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I finally went to see “The Last Jedi” the other night.  But of course, before the movie we had to spend 20 minutes trying to remember who was related to whom; who was still alive; and who killed who and how and when and why.  But such is the case when you begin a movie franchise in the middle—what in the world was Lucas thinking?

There were some elements of the movie that I enjoyed, but there were some plot flaws that are still hard to overcome (spoiler alert). Plot flaws such as some very small and extremely slow Resistance Bombers dropping what appeared to be gravitational bombs that destroyed a Dreadnought (a ginormous spaceship)—while in space no less.  And how is it that Leia, who is supposed to be in harmony with the Force, couldn’t discern that the gold dice that Luke handed her weren’t real?  Come on, if her spidey sense didn’t go off at that moment, then how did she get so out of sync with the Force?  Especially since earlier she was flying through zero gravity into a blast hole in her ship, which was caused by an incredible explosion that only she miraculously survived some how, which is also another plot flaw.

The biggest disappointment for me, however, is that Disney ruined the movie by attempting to brainwash young viewers with the impression that there comes a time when “old” spiritual truths that are codified in writing should be let go of, and maybe even destroyed.  (Spoiler Alert: the original Jedi ancient texts weren’t really burned because they can be incidentally observed on the Millennial Falcon near the end of the movie.) Nevertheless, you would have to be pretty naive not to appreciate the impact that such a concept would have upon young and uncritical viewers, views that are left with the impression that there is a time in one’s life to throw off old ways and make your own path.  Of course the message to those that consider themselves “Christians” who have grown up respecting the Bible is that mature individuals eventually outgrow the scriptures and let them go.

This is an extremely effective way to disseminate such an impression while appreciation of the Bible is quickly becoming a foreign concept in many “modern” churches.  But lack of value for the scriptures was not so for the saints of old.  Moses told Joshua that “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh 1.8). The psalmist wrote that the godly person’s “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Ps 1.2-3).  Isaiah wrote “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8). Jesus himself stated that, “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38). And lastly, the apostle Paul wrote “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man (and woman) of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3.16-17).  Need I go on?  Regrettably, more and more people are beginning to believe that the Bible contains myths, legends, prejudices, and errors.  Consequently, they feel that it is no longer relevant to their daily lives, and some even view it as a threat to enlightenment and a barrier for progressivism.

There will be those that think I’m making a big deal out of a nothing-burger.  I beg to differ.  Consider this, the first Star Wars movie was released in the summer of 1977 when I was 16.  The next movie is schedule to be released in 2019.  That means that the nine movies that Lucas originally envisioned will span well over 40 years, and Disney will surely continue making more movies long after I am dead and gone.  They didn’t pay Lucas 4 billion dollars just to sell toys—toys mind you that millions of children played with during some very formative years.  Consequently, I can’t think of a cultural “fad” that has had more of an impact or influence during my entire adult life. Of course there were more significant events during this same period, such as the fall of the Soviet empire, the destabilization of the Middle East, the globalization of the illegal drug trade, the advent of the personal computer, and the technology and information explosion.  Nevertheless, when it comes to engaging our way of thinking during times of relaxation and entertainment, the Star Wars franchise must be one of the top 3 most influential movements of our time. And regrettably, in many areas of the world, it has been more influential then the Evangelical church during that same period.  If you still think I am making a mountain of a molehill, then just ask yourself these very simple questions: during the past Christmas shopping season, how many Bibles, Bible study aids, devotionals, or biblical commentaries did you give away as gifts to loved ones and friends compared to other stuff that has no spiritual benefit whatsoever.  Notice that I didn’t mention Christian music; that’s because much of it provides no spiritual benefit as well.  Moreover, how many of you gave your children, or your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren Star Wars toys, DVDs, or other related items?  And lastly, which do you have a more comprehensive understanding of, the Star Wars movie series, or the message of the entire Bible?  So I ask again, who is having the greater influence?

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Taj Mahal 2

I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal.  Some may not know where it actually is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering).  But most people are not really aware of what the place actually is.  The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.”  The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people.  I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth.  Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes.  The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago.  Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.

It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers.  For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to go, much less spend a lot of time.  It’s a rather odd habit to say the least.  Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9).  Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.

Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities.  Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried.  Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use.  In order for a retail outlet to be profitably it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic.  To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often.  Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!”  And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong!  Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which we meet.  If people in your fellowship start thinking of your church’s building as something sacred and requiring special respect and attention, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities.  And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center.  They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.

