K. C. Moser speaking at a Campus Evangelism Seminar

“No other book so clearly and fully sets for the fundamental principles of Christianity as Romans. It is necessary to learn Romans in order to appreciate and accurately to teach Christianity.” – K. C. Moser

I first encountered K. C. Moser in a class with Jim Massey at what is now Heritage Christian University in 1988 but it was not until several years later that his life and teaching captured my imagination.  I give credit to Leonard Allen’s 1992 book, Distant Voices and then the W. B. West Lecture by John Mark Hicks at Harding Graduate School of Religion as introducing me to just how radical Moser was.  His emphasis on Jesus as the object of faith, on grace, faith, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit were things that I simply did not grow up with.  Since then I have been digging into Moser’s life and have lectured on him at the ACU Lectures and the Christian Scholars Conference and written on him numerous times. Now with “The Message of Romans” being the theme for the 2017 Lipscomb University Summer Celebration I have decided to share briefly on Moser’s personal journey with Romans.  It is difficult to imagine the Churches of Christ and Romans without K. C. Moser.

A Life in a Paragraph

Kenny Carl Moser (1893-1976) was born and bred in Texas. His father, J. S. was a semi-well known preacher throughout the region that K. C. would also spend most of his life, Texas and Oklahoma. K. C. became certified in Texas to teach school but entered in Thorp Springs Christian College in 1915 and then became the music instructor at the school for 1918-1919. Moser preached for various congregations for the next 50 years mostly in Oklahoma.  In 1925 at the recommendation of Foy Wallace Jr he became the pulpit preacher for the Tenth & Francis Church in Oklahoma City, a ministry that was pivotal for Moser’s theological development.  It has been stated that in the past that Moser was banned from the ACC Lectures but he actually appeared on the program in 1937 but he was in fact quite controversial.  Late in his life he was invited by F. W. Mattox (the Mattox’s were members of Moser’s congregation at 12th & Drexel in Oklahoma City in the 1940s) to be professor of Bible at Lubbock Christian College.  He entered his reward his reward in 1976 having blessed hundreds of ministers and Christians in their discovery that we are saved by Jesus himself and not by some Plan. Fittingly the last published article by Moser was a month before his death in Twentieth Century Christian simply titled “The Resurrection.”

Moser’s 1929 booklet

Romans “Converts” Moser (1923-1926)

In 1925, Moser’s career was on the rise. He was E. M. Borden’s co-editor of the publication called The Herald of Truth, a frequent speaker on programs in Oklahoma and Texas and since 1923 had been the preacher at the flagship church in Oklahoma City, Tenth and Francis Street Church of Christ.  Foy E. Wallace Jr was Moser’s immediate predecessor and had publicly campaigned for Moser to get the job.  Wallace wrote in The Herald of Truth,

Brother K. C. Moser takes up the work in Oklahoma City. They will find in Brother Moser a consecrated man of God, a capable preacher and an efficient leader. He knows the Bible, believes it and preaches it. He is sound to the core and under his teaching and work I do no doubt that the church will enjoy a steady and pleasing growth.

It was in his pastoral ministry at Tenth and Francis that Moser became concerned about the spiritual health of not only his congregation but of the churches.  He wrote that “Our debaters affirm ‘we’ are scriptural in doctrine and practice” but he confesses “I would be slow to debate the practice part of it.” In particular Moser was dismayed by the lack of joy, vitality and the worldliness among disciples.  In 1925, Moser began asking in the Herald of Truth what was wrong, why was it that we seemingly were the true church and yet lacked what was on the pages of the NT (joy, vitality and holiness). What was the difference between those first century churches and those in the 1920s? As far as the known record is concerned this is when Moser first turns to Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It was May 1925, Moser published an article called “Paul’s Natural Man” which indicates that Moser had begun to study a work that would change his ministry and his life. By the end of 1926, Moser had left Tenth and Francis and announced he had embraced the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit from his study of Romans and entered his first theological debate in the pages of the Firm Foundation.  In his announcement he cites Romans 8 for the first time in his extant writings. He apparently had believed that “spirit” meant “disposition” as many preachers did at the time.  But he wrote,

Paul did not mean by ‘Spirit,’ disposition. For in the very same connection he writes, ‘But if the Spirit of Him raised Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you,’ etc. It was not simply a ‘disposition’ that raised Jesus from the dead.”

W. T. Kidwell immediately challenged Moser’s new interpretation of Romans 8.  He responded “let Brother M. perform a few miracles and thus prove that the Spirit that inspired the apostles is in him, then I will believe it.” But Moser had come to believe that the reason for a lack of joy, vitality and the resultant worldliness in churches stemmed from a denial of the indwelling Holy Spirit that he himself had taught.

For the rest of his life Moser was a lover of the Epistle to the Romans.

“Legalism is the Father of the Denial of the Indwelling Spirt” (1929-32)

By 1929, Moser was preaching in Wewoka, Oklahoma.  Here he continued to plumb Paul’s letter to the Romans.  While in Wewoka in 1929, Moser had published a small booklet entitled Studies In Romans (Outlines and Comments). The booklet consists of a numbered outline of each chapter followed by brief comments on the points in the outline. I had never seen the work nor any reference to the work prior to discovering it several years ago. In this short booklet he wrestles with “the righteousness of God” for the first time.

Moser’s theology of the Holy Spirit also moved from the fact of the indwelling Spirit to the belief that the Holy Spirit’s active presence was essential to the Christian life.  God’s Spirit does something in the life of Christians, it is not a mere idea for us to affirm.

The study of Romans led to publishing a series of articles in the Firm Foundation.  Here Moser became embroiled in his second debate, this time with F. L. Colley.  Moser had published an article called “The Earnest of the Spirit” from Romans to which not only Colley but several took exception to. Focusing on Colley Moser wrote, plainly,

Those who deny the indwelling of the Holy Spirit leave grace for law, and would exchange the safety under Christ for the wretched condition described in Romans the seventh chapter … Legalism is the father of the denial of the personal indwelling of the Spirit … The indwelling of the spirit [sic] has no place under law … God is Spirit; under Christ the birth is spiritual; our citizenship is spiritual; circumcision is spiritual; the priesthood is spiritual; our sacrifice is spiritual; our virtues are PRODUCED by the Spirit” (my emphasis).

Moser followed up his exchange with Colley with a series of three articles in the Firm Foundation under the heading of “Thoughts on Romans.”  His articles suddenly stop however in January 1931. Moser’s articles and his booklet bore fruit in the publication in 1932 of The Way of Salvation.  Here Moser’s thought had significantly crystallized and was regarded dangerous enough that R. L. Whiteside formally responded to Moser with a series on Romans in the Gospel Advocate which eventually became Whiteside’s Commentary on Romans.

It was Romans that convinced Moser that one cannot be a Christian without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was Romans that convinced Moser that the key to Christian life was the Holy Spirit who produces by his power the fruit of the Spirit and the image of Jesus within the disciple.  Without the Spirit, God’s own power coursing through our being, then Christianity is nothing but a super law.

But what would cause us to deny the indwelling Spirit, as Moser himself had done? It was, he stated, one of the plainest truths taught in the New Testament?  Legalism is the father of the denial of the indwelling Spirit, Moser opined.  From here Moser began to investigate where this legalism came from … our preaching of law (i.e. plans) rather than the Gospel, the good news that we have a Savior not that we save ourselves, was the culprit. Romans was the antidote to both legalistic preaching and the legalistic view of Christian living (sanctification).

Studies in Romans (1937)

Moser had come under attack by many in the brotherhood for his teaching on the Spirit and then for his analysis of the problem being our preaching.  Among the fiercest critics was his former champion, Foy Wallace Jr.  But Wallace was hardly alone in his assault on Moser.  Moser suffered greatly from the onslaught and withdrew from the lime light for a period of time.

Living in Ardmore in 1937, the Great Depression was in swing, Moser returned to the book of Romans yet again.  He took about half of his journal for 1937 and poured his soul into it as he wrestled with Romans on a macro scale.  He outlined, organized and put down a miniature theology of the book of Romans in his journal.  These “Studies in Romans,” as he calls them, are the seeds of became twenty years later The Gist of Romans.

Moser had briefly commented on the state of preaching in The Way of Salvation (pp.107-108) and rather overtly critiqued preaching in a booklet called Are We Preaching the Gospel? published in 1937, which was endorsed by G. C. Brewer.  Moser’s booklet however grew out of his private wrestling with Romans. Perhaps reacting to the bitter sting from his former compatriots he minces no words.  They are worth quoting.

And, strangely enough and illogically, others look for ‘plans,’ and ‘schemes.’ [sic] by which to be saved. much [sic] is said and written of a ‘plan of salvation.’ we are told that Jesus died to give us a ‘plan of salvation.’ Just how much does the Bible say about a ‘Plan of Salvation.’ Is man’s Saviour a ‘plan’? What does the expression, ‘Plan of Salvation’ mean? If we are saved by a ‘plan,’ does this not make the ‘plan’ our Saviour? Is there LIFE [sic] in a ‘plan’ … IT MUST BE A ‘HARD SAYING,’ BUT THE ‘PLAN SYSTEM OF SALVATION WAS BORN OF A LEGALISTIC CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIANITY. [sic] Jesus himsel, [sic], God’s Son, Crucified for our sins is the only ‘plan of salvation’ possible and he is never so designated!”

The brotherhood had been duped into believing a “plan” was the Gospel which was nothing but legalism in Moser’s view.  Because we preached a false Gospel it is no wonder that we missed the boat on the Holy Spirit.  Romans had convinced Moser we are saved by a genuine Savior and God himself provided what was needed for Christians to live joyfully, vitally and as living sacrifices by his indwelling Spirit.  Moser would explicate these themes with gusto in his Gist of Romans published at the height of the dead legalistic controversy over orphan homes in 1957.

Moser’s heading for Romans in his 1962 American Standard Version New Testament

Romans is Dangerous: Three Necessities for Approaching Romans

K. C. Moser believed two things about Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It was extremely dangerous and it must be approached humbly. (When all is said and done Moser’s differences with his old compatriots is not a matter of semantics rather there is a fundamental difference at the very core. Christianity was primarily God centered for Moser and primarily human centered for his critics.)

