-Dispensationalists do not embrace the hermeneutical system of Dispensationalism
Conclusion: Non-Dispensationalist readings do not represent true interpretations of the Bible; they are all ill-informed, dubious, spurious, liberal, and unorthodox.

The implication of this argument is that if one does not embrace Dispensationalism, then one does not embrace the true meaning of the Bible; and if one does not embrace that true meaning, then one cannot be faithful to its message; and if one is not faithful to its message, then how can that person truly claim to be evangelical? The trouble is that the Dispensational hermeneutic and its particular emphases are what need to be embraced, and they tend to be prioritized over core tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. In the words of Levar Burton: “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here is a confession from a former Dispensationalist named, Clarence Bass (in the 1960s):

Even today some of my dearest friends are convinced that I have departed from the evangelical faith. No affirmation of my belief in the cardinal doctrines of faith–the virgin birth, the efficaciousness of Christ’s death, the historicity of the resurrection, the necessity of the new birth, even the fervent expectancy of the person, literal, actual bodily return of the Lord to earth–will convince them, because I have ceased to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’.

–quoted in S.J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze (1992), 92–emphasis original.

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¹ Also, for those who don’t know, Gerstner’s title takes a not-so-subtle jab at an earlier work called, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (1896) by C.I. Scofield–the champion of Dispensationalism in the US.
² While I am generally not a fan of Classical and Modified (or Revised) Dispensationalism (and its proponents), I am more appreciative of so-called Progressive Dispensationalism (and its advocates). However, please do not mistake appreciation for acceptance.
³ What Scofield meant by this phrase (taken from 2Tim 2.15) is not what Paul meant by that phrase. In fact, how Scofield uses that passage to construct and justify his Dispensational interpretation reveals his ignorance of Paul’s meaning.

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disparate observations*

One
Last week, the story of a Georgia House Representative’s views on creation hit the news. The underlying tone of the article seems to be one of poking fun at people who happen to hold a “young Earth” view of creation, or at least paint all Christians Broun. The structure of the article and the nature of some of the comments bear this out. However, in all the fun-poking, the writer’s eagerness produced a couple of flaws–one less severe than the other.

The minor flaw is the assertion that “Broun advanced his own theory of life on Earth” (emphasis added), one that adheres to a literal reading of the text. Yet a tad later the same writer claims: “Broun is far from the only believer in a literal, or Biblical, creation.” Well, which is it? Is it Broun’s own theory, or one shared by others? You can’t have it both ways. I guess the escape hatch here is Broun’s 9000-year-old suggestion, which is a bit odd.

The bigger flaw, however, is that in attempting to paint Christians with the same brush, the writer fails to recognize the basic problem of appointing someone with extreme anti-Science views to be the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (I owe this observation to Robert Cargill). Hey Stephanie: If you wanted a real opportunity to criticize, or at least focus on something more controversial, you missed it.

Two
Two days ago, I read an article by W.O. Fitch, entitled, “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ” (Theology 74.607 [1971]: 18-24). Anyone with a basic knowledge of NT scholarship in general and the Corinthian letters in particular will conclude the article is about the issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth. In fact, this conclusion would seem to follow from what Fitch argues in the bulk of the article.

However, when we come to the end of the article we discover that dealing with issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth, and how we might understand them, are not a part of Fitch’s agenda. His final sentence reveals that he has something completely different in mind. Fitch says: “All of this point to the early date for Galatians: and also suggests that Acts, while it is eirenic, is not as tendentious as some current writing assumes” (24).

Three
This morning I started reading B.F. Westcott’s, A General View of the History of the English Bible (1868)–as you do on a Tuesday.  Throughout the first 70 or so pages, I noticed something: there is a striking (and scary) similarity between 1) the opponents of both Wycliffe and Tyndale and 2) the “King James Only” advocates of today.

Particularly, the two groups share the same animosity and  indignation toward their chosen “enemies.” Even the kinds of arguments marshaled (or at least the reasons behind them) have frightening parallels. The only notable difference is that the KJO crowd isn’t burning their “enemies” at the stake–although, I wouldn’t say that option has gone without consideration.

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* A couple of these will likely get me into trouble, or at least ruffle some feathers. Sorry.