It’s tragic that as fellowships grow they begin to attract people that try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable; this inevitably means that nicer carpet, furniture, and decor begin to show up.  This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics.  The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities.  In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use and preserving souls through the redemption that is only found in Christ.  The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money!  In case you are unaware, calculated into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks.  Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and decor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years.  In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all?  Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of Christ and his gospel?  Furthermore, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money.  Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest.  So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry.  I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Nevertheless, wear and tear, as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities. This is especially true during the Christmas season, which generally involves a lot of activities where kids are involved and guests come and visit.  A lot of these people are unfamiliar with our policies concerning our “scared facilities.” If we become so focused on preserving our building’s decor so that the visitors coming to our services feel uncomfortable or unwanted—well then you may have prevented a stain from showing up on the carpet, but you haven’t done the Lord Jesus Christ any favors.  Which do you think he is more concerned about, that some one may accidentally break a chair or that they may entrust themselves to him as their savior during this Christmas season? The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people inevitably show up.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014

snakes beware

 

This past summer I had to get rid of an uninvited resident in our home, which was a 3 1/2 foot snake.  It had lived with us for 3 or 4 years.  How do I know? I know because I counted at least 5 skin sheds in our basement.  I discovered that mice were entering our house through a hole in our external wall that was meant for the utilities.  Apparently a young snake also had crept through it, and once inside it began feeding on a steady diet of mice.  It eventually outgrew the hole; consequently, it became a permanent resident.  If you didn’t know, snakes have a foul odor, leave feces, and would make my wife sell our home if she knew we had one living with us.  Sure, it was solving the mouse problem, but snakes present greater threats, such as Salmonella, viruses, and parasites.  Snakes usually arrive through small cracks, but little snakes become big snakes, and once established they are difficult to catch and cause extensive damage well before it is visually obvious.  A friend helped me to catch it, and later that day he released it into the wild.  Afterwards, I had to remove all the insulation, thoroughly clean and disinfect the entire wall, and then install new insulation.  The entire experience was nerve racking, costly, and messy to say the least.

Unfortunately, there is a serpent-inspired deception that often creeps into Christian organizations and churches. It’s the deception that Christianity’s focus should be on “culture” instead of making worshipers of the Lord (Jn 4.23-24), disciples of Christ (Matt 28.18-20), and proclaiming that salvation is found in no other name than Jesus (Luke 24.45-48; Jn 14.6; Acts 4.12).  I bring this up because I recently received a disturbing email from an “Evangelical leader” explaining that at creation humanity received a “Cultural Mandate,” which she claims is found in Gen 1.28; consequently, the organization that she is president of was to embrace this mandate.  First, it needs to be stated that this is patently flawed interpretation of what the passage actually communicates, or a complete misunderstanding of what the terms “cultural” and “mandate” emphasize, or both.  Regrettably, I’ve seen this misdirection before in other ministries with which I was involved.  This focus inevitably leads to liberalism, which always causes damage in whatever Christian institutions it takes up residence in, and the results are usually catastrophic.

First, it is necessary to address the assertion that Gen 1.28 reveals that God gave humanity a mandate that is culturally focused.  Before doing it is important to define the terms “culture” and “mandate.” When used as a noun the word “mandate” means: “the authority to carry out a policy or course of action”; or when a verb as: “to give (someone) authority to act in a certain way.”  And culture is simply defined as: “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”  With these definitions in mind, it is clear that God did not give Adam and Eve a cultural mandate in Genesis 1.28; he did not tell them to “go and act a certain way,” and to do so in a manner that would be “regarded collectively.”  Instead, he gave Adam and Eve the “Human Commission” to procreate so as to fill the earth, and to properly manage it.  How they did so was up to them, and they were free to fulfill God’s commission in whatever manner they chose, that is so long as they did not break the singular prohibition ordained by him.  In fact, as humanity expanded they were free to fulfill this commission in different ways with different values and methods.  Consequently, diverse cultures are the natural by-products of human communities and their collective free will.  Consequently, God did not give Adam and Eve a mandate to produce a specific culture, and there is a simple reason why his commission did not focus on culture.  God did not focus on culture because it is impossible for humanity to live by the same cultural values and behaviors everywhere on this ecologically and geographically diverse planet.  People in Alaska don’t and can’t act like people in the Caribbean, and people in Afghanistan don’t and can’t act like people in Boston, and people in Sweden don’t and can’t act like people in Venezuela—I think you get the point.  Moreover, communities even have subcultures within them, and they often disagree about what is the best way for individuals to act within their greater societies.  Furthermore, there is nothing in the Bible “mandating” that the world’s diverse people groups behave and act in the same manner.  For example, the Mosaic Covenant found in the Old Testament was to a significant degree a “cultural mandate” that God gave to the Jews while they lived in the Promise Land—now to be clear, it was not just a cultural mandate.  Nevertheless, God did not give this same covenant to the Egyptians, the Chinese, or the Africans.  Were they all obligated to obey the universal moral commandments that God has implanted within the human conscience, commandments that are also codified in the Mosaic Covenant (e.g., do not murder, do not steal, etc.)? Of course they were.  Nevertheless, Gentiles were not expected to implement and abide by the Mosaic Covenant.  Consequently, God has not given to humanity a cultural mandate, and to suggest otherwise is to invite misdirection, deception, and inevitably liberalism into Christian organizations.