In Moser’s Bible’s or Testaments he placed at the top of Romans this label,

“Posted” – Legalists Stay Out! (They do!!)”


“Warning: Legalist Stay Out! (They do!) Enter at your own Risk.”

Moser placed this warning label on Paul’s epistle partly because of his own experience. Romans had radically changed not only his career path and his standing with his friends but also his conception of Christianity itself. Those who enter the book openly and humbly just may find themselves in hot water if the understand the book.  Moser offers three basic attitudes that he believes are essential for hearing the truth of Romans.

  • A disciple must be committed to truth. No more than that.  One can only approach Romans correctly if one “Loves the truth.”  As Moser notes, “Many who think they are strong devotees of truth are really only zealous of proving and propagating some opinion.”  For Moser “partisan spirit has no place in the study of truth.”  Only a passion for the truth and nothing but the truth can open one up to the challenging depths of Romans. No student should assume anything.
  • The corollary to a love for truth is the “willingness to sacrifice EVERYTHING” for that truth according Moser. Romans on its own terms will be hedged and domesticated unless we are willing to begin with the perspective that I am willing to embrace whatever it teaches no matter what, no matter who disagrees with it, no matter who agrees with it.
  • A student who would truly understand the radical nature of Romans, Moser believed, must “get read to deal with principles.” The principle of law, as Moser understood it (for Moser the term “law” is essentially synonymous with “legalism”) is antithetical to grace. Without coming to terms with the principles of Romans a person simply is “not prepared to teach Christianity.”

Some Moser Annotations on Romans

The fundamental teachings of Romans are sometimes either misunderstood or not understood by some who presume to be ‘teachers of babes’ and leaders of the blind.’”

Paul was a strong believer in the reality, guilt, power and condemnation of sin … Too little attention is given the fact of the reign or power of sin over the sinner and to a degree over the child of God.

Even many who profess to be Christians scarcely regard themselves as once sinners and justly ‘worthy of death’ and now redeemed from such a horrible reality as sin. ‘Becoming a member of the church’ with too many is little more than a social consideration or at most a protest against doctrinal error and denominationalism. They lack the consciousness, appreciation, and practical proof of a real redemption from sin and spiritual death.”

But the true conception of a Saviour appears difficult for many. Some prefer Jesus in other relationships than that of Saviour. For example, some prefer to regard him as TEACHER instead of a Saviour. Certainly our Saviour was a teacher, even the world’s greatest. But he is Saviour not primarily because he is our teacher … he is Saviour because he gave his life for us. He DIED to save us … there  is no redemptive power in teaching. Redemptive power resides in his blood or life which was given for us … Jesus ascended the cross to die for us in order that we might be saved. He did not ascend the cross to teach but to ‘give his life as a ransom’ for us.”

With many Christianity is a set of lessons to be learned, a list of rules to follow, certain qualities to be attained – all without divine help!!

Sin CANNOT be conquered by blue prints.”  (from his 1962 ASV New Testament)

“Law gives me neither feet nor hands; A better word the gospel brings. It bids me fly and gives me wings” (from his 1962 ASV New Testament)

Romans in Moser’s ASV Bible purchased in 1941

Romans’ Gifts to Moser

K. C. Moser was a Pauline Christian. Moser also had a “canon within a canon” and that was Romans, and to a lesser extent Hebrews, was his grid. But it was Moser’s theology of the cross that was the key for reading Romans, Hebrews and through them the rest of the Bible. Romans however was the book that changed his walk with God and determined the course of his ministry within Churches of Christ from 1925 to 1976. Romans provided Moser with three gifts of grace that became the warp and hoof of true New Testament Christianity.  These three are Jesus, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit.  I will quote from Moser on each of these three to wrap up this blog on Romans through the life of one radical man.


Romans taught Moser that he has a genuine relationship with Jesus and not the church.  Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of our faith. It is he we look to, it is he we trust, it is he we love.  “Jesus = God’s MAN of salvation. God reveals his real character more by giving than by demanding.” So for Moser it comes down to Jesus,

I’ll take Jesus wherever I go,
He’ll uphold me, He loves me so
He’ll be with me unto the end,
For He’s promised me so

The Cross

At the Cross both the Father and the Son demonstrate in blazing glory their infinite love. At the Cross, Jesus actually saved us from sin and death. Jesus did not die to give a plan whereby we can save ourselves.  The Gospel, the message of the Cross, is the “power of God” and it was never transferred to a plan nor even to baptism.  So Moser writes,

The Cross: It has bowed men in gratitude
chastened them into penitence
wakened them to hope,
inspired them to devotion
and redeemed them from sin.”

The Holy Spirit

We end where we began, God’s indwelling Spirit. Romans taught Moser that God absolutely demands holiness on the part of disciples of Christ. But God demands holiness because he is himself holy and God cannot dwell with uncleanness.  The Holy Spirit actually and literally dwelling within Christians is the greatest of all graces next to the gift of the Son on the Cross.  God himself empowers his children to walk in the path of obedience and holiness through his own Spirit. God himself makes it possible to for us to be united in beautiful communion with God through his Spirit.  The key to being a Christian is God’s indwelling Spirit. A few words from Moser,

Let me suggest again that we ‘grieve not the Holy Spirit’ by refusing to recognize his presence (Eph. 4:30) … Christianity, brother, is not a cold, lifeless formalism. But a religion without the Spirit is dead … What a wonderful provision of grace! [is the indwelling Spirit] … let us gratefully accept  from God his seal of our sonship, and the earnest of our inheritance; and out of a consciousness of sweet fellowship and communion with God cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

May the courage of Moser impel us to study Romans for all its worth.  May the “gifts of Romans” come to us as well.

Thank you Father for the ministry of K. C. Moser.

Suggested Links of Interest

K. C. Moser: Student of the Word

Alone in the Spirit and His Word: Reading K. C. Moser’s Bible

For Contemporary Exegetical Perspectives on Paul’s Letter to the Romans See …

Romans is Not Galatians! Welcome to the Most Jewish Letter in the NT: Assumptions and Surprises


A Lesson from Frederick Douglass

If the proverb, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” has any validity then European and American disciples have spoken millions of words regarding Jesus. But pictures do more than say words. Images shape the words we say and the ideas the words express. Frederick Douglass, the profound crusader for human rights and dignity of the nineteenth century, knew the power of images. Images of blacks in America both expressed and shaped the profoundly distorted and racist ideology that prevailed across this nation.

Zoe Todd, Celeste-Marie Bernier and Henry Louis Gates give us a powerful window into America and Douglass’s subversive attempt to reframe the hearts and minds of people in Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American. Douglass, an escaped slave, directly addressed the power of images in at least three different lectures: “Lectures on Pictures” (1861), “Age of Pictures” (1862), and “Pictures and Progress” (1865/6).  “The picture making faculty is a mighty power,” he stated in 1861. Thus in the 1881 edition of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass there are seventeen engravings. In stark contrast to prevailing stereotypes of servile and buffonish characters we are confronted with a tall, bold, even proud figure of extraordinary character. The images, Douglass believed, explicitly countered the way white folks saw blacks and shaped the way blacks would see themselves.   All the good in the world, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is righteous, industrious, intelligent was portrayed as white. Douglass did not want to reinforce powerful images that confirmed white people’s prejudice.  The visual image was a profound tool for shaping the subconscious mind of both whites and blacks.

Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ has been printed over 500 million times

Jesus the White European

Quite possibly the most dangerous leaven upon modern disciples way of seeing Jesus was Warner Sallman’s 1940 painting “Head of Christ.” Sallman’s painting actually began in the 1920s has become the visualization of Jesus for literally hundreds of millions of people. It hangs in churches, on small devo cards for Bibles, book marks, and other places. The picture functions subconsciously refashioning Jesus into something very different than he was. When people close their eyes and have “visions” of Jesus it is Sallman’s portrait of Christ.  Christ has become white, with white values and loyalties, and is as American as baseball and apple pie. The white Jesus is indistinguishable from our projected prejudices and he supports our agendas whether racial or theological.

Sallman’s portrait of Jesus is just one of thousands of images of Jesus that, reaching back to the medieval period, project what the community believes about Jesus and reinforces and shapes those beliefs. For the mass of illiterate folks that inhabited Europe their encounter with Jesus was through his visualization in stained glass, passion plays, and other forms of visual art. On one level there is nothing wrong with this.  On another the view of Jesus the masses gain is the one that is just like them. Jesus has been made “one of us” and not “one of them.” This made treating them as undesirable far easier.

By the time of the high medieval period, European Jews had been stripped of most rights and were considered “wards of the church.” Jews were demonized. They were frequently persecuted, their books burned and sometimes given the option to confess Christ or die. Jews were far better of in Moorish Spain than in Catholic Spain. Jesus was separated from his Jewish context theologically.  Art followed theology and then art shaped the theology of the common person. Jesus was “not one of them.

Just as Aaron called the Golden Calf Yahweh (Ex 32.4-5), so a more palatable Jesus was fashioned.  Jesus was refashioned into our image, he became in fact an idol of our own making.

The catastrophic affects of de-Jewing Jesus range from Marcionism, Gnostic heresies to Jewish pogroms to the Holocaust, and the Klu Klux Klan and legalism.  Blum and Harvey in their epic work, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America have shown the extensive interplay between racism, racial violence and images of Christ in American history. The non-Jewish Jesus is an ideology that needs to die.

Now, I do not believe that all artists were anti-semitic and racists. But their art projected what was held to be true by the community as a whole. And at the same time it reinforced those subconscious values as true.

Classic Renaissance art can be stunningly beautiful and even worshipful.  I enjoy museums full of art. At the same time we must recognize the long, sad legacy of a European Jesus. There is a sense in which Jesus is a “man of the world” as Jarslov Pelikan noted beautifully in his Jesus Through the Centuries, His Place in the History of Culture.  So Christians can embrace a multicultural Jesus that is brown, black, and yellow. But as Pelikan noted, and this important, we need to know that it is only as Jesus the Jew that he is for the world.

