Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Peter in Acts 15.10, NIV)

I thought about calling this “Context and Context” like K. C. Moser’s old column in the Gospel Advocate in the 1930s. Historical context is as essential to the correct interpretation of a passage in the Bible as literary context.

We need to recall something quite basic here. Peter did not live in, and Luke did not write with, the 21st century USA in mind. Peter had a very specific history that was shared by others present at the Jerusalem Council. And that history was known to them even if it is not to most today. This is extremely important for Acts and most texts in the Bible. We call it historical context.

Typical Interpretation of Acts 15.10

Acts 15.10 reads, “why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”

This passage demands careful reading in its literary and historical milieu, but these rules are often neglected. Readers who come to this text with an already negative disposition towards the Hebrew Bible and Judaism, in particular, naturally think Peter is simply talking about the Law of Moses itself. In fact in most cases this is simply assumed to be the case without any attempt to establish it as so. J. W. McGarvey is fairly typical of the old line Protestant interpretation of Acts 15.10.

“[T]o put on the necks of these Gentile converts the yoke of the law, which no generation of Jews had been able to bear, would be, in the light of the preceding fact, tempting God; that is, trying his forbearance by their own presumption … In affirming that the law was a yoke that the Jews had not been able to bear, he meant they had not been able so to keep it as to be saved by the perfection of their obedience to it” (J. W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts, vol 2, pp. 63-64).

For McGarvey, Peter was clearly talking about the burden of the Law of Moses, which he supposedly found intolerable.

Such an interpretation has serious historical difficulties however. There is little evidence that Israelites, much less biblical writers, imagined the Torah was an unbearable burden. It is a Protestant caricature of the Hebrew Scriptures and Judaism, when we imagine Jews as supposedly running off 613 commandments in their minds as they go through the day. The vast majority of “laws” applied only under certain, and very specific, circumstances, and many of those were for priests and Levites not “ordinary” Israelites.

Moses and the prophetic tradition clearly never dreamed that 613 commandments were tagged on individual people.

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you:
Worship the LORD and do all he commands.
Love him,
serve him with all your heart,
observe the LORD’s commands
.

What commands does Moses then explicitly mention?

Circumcise your hearts, and do not be stiff necked
You are to love the alien, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt

This is Deuteronomy 10.12-22. The exact words do not appear there be the substance appears throughout the Hebrew Bible as Micah states

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God
” (Micah 6.8; See also Psalm 15 and 24)

The Bible declares God’s torah to be like honey and joyful.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes
” (Psalm 19.7ff)

I shall walk at/in LIBERTY,
for I have sought your precepts …
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than the honey to my mouth …
Your words are a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path …

(Psalm 119.45, 103, 105, etc)

This language is difficult to construe as a “burden.” Psalm 1 and all of 119 and many other texts can be added to this citation. The apostle Paul himself calls the Law … a gift of grace (Romans 9.4)!

What if Peter was NOT Talking about the Law of Moses?

But there are good historical grounds for seriously doubting that Peter is referring to the “Old Testament” in general or the Law of Moses in particular. Rather Peter is referring to historical events regarding the Pharisees in the aftermath of the Maccabean revolution.

Peter is explicitly responding to the “party of the Pharisees” (15.5, 7, 10). It was not the Jerusalem church that had attempted to bind on the Gentiles certain requirements of the Torah. After Cornelius had responded to the good news of the Jewish King, he was not told to get circumcised. There was controversy as Acts 10-11 demonstrate but after Peter’s “defense” there is no record in Acts of the Jerusalem church seeking to impose circumcision and additional requirements on people like Cornelius. It is the “party of the Pharisees” who are putting God to the test. When Peter says “why do you try to test God …” the “you” is the Pharisees, not Jewish believers as a body.

Knowing that Peter is talking to the Pharisees is of monumental importance. There is precedence for the Pharisees action here, not on Gentiles but upon “our fathers.”

The Pharisees had, once before, imposed their halakah (oral interpretation of the law) on the populace of Judea. F. F. Bruce in his Commentary on Acts hints that 15.10 may be “the details of legal tradition” (p. 291) but sadly does not pursue the exegesis. But it is precisely the tradition OF THE PHARISEES, the halakah, that Peter is indeed protesting in the face of the Pharisees themselves.

Josephus, who was himself a Pharisee, tells us that that the Pharisees received civil power to impose their interpretations on the people (see Antiquities of the Jews 13.408-409; Jewish Wars 1.108-12; 2.262). This was regarded as a heavy burden by the general population and drew considerable ire. In fact there was considerable backlash against the Pharisees. This was very “recent memory” for Jews in the first century. Salome Alexandra was Queen from 67 to 63 BC. So we read in Josephus,

So Alexandra [Salome], when she had taken the fortress, acted as her husband had suggested to her, and spoke to the Pharisees, and put all things into their power, both as to the dead body and as to the affairs of the kingdom

So she … permitted the Pharisees to do everything; to whom also she ordered the multitude to be obedient ...” (Antiquities of the Jews 13.16, p. 267, Whiston edition)

And now the Pharisees joined themselves to assist her in the government. These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others … They banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed people at their pleasure; and, to say all at once they had the enjoyment of the royal authority … While she [Salome Alexandra] governed other people, and the Pharisees governed her.” (Wars of the Jews, 1.5, p.434, Whiston edition).

Etc.

In fact the Pharisees exacted retribution on many of their enemies during Alexandra’s short reign. Pharisaic halakah (interpretation) became the law of the land in Judea. Schaper notes “Salome gave the Pharisees a free hand in reshaping their role under her reign and ordered the populace to heed their instructions” (See Cambridge History of Judaism vol 3).

The “burden” that “yoked” Jews, it seems to me, in the Luke-Acts context, refers to just those Pharisaic rules that both Peter, and everyone else present at the Council, knew had been rejected by their “ancestors.” Peter does not believe the Gentiles can bear the Pharisaic halakah any more than his grandfather.

This understanding is supported, I believe, by the actual direction of the Council takes. Acts 15 envisions that Jewish believers will continue to observe the Law of Moses itself (as opposed to the Pharisees “yoke” or interpretation). Second, the requirements for Gentile behavior are based upon the Law of Moses itself, and James says “gar [for/because] Moses is preached” as the basis for the Gentiles behavior. In the rest of Luke-Acts observance of the law (as opposed to Pharisaic tradition) is portrayed in a very positive light (cf. Acts 22.12, etc see the whole discussion in Jacob Jervell’s works on the Law in Luke-Acts). I will just quote Jervell here,

Commentaries speak of the Gentiles’ liberation from the law. This is not the whole truth. Luke knows about a Gentile mission without circumcision, not without law. The apostolic decree enjoins Gentiles to keep the law, and they keep that part of the law required for them to live together with Jews. It is not lawful to impose upon Gentiles more than Moses himself demanded. It is false to speak of Gentiles free from the law … Luke does not champion any justification by law … but this is never contrasted with adherence to the law” (Luke and the People of God, p. 144).

The “unbearable burden” was human religious tradition that Pharisees demanded adherence to in order to be right with God.

My understanding of Acts 15.10 is Peter is objecting to the Pharisees doing what they had already done ninety years ago. And the Jews nearly revolted against them … in fact the Pharisees paid a heavy price as they lost political power (many ended up being crucified in fact!).

