Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 22, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 3

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 10:15 am

In this third and final post in this series, I want to look at the New Testament view of tax collectors in general, and specifically at one chief tax collector, a wee little man named Zacchaeus.

The Tax Collector Stigma

For the Jews, the occupation of tax collector was at the bottom of the barrel socially. It was right down there with slopping pigs, prostitution, and leprosy. In order for the Roman government to collect taxes, they needed people in every district who knew the people (and the culture) of those around them. For the Jews, this meant that their own people had to serve a Roman government that at best tolerated their belief in the one true God and that considered their emperor a supreme divinity worthy of worship. In fact, everything about the Roman pantheon and worship sickened devout Jews, so to work for that government was essentially an act of treason against one’s own people. In fact, they were often called “sinners” by the Jewish people.

The process of tax collecting was a rather inexact science as well. Rome didn’t really give their tax collectors a salary. The norm was that the Roman government expected a certain amount of taxes in the aggregate from a district, and it was up to the local tax collector to decide how much to tax people. There were no forms to file and no concept of a “personal” income or wealth tax. If the tax collector wanted to get “paid” for his services, he would often add a “hidden” surcharge to each bill. (It wasn’t really hidden, though; the people knew how the tax collectors operated.) Anything the tax collector collected over the aggregate amount the Rome demanded was kept by the tax collector for his compensation.

Rome was organized well. They had a hierarchical structure in their government that allowed them to effectively rule a large territory. As you might expect, then, the local tax collectors in the various districts would report to a regional “chief” tax collector. If Rome told the chief tax collector, “We want 100,000 denarii from your region,” the chief tax collector would add his own cut to that, divide it out among his subordinates, and demand that amount from the subordinates. So for Rome to get its 100,000 denarii, it was possible that as much as 200,000 denarii was collected from the people. In other words, they were taxed twice as much (or more) as what Rome demanded.

Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector

And so we come to the story of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, in Luke 19:1–10. It is apparent that Zacchaeus has a fascination with Jesus and his teachings, so much so that the short little rich man climbed up into a sycamore-fig tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus over the crowd. As Jesus is walking along with the crowd, he sees Zacchaeus, calls him out of the tree, and says, “I’m having lunch with you today.”

Now we don’t have to imagine the reaction of the crowd here, because Luke tells us how they responded. They were a bit disgruntled. After all, I’m sure there were a lot of good Jews in the crowd who had some very pressing needs: sick relatives to heal, spiritual questions to ask, and relationships to restore. But out of that whole crowd, Jesus pays special attention to a man, known by the crowd, who was considered one of the worst sinners in Israel for his collaboration with the Roman government. Wouldn’t you feel a bit put-out as well?

But Zacchaeus, perhaps realizing his own fallen nature, doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to come to his house. In fact, he announces something astounding to Jesus and the crowd that probably caused a few of them to swoon and faint: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Because salvation is not just an assent to a belief but evidence of a changed life, Jesus responds: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The Lesson for Today

As I said in the first post in this series, high taxes are considered sinful in Scripture. Zacchaeus himself seems to have been a good man, but he had become slave to a system that in the end did not set well with his conscience. The recent revelations about the U.S. IRS showing bias against conservative and religious groups for tax-exempt status is evidence of just how corrupt that particular organization is. But do you think they’re going to return four times the amount those organizations got cheated out of? Not a chance. Yet if we make a mistake and shortchange the IRS, well you’d better be prepared to pay the penalties. That’s not equitable in the least.

As with the Medicare & Medicaid regulations I mentioned in the previous post, the IRS tax code is a behemoth that needs to die a quick death. With a 2016 budget of $14 billion (and about 40% of that spend on enforcement), it’s easy to see how we could reduce spending by simplifying the code and reducing the out-of-control bureaucracy. I think all Americans understand this, and that is why the political candidates who are pushing for a simplified tax code have the most traction right now.

As an update to the previous post, the new report on Medicare and Medicaid overpayments came out last week; Medicaid improper payments alone have nearly doubled in the last two years! The 2015 figure: 9.78%, or $29.12 billion. That’s twice the IRS budget for 2016! Officials continue to blame the second increase in as many years on the States’ failure to catch up to new provider enrollment requirements. Well, can you blame them? With the regulations and size of these programs far exceeding the capacity to effectively manage them, and with States already strapped for cash for being practically forced to expand Medicaid and foot the bill for other unfunded mandates, it’s no wonder the States can’t keep up. They’re in the same boat as the populace at large.