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confusion about “confusion” (2)

In the first part of this discussion, I noted the various ways in which 1Cor 14.33 is interpreted and/or applied. Throughout the discussion, I stressed the point that all of the interpretations and/or applications given rely on a particular definition of “confusion”–i.e. the presence of obscurity or lack of knowledge. In other words, “confusion” relates to one’s cognitive faculties (or some type of breakdown therein).

To show my cards: I think the definition and reliance are incorrect–or at least incomplete. However, this represents only one side of the dilemma, which I will address by recognizing an alternate reading not only for 1Cor 14.33 (one that makes better sense of Paul’s terminology) but also “confusion.” The other side of the dilemma, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, deals with Paul’s specific claim and its meaning in the light of the surrounding context. (We might need a third installment to wrap this up).

For the sake of clarity (and to avoid confusion!), let’s look again at Paul’s statement in 1Cor 14.33: οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης. Initially, we recognized two possible translations of this passage: 1) “God is not a God of confusion”, and 2) “God is not the author of confusion”. If we know anything about Bible translations, it should be obvious that my previous sampling hardly represents all possible renderings. So let’s consider a few more.

A fair number of English translations read: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (CEB, DARBY, GWHCSB, PHILLIPSLEB, NIV, NIrV, NIVUK, NIV84, NLT, NRSV, TNIV). One translation (overly) sharpens the reading: “because God does not want us to be in disorder but in harmony and peace” (GNT cf WE), while another softens the blow: “God wants everything done peacefully and in order” (CEV). Moreover, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” is the preferred reading in the German (HOF, LUTH, NGU, SCH51, SCH2000) and French (BDS, LSG, NEG79, SG21).

Here we find that by simply translating ἀκαταστασία as “disorder” rather than “confusion”, the passage has a different feel. Instead of dealing with a state of (personal) obfuscation, we see Paul addressing a general state of unrest in the community. In fact, on this reading, the idea of “disorder” sits in better balance with “peace”, for the two are natural antonyms; “confusion” and “peace” do not seem to relate so evenly (or appropriately). This is especially the case if “confusion” is related primarily to cognitive faculties.

So if the terms are so different in meaning, why do some translations have “confusion” for ἀκαταστασία while others have “disorder”? One possible solution is that the translations supporting “confusion” use the term in accordance with its (much) older definition. In Middle English, “confuse” carried the sense of to “rout” or “disrupt” that which was already ordered (or peaceful). Only later did the term become descriptive of mental faculties.

Thus, because of this semantic shift, other translations opted for “disorder” in an effort to retain the meaning of the text. It is therefore possible (and likely) that those who read “confusion” in 1Cor 14.33 as a state of (personal) obfuscation are simply unaware of the older definition. Doesn’t this create confusion in how 1Cor 14.33 is understood? Yep. As Blaise Pascal opined: “Words differently arranged have different meanings, and meanings differently arranged have different effects” (Pensées, 1.23). So what do we do?

First, we need to set aside English (German, and French) translations for the moment and pay exclusive attention to Paul’s terminology. In other words, forget the translations and focus on the Greek. I have already mentioned it in passing, but the word causing the problem is, ἀκαταστασία, which is a rather unique term. It appears roughly 15 times in the whole of ancient Greek literature outside of the Bible and only 5 times in the NT. (Its cognate, ἀκατάστατος doesn’t fare much better: 14 times in Greek literature and 2 in the NT. The verb, ἀκαταστατέω is even worse: 5 in Greek literature and 0 in the NT).

Only in a small number of instances does ἀκαταστασία refer to mental faculties (see Diogenes Laertius, Vit. 7.110; Polybius, Hist. 7.4.6; Epictetus, Disc. 3.19.3). But even then the focus is not on levels or degrees of knowledge; rather, it emphases an instability of mind–caused either by disease, madness, or something evil. And in one case, Claudius Ptolemy uses ἀκαταστασία to describe physical convulsions brought on by madness or (epileptic) seizures (see Tetra. 3.14.170). While there is a slight shift in focus, moving from the mind to the body, the force of the term remains unchanged–i.e. that which was originally stable (or peaceful) has entered into a state of instability or chaos.³