Why am I so disturbed by this email, because it reveals that the same liberalism that I’ve witnessed time and time before has once again successfully crept into another Christian organization through its leadership.  The frustrating question is why does liberalism and this type of deception continually slither its way into historically Christian institutions?  It occurs simply because carnal leaders turn their attention from trusting God and focusing on his commission to the church to being oriented towards results and controlling human behavior.  Leaders feel the pressure to produce results, and if spiritual conversion and growth are slow in being realized, then they feel the need to manipulate human behavior in the hopes that doing so will promote a specific type of growth that they envision and value.  And once you start trying to control how people act it becomes necessary to control how they think.  Once Christian institutions or churches begin to bring in leaders who approach ministry in this manner, then liberalism is the inevitable outcome.  It occurs because leaders expect those under them to validate, accept, and disseminate their values, many of which are simply cultural or political in nature, and tragically are scripturally invalid because they are the products of poor hermeneutics.  And people that don’t share or promote these same values are purged from the organization because they do not adhere to the new liberal orthodoxy. Inevitably, the cultural and political values of the leaders become the goal of the organization, even if they are contrary to the scriptures.  Afterwards, a type of constriction begins, in which more and more biblically grounded people are squeezed out and replaced with those that are culturally and politically minded.  The end results are ministries that seek more participants regardless of their spiritual worldview or commitment to the scriptures.  It is then that a tipping point is passed where the participants begin educating their leaders about what they will tolerate.  When that occurs, then the leaders stop leading and become “community organizers” that move to the will of the collective culture of the organization.  They become “servants” of the community rather than biblical leaders.  Once this transition occurs, then liberalism has matured and is entrenched.  The despicable truth is that liberals attract liberals, promote liberals, produce more liberals, all of whom advocate for liberalism, and they reject biblically grounded believers just as surely as snakes eat mice.

God did not give humanity a cultural mandate; instead, he commissioned it with the goal of global population and the responsibility to properly and efficiently manage the earth.  God has not commissioned humanity to think, behave, and embrace a monolithic culture throughout the planet.  And culture is not the focus of the church—its focus should be on the Great Commission. And a characteristic of all authentic believers is the Great Commandment, which is to love the Lord with all you are and all you have.  If Christians genuinely internalized this command, then we will authentically live out the Lord’s love to those around us.  And if the church and Christians passionately embrace the Great Commission and Great Commandment, then we will impact cultures all across our world.  How will this impact look? That depends, but it will look differently in Mobile, in Moscow, in Mumbai, in Maracay, in Mombasa, in Marrakesh, and in Manila.  And even though these cultures will have different behaviors, tastes, and laws, Christians within them will have the same fundamental beliefs, as well as eerily similar ethics, values, attitudes, and behaviors, all of which are grounded in the scriptures and biblical orthodoxy. Our focus should not be on emphasizing and creating a specific culture, but lovingly reaching people for Christ and discipling them so that they worship the Lord, glorify God, and reach others for Christ.  But if we are misdirected by carnal and misguided leaders into focusing on a culture that they believe produces a certain type of collective human behavior, values, and political group-think, then we are being deceived by serpents that have come among us, which is to the delight of the great serpent himself.

snake 1

Paul and apologetics

Was Paul a mystic?  In my opinion Bruce is not very helpful on this subject, primarily because he uses three different definitions for mysticism in his discussion; consequently, his approach causes more confusion than clarity.  If one attempts to employ every possible definition of mysticism to Paul’s experience, then it will be impossible to determine if Paul was a “mystic.”  Therefore, I will begin discussing this issue by offering a single brief definition before addressing this question.

For the sake of this discussion, and against my better judgment, I will use Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary for a definition of mysticism.  One of Webster definitions for “mysticism” is as follows:  2. “A doctrine of an intermediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding . . . .”   My own definition would be “a propensity to rely upon personal experiences of subjective intuition that bypasses the senses and defies rational thought or reason.”  However, for this discussion Webster’s definition will suffice.

For some people any subjective spiritual experience would qualify as a mystical experience since it does not involve the physical senses.  Such a position, however, views the spiritual world as unnatural; consequently any expression of spirituality is viewed as mysterious or mystical.  I would contend that such a worldview is biased simply because it rejects the spiritual world as a reality; thus, it should be rejected.  Any worldview that considers the spiritual realm as “unnatural” or mysterious should be questioned. The bottom line is this, being a spiritually minded person is not synonymous with being “mystical.”

