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August 22, 2015
July 14, 2015
June 26, 2015, was a sad day for American jurisprudence. On the political side, the “Supreme” Court of the United States (SCOTUS) failed to recognize the plain language of the Affordable Cafe Act, inartfully and carelessly crafted as it was, and upheld the economically unsound premium subsidies for those who work 29 hours or less per week. Paying people not to work or to work less: that’s the government’s way (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
On the moral side, SCOTUS declared gay marriage to be the law of the land, which is beyond the scope of their constitutional powers. Now I admit to being somewhat torn on the issue. On the one hand, I tend to be Libertarian when it comes to the issue of marriage. I don’t think the Federal or State governments have any business declaring anything about marriage. That is between two people and whatever supreme being they worship (whether it’s the Supreme Court or the only one true God).
I realize I can’t force people to accept God’s teaching about marriage, that it’s the God-ordained union between a man and a woman who aren’t confused about their gender. But if two same-sex people want to live in a union, that’s their choice, and they have to come to terms with God about it in the end. (Note that I believe an ultimate encounter with God is both necessary and inescapable, so that underlies my whole worldview.) I can be happy that they’ve found happiness here on earth, but always in the back of my mind I wonder about their eternal destination. I have friends, family, and coworkers I respect who live that lifestyle, so I have to have some peace about the issue to get along with the rest of the world.
On the other hand, I cannot abide SCOTUS’s decision, because it is, in reality, a moral statement about marriage that undermines the freedom of association the First Amendment should guarantee us. It puts churches in a position of obeying God or government, and I pray they will obey God. Even worse, it strengthens the argument of the thought police that speaking against a homosexual union borders on a hate crime, which further diminishes our freedom of speech. King George must be laughing in his grave that the American Constitution is failing.
Political Coercion, not Divine Truth
Why any gay or lesbian couple would want to compel a church that doesn’t share their beliefs to perform their wedding or a baker who doesn’t share their beliefs to bake them a cake is beyond me. The only motivation I see is political coercion, and that has nothing to do with freedom at all. Most homosexuals, like most of the rest of us, just want to live their lives peaceably, and I’m not complaining about them. The radical 1% of the 1-2% in this country who are homosexual are imposing their beliefs on the rest of society. Good luck with that in the long run. It’s as if the radical homosexuals have become the elite ruling class imposing their agenda on the rest of society through fear and intimidation. There’s bound to be a reaction against that sooner or later, just as there was against King George 239 years ago.
The Biblical Perspective
So forgive me if I don’t celebrate SCOTUS’s imposition of a moral imperative contrary to God’s law. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:6: “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Evil is what God opposes, proscribes, or finds detestable. It’s pretty plain in Leviticus 18:22 what God thinks of homosexuality. But lest anyone argue “That was the Old Testament!” look back at 1 Corinthians. In chapter 5 verse 1, Paul chides the Corinthians for tolerating a man who is violating Old Testament sexual ethics. The specific reference is to Leviticus 8:8, same chapter as the prohibition of homosexuality.
The problem for the Church, that is, the believers that are members of the body of Christ, is that most don’t understand this connection. Old Testament sexual ethics are still relevant in 2015. I’m not asking the church to go Westwood Baptist on homosexuals. Far from it. Love should still rule the day, but love for the people, not for the sin. Acceptance of the individual, not tolerance of the behavior.
As for the fallout of this decision, again, it’s a blow to First Amendment rights. It compels people and businesses to spend their money on things they don’t believe in. The ability to make a decision on based on conscience has been taken away from the individual. The ability to speak one’s mind now becomes a criminal offense. Sorry, but I’m inclined to exercise some peaceful, civil disobedience if it comes to that. And don’t expect me to keep quiet, especially when the militant radicals and their political sympathizers try to terrorize me into compliance with their beliefs.
May 12, 2015
October 14, 2014
I’ve been away from the blogosphere far too long. A number of things have happened since my last post on 7/22/13. I continue to monitor the statistics for my blog, and am humbled that I’m over 9300 views in the nearly four years(!!) I’ve been doing this. My most popular post continues to be my word study on “seer” in the Old Testament. The hits on that post alone, of the 80+ I’ve done, represent over 11% of the total views on my site. I suspect that, since I get large spikes on that one (the last spike was 121 this past July, and it averages about 40 views per month), someone out there has made it required reading on their syllabus. I wish I knew who that was, because I would love to thank them for the traffic.