In the majority of cases, ἀκαταστασία describes the state of a body (or group) of people, and that state is one of unrest or instability–caused either by political means or military conflicts (see Dionysius Halicarnassus, Rom.Ant. 6.31 [cf. 6.74]; Polybius, Hist. 1.70.1 [cf. 14.9.6]; Eusebius, H.E. 5.16.18; Basil of Caesarea, Epist. 70). Given the context, this appears to be the way Jesus uses the term in Lk 21.9. For what it’s worth: the state of unrest of instability tends to be generated in response to decisions made by those in power. Based on all of this, and at the risk of exaggeration, we could say ἀκαταστασία refers to a state of socio-political dissension or even anarchy.

Since ἀκαταστασία is the specific term Paul uses in 1Cor 14.33, and given its particular semantic range; two basic questions emerge: 1) is ἀκαταστασία an appropriate description of the situation in chapter 14, which deals with the exercise of “tongues” and “prophecy” in worship, and 2) what is Paul ultimately doing when he declares, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης? That’s the subject of the final post.

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¹ This translation balances the claim by adding, “. . . but a God of peace” (emphasis added). Cf. NGU; NIrV, which (strangely) also breaks up the single claim into two.
² NB: Phillips replaces “peace” with “harmony”, and I think he has good reason for doing so.
³ On another occasion, Claudius Ptolemy employs ἀκαταστασία to describe the torrent of winds that precede a storm (see Claudius Ptolemy, Tetra. 2.13.102).

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confusion about “confusion” (1)

Near the end of his letter to the problem-laden Corinthian church, Paul declares: οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης (1Cor 14.33), which some English translations render as: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (ASV, ERVESV, ESVUK, MOUNCENASB, NCV, RSV). The King James tradition intensifies the situation by adding, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (KJV, KJ21, NKJV–emphasis added). The difference is subtle, yet profound.

This passage has been used in various ways, but each use relies on a particular assumption: “confusion” means either the presence of obscurity or a lack of understanding (and the two tend to feed each other). Usually the focus falls on the Bible itself, specifically its reliability or truthfulness. One writer sees not only the existence of multiple translations as the cause for the confusion, but also the presence of (supposed) contradictions throughout the Bible, which create further confusion, as proof that the Bible is man’s idea and not God’s, since God is not a God of confusion.

Similarly, one vlogger reads 1Cor 14.33 as a clear-cut contradiction of Gen 11.1-7. In other words, God is described in 1Cor 14.33 as “not the author of confusion” (clearly relying on the KJV), while in Gen 11.1-7 God is portrayed as the one who confuses (or confounds) the people by jacking with their language.³ Therefore, since “A” and “non-A” cannot be true of the same thing at the same time, we as readers are left confused (or confounded) by how the Bible describes God; and since the Bible creates this confusion and yet God is not the author of confusion, the Bible cannot be of God.

Other times the passage is used in connection with particular theological concepts or doctrines.  For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to 1Cor 14.33 in their (attempted) refutation of the Trinity. Their argument here is twofold. On the one hand, God (or as they painfully and regrettably insist, “Jehovah”) would not reveal himself to believers in ways beyond their comprehension; and what (according to JWs) is more incomprehensible than a single God being three persons? On the other hand, God would not leave it to scholars/theologians alone as the ones who are able to wrestle with the mysteries of divinity; God has made himself clearly and easily known to all.

This type of argument, however, is not limited to groups like JWs; I have heard it on many occasions from well-meaning and devout church-goers. Specifically, when discussing the (exciting) complexity of biblical interpretation or even differences in theological views, someone will inevitably say to me: “But the Bible says that ‘God is not a God of confusion’; thus, the Bible should be clear, and things should not be this difficult.” While I have no major problems with either the basic principle about God or the stated ideal, I do have concerns with the passage being applied to situations like these.