For genuinely biblical views on torah see Psalm 1; Psalm 19.7-14; and all of Psalm 119.

Specific Resources in addition to those in the text

Markus Bockmuehl, Jewish Law in Gentile Churches (Baker 2000), pp. 49-83, 152-153, 164-167.

David J. Rudolph, A Jew to The Jews: Jewish Contours of Pauline Flexibility in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, 2nd Edition (Pickwick, 2016), pp. 198-201

Samuel Robert Cassius

Back in the late 1990s I was working on a thesis in graduate school. This required spending hours and hours in a room that I came to call “The Cave of Microfilm.” My thesis was on R. L. Whiteside. I had to wade through years of microfilm of the Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation and journals that have long been forgotten like the Christian Monitor.

One forgotten journal was the Christian Leader. In the Christian Leader, I discovered a person who signed his articles by the name of S. R. Cassius. I was blown away by this man. Up to that point in life, I had never heard of him. Most of the history books do not mention him even once. I ended up making notations of his interesting articles and then spending the money to have copies of articles I found. Later I discovered that Edward Robinson was doing research for a PhD on Cassius. I shared everything I had with him (Robinson was kind enough to mention me in the acknowledgments of his published bio by the University of Alabama Press).

In the Lost Cause mythology, Lincoln is presented as a hater of black folks and was worse than any slaver in the South. This agenda is designed to exonerate Jefferson Davis and especially Robert E. Lee. Lincoln was, of course, a child of his times in many ways but it is probably no exaggeration to claim that no person in government wrestled with the “race issue” as much as Lincoln did … ever. Perhaps one of the finest studies on Lincoln in these matters is a look at his relationship with another of Cassius’s heroes, Frederick Douglass. See James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.

I mention Lincoln because he was revered by Samuel Robert Cassius and because of some misinformed comments in a recent discussion on my wall. Cassius was born a slave in 1853. His father was white. His mother “unfortunately” was pretty. His “father” exercised what was called “the white man’s privilege,” that is of using female slaves as sex toys. His father raped her on numerous occasions. His father was his slave “master.”

In 1903, in an article called “The Race Problem,” Cassisus laments the inconsistency of white Christians regarding people of color. If he keeps to himself then he is “sulking.” If he stands up for himself like a “man” then he is “getting too smart.” If he minds his own business then “he is studying devilment.” There was no way to win. The specific occasion of Cassius’s piece is that Theodore Roosevelt held a reception at the White House in which a Mr. Darcy, his wife and daughter (all black) were invited … and the uproar that came with it.

To defend “Mr. Roosevelt” and his course of action, Cassius goes down memory lane to the habit of Abraham Lincoln …

“Mr. Lincoln opened his receptions to the ex-slaves, and I can well remember my mother taking me by the hand [about 11-12 yrs old] and going to the White House to see the negroes Moses. I shook hands with Mr. Lincoln, and remember the scene as though it was yesterday. I saw old, grey-headed men and women not only shake hands with President Lincoln, and weep with tears as they kissed his hand … [he] made no distinction in color, and the only comment ever made on it was one of commendation.” (S. R. Cassius, “The Race Problem,” Christian Leader 17 [10 March 1903], 9).

A number of startling facts come out of this small vignette. First and foremost is that Abraham Lincoln not only welcomed blacks to and interacted with blacks at the White House but that he would discourse and shake hands with (if you do not think this was radical then you simply do not comprehend the history of white/black relations in America). But he welcomed slaves, of freshly freed, or escaped whatever you want to call them, into the White House. It reveals something of how Lincoln was viewed by four million people who regarded him almost as a Messiah.

Cassius ended up naming his son in honor of Lincoln, Amos Lincoln Cassius who would become a well known preachers in the 1920s and 30s among black churches in Southern California.

Cassius minces no words about the South, the church and racism. To this day, I remember being completely taken aback by his forthrightness … and that it was published in the CL … which was based in Cincinnati which may be one reason it COULD be published in a ‘brotherhood’ paper of the day.

Maybe one day we can talk about his comments on the brutal murder of Sam Hose after being questioned about it. The brother had said “the good people of Georgia” had taken care of him. The brutality of the Hose affair was instrumental in turning W. E. B. DuBois from an academic to a social activist.

It is a wonder what primary sources will do for you when we take the time to absorb them. We might learn that Lincoln was viewed by African Americans in the same light as Moses …

Many people use words in a very slippery way. We will call a person a “liberal” as a way of dismissing what she has presented. No real discussion or examination need be taken because we can simply dismiss the individual. Many people also use the word “legalist” and there is not much content to the word.

I was called a “liberal” so I think it is proper to think about “liberalism” and “legalism.” I think there is something that is legitimately “Liberalism” and there is something called “Legalism.” Defining theological “liberalism” is far easier than “legalism.” Neither of these words or the ideas they represent can properly be used as a way to shut down conversation, nor thrown at some one simply because he or she disagrees with “me” or “you.”

Real Liberalism is a position that rejects certain fundamental Christian beliefs. These include: the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the reality of miracles. Liberalism is essentially Rationalism applied to Christianity. A person that accepts the deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, the virgin birth, the miracles as real can never be honestly and legitimately called a theological liberal. If you accept the Bible you are not a liberal. It is that simple and there are virtually zero genuine Liberals within the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

Legalism is real and a far greater danger to folks within Churches of Christ than theological liberalism. Jesus was in a discussion with a “legalist” once. The discussion was not about legalism per se but about love. The legalist actually correctly defined what Scripture said and was even able to say what he knew was “most important” and said love God and love neighbor. But he wanted to justify his lack of love and said to Jesus “well who is my neighbor.” (Lk 10.25-37). Jesus actually wrestles with legalism frequently in the Gospels.

Today, we often say with the Pharisee, “but what is legalism” (seeking to justify ourselves as well).

Legalism is tough animal to define in a single sentence. How do you define “beautiful?” or more appropriately how is “life” defined? How do you describe colors like “red” and “blue?” It is pretty tough to do.

However, we know beauty when we see it; we recognize life when we encounter it; we know love when it is shown and we know colors when we behold them.

But defining these basic and fundamental realities is exceedingly difficult. We know beauty by the response it elicits from us. We know life by its fruits. Paul even says we know the presence of the Holy Spirit by his Fruit.

Perhaps “legalism” is like that … we know it by its fruit. Yet the difficulty in defining beauty or life in no way suggests these are imaginary concepts.

But I am not going to leave it there. Legalism is an orientation that views the human walk with God as something that is primarily generated, and rooted, in human action rather than divine. Legalism is a worldview.

Legalism is not about obedience vs disobedience to the King. Legalism is the framework in which such obedience is understood. Legalism conceives the central issue of Christianity as what I do, what I know, what I think. It is about humans getting it right or else.

Let me unpack the previous paragraph with some concrete “identity” markers for “Legalism” flowing from the definition I have given.

1) Legalism conceives of Scripture as primarily a record of divine commands given to the human race that we are to fulfill precisely. The heart of the Bible is a call to exacting, even precision, obedience to those commands. Scripture is about what humans must do.

According to legalism, Scripture is not primarily the inspired Story of the God’s love, of God’s gracious move to make space in the divine life for something as alien as matter, of God’s sacrificing Godself so that matter can continue to dwell and indeed become partaker in the divine nature! No Legalism says Scripture is fundamentally the commands of God directed to us so we by our own precision obedience can be right with God. The ground of acceptance is not God’s work but human response.