Another thing that happened is, the day after my last post, I had a first date with someone I graduated from high school with. That turned into a second, third, and many other dates, and this past April, Jill and I got married. We’re quite happy, even though my adjustment to living in a house with her and her two teenage daughters (oh yeah, and the psycho pug dog) is a bit of a challenge at times. She’s a beautiful woman of God and has been encouraging me to get back to writing the blog. I’m need to be more intentional about that, and this post is my way of getting back into that.
In my post on June 9, 2013, I mentioned several projects I had been working on that had consumed much of time to that point. Well, they continued to consume even more time while building my relationship with Jill, and a couple of them have come to fruition now. I’d like to share those with you.
The first is that the study Bible I was working on has now been published, and I was honored to be listed as a contributing writer for the project. The (Dr. David) Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) is now available in print. I contributed notes, insight, and background for the following books: 1 Kings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezekiel, Matthew, Acts, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians. I found it very rewarding to work with and get feedback from a team of writers who have had my respect over the years (and whose text books I’ve used in classes I’ve taught), including David Veerman.
Another project I took on, one that nearly consumed me, was to develop a concordance for the new Modern English Version of the Bible. Over the past few years, I have taught myself Visual Basic for Applications as a needed tool for my day job, and I was able to adapt some of my work with that to develop a program that searched all 66 Bible books to find terms for the concordance. The concordance has 5000 Scripture references (I think the publisher added more after I got done). I have a new-found respect for both James Strong and Goodrick & Kohlenberger. Strong developed his KJV concordance without modern technology, of course. Goodrick & Kohlenberger used modern technology to develop their NIV concordance, but since I had rather short context lines, I found it nerve racking at times to try to figure out what meaningful part of the context line to keep. I have not seen the MEV on the retail shelf yet, but I know my local Christian bookstore has it on order. The MEV is more of a literal translation, in the tradition of the KJV/NKJV.
I had also mentioned I was working on a stand-alone concordance/lexicon, but as of this post, I’ve not heard whether that has gone to press yet.
I can’t make any promises about my next post, but I do know I’m itching to write again. I learned much from my two Bible projects that I want to share, so I’ll have to go back through my notes to spark my memory. Thank you all for your continued readership, and thank you to the new readers who find me by whatever search engine picks up on my key words.
July 22, 2013
I’m not sure exactly how to write this post. It’s going to be more of a stream of consciousness, I think, but I hope you appreciate the story I’m about to tell.
My reflection process began about three weeks ago. Just before the Fourth of July, my dad was fishing on the Missouri River up by Fort Calhoun with my uncle on his pontoon boat. He was casting his line, when it got stuck close to shore. Instead of cutting the line and putting another hook on, my 73-year old dad, who never learned to swim, decided to get out of the boat and walk up the shore to free the line. Evidently, they were close enough to a shallow part of the river for him to do that. As he was walking along the shore, his foot slipped on a rock, his heel caught between two other rocks, and he fell and broke both bones in his lower leg, one of them in two places. My uncle called 911, and the ambulance came and took him to the hospital, where they fixed him up. He’s recovering nicely now, but he’ll be using a walker or cane for some time yet. That’s the happy ending.
Now I said my dad was with my uncle, but my Uncle Larry is not my dad’s brother. He’s dad’s ex-brother-in-law, my mom’s youngest sibling and only brother. My mom has two other sisters; one died a few years ago, and she still has a close relationship with the other. For reasons I don’t know and that aren’t really relevant to this story, the family dynamics changed over 25 years ago when my mom and dad divorced. The bottom line is that a rift developed between my mom and her little brother such that they haven’t had any meaningful contact, except perhaps at a couple funerals, for over 25 years. (I love my mom deeply, and I understand her pain. She and her husband have been a huge support to me in getting back on my feet after my divorce, and I will never be able to repay her for that. I have no ill-will toward anyone.) Yet my dad, himself the youngest of two and the only boy, has maintained a friendship with him all these years. They’ve gone fishing together quite often; he’s attended my uncle’s Fourth of July fish fry celebration almost every year (he missed it this year, obviously); and he even helped my uncle build a huge garage on his country property.
The accident on the river gave me a lot of time to reflect, especially since my dad was in the Blair hospital, and I had plenty of time to think driving back and forth. Why did my dad and uncle click and maintain that friendship all this years in spite of my mom’s rift with him? Here’s my theory. I have no objective way of knowing if this is true, but it makes sense for me, and as it began to make sense for me while I was driving, I got all teary-eyed. I got the sense that God had given me insight into a situation that might help bring healing to all involved.