And finally in some instances, the passage is used to support distinct life applications for believers. Most often the passage is related to personal and/or spiritual struggles within the Christian life. For example, one individual expresses her anxiety cause by the tension between her knowledge that God is not a God of confusion and her inability to escape that which is preventing spiritual peace. Similarly, Joyce Meyer rambles on about “confusion” being the lack of peace we feel in our lives because of the uncertainty in our knowledge of what God is doing or planning to do. (There’s 4 minutes I’ll never get back). And on the somewhat extreme side of things, this site defines “confusion” as not only the work of Satan but also that which hinders us from having (or experiencing) true peace in Christ as defined in the Bible.

What are we to do with this? Doesn’t this multitude of interpretations simply perpetuate the confusion? Yep. So which one of these interpretations/applications of 1Cor 14.33 is correct? In one sense, none of them. I say that because each one operates on an assumed definition of “confusion” and each one seems to ignore the immediate and surrounding context of Paul’s argument. And ignoring the original meaning of the text leads to misinterpretations and misapplications of that text to current situations. Therefore, I think the more appropriate question to ask is: which one reflects Paul’s statement and meaning? To answer this question, we need to consider a few additional details. And that is the substance of the next post.

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¹ This translation has apparently been around since 2006. Either I’m way behind in things, or this particular translation did not become very popular.
² This translation emerged in 2011, and looks to be quite useful.
³ Here is a fair response to this apparent contradiction, which is nothing new. However, I think the response overlooks a vital point, one that has to do with the specific (and distinct) terminology used in both passages.

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branch out, people

J.P. Moreland recounts a time when, during his doctoral program, he encountered a man in the library reading the Septuagint (LXX). In the original language. Because he wanted to. Moreland, naturally intrigued, struck up a conversation with the man only to learn that he was a specialist in ancient Greek mythology. Not only that, but the man was a recent convert from Judaism to Christianity. Intrigued by this, Moreland asked the man about his conversion. The man says:

Dr Moreland, I have studied myth most of my education. I know the earmarks of myth; that’s all I study. My undergraduate training was in mythology; my graduate training has been in mythology. And I was practicing Koine Greek reading the Gospel of Luke, and I got half way through it, and as a Jew, I said, ‘My God, this man really did these things. What am I going to do?’ This is history. It reads likes history. It doesn’t read like myth. I know what myth tastes like because all I do is read it, and this is not myth.

–J.P. Moreland & Kai Nielsen, Does God Exist? (1993), 60

This morning, while doing my pre-study study, I heard Robert Cara (rightly) profess:

One reason (multiple reasons, really)–One reason most of you [have trouble] reading Revelation is: you pretty much never read another Apocalypse. [Revelation] is the only one you’re reading, so you don’t know what’s normal; the whole book seems un-normal–except for the seven letters.

–Robert Cara, “Pauline Letter Format”, lecture 1 of Pauline Epistles

I cannot begin to agree more with Cara’s diagnosis. Even taking into account texts like Daniel 9-12, Mark 13 and Matthew 24, as Christians we are largely unfamiliar with the basic genre of apocalypse (and the basics of that genre). I might dare say that this unfamiliarity tends to haunt our steps as we read Revelation, causing us to adopt a simple hermeneutic and run straight through the book screaming, “This means X, and that must refer to Y, and I see no other explanation for Z.”

This sort of approach is not only unhelpful but also inappropriate. It fails to do justice to the nature and genre of the book. It fails to wrestle with the complexity of the imagery and the beauty of the book’s construction. It fails to allow strange things to be strange, to let profound mysteries be profound and mysterious, and to recognize the intentionality and purpose of ambiguity. Moreover, and more basically, it fails to take into consideration the theological and social function of (Jewish) apocalyptic literature.

These failures can only be spotted by being familiar with what Revelation is, and being familiar means a willingness (and readiness) to branch out and read more apocalypses. I’m not saying accept other (Jewish) apocalyptic texts as canonical; I’m simply suggesting that we give Revelation the respect it deserves as both an apocalyptic text and a canonical book. Moreover, by being familiar with the apocalyptic genre, we will be able to notice not only where Revelation is similar (e.g. style, structure, function) but also steps outside of the “norm” (of apocalyptic writing), doing exciting and creative things.