Paul says in Romans 13 that we’re to be subject to the governing authorities. Of course, he was speaking to people who lived under the rule of a king, so they didn’t exactly have a voice. The government that God has instituted for America is a democracy, rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. As citizens, then, we do not “rebel” when we demand a change to systems that we find unfair or oppressive. In fact, in a democracy, it is our civil obligation to not only say something, but to actively work to promote policies that improve the general welfare of the people. Unfortunately, in an increasingly selfish and fragmented society, government is working to promote the specific welfare of specific classes of people, and all for the purpose of enslaving those people to dependence on the government instead of reliance on themselves.

The views expressed herein are my own. Period.

Scott Stocking



November 5, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

In the previous post, we looked at how the greedy heir of Solomon wanted to impose even greater financial burden on the people of Israel, wealthy and poor alike. In fact, if Israel was working the way it was supposed to, there would be very few poor, if any in Israel. Deuteronomy 15 talks about the “year of cancelling debts,” which was to happen every seven years. Anyone who has ever felt the burden of great debt knows how that weighs on the soul and drains the livelihood out of life. Fortunately, our society has a mechanism to allow this freedom from debt: bankruptcy. Some Christians might say it’s a sin to not pay off your debts, but I believe God understood human nature well enough even in the days before MasterCard to establish a means for that kind of freedom.

Aiding the Poor, Old Testament Style

Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the people of God. It was virtually unheard of that a government in biblical times would have considered the kind of wealth redistribution we practice in America today. As early as Leviticus 19, God was commanding the Israelite people, NOT the rulers, to make accommodations for the poor. “Do not reap the very edges of your field” (v. 9); “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (v. 10); “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…[They] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 33–34). (“Foreigners in the land” is quite different from illegal aliens today, but that will have to wait for another post.)

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of blessings for the poor and warnings about oppressing or mistreating them. There are even verses about God defending the cause of the poor and the orphans. But never once in Scripture will you find God or the biblical writers ever encouraging political leaders to extract money from the rich to give to the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor is always a voluntary compassionate effort. Wealth redistribution, on the other hand, is neither voluntary nor compassionate, unless you consider those who could be working to be voluntarily unemployed!

Aiding the Poor, New Testament Style

When we get to Acts in the New Testament, we see almost immediately a community that voluntarily shares their possessions or sells them to meet the needs of their newfound family of faith. Acts 2:44–45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” No taxation, no big brother government taking from the rich, keeping their own cut, then redistributing to the poor. It was a self-sustained community. Acts 4 continues the theme. In fact, they took the voluntary nature of giving so seriously, that when Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and lied to God about having given the entire sale price, they were struck dead! Peter even asks Ananias the question he never got to answer: “Wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4).

The seriousness with which the young church handled charity is further seen in Acts 6. There was a complaint that the Greek Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Widows were an especially vulnerable demographic group, because family, if they were nearby, were their only means of support otherwise.) The disciples recognized the Old Testament principles discussed above and chose seven men of character and integrity to oversee the distribution.

But as far as charity goes in the New Testament, freeloaders need not apply. Paul is very clear about his attitude toward those who can work but don’t, even to the point of implying that they are thieves. “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” (Ephesians 4:28); “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b; 3:6–14 is an extended warning about idleness). Even Paul himself worked at his own trade to pay his own way as he ministered across the northern Mediterranean region.

The Lesson for Today

Taking charity out of the hands of a bloated, corrupt government and reenergizing the church to fulfill its biblical calling to care for the poor is the absolute best thing we can do to fight poverty in our nation. The local church can do a much better job of weeding out frauds and phonies than the government ever will do. Here’s something to chew on: Medicare and Medicaid are number 1 and 3 when it comes to improper payments for government programs. Medicaid’s 2014 overpayments were $17.5 billion (that’s billion, with a b); NASA’s 2014 budget was $17.6 billion! And Medicare’s improper payments were beyond the reach of NASA: almost $46 billion.