My dad and uncle are both the youngest and only boys in their respective families. My dad had lots of male cousins growing up that he could hang out with, but most were a bit younger than he was. I’m sure my uncle had plenty of male friends too, and I never knew too many of my mom’s cousins, because most of them had moved away from Nebraska. So when my dad married into my mom’s family, dad got his first “brother.” Now when Larry got married, he married a woman who had brothers only for siblings. Culturally, her family was very much like my dad’s side of the family, and my dad clicked almost immediately with my uncle’s wife’s family. Dad had also maintained a friendship with my uncle’s wife’s brother for several years, so he was no stranger to that family.
What I think is significant here is that my dad had found the brothers he never had as a kid, and my uncle and his wife’s family never blinked twice about considering my dad family. When I realized the power of that bond, that’s when I got all teary-eyed. It brought some healing to me in my own situation. I hope it brings healing to the rest of my family as well.
(I should add that my mom’s sister married, and is still married to, a pastor. He’s a great man, and my dad has no animosity toward him, but since my dad wasn’t the religious type, he never clicked with my mom’s brother-in-law like he clicked with her brother, my Uncle Larry.)
My Own Story
The more I reflected, the more I saw how this might influence my own life and the life of my kids. My son is the oldest of my three and the only boy, and he has two girl cousins who live nearby in Illinois. My siblings all had boys, and they all had them before my now-ex and I started having kids. Add to that one of them lived in Arkansas and the other two in Nebraska, and Alec rarely had any interaction with them. This past Father’s Day was an absolute blast for all of us. My dad and I and my three kids went to Rushmore and to my dad’s sister’s cabin in Wyoming. All of my kids had a blast, but my son really impressed me on so many levels. We connected in a way we hadn’t in a quite a while. I’m proud of my kids, I’m proud of my parents, and I’m proud of their families too. I can only wonder if this insight is part of the reason why God called me back to Nebraska three years ago. There’s still work to do in my family.
And now, a word from Psalms 126–127 to wrap this up:
126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
Peace to all,
June 15, 2013
“I cannot tell a lie,” “when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” “our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation” to “walk softly and carry a big stick.” That’s why we build monuments: so we don’t forget.
June 9, 2013
In this post:
- A personal note on my hiatus
- Summary of the projects I’ve been working on
- The prophetic quotes in Mark 1:2–3
- Thematic use of εὐθύς
A Personal Note on My Hiatus
I’ve been on a hiatus from the blog because my schedule got bogged down last summer. I took on an assignment in addition to my full-time job to edit and comment on Greek-English lexicon/concordance that is in the works (I can’t say anything more than that at this point, at least not until there’s a release date publicized). The concordance part was actually built into the lexical entries, which made for time-consuming reading. The author would list all occurrences of a word, often without the context lines. Add to that the extra time it takes to read numbers relative to words of the same character length on the page. Consider the difference between the following:
A reference would appear like this:
As I was editing, I would read:
Matthew twenty-two, thirty-six through thirty-eight
Now imagine 600+ pages filled with a couple hundred references like that on each page, and the reading time per page nearly triples! Needless to say, I had to take a break after almost every page just to maintain my sanity! Fortunately, it was not my job to check the accuracy of each reference (although I did find the occasional error there on familiar passages), otherwise, I’d still be at it. The other challenging part of the edit was that the author’s preferred texts for the English translations were the King James Version and Darby’s translation, which resulted in some interesting entries (I had never heard or seen the word “dropsical” until I saw this dictionary).
The other project that came up is a new study Bible (again, I can’t go into details about who at this point). It’s been challenging, rewarding, and even a little fun reviewing the notes, primarily for Old Testament books, and making suggestions and comments. I’m learning a great deal more about the OT and translation in general. I’m collaborating with a team of other reviewers; I even used one reviewer’s book on Bible study methods early in my teaching career. When that study Bible gets published, I’ll let you know.
I did finish reading through the Greek New Testament a second time in the process, but I’ve taken a break from a stringent schedule and had turned again to reading the Old Testament (in English, but still consulting the Hebrew) until I started participating in a men’s discipleship group. I set up a reading schedule for the guys that starts us in Mark’s Gospel. I also asked them to hold me accountable for getting back into the blogosphere, and rereading Mark 1 provided the perfect occasion for doing so.