2) Legalism regards the New Testament (the Hebrew Bible is not even on the radar screen of legalism except as a caricature in most cases) as a large number of commands, examples, inferences … all of which are equally important. Exact obedience to each is necessary to salvation. Missing even one damns as much as any other. This is the very essence of the “rebaptism” debate among us.

Legalism will, btw, often use the word “grace.” Legalism says that God in God’s grace revealed the legal code to us, or that Jesus died to give us the code or pattern (the Pharisee could talk about God’s love and knew the command to love was divine!). However, we are bound to these commands for our own good. The code/plan/pattern provides the means by which we can do something sufficiently well enough to be with God. Grace, in legalism, is the revelation of the command that we have to obey with precision. Failure to precisely perform each of these commands will result in our damnation. So grace, in the worldview of legalism, is not God’s gift to save us but rather commands so we can ultimately save ourselves provided we meet the exact requirements with precision. I cringe at the very notion.

When the chips are down, there are no secondary matters in legalism, in fact the secondary matters are likely the most important matters. Here #2 simply puts a fine point on #1 above.

3) Legalism is known by its trinity: Anxiety, Fear, and Arrogance. The slightest infraction of the “code” or “pattern” breaks the bond between God and humanity therefore legalism never knows if it has been good enough (thus the fear and anxiety). The mangled body of Christ is the fruit of legalism.

Ironically sin is so externalized in legalism, and thus made “manageable,” that we can affirm our precision obedience and arrogantly look down our noses on anyone not quite as perfect as we imagine ourselves to be on those measurable items (even as we live in fear of damnation ourselves). People’s failure to arrive precisely at our understanding means they are either dumb or willfully disobedient to God.

Legalism does not feel the need for grace. The words “have mercy on me, a sinner” are hard to utter within a legalistic framework. We don’t need mercy, we simply need propositions and get on with it.

Legalism is human centered religion, it is “me-ism” religion. Christianity, however, is a God centered faith. Legalism is more focused on positions on issues than relationships with God and his people.

Conservative, by the way, is not a synonym for “legalism.” But neither is Progressive a synonym for “liberalism.” There are liberal legalists. Conservative is not a synonym for faithful or truthful. Conservative is not a synonym for love of anything, much less God and neighbor. Why people equate these is a mystery. Some one will say “I take the conservative position” as if that is by default the correct position. But it is not now and never has been.

If we find that we have to qualify God’s grace when we hear it or say it, then our orientation may be human one rather than a God centered. Scripture certainly does not feel obligated to qualify God’s grace but magnifies it.

In Scripture it is the divine indicative that is always the ground for response and obedience. It is the divine indicative that enables obedience. This is why K. C. Moser used to quip that “legalism is the father of the denial of the indwelling Spirit.” Legalism had no need of the Holy Spirit.

The essential and basic issue of legalism is God oriented or human oriented. The chasm between biblical faith, in both Testaments, and Legalism is as wide as the canyon between Abraham’s bosom and the place of torment.

I will have nothing to do with legalism. First Corinthians 1.1-9, written to the most messed up church of God in history could never have been penned by a legalist.

Have you ever heard something repeated over and over to the point that people simply took it for granted as established fact. It is just beyond question? Nothing could be more dangerous to the pursuit of biblical understanding.

Sometimes we find out who has actually read sources (i.e. the Bible) themselves and those that simply read debate books.

One of the most repeated mantras I have heard, nearly my entire life, I heard it several times in the last week, is this (I heard it today):

“The Law of Moses was given to only Jews and was never binding on anyone other than Jews. It never applied to non-Israelites. The Sabbath day was forbidden to anyone no Jewish, Deut 5: 1-2, 12-15” (Quote from a self-identified minister in Church of Christ Facebook group)

Have you heard this before?? I can find this exact, verbatim, statement in several places on Facebook this very day. I repeated that statement myself in the early days of my work even when I started to have some issues with it.

My biggest problem with this repeated statement is that the Hebrew Bible does not seem to know anything about it. The very text this person cited from Deuteronomy contradicts, point blank, what is claimed.

But it is simpler to read debate books, by “faithful brethren” of course, on the “Old Covenant” vs “New Covenant” than going and reading the biblical text itself.

But what did the Holy Spirit write? What follows are fifteen examples where the Hebrew Bible itself declares that the Torah applied to non-Jews. We would rather just simply make a blanket (and untrue) statement than deal with the complexity of the biblical witness on the matter.

First, the Book of Exodus makes it crystal clear that non-Israelites form part of the core of the Exodus people, that is non-Israelites were “saved” by Yahweh in the Exodus event. A large “ethnically mixed diverse crowd” with lots of animals went with Israelites in the Exodus (12.38, citing HCSB). So from the first, the ekklesia that was gathered by God at the foot of Mt Sinai was ethnically MIXED. Non-Israelites also entered into the covenant that received the torah at the Mountain of God.

Second, what about the Sabbath day itself. It was claimed above that Sabbath was “forbidden” to non-Israelites. This is a strange claim. The very text he cited states the exact opposite. This is what the Law said itself.

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy … the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God; you shall do no work–you, your son nor your daughter, your male nor female slave, your ANIMALS, nor the RESIDENT ALIEN in your towns” (Exodus 20.10; see Exodus 23.12; Deuteronomy 5.14.)

According to the Ten Words/Commandments the Sabbath was to be observed by everyone, Israelite, non-Israelites, males, females and even animals. This is incredibly difficult to twist this into a prohibition of non-Jewish observance of Shabbat.

Third. regarding the Passover/Unleavened Bread the most central acts of Israel’s worship. Law regarding unleavened bread applied to non-Israelites (Ex 12.19). Aliens were allowed to participate in the Passover. In Exodus 12 they must be circumcised. In Numbers 9.9-14 aliens are invited to participate in the Passover and the text states “there shall be one law for native and resident alien” (15.16).

Fourth, Other Worship festivals. First Fruits/Pentecost explicitly legislates that aliens participate in the sacrificial meals in the presence of the Lord (Deut 14.26-29)

Fifth. the law prohibited aliens, non-Israelites, from eating blood (Lev 17.10-13)

Sixth, the law prohibiting blasphemy is explicitly applied to aliens, non-Jews, (Lev 24.16) and worship of Molech brings the death penalty to both Israelites and non-Israelites (Lev 20.2), I guess if you can be killed for it then this would imply it applied to you.

Seventh, the same laws for sacrifice, of all things, apply to non-Israelites (Lev 17.8; Lev 22.17-20; Num 15.11-16)

Eighth, atonement for unintentional sin is to include the entire community, including “the resident aliens” (Num 15.22-26)

Ninth, the laws for “fair pay” is to apply to both Israelites and non-Israelites (Deut 24.14)

Tenth, The law required tithes to be shared with aliens or non-Israelites (Deut 26.12-13)

Eleventh, there is to be “one law for native and alien” (Lev 24.22) in the famous and misunderstood eye for an eye passage.

Twelfth, the laws for worship on the Day of Atonement applied to non-Israelites, one of the most sacred days in Israel’s worship.

