Sunday Morning Greek Blog

October 16, 2021

Excursus: My Testimony at Mount View Presbyterian Church

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 5:23 pm
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Author’s note: Last week I had the distinct honor of returning to the church I grew up in, Mount View Presbyterian Church, to fill the pulpit for a Sunday morning. I had stopped attending there when I moved away to college and eventually on to seminary, but there were still a few people there who remembered me, including my mom and her sister, and her sister’s husband. As such, I felt it appropriate to bracket my message with a brief testimony of what Mount View meant to me and where my spiritual journey took me from there. I’m republishing that here.

I will forever be grateful for my upbringing in the faith in my childhood at Mount View Presbyterian Church: I don’t remember my sprinkling as an infant, of course, but I know my parents and this congregation did that to place the seal of God on my life for the now and the not yet. I still remember Sadie Charron’s Kindergarten class and even some of the songs I learned. I can’t remember everyone who taught me, but Joanne Mutum sticks out, as well as Karen Englesman helping me with memorization for confirmation class. And Karen, it worked: I’ve had Ephesians memorized for about 25 years now. Mt. View Presbyterian laid a strong foundation for my faith, without which I would not be where I am today in God’s kingdom and in life. Thank you for your faithfulness as a congregation and your influence in my life. In some ways, you might even say I returned to my Presbyterian roots, at least in part, about 7.5 years ago when I married Jill, a lifelong member of Dundee Presbyterian Church.

So how are we born of God? Some of us may have been born into a strong Christian family and you’ve never really known a time when you weren’t a believer. But even those people will have some memory or some point in time when they realized they’d made their faith their own, and not that of their parents. I’ve already mentioned how influential Mount View was in my youthful and adolescent faith. Let me tell you briefly how I made my faith my own.

Beginning in my Junior year of high school, I began to get more serious about my faith. I especially became impressed with Paul’s discussion of baptism in Romans and the connection he makes between baptism and the death and resurrection of Christ. That made sense to me, and it seemed sensible to me to have a sensory experience of the fullness of that spiritual reality for myself as an adult that I could not have remembered as an infant. I got immersed, not to break with any of my prior upbringing, but to make my faith in God and faithfulness to his word more complete for my own understanding. It wasn’t just the end of the old self that didn’t completely understand how my own sin impacted those around me, but the beginning of the new self, recreated in the true image of Christ that began to see people through God’s eyes. That’s how I know I’m born of God.

Scott Stocking

My opinions are my own

September 26, 2021

Obedience of Faithfulness: A Walk on the Romans Road

Context note: I delivered this message 9/19/2021 at Wheeler Grove Church in Carson, Iowa. I actually wound up extemporizing the testimony section. I expound on the phrase Obedience of Faithfulness in more depth in a separate post on this topic in the blog.

Well, this is my fourth time to share with you on a Sunday morning. Since we’re getting to know each other a little better, I thought I might share my story on how I came to make my faith in Christ my own, and along the way, share some insights from Paul’s letter to the Romans, more specifically the “Romans Road,” and how that has shaped me into the Christian man I am today.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about my faith in the past month or so for a number of reasons, which is why I wanted to focus on my story. The first is that 40 years ago this week, I walked into a Bible study at the Agape House near the UNL campus hoping to get some answers to questions I had about my fledgling faith and to make sure I was well grounded in the faith during my college years. More about that later in the message.

The second reason that’s been on my mind is that the pastor of the church that sponsored the Agape House just passed away 10 days ago, and I remember how his preaching, in part, motivated me to go into ministry. That pastor’s son is the pastor of the church I attend in Omaha. I feel privileged to have been ministered to by the Chitwoods for a good chunk of my adult life. I even had the honor of filling the pulpit for the elder Chitwood a few years ago. He had been preaching at the Brownsville, NE, Christian Church right up to the end.

But let me go back to the beginning for a brief summary: I was born, christened, and raised in Mt. View Presbyterian Church in north Omaha. I don’t remember a time I wasn’t in Sunday school, and I remember my confirmation class where I became a bona fide Presbyterian in sixth grade. About the only thing I remember from confirmation is the name John Knox and that I was struggling with memorizing the Scriptures I needed to memorize (I overcame the memorization aversion).

After my sophomore year of high school, my mom started leaving little evangelistic cartoon tracts around the house. She had gotten in with a women’s Bible study group that renewed her faith in the Lord and wanted to make sure we kids got exposed to a fresh perspective on faith. I went to my aunt’s ranch in Wyoming that summer, and she had the same tracts in her house. There in the middle of nowhere northeastern Wyoming, I finally realized I needed to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I pledged my life to him. That was the beginning of making my faith my own.

At least one of those tracts had what was known as the “Romans Road” in it. Anyone ever heard of that? The Romans Road is a series of verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans a Christ follower could use to show a friend or stranger how to become a Christ follower. Now real Roman roads were quite well constructed, and remnants of these roads survive to this day in places. But the Romans Road was quite twisty, primarily focused on Chapters 3, 5, and 10, with a couple of pit stops at the end of chapter 6 and beginning of chapter 8.

In case you’re not familiar with it, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here: No one is righteous, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin are death, but God gives the gift of eternal life. We have access to this eternal life because Christ died for us, and we must in turn confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in his resurrection. That act of calling on the Lord is what saves you, you’re declared “not guilty,” and you’re free from any condemnation.

Now between the tracts, the Romans Road, and the testimonies of my mom and aunt, that was enough to get me to the place where I felt like I was beginning to own my faith. Like many who are new in the faith or are renewing their faith, I still had many questions. I began to make friends with other Christian students and experienced the full range of expressions of the Christian faith, from legalism and traditionalism to more open and charismatic styles. That only served to raise more questions in my mind, but I was determined like the Bereans in Acts to search the Scriptures and try to figure it all out.

In those last two years of high school, I began to dive into God’s Word, and I had two main things on my mind. The first was the second coming of Christ and the book of Revelation. There seemed to be general agreement on the millennial perspective among my diverse Christian friends, but I’d never really heard about that growing up, at least, not in any significant way that it sank in.

The second concern on my mind was what the Bible said about baptism. I had been sprinkled as an infant, but of course that wasn’t MY decision. Still, I cannot sell short that act, for it is commendable to dedicate a child to be part of the kingdom of God and for the parents and congregation to commit themselves to raising you in the faith. But as I began to talk about with my Christian friends, I realized not only were there differing opinions about baptism, but that some of those opinions seemed to be polar opposites.

On the one hand, one group said it was just a work of the flesh and really not necessary, and that the real thing that mattered was confessing Jesus like Romans 10:9–10 says. On the other hand, my charismatic friends were telling me stories of people being immersed and coming out of the water speaking in tongues! Surely both viewpoints couldn’t be true! And to be honest, at that stage of my life, speaking in tongues after coming out of the water sounded a lot more exciting to me than just ignoring the topic altogether!

As I continued to pursue my study of that, reading Romans and other Bible passages that discussed baptism, I began to realize that the Romans Road had completely bypassed the topic of baptism. There had to be a middle ground among the extremes I’d been exposed to. The more I looked into the topic, the more I became convinced that I needed to be baptized, not to be saved, but to have a sort of physical and emotional point of reference for my faith.

I didn’t completely understand that at the time, but I had faith that if I did what the Scriptures seemed to be telling me I should do, it would all become clear soon enough.

So that was a bit of a long way to go to get to the heart of my message today: an overview of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Now when most people read the Bible, myself included, I suspect we are looking for a verse here or there that means something to us, a verse that gives us or a friend hope, or a confirmation of what we believe. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as God’s word never returns void when it’s spoken into our lives.

But we also need to remember that Bible tells a story as well, and in between our favorite verses, and specifically in our case today, in the overall terrain through which the Romans Road winds, the author often reveals a greater purpose that we miss by focusing on individual verses. What I want to do this morning is give you a sense of that overall purpose by highlighting a couple recurring themes.

Obedience of Faithfulness

One of the first themes that presents itself in Romans may escape the casual reader. Romans 1:5 is a purpose statement: “Through [Jesus] we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience of faithfulness for his name’s sake.” The phrase “obedience of faithfulness” is, I believe, the primary recurring theme throughout Romans. It’s an unusual phrase, because we typically link the concept of “obedience” to the Law. But it may in part be borrowed from Israel’s prophecy about Judah in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs [that is, Jesus] shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”

So what does this phrase mean? In Paul’s language, the phrase is only two words, and the simplest, most direct translation is how I presented it: “the obedience of faithfulness” or, as three modern translations (RSV, NASB, and ESV) render it, “the obedience of faith.” The New King James Version translates it “obedience to the faith.” The NIV translates it “the obedience that comes from faith.”

“Faith” is typically the go-to translation of the word in the original text. But lately contemporary scholars are increasingly considering whether “faithfulness” would be appropriate in several contexts, especially Romans. it can either mean the “belief” (“faith”) or “the action that accompanies the belief” (“faithfulness”). Faithfulness is a demonstrated meaning of the word, as we see in Romans 3:3: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!”