One of the tens of thousands of booklets published and online that proclaim an Anti-Jewish “Gospel’

Picturing Jesus the Jew

Jesus is, not was, a Jew. The Gospel of Matthew begins with a traditional, and epically, Jewish picture of Jesus.  It is a picture many gentiles do not find exciting or even meaningful. So we skip it.  It’s sort of like Cubism in a way.  Going from Leonardo to Picasso can be disorienting for some and the temptation is to just skip that room in the museum of modern art. Matthew’s opening picture is a genealogy, it is a list of names but a powerful portrait nonetheless of the Jewishness of Jesus.  Matthew’s portrait states unequivocally there is no Jesus that is not Jewish down to his bones.

Jesus’s blood is deep in the ancestry of the Jewish nation. Matthew says Jesus is born a Jew, and of Jews. Jesus grew up as a Jew.  Jesus lived as a Jew. Jesus prayed as a Jew. Jesus taught as a Jew. Jesus read the Bible of Jews. Jesus was killed by Romans as the King of the Jews. And Jesus is raised as a Jew.  Jesus will be for eternity the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of Mary.

We are not simply affirming that Jesus is ethnically a Jew, though that is non-negotiable. But that Jesus embraced a Hebraic worldview.  Jesus’s arguments with other Jewish teachers are very much like the kind of arguments that the Mishnah and Talmud record of hundreds of rabbis that argue endlessly with one another.

Goldstein has given us a wonderfully beautiful work to envision Jesus. But even here Jesus may need deeper tones

It is rather easy to de-Jew Christian faith if we have already de-Jewed Jesus. It is much harder to place the Way in conflict with the “Old Testament” when we see Jesus living, breathing, acting, praying, and teaching things that the Hebrew Bible clearly affirms and that most Jewish teachers in the first century agree with.

What if the picture of Jesus that hundreds of millions had in their head, as they read the Gospel of Matthew chapter 23, was a man with brown skin, head covered in a prayer shawl with zitzit dangling on the corners, and with a phylactery on his forehead? How would that make Matthew 23 look different and be understood differently?

What if we had paintings showing Jesus, his disciples and the early Way in Acts 2, 3, 21, etc entering a mikveh as they enter the Temple … or the synagogue in Luke 4 (the recently discovered synagogue at Magdala that dates to the time of Jesus had a mikveh so it seems that when Jews gathered to read the Torah in the synagogue they followed the temple’s ritual purity laws).  Jesus, nor anyone, could even get in the door of the Temple without going through ritual washing.

When you close your eyes, does the Jesus you see have a prayer shawl on? is he wearing tassels? Is he Jewish?

What would happen? I think we would be more faithful readers of the Gospels. What would happen to our debates about all kinds of things if we had images in  in our heads of Jesus dripping wet coming out of ritual purification, or of Jesus dancing during the Festival of Booths as the Levites played loudly and joyfully to the Lord? Or Jesus praising God for the Maccabees during Hanukkah? Or Jesus celebrating over a nice sized glass of wine with the bride and groom at Cana? Might not some of our debates loose their urgency?

Our visual images of Jesus reinforce the historic anti-Jewish (which becomes an anti-Old Testament) perspective brought to the Gospels and the pages of the New Testament. This prejudice causes us to miss stuff … read right over it in fact … sometimes just simply miss it. Let me give a couple of examples.

First, it is common in Restoration/Evangelical circles to assume that Jesus was negative of the Temple as an institution. The Temple represents all that Protestant Christianity has rejected, its notions of sacred space, its “ritualism” (which means “legalism” to Evangelicals), sacrifice, and for Church of Christ folks it has instruments.  But there is no evidence for Jesus’s negative attitude in the Gospels but it is assumed and reinforced through our de-Jewing of Jesus.. The Gospels, especially John, depict Jesus routinely traveling to the Temple to participate in its worship (cf. John 2.13, 23; 5.1-2; 7.1-2, 14, 37; 10.22ff; 13.1; No wonder Luke says Jesus’s family went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year, Luke 2.41-42).

But I want to focus on a famous text that is often only half read, the “cleansing” of the Temple (Mk

When your Jesus gets up to read the scroll, is he a recognizable Jewish rabbi?

11.15-17). We all know that Jesus turned over the money tables. But what about that line in 11.16, that we in our gentileness miss the picture like a failure to appreciate Picasso because we have no use for Cubism.

He [Jesus] would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

Here, in neon lights, Mark indicates Jesus’s concern for the purity, or sanctity, of the Temple. This is in fact a remarkably Pharisaic concern! The Mishnah (Berakhot 9.5) reads,

Man must not be light with his head [frivolous] near the eastern gate, for it is near the foundation of the Holy of Holies. One may not enter the Holy Mount with his staff, or with his sandal, … or with dust on his feet, and may not make it a short cut, spitting is forbidden …”

Jesus is portrayed, as radically protective of the ritual purity of the Temple in this passage … and we read over it and miss the passionately Jewish zeal that is given to us by Mark about Jesus.  Perhaps Luke was accurate in recording the teenage Jesus as describing the Temple of Jerusalem as “my Father’s house” (Luke 2.49).

What would happen if we picture Jesus in the Court of Women, singing, dancing, clapping his hands as the women danced and the Psalms were sung as the Levites played harps, lyres, trumpets, and tambourines?

My second example comes from the Gospel of John (15.1ff). Jesus says “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower.” In the context Jesus had been teaching, as was typical for rabbis, in the Temple (sometimes readers loose sight of the fact that in terms of time, John 13 to 19 occupies a mere twelve hours). This is an image with deeeeeeeeep roots in the Hebrew Bible to begin with.

But in the Temple, on gateway to the sanctuary itself, was a beautiful and exquisite golden vine that had golden leaves, clusters of grapes and branches. Only the High Priest could pass through this gate, but pilgrims from around the known world would (through a priest) hang gifts on the various branches of the vine.

When Jesus uttered these words there is not a Jew sitting around the table with him that could not have had this most astoundingly beautiful Vine from the Temple flood into their minds. Life comes to Israel and the world through that gateway, through that Vine. The Holy of Holies passes through Jesus. That gateway (as in Mark) Jesus was passionate about protecting it.

What would happen if we picture Jesus the Jew as a man without light skin, light hair and blue eyes?

Just two quick examples of where the Jewishness of Jesus comes shining through but we tend to miss because our Jesus is not quite as Jewish as the Man from Nazareth really was and is …

Wrapping Up

How we picture Jesus is not some quaint academic matter.  It is not a note for a footnote in a book to make sure we have Jesus’s DNA correct.  How we picture Jesus is deeply rooted in and projects our vision of the Christian faith itself.  The apostle Paul certainly believed that Jesus was for the world. But Paul refused to let the Jewishness of Jesus be a mere academic point that we can acknowledge and then move on. He made the Jewishness of Jesus part of the Gospel itself.  This will shock some folks because they think the fact that Jesus died for our sins is all that matters.  But that is not exactly what Paul says.  The apostle states quite clearly what the “gospel of God” consists,

which he [God] promised before hand through his prophets in the holy scriptures [Hebrew Bible], the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh, and was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holines by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Messiah our Lord” (Romans 1.2-4)

Remember Jesus Messiah, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — this is my Gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2 Timothy 2.8-9)

There is no Savior of the world that is not the Jew from Nazareth, the Son of David, the Son of Mary, the one who is pictured so powerfully by Matthew in his series of portraits of Jesus in Matthew 1.1-21.  The Savior is the King of the Jews and he gathers all the nations to himself in the Great Commission as the Psalm stated so clearly “I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2.8). Paul’s Gospel is the proclamation, not of some universal man, but that the Davidic King has come and he calls for allegiance even from the nations.  In the heart of Rome, the center of the Empire, Paul said the Gospel declares Jesus, the Jew, is King and Caesar is not.

Frederick Douglass knew the power of a picture.  He new that images can be used to reinforce stereotypes and enforce a certain worldview.  He also knew that pictures can be subversive and reframe how we see reality. When we embrace the image of Jesus the Jew we might also move along and accept the reality that Jesus is and will eternally be the Israelite son of David, son of Mary, the Jew from Nazareth. Such a reframing can make our Christian faith far more biblical than we dream or imagine.

We need to retire Warner Sallman and embrace a Messiah that looks like what he is: a Jew.

Get Clara Maria Goldstein’s wonderful Missing Paintings of Jesus as a Jew.

Abba, The God who is All in All

The Hebrew Bible makes up 76 percent of the Protestant Bible. The New Testament writers, and if the Epistles are any indication, and original audience were intimately acquainted with the Scriptures. Imagine reading a book where four out of every five pages was missing.  It would be a book very susceptible to actually being rewritten by various sources than the book itself. For some reason many believe that this can be done with the Bible.

The words of the Hebrew Bible also make up a substantial portion of the actual words of the New Testament as well (approximately 32 percent of the words of the New Testament are direct quotations from the Hebrew Bible).  The Hebrew Bible provides the “framework” or scaffolding for the NT in the following ways:

  • The Story recorded in the “New Testament” continues, and is the climax of, the same story recorded in the Hebrew Bible, sort of a Third Chronicles
  • The Promises of which Jesus is the “fulfillment,” and Paul says are all “Yes,” are made in the Hebrew Bible and no where else. It is impossible to either understand them or know why they are important and be true to them apart from the Hebrew Bible.
  • The ideas or doctrines even the words used to describe Jesus come from the Hebrew Bible and have meaning from that source.
  • The relationship that the New Testament envisions for creation with God comes from the Hebrew Bible.
  • The ethics of the kingdom described in the Gospels and Epistles come from the Hebrew Bible

As important as these are, and they are immensely so. The beam that holds the entire structure together is God. The God we are told to pray to, the God we worship, the God who loves us, the God who saves us, the God Jesus called Abba, is the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Joshua, Deborah, David, Huldah, Ezekiel and Daniel and no other.

In other words the God Christians believe in is the God of the “Old Testament,” who is the Father of the Lord Jesus. This teaching is on virtually every page of the New Testament. The New Testament authors were not Marcionites, in any sense.