Using Webster’s second definition, therefore, the question is, was Paul a mystic and was his conversion a mystical experience?  I would argue that Paul conversion and his approach to spirituality was not mystical.  For starters one should analyze his conversion.  Paul was converted when he experienced a miraculous event that was confirmed by several real and physical phenomena.  First, Paul and his companies saw a bright light, which was also accompanied by a noise that was heard by all—which Paul understood as the voice of Jesus (speaking in a Hebrew dialect) but those with him either did not understand that is was a voice or did not understand the language that was being spoken (for further discussion see my blog on is there a contradiction in Paul’s personal testimonies in Acts).  Second, Paul was immediately confronted with the loss of a physical sense—his eyesight.  And lastly, Paul regained his sight when Ananias touched him and “scales” fell from his eyes. These scales were physical to say the least since they were seen by others.  That they may have symbolized Paul’s spiritual blindness before he received Christ one can only speculate.  Nevertheless, they were real scales, they were not imagined by Paul.  Moreover, how mystical could Paul’s Damascus Road experience have been if he didn’t fully understand what had happened to him?  In other words, Paul didn’t fully comprehend the experience and identify of who he had met until Annias showed up and explained it to him (Acts 9.17-18).  Consequently, Paul’s experience was not completely understood and appreciated solely by “spiritual intuition” or through a “personal experiences of subjective intuition.”  Instead, Paul’s conversion involved the physical senses of sight and sound that were also experienced by multiple people, as well as being corroborated and illuminated through rational explanation from Annias concerning the identity of who Paul met on the Damascus Road. Clearly, Paul’s conversion was miraculous, but it was not mystical.  What Paul experienced and heard was attested to by others and involved physical events and phenomena.  Consequently, Paul’s Damascus Road experience and subsequent conversion is best described as a supernatural divine intervention but not a subjective mystical experience.

This is not to say that Paul never had mystical experiences—e.g., being caught up in the third heaven.  Clearly, Paul had personal spiritual experiences that defy explanation or confirmation by others.  The question is, however, were those experiences the basis for his theology (e.g., what Paul meant when he spoke of being “in Christ”)?  If one reviews all of Paul’s epistles what will be found is regular references to the Old Testament and appeals to logic and real world experiences (such as the Law was a tutor, and that Jews are freed from the Law just as a wife is upon the death of her husband).  Paul’s theology was not based upon appeals to his mystical experiences.  Does not Paul call our union with Christ a mystery?  Indeed he did, but Paul’s theology of our union with Christ was not based upon his mystical experiences but upon the teachings of Jesus and the promises that Paul found in the Old Testament.  Being “in Christ” in Paul’s theology spoke to our legal standing before God the Father as much as it spoke to our inseparable fellowship with Jesus.  Paul and his theology was a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” experience or doctrine.  Consequently, while there are mystical elements to Paul’s teachings about our relationship to the Lord (I doubt anyone would argue that the union of sinful mortals with the holiness of God is “normal” or logical), that is not to prove that Paul was a mystic.  Instead, Paul was a leader with a vital and intimate relationship with the Lord, who based his theology of the reality of the Messiah as promised in the Old Testament, promises that could be rationally explained and reasonably believed, all of which were ultimately grounded upon the historical event of the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and physical resurrection from the dead.  Moreover, least we forget, Paul claimed to have met the risen Lord Jesus Christ, not through some mystical subjective experience, but in his physical resurrected body (cf. 1 Cor 9.1, 15.8; Acts 23.11).  Consequently, Paul did not appeal to his own subjective experiences as the foundation of his theology, but to the historic fact of the risen Savior.  Consequently, Paul was not a mystic.  Blessings.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2014

Paul tired

There is confusion today concerning how Christians should relate to the Mosaic Law.  Some argue that it has absolutely no place in the lives of believers, and that we only live and walk by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Consequently, in this blog I wish to address the theological question of how many “purposes” there are for the Law of Moses (hereafter “the Law”).  Please note, that this discussion does not address the “moral law” that God has instilled into everyone (i.e., our conscience); instead, this is about the Law that Moses received directly from God as recorded in the Pentateuch, which is also commonly referred to as the Mosaic Covenant.  I approach this topic with some trepidation since some have different understandings and misunderstandings concerning the “purposes” of the Law.  To be sure, there are many purposes of the Law, but with respect to theological debate of our time, some argue that there are only 2 purposes for the Law, while others argue for 3.  I will attempt to address these issues briefly, which almost assuredly means that I will either be misunderstood or offend someone.  However, no offense is intended.