Much of that is fraud and abuse, but even with program integrity efforts, it’s difficult to keep up with all the schemes perpetrated out there. But improper payments also reflect payments made that technically should not have been made because of honest human error, that is, someone didn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s. Medicare and Medicaid regulations are about as thick as, if not thicker than, the tax code! So some providers who make an honest attempt help the poor and needy by accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients wind up losing money on the deal because it’s so hard to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory climate and the 55,000 new ICD-10 codes! Handling these things on the local level helps deal with fraud and abuse much more efficiently, because hopefully you know the people in your community.

Food banks, food pantries, and local shelters and “soup kitchens” run by the church or other charitable groups have the potential to be far more efficient than a government-run welfare program. I’ve seen many churches and religious groups get very creative in the things they do to help the poor and needy. You can find ministries that do everything from providing food and shelter to job training to medical care and legal services. And in some cases, big brother Government has stepped in and squelched their generosity by imposing a bunch of needless regulations and rules. The government that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a self-perpetuating behemoth swallowing up the people. It’s time for the church to rise up and reclaim the biblical principles of charity. Let’s show the world we’re not afraid of the politically correct bullies.

Scott Stocking

The views expressed in my blog are my own. Period.

November 2, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity, Part 1

Filed under: Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:55 pm
Tags: ,

The Pope’s September visit to America had the liberal media all a-buzz, focusing on such things as his appeal to address nonexistent global warming. So much for his infallibility. The media and liberal establishment try to justify the ever-burgeoning Welfare State of America by suggesting that those who work hard for their pay have to hand it over to those who don’t work but can. The ignorance about the Bible and what charity really means is really quite disgusting for those of us who’ve been educated on the matter, and even for those who paid attention to Sunday school growing up.

Rehoboam’s Rejection of Rationality

David and his son Solomon worked tirelessly to establish the new kingdom of Israel. David was the warrior who conquered the enemies of Israel. Solomon was the builder who established the infrastructure in Israel. Solomon put a heavy burden on Israel to build that infrastructure, but the people shared his vision, and willingly gave to see the Temple built as a “home” for their God.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam had a decision to make. The Israelites came to him seeking relief from the heavy burden under Solomon, primarily because Solomon had amassed the most wealth of anyone before him from any place on the earth, and probably since, at least until American capitalism came on the scene. The message the people brought to Rehoboam is found in 1 Kings 12:4:

Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.

Rehoboam took three days to decide. The elders of Israel saw the wisdom of providing tax relief to the people, but Rehoboam listened to his young friends who had no clue what it took to run a country, and only saw the opportunity to try to make money by continuing the status quo under Solomon: heavy taxes and forced labor. His friends’ suggestion was to tell the Israelites:

My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.

Yeah, thanks, Rehoboam. His response to the people three days later sounds like the liberal’s rant against the rich:

My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.

Now if you think this is a travesty, you’re right. The people who came to Rehoboam would have been those who had some degree of wealth and influence. If there were any poor in Israel at this time, given the wealth of the nation, there weren’t many. The modern welfare state that forcibly takes the people’s money (through taxes) and redistributes it to others would have been abhorrent to Israel. The idea of such heavy taxation, regardless of who the subjects were or how much wealth they had, was exactly the kind of problem God warned Israel about when they demanded a kingdom (1 Samuel 8). In other words, heavy taxation was and is a sin.

Rehoboam’s action earned the people’s disfavor. They killed Rehoboam’s man in charge of forced labor, and Rehoboam barely escaped with his life. Rehoboam’s desire to increase the tax burden on Israel caused a civil war as well. I sense a history lesson waiting to be ignored.

The Lesson for Today

Rehoboam continued to place a heavy tax burden on Israel so he and his cronies could prosper off the people. This really isn’t much different today, especially when the socialist, liberal left insist on taxing everything that lives and breathes in any way possible. The bailout in 2008 of companies “too big to fail” was a farce. GM got a huge chunk of change, then had to recall thousands of vehicles they had made at that time. Obviously there’s no accounting for quality there with the people’s money.

Then there’s the whole debacle with, the system set up for people to enroll in a healthcare plan with a kickback. One recent report documents the lack of qualifications of CMS employees to serve as contracting officers and the lack of quality controls that give new meaning to the term “snafu.” I work for a Federal contractor, so I know all about our monthly status reports and providing deliverables on time and on budget. Yet neither the major contractor, CGI Federal (their contract was worth over $250 million), nor CMS could prove they’d delivered or received, respectively, the quality assurance surveillance plan. It’s not much of a leap to assume that the lack of such a plan was a major reason why had such a pathetic kickoff. The improprieties of the whole process are too numerous to list here, but the report makes for good, but disturbing, reading for those who think the government spends way too much of their money. For more disturbing reading, check out this report.