This is where the broader terrain of the passage comes into play: Paul spends the first five chapters of Romans contrasting the role of the Law with respect to obedience and faith. These concepts fill his discussion. He closes out the discussion at the end of Chapter 5 with the following statement: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.” This is the “obedience of faithfulness,” not just believing in Jesus, but believing that Jesus’s faithfulness not just to the Law but to death on the cross is what makes salvation possible for us.

Chapter 5 itself has several references to the faithful life and death of Jesus. This isn’t intended to be easy believism: Paul is calling us to believe something that the pagan world in his day thought was foolishness, fake news, a conspiracy theory. That was a hard choice then, just as it is in today’s world that seems increasingly apathetic or even hostile toward the Christian worldview.

Baptism (Immersion)

Now it is this emphasis on the death of Christ that caused me to take a closer look at what Paul said about baptism in Romans 6, and how that passage might answer the questions I had about baptism. Was it just a work that really didn’t matter one way or the other? Or was there something more to it?

Now before I get too far into this section, I do want to offer a disclaimer: I understand there are different views of baptism in the church, and I respect and accept those differences. My purpose here is strictly to tell my story and how my understanding of this particular subject influenced my faith, my story, and my understanding of the message of Romans.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a number of different influences when it came to working out what I believed about baptism. Of course, I knew I had to ultimately look to Scripture. I had used my concordance to look up passages like Matthew 28:19–20, where Matthew indicates that baptism is part of the process of making disciples, and 1 Peter 3:18–22, where the flood waters that wiped out sinful humanity are compared to the death of Christ, which assured the victory over sin and our salvation for sinful humanity. Peter goes on to say that the flood analogy “symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” I was beginning to notice a pattern, but I was just scratching the surface.

The more I read and reread Romans 6, the more I realized that baptism was more than just a “work of the flesh” as my fundamentalist friends believed. Romans 6 flows naturally from the discussion of the efficacy of Jesus’s death and resurrection in Chapter 5. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

By this point, I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t sure I could talk to my Presbyterian minister about it, and I had already decided I would go to Capital City Christian Church when I got to college. So that night I walked into the Agape House, I had only one question I really needed an answer to for my faith: should I get baptized by immersion?

As I talked to the teachers there about it, that solidified my resolve to get immersed, and I didn’t want to wait any longer: that night, some of the people in the Bible study that I had just met that night went with me to the church to see me get immersed. I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I could have made for my Christian walk. I have never looked back from that moment when it comes to my faith.

Just as communion is the event where we remind ourselves of the sacrifice of our Savior and come into contact with Christ’s body and blood in mystery of God’s economy, baptism reminds us of the same thing: buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and raised to newness of life. Again, in the mystery of God’s economy, baptism puts in contact with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is definitely a game changer!

The rest of the middle section of Romans through chapter 11 speaks in more detail about the results of Christ’s death, especially recognizing that we have the ability through the Spirit to make better decisions for ourselves and that we have no condemnation in Christ Jesus. The benediction at the end of Chapter 11 closes out this section by acknowledging “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” It would seem to be a simple leap to suggest that Paul’s discussion of baptism is part of that mystery the benediction alludes to. It’s something we accept by faith, but not without good reason.

Living Sacrifices

The irony of the Christian life is that we must die to have that life. Paul tells the Ephesians that in Christ we die to sin but are made alive in Him. In Christ, we put off the old self, renew our attitude, and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In Christ, we’re called out of the darkness of unbelief and become light in the Lord, and we can live as children of light! In Philippians, Paul says to consider all our worldly gain loss to gain Christ and his righteousness, which comes to us through the “obedience of the faithfulness” of Christ (Philippians 3:9).

This is what Paul means when he says in Romans 12:1–2: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” and to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Notice that the promises I just mentioned are not for life after the grave. These promises are for our life in the here and now! God wants us to live in the fullness of his blessings, to know not only that we have a new life here on earth, but that, as Ephesians says, we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms; that we can know here on Earth the hope to which he’s called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power when we enter into that obedience of faithfulness.

Conclusion

And here’s the clincher about the obedience of faithfulness: Paul confirms beyond any shadow of doubt that that is his theme in his letter to the Romans when closes out the letter with this benediction: “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience of faithfulness—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!”

Paul was an excellent writer: He told us what he was going to say, he said it, and he told us he said it. That sounds vaguely familiar to what my Junior High English teacher told me about writing a persuasive paper. God has called all of us to walk in this “obedience of faithfulness,” for it is only through Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life— that we can come to God the Father. If you’re there already, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not there yet, I or any of your church leaders would be happy to talk to you about following Christ and walking in his ways.

Benediction

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

August 22, 2021

#ToxicMasculinity: Walking Like an Egyptian Pharaoh–2021 Update

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 3:40 pm
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Author’s Note: I don’t typically like to mix politics in with my religion blog, but things have deteriorated so much in this country in the last two years that it’s become nearly impossible to separate our religious beliefs from our social praxis that supports and represents those beliefs. As such, I’ll be copublishing this update on my Sustainable America blog as well.

Back in February 2019, I wrote about the hot topic du jour, Toxic Masculinity. As I said at the time, I thought the Left and the so-called Progressives (they’re really regressive) had worse examples of toxic males than anything they were complaining about on the right, including then President Trump. This included especially Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam for his suggestion that a woman may have the right to euthanize her child both before and after birth; and the now defrocked (for another sort of toxic masculinity) New York governor Cuomo for suggesting abortion should be legal up until the time of birth.

But since Joe Biden was inaugurated by an election fraught with irregularities nationwide, he has to take the cake for toxic masculinity. Now I know there are serious questions about whether he’s even psychologically capable of leading the country, let alone caring for his own personal needs, but since he’s the president and he’s trying to portray himself as competent, he’s open to the same criticisms as every other president. Personally, I think he’s just a puppet, and some other toxically masculine and toxically feminine men and women are pulling his strings, but the following criticisms would apply equally to them as they would to the president.

This last week, since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, has amplified Biden’s (and his handlers’) toxicity. In the first place, almost all major media outlets, Left and Right, have been pointing out his inconsistent statements, outright lies, inability to understand (supposedly) conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, and his general ignorationalizations (a term I’ve coined to mean actions that fail to account for obvious facts that cannot and should not be overlooked). Most notedly, his response to George Stephanopoulos’s question about the Afghani’s who fell from C17 as it ascended out of Kabul last week displays the utter lack of compassion he has for the situation: “That was 4 or 5 days ago.” In other words, “Why does that matter?” Absolutely disgusting and contemptible. If Trump had said something like that, toxically feminine Speaker Pelosi (am I insulting women to call her feminine?) would have had him drawn and quartered within the hour; no impeachment trial necessary.

Let’s add to this the other toxically masculine so-called leaders surrounding Biden. Pentagon spox John Kirby couldn’t muster up the cajones to call the Taliban the enemy, and he said the Pentagon had no idea how many Americans were now behind enemy lines. No wonder they don’t have a plan to collect our patriots. General Mark Milley thought it was more important in the last 7 months to bad mouth our military heroes for being “white supremacists” and “insurrectionists” for holding conservative views than it was to have a solid plan to exit Afghanistan safely. Looks like he had no clue that the real insurrectionists were just waiting for American troops to leave so they could recapture the country for their barbaric beliefs. And retired general and DOD secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken appear to have been completely inept at not only coordinating communications, but at pushing back on Biden’s disastrous choices to apparently ignore all of the evidence they had to indicate such a disaster was just around the corner. Really, what difference would it have made if the Taliban had taken over later than sooner? All the work of our brave soldiers who gave Afghanis a taste for freedom would have gone to naught either way.

Add to all of these foreign policy failures the absolute debacle of the border crisis, squandering our energy independence (and low gas prices), and perpetuating ridiculous social policies contrary to common sense, and we have the perfect picture of what the dereliction and dissolution of duty does to a country led by toxic males who, as C.S. Lewis described them, have no chests.

And so I say to my brothers and sisters in the faith: it is time for all believers everywhere to lift up holy hands and pray not just for the security and survival of America. but for Afghanis and the whole world. America has been a guarantor of freedom for over 200 years; the toxic males (and females) of the Biden administration have all but sacrificed that noble and vaunted position by their own ignorationality and given other political aggressors a green light to carry out their hegemonies. If Moses can speak to Pharaoh for the freedom of the Israelites; if Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets can speak against the nations for ignoring God; if Jesus can confront the religious oppressors of his day; if Paul can proclaim the Gospel to upper echelons of Roman political leadership; then surely we who are alive today can speak truth to power and ACT to secure freedom for the captives (see Isaiah 61, the passage on which Jesus based his ministry, a ministry that we as the body of Christ should continually carry out). We need another miracle like Moses at the Red Sea or the fall of Sennacherib in Hezekiah’s reign to topple the terrorists. To appropriate Saint Bede’s line: “When America falls, the world shall fall.”