This shall be a statute to you forever: in the seventh month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen NOR THE ALIEN who resides among you … IT IS A SABBATH of complete rest to you” (Lev 16.29-31).

Thirteenth, aliens who sin with a “high hand” are, like Israelites, to be excluded from the community (Num 15.29)

Fourteenth, resident aliens, non-Israelites, were to assemble with Israelites for covenant renewal worship (Deut 29.10-11)

Fifteenth, I finish with a remarkable text from Deuteronomy. Aliens, non-Israelites, were to participate in Sabbatical year worship liturgies of the Festival of Tabernacles. In this case they are commanded to become “church” with Israelites and hear the word of the Lord.

Every seventh year in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, when all Israel comes before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read the this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people–men, women and children, as well as the NON-ISRAELITES residing in your towns–so that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law …” (31.9-13)

This text is the very culmination of the Law of Moses in its canonical form. It expects that non-Israelites will hear the entire word so they will come to “fear Yahweh” and “observe” that Torah.

The Torah addresses aliens repeatedly. Sometimes I wonder why or how some make the statements they do but sadly many, even preachers and teachers, often repeat debate cliff notes rather than actually read God’s word.

Sometimes people repeat things … the Bible (as the Holy Spirit gave it (2 Timothy 3.15-16) does not teach what is claimed by so many debaters.

The Bible will mess up your assumptions if you let it.

Shalom.

Good afternoon from the Land by the Bay. After doing our morning Psalm reading (Pss 126-130), I took the opportunity to read a little in 2 Timothy and Titus. As I read Timothy, especially, thoughts from the Psalms kept shaping how I read Paul. It was an instructive though unplanned exercise.

When we read all of 1 Timothy and then go on to 2 Timothy, we get the feeling that Timothy’s situation has gone from bad to worse. Reading the second letter it is not a stretch to say that Paul is worried about his “son in the faith.”

There are a number of images that, I think, distort our “hearing” 2 Timothy (as they do 1 Timothy). The biggest false image is that of Timothy as basically an insecure teenager. This is hardly the case. Timothy is Paul’s son because Paul converted, and circumcised him. He is a younger compared to Paul, not because he is 17.

If these letters are written in the early to mid AD 60s (I realize a number of scholars date them considerably later), Timothy has been in ministry with Paul for over twenty years. He has been sent by Paul on missions to deal with troubled spots (i.e. Corinth) and has even cowritten several letters with Paul (2 Corinthians; Philippians; Colossians; 1-2 Thessalonians; Philemon) Timothy is not a green behind the ears padawan learner. Recognizing Timothy a “combat veteran” of ministry highlights the seriousness of the situation that Timothy is in.

Paul’s model for ministry, it seems to me, is the righteous sufferer in the Psalms and the prophets. It would serve us well to have Psalm 55 and the life of Jeremiah in our minds as we work through 2 Timothy.

Psalm 55 could be prayed by both Timothy and Paul. And both are living the ministry of Jeremiah.

Paul opens his letter to Timothy by talking about heritage. We often miss it, or I have many times, in our social setting, but this is an appeal to honor by Paul. Paul says, basically, in 1.3-12, Timothy you have a family name to live up to. Paul says that he serves God “as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience” and Timothy has the same Jewish heritage in his mother and grandmother. Timothy comes from a family with a history of steadfastness and faithfulness. Indeed Timothy has a “sincere faith.”

Based on that heritage (an honorable Jewish heritage I might add), Paul says “fan into flame the gift of God.” This surely refers to Paul’s plea in 1 Timothy 1.18f where Timothy was set aside for this kingdom task. This plea sounds radically different when directed to a tired, frustrated and possibly ready to throw in the towel twenty+ year veteran, than when filtered through the false image of Timothy as late teen or possibly twenty something young man. The life has been sucked out of Timothy!

Then Paul returns to himself as a “model” sufferer. Paul is not ashamed to suffer and neither should Timothy. Suffering is not a badge of dishonor but of honor when done in the tradition of the prophets and the Messiah himself. Timothy is exhorted to “not be ashamed” and to “join with me in suffering.”

It is important to remember the social context here. Paul’s suffering is only in part at the hands of non-believers. As in Psalm 55, it is the people who have gone to worship, people who we thought were our friends, that have become the instruments of suffering in both Timothy and Paul’s life. This is why Paul tells Timothy that his friends Phygelus, Hermogenes, Onesiphorus and Demas have all deserted him. It is as if Paul is telling Timothy …

DON’T YOU GIVE UP ON ME TOO!

Paul has koinonia with Timothy in these struggles. But he is not ashamed and neither should Timothy be.

So Timothy rather than be ashamed, needs to be true to his heritage and be strong in the message of the Gospel. Paul uses the phrase “pattern of sound teaching” (1.13). With advance apologies to some, this phrase is not about church structure. There is not an iota about church structure in 2 Timothy. The sound/healthy teaching is how the Gospel transforms our life by God’s “purpose and grace” (1.10).

This phrase, “sound teaching/healthy teaching” occurs right after Paul’s plea for Timothy to have fellowship with in suffering.

Join me in suffering FOR THE GOSPEL, by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (1.9-10).

A few verses later, Paul tells Timothy, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2.1). Then again

Remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2.8-9).

This message is found in the Scriptures that Timothy learned from his heritage in his youth … the Hebrew Bible (likely in Greek translation) (3.14-16).

Timothy will find the resources to deal with the conflict and the courage to carry on in the Scriptures that he grew up with.

So Paul addresses, again, in the second half of chapter 2 those factions in the Ephesian church that are destroying it, and killing Timothy. From 2.14 down to 2.26 notice the massive emphasis on arguing and contentiousness. The words we often quote, devoid of context,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2.15)

This statement is sandwiched between statements on abusive fighting (v.14) and “godless chatter” (v.16). Correctly interpreting the Scriptures is directly connected to not fighting. Those who want to use Scripture for wrangling are incorrectly handling the word of truth. Paul mentions, as examples, the infamous Hymenaeus again and adds Philetus (who probably are either elders or teachers in the Ephesian church). These men are listed as types of false teachers who are full of “godless chatter” on the resurrection. But the major emphasis, the thrust, in 2.14-26 is an expansion on what Paul said in 1 Timothy 1.7f.

Lots of people, such as Hymenaeus and Philetus, want to be teachers, but simply do not understand the Bible. Here we learn that the improper use of Scripture leads inevitably to religious fights. Paul tells Timothy (who knows the Bible) “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments” (2.23).

The purpose of Scripture is to transform us into loving servants of the Lord. It is not to turn us into rabid sectarians.

The horrific description of the last days in 3.1-9 is not a prediction of the “end times.” It is a description of Timothy’s present. Paul and Timothy were living in the last days. The language, “lovers of money,” “abusive,” ungrateful,” “unholy,” “form of godliness,” could easily have been said by Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Habakkuk about God’s people who love the “forms of religion,” but could care less about loving and sacrificing for one another.

The language in 3.1ff, therefore, describes God’s people not pagans. It is not pagans that have a form of godliness yet deny its power. That distinction belongs to the Ephesian church (cf. Rev 2.1-7). This description is of people who have turned the Bible, and therefore the church, into a war zone (again 3.1 comes on the heels of 2.14-26 and Paul did not break these chapters apart). And Timothy is caught smack in the middle of this congregational war.