The First Purpose of the Law

The first purpose of the Law is easy and virtually everyone agrees as to what it was, which is that it was a covenant between God and Israel that provided for the Jews the “legal” parameters of how they would live with God in the Promise Land.  More specifically, it explained how a sinful people (i.e., the Jews) could co-exist with a holy God and worship him while living in the land that he had given them.  It is extremely important to be very precise concerning this use of the Law since some over-generalize it, thus leading many into a critical misunderstanding that Law was and still is a means to salvation.  The Law was never meant to provide salvation to those who obeyed it (Gal 3.11, Heb 10.1-10).  Consequently, the Law was a contractual agreement between the Israelites and the God of Abraham concerning how God would permit them to live in the land that he has promised to Abraham and his descendants.  This contract (i.e., covenant) also included instructions as to how they could remain fruitful in the land, a land which God has unconditionally promised to the Jews forever.  Consequently, anyone that attempts to apply the entire Law, or just parts of it, to their lives today (e.g., the Seventh Day Adventist) while living outside the Land of Israel has completely misunderstand this first essential function of the Law.  The Law explained to Israel how they could enjoy the Lord’s presence and his blessings without offending him by their propensity to sin.  Regarding the inevitable occurrence of sin, the Law explained for the Jews what God required for the purpose of providing temporarily atonement for individual breaches of this covenant.  Essentially, the Law was too curb the sinfulness God’s people as they lived in the land with him and were identified as his people; otherwise God’s holiness would require that he discipline an offending generation, and even potentially cast them out of the land (which inevitably happened). For further explanation concerning this purpose for the Law read Deuteronomy 27-34.  Some refer to this function as the “civic” purpose of the Law.  This designation, however, can cause serious confusion since the Law is often described as having 3 parts: a “moral” aspect (identifying sinful acts and godly responsibilities), a “cultic” or religious aspect (identifying how to practice the Hebrew faith), and a “civic” or “social” aspect (identifying civil responsibilities and reconciling legal disputes).  These divisions may help some today understand different emphases found within the Law; however, the Jews in Moses’ day would not have viewed the Law in such a manner. They would have viewed the Law as a whole, all of which would have been morally obligatory.  The Law in its entirety was a spiritual covenant between Israel and God, and there was no “non-moral” or secular aspect to it. Moreover, stating that the Law focuses on 3 different areas of Jewish life has little to do with ascertaining whether the Law has 2 or 3 “purposes” for believers today. The Law’s different focuses within the practice of the Hebrew faith is not germane to the current discussion.  Nevertheless, at the risk of being misunderstood, the constitutional function of the Law will be referred to as a “civic” purpose of the Law, and it was this specific purpose that was the Law’s original function. Moreover, it should be observed that the Law was given only to the Jews, it was not also given to any Gentiles, nations, or other people groups.  It was given to the genetic descendants of Abraham, and it was given to provide the Jews with the necessary directions for obeying and  worshipping God while living in the land that he had eternally promised to Abraham and his offspring.

A Second Purpose of the Law

Paul identified another purpose of the Law in Galatians 3.15-4.7, which is to convict people of their sin and their need for atonement, justification, and redemption.  In short, the Law also taught Jews (as well as people today regardless of their ethnicity) of their need for a savior.  This purpose is at times referred to as the “theological” or Christocentric use for the Law, and on this purpose Evangelicals agree.  The Law was never a conduit for salvation (contrary to what some from the New Perspective may suggest, or others that promote various forms of a “works based” soteriologies).  Paul explained that a purpose for the Law now was that of an educator (i.e., a tutor). It teaches sinners of their need for a savior, which Moses himself prophesied would someday come (Dt 18.15).  It should  be noted that this was always a purpose of the Law.  The Law always revealed to the Jews, and by extension all people, that they were sinners, and therefore in need of redemption and atonement.  While Gentiles were not required to enact the Law in their own countries, once exposed to its contents they would certainly learn what they already knew about themselves, which is that they are sinners and thus in need of redemption.