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

July 2, 2021

μαλακός (malakos) “soft,” “weak,” “effeminate”: A Look at Classical and Biblical Greek Usage

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 12:31 am

One of the main goals of a word study in an ancient language is to understand how the writer used the word in the original context and, where possible, to discern contextual clues that provide the historical and cultural background of the recorded events, descriptions, and deliberations. We cannot change what the historico-cultural background of the time was, nor should we presume to impose modern concepts and ideas on an ancient text or its author, although further study may reveal a more thorough understanding of the historico-cultural background and cause us to look anew at certain texts.

With this in mind, I set out to understand more fully the implications and ideations surrounding the use of μαλακός (malakos) in the ancient Greek texts, and more specifically how that understanding would have carried over into biblical texts of the day in its few uses in Matthew 11:8 (par. Luke 7:25) and 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) does not have a separate entry for μαλακός, so the average student of the Bible whose Greek knowledge is limited to Koine is left wanting if they want more information about the broader historico-cultural use of the word.

My purpose here is not so much to comment on the 21st century state of affairs surrounding the concepts behind the word, although I freely admit that is the reason why I undertook this study in the first place. Rather, in the spirit of TDNT, I want to give a more dispassionate, unbiased look at the use of the word in the historical context so the student of the Bible has a fuller understanding of the word and can therewith draw their own conclusions. As with all of my writings on biblical texts, my goal is that we have a fuller understanding of the Word of God and God’s love for us so we can better and more fully love our neighbor as God loves us.

My methodology for this study is simple: I looked at standard Greek annotated Lexicons such as Liddell & Scott (LS) and the online Perseus resource (the Greek texts and any corresponding English translations of the text where available) in addition to standard biblical reference works (UBS 3rd & 4th editions) that indexed the use of the word to its various contexts, then examined the surrounding context to understand the writer’s tone and intention surrounding the use of the word. Where the word was used in contrast, comparison, or in parallel (synthetic or antithetic) with other words or ideas, I examined those as well to better understand the contrast or comparison.

I want to keep this brief so the busy pastor or researcher can get a broad overview of the word’s use in the ancient world. As such, I have chosen representative examples from the entries in LS and other resources to illustrate usage rather than an exhaustive treatment of lexical entries. Most of these resources are publicly available online or in your local college library, so nothing should stand in the way of those who want to dig even deeper. I have organized the article on the basis of the word’s semantic domains rather than by source so the reader can more readily access the section relevant to their interests.

Soft (in the sense of physical touch)

One of the more benign meanings of the word is “soft,” especially when referring to animals or nature. Xenophon (Hiero the Despot 1.5) speaks generally about experiencing the extremes of sensation: cold vs. hot; light vs. heavy; pleasure vs. pain. In the list, he contrasts “soft” with “hard” (σκληρὰ sklēra). In his writing about Horsemanship (1.9a), he makes the same word contrast regarding the condition of a horse’s jaw. Xenophon also uses the word to describe the soft coats of the hunting hounds and the hare, the need for a soft collar for the hunting hound to prevent chafing (Hunting 4.6, 5.10, 6.1), and the softer “double back” on dappled horses (Horsemanship 1.11c).

Xenophon also uses μαλακός to describe the turf on which a horse should be trained (Horsemanship 8.6) and soft turf that makes it easier to track the quarry (Hunting 10.5). Homer (Iliad 9:615–619) uses the word to describe a soft couch on which to lie and in the Odyssey to describe soft fleece (3:38). Herodotus (Histories 9.122.3) also uses the term twice in a zeugma with respect to land somewhat metaphorically in his phrase “Soft lands breed soft men”; the second use of the word in that zeugma is covered in the next domain of meaning below.

The word is used three times in the NT in parallel passages (Mt 11:8 [2x]; Lk 7:25) to describe the “fine clothes” worn by those in palaces. There is one use of the word in this domain in Proverbs 26:22, although used metaphorically: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels, they go down to the inner parts of the body.” This seems akin to Xenophon’s usage (although perhaps a bit more abstract) in Hiero the Despot 1.23: “Don’t you look on these condiments, then, as mere fads of a jaded and pampered appetite?” Note that the phrase in the Greek here for “jaded and pampered” is μαλακῆς καὶ ἀσθενούσης, the latter word often translated “sick” or “weak.” This is an important pairing for two reasons. In Xenophon’s Horsemanship 1.3, the superlative of the adjective is contrasted with ἰσχυροτάτῳ (“strongest”) in describing two parts of the horse’s foot (hoof and flesh). Second, the substantive cognate of μαλακός, μαλακία, also means “sickness,” “weakness,” or “pain,” especially in several OT passages (e.g., Ex 23:25; Dt 7:15, 28:61; 2 Chr 16:12; Is 53:3) and three times in Matthew’s gospel (4:23; 9:35; 10:1), all of which have some overlap with the next domain discussed.

Soft (as a character attribute or abstraction), often translated “weak”

The most extreme example of “soft” as a character attribute in my mind is Homer’s description of defeated (and deceased) Hektor in Iliad 22.373 as the victors continue to defile his body with spear jabs: “It is easier to handle [lit. “softer to touch”] Hektor now than when he was flinging fire on to our ships.” In Laws 666b-c, Plato describes the “convivial gatherings [that] invoke Dionysus” where the men over 40 may drink wine without moderation such that “through forgetfulness of care, the temper of our souls may lose its hardness [σκληρὰ sklēra] and become softer and more ductile” (my literal translation). R.G. Bury’s English translation (much less literal and perhaps more poetic than my own) of the same passage describes the wine “as a medicine potent against the crabbedness of old age, that thereby we men may renew our youth.”

Archidamus “had gained credit for weakness” (or as Jowett’s translation has it, “was also thought not to have been energetic enough”) when attacking the Athenians at Oenoe, seemingly procrastinating the attack and perhaps thinking he could spare any damage to the surrounding land that full-on aggression might bring (Thucydides, Histories [The Peloponnesian War] 2.18).

In Herodotus Histories 3.51.2, Periander desires “to show no weakness,” and later in the same book (3.105.2) Herodotus says “the mares never tire, for they remember the young that have left.” (It is interesting to note that the latter reference could be an unintended word or semantic play, as the word for “mares” [θῆλυς] could also be translated “weak” in some contexts.) In 6.11.2, Herodotus recounts that Dionysius addressed his slave army, contrasting the potential for hardship in a battle that could win them their freedom or a “weak and disorderly” response which would lead to continued slavery and perhaps even humiliating death. Recall also the zeugma mentioned above found in 9.122.3: “Soft lands breed soft men.”

One final reference to Herodotus Histories (7.153.4) will tie us in to the other NT usage of the word. Herodotus describes a man named Telines, who “is reported by the dwellers in Sicily to have had a soft and effeminate [θηλυδρίης τε καὶ μαλακώτερος] disposition.” This is Godley’s translation. The words are used in parallel with a double conjunction, so it’s not clear at first glance if the Greek word order is switched in the English translation. Regardless, the words are used in parallel, so (as shown in the previous paragraph), it makes little difference in the translation, and Telines is certainly not portrayed in a positive light by Herodotus. The use of μαλακός in this domain is primarily a negative trait when ascribed to a human person. It is important to keep this in mind as we look at NT usage of the word (and its parallel) when applied to people in lists of, to put it softly, unflattering persons.

I believe it is, in part at least, this use here in classical Greek that informs Paul’s use of the word in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (NIV), and the context in Paul’s letters bear this out: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men [οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” The King James Version (KJV) is a little more literal with the translation of the target phrase: “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” Lowe & Nida, in their Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains, distinguish the two words by saying the former is “the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse,” and the latter is “the male partner in homosexual intercourse” or in this context, the “active” partner. (Could Herodotus have implied a similar distinction with his dual description of Telines?)

The latter word in the Corinthian text (ἀρσενοκοίτης) is a masculine compound meaning “lying with men” in Liddell & Scott’s abridged lexicon. This word is also used in 1 Timothy 1:10 in a similar list: “for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”

Conclusion

Short of an Orwellian feat of doublethink, then, it is nearly impossible to give any positive twist on the use of the words for persons practicing homosexuality in the NT. Some try to argue μαλακός means “morally soft” apart from any sexual connotations in the 1 Corinthians passage, but the context in Paul’s letters does not really allow for a generic description like that. I’m not trying to be cruel or bigoted here; I’m just stating the obvious facts as revealed in the historical usage of the words. However, I would remind my Christian siblings that Jesus’s attitude toward those on whom Jewish society generally looked down on (e.g., tax collectors) was not one of hatred, judgment, or spite, but of love and acceptance with a view toward repentance. My encouragement to my readers is to have the same attitude of Jesus toward those practicing homosexuality.

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

May 19, 2021

Work: The ‘Rest’ of the Story (Sermon)

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 7:48 am

Sermon preached at Wheeler Grove Rural Church May 16, 2021. All opinions are my own.