There’s no excuse for the poor quality Americans got for their money. The system may be working now, but there are other problems that I’ll delve into later, especially the questionable practice of offering kickbacks to folks who buy their insurance through the marketplace. More on that in Part II. The American tax system is so bloated that it’s an insult to the faith of millions to suggest we should be taxed more to continually prop up and expand the Welfare State, and then suggest that’s the “Christian” thing to do. The founding fathers are rolling over in their graves. I even hear Thomas Paine scratching on his coffin to remind people we’re close to coming full circle back to 1776.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution says to “promote the general welfare” of this nation. But we’ve certainly turned that on its head. We’re promoting the specific welfare of Democrat cronies and those who refuse to work or have given up all hope of work and change for the better in the dreadful Obama economy.

Scott Stocking

July 14, 2015

Rejoicing with the Truth

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:13 pm


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).

The Dilemma

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.

Scott Stocking

May 12, 2015

Why SCOTUS Should Favor King in King v. Burwell

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 5:40 am
Tags: ,

I feel very strongly that, as Christians, we need to take an active roll in our government. That’s why I’m going to hijack my own blog for political purposes.
If you’ve been watching the news at all, you have probably heard about King v. Burwell, the case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) regarding whether the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act can qualify for tax credits if they weren’t “established by the State” (42 USC 1396A(gg)).
At question is the definition of “State” in the law. The Affordable Care Act allows the Federal government (through the Secretary of HHS) to establish a State Exchange if States fail to do so themselves. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act allows a credit or refund of part of the premium for those who purchased insurance through the Exchanges, but only if the Exchange was  “established by the State.” The issue is that, in the 34 States that did not establish their own exchange, the Federal government issued these credits when they shouldn’t have. In its brief to the Supreme Court, the US government argues that, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, they essentially acted as a surrogate of the State when they established federally run Exchanges. The Feds also argue that “established by the State” is a “term of art,” a construction that was intended to be understood as “by the Federal government for the State.”
The problem is that the Affordable Care Act throughout makes frequent distinctions between the role of the Feds vs. the role of the State. Add to that the fact that the Affordable Care Act itself directs readers to the definition of “State” intended for the law (sec 1551, codified at 42 USC 18111, which refers to 42 USC 300gg-91). At paragraph 14 of 42 USC 300gg-91, we find the following definition of “State”:

“The term ‘State’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

So according to Law, “State” must be understood in the Affordable Care Act as referring to the individual States, and “established by the State” can NOT mean “established by the Federal government.”
Affordable Care Act supporters argue that taking away the credits from federally established exchanges would cause a death spiral for the Affordable Care Act. I think a death spiral is in the works, but that will happen to our entire legal system if SCOTUS defines “State” broadly to mean the Federal government. This would cause many of our laws that give States powers to be reexamined in light of this new definition. States that are struggling financially could dump their unfunded mandates back on the Feds! In my mind, such an expansion of the definition of State would be the beginning of the end for States’ rights.
This issue isn’t just about purportedly cheaper health care coverage. We’ve already seen it’s not cheaper. This issue represents a fundamental struggle between State autonomy and Federal coercion. I hope and pray that SCOTUS sides with King.
Scott Stocking

October 14, 2014

An Eventful Year

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek — Scott Stocking @ 9:54 pm

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.


Scott Stocking

July 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Brothers

Filed under: Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 10:03 pm

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.

The Accident

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.

The Relationship

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.

The Theory

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,

Scott Stocking

June 15, 2013

Rushmore Mashup

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 12:15 am

Rushmore Mashup

“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

εὐθύς in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

Filed under: Isaiah,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:08 pm

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:

Mt. 22:36–38

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!

Table 1

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.

“a voice of one calling
in the wilderness,

‘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

Obedience (ὑπακοή, ὑπακούω) in Romans

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Immersion/Baptism,New Testament,Romans,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 6:11 am

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.


Scott Stocking

Author note: “representation” changed to “signification” in last paragraph at 7:30 pm, 8/30/12.

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