A Third Purpose of the Law

Whether or not there is a “third purpose” of the Law is where the majority of theological disagreement occurs.  Those who believe there is a third function of the Law assert it may be used as an instrument to educate believers concerning the will of God with respect to specific issues, thus aiding the believer’s ability to experience practical or progressive sanctification (as opposed to positional sanctification).  This third function of the Law may be referred to as the “didactic purpose.”  However, some argue that advocating for such a purpose is a contradiction to what it means to be a Christian.  The argument being that promoting the Law as functional in the life of a believer misdirects them from living by faith in Christ alone; consequently, they deny that the Law possesses any didactic benefit or function for anyone that has received Christ (e.g., some modern Lutherans and Reformed theologians).  Regardless of what some theologians may argue, in order to answer the question of whether there is a “third purpose” of the Law one simply needs to look at the example set forth by the apostle Paul (who originally identified the second purpose of the Law).  For example, twice the apostle Paul quoted a commandment found in the Law (Dt 25.4) in order to provide guidance to believers on matters involving Christian practice.  Paul first quoted Deuteronomy 25.4 in 1 Corinthians 9.9 and then again later in 1 Timothy 5.18.  The issue at hand was whether pastors should receive remuneration for ministries to their churches.  Paul’s appeal to the Law in this instant fulfills neither a Christocentric function (ie., leading one to faith in Christ) or civic purpose of the Law (ie., explaining to the Jews what God required of them while living in the Land).  The importance of these passages is that they demonstrate that Paul practiced a third use of the Law (whether purposefully or not one can only guess—heaven only knows if Paul would have engaged in this debate).  This practice of Paul demonstrates that he believed that the Law provided insight for believers with respect to what was correct or godly behavior in the eyes of God.  If Paul did not believe there was a didactic purpose for the Law, then he would not have employed commandments found in the Law to teach the church at Corinth or his disciple Timothy what God viewed as appropriate behavior for believers.  He certainly would have refrained from using it if he thought it might promote some twisted form of legalism; thus, confusing believers on how to walk by faith in Christ.  Nevertheless, Paul saw no danger in employing commandments found in the Law in order to teach believers how they should live with one another and walk with God.  Conversely, Paul never taught believers that they should only seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance concerning matters pertaining to godliness.  No, Paul gladly used the Law to educate Christians with respect to what God expected from them.  Moreover, it was Paul who also wrote that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3.16-17).  When Paul referred to “all Scripture” he was most definitely referring to the Law, as well as the entire Old Testament, since at that time there was no “New Testament” to which Christians could turn.  Consequently, the Law has a didactic function for believers today, and without question it is an essential aid for helping Christians walk in the Spirit as they seek to obey the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. While the Law can aid us in walking in a sanctified manner, it is not the source of our sanctification.  Obedience to anything found in the Law, or the rest of the Old Testament for that matter, does not make us holier people, only Christ provides us with positional sanctification (i.e., eternal life and salvation), as well as progressive sanctification (walking faithfully with him throughout our daily lives as we seek to fulfill his will through the guidance of the Holy Spirit).  Consequently, while both the Old and New Testaments teach us about the Lord, godliness, and what he expects of us, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ who makes us holy.

Doc.

Copyright ©, 2014 Monte Shanks

Paul and Peter 1

Some students have asked me about the confusion between Paul’s early visits to Jerusalem and Luke’s reporting of these visits in Acts.  Regrettably, some textbook discussions of this issue are somewhat confusing.  This blog does not address Paul’s visits that occurred late in his ministry, it is highly unlikely that all of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem are referred to in his epistles or in Acts. Nevertheless, the historicity of the scriptures is an important issue, and we should be very careful of those who suggest that historical errors are contained within them.  Recently I listened to a lecture by Bart Ehrman in which he stated that because of the complexities involving the historical veracity of the New Testament then no one should place a lot of confidence in its historical accuracy of the book of Acts. Consequently, I have put together a brief chronology of Paul’s visits to Jerusalem before the Jerusalem Council convened with the hope of clarifying the specific issue as to whether Paul and Luke contradict one another with respect to Paul’s early ministry movements and his visits to Jerusalem. The issue is not as complex as some make it out to be, and it occurs simply because Luke and Paul use slightly different vocabulary when discussing Paul’s earliest visits to Jerusalem.

Paul describes his first visit with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in Galatians 1.18-24.  This meeting is recorded in Acts 9.26-30.  It appears that Luke’s term “many days,” should be understood to have been approximately 3 years (Acts 9.23 & Gal. 1.18).  Luke’s statement that Barnabas brought Paul to the “apostles” (Acts 9.27) should not be understood to mean that Paul was brought before all 13 apostles (by the number 13 I am including James the half brother of Jesus and Matthias), but only that Paul meet with a few apostles that represented the entire group, specifically Peter and James the half brother of Jesus (note that Paul refers to James as an apostle in Gal. 1.18-19:).  This could be justifiably understood as meeting with “the apostles” because Paul met with more than one of the Jerusalem apostles, and also because in the Jewish mindset a part of something was often considered as sufficient for the whole.  The lack of precision is less than desirable for our modern way of calculating, but it was a Semitic inclination just the same. Paul stated that after his first meeting with Peter and James he left and went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1.21).  Luke confirmed Paul’s destination after leaving Jerusalem, but rather than focusing on the “regions” that Paul went to, instead he focused upon the specific city to which the apostles sent Paul, which was Tarsus—Paul’s hometown (Acts 9.30).  Tarsus is located in the southeastern region of Cilicia. The purpose of Paul’s first meeting was to introduce Paul to a few of the church’s leaders in Jerusalem with Barnabas being the intermediary.  Luke made it clear that during Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem most believers were extremely untrusting of him (Acts 9.26).  Given the suspicious nature of Paul’s dramatic conversion it would make sense that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem would not allow all the apostles to be exposed to Paul in case his “confession” of faith was just an elaborate charade for the purpose of ferreting out the leaders of the young church in Jerusalem.  Consequently, Paul only met with Peter and James.  I would guess that during this brief first visit to Jerusalem (15 days Gal. 1.18.) that Paul asked a lot of specific questions to Peter and James concerning the things Jesus actually taught since Paul apparently had not heard Jesus for himself.  Paul boldly spoke in the name of Jesus while in Jerusalem (Acts 9.28), which should be understood to mean that he preached the gospel and spoke of Jesus as the promised Messiah.  However, Paul was adamant (Galatians 1.15-17) that he did not need to be taught the gospel from those who were apostle before him since he had personally met Jesus and received the gospel directly from him (cf. 1 Cor. 15.8-10).  The church in Jerusalem became somewhat familiar with him as a result of this visit.  However, while the church in Jerusalem had learned about Paul’s conversion to Christ and his boldness for the Lord, other churches scattered throughout the greater region of Judea still could not identify him by sight (Gal. 2.22).  Being that Paul was only in Jerusalem for a little more than 2 weeks, it is understandable why Paul was fairly unknown in the greater region of Judea during the period immediately following his conversion to Christ.