So Paul returns, with Timothy, to the use of Scripture. Precisely because Timothy has the Hebrew Bible he should know that those serving the Lord will, like Paul himself, “be persecuted” (3.12). But Timothy also knows, because he has a heritage, that Scripture makes us “wise unto salvation.”

This is traditional Jewish scriptural language itself. The Psalms tell us that the torah of the Lord makes “wise the simple.” In the Scriptures, that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy as a child, Timothy will be “thoroughly equipped” to do what he is supposed to do, and endure what he has to for the sake of the kingdom. He will be able to “keep [his] head in all situations” and “endure” to the end (4.5). (For more on the very traditional Jewish way in which Paul describes the Hebrew Scriptures see my article, 2 Timothy 3.16: The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament.‘)

He will be faithful, even as his mother and grandmother have been faithful. He will be faithful, even as Paul is faithful.

Paul is being poured out as a sacrifice. And in the final analysis, Timothy will not desert Paul as had his other companions. Not only did they desert him but some have done him “great harm” (4.14). So Paul is showing Timothy he has a name and heritage to live up to. But sometimes we can pray Psalm 55,

But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the
house of God …

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords

(Psalm 55.13, 20)

Sometimes it is not the unbelieving world that does the minister in. The sad truth is sometimes it is churches that bring about their destruction.

Paul is seriously concerned about his friend Timothy. He does not want Timothy to become a Demas. How do you survive ministry in a hostile situation?

  • Remember your heritage.
  • Remember your Messiah message.
  • Remember you have fellowship and communion in suffering.
  • Remember the Scriptures of old by seeing your own life in and through them.

Of course “remember” is the most basic word in the Bible for being “faithful.” Paul is, to use an image that I do not think is stretching it, stressed out over Timothy and his situation. Paul’s solution is to remind Timothy that he is part of a Story that is far larger than himself.

May you and I also remember that we are part of a Story that is as large and grand as the universe itself.

Shalom.

20 Jun 2019

Don Haymes, My Memory

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Church History, Restoration History
Festschrift in honor of Don

I was shocked and saddened to learn Don Haymes (1937-2019) was killed in a car accident.

I first met Don at an SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) meeting in New Orleans in 92 or 93. A discussion got underway about some matter of justice among a subgroup of scholars from the Stone Campbell Movement. Several voices said something. After a while this hunched back figure spoke up. He had glasses on the end of nose and an Abe Lincoln type beard. He said some things then started saying things in Greek. I knew I was way out of my league. I am not sure but may Stan Helton was with me that day but some one informed “that is Don Haymes.” [Edit, it may have been 93 which was my first grad class].

Never one to be to intimidated, after I went and shook his hand. We engaged in pleasantries and he literally pontificated to me. One thing I learned over the years, Don knows what he talking about!! At the time I did not realize that Don had been a gadfly from the 1960s. As I began to read (the 1990s were the decade for me of learning) I came across his pieces in Restoration Review, Mission Journal, Integrity and others. He was part of the Exodus Movement and worked with the “Faith Corps” and as such was the target of many harsh statements. But Don was sort of an Amos among Churches of Christ, neither a Profit nor the Son of a Profit (see that 😉 lolol) . He later went on to be a theological librarian. He was always a perpetual outsider, renegade and book, magazine, journal, reader.

The origin of my thesis, Robertson Lafayette Whiteside: Church of Christ Theologian, was Haymes. Haymes had suggested that Whiteside had never been the subject of academic study (this is untrue because Haymes had already done it in his head!!). So against my wishes, a professor named John Mark Hicks, suggested I choose Whiteside. Well he more than suggested. Don was constantly offering insight and perspective. He read my book and criticized it. Don could be a bit of a perfectionist and uncompromising in his standards of what passed for genuine scholarship.

Before I had read a single article or written a single page, Haymes wrote, “Robert Whiteside is easily one of the ten most influential people in the twentieth century for us. He is terribly ignored by our historiographers.” I learned Haymes was correct. Whiteside had been simply swept to the background by historians with some not even mentioning him at all.

But theologically Whiteside almost single handedly created the “Texas Tradition” that still dominates much of the American Churches of Christ. How a people are “traditioned” is not merely by Editor Bishop’s. But groups like the CofCs it is through sermon books, debate books, who is writing the Bible class literature, who is doing the preaching through thousands of individual preachers … this is how we are shaped. Whiteside did that through his series with C. R. Nichol Sound Doctrine, his expose of R. H. Boll, his attack on the Nashville Bible School, his rejection of pacifism, his mentoring Foy Wallace Jr, his Commentary on Romans and his opposition to K. C. Moser and his training of hundreds of preachers. Haymes was right.

But Haymes was kind and gentle. He was a man of the Holy Spirit. He was a man of deep grace. He was a godly man.

Don’s classic analysis of the “Church of Christ Establishment” in 1966

At the same time, Haymes was the only white man alive that I thought actually understood W. E. B. DuBois and Marshall Keeble. If you did not want your privileged place to be examined it was best not to inquire of Don.

Well Don went to the Lord today. He is already having a discussion with Paul over 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. He is talking to Marshall Keeble and Samuel Robert Cassius with scintillating queries for both. Foy Wallace may have to wait till tomorrow but I know the first question will be, “do you believe in the Holy Spirit now” and “Did God assign you a bed with Mother Theresa or R. N. Hogan (except Haymes would use full names)?

I cannot wait for the resurrection day when Don and I are both reunited with our bodies and dwell with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth forever.

P.S. Heaven … the new librarian is in town!

Headstone for Strong’s, Thayer, Edersheim, etc

This particular post is aimed at those who are teachers or preachers or who want to be serious students of the Bible.

One of my rabbis, longtime professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion, Dr. Jack P. Lewis, of blessed memory, said many times in his nasal tone,

Thayer and McGarvey have been dead and buried for over a century, it is time to let them rest in peace.”

This quip was not, and is not, a put down to either Thayer or McGarvey. It is simply a recognition that multiple revolutions have taken place in historical, biblical, linguistic and archaeological scholarship. Nearly one hundred and seventy years ago, Alexander Campbell stressed the same point as Dr. Lewis. Speaking on the genuine need of new translations the great reformer said,

The labors bestowed upon the original text, . . . the great advances made in the whole science of hermeneutics . . . since the commencement of the present century [19th], fully justify the conclusion that we are, or may be, much better furnished for the work of interpretation than any one, however gifted by nature and by education could have been, not merely fifty but almost two hundred and fifty years ago. The living critics and translators of the present day, in Europe and America, are like Saul amongst the people — head and shoulders above those of the early part of the seventeenth century.” (Alexander Campbell, Address to the American Bible Union Convention, 1852, pp. 583-584).

The revolutions in Greek and Hebrew scholarship even since the time of Campbell can be compared to the Copernican Revolution: the discovery of manuscripts like Codex Sinaiticus, publication of Vaticanus, the papyri, koine Greek, thousands of ancient clay tablets at Ugarit, Ebla, across Iraq, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so much more.

Much older scholarship is of value because it is historical not because it is accurate. That is older scholarship is often simply wrong. Along with being incorrect, a good deal of older scholarship reflects a pervasive, and deeply flawed, anti-Semitic prejudice that seriously distorts material in both Testaments.