Prophecy in Mark 1
As I started through Mark’s Gospel last week, looking at it in English and Greek, I noticed a few things worth mentioning. Mark opens his Gospel with a quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. I want to put the Isaiah and Mark passages side by side in Table 1 so you can see some interesting but relatively benign punctuation differences. Keep in mind that punctuation is a much later addition to the biblical text. The ancients didn’t waste papyrus and parchment with commas, dashes, quotation marks, or spaces between words!
|Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)||Mark 1:3 (NIV)|
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
3 “a voice of one calling
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.'”
Notice, for example, that the Isaiah quote has the one calling saying, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord,” while the editors of Mark obviously see a reference to John the Baptizer here: “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” The punctuation in the Isaiah passage is consistent with the accenting and format of the printed BHS text, but again keep in mind that these are editorial decisions, not a part of the original text.
The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of OT which is the source of all OT quotes in the NT) has the quotation beginning at “Prepare,” but again, an editorial decision, since the beginning of a quotation in Greek is marked by a capital letter in the modern text, and the original Greek text was in all capital letters!
I don’t really perceive a significant difference in the meaning of the text one way or the other. In the Isaiah version, “wilderness” is probably figurative for any place or person who needs to be revived by God. In the LXX/Mark version, “wilderness” is a literal reference to the place where John was preaching. The important part of this verse in my mind is the last half: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
In one of my earliest blog posts, I made a passing reference to the fact that Mark uses the Greek adverb εὐθύς 41 times in his Gospel (by contrast, the word is used only 17 times in the rest of the New Testament). [NOTE: Strong’s has the adverb form as εὐθέως from the textus receptus, but modern eclectic texts use εὐθυς.) The word means “immediately” or “at once” as an adverb. However, the word is also an adjective that means “straight,” which is found in Mark 1:3 and the LXX translation of Isaiah 40:3. The Hebrew word in Isaiah 40:3 (ישׁר) has the idea of no turning to the left or right, and perhaps even making something level (see Prov. 4:25–27; cf. Heb. 12:13).
So what’s the big deal? Here it is: Mark is using the adverb form as thematic connection to the prophecy with which he opens his Gospel. Many probably think John the Baptizer is the one “preparing the way of the Lord,” but Mark’s repeated use of εὐθύς suggests that he’s portraying Jesus as the one “making straight” the way of the Lord. In Mark’s Gospel, then, εὐθύς represents the urgency with which Jesus went about his ministry. Aside from Jesus’s miracles, the fact that he was clearing the way of the legalism and unreasonable rules of the religious elite shows that Jesus was making the path to God more direct; he was making “straight paths” in wilderness of Jewish legalism. That was ultimately symbolized when the veil of the temple was rent at Jesus’s crucifixion. Man no longer needed an intermediary to get to God because of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross.
Mark, in all its simplicity as the shortest Gospel, seems to have a singular focus on making “straight paths” for the Lord. Matthew has a definite emphasis on the broad view of prophecy in his Gospel, while Luke is concerned more with historical accuracy and detail. But Mark’s Gospel should not be ignored just because it is short or abridged. He shows a sophistication in style comparable to Matthew and Luke.
August 30, 2012
I can think of a number of reasons Paul’s letter to the Romans wound up at the head of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. His discussion of justification by faith is classic, strengthened by his further treatment of the subject in Galatians. The statement from 1:16 has long been hailed from pulpits to encourage the body of Christ to boldly serve, speak, and act for the cause of the Gospel. I especially like Paul’s treatment of immersion in chapter 6, where he rescues the subject from those who downplay it as a “work of the flesh” by empowering it with the blood of Christ and his resurrection to make it an important and necessary part of our salvation journey. And of course, the Romans Road has long been an effective evangelistic tool for many, although I was never sure why that always took a detour around the heart of chapter 6. But there’s a bigger picture in Romans that often gets overlooked when we focus on verses and individual sections.
An Overlooked Inclusio
In a previous post, I mentioned that Romans 1:5 and its parallel in 16:26 form an inclusio for the entire book of Romans. However, in that post, I focused on the term πιστίς (“faith”/”faithfulness”), especially as Paul builds his initial argument in the first five chapters of Romans. In some contexts (e.g., Romans 1:17), that term refers to the faithfulness of Christ But what I noticed this time through Romans is that seven of the ten occurrences of the words for “obey” (ὑπακούω) and “obedience” (ὑπακοή) in Romans are found in chapters 6 (four times) and 15–16 (three times). The four occurrences of the words in chapter 6 come in the midst of his discussion about the significance of immersion and our being released from the slavery of sin. In fact, the words are tied to the metaphor of slavery in all occurrences there.