Paul described his second meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem in Galatians 2.1-10.  It appears that the main reason for this visit to Jerusalem was because of the prophecy/vision concerning a coming famine (Gal 2.2; Acts 11.28).  This visit is also recorded in Acts 11.27-30.  Paul took the opportunity while in Jerusalem to meet with the “pillars” (i.e., leaders) of the church there for the purpose of explaining his ministry and calling, which was to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  Since Paul mentions the issue of circumcision in Gal 2.1-10 it is likely that this topic was discussed, but no official or public decision was made by the leadership of the church in Jerusalem at that time.  Nevertheless, the apostles who met with Paul clearly affirmed his ministry and his understanding of the gospel.  This meeting was not the meeting recording in Acts 15, and we know this because in Gal 2.10 the apostles encouraged Paul to be mindful of the poor, which is not even mentioned in the general epistle to churches recorded in Acts 15.23-29.  The encouragement in the universal letter to all the churches recorded in Acts 15 concerned fornication/idol worship and Jewish sensitivities to animals that had been sacrificed to idols (Acts 15.29); notice, there is no mention about caring for the poor.  The apostles and elders of the Jerusalem Council were essentially calling all Gentiles believers to separate themselves from everything that had anything to do with pagan worship, which would be a natural result of coming to faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord.  Essentially the leaders of the church in Jerusalem were calling gentile believers to make a public decision and stand for Christ.  There is no indication of such a concern during Paul’s second visit with the leaders at the church in Jerusalem, which Paul detailed in Galatians 2.1-10.

From Acts 15.1-29 we learn of Paul’s third meeting with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.  This meeting is not recorded in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.  If this meeting had occurred before Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians then he would have been obliged to announce their decision in his letter to the Galatians, as he in fact did with the church in Antioch and elsewhere (Acts 15.30; 16.4).  However, we find no reference to the decision made at the Jerusalem Council anywhere in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The purpose of the Jerusalem Council was to address the false gospel (Acts 15.1; i.e., a faith plus works gospel) that had arisen within the church by a sect of the Pharisees (Acts 15.5) who claimed to follow Jesus as the Messiah, but had actually contaminated the gospel by requiring obedience to the Mosaic Law (i.e., circumcision).  They were not true believers (which is a major that point made by Paul throughout his epistle to the Galatians with respect to anyone who held to such a soteriology).  The decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was an official universal decree made by the leaders of the church at Jerusalem through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15.28) concerning what was the authentic gospel as received directly from the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24.44-48), which is salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 15.7-11).  The Jerusalem Council did not make attempt to change in the gospel message but to remain faithful to the gospel that the apostles had personally received from the risen Lord.

One important note: the Council’s decision was a universal proclamation of the true gospel for both Jews and Gentiles concerning how one is saved.  However, the Council’s decision should not be understood to mean that Jews should no longer continue the practice of circumcision.  It only meant that circumcision was not a “requirement” for salvation (moreover, circumcision was never intended to secure salvation).  However, if Jewish parents wished to continue to identify their sons as Jews who would participate in the promises made to Abraham, then they could and should have their sons circumcised.  Circumcision was always a sign for Jews of their ethnicity and participation in the Abrahamic Covenant.  If circumcision no longer had any meaning or purpose whatsoever, then Paul would not have had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16.3).  The sign of circumcision predates the Mosaic Law, and was the way the decedents of Abraham to identify themselves before God as ethnic sons of Abraham who were looking toward the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham concerning the land (Covenant Theology notwithstanding, but this would be a debate for a different class).  Some might ask “what about women, how would they make the same identification”?  The way women could continue to be identified as participating in Abrahamic Covenant as Abraham’s descendants would be to marry Jewish men.  Jewish women continue to participate in the Jewish community by marrying Jewish men, and thus perpetuate the Jewish race (some may disagree, but this again would be a different discussion for another course).  Anyway, I hope this clarifies any confusion concerning Paul’s meetings with the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem early in his ministry as documented by Luke in Acts and Paul in his epistles.  The primary take away from this blog is that there are no significant discrepancies between Luke’s history on the birth and growth of the early church and Paul’s personal descriptions about his early ministry movements.

Doc.

Monte Shanks Copyright © 2014

Pauls conversion 2

 

Is There an Absolute Contradiction in Paul’s Testimonies in Acts?