I was reminded of that anti-Jewish prejudice this morning. I am reading the Gospel of Matthew. The Bible program on my pc has lots of “old classics” that are free (they are often free for a reason). So I pulled up the material from Alfred Edersheim’s Sketches in Jewish Social Life on a particular passage. The passage is a caricature at best.

So in a long discussion of the dress of the Pharisee and noting that Jews were incredibly modest, he discounts a number of texts in Scripture. Then he gets to tassels/fringe and phylacteries. Edersheim bodly declares

it is difficult to believe that He Himself had worn them.”

But why is it “difficult to believe” that Jesus wore phylacteries? That is the million dollar question. Because the prejudicial attitude the author brings to the text regarding Israel, the Hebrew Bible and Judaism. Jesus cannot look like a Jew because if he looked like a Jew then he might sound like a Jew and if he sounded like a Jew then he might think like a Jew. And if he looks like a Jew, sounds like a Jew, and thinks like a Jew then Jesus just might BE a Jew … but Jews are cartoon characters, foils for all the evils that the Protestant Reformation has delivered us from. This is why it was hard for Edersheim “to believe” what is explicitly in the text, as we shall see.

Edersheim’s description of the Pharisees is certainly done in the most negative way possible, but then he utterly disconnects Jesus from this typical Jewish way of dress that is actually commanded in the Torah. He does not discuss the multiple texts in the Gospels that clearly show Jesus did in fact wear phylacteries. But when you start off with a caricature of the Hebrew Bible and stereotypes of Jews then Jesus cannot have anything to do with that. Jesus in fact opposed that “Old Testament” ritualistic legalism of the Jews. This my friends is antisemiticism it is not biblical scholarship.

But the Bible says,

You shall make tassels on the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself” (Dt 22.12)

and “

Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner” (Num 15.37-38)

Matthew, Mark and Luke record that Jesus did exactly what the Torah instructed. Why? Because Jesus of Nazareth was, and remains, a Jew not a white European Protestant.

In contemporary scholarship, like Jodi Magness’s excellent, and archeologically grounded, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Eerdmans 2011) we get a much more accurate picture of both the variety of Judaism in Jesus’s day and Jesus’s fitting squarely within it.

Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology, we know the Pharisees were hardly the extremists in Judaism – the Essenes were. We also know that Jesus had a great deal in common with the Pharisees – enough that he regularly had table fellowship with them. But not only scrolls were discovered in the Caves of the Judean desert. Amazingly, so were prayer shawls and tassels (fringe).

Jesus chastised some Pharisees for having made large, showy, phylacteries and long tassels (Mt 23.5). Jesus did not criticize phylacteries and tassels. We read of Jesus’s own practice of wearing them …

a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages … came up to him [Jesus] and touched the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mt 9.20-21)

She came up behind him and touched the FRINGE of his clothes” (Lk 8.44)

the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all the sick … begged him that they might touch even the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mt 14.35-36)

wherever he went, into villages … they begged that they might touch the FRINGE of his cloak” (Mk 6.56)

What is most interesting is that all of the Gospels call the “fringe” kraspedon which is the very word the Septuagint uses to translate tzitzit or tassels in Numbers 15.37.

Many times, we modern western students of the Gospels simply pass over these texts because we do not understand what is going on. The Gospel writers simply assume that their readers know what is being described. The Gospel writers are, after all, Jewish themselves and the original audience of the Gospels are Jewish. The possible exception to this is Luke, but Luke is an exceedingly Jewish Gospel and most scholars believe Luke was a proselyte or God fearer at the very least.

But we already have a picture of what Jesus looks like, we have seen hundreds of paintings of him, and Edersheim flat out tells us that Jesus would not dare wear something so Jewish as phylacteries. The power of historical images of Jesus over us is explored in my article Picturing Jesus the Jew: How Project and Shape Theology.

But Jesus is not wearing frayed jeans. Jesus looks like a typical Jew. Jesus was critical of drawing attention to oneself rather than to God (this is not a uniquely Jewish problem look at the flashy suits and ties some Evangelical preachers have worn for generations). Jesus is a faithful Jewish rabbi.

It may be time to let Edersheim “rest in peace.” His material is not only inaccurate but it continues to foster the anti-Jewish prejudice latent in so much Christian reading of the Bible.

Let Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Strong, Thayer, the Pulpit Commentary, and more rest in peace.

We no longer use maps that have dragons on the edge. We do not use Roman numerals for doing algebra. We do not send people to the moon using astronomy and physics that has only five planets. We do not let doctors operate that have never heard of an x-ray or digital imaging technology.

Why, then, do we dream of preaching and teaching using sources that have never heard of koine Greek, Ugaritic, the Dead Sea Scrolls, that know nothing of the Apocrypha or Enoch or the myriad of modern discoveries that have radically changed what we know of the First Century of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, J. W. McGarvey, though old shared the same concern of Alexander Campbell and Jack Lewis for using up to date resources. For a list of good sources and suggestions on cultivating study see A Talk with McGarvey on Books, Reading & Preachers.

To paraphrase Paul, “Study good books to show yourself approved so you can then correctly interpret the word of truth.”

In 1993, I was hired to be the preaching minister for the Barton Avenue Church in Luling, LA a suburb of New Orleans. It is difficult to believe that was twenty-six years ago. This sort of makes me a veteran now. Over the years I have witnessed many of my friends leave ministry.

I have witnessed things they simply do not teach in college or any ministry class. And I have witnessed every last one of us struggling with relevancy, purpose, and stagnation.

The question of personal growth is, I think, of paramount importance for any minister.

Growth in personal relationships.
Growth in the word.
Growth in knowledge.
Growth in life.

We all know we need to grow but how can it be cultivated.

A preacher will have trials. A preacher will have times of doubt. And a preacher should not sound the same after twenty-five years.

Barton W. Stone had wrestled with the same. After a lifetime in fulltime ministry on the frontier of America, Stone, a living legend, offered some advice literally at the end of his life. His sage advice is not flashy and is perhaps not what many want to hear. But Stone speaks as one who has run a marathon, not as a sprinter. It seems that this matter was weighing on Stone’s heart as the end neared. In fact his words come, even at the time, from beyond the grave.

Barton Stone died in 1844 however several of his articles continued to be published until April 1845, the last issue of his journal, The Christian Messenger. In the second to the last article to ever be published under his name, Stone offered wisdom from his years of ministry in the trenches to any and all students of the Bible but especially those occupied with teaching and preaching in the church (See “To a Young Student, R-, G-” Christian Messenger, March 1845, pp. 330-333).

Stone boiled his years of preaching, teaching, editing, striving for the kingdom down to eight numbered suggestions for the kind of study a preacher/teacher should be engaged in. They are worth noting given the kind of training and study many do today. I remember reading these nearly twenty years ago for the first time. I have not always been true to them but they constantly challenge me. They have indeed proven a good guide over the years. I will summarize them but quote as much as possible. I use his numbering nomenclature.

Advice from Beyond the Grave

1st. “Retire to your study.” Stone suggests this should be a dedicated place of “proscuche” or “place of prayer.” Bring with you a large “pollyglot English Bible” {sic}. Along with a copy of the Septuagint, Griesbach’s Greek Testament and two different Greek lexicons.” As you are reading the Old Testament in Greek you see more in the New Testament in the same koine Greek (the LXX is koine Greek). Take notes! And “forget not to mingle prayer to your God for direction into all truth and that the wisdom from above may be afforded to you.” So read the Bible. Read the Bible in the original. Mingle prayer with your reading in the original. Read the NT in light of the Old.