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quote of the morning

When F.H. Elpis argued that in baptism, believers are united with the second person of the Godhead (i.e. Jesus), yet confirmation is the necessary second-stage for receiving the indwelling presence of the third person (i.e. the Spirit), G.W.H. Lampe ably retorts:

This is wholly false. The Church was not told to await the Paraclete after being already united with the Second Person of the Trinity; the disciples were promised the coming of the Paraclete to be the mediator to them of the glorified Christ: to make them Christian believers, united with the Lord and receiving new life through him. The idea that we can be Christians, united by faith with Christ, and yet be without the indwelling of the Spirit, is a basic Trinitarian error, resting on a tritheistic theology.

–G.W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit (1967), xxiii-xiv

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Reicke on the Jerusalem Council and the Antioch “incident”

Thursday evening, while waiting on my lovely wife to come home from work, I moseyed through Bo Reicke’s insightful essay on the background to the Jerusalem Council and the Antioch “incident” noted in Gal 2.1-14. This essay comes from Reicke’s book, Re-examining Paul’s Letters: The History of the Pauline Correspondence (2001), 16-25. Given the date of the book, we might be allured into thinking that Reicke’s take on this issue is relatively new and thus relevant for current scholarly discussions. In truth, however, this essay is merely a translated reprint of the German original which was a part of a Festschrift in 1953,¹ and it has received minimal attention since then.

After a general search, I could only find a small number of scholars who interact (to varying degrees) with Reicke’s proposal–namely, Traugott Holtz (1974), Marcel Simon (1978), Richard Bauckham (1979), D.A. Carson (1986), Ronald Fung (1988), and Johann Kim (2009).² For whatever reason, James Dunn (1993), Paul Tarazi (1994), Kenneth Boles (1997), Roy Ciampa (1998), Philip Kern (1998), Yon-gyong Kwon (2004), Ben Witherington (2004), Atsuhiro Asano (2005), D. François Tolmie (2005), Andreas Du Toit (2007),³ Brendan Byrne (2010), Martinus de Boer (2011), and Ian Levy (2011) all say nothing, which is surprising given their respective discussions on the importance of the Antioch incident. Moreover, those who do say something about Reicke’s take do so only in passing or in a relegated footnote. This, for me, is rather unfortunate.

Reicke attempts to understand the infamous Antioch incident not primarily in terms of harmonizing Acts with Galatians but in the light of political and religious pressures in and around the time of the incident. Specifically, Reicke argues for a rise in religious fanaticism within particular sects of Judaism (i.e. the Zealots and Sicarii) in the light of political changes that seemed to threaten the integrity or sanctity of the Jewish identity.

In particular, there was a deep concern of not only Roman culture and ideology being imposed on Judaism but also Judaism being “tainted” by Gentile proselytes. Reicke contends–rightly, in my opinion–that this tension began in Judea with the appointment of the Roman procurator Ventidius Cumanus (48-52 CE) and became more acute leading up to and during the time of Antionius Felix (52-60 CE). Reicke also shows that the fervor for maintaining Jewish identity (at all costs) was not exclusive to Palestine; traces can be found in regions outside of Palestine, namely Alexandria (Egypt), Syria, and Asia-Minor (i.e. Turkey).

Vital to Reicke’s hypothesis–and again, I agree with him on this–is the assumption that the Jerusalem Council (of Acts 15) took place either on or just prior to 48 CE. This is significant because prior to 48 CE, the historical evidence suggests a relative peace or concord between Jews and Gentiles (take that Baur)–especially Gentile converts to Judaism (and the Jesus-people). Thus, the decision of the Council occurred during a time when it was “safe” to make such a decision, which, I should point out, is not to downplay the overall need for the decision.

Now, as Acts 15 tells us, both Peter and Paul were present at this Council and naturally in support of the decision to accept Gentiles into the εκκλησια (i.e. the community of Jesus-people) without needing circumcision–to which the Gentiles said, “Thank you very much!”. Thus, when we read Gal 2.11-14 we can appreciate–or at least understand–Paul’s surprise with Peter/Cephas, who is now (post-Council) apparently bowing to certain Jews demanding that Gentiles be circumcised in order to be counted as God’s people. How do we account for this (apparent) sudden shift in Peter’s commitment to the Council’s decision? Also, is Paul reacting wrongly or is there merit to his rebuke?