Because πιστίς refers to Christ in several key passages, I asked myself if “obedience” might have some Christological implications as well. One of the first passages that comes to mind is Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” A few verses later (v. 12), Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience and encourages them to “work out [κατεργάζομαι] their salvation with fear and trembling.” That word for “work out” figures very prominently in Romans 7, where Paul speaks of “doing” what he does not want to “do.” What does this mean?
Breaking it Down
First, the discussion of obedience comes between the discussion of the significance of immersion and the popular conclusion to chapter 6 (cited in the Romans Road without the rest of the context of chapter 6): “The compensation for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is the irony: obedience or slavery to sin and obedience or slavery to Christ both lead to death. For those who are slaves to sin, they only have eternal death to look forward to, assuming they are looking forward to anything eternally. Obedience to Christ does lead to death, death to self, but there is on the other side the gift of eternal life. What is this obedience? One only need to look back to the first part of chapter 6: obedience to immersion. Just as Christ was obedient to death on a cross, we who believe are called to be obedient to death by immersion. Immersion is our Calvary. Immersion is also our Resurrection. Paul’s conclusion in 6:23 must be viewed in the context of 6:1–10.
Second, this gives new light to the phrase “obedience of faithfulness” found in Romans 1:5 and 16:26. The whole phrase is a euphemism of sorts for the crucifixion of Christ. It’s not just about legalistic obedience or stilted faithfulness. It’s about living this life sacrificially, knowing that we have eternal life as our ultimate reward on the other side of death. Ideally, obedience to immersion is a one-time event for the Christ-follower. But obedience in general is a lifelong commitment. Salvation is not a one-time event: it is a lifelong process we “work out… with fear and trembling.” Don’t get me wrong: we become a part of the kingdom the moment we put our trust in Christ, and we can be sure of the promise of eternal life from that moment on. But we cannot sit back and expect God to do everything for us. Repentance, discipline, study, meditation on God’s Word, and faithful obedience are all part of the “working out” process. We can never become perfect in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (Matthew 5:48, 19:21).
Those of you who are fond of the Romans Road, don’t take a detour around the discussion of immersion in the first part of chapter 6. It is part of the obedience that informs the rest of the discussion in Romans. To add a little more context to Romans 6:23, you might read it this way: “The compensation for slavery to sin is death, but the gift of God for those who are obedient to righteousness is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Immersion is our physical experience and signification of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just a “work” that you can do whenever you think you’re ready. It’s an important component of working out your salvation as you grow in your faith in and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Author note: “representation” changed to “signification” in last paragraph at 7:30 pm, 8/30/12.
July 26, 2012
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through the Greek NT again this year. I am constantly blown away by the truths God is revealing to me on at least a weekly basis, if not daily at times. On the one hand, my faith has been strengthened immensely by the journey, but on the other hand, after I think I’ve got some topic all figured out, God throws me a curve ball by raising new questions in my mind about what I believe and understand. None of these questions have ever raised any doubt in my mind about the lordship of Christ or the existence of God, but they do compel me to dig deeper to discover more profound truths. Lest I be misunderstood, don’t think that I’m onto some new teaching the church has never seen before: I think Paul and the other apostles knew much more about God and Jesus than any one man could ever uncover in a lifetime of study, although some have come close.
Some Questions about Immersion
One area that I have striven to understand is that of “immersion,” my translation of the Greek word βάπτισμα, which translators usually render “baptism.” The word itself comes from the Greek verb βάπτω plus an intensifying verbal suffix –ιζω. The intensifying suffix in my mind is something that should not be overlooked in understanding the word. Βάπτω means “I dip”, but the intensifier adds an important nuance: βαπτίζω = “I dip all the way” or “I immerse.” I was christened as an infant in the Presbyterian church, and I find value in that practice inasmuch as it serves as a dedication to the parents and the rest of the Christian community to help raise a child in the way of the Lord. But the infant still has to grow and make his or her own choices, so I don’t see it in any way as a guarantee of salvation or inclusion in the eternal kingdom of God.
That is precisely the concept about immersion that I have wrestled with over the years: Is it an absolute guarantee of salvation just because you willingly submit to it as an adult who understands the sacrament? Is there no other means by which we can enter the kingdom of heaven other than immersion? I’ve worked through many of these questions in other posts, and I’m convinced of the efficacy of immersion as an act of obedience at the minimum, but as I continue to reflect on the subject, new questions come to mind:
- If, as some of my colleagues would say, immersion is absolutely essential, a sine qua non experience to be considered part of the body of Christ, then have we not limited God’s ability to save whom he wants to save?