2nd. In the intervals of your Bible studies read lots of “Church history.” Particularly, Stone insists time with D’Aubigne’s five volume history of the Reformation and Neander for the early church, which were classic Protestant histories of the time. Reading church history is an essential discipline and is to be a regular part of our time in the place of “proscuche” and prayer. In our reading of history “forget not meditation and prayer … keep yourself in the love of God.”

3rd. “When you have read your bible, through carefully, not hurriedly, turn back, and read it again, with the commentary.” Now the first reading is in the original and English. This reading is with the best scholarly helps of the day. Stone mentions Matthew Henry, McKnight on the Epistles, and others. Read carefully. Using the standards Stone had for 1844, he would most certainly list today such scholars as: N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, Scot McKnight, John Goldingay, Juergen Moltmann, Greg Beale, John Walton and others. And “continue ye in prayer.”

4. (sic) “During your studies, let your seat be always filled in the house of God, every Lord’s day, and other days appointed for divine worship.” Study is itself an act of worship to Stone. But Scripture can only be grasped in the Spirit of Christ when we are humbling and intimately integrated into worship and the community of God’s people.

5. (sic) I will quote in full “Keep yourself as much as practicable from too much company, irrevalent (sic) conversation. These too often intrude upon your studies and devotions.” Useless and unprofitable conversations consume to much energy and nothing comes from them.

6. (sic) When called upon to preach avoid polemic but focus upon those matters that cultivate humility, devotion and love. Preaching is does not focus upon the issues but exposition of the text in light of our lives.

7. (sic) “Let the glory of God” be your “polar star” so that you will have a “crown of righteousness at the coming of the Lord.”

8. (sic) “Be humble”

There you have it. Stone’s final words from beyond the grave to ministers.

Freshness for a Lifetime Comes through an Act of Worship

Some of Stone’s advice is to be expected. Some however is completely unexpected in this day and age. Stone did not have a PhD. He did not go to Harvard. He attended school in a log cabin and preached where Indians were still common. Yet his expectation of the preacher’s study so as to stay in for the long haul, is challenging.

Stone recommends a full diet of regular “meat” for person seeking to be minister. A daily mental exercise routine was, in Stone’s view, simply a matter of life and death for a minster.

G. C. Brewer once lamented that the preachers of old were far more broadminded and balanced than those in his own day. It was not because those old time preachers had advanced degrees, Brewer insisted, but because even without degrees they thought study was an act of worship to God himself. It was because they read church history widely (in recognized sources – Stone literally listed the premier scholarship on Church history of his day) and deeply. It was because they were not tunnel visioned with reading commentaries on the biblical text but read stuff that stretched them.

And because at each step of the way they prayed.

Prayed.

Prayed.

Today we often find the opposite of Stone’s recommendations. Having the words of Jesus, Peter, or Paul opened up through the Greek Old Testament is not thought of. Many make sure we only have “approved” study helps – often qualitatively greatly inferior “in house” stuff or study is limited to reading lectureship books or approved brotherhood journals. All of which is completely alien to Barton W. Stone … a simple country preacher in the backwoods of Kentucky and then Illinois.

Devote our self to a specific time and place for prayer and study.
Devote our self to reading the Bible, read the NT in light of the Old.
Devote our self to reading the history of God’s people.
Devote our self to the study of God’s word with excellent resources.
Devote our self to public worship and the life of the people of God.
Devote our self to private prayer.

I find myself being challenged by the profound Spiritual wisdom of my ancestor in the Gospel, Barton W. Stone.

I appreciate his vision and his challenge. I hope you will too.

Sometimes we notice what we have not before. But sometimes we are blind. We are not blinded by the light as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (singing Bruce Springsteen lyrics) taught us. Rather we often blind because of our religious traditions which can quite literally function as blinders. Perhaps this is an example from just now.

All my life I have had drilled in my head “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11.26).

I, like most everyone else, could not have told you what else is in that verse. I/we fixated on a tangential detail. That is something that is “beside the point” but interesting to know. It is a demonstrable fact that Luke has little interest in the word “Christian,” though “we” do and largely (ironically) for sectarian reasons.

I have long been aware of the long discussion between Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone on the “name” in Act 11.26. Stone and his group believed this was a divinely given name, while Campbell argued forcefully it was simply a slur thrown at disciples and had no claim to divine authority. The scholarly literature since the debates between these great men seems to agree with Campbell. Luke is merely reporting the origin of a common smear on the disciples but this is not divinely given epitaph. Luke, himself, never once describes an individual or group of disciples by that word even after 11.26. And for that matter no apostle or NT writer ever addresses anyone by that term. For more see my article Who Are We? Perhaps It Is Not ‘Christian.’ Luke’s Terms for the Followers of Jesus.

Once I recognize the tangential nature of Luke’s note on “Christian,” I am free to ask, what is in the rest of 11.26 that is part of Luke’s overall agenda?

Luke has just told us that Barnabas found an amazing congregation in Antioch. Barnabas “saw the grace of God” (11.23). He didn’t hear it but saw it. Barnabas suddenly takes a quick trip to Tarsus and retrieved Saul. Why, Saul and for what purpose?

The rest of v.26 tells us, what I believe was his real point, two things:

First, Saul and Barnabas are now situated with the Antioch church that Luke knows will figure so prominently in the rest of the story and

Second, Saul and Barnabas engage in a year long teaching ministry,

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many …”

A chapter later we are told this same Antioch congregation has prophets and TEACHERS (13.1). So the question that comes to mind is did Saul do what he would later urge Timothy to do with the congregation in Ephesus?

But here is what we have in Antioch.

We have a Levite (a priestly orientation)

We have a professional Pharisee

The Levite and the Pharisee have taken over the teaching of the church. They taught “for an entire year!” Luke, in my opinion, is showing that Antioch becomes the great church it did because of intense teaching by a Levite and a Pharisee (he also in passing mentions the minor detail saying essentially the rumor began here!)

But here is where my epiphany came, I asked the question, “What did Barnabas the Levite (Luke has already explicitly termed Barnabas a Levite, Acts 4.36) and Saul a Pharisee teach for a whole year??”

Paul had not written even a single letter by this time. So he did not teach Romans, Corinthians, etc. Peter’s letters did not exist for decades. The Gospels had not been written and Acts itself clearly did not exist. There were no New Testaments to place in the pews at Antioch.

What did a Levite and Pharisee teach that shaped such an awesome church? There is only one possible answer to this question my friends … Barnabas and Saul taught Greek speaking Gentiles the Hebrew Bible, in the Septuagint translation for an entire year.

They taught Deuteronomy (which may explain their response to Agabus in vv. 27-30). They taught Kings, Psalms, Isaiah (with its massive emphasis on being a light to the nations may explain the resulting mission!) and all the rest. They taught the Scriptures that so many today call the Old Testament. Now, of course, this instruction would include Jesus as the Messiah of Israel (but look at how Jesus is taught in Acts 2, 3, 4, etc).

But why would it be important to Luke to have a Levite and a Pharisee spend a year teaching the Antioch Church before the first so called Missionary Trip?