The biblical writers assume, on every page, their readers have a deep knowledge and have been instructed in the Hebrew Bible.  First Corinthians is the proof in the pudding. Paul assumes these not very long ago pagans know (and intimately so) the Law of Moses. The Wilderness narrative (Numbers) is used as the basis of exhortation in chapter 10.  Paul makes two comments regarding the festival or liturgical calendar with no explanation but assumes the Corinthians understand (Passover and Pentecost, 5.7-8; 16.8).  Paul even assumes the Corinthians are familiar with the Law’s teaching regarding sacrifice sufficiently enough to grasp their connection with communion with God at the table (1 Cor 10.14-22) and he assumes the Corinthians know the shema (1 Cor 8) and applies it Christologically to their situation. This is just touching the tip of the iceberg of Paul’s assuming the Corinthians have been taught the “Bible,” which fills in lots of “gaps” in the text.

The God Creeds of the Hebrew Bible

Christians today are often no where near familiar with the basic message of the Hebrew Bible as the first century church. What I want to do for the rest of this blog is make a proposal to all the preachers and teachers out there.  It is an invitation to do a series of sermons for one month (perhaps the summer of 2017) on the message of the Old Testament, we can call it Abba, Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the “Old Testament.” We can do this in four sermons and I will outline the basic gist of these four.

The Old Testament as a whole is about God, the Father of Jesus. As you read through the Hebrew Bible there are three “creedal” statements that occur repeatedly throughout the text and condense biblical faith to a handful of words that can be confessed, prayed, used as sources of encouragement.  These creeds should be introduced to your congregation and can be used as the basis of this series of sermons.  These creeds each answer an important question about our Abba.

  1. God Creed: Who is God?
  2. Grace Creed: What Does God Do?
  3. Immanuel Creed: Where Does God Live?

Through these summary statements we can introduce our congregations to the big picture to know scripture and the God Jesus calls Abba.  We want to walk with that God and no other.

The God Creed: Who is God?

The God Creed is of foundational importance in the Hebrew Bible. In a world that was filled with competing deities from Baal to Kemosh to Marduk it was important to know who the God of Israel is.  Each god has a “character.” It does not take long reading in Egyptian theology, Ugaritic tales of Baal and Anat, or Gilgamesh (sort of an Ancient Near Eastern Bible) that these gods were powerful, often vindictive, and radically unpredictable.  We often do not know if these gods care about humanity or the non-human world at all. Worship in these contexts (and they had many of the same forms as Israel herself like sacrifices, temples priests, festivals, even some similar hymns) was an effort to placate the god, bribe the god, or even manipulate the deity.

Israel confessed a god.  Her confession which is sounded in one form or another in every section of the Hebrew Bible and has nearly identical wording.  The whole creed appears repeatedly and then portions of it occur dozens of times.  The creed states THIS is our God.  It answers the question WHO is God, what is God like? What is God’s essence? What is God’s character? The God Creed answers these questions forthrightly.

This creed is the foundation of Jesus’s life in the pages of the Gospel.  This creed first appears in Exodus 34.6-7.  Who is God? Yahweh! What is Yahweh like? Hesed or Steadfast love! Our God is Love that never ends! This is not a New Testament message rather it is the central affirmation of the Hebrew Bible regarding the one Jesus taught us to call Abba.  We want to walk with that God of steadfast love. Yahweh’s hesed is the foundation of all things in the Hebrew Bible.

Yahweh, Yahweh God,
compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger,
abundant in steadfast love and truth,
keeping steadfast love for thousands,
forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin;
yet he will by no means clearing the guilty

The context in which this bold statement is given by Yahweh is the blatant breach of covenant at the Golden Calf, which is essentially Israel’s personal Genesis 3.  This creed is the faith that Israel holds onto even in the face of their horrific failure at precision obedience.  When Israel rebels, rejects Moses, rejects the Exodus and wants to return to slavery in Numbers 14, it is the God Creed that becomes the shred of hope (Num 14.18f).  In Joel the God Creed becomes the basis on which the community believes that God will not destroy them (2.13).  The Creed shows up in Nehemiah’s prayer of confession with the confidence that Yahweh is the God of the Creed (9.17, 31).  The Creed, as the hope of Israel, is prominent in worship as attested in the Psalms (86.15; 103.8-10; 111.4; 116.5; 145.8-9; etc). It is the basis of Hezekiah’s plea for Yahweh to accept worship that is not according to the pattern (2 Chron 30.9). And shockingly it is the basis of Jonah’s rage against Yahweh (4.1-3).

To walk with Jesus’s Father is to confess that God is our loving Abba. God defines himself (the creed begins with the revelation of God’s own personal glory, the glory of his Hesed!), his glory, as his love.  Israel believes Yahweh and memorized and held onto the God Creed for dear life. When the rest of the world asked “who is your god?” Israel confessed Exodus 34.

The God Creed: Who is God is a wonderful place to begin a summer series on Abba, Father, to walk with our Father is to know God as the God he claims and proves himself to be.  The New Testament says “God is Love,” when John says this in 1 John 3.16, he is confessing what Israel had for over a thousand years before Jesus was born.  Helping our congregations see and understand the God Creed will go a long way to knowing the God we worship and tie Jesus’s mission to the Hebrew Bible.

Some resources for preaching the God Creed see:

Preach the Old Testament: The Gracious & Compassionate God (Ex 34).

Exodus 34: Pulse of the Bible.

The Grace Creed: What Does God Do?

The Hebrew Bible confesses who God is, God is steadfast love. Yahweh’s love is the bedrock for all God does. Again this creed helps to identify the uniqueness of the God of Israel. If other deities are detached and you pray the deity both notices you and that he does not, Israel’s deity not only loves with infinite love (hesed in the God Creed is new every morning, Lam 3.22) but rescues, redeems and saves the least of these.  So Israel confessed the Grace Creed to tell the world what her God of steadfast love has done. The Grace Creed is a summary statement of the Mighty Acts of Yahweh.  These summary statements occur throughout the Hebrew Bible and can be memorized and form the basis of hope and worship and proclaim the one Jesus calls Abba.

What does God do? God rescues us! God Redeems us! Yahweh takes on the “giants” and sets the captives free.  This is what our God does.  The basic creed is given in Deuteronomy 26. It is offered in the context of grateful worship for the gifts of Yahweh’s bounty at the Festival of First Fruits (=Pentecost). As the worshipers bring a token of the treasures of what God has provided, the token of gratitude is accompanied by the Grace Creed, the summary of Yahweh’s acts (not our acts).

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor/father; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien,
few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly
and afflicted us, we cried to Yahweh, the God of our ancestors; Yahweh heard our voice and saw our affliction,
our toil, and our oppression. Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,
with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us
this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 26.5-9)

This narrative summary, sometimes with more details, occurs repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible.  You can find it in Deuteronomy 6.21-23; Joshua 24.1-13; Judges 11.15-27; 1 Samuel 12.1-18; Nehemiah 9; many Psalms 78, 106, etc.  Essentially the Grace Creed is a summary of the contents Exodus chapters 1-15.  The Pentecostal declaration has the following outline:

  1. Ancestors (Jacob)
  2. Oppression in Egypt noticed by Yahweh
  3. Exodus
  4. Faithfulness of Yahweh
  5. Gift of land

The Grace Creed tells the Story of what the God of Steadfast love has done … God heard our cry, saw our oppression, and unlike any god in the universe, our God redeemed us.  The God of Steadfast love is the God of amazing grace.  The New Testament frequently notes that the rescuing grace of our Abba flows out of his amazing love. Notice the progression in Romans 5.6-11, the gift of Jesus proves and demonstrates God’s love and Ephesians 2.4-8 God’s mercy and grace come “out of his great love.”

What does God do? He saves us! Many Christians have no appreciation for the significance of the “Mighty Acts” of God.  Moses waxes eloquently upon them in Deuteronomy 4.32-38. The Exodus is the stunning earth shattering entering of the God of Love in human history to take on another who claimed the power of life and death, one who claimed to be deity incarnate–Pharaoh. The Grace Creed is the foundation of Israel’s self-identity. They are redeemed nobodies whose little boys the state sanctioned feeding to the crocodiles.

The Grace Creed is the narrated in the Passover Feast and was celebrated by Jesus. Indeed to this very day, Christians celebrate the Grace Creed every Sunday as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper does not cast aside the Exodus.  Rather, as noted in the opening paragraph, the Story of our Lord’s Supper is the climax of God’s Mighty Acts. We remember the Exodus and the “New Exodus.”  The greatest act in human history, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the Exodus, Yahweh’s redemption of a people so worthless they were expendable.

The Grace Creed forms the identity of God’s people. They are redeemed people. They are saved people. They are graced people. Yahweh cares, Yahweh loves, Yahweh redeems.

Walking with our Abba, Father means knowing as surely as the Israelites that we exist by pure grace. The Grace Creed ties the mission of Jesus with our Abba and it forms the basis of our identity as the assembly of God in the world.

It is a great theme to preach for the second in our sermon series on Old Testament.

The Immanuel Creed: Where Does God Live?

If you asked an ancient Israelite who is god and what is god like, she would reply, “Yahweh is God and Yahweh is steadfast love.”

If you asked an ancient Israelite what does god do, she would reply that “God remembers the powerless and redeems them.”

This brings us to the third creed. If you asked an ancient Israelite, where does god live? She would grasp the Immanuel Creed and say “our God dwells with us.”

Of all the creeds of the Old Testament this one is the one that is known the least but is the goal of the previous two. The Hebrew Bible proclaims that Yahweh, created the world to dwell in love with creation. This was Eden. Humans through their hubris were exiled from the dwelling presence of the Lord.  Dwelling is, in essence, the sign of the relationship. This sheds great light on prophets like Ezekiel and Haggai and many others.

But God is the God of Steadfast Love therefore he acted to redeem the least valued people on the planet in order to dwell with them for the sake of all creation. Steadfast love and gracious redemption find their goal in the Creator of the universe living with Israel. Immanuel! The most common word for this in the Hebrew Bible is covenant. Yahweh is in a “covenant of love” with Israel (Deut 7.9, 12; 1 Kgs 8.29; 2 Chron 6.14; Neh 1.5; 9.32; Dan 9.4) they have gotten married.  Married people live together!