It seems work has been on everyone’s minds lately, one way or the other. Will I be able to go back to the office, if ever? Will it be safe if I do? If you’re in the hospitality industry, you wonder if things will ever be the same again? When will we get back to the prepandemic “normal”? Such questions have been on my mind as well.

For my own situation, my full-time employer, based in Minneapolis, has let us know they’re closing our Omaha office building and everyone who previously worked from that location will continue to work from home indefinitely. Now on the one hand, I can understand why they’re doing that: I work for a pharmacy benefits manager, so we make sure people get the medication they need to feel better. We’re essentially in the information industry, so we’re not coming together to build buildings or manufacture cars, home appliances, or clothing, industries where it’s helpful to have people around to perform and look after the processes. We can do our jobs from home; people in those industries typically can’t.

But on the other hand, I fear that working from home with no one else around you (except needy pets in many cases) may threaten what some of have come to call the “culture” of a company. We no longer have others around us physically who share the same goals and objectives from a work perspective. And we lose the connectedness we have on a social level, especially with those we interact with who share the same values or likes and dislikes that we have outside of the work environment.

How many people do you know who’ve made a close friend at work who’s added value to each other’s lives. Even in the Creation story, which we’ll look at in a moment, God says it’s not good for Adam to be alone, so he provides a “helper,” one who shares his human nature but from the perspective of the opposite sex; equals in many ways in personhood, but different in their gifts, callings, and innate abilities. Together, they shared one primary purpose in the beginning: tend to the garden.

When God created male and female, he also created “work.” As we dive into the message this morning, I do want to give you my main point up front so you can get a feel for where I’m going with the topic. Here it is: Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. Again, Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. Thus the title of my message: “Work: The ‘Rest’ of the Story.” See what I did there?

I also want to give a couple disclaimers as well: Many of the Scriptures we’re looking at this morning aren’t just about the work we do for a paycheck. At times, they have more to do with how we interact with our families and those around us, or more to do with our relationship with God and his kingdom, than they do with our employer. The second disclaimer is, if you’re retired, you have my permission to tune out if I’m talking about an employer. You’ve already given your time to “the man” and have earned your earthly rest from that.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and look at Genesis 1:1–2 and 2:1–3.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

All Scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are (c) 2011 New International Version, Zondervan Publishing.

Then for six days, God begins speaking creation into existence.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Day 0: “In the beginning”—Chaos

Day 1: Light Day 4: The lighted bodies
Day 2: Sky and water Day 5: Air and water creatures
Day 3: Dry ground Day 6: Land-dwelling creatures; Man

Day 7: “God rested from his work.”—Order

A couple things about the text first before taking a deeper dive into Genesis 1. Genesis 1 has some unique features as a written text. Several key words are found 7 or 10 times throughout the passage. This shows some intentionality in writing, even if the writer wasn’t aware of it, if you know what I mean. The phrase “formless and empty,” tohu vebohu in Hebrew (how poetic!), is found in a couple other places in the Old Testament, namely Isaiah and Jeremiah, where it refers to the utter destruction of the land coming on those nations that have forsaken God. [See https://sundaymorninggreekblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/work-the-rest-of-the-story-ecclesiastes-3/ for in-depth look at chart.]

Genesis conclusion

So you can see that in the very act of Creation, God created a theology of work. On this alone, I think I’ve made my main point that Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. But that would be a very short sermon! I do think it’s important to take a look at how that theology of work plays out in Scripture. As such, I have a sampling of verses, especially from the Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, about the benefits of work and the consequences of neglecting our responsibility to work.

The Rest of the OT

Of all the books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes has the most practical wisdom and theology about life in general, and work in particular, than all the other Bible books combined. Solomon’s wisdom really shines through in Ecclesiastes, even as the cry of “Meaningless” echoes through the text. I think the key passage here is Ecclesiastes 3:9–15. Let’s hear that again:

9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. 15 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.

[For “beautiful,” see Eccl 5:18, where the Hebrew word is translated “appropriate.”]

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.

Think of all the “toil” we do each and every day. How do we make things beautiful? How do we find satisfaction? What are the tasks that bring you satisfaction? Let me run a few by you.

Around the house or the farm:

• A freshly cut lawn.

• A freshly tilled field ready for planting.

• A sparkling bathroom after cleaning it (including getting that nasty whatever out of the drain).

• Big ripe tomatoes on the tomato plants.

• Making your bed first thing in the morning. (Navy Seal Admiral McRaven: Bed inspected every morning at training. Accomplishing the first task of the day leads to getting more tasks completed.)

In the kitchen:

• King’s Hawaiian rolls with honey butter.

• A perfectly grilled thick pork chop or steak.

• A scrumptious chocolate cake. (Are you hungry yet?)

In the workplace:

• Crisp new copies of a dynamite proposal.

• Seeing the finished product at the end of your assembly line.

• Finding extra money in the budget for upgraded computers.

• Landing that big account.

At school:

• A pristine science project.

• An A+ on your history research paper.

• Hitting a walk-off home run to win the game.

I think we all know how good it feels at the end of a day’s work, regardless of whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally challenging, to finally get to the (made) bed and lay our heads down knowing we’ve accomplished something important, bringing order out of the disparate parts of our experience, a finished product out of the many different parts that compose it, or adding beauty where there was barrenness. And even if in all your work you didn’t get the outcome you wanted, you can still have the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best shot, and that tomorrow will bring another opportunity.

Now up to this point, I’ve kept it pretty upbeat, but to understand the contrast, we need to acknowledge the elephant (or is it a sloth?) in the room: all those verses in Proverbs and elsewhere about not owning up to one’s responsibility to work. Staying in Ecclesiastes, we find this relevant passage in chapter 10 verse 18:

18 Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.

Proverbs has several verses about laziness or a general malaise about working. Proverbs 26:13–16 focuses on the topic with a bit of sarcasm to boot:

13 A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”

14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.

15 A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

16 A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly.

You have to wonder, with four verses like that in a row, if Solomon himself had had a bad day when he wrote this. It wouldn’t surprise me if Solomon had witnessed each of these during his day, and that last sarcastic remark was accompanied by Solomon throwing up his hands in resignation!

New Testament

In the book of Acts, we see some of these contrasts as well. For example, in Chapter 5, we see how Ananias and Sapphira got together to conspire a plot to cheat the church and get ahead. Most of us know what happened to them. By contrast in chapter 6, we see the apostles take up a thorny issue of distributing food to needy Greek widows. They appointed 7 men full of the Holy Spirit to address the matter. They worked hard to earn the new believers’ respect in this matter, and it paid off with more and more people being brought into the kingdom.

Paul himself, later in Acts, reminded the Ephesian elders about his hard work among in the nearly 18 months he spent ministering there. Acts 20:33–35 says:

33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

The Thessalonians must have had a problem with not wanting to carry their weight. Paul has to warn them in both letters about laziness in the strongest terms. Paul says in 1 Thess 5:12–15:

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

And in 2 Thess 3:6–13, he says something similar:

6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. [skip vs. 9] 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Our modern English translation needs two words and a conjunction to translate one Greek word about shirking your responsibility to work, whether it be at your job, at home, or for the kingdom. “Idle and disruptive.” This particular Greek word is only found in the letters to the Thessalonians, which emphasizes the point that something was wrong with the Thessalonians work ethic. In other contexts outside the Bible, the word has to do with being out of military formation or just general disorder and chaos. “Without form and empty.”

Paul continues from there in vv. 11–13, and emphasizes that word again, and transitions us back to a positive thought as we begin to wrap up the message:

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hear it again: “Never tire of doing what is good.”

Ephesians 2:8–10 (author’s translation; contrast with “walk” in 2:2) says:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithfulness—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to walk in good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

As if to emphasize the point, he says in Ephesians 4:28

28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Hebrews 4:6–11 (Sabbath rest)

6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve seen to day how Work produces Order, and Order produces Rest. In a world around us that seems to be trending toward disruption and disorder, it is good to know we have a God who is working hard to hold it together, and to know that there are saints among us who are working hard to support, promote, and uphold God’s kingdom. And now you know the ‘rest’ of the story.

What Makes God Weep?

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:00 am
Tags: , , ,

Sermon preached by Scott Stocking, Wheeler Grove Rural Church, January 17, 2021. All opinions are my own.

Introduction

This past year has certainly been a challenging one for the world. Many of us know people affected by COVID, whether testing positive without any more symptoms than a few sniffles, to those who unfortunately lost loved ones or their own lives to the disease. My wife works in a skilled nursing facility in Omaha as an occupational therapist, and had to put on her “protective armor” to work with residents who tested positive for the disease.