Because Luke believes Gentiles are brought into God’s renewed covenant with Israel. Gentiles are not “separate and apart” from the Israel. Instead Gentiles are part of the rebuilt house of David (as he will record James saying at the Great Council in Acts 15).

Gentiles needed not only to be baptized into the Messiah but they needed to be baptized into the Story of Israel in the Scriptures.

For any Serious student of Acts this is ESSENTIAL reading.

Why have I never stopped to ask what Barnabas and Saul taught for a year before? Well because I had never paid attention to the fact that Luke actually tells us that! I was more interested in the rumor than the point Luke is making!

I thank the Lord that I read Jacob Jervell’s Luke and the People of God. I have never read Acts the same and it continues to bear fruit.

Before you go further, this is not written to make you angry. And if you get angry, go pray before you comment.

I am “prolife.” I have always been prolife. I believe that abortion as a means of birth control, simply to get rid of an inconvenience, is wrong. There are gut wrenching exceptions in my view. Any wise person must recognize this.

Over my 25+ years of ministry I have worked with a surprising number of women, older and younger, that have had an abortion. I remember counseling with a dear sister in her sixties who had an abortion in her twenties. She now (at that time) was dealing with serious emotional issues because of it though she had not thought of it in years.

In my experience compassion, gentleness, and simply love is all God has called me to do. Love first!

But what is “Prolife?” Prolife is not simply “anti-abortion.

Listening to Others

One of my first reads in racial justice

Let me shift gears for a second. I am convinced, yes convinced, that white Christians need to get to know black Christians. We need to know them personally. Not an acquaintance, but knowing.

We need to read black history.
We need to read black authors.
We need to read black thinkers and theologians.

Black folks already know and read and see the perspective of white folks far, far, far, far greater than whites do blacks.

Spencer Helped Me See My Shortcomings

I first became aware of Spencer Perkins, and his father John, while preaching in Mississippi. Spencer went to his reward in January 1998. There are few people I know who speaks on matters of Christianity and race with more integrity than John Perkins and his late son Spencer. Spencer Perkins book, More than Equals, was one of the first books I read in the 90s, when confronted with my own unbelievable blindness by a loving sister and brother (who bravely confronted me! I was not happy but hopefully I have learned something).

Many years ago while doing research on the town I preached in and the social history of our community, and I was still learning (I am still learning how ignorant I am), I came across a challenging essay by Spencer in Christianity Today. It had the provocative title of “the Prolife Credibility Gap.”

I cannot speak for other readers of the article but for the not quite 30 year old Bobby, it hit me and has never left me. (Spencer edited the journal Urban Family: A Magazine of Hope and Progress and was the editor of The Reconciler for many years).

Spencer writes that he often wondered, growing up, “if there were no white Christians south of the Mason-Dixon line.” Why would he even say such a thing? It surely offends white Christians. (Trust me, I know from personal experience, it does!).

Isn’t there a large majority that crowd into church buildings every Sunday? DO not these folks post Jesus stickers on their cars (or memes on FB)? Do they not abhor liberalism? Do they not crusade for the inerrancy of the Bible? Do they not pass out Focus on the Family voter guides that tell everyone how this or that candidate stands on homosexuality and especially abortion?

But Spencer confesses, “Abortion–and the prolife movement–present black evangelicals with a dilemma.” Why? And this, my beloved friends, is where we white folks — if you claim to be a Christian — need to pray for the Spirit to anoint our ears so we can hear. One of the most common exhortations in the Bible (or laments) is having ears to hear or not having ears to hear. It is a call to perceive, to understand. And brothers and sisters we need the gift of the Spirit to put down our defensiveness long enough to “hear.”

In spite of all the noise, Spencer insists, there is a huge “credibility gap.”

Spencer continues, “It is not that we [black Christians] question the evil of abortion; Jesus clearly would have condemned it. But for me, a black man, to join your demonstrations against abortion, I would need to know that you understand God’s concern for JUSTICE EVERYWHERE” (my emphasis).

Spencer charges that while these white antibortionitsts claim to be prolife, that it typically extends to people not yet born. So he asks, based on historical trends, “Am I not right in assuming that as ghettos become larger and more dangerous, these same antiabortionists move farther and farther into suburbs, taking little or no responsibility for the social consequences of the lives they have [supposedly] saved?”

Prolife Demands ProJustice … for All

God is not only concerned about the unborn. As John Perkins wrote in the Bible, “just laws aren’t just about punishing sin; they’re also for preventing oppression” for the living. (See on John Perkins my “Loving When it Isn’t Easy)

So Spencer illustrates the credibility gap, as he perceived it, with an episode that took place at his own church in Mississippi. The congregation was actively involved in the pro-life movement. A group held a planning session at Voice of Calvary. As it turned out about the crowd was 50-50 of blacks/white. A white Christian woman who did not realize that VoC was a black, though integrated, church, dropped her kids off at the nursery. Finding the nursery filled with children of color said, “What kind of church is this?” She proceeded to tell her little boy to be careful about what he touches.

After relating the story, Spencer asks, “Does loving my neighbor mean loving blacks too?”

So Spencer boils his understanding of “prolife” down to this. More than 22 years later of reading, and pondering it, I think Amos and James would sign their name to the statement.

“Being prolife and demanding an unborn baby’s ‘right to life’ is a high calling. But I believe that God cares about a deeper principle – a ‘right to justice’; that is, a right to a decent QUALITY [sic] of life.”

White Christians protest for this “right to life.” But Spencer argues they do almost nothing to support the life that is born. They demand a policy change on abortion (a law!). But they vociferously oppose any policy (law!) that helps those unwed mothers, those babies born rather than aborted.

See my article in Wineskins, The Most Unpopular Teaching in the Bible

White Evangelicals, Perkins opined, often do not support justice but in fact, so often, simply mirror the unredeemed culture in matters of justice. They are antiabortion but they do not love those black girls in the inner cities, those poor with such limited options and even less opportunities. If we are genuinely prolife, our advocacy does not stop with a protest outside Planned Parenthood. It is defending the cause of the least of these. Does our prolife position protect the “dignity” of those who are born.

Spencer ends his thought provoking essay with these words. “As for answering the question, ‘Where do black Christians stand on abortion?’ it looks to me as if we are on the same side of a moral issue. But if, from where you stand, you insist the battle is against abortion, while we believe the battle is against injustice, our strategies must remain different.”

I know some are already riled by Spencer’s words. But he did not write those words out of dislike for white Evangelicals. It is hard not to read what he wrote and not become defensive. We want to defend ourselves! Before we defend why don’t we try to listen and see if at least he might perceive an inconsistency in our ethic and perhaps even our theology.

Antiabortion? Or Prolife?

John Perkins, who has labored valiantly for biblical reconciliation from before Spencer was born, has noted that “for the most part, in the past the white church in America has not embraced this kind of justice thinking.”

If Spencer were here today, I wonder if he would say we have “come along way.” Or would he lament and say “We are still here.”

The question is a good one: Am I Prolife? Or am I merely antiabortion?

Thank you Spencer Perkins. Thank you John Perkins. I think we need our black brothers and sisters, and they need us, to be what God has called us to actually be.

I cannot recommend John Perkins Dream with Me enough. Click on the title and order it today.