Reicke’s hypothesis stresses the importance of being aware of not only time lapse between the Jerusalem Council and the Antioch incident but also the religious changes that occurred during that interim. Conservative estimates place the Antioch incident shortly after Paul’s return from his so-called second missionary journey (see Acts 18.22), a return dated to c. 53 CE. As noted above, specific Jewish resistance to outsiders and Gentile influences gained momentum around this time and made itself known in regions outside of Palestine. Moreover, this resistance movement was not characterized by civil dialogue and pot-luck dinners; it was–in many cases–quick, decisive and violent, and no sending flowers afterward.

It is also vital to stress that during the period between the Council and the incident (i.e. 48-53 CE), Paul was spreading the message of the gospel in Asia-Minor, Macedonia and Achaia; Peter, on the other hand, presumably remained in Jerusalem for a time before making his way north to Syria-Antioch. In other words, Paul was on the move over vast stretches of land and usually a few steps ahead of specific Jewish opposition; Peter appears to be more confined in movements and right in the midst of the opposition. The spell in Antioch seems to be his first respite, yet it is one that fails to endure (as is the habit of respites).

In Antioch, Peter is communing with Gentiles–ostensibly in the comfort of the Council’s decision (not to mention the divine command from Acts 10)–when the opposition arrives, an arrival that causes Peter great fear, and this fear causes him to behave hypocritically, and this hypocritical behavior brings down upon him the rebuke of Paul. If Reicke’s hypothesis is true, then the specific Jewish opposition that Peter encounters at Antioch is not simply a group well-meaning of Jews wanting to debate theology; the opposition is a band of sword-wielding loyalists determined to preserve the sanctity of the Jewish identity no matter the cost.

Since these loyalists come from Jerusalem, the assumption is that they already exerted their influence in a similar manner over the εκκλησια in Jerusalem, where James (Jesus’ brother) is in charge. As a result they now carry out their wider mission ostensibly with the sanction of the Jerusalem εκκλησια. The deck certainly appears to be stacked in their favor. Reicke’s hypothesis suggests that Peter’s actions are not motivated by theological dishonesty but self-preservation–an impulse that is completely understandable in such circumstances.

Paul’s rebuke, however, seems to be aimed at Peter’s self-preservation at the expense of theological honesty. In other words, from Paul’s perspective, Peter was not behaving Christ-like. While being tried, beaten, punched, spat on, verbally abuse and mocked, and with the knowledge of death by crucifixion looming, Jesus didn’t say, “You know what guys, I was only kidding about this Messiah stuff; I’m really just an average person and I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused. What do you say we call it a day?”

Moreover–albeit to a lesser degree–after being imprisoned, beaten beyond remembrance, whipped severely (5 times), beaten some more, a storm of rocks chucked at him, shipwrecked, stalked by evil people, foodless and drinkless, and constantly chased by his opponents, Paul didn’t bend and say, “Maybe I should forget this Jesus-stuff and go back to my old ways; it would certainly make my life easier.”

Just as Christ endured what he did for the sake of the world (i.e. he remained theologically honest, which cost him his life), so too Paul endured what he did for the sake of the congregations of Jesus-followers he helped establish (i.e. he remained theologically honest, knowing that his life was at stake). Peter, on the other hand, apparently caved to external pressure and sacrificed theological honesty in order to preserve his own life.

Thus, it would seem that Paul’s frustration is not simply with Peter’s actions or even a possible shift in teaching (i.e. Peter is now saying Gentiles have to be circumcised); the frustration appears to be with the inconsistency between life and faith in the gospel, an inconsistency that can radically affect the believability of the gospel message. In other words, if those on the “inside” who proclaim this stuff don’t live by it, why should anyone else?

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¹ Bo Reicke, “Der geschichtliche Hintergrund des Apostelkonzils und der Antiochia-Episode, Gal. 2.1-14,” in Studia Paulina in honorem Johannis de Zwaan septuagenarii (Haarlem: J. Bohn, 1953), 172-87.
² Reicke’s article is mentioned first in Günter Wagner’s helpful bibliography for scholarly works on Romans and Galatians (1996: 296).
³ Admittedly, both Tolmie and Du Toit mention Reicke, but it is in reference to entirely different works and subjects.

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