Jill and I also have two friends who went to death’s door with the disease, but have or are making what seems to be full recovery. One friend’s wife had actually gone to talk to the funeral home before he rebounded. Another friend, just in that last few weeks, had been on a ventilator. Those who go on a ventilator have a 10% chance of survival. He eventually got off the ventilator and beat the odds, and at last report, he was doing quite well in rehab, just having his trach removed and talking up a storm with his family members.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, as I’ve never had two friends in one year come this close to death, and it reminds me both of how fragile life can be, and also how precious life is. In Jesus’s day, life was considered cheap. The philosopher Aristotle said, in so many words, you were born to either be an elite-class ruler or part of the masses of the lower-class ruled. There really wasn’t much of what we call the “middle class” in that day and age, socially or economically.

In the passage we’re looking at today, we see Jesus’s countercultural attitude toward life, at least countercultural in his day and age. Jesus did not think life was cheap. He valued the individual, regardless of their rank in life, and even regardless of the type of life they led. We will also see perhaps the most intense display of Jesus’s humanity as well as glimpses into his divine nature.

What Makes God Weep?

As we come to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, we will see the full range of Jesus’s human and divine natures. Even though “all the fullness of the Deity dwells within him,” he is still fully human as well, so much so that the Gospel writers record Jesus using the title “Son of Man” for himself.

The story starts at the beginning of chapter 11 when Jesus learns that Lazarus, perhaps his best friend outside of the circle of the apostles, is sick. Jesus doesn’t seem concerned however, and like the good friend he is, he intentionally delays going to see Lazarus. Wait, wha? [Pause for effect, pretend to be confused and reread that sentence.] The apostles don’t under Jesus’s delay, but only because he knows “this sickness will not end in death,” but “is for God’s glory.” He eventually says cryptically a few verses later that “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” but the apostles don’t pick up on the subtle reference. Jesus must tell them plainly a few verses later that “Lazarus is dead.”

Now it should not surprise us that Type A Martha, the control freak of the two sisters, is the one to go out and meet Jesus at the gate. Since it took Jesus four days from the time he got the news (at least from a human source) to go the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany, Martha had plenty of time to think about what she’d say. Martha is chomping at the bit to make sure Jesus knows that because he wasn’t there, it’s all his fault that Lazarus died. Pretty harsh, right? In fact, Martha is so focused on getting these first few words out, that we get no indication in the story that she’s in mourning. I think most of us know that feeling: we get our adrenaline going about something peripheral such that we forget how we’re supposed to feel or what we’re supposed to say about whatever the core issue is that is truly impacting us emotionally.

But either Martha knows she’s stuck her foot in her mouth after that first statement, or she really has been thinking about what her second statement would be: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Does that statement represent genuine concern, or is it more like a backhanded control freak statement? “I’ve waited four days for you to get here, Jesus, so you owe me big time!”

But Martha does prove to have a heart of gold, a heart full of faith, and a desire for great theological conversation when she goes on to say, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” If there were other people within earshot of that statement, I’m sure it would have turned heads, especially if any of the crowd were Sadducees. This is exactly the reasoning Abraham used, according to the author of Hebrews, to not hesitate to obey God’s command to him to (almost-) sacrifice Isaac. As such, Martha is the personal recipient of one of Jesus’s seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

So to this point in the story, what do we see of Jesus’s divine and human natures? Someone brings him the message that Lazarus is dying, but Jesus is most likely already aware of this given what he says to his disciples about it. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about Lazarus dying, which, from a human perspective, might make him appear cold, matter-of-fact, and uncaring. If this were you or I, we’d want to make every effort to go see the friend on their deathbed. But his divine nature knows the end of the story. Jesus implicitly trusts in his heavenly Father that the end result will be for his glory.

So here we have Jesus, quite stoically handling the news of Lazarus’s death and just matter-of-factly stating that he is the resurrection and the life. That last claim, by itself and at face value, would have been absolutely astonishing to his listeners. Most 30-year-olds in Jesus’s day were typically closer to their death than their birth, and the cultures around the Jewish people had little regard for the sanctity of life, as my opening illustration revealed. So keep that and Jesus’s initial response in mind as we look at vv. 32–39 here. We pick up the story after Martha has gone to bring Mary back to see Jesus.

Read John 11:32–33a.

Notice that Mary’s first response to Jesus is identical to Martha’s, except that Mary is making no pretense about her sorrow. She’s bawling, and everyone with her is bawling. The text doesn’t say, but I’m pretty sure Martha is standing there trying to be the strong one: “I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus! I’m not going to cry in front of Jesus.” Truly there is great sorrow here, and this is one of the few times in the Gospels where we see Jesus come face to face with not just mourners, but mourners who are most likely among his closest friends outside his inner circle. In the next few verses, we get a profound insight into the depths of Jesus’s human nature. Back to vs. 33:

Read John 11:33-35

There it is: “Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in our English Bibles. Nine letters. Six consonants and three vowels in three syllables. Yet nothing is more poignant, nothing more revealing of the depth of human sorrow than weeping. And this isn’t some Hollywood zoom-in shot of Jesus’s face where he sheds one dramatic tear. Oh no! Jesus is in full-on weeping mode with his friends. And even though the story doesn’t say it, I think it’s safe to say that, to the extent Martha was trying to be the “strong one,” Martha’s floodgates open up here; she can’t hold it in any longer, and she begins to weep as well, perhaps precisely because Jesus wept. How profound it is when we see first hand that Savior of the world feels AND shows the same emotions that you and I feel at the death of a loved one. How profound to know that our God does NOT turn a blind eye to our sorrow and pain.

Now Jesus’s weeping is not a sudden outburst that isn’t expected in the story. John, in fact, is building up the tension in the story to that climax. Look back at the end of vs. 33: John says Jesus is “deeply moved” and “troubled.” In the original language of the Scripture, that word is perhaps the strongest expression of “negative” emotion one could have. In Matthew 9:30, Jesus “sternly warned” the blind man not to say who healed him. That would have been akin to Jesus saying something like, “Don’t you dare, in a million years, tell anyone who did this to you.” At Jesus’s anointing in Bethany, where the prostitute broke an alabaster jar over Jesus’s head and let the perfume run down him, we’re told that those present (except for Jesus) “rebuked her sharply,” probably even to the extent of cursing her or reminding her in no uncertain terms about her profession.

Some commentators here go as far as suggesting that Jesus may have “snorted” (their word, not mine) here. On the one hand, he could have been choking back the tears in light of all the weeping. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, Jesus may also be on the verge of cursing death itself here. The one who is the resurrection and the life, the one who knew he himself must suffer horribly and die on the cross, and who knew God would thus give him ultimately victory over death, must face the death of a friend nonetheless. He shows himself to be the great high priest, as he’s called in Hebrews 4:15, who is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” who has been tempted as we are, and yet was without sin.

Now I want to suggest something here that has probably never occurred to you: The main focus of John’s account of this story here is NOT that Jesus raises someone from the dead eventually. Jesus has already done several amazing miracles to this point, building up to the raising of Lazarus as the greatest of his miracles. Another miracle? I’m impressed of course, but not surprised. John has already hinted to us that that is going to happen in the story, with Jesus’s “I am” statement and Martha’s statement. Keep in mind that John, in his short epistles toward the end of the NT, is fighting against Gnosticism, a belief that nothing done in the body matters at all for eternal salvation. When John says, “Jesus wept,” he’s acknowledging that God considers human life precious and valuable; that the body does matter for our earthly existence. That’s why “Jesus wept” is at the center of this whole story. He intends this show of Jesus’s humanity as the highlight and climax of the story.

This is all pretty intense, right? So if we’ve hit the climax, where do we go from here? Well, there is “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. There is, as literature professors would put it, the “anticlimax.” Note a further expression of Jesus’s humanity in vs. 36: “See how he loved him.” That word for love there typically implies a brotherly or familial love. It’s not the self-sacrificing agape love, and it’s certainly not any kind of romantic love. It reveals the deep friendship that Jesus had (and will have again) with Lazarus.

Even some in the crowd in v. 37 echo Mary and Martha’s sentiment that Jesus could have kept him from dying. “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Read John 11:38–40

Once again, we see that word for “deeply moved” that we saw in v. 33. Jesus has still got some fire in him at this point. So when he asks for the stone to be taken away, I think he’s not just making a polite request here. I think he spoke it like I read it, with that “I’ve-had-enough-of-this” indignation. “Let’s get this over with; he’s been dead long enough.” Of course Martha, the rational one, has regained her composure in the time it took to walk over to the tomb, and isn’t too thrilled about consequences of removing the stone. That just stokes Jesus’s fire all the more. “I’m going to raise your brother and you’re worried it might stink a little bit?” I’m pretty sure that the “glory of God” at that point was not going to have any stink associated with it.

Read John 11:41–44

Now when I set out to write this sermon, I had intended to do the three shortest verses in the NT and tie them together in a neat little package. But the more I got into, the more the Spirit led me down the road I followed today, focusing on “Jesus wept.” One of the three shortest verses is “Pray continually,” or more literally, “pray without ceasing.” Jesus offers his prayer here. He doesn’t need to do this, because he knows God is always listening to him. But as he’s said all along in this story, his goal is to make sure God is glorified. He wants to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that what is about to happen is not some magic trick or sleight of hand. This is God-power all the way, the “incomparably great [resurrection] power for us who believe,” as Paul tells the Ephesians.