- If immersion is absolutely essential for the forgiveness of sins and entry into the kingdom, then is there some mystical transubstantiation of the water into the blood of Christ, since “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins”?
Putting God in Box
Whenever we make one act binding on a person who wants to become a Christ follower, we run the risk of becoming overly legalistic about it in the first place. Second, we also by default deemphasize other aspects of Christian faith which are equally important. Someone might say, “I’m a Christian because I got immersed at camp when I was a kid,” yet he cusses like a sailor, cheats on his wife, and drinks to excess every night. On the other hand, a man might study Scripture, come to Christ according to his own understanding, and lead others to Christ as well, but has only ever known a tradition of infant christening. If I were to say “Immersion is absolutely essential for salvation,” I would feel like I was putting God in a box and denying his power to “show mercy on whom [he] will show mercy.” If God can reverse the physical laws of nature by causing the earth to change its rotation, if God can suspend the law of Moses to allow David and his men to eat the grain dedicated to the priests, then God can welcome unimmersed believers into his eternal heavenly kingdom.
Requiring immersion as an absolute essential presents another problem in my mind: It implies that we have a perfect knowledge of the Scriptural teachings on salvation at least, and by default implies that perfect knowledge and praxis of a doctrine is required for salvation. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that we know in part and prophesy in part. We don’t have perfect knowledge. Some things about God and how he operates in the world just cannot be known, and this leads into my second question: Just what is the mystery that is immersion?
Objective Truth or Subjective Mystery?
(Let me preface this section with this caveat: by “mystery,” I mean something something that cannot be known or explained by merely human reason, not necessarily a conundrum to solve. I’m using the term more like the modern day Orthodox church uses it, and as Paul used it in Ephesians.)
Here are some things I know for sure about immersion. Translations will be somewhat literal to stay close to the Greek.
Acts 2:38: Repent, and let each one of you be immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah into the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Forgiveness is a huge part of the experience of immersion. But there are other ways to experience forgiveness that are not directly linked to immersion, so immersion cannot be the only way to receive forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 6:12–15; Hebrews 9:11–28, esp. v. 22; 1 John 1:9).
Romans 6:3–4: Or don’t you know that we who have been immersed into Messiah Jesus have been been immersed into his death? We were therefore buried together with him through this immersion into death, in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, likewise we also will walk in newness of life.
So the experience of immersion in Paul’s view in Romans is that it is linked to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But Paul never mentions “forgiveness” in that chapter. The emphasis is on cleansing and purity.
Colossians 2:9–15: There are two allusions to blood in this passage that form an inclusio: circumcision and the cross. Immersion and forgiveness are tied together in the middle of the passage, along with the “cancelling” of the charge against us.
1 Peter 3:18–22: This is the trickiest of all passages. On the surface, it sounds like it is not the act itself that is important (“not the removal of dirt from the body”). But you still have to get immersed to make the “pledge.” Just as marriage vows have no weight without the wedding and marriage themselves, so the pledge is empty unless you demonstrate the faith to go through the water.
Here are the horns of the dilemma I find myself up against as I think about these things: On the one hand, if we are to ascribe to immersion an absolute salvific power, what is it about the act that gives it that power? If there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and Paul says we are immersed into Christ’s death, then is there a transubstantiation of the waters of immersion into the blood of Christ, much like the Catholics believe about the eucharistic elements? Is the mystery of becoming one with Christ that our bodies are somehow in the waters of immersion transubtantiated into Christ’s body so that we have truly experienced both his death and resurrection? If immersion is more than just a symbol of our unity with Christ, but an actual salvific event, then there is truly a mystery and a greater power at work that our human minds may never be able to comprehend fully or explain adequately.
On the other hand, if the mystery of a salvific immersion lies in the transubstantiation of the water into blood or some other mysterious power, then I cannot in good conscience deny a similar power to the eucharistic elements, the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Table. After all, Jesus said, “This is my body…. This is my blood.” Jesus never said they were “symbols” as many in the Restoration Movement (my own affiliation) have purported. We have said they were symbols because we didn’t want to be too Catholic about it. I prefer to take Jesus’s words at face value. If he and the early church instituted weekly communion as Acts seems to suggest, then like salvific immersion, there is something more powerful to the act and the elements than just symbolism, wheat, and grapes.