The Immanuel Creed expresses the relationship that the God of steadfast love has with the saved by grace people, they are the people or object of God’s love bound together in a covenant of God’s own making.  The initial proclamation of this nuptial imagery pointing to God’s dwelling/living among his people is Exodus 6.7, where it occurs connected to the Grace Creed,

I am Yahweh, and I will free you from the oppression of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with might acts of judgment.

I will take you as my people and I will be your God.

You shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who has freed you from the oppression of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession, I am Yahweh” (Exodus 6.6-8)

I will take you as my wife and I will be your husband is what verse 7 means.  This covenantal language occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Some one once said that “covenant in the Bible is more like making love than following rules.”  This is exactly how the Bible understands and envisions the relationship.  The key symbol of this relationship is the Tabernacle or Temple.  A wedding ring or marriage license is not the relationship and the temple and the covenant document is not the relationship.  The map is not the territory.  But the Tabernacle/Temple is almost a sacrament in Israel where the Creator God has made the astonishing decision to live within time and space with God’s people.  So we read, with echoes back to the creation narrative, in Leviticus 26.

I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make way for the new. I will place my dwelling  in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am Yahweh your God brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be their slaves no more; I have broken the bars of your yoke and make you stand tall” (Lev 26.9-13)

Husbands and wives dwell together.  Where does God live?  God lives with us! God walks among us and blesses us by his Presence (again clear echoes of Eden). Yahweh is not into long distance relationships.  The God of Israel is not somewhere over the rainbow looking down upon us.  Rather, Israel confesses that God is in our midst, Immanuel.  The covenant is envisioned both as a Husband/Wife relationship and a Father/Son relationship.  Israel is in a loving relationship with Yahweh, not a contract with Yahweh.

The Presence of God among Israel brings forth life and rich abundance. The Immanuel Creed is why the tremendous riches of the land can be brought forth in thanksgiving in the Feast of First Fruits/Weeks/Pentecost.  The Presence of the Lord displays the intimate, loving and caring relationship the Hebrew Bible envisions between the people of God and Yahweh. God expresses love and salvation concretely by choosing to live with creation.

The mission and identity of Jesus is directly connected with the Immanuel Creed. John’s Gospel explicitly connects the two in John 1.14 where the Evangelist says the Word has come and “tabernacled” with us.  The Glory of the Lord dwelled in the Tabernacle/Temple (Exodus 40.34-38; 2 Chron 5.13-14; 7.1-2) is now on display in Jesus.  God became one of us in the incarnation of Jesus … the Immanuel Creed as Matthew says, “his name shall be called Immanuel.”

Knowing Abba, Father

Our congregations need to know God.  Our Abba is responsible for our existence, our salvation, our community of faith and invites us to walk with him and God promises to walk in our midst. This is the God, Paul proclaimed that even the non-believer would fall down within the assembled gathering and confess that “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14.25). A sentiment straight out of the “Old Testament.” It is the Immanuel Creed at work in Corinth.

Our congregations need to know how the Testaments are, at the most fundamental level, about the same reality:

  • the God who loves forever
  • the God who saves by grace to the uttermost
  • the God who performs the miracles of miracles by placing God’s infinite self within space and time to dwell with creation for all eternity

In one short month you can take this outline and share the fundamental message of a full seventy-six percent of the Bible.  The Story of God with his creation.  The amazing invitation walk with the God of Jesus, our Abba, Father.


Helpful Resources

Ronald M. Hals, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (out of print but if you can find it buy it immediately)

Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing God the Father through the Old Testament (outstanding easy to read volume)

Christopher J. H. Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All its Worth (wisdom on approaching the text for purposes like this blog)

Thomas H. Olbricht, He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament (suitable for an adult Bible class or small group study too)

For exegetical commentary on Exodus 34 see Terence Frietheim’s Exodus: Interpretation Commentary.

I grew up in a teetotaler environment. I grew up in a “dry” county, Lauderdale, in north Alabama. I remember when Florence had a referendum on whether wine, beer and spirits could be bought and sold. My home the same way. My mom believed that Jesus did not make actual wine in his sign at Cana and a single drink would be a sin. As a result I have studied “wine in the Bible” rather deeply and have long since come to the conclusion that such notions are not only unbiblical but antibiblical to the the explicit testimony of Scripture and alien to the worldview that God is the Creator of all.

I have read numerous books on wine that have shed considerable light on the world of the Bible such as Patrick McGovern’s Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press, 2007). McGovern’s work devotes on the ancient near east and the land of Canaan itself. A more eye opening read could not be found.

In 2015, I was preaching on Jesus and for the miracle at Cana, I decided to contact some vineyards in Sonoita, Arizona.  The vintners at Hops & Vines welcomed me with open arms and I spent an entire day following them around as they explained the nature of vines, graps, how wine is made, stored, the effect of climate.  I even spent the night in their vineyard to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower. I suddenly had a far deeper understanding of much of the Bible. All this leads to a remarkable book by Gisela H. Kreglinger.

Gisela H. Kreglinger grew up on a vineyard that has been in her family since the seventeenth century. She went to England and got a PhD in historical theology at the University of St. Andrews and has lived in the United States (including Birmingham, Alabama).  I am delighted I stumbled upon her wonderful book The Spirituality of Wine (Eerdmans 2016). Kreglinger has not only written one of the finest works on wine in Scripture, church history and its relationship to a radically Christian Spirituality and worldview but also offered a tasty assault upon joyless Christianity that she sees infesting north American Christianity. Joy is essential to Christian Spirituality and wine is biblically connected with joy.

Whether you drink wine or not, like wine or not, you should read this book. In fact ministers, elders, “lay people” need to read The Spirituality of Wine.

” … the best wine that goes down smoothly …” (Song of Songs 7.9)

Quotable Quotes

The Spirituality of Wine is a finely crafted work of both scholarship and Christian devotion. There are passages that simply require placing the book down to meditate.  I want to share some great line in the book.

“the temptation is to ally ‘spirituality’ with all kinds of dualisms” (p.2)

Gratitude and joyful celebration are two important ways for Christians to respond to God’s exuberant gifts of creation and salvation” (p.5)

The Gnostics denied the body and physical enjoyment as a gift from God, and thus they [often] forbade marriage, certain foods, and wine” (p. 32)

True abstinence, therefore, means abstaining from sin and drunkenness and enjoying the gifts of God’s good creation in moderation” (p.42)

Bread and WINE in the Lord’s Supper is a defense against lingering Gnostic heresies with their strong tendency to devalue creation (p.67)

The potent metaphor of ‘the blood of the grape’ suggests that, just as blood was seen as the center and carrier of life, so wine was seen as the ‘very life to humans’ as Ben Sira put it” (p.74)

He [Cyril of Jerusalem] makes the analogy between the Eucharistic wine on the mouth of the believer and the blood of the lamb smeared on the Israelites’ doorposts in Egypt just before the Passover” (p. 80)

Our participation in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, with its emphasis on the movement of the body and different bodily postures and gestures, teaches us something fundamental about the Christian faith, something that is a very hard lesson to learn: that we are not in charge of our salvation …” (p.81)

It is for this reason that we need to rescue wine FROM the gluttons FOR the contemplatives, because wine was meant to draw us nearer to God and each other rather than alienate us even further from his loving and healing presence. In the words of the German proverb, ‘To drink is to pray, to binge-drink is to sin.” (p. 198)

I could go on …

Wine is a Prominent Theme in Scripture and Church History

Biblical faith is a full bodied faith. It embraces all of creation as good and from God himself. The book has two sections. The first, Sustenance, could be considered the historical-theological portion. Kreglinger first gives the reader a fairly exhaustive survey of Biblical texts that mention wine, of which there are many.

There are 88 different Hebrew words that refer to wine in some fashion in the Bible occurring 810 times.  There are 36 different Greek words for wine in the NT that occur 169 times.  Kreglinger helpfully provides a table of all the Hebrew and Greek terms related to vintage on pages 221-228.  Not much in this section of Spirituality of Wine was new to me, though the list of words is of great value.

Evangelical, and Restoration, disciples will be surprised to find that the vast majority of the references to wine are favorable as signs of prosperity, peace,  enjoyment, of divine blessing upon the people. In the Old Testament, wine is often included in imagery of a prominent future restoration of Israel where all will be able to feast and live life abundantly. This use continues in the New Testament as Jesus not only performs his water-to-wine miracle at a wedding feast, but during his final meal with the disciples envisions a day when he will once again drink of the fruit of the vine with them in a blessed new reality.

After Kreglinger’s analysis of the Bible, she turns her attention to an eye opening history of wine in the church, which is also quite extensive. We learn that early church leaders and theologians such as Cyprian and Augustine praised wine’s positive attributes. The Church Fathers especially defended wine both in the Lord’s Supper and as personal drink against the heretical Gnostics.

We learn that many monasteries and other religious communities kept vineyards to not only sustain themselves but to offer gifts to the neighborhoods in which they resided. We learn about Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk and creator of one of the first champagnes. And we learn how recently Christian calls to abstain from wine and other alcoholic drinks really are recent, as they didn’t become prominent until around the time of Prohibition in the early 1900s. Up until that point, many in the church much more readily embraced wine as a gift to be enjoyed in moderation rather than a source of evil to be altogether condemned.

Wine and Christ’s Feast

Kreglinger then explores the use of wine particularly in the Lord’s Supper. I found this chapter to be particularly thoughtful and full of insights. During this chapter, her theological treatment of the book’s central idea is perhaps most pronounced and complete, as in addition to wine being a gift from God’s creation, she also notes how—particularly through the celebration of communion—it creates community and grounds us in a lived reality: “The Lord’s Supper, central to our lives as Christians, is a wholly physical and communal experience. It calls on our mind, our senses, and our imagination to receive Christ and his work on the cross as a living presence in bread and wine, the fruit of the very earth that God made. This is a profoundly embodied and thus sensual experience and anchors our spirituality in creation.” I am looking forward to communion and noting the “sensuality” of the Lord’s table.