In v. 43, Jesus’s fire is still going. Again, it’s not a polite request or, “Hey, Lazarus, ollie ollie ots and free.” Jesus booms with a loud, commanding voice, loud enough to literally wake the dead, “Lazarus, come out!” I think it’s interesting that the NIV here says “The dead man came out.” Umm, looks like he’s not dead any more. The more literal translation here is “the one who has been dead came out.” Can I get an “Amen”?

The third short verse precedes “pray continually” in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Rejoice always.” In the last part of v. 44, Jesus loses all the tension he’s been feeling to this point. I’m sure he’s got a huge smile across his face at this point, as do all those who’ve seen Lazarus rise from the dead and walk out of the grave. Jesus’s happiness, smile, and dare I say laughter are all additional profound insights into Jesus’s human side. The savior who weeps with us in our time of sorrow rejoices with us in our time of joy.

Conclusion/Call to Action

John 11 is a powerful story about Jesus’s love for a friend and his disgust with death and the seeming cheapness of life in the world around him. But how does that impact us today? What are steps that we can take as believers to promote the value of the individual, especially in this time when we’ve had to be isolated from ones we love?

In the ancient world, at and before the time of Christ, there were two practices that absolutely cheapened life. One of them was known as exposure. At that time, if you gave birth to a child you didn’t want, or the child was conceived in, shall we say, ill repute, it was legal, and in certain situation expected of you, to expose that infant to the elements and let the Fates decide what would become of the child. As Christianity took hold, Christians began to rescue these innocents. As Christianity grew and the concept that all life mattered began to take hold culturally, Constantine eventually outlawed the practice all together in the Roman empire.

The second practice was, in certain Greek democracies where they did not have the concept of freedom of speech, the casting of the ostraca. Ostraca were simply pieces of clay pots on which the voters (usually only “citizens”) wrote the name of a person whom they thought was not worthy of participating in their society any longer. The person receiving the most votes was “ostracized,” or banished from the city-state democracy. As you might imagine, the ancients had their share of folks on all sides who spread lies and misinformation about political enemies in order to influence who got voted off the island, so to speak.

In this day and age when our country is so divided on so many issues, it’s important that we learn how to not only respect our differences, but understand why each of us believes what we believe. Jesus’s disciples were a diverse group, from a hated tax collector to the lowly fishermen. My prayer is that we see the value in each and every individual and in what they bring to the table for the good of our Lord and our country. Peace to you all, and thank you for letting me share with you today.

August 24, 2019

The Lord’s Prayer: Deliver Us From the Evil One (Matthew 6:9–13)

Filed under: Ephesians,Greek,Matthew Gospel of,Prayer,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 2:19 pm

Nothing is perhaps more common among the diverse branches of Christianity as the Lord’s Prayer. Aside from the occasional hesitation in the public setting about whether the church that’s reciting it says “trespasses” or “debts,” the basic form of the prayer is well established. Jesus implies in the text leading into Matthew 6:9–13 that it is a model prayer, not something intended to be formulaic or ritualistic (the surrounding context makes that crystal clear!), but rather a pattern for how we approach God the Father in prayer.

Many have proposed legitimate ways of outlining or summarizing the prayer, so my own comments are not intended to suggest those other ways are any less valid than what I am proposing here. We all have our own experiences and filters through which we come to the Father, and he really doesn’t care what, if any pattern we use. He just wants us to come and talk to him. But being a preacher, and an old-school one at that, I thought an alliterative outline would be good to organize my thoughts for my sermon on the passage this past Sunday.

Overview

Praise: Jesus gives praise to the Father in vv. 9–10 for who he is and what he is doing.

Provision: Jesus asks that God provides with the basic necessities of life, represented by bread.

Pardon: Jesus exhorts us to ask the Father’s forgiveness for our sins even as we (can and should) forgive those who sin against us.

Protection: Jesus asks God not only to keep us away from temptation, but also to deliver us from the evil one (or if you’re old school, from evil).

Praise

Verses 9–10 are structured as an inclusio, a literary technique that begins and ends a section with the same word or concept. It’s easy to see in English that the repeated word is “heaven.” The concept (“kingdom”) is repeated in the middle of the three praiseworthy items between the opening and closing lines of the inclusio. How can we be sure of this? In the opening line, “heaven” is actually plural: literally, “Our Father who is in the heavens.” In Matthew’s 32 exclusive uses of the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” “heaven” is always plural.

The fact that “heaven” is plural also calls to mind Ephesians, where five times Paul refers to the “heavenly realms” (a different Greek word formed from the root word for “heaven”) in reference to our proximity to Christ. In Ephesians, we see that we are with Christ in the heavenly realms. Jesus as much as acknowledges that in the closing line of the inclusio: “on earth as it is in heaven.” Actually, the word order in Greek for that phrase is transposed: “as in heaven [singular], so on earth.”

Another interesting tidbit about this section is that the three praise items are all written with third person imperative verbs. English doesn’t have a third person imperative, so we usually translate it something like “Let your name be holy; let your kingdom come; let your will be done.” Those three items are something we can’t command God to do; that totally comes from him, so the standard second person imperative in English wouldn’t do. We’re asking God to will and continue to will those things to be or become true.

Now before moving on to the other three points, I think the use of “heaven” as the key word in the inclusio is no accident. Not only does “kingdom of heaven” always use the plural form of “heaven,” but all references to the “Father…in heaven” also use the plural form. When “heaven” and “earth” are used together in the same phrase, “heaven” is often singular. I think we can look to Paul’s epistles to see how we’re to understand the reference to heaven. Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Five times in Ephesians, Paul mentions our relationship to Christ “in the heavenly realms.” I’d never really heard this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer emphasized before, but I believe Jesus is emphasizing the dual citizenship of his followers. Just as we see God acting in heaven, we should work in concert to make it happen on earth. If God’s name is to be considered holy, we should be careful to live in such a way that those on earth can clearly see that. If God’s kingdom is to come, we should be working to make sure it is advancing here on earth. In fact, the final five lines of the prayer go back and forth between God’s work in heaven and his (and our) work on earth. Let’s look at those now.

Provision

“Give us today our daily bread” is a typical second person imperative that we might expect. It’s a simple request of God that he provide our daily, basic needs—not just food, but whatever we need to get through each and every day. It’s focused on our life here on earth, with God acting from heaven to move all the pieces in place for us. And because it’s “daily” bread, Jesus is saying that we should come to God each and every day, not just once in a while.

Asking for God to provide our daily bread does not absolve us from the responsibility to work. If we’re able and have the opportunity, we can and should work for a living. Paul says in Thessalonians that the one who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat. In times we face need, then, we can lean a bit more on this promise. Additionally, those of us here on earth, through compassionate and charitable efforts, can work to provide daily bread for those less fortunate and bring them to a place of self-sufficiency.

Pardon

In the next phrase, Jesus switches the focus to heaven: “Forgive us our debts.” This action again is a second person imperative, and the focus of the action takes place in heaven. Jesus declares us forgiven from the right hand of the Father. After all, it is his shed blood that purchased forgiveness, and his resurrection confirmed that he is both the Son of God and the one that has authority to forgive sins.

The next phrase is the only first person statement in the prayer, and as such, I think an important focus in the prayer. The scene moves back to earth: “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” Verses 14–15, immediately following the prayer, are an important contextual clue that this phrase is the focus of the Lord’s Prayer. If we forgive others here on earth, God forgives our sins; if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive our sins.

Protection

God providing our needs and forgiving our sins is essential for our physical and spiritual well-being. It is the best protection we have against the corruption of our souls and against falling into sin. But sometimes, the evil that comes at us may seem larger than life, and we need God’s extra protection to get through the really difficult times.

“Lead us not into temptation” brings the focus back to earth, and returns to the use of a second person verb, but this time, it’s subjunctive. In English terms, that means it rises to the level of an earnest plea: “Please, please, O God, do not lead us into temptation!” It’s one thing for us to ask God to help us in this way; it’s quite another if we intentionally put ourselves in a position to be tempted. The plea recognizes that sometimes, we can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, as Martin Luther put it, but that we can keep them from building a nest on our head. In the modern media and Internet culture, temptation is just a click away. We often need to rely on God’s strength and guidance to keep us out of situations where we might be compromised.

The final phrase, “Deliver us from the evil one,” (back to a second person imperative) returns the focus to heaven again, and brings to mind the passage in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God. Paul says in 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This is why the modern translations say “from the evil one” instead of the classic “from evil.” The Greek word for “evil” in the Lord’s Prayer has the definite article with it, and that implies that it’s not talking about a concept, but an actual evil person, someone who intends you harm. Jesus intends us to put a face on the concept. And that doesn’t necessarily always refer to Satan. It can be anyone here on earth or any of the forces Paul mentions above from the heavenly realms who intend us harm.

When Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 6:13 to “put on the full armor of God,” this is our God-given arsenal to “deliver us from the evil one.” What many people don’t realize about that phrase is that the armor of God doesn’t come from some divine arsenal that has an unlimited supply of breastplates, helmets, and shields. Every reference to a defensive piece of armor or the dual-purpose sword has its origin in the Old Testament, and they are all pieces that God himself wears. So “armor of God” means God’s own personal armor! In other words, we’ve got the best!

Conclusion

The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, but it is so much more as I’ve tried to show here. As a model, it serves as a daily defense against the things that would try to rob us of our spiritual health and joy in Christ. It encourages us to forgive as we have been forgiven so we can have healthy relationships with family and friends. It shows that we rely on God to give us just what we need each and every day. It is our way to stay connected to the Savior and know his love and protection each and every day.

My thoughts are my own,

Scott Stocking

 

February 9, 2019

#ToxicMasculinity: Walking Like an Egyptian Pharaoh

Toxic masculinity is a hot topic these days, but I’ve yet to hear a clear definition of it from the media. As I was reading through the first few chapters of Exodus today, however, I saw several examples of it.

Extreme Toxicity: Pharaoh

The one that sticks out most to me is Pharaoh himself. In Exodus 1:16, Pharaoh is afraid of the Hebrews becoming too numerous, so he orders the midwives to kill all male babies as they are being delivered. The female (note the gender here) midwives, however, have great courage and integrity, and refuse to obey Pharaoh’s command to practice perinatal abortions founded on gender discrimination. Not only that, this is also a prima facie example of the rich and powerful oppressing, abusing, and dare I say even murdering the poor, weak, and defenseless. When Pharaoh realizes the midwives aren’t able to carry out his command, he takes his toxic masculinity to the next level and orders that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile River (Ex 1:22). It is important to know here that the females fear God’s (or their gods’) retribution if they kill the innocent, while Pharaoh has no fear of God.

Pharaoh overplays both his responsibility for leadership and defense of others. He overplays his leadership responsibility by becoming a tyrant with respect to the Hebrews. He overplays his responsible to defend those he’s responsible for by attempting to destroy those whom he views as a threat, even if that threat may be 20 to 30 years down the road. The ultimate source of his toxic masculinity is his lack of regard for the one true God, the God of the Hebrews, whose power he will soon come to experience.

Pathetic Toxicity: Moses

Moses, initially at least, represents the other extreme from Pharaoh. Moses has first-hand knowledge of God, and even has an extended conversation with him. However, in spite of all the assurances God gives to Moses about being with him, giving him words to speak, and showing Pharaoh his mighty power, Moses plays the wimp card. “Who am I, God?” “I speak with faltering lips, God.” “Send someone else to do it, God.” Really, Moses? God gives him a rare gift, a full accounting of what God wants him to do (most of us feel like we’re guessing at that, right?), and he isn’t man enough to accept it, at least, to accept it willingly and enthusiastically. To Moses’s credit, though, once he starts to see God afflict Pharaoh and Egypt with the plagues, his reluctance wanes and his confidence in God’s purpose for his life grows exponentially.

Toxicity 2019: Men With No Chests

Is it a stretch to say that so-called men like @GovernorVA Ralph Northam and @NYGovCuomo Andrew Cuomo are not that far removed from Pharaoh’s toxicity? Like Pharaoh, these two toxically masculine State governors want to kill babies right up to the time of birth and even after birth. They have indeed regressed to a more primitive culture, hiding behind the guise of “Pro-Choice,” which is in itself a form of toxic femininity (judging from the tweets and retweets of New York Council on Women & Girls chairperson @Melissadderosa she’s an icon of toxic femininity in New York). They prey on the weak for their own political gain, not caring one whit about the emotional impact on women and families or the cultural decline that such positions represent. It is an absolute power play of the rich and powerful.

And where are men who should be taking the lead opposing this toxicity? Let’s start with the men who father these children, then run away and make an intentional choice not to be involved in or support the care of the pregnant mother or the child that is born to the mother who has the courage and integrity to give the child a chance at life. That’s pathetic toxicity to be sure. And what about you, men of God? Are you silent on this issue? Is this a worthy battle to fight? Can we harness our righteous energy and lead with integrity? Can we fight for the things that matter most, like the sanctity and dignity of those created in the image of God? Can we show tender care for the weak, the helpless, those who have lost hope, and those who need a vision of heaven? Let us rise up and make our voices heard!

Conclusion

It is scary to think that the world has come almost full circle from the time of Pharaoh in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. This culture of despising life at its most vulnerable stages is toxic regardless of gender. Those who think they are “progressive” are lying to themselves; they have in fact put on display and are proud of their “regressive” policies. It’s time for the people of God to stand up for truth. God is with us! We need to be faithful to him and trust that he will win the victory for us just as he did when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. Remember, that God was always the one fighting for them; they never had to lift a finger in violence toward their enemies, and neither should we.

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

January 20, 2019

Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41 (NIV & TNIV)

Filed under: Greek,Life of Christ,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Scott Stocking @ 6:40 am

[Author’s Note: Thank you to all who’ve made this the #1 post for 2021 through June. I trust you’re finding it helpful. I’m always curious to know how my posts are used and how you were referred to them, especially if they’re used as an assigned reading in a college class. I’m not seeking any compensation for such use; I’m trying to collect some data I can use to show potential employers my articles have academic value.]

I was rather surprised the other day when I read Mark 1:41 in the NIV (2011 edition). A man with leprosy came to Jesus and asked him to heal him. The NIV text says “Jesus was indignant,” but he still “reached out his hand and touched the man.” The obvious question here is, “Why was Jesus indignant?” After all, most other English translations of the Bible, as well as the eclectic Greek text, say “Jesus had compassion.” So how did the NIV committee arrive at the “indignant” translation?

The Variant Reading: External Evidence

In Mark 1:41, the editors of the United Bible Societies (UBS) Greek New Testament (GNT; Third and Fourth editions) have settled on σπλαγχνισθεὶς (splanchnistheis, from σπλαγχνίζομαι splanchnizomai, “I have compassion on”) for the original text. All but one Greek manuscript uses this word. The only Greek manuscript that doesn’t is Fifth Century Codex Bezae (identified as “D” in the UBS apparatus), which uses ὀργισθεὶς (orgistheis, from ὀργίζομαι orgizomai, “I am angry”). The parallel Latin text on the opposing page has iratus (pp. 557–8).

In the third edition, the editors were unsure they had restored the original text, and gave it the lowest certainty rating possible: D (not to be confused with the apparatus designation of the same letter). In the fourth edition, however, the editors upgraded their certainty of σπλαγχνισθεὶς to B.

Now one might think the volume of the “external” evidence (that is, all of the documents that have σπλαγχνισθεὶς, and the relative age of those documents) might be enough to convince translators that Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus had compassion,” but external evidence does not always have the final word. Translators must also consider the “internal” evidence in support of a particular reading. Internal evidence considers such things as the surrounding context, parallel or similar passages, and any structural considerations.

Internal Evidence

Bill Mounce has a summary of the external issues in this passage, but he did not delve very deep into internal issues that may have influenced the Mark 1:41 NIV translation. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that Mounce himself was surprised to find the NIV had “Jesus was indignant,” because he was on the NIV translation committee! He may not have translated Mark, though, so I can’t be too hard on him, and the intermediate TNIV translation had already switched to “indignant” from the original NIV’s “compassion” before Mounce joined the NIV committee. One of the principles of determining the original reading (a process called “textual criticism”) is that the translator prefer the most difficult reading of the text. “Jesus was indignant” certainly fits that given the immediate situation in the verses. Add to that that it would have been very tempting for a copyist to “soften the blow” of ὀργισθεὶς by substituting σπλαγχνισθεὶς, since that is exactly what Jesus does in this situation.

According to Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (the GNT editorial committee’s explanation of choices made among variant readings), they thought that Jesus’ “strong warning” in vs. 43 might be one piece of internal evidence to support ὀργισθεὶς. The editors also cite similar statements in Mark 3:5 and 10:14. I would add to this that the broader context of the passage would seem to hint that Jesus may indeed be indignant. In 35–37, Jesus goes off to a solitary place to pray, but his disciples come looking for him because everyone else is looking for Jesus. Jesus’s response in vs. 38 is telling: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And so he went out preaching and driving out demons. Verse 39 says nothing of Jesus healing people. In other words, it seems that Jesus wanted a break from the healing, because that wasn’t his main purpose while on Earth.

And so we come to the scene with the man with leprosy. Could it be that Jesus is indignant because he knows what will happen if he heals another person? It’s not that Jesus does not want to heal the man: it’s clear he’s willing to. But the man fails to heed Jesus’s “strong warning” not to tell anyone, and v. 45 says, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.” He wanted to preach, but the crowds he was attracting with his healing were hindering that mission. I can see how that would make him indignant.