As I grapple these “horns,” I am coming to the conclusion that to ascribe salvific power to immersion, which is the death and resurrection of Christ, while denying salvific power (by calling it a symbol) to the Lord’s Table, which is the body and blood of Christ, is a gross theological inconsistency. Either immersion and the Lord’s Table both have a mysterious salvific power, or they are both symbols that represent spiritual truths but do not effect them (and yes, I am using “effect” correctly as a verb there).
To Transubstantiate or Not to Transubstantiate
Now I do not believe that Christ is recrucified every time I partake of the of the bread and the cup. Yet I cannot escape the very direct statements of Jesus about the bread and the cup being his body and blood, respectively. I understand that the statements could be metaphorical at least, but the reality behind that seems too profound and has too much ultimate significance to abandon to the realm of metaphor. So while I do not think the bread or the cup transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, I do prefer to consider there is some suprametaphorical mystery in the act of taking the bread and cup that transcends the physical elements. At the very least, the presence of the risen Lord at the Table whenever you remember the Lord’s sacrifice should put to rest that the elements are merely symbols. And if the Lord is present at the Table, those who partake may call on him for whatever needs are burdening their hearts. Even those who have been on the fence about being a Christ follower, if they recognize this deeper signification in the Lord’s Table, may partake and call upon the Lord for their own salvation.
Nor do I believe the waters of immersion transubstantiate into the blood of Christ. However, given the importance of immersion in the Scriptures, I do think it’s possible that another kind of transubstantiation takes place that I alluded to earlier. In identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in immersion, we experience the mystery of becoming one with Christ. I think I could fully embrace the concept that we are transubstantiated into the physical body of Christ on the one hand, experiencing his death, burial, and resurrection “in the heavenly realms” as it were. But when we are immersed, we also make the public signification that we are in fact Christ followers and part of the body of Christ universal, the fellowship of all the saints. If you’re not convinced of the latter, I’m not implying any judgment here. If you’re a Christ follower who has not been immersed, I for one am in no position to say that your salvation is in question. God knows your heart; he knows the journey you’ve taken with him; and I trust that he will lead you and me into all truth as we continue to follow Christ’s leading in our lives and study his Word diligently.
Salvation is not merely a point in time when we say we want to be a Christ follower, whether that is in the waters of immersion, at the mourner’s bench, or raising your hand with your head bowed in the pew. Salvation is a process that happens in our lives. If it were not a process, why would Paul say “With fear and trembling fulfill (κατεργάζομαι) your own salvation, for God, who is working in you, also wills and accomplishes good things” (Philippians 2:12b–13)? Our obedience allows God to accomplish his good will in our lives. That is another great mystery that I will perhaps explore at another time. For now…
June 24, 2012
This past weekend, I finished leading our men’s group in a nine-week study through John Eldredge‘s Beautiful Outlaw. The subtitle of the book is “Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus,” which should clue you in as to the subject of the book. The basic premise of the book is this: because Jesus is the incarnation of God, every aspect of his personality has the divine imprint. If God the Father could be human, Jesus is the ultimate and unique example of how God the Father would live on this earth. Every aspect of Jesus’s personality is perfect in human form: his sense of humor, generosity, conversation, passions, playfulness, love, relationships, and so forth all emanate from his Father, God the Father (John 5:19).
Jesus went places where good Jews of his day avoided. Jesus spoke to men and women of ethnic backgrounds the Jews despised. Jesus broke the barriers of cultural taboos by reaching out to and even touching the “untouchables.” Jesus challenged the religiosity of the status quo to shed a fresh new light on what it meant to be a God-follower. Unfortunately, too many Christians, both individually and collectively in various expressions of the church, have exalted Jesus to so heavenly a status that they have forgotten he had his human side. Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus’s human side was kept in check by his divine nature, something you and I don’t have. He had no sin. We can get away with saying, “I’m only human.” But Jesus can’t. Jesus was humanity at its best because he was divinely empowered to live the human life. So the church needs to take a closer look at not just the words he said, but the things he did and the way he lived here on terra firma.
The Samaritan Taboo
The story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. In vs. 4, John says of Jesus, “It was necessary for him to travel through Samaria” (my translation). Similar constructions elsewhere in the New Testament are often translated “He must.” If Jews wanted to go north and south from Galilee to Jerusalem, the direct route was through Samaria. But since Jews hated Samaritans with such a passion, they would often cross over to the east side of the Jordan River and travel the longer route rather than set foot in Samaritan territory. Why was it necessary for him to go through Samaria? Because that’s what his Father wanted him to do!