The theme of joy occurs repeatedly in The Spirituality of Wine. Wine is placed squarely in the communal life of the Christian.  Kreglinger takes the reader through a wonderful meditation on the film Babette’s Feast to illustrate the power of and goodness of creation expressed at God’s table in wine and feasting.  The very purpose of wine is to “gladden the heart” of God’s human creatures, she writes. Wine points to the exuberant generosity of our Creator.

Kreglinger does not eschew discussion of drunkenness and alcohol abuse.  She discusses it frequently and notes that both the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, the Church Fathers and the Reformers all addressed this matter unambiguously and forthrightly.  She then devotes an entire chapter to this abuse of God’s creation.  Drunkenness is placed in Scripture and in Christian history with other forms of abusing God’s good gifts such as sex and food.  Gluttony and drunkenness are frequently dealt with by the Fathers addressing converts coming out of pagan background.  Interestingly enough these Fathers refused to countenance the Gnostic dualistic denials of the goodness of food and wine.  In a wonderful quote from Martin Luther, Kreglinger notes that the issue has never been women or wine but what the sin that lies in our hearts.

Wine and women bring sorrow and heartbreak, they make a fool of many and bring madness, ought we therefore to pour away the wine and kill all the women? Not so. Gold and silver, money and possessions bring much evil among the people, should we therefore throw it all away? If we want to eliminate our closest enemy, the one that is the most harmful to us, we would have to kill ourselves. We have no more harmful enemy than our own heart” (p. 181)

John Calvin refused to give in to the ascetics who wanted to cast God’s good creation aside.  Such is an affront to the Creator.  Commenting on Psalm 104.15, the Reformer wrote,

In these words [i.e. wine gladdens the heart of men] we are taught that God not only provides for men’s necessity … but deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality … we gather from his words taht it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry.” (p. 56)

To “drink is to pray.” But to get drunk is to abuse God’s creation as a glutton it is a denial of the intended goodness of God’s gift just as the Gnostics do.

The Hebrew worldview, while clearly receiving wine as a gift from God with gratitude and thanksgiving, consistently rejects the abuse of alcohol and drunkenness as inappropriate and destructive behavior leading to disregard for God and his purposes for humanity. While God wants his people to enjoy the gifts that he has given them, their purpose as God’s people extends beyond their own well-being and enjoyment to be a blessing to others” (p. 184).

I have explored the relationship of blessing, food, sex and wine in the Song of Songs in this article linked here: The Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine.

The book closes with a chapter called “Wine, Viticulture and Soul Care.” Does wine have anything to do with the “care of the soul?” Kreglnger insists that if we believe the Bible and listen to the Christian tradition then the answer is an unequivocal yes. She concludes and wraps a “spirituality of wine” around the person and work of Jesus Christ through his sign at Cana (which ties to the 800+ references to wine in the Hebrew Bible) and the Lord’s Supper.

Rather than seeing the miracle of Cana as mere symbol or picturesque illustration hinting at greater spiritual realities, however, we can and must see in it the manifestation of God’s presence with his people and his desire to redeem all creation. The gift of wine will always remain a tangible expression of God’s blessing and his desire to rejoice with his people and make them glad.

Wine in the Lord’s Supper will always remind us that Christ is the choice wine that God poured out for the life of the world. He is the noble grape that was crushed in the divine winepress [a notion explored in the book] so that the world might be reconciled with God and receive everlasting life” (pp. 219-220).

To Drink is to Pray …

Wine is Gift.  Wine is Joy

The Spirituality of Wine bristles with insight on God the Creator, Jesus the Vine, the people of God as the vineyard. It calls us to slow down and pay attention to what God has placed in the world through sight, sound and aroma and taste. It is amazing the light that is shed on dozens of biblical texts (like prophetic texts about pruning hooks, I did not know those were related to vintage! but they are!). There is very perceptive cultural analysis on the rise of “abstemious reading” of Scripture in America in the 19th century (something that has no connection to historic Christian reading of Scripture). And the role of joy, full bodied wonderful joy, in Christian faith.  Spirituality of Wine is not merely about wine but a tasty counter to prevailing Evangelical asceticism and its faux claims of being biblical and spiritual but it has more in common with what Paul condemns in 1 Timothy 4 with its touch not, taste not Gnostic worldview.

Wine connects us to the earth created by God. Wine connects us to Jesus Christ the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Wine connects us to family of God that is at the table through time and space.

The faith of the Bible, the Christian faith, is not dour.  It is marked by joy, celebration, gratitude and thanksgiving. Wine plays an enormous role in Scripture, far larger than most have any idea about.  What is interesting, Kreglinger argues, is that historic Christian faith has always known this.  Modern American expressions of faith have been so impacted by a number of cultural factors that it has “forgotten” that Christian faith is about body and soul and the Creator God who loves and redeems both body and soul.

Joy and Gratitude are essential postures of those who receive the gift of salvation and the gift of creation.  God place wine in the world for both.

Read this Spirituality of Wine … buy it as as gift for someone.


Some Related Links:

When Wine is “Really” Wine.

Beer & the Bible: What the Bible Really Says about it.

They Say I Am …

(I posted an earlier form of this on my Facebook wall but have expanded it and modified it and offer it here because many have continued to ask me about this matter.)

They say I just want to be popular. They (some anyway) say that I do not believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. They say I am “liberal,” “progressive,” “apostate,” “have no spiritual discernment” (all have been said and recently at that).

I do not take these charges lightly and in fact they cause me a great deal of pain. Why are these charges hurled?

Because I do not believe in the Trinity? No. I Do! (Ironically, I probably believe in the Trinity more than my critics.)

Because I do not believe that God created the world? No. I Do!

Because I do not believe in the Virgin Birth? No. I Do!

Because I do not believe Jesus walked on water, fed the 5000, or raised Lazarus? No. I Do!

Because I do not believe in the sufficient and atoning work of Jesus or his supreme Lordship over all? No. I Do!

Because I do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead? No. I stake my life on it!

Because I do not believe we respond to God’s grace in repentance, faith and baptism? No. I Do! (Again probably more than my critics.)

So Why????

Because I Actually Believe the Bible

So why? What makes me a “Bible denying liberal apostate?” Because I believe that women – females – are allowed to read Scripture, to pray, to wait on the Lord’s Table, to do announcements … to teach, to be a “deacon”!!

I did not come to this conclusion over night.  But I have held the position I have held for many years and have not shied away from that position nor the biblical reasons that demand I take that position.

It took Alexander Campbell over a decade from the time of his immersion at the hands of Matthias Luce to also understand the significance of the sacrament’s connection to remission of sins. Alexander Campbell was no dullard, his experience is instructive. Sometimes reading something takes on deeper significance after some growing in wisdom, faith and simply life.

If we walk with the Spirit in his word, God will will teach us things. As Campbell shows sometimes we simply grow into the truth if we are attentive to the Spirit, who empowers his own sword. If we are seeking the truth rather than simply points to win a debate it is amazing what we learn.  See my article Campbell: Lessons in Fearless Bible Study.

I claim no “new” revelation. I simply claim to have come to a better understanding of the revelation than I had before. Some so resist the notion of learning something new that they are like the preacher I heard speak in chapel at IBC back in 1988/89 who said, “I have not changed my mind on a religious subject in forty years.” As young, and ignorant, as I was in 1988, I still wanted to go grab his wrist to see if there was a pulse to find out if he was dead.

My Journey to Believing the Bible on Women … Enter Phoebe

My journey began many years ago first with Phoebe of Cenchreae. Later an episode with my daughter Rachael further opened my eyes and caused me to dig into the text. She wanted to lead a song as an 8 year old because on Sunday night.  She noticed her same age classmate, Chad, got up to lead a song when it was said, “if ANYONE wants to lead a song [we did that once a month in Milwaukee on sunday nights]” It never occurred to Rachael that “anyone” meant “any male.”). Well turns out that “anyone” did not mean “anyone” but Rachael did not understand that yet. Why should she? She was a mere child of eight.  But back to Phoebe.

I had stumbled across Alexander Campbell’s 1826 translation of the New Testament called The Living Oracles. (See my article The Living Oracles). I read it cover to cover. I recall never having paid attention to Romans 16.1-2, until that day.

I recommend to you Phebe [sic], our sister who is a DEACONESS of the congregation at Cenchrea” (my emphasis).

I was stopped dead in my tracks. The words “sister” and “deaconess” simply did not go together in my experience. I had no category in which to place this translation.  Honestly I had never heard of Phoebe prior but I had memorized the “qualifications” of elders and deacons in our classes that stressed how to defeat others in debate but did not major in exegesis.  Since then, I have learned I was completely ignorant of a realm of exegesis and church history (and frankly so are a lot of ministers).

Alexander Campbell created such cognitive dissonance in me. How could this be? I suppose this is why some preachers do not read church history, because then they are safe from cognitive dissonance.

You see in my experience growing up it was common to label everyone that disagreed with our particular version of “sound doctrine” as non-believers, Bible deniers, apostates, and liberals … the same thing some are now calling me!

But I knew that Campbell was not “liberal.”  I did not know that much about him to be honest but when his name was mentioned it was always good (and there was a portrait of him in the hallway!). Then I took “Restoration history” with Wayne Kilpatrick but we talked neither of the Living Oracles nor Phoebe.

So here was a non-liberal calling a woman a female deacon! Alexander Campbell! I could not call him a feminist with any sense of integrity (they did not exist!). I could not say he was selling out to culture. This was decades before the women’s suffrage movement! I had no answers.

I could just dismiss Campbell and forget about it. But my cognitive dissonance did not allow that. I had to know why this patriarch of returning to New Testament Christianity called a woman a deacon. If you know me then you know I have had several of these experiences.  I have  bull dog in my DNA and I will turn over every rock to find an answer.

Discovering and Believing the Truth

Why did Alexander Campbell translate Romans 16.1 as he did? The answer, I have discovered, is because the Apostle Paul, not some “liberal” feminist actually called this woman a deacon.