One other point that Mounce makes is that the BAGD lexicon does not list “indignant” as a meaning for ὀργισθεὶς. However, a couple other Scriptures outside of Mark may imply “indignation” more so than “anger.” The most significant of the 8 other occurrences of ὀργίζομαι is found in Luke 15:28, at the end of the story of the Prodigal Son. The older brother is “angry” for sure, to the point of “righteous indignation” for how his prodigal brother is treated. Luke 14:21 seems to carry the idea of indignation as well, where the master of the banquet brings in the commoners after his invited guests have turned down his generous invitation. Another Greek word, ἀγανακτέω (aganakteō), usually carries the sense of “indignant.”

Weighing the Evidence

Although between Metzger, the NIV translation, and my own contributions here, I think I’ve made a pretty solid case for choosing the less common variant ὀργισθεὶς, it is difficult to overlook the preponderance of external evidence for σπλαγχνισθεὶς. The most prominent uncial manuscripts are all contemporary with or earlier than D, so that is a significant strike against the argument from internal evidence. It is also possible that, if this was copied as someone read the text to roomful of scribes, the copyist of D misheard the person who was reading the text and used the wrong word. It’s possible the copyist still had in his mind words like ERCHetai and pARAKalōn from vs. 40 and prefixed the wrong, but similar sounding, root (ORG) to the istheis ending he heard. The parallel passages in Mt 8:2–4 and Lk 5:12–14 say nothing of Jesus’s attitude toward the situation, so there is no reason the copyist would have tried to change the word to harmonize the passage with parallel accounts.

Conclusion

As such, as much as I like the NIV and respect those I’ve read and have met on the translation committee, I must disagree with the translation “Jesus was indignant.” I think the weight and character of the external evidence outweighs the logic of the internal evidence. If we had more Greek manuscripts that had ὀργισθεὶς in that verse, it might be more compelling to accept “indignant.” But as it stands, I think the solid tradition of most English translations accepting the settled text of the GNT wins the day. Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus, having compassion, stretched out his hand….”

Scott

My opinions are my own.

January 12, 2019

Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), Part Two

Filed under: Greek,Immersion/Baptism,Romans,Soteriology,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 3:37 pm

In my post from 6.5 years ago (has it been that long!), The Mystery of Immersion (Baptism), I argued that there is a “mystery” (in the classical sense) in immersion (a more accurate translation of the Greek word typically translated “baptism”) akin to what the Catholics attribute to the Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper to us Protestants). In reading through Romans this time around, I still believe immersion must have a special place in the life of a Christ-follower, but I am even more convinced of the efficacy (and practicality) of immersion to bond us to Christ.

The Blood of Christ

Many Christ followers know Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the real hope is found in the two verses that follow: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” Christ’s faithfulness to death on the cross, that is, to submitting to the shedding of blood, is the foundation for our forgiveness. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Throughout Romans, Paul makes contrasts between death and life. Romans 5:9–10 is quite striking in this contrast: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” [Note the “how” statements are NOT questions!]

I have argued elsewhere that Christ’s complete, unfailing obedience to the Law qualifies him as “the Righteous one.” It is because he is righteous that his sacrifice can impart righteousness to us. Paul says as much in Romans 7:4: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” Hebrews 9:14 says it in a different way: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we my serve the living God!”

The Waters of Immersion

I believe the centerpiece of Romans 1–11 is chapter 6, Paul’s discussion about immersion. Romans 1–11 is an intense theological statement on how God, through Christ’s shed blood, not only purchased salvation for us, but also restores us to a right relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters in the faith. When Paul says in Romans 6:3: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death?” he’s making a solid connection between the blood of Christ and the waters of immersion. It is almost as if Paul is declaring the act of immersion to be a reverse typology.

Typology, in the biblical sense anyway, looks at an event in the past and shows how that points to Christ. Here, Christ’s death has already happened, and the significance of that requires a significant event in our own lives to make the connection. Immersion, then, is not merely (not even?) a symbolic act that we can dismiss as merely a “work of the flesh,” as some try to do, but it is an event oozing with meaning and purpose, so much so that it is foolish for a Christ-follower to ignore it or think it’s not for them. Setting aside for a moment the debate about whether immersion is a sine qua non event for salvation, let’s look at what else we glean about immersion from this section of Scripture. These gleanings fall into two categories: how Christ’s death benefits us spiritually, and how Christ’s resurrection benefits us practically.

United with Christ’s Death (Romans 6:5a)

Justified by his blood: Romans 5 is truly amazing in that it demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt what God’s grace is. In 5:6, Paul says “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Rewind. Repeat. Yes, we had absolutely nothing to do with it. We were powerless, Paul says. We couldn’t effect any spiritual benefit to ourselves if we tried. But not only that, and this is the real kicker, Christ died for the ungodly. What? He says it again in a different way (v. 8b): “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” You mean we don’t have to “get right with God” first before Christ’s death becomes effectual for us? Now that is grace! Weak and undeserving as we were, enemies of God (v. 10), Christ still died for us. And the end result of that is we are justified; “just as if I’d” never sinned. Christ grants us his right standing—a result of his perfect obedience to the Law—before God

Reconciled to God: In 5:10, Paul speaks of being reconciled to God. This means that our relationship with God is mended, restored. We’re no longer enemies, no longer slaves to sin, no longer considered ungodly; God looks at us and sees Christ.

Dead to the Law: The Law is good because it makes us aware of sin, but it is also the source of condemnation. As I said above, because Christ fulfilled the Law, those of us in Christ have the full credit of fulfilling the Law through him. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Dead to sin: In 7:14ff, Paul speaks of the hypothetical “I” who is “unspiritual.” Without the Spirit, Paul has little to no control over the sinful nature. The law of sin wages war against God’s law. But as with the previous point, Paul clears this up in Romans 8:2: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set your free from the law of sin and death.” You can live for God unencumbered!

Cleanse our conscience: Hebrews 9:14a reemphasizes these points from Romans. “The blood of Christ… [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” The author of Hebrews further brings home the point in 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Could that be the waters of immersion?

United in Christ’s Resurrection (Romans 6:5b)

Bear fruit for God: Along with the benefits linked to the death of Christ in Romans 5–7 and elsewhere, we also see benefits linked to the resurrection. Romans 7:4 sounds a bit like Ephesians 2:10 and the good works God prepared in advance for us to do: “That [we] might belong…to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”

Death has no power over us: Romans 5:9 and 10 tell us we are saved from God’s wrath and saved through Christ’s life (post-resurrection). In 6:8–9, Paul emphasizes that death no longer has mastery over Christ, and since Christ-followers are united with Christ in his resurrection, they also share that victory over death.

Seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6): The first part of Ephesians is a glorious picture of our position in Christ in the heavenly realms. Not only are we made alive with Christ (even when dead in transgression!), but we are raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly realms. And if there was any doubt how that happens, the grace of God pervades that passage of Scripture as it does through the first three chapters of Ephesians.

Serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14b): Most of us, regardless of our age, heard or have heard JFK’s quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Just change “country” to “God” and you’ve got the idea of Hebrews 9:14b. What a glorious privilege to serve in the courts of the eternal, living, gracious God. Can you think of any service that would lead to any greater eternal reward or greater feeling of satisfaction and personal fulfillment?

Living Sacrifice

Because Romans 1–11 ends with a glowing doxology, we can safely assume that Paul is closing out his theological argument and moving into the realm of practical application in 12–16. The “therefore” in 12:1, then, refers back to the entire argument, especially with immersion as the centerpiece. When Paul says: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” it becomes quite clear that he’s making an altar call to immersion and all that goes with it, as I have just described above.

Paul begins and ends Romans with a curious phrase: “the obedience of faithfulness” (1:5, 16:26; for more on this, see my Obedience in Romans post). But in 5:19, right before Paul launches into his treatise on baptism, he seems to revisit that idea, giving us a clue that he has reached the point where he’s delivering the main thrust of his argument. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Jesus is that one man who was obedient to God’s law, and as a result, his death and resurrection purchased our forgiveness and salvation, and our unity with those two events in immersion absolutely solidifies our connection with the Savior.

Conclusion

When you examine the context around Paul’s treatise on immersion in Romans 6, you begin to see that chapter 6 is not an isolated excursus on one theological point, but that immersion is the glue that ties the two “pillars” of the faith (Christ’s death and his subsequent resurrection) together in a neat theological “type.” Not only that, but the many blessings that Christ-followers experience are linked to immersion by virtue of their inclusion in the broader context of chapters 5–7. Immersion, then, is not something to be taken lightly, or sluffed off as a mere work of the flesh, but it is a near-complete picture of who we are and what we have in Christ. When the implications of immersion are rightly understood, there can be no doubt that it is an essential event in the life of a Christian, not just a reference point for salvation, but an expression that we’re all-in for Christ.

Scott

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the 2011 version of the NIV.

 

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