In Acts 9 and 22 Luke recorded descriptions of Paul’s testimonies about his conversion.  What is very interesting about these accounts is that Luke faithfully recorded an apparent contradiction found in them.  The first observation that must be recognized is Luke’s faithfulness to his source!  It is impressive that Luke did not “clean up” this apparent contradiction!  One would assume that if either of these accounts were a fabricated story then Luke would have avoided any kind of contradiction, but he did not.  Consequently, one should assume that Luke has accurately recorded Paul’s description of his conversion in Acts 9, while in Acts 22 Luke actually quoted Paul’s own words.  Regardless, we should not excuse the differences in these testimonies as simply the result of Paul’s summarizing his testimonies to different audiences.  Such a solution questions or marginalizes the doctrine of inerrancy.  That being said, in Acts 9 Luke only recorded a summary of Paul’s conversion, he did not record an actual verbal description given by Paul.  This second observation, while minor, will be addressed below.  The passages in question may basically be translated as:

Acts 9.7: “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one.”

Acts 22.9:  “And those who were with me saw the light, but the sound they did not hear of the One speaking to me.”

What first must be explained is that the words in italics parallel one another in the original Greek.  Consequently, one could level the charge that a contradiction has occurred.  However, just because the words in both verses are the same does not demand that they must have the same exact meaning every time they occur.  This is a common occurrence in both the Greek and English languages when dealing with words that often have multiple meanings and/or nuances.  Consequently, charging that a contradiction has occurred is tenuous at best.  An absolute contradiction would have been if Luke had only recorded the following:

Acts 9.7: “The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one.”

Acts 22.9: “And those who were with me saw the light, but they heard no sound.”

But this is not what Luke wrote.  At this point the possible meanings of the Greek word “akouw” must be addressed.  This word maybe translated with 3 basic meanings, they are: to hear, to listen, and to understand.  An excellent verse for understanding the nuances of this word can be found in Matthew 13.13, which may be translated:

“. . . and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (NASB)

In this verse the words “hearing” and “hear” are both the same Greek word, which again is “akouw.”  Clearly Matthew meant something more than “hearing they do not hear.”  It is impossible to be both hearing and not hearing at the same time.  Consequently, this verse can be translated as “. . . hearing they did not hear or gain insight,” or “. . . hearing they did not listen or gain insight,” or finally “. . . hearing they did not understand or gain insight.”  All the words in italics are the same exact word in Greek; i.e., “akouw.”  Consequently, it is obvious that in different contexts this word has differing nuances, and thus at times should be interpreted differently.  More importantly, in Acts 22 Luke recorded additional data provided by Paul which should influence how we should understand what Paul meant.

In Acts 22.9 Luke recorded Paul as testifying that those who were with him did not “hear the sound of the one speaking to me.”  The word in italics in Greek is “phwne,” which can be translated as “sound, noise, or voice.”  This word is used in Acts 9.7 to refer to the “noise” that was heard by those who were present with Paul, as well as in Acts 22.9 to refer to the “noise” that those who were present with Paul either did not hear or did not understand.

Consequently, the great debate is this, could these witnesses have possibly heard the sound of the Lord speaking to Paul but did not understand that someone was speaking to Paul?  The answer is emphatically yes, and there is an excellent example of this same type of event occurring in John 12.27-30.  In this passage some of those who were with Jesus “heard” (i.e., akouw) a “noise” (i.e., phwne) but did not understand that it was God who was speaking to Jesus.  They heard the sound of God’s voice but they did not comprehend the fact that it was God speaking directly to Jesus!  This raises the question, why would Paul’s companions not have understood that someone was speaking to Paul?  The answer might be because of the language of the speaker!  In Acts 26.14 Paul provided additional data concerning the event, stating that the voice spoke in a “Hebrew dialect.”  First, we know nothing about Paul’s traveling companions; consequently there is nothing that demands that they were not Greek speaking Jews who did not understand Aramaic.  Additionally, it is just as possible that Jesus actually spoke to Paul in Hebrew rather than Aramaic (Paul being a well-educated Pharisee would have been proficient in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Septuagint).  Consequently, I argue that Paul’s traveling companions heard the sound of someone speaking to Paul, but they did not understand what was said because they did not understand the language of the one who was speaking.  Observing this phenomenon, raises the question, have translations such as the NIV provided an accurate interpretation of the passages in question?  The NIV translates these passages as:

Acts 9.7:  “. . . they heard the sound but did not see anyone.”

Acts 22.9:  “. . . but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.”

I would argue yes, in this case the NIV has correctly translated the words in these passages to fit their particular contexts.  Obviously some would disagree, but regardless of their objections there is adequate information to reject the charge that an absolute contradiction has occurred in Paul’s conversion accounts found in Acts 9 and Acts 22.

Doc.

Copyright © 2014 Monte Shanks