But I never knew that. What I learned was my lenses on my face, my bias, my prejudice, kept me from seeing the truth.  Campbell was fearless enough to simply translate the text and let the chips fall where they may. Most do not have that courage.

I had always been told, as stated above, that a deacon had to be the husband of one wife and therefore women could not be deacons. So my doctrinal belief, not any exegetical reason!, eliminated even the possibility of any such thing. My doctrine was the lens thru which I read the Bible, I did not simply read the naked text.  But I did not know that. When we let our doctrinal belief determine what a passage of scripture can, or cannot, say then we are on dangerous ground and it is not the Bible that is the authority regardless of what we claim notwithstanding.

But then, there is Romans 16.1. I never knew it used the same word in Phil 1.1. But Campbell refused to let prejudice determine his translation and so he rendered it as above. The Greek text calls Phoebe a “diakonos of the church in Cenchreae.” I never knew this. So now more cognitive dissonance thanks to Campbell. Campbell is to blame that I came to “a knowledge of the truth.”

This a technical question and so we need to pay attention to some technical details of the text.  These details have been important in my journey to believing the Bible on women. Diakonon is the predicate accusative in “simple apposition” to the name, Phoebe. This is made emphatic by the feminine participle “ousan” in Romans 16.1. Further, “diakonon” also functions as the head noun of verbal quality in construct with the genitive phrase “tas ekklesias” and its modifying clause “in Cenchreae.”  Further, there was no feminine form of the word “deacon” in the first century so the Apostle Paul uses a masculine noun in reference to Phoebe. This is not first grade Greek.

For those that want to do some digging, I recommend looking at Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the NT for the predicate accusative (pp. 190-91) on the genitive of origin/source (pp. 109f; 116-124). Wallace is a complementarian, not an egalitarian.  He still has to deal with the grammar and he does so.

What all this techy stuff means is that it seems really difficult to deny that Phoebe was an actual agent of and for the church in an official capacity. She held an “office” of some sort.  So this is why Campbell translated as he did in 1826. He was a man of courage! And he did not care what epitaph you hurled at him. I have learned that epitaphs are used as a way to discourage (ironically) the Berean spirit.

Explorers Knew This Truth Before Me

Over the years I have learned that those who understood Phoebe to be an actual “officer” of the church are among some of the most luminous names in Christian history. I was surprised when I learned that John Calvin understood Phoebe to be a deacon. In my research I discovered that Campbell and Calvin were not alone. Origen, the most of the Fathers, various documents showing that women were actually deacons and then I learned the Catholic Church destroyed the office in the medieval period. I learned that the father of the doctrine of innerrancy, B. B. Warfield, read Paul as did Calvin and Campbell. Soon Walter Scott, Robert Richardson, Daniel Sommer, Robert Milligan, H. T. Anderson and B. W. Johnson. Moses Lard was among the explorers who taught what Romans 16 says.

Lard needs no introduction to those semi-familiar with our history. Lard was hand picked by Campbell to defend the Movement against the attacks of Jeremiah Jeter,. He became editor of Lard’s Quarterly, Apostolic Times and his learned Commentary on Romans as well as President of the College of the Bible. In his Commentary, published in 1875, he voices the following exegesis.

Phoebe was a servant of the church in Cenchrea. This much is actually asserted. Was she appointed to the service by the church, or did she assume it of herself? The question is not material. For whether she assumed the service of her own accord or was appointed to it, she performed it with the Apostle’s sanction. This stamps it right … I am therefore of the opinion that Phoebe was a deaconess in the official sense of that word … Even in the present day, the deaconess should be re-established. They are often of as much importance to a church as the deacons, if not more.” (Commentary on Romans, p. 451)

Then came my discovery of C. R. Nichol’s epic book, God’s Woman. Nichol the arch debater, Foy E. Wallace mentor, defender of the “old paths,” simply could not be dismissed as seeking popularity.  See my interaction and review of God’s Woman in my article C. R. Nichol’s God’s Woman: Gospel Advocate Writer Says Women Can Pray and Teach … In Church!. Read that link.

I learned that one of the earliest references to the church outside the NT, Pliny’s letter to Trajan, refers to two women that were called deaconesses.

I have a hard time calling these heroes, liberals, apostates, and non-believers. Even if in my CofC prejudice I could rationalize casting out Origen, Calvin and Warfield, I still have to deal with how those epitaphs apply to Campbell, Moses Lard, Daniel Sommer and C. R. Nichol. More cognitive dissonance!

Were all these men just non-believers?

Romans 16.1 in Translation: What is Phoebe?

Tyndale NT (1525), I commende unto you Phebe oure syster (which is a MINISTER of the congregacion of Cenchrea) …

Great Bible (1539/40), I commend unto you Phebe, oure syster (which is a MINYSTER of the congregacion of Cenchrea) …

Bishop’s Bible (1568/1602), I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a MINISTER of the Church of Cenchrea: …

Rheims New Testament (1582), And I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is in the MINISTERIE of the Church that is in Cenchris: …

Revised Standard Version (1946), I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, …

Phillips New Testament (1958), I want to introduce you to Phoebe, our sister, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea …

Jerusalem Bible (1966), I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae …

New Revised Standard Version (1989), I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae …

New Living Translation (1996), I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church in Cenchreae …

Many more translations can be produced that affirm the truth of Phoebe.

My Epiphany: Lenses Fall Off 

One day it it hit me … Bobby it is your assumptions are wrong! (See my article on the devastating and blinding affects of Assumptions: What We Assume Often Hides the Truth.) If I dropped my assumption, then Romans 16.1 is actually in complete harmony with 1 Timothy 3.11.

I had assumed that 1 Timothy 3.11 was about wives of deacons but could never explain why Paul did not have a similar list of “qualifications” for elders wives.  But Paul simply says women in 1 Timothy 3.11 not wives (same Greek but there is no reason to translate it as “wives” here).

What became clear is that folks, who often had a negative view of women, actually believed that 1 Timothy 3 was speaking of the ancient order of female deacons of whom Phoebe was a prime example.  First Timothy 3.11 is talking about female deacons! My false assumption of one verse became the bedrock of my false interpretation of another verse.  But it is clear that both Timothy and Romans are about female deacons. And that is exactly how the early church read it. This position is held across all traditional theological and denominational divides: Brenden Byrne (Romans, pp. 447-48); C. E. B. Cranfield (Romans vol 2, p.781f); James Dunn (Romans 9-16, pp. 886-87); Andreas Kostenberger (various places); Doug Moo (Romans, p. 916); Thomas Schriener (Romans, pp 786-88); N. T. Wright (NIB: Romans, pp. 761-62). Kostenberger, Schriener and Moo are all “Complementarians” and not “Egalitarians.” My assumptions were wrong. The text was never wrong.  But I was.

A very helpful work on checking assumptions

Phoebe Deacon and Reader of Paul’s Most Important Epistle

More surprises are to be discovered regarding Phoebe.  Some want to dismiss Romans 16 as “post script theology” but I suppose Jesus would say that it is still part of the “jots and tittles” that will not pass away.

I have come to believe that one of the most damaging hidden assumptions we moderns make is that first century people had a Bible like we do. No person, Jew or Gentile, ever saw a bound volume called a Bible. Ever! It was not until after the invention of printing over 1400 years after Jesus’s ministry that an average person might own a New Testament much less a Bible.

The vast majority never have even held a copy of a portion of Scripture in her or his hands. No person took the “Bible” (or the scroll) home to study it alone. These things simply did not exist. Not in the first, not in the second and not for a normal person until the invention of the printing press.

The only possible exception to this is the Ethiopian. But the Ethiopian is a vastly wealthy man and as far as the record goes has one book of the Bible, Isaiah. The scroll of Isaiah would cost, according to scholars, approximately 1200 to 1500 dollars to purchase. That is a lot of money. See my article Evel Knievel, The Grand Canyon & Us: The Strange and Deep Gulf to the Bible on costs for Romans for example.

People in the early church experienced the Bible as depicted in the synagogue in Acts 13.15. A lector, a person with the ability to read, read from a scroll to the assembly. The copy did not belong to the reader. There would not be multiple copies of a “book” but A copy. You, and I, as normal people would hear the reading in the assembled group.

This is witnessed to in Revelation 1.3. “Blessed is the ONE [singular] who reads the words … blessed are THOSE [plural] who hear it ...”

The text is read orally by the lector to the assembly. No one of whom have a personal copy. The reading is a “church” exercise, a communal exercise by definition in the ancient world.

Letters, like Revelation and like Romans, were dictated. They were hand delivered as there was no post office or FedEx. The person who delivered the letter was usually a trusted associate of the writer and present when the letter was composed. The person that delivered the letter usually READ the letter to the addressee. They stood in as the presence of the author.

How do we know this kind of information? From letter writers like Cicero and Seneca. But also from the countless normal folk who whose letters ended up in the trash heaps in Egypt, the koine papyri.

Two recent studies have conclusively shown that the letter carrier was supposed to read and explain the letter to receiver. P. M. Head, “Named-Letter Carriers among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31 (2009), 279-299 and same author “Letter Carriers in Ancient Jewish Epistolary Materials,” in Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon, ed. Craig A. Evans. (2009), 203-219. Randolph Richards Paul the Letter Writer as well.

We know that Paul frequently sent letters via his trusted associates like Timothy and Titus. Titus clearly has this function in 2 Corinthians 8.16ff, etc.

It is universally agreed that Phoebe, the deacon of Cenchrea, delivered Paul’s epic letter to the Romans. She is described by Paul as a patron (16.2). She was therefore a very prominent person. Educated (she can read). And has enough means to travel.

There is no reason to believe that Phoebe, the letter carrier, did not do what was expected of normal letter carriers in Paul’s day.

1) stand in for the author

2) orally read the letter to the audience (the church)

3) like Titus or Timothy, explain, interpret Paul’s meaning here and there.

Therefore the greatest letter in the New Testament was delivered by a woman. The greatest letter in the New Testament was orally read to the Roman churches by a woman … the Deacon Phoebe.