Now when Jesus and the disciples arrive, Jesus breaks two taboos (at least). First, he talks to a Samaritan, the most despised class of people to the Jews. That’s bad enough in the eyes of the religious elite of the day. But this Samaritan is also a woman, and it was certainly not the norm for a Jewish male to talk to any woman alone in public (the disciples had gone off to buy food). I think it is important to note that in talking with this woman who in on her sixth “husband,” who has come out to the well at an unusual time of day, that Jesus never actually condemns the woman in any way or outright says that she’s living a sinful life, although the latter could be implied from his statement that her current “man” is not her husband. Historical and modern scholars have mostly inferred that the woman has a questionable character from the circumstantial evidence in the text. But just as he would later refuse to condemn the woman caught in adultery (variant reading in John 8), he does not speak words of condemnation here, only words of life.
A third taboo may be implied as well, although I find some mixed evidence in the Mishnah (the written interpretation of Jewish oral law generally accepted or debated at the time of Jesus). Drinking or eating from a Samaritan vessel may have been frowned upon as well. In some passages in the Mishnah, Samaritan offerings are acceptable, whereas some gentile offerings are specifically forbidden or given a lower status. However, Shebiith 8:10 says that Rabbi Eliezer considered eating Samaritan bread equivalent to eating the flesh of swine. If the disciples went off to a Samaritan town to get food, it’s most likely that R. Eliezer’s opinion was in the minority and not widely accepted.
The Sinful Anointer
This wasn’t Jesus’s only “scandalous” contact with a woman. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we have parallel accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’s head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which Jesus says is part of his preparation for burial. In Luke 7, we have a similar story, except in Luke’s account, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’s feet after washing them with her tears and her hair. Not only that, this woman kisses Jesus’s feet as well. Luke mentions that Simon considers the woman a sinner. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the disciples and other dinner guests are indignant with the woman and treat her rudely. But Jesus hardly bats an eye at the event. He considers it a beautiful thing and even says that the woman’s actions would be immortalized in the Gospels.
Standing with the Leper
Jesus’s “scandals” were not limited to women, though. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus healing lepers. That’s something we would expect a compassionate healer like Jesus to do. But not only does he heal some of them merely by his words, he also reaches out and touches a leper. In the normal course of Jewish life, lepers had to walk around with their faces covered and shout “Unclean!” so that Jews would not be ceremonially defiled by them. But Jesus chooses to skirt the custom rather than the leper. When he touches the leper, the leper is healed. So is Jesus unclean or not? Or does Jesus even care if he’s unclean? Jesus chooses compassion over custom so that the world can know the deep, deep love that he and his Father have for creation.
Jesus, Lord of Life
I’ve blogged before about Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus came to bring life to a world that was looking for it in the wrong places. The religious leaders of the Jews thought it was found in absolute strict adherence to the law, so much so that they built a “hedge” around the law so that people might know when they were close to crossing the boundary (the word “Mishnah” means “hedge,” and the book is just as thick as a Bible with tinier print!). But Jesus blows that all to smithereens by simplifying it all for us: “Love God and love your neighbor.” If you do those two things, you don’t have to worry about the hedge.
Scandalous Living in the 21st Century Church
For many years, I pastored in small, rural congregations in Illinois. As you might expect in a small town, everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways, that can be a great hindrance to ministry. Why? Because you can’t go to the places where those not religiously inclined hang out to share what’s important. I decided early in my Christian walk that it would be okay for me to hang out in bar with friends and acquaintances. I really don’t have a problem with Christians (or people of any other faith or nonfaith for that matter) drinking alcohol in moderation. Jesus, the true vine, did change water into premium alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana. In my journey to be like Jesus, I want to be where the people are.
My half-siblings play in a trivia league in Omaha. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars. I love trivia, and I’m a pretty smart cookie, so I think I’d do pretty well in that setting. So last week, I joined the trivia league that meets at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s fun, and it’s great interaction with family and new friends and acquaintances. And it certainly beats staying home alone playing Words with Friends and Hidden Chronicles. I enjoy the company and the challenge. If Jesus can supply a couple hundred gallons of premium wine for a celebration, certainly I can enjoy a Sprite with friends!
Although I enjoyed my time as a pastor, I’m not sure I was really cut out for the rural scene. I am glad I’m not a pastor now, because I feel freer than ever to share the life of Jesus in places where my previous congregations would have surely fired me for going. I feel like I can truly have a ministry of the mundane (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it) among friends, family, and coworkers while I live the scandalous life of Jesus.