Embracing the Truth

For years I did not even know that the most important thing Paul said about Phoebe was not even that she was a Deacon but that she was a “prostatis,” a “patron.” Most older translations simply render the word something like “helper” (Rom 16.2). Paul does not call Phoebe a “helper!” The NRSV correctly calls her a “benefactor.” A patron. It is Roman historians, not NT scholars, that have forced us to look at Phoebe afresh because in the past the patronage of Phoebe was simply and utterly ignored. Patronage was an essential part of Roman society and they were people of significant clout.

But that is for a future post but it tells us a great deal about who Phoebe was and what it meant for her to be a Deacon too. But to those gainsayers out there, I say this with as much love as I can muster, you are wrong.

And I was wrong. Phoebe was in fact a leader in the church in the port of Corinth. She was a deacon in the absolute official sense of the word and that does not mean such condescending things as she did nice things for people and ran the nursery. She was a patron for Paul. She was the letter carrier of the Epistle to the Romans. And she orally delivered his message.  This is Phoebe.

I claim the biblical heritage of Campbell, Warfield, Calvin, and C. R. Nichol. They were not liberals. They were not apostates. They were not deniers of biblical authority or inspiration. They were driven to their position because of the Bible. Why is it that they can be regarded as “faithful” but we who have come to the same position are sell outs! I have my thoughts on that and will keep them to myself.

To quote Luther … Here I Stand … and that is the tale of Phoebe and Bobby V.

The Valentine Report on the 2017 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Five Scrolls of Salvation (Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Song of Songs).

First. I was so stoked when I learned the theme for this year, last year. These are among the most neglected, and often abused/misunderstood, books of the Bible. I have stated before if the Song and Lamentations suddenly disappeared there would be no noticeable impact on the theology of the majority of Christians. Not because these books have none but because we act like they do not exist.

So to design an entire week around the Five Megillot is utterly unprecedented. But these books are so powerful and rich. Thank you Mike Cope just for having the courage to not only make Song of Songs a keynote but to kick off the entire week. The person shouting hallelujah was Valentine. Now I pray these books will NOT simply return to oblivion but some serious wholesome healthy preaching of these books will soon be coming.

Second. The keynotes were typically top notch. But if I had to go away with only three then David Holmes easy mixing the world of the Spirituals in with Qoheleth not only fit but was brilliant. I will never read Ecc 7.12-14 the same. Rick Marrs sermon on the Song of Songs will be remembered if for no other reason as that is the ONE and ONLY sermon I have ever heard anywhere, in any forum, in my entire life on the Song. And Mike Cope’s sermon on Ruth was great. God is in the ordinary. I felt so encouraged because it is difficult to get more mundane and ordinary than Bobby Valentine. Maybe even more ordinary than Ruth. I will take that line to the resurrection, “we need to know the law well enough that we know when to break it.”

Pepperdine and Pacific from the shalom filled Garden of Heroes

Third. I tried to take in classes from people I either did not know or I thought might not have as high attendance. I have found over the years the speakers have great material and I have been so blessed. So I took in Doug Peters Preaching the Song of Songs (everyone knows it is my favorite book in the Bible next to Psalms, Deuteronomy and John). Mallory Wycoff’s Preaching from Esther … she blew me away with her insight. Fate Hagood on 20 Things Black Christians wish White Christians Knew. Fate handles his material with both courage and with grace. Oh how we need his message in our world and in God’s family like never before. Kaitlin Shelter’s provocatively titled “Why the Church Needs Feminism.” This class was not what I expected in the slightest. Not about the role of women rather on how a view of women from the fallen world has insidiously infected Christian thinkers in how they view women themselves. I am telling you, you need to make sure you listen to this on iTunes. She is 1000% correct. I took in one of Tim Sensing’s classes on Preaching from Lamentations. I did do Don McLaughlin’s class. And I attended my own classes … even on Friday night 🙂 I was very pleased with the overflowing crown on Wed, the very full one on Thursday and the far bigger crowd than I dreamed of for Friday night.

Fate Hagood sharing with love and compassion on the sensitive subject of what black Christians wish white Christians understood

Fourth. For me as much as I love the classes, lectures means fellowship and friends. I reconnected with friends from three churches I’ve worked with in Grenada, Milwaukee and Tucson. I always love hanging out with John Mark Hicks. Talk late into the wee hours him and Matt Elliott in the dorm room. Had some great conversation with Eric Greer about the exciting things in New England (and thanks for coming to class even on friday night!!) Had dinner with Steve Puckett, Greg England, and Cecil Walker. Visited with Matt and Missy. Got to talk with Tammy Spake. Had coffee and laughs with Carrie Maxon Thompson (you owe me breakfast! 😉 and Kathleen Munoz Liguori. Caught up with Shelley Jacobs the new archivist at Bethany College. Tim and Kathy Thompson brought me Tortuga Coffee all the way from the Florida Keys. I caught up with Jeremy Marshall. I always love visiting with Johnny Melton and ran into my old classmate Nathan Randolph. Enjoyed visiting David Shaner, Daryl Miller (from Milwaukee) and Bret Testerman. And then I ran into Roslyn May Miller (and I felt really dumb because I have known her whole clan and did not realize she is a “May” … I mean I have known C2, C3, & C4 forever! But Roslyn?). Talked with Carmel Christine by the fountain. And my Tucson team of outlaws, Travis Moore, Jesse Warren and Jessica Hemenway Knapp, kept me up out on the back porch overlooking the Pacific until 2 am. So enjoyed seeing Travis and Ambri Campbell. And lots of laughs with Daltrey Tyree and then Lisa Lauderdale Powell (who I have not seen since living in Grenada). Caught up with Rob Coyle. Visited with Don McLaughlin and then all my friends at ACU Press (glad you guys publish stuff for us). Briefly ran into

Mike Cope’s powerful sermon on Ruth

John Alan Turner and his daughter and Sean Palmer. Sean McClue and the AIMer’s came to my class. And I had a lively discussion with Raymond Carr over James Cone and Karl Barth out on the patio. And I am trying to get David Holmes to write a theological history of black preaching in Churches of Christ (I floated the idea to Raymond too). Gareth Flanary so good to finally meet you. And loved catching up with Claire Davidson Frederick after a session. Thanks for visiting during breakfast Andrew Hill. Loved catching up with David Shaner. And loved talking for a long while with Dr David Baird.And had a nice visit with Al Sturgeon. Robin Gough had breakfast with us a couple times. Had a great chat and big hug from Scott Lambert. And had an enjoyable conversation with Grady King and Carlus Gupton over by the fountain. I want to thank Bill and Judy Opel for the most amazing hospitality and hosting me for several days in their casa. I know my tired brain is overlooking someone and if I remember I will add you.

Heaven & Earth are One: Jesus and Temple in John

My three classes were “Heaven & Earth are One” … and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures are perhaps the “first fruit” of what Heaven and Earth being one looks like. Joy and fellowship in the Lord. They are simply wonderful.


That is the Valentine Report … See you at PBL for Harbor in 2018.

25 Apr 2017

Untamed God and Dangerous Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exodus, Grace, Jonah, Precision Obedience, Romans

Walking with God is not always safe

The Bible is a dangerous book about an untamed God full of dangerous grace. I am not sure if the Bible is more dangerous to our patterns or structure that we invent or to “things surely believed.” But the Bible continues to remind us to never forget that God is God.  Of all the truths about God it seems Scripture continues to say

God loves passionately
God relents from punishing
God does some how deal with evil
God will not submit to our system/pattern/doctrine

As C. S. Lewis wrote of Aslan in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, he is not safe but he is good. These seem to be things you can take to the bank.

When God Operates Contrary to Our Box

Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.13) is a powerful God truth rooted in the four statements listed above. It guides this section.

I believe in repentance. Jesus told us to preach “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” (not sure why we never quote Luke’s version of the Great Commission, it says nothing about baptism). Repentance is connected to the forgiveness of sins. God commands repentance. I believe in repentance. I preach repentance. See my article Repentance and Seasons of Refreshment.

Yet the Bible does not conform to our desires nor our neat little patterns, systems of doctrine nor things surely believed. Some of the greatest stories of mercy, grace and forgiveness in the Bible have one thing glaringly absent: Repentance!

I had read these stories before. I often assumed repentance was in these stories. I even imposed the idea upon these stories.  Truthfully sometimes I simply never stopped to notice what was actually in the text.


It was the Book of Jonah that first exposed how badly I had read my Bible and how the unseen lenses over my eyes literally changed the Bible to fit my patterns, systems and things surely believed.

In the Book of Jonah we will find:

King repenting
people repenting
animals repenting
we even find GOD repenting

But there is not a single solitary word of Jonah’s repentance. An instructive exercise is to read Jonah 2 and then read Psalm 51 and the Prayer of Manasseh (see my article to read this wonderful text, Prayer of Manasseh: Heartbeat of Jewish Spirituality).  The contrast between David (or Manasseh) and Jonah is not only stark it is intended by the narrator.

We have read the psalm in Jonah 2 and it sounds pious, religious and even thankful … but there is no repentance. Jonah is the master of religion but he is not contrite before God. Every line in Jonah 2 is from the Psalter … Jonah has memorized “the prayerbook” and knows how to say the right things. He believes himself to be the purveyor of “sound doctrine.”

But there is not a peep from Jonah’s lips that sounds remotely like David in Ps 51 or Manasseh in the Prayer of Manasseh.

Have mercy on me, O God …
Wash me, thoroughly from my iniquity ..
I know my transgressions …
you are justified in your sentence …
I was born guilty …
wash me …
create in me a clean heart …
do not caste me away from your presence [and Jonah wants nothing to do with God’s presence] …
restore to me the joy of your salvation …
I will teach sinners …
a broken and contrite heart …
(Psalm 51)

The contrast between Jonah and the Nineveh is glaring. They look like Job on the ash heap and they sound like David.

Jonah’s lack of repentance is highlighted in chapter 4 with his death wish (4.3, 9). But most glaringly is when he throws the God Creed back in Yahweh’s face (4.1-2, quoting Ex 34.6-7) as his motive for rebellion against the Lord. God’s willingness, his “pattern,” of relenting from punishment is the very basis of Jonah’s rebellion.


Jonah’s quote of the God Creed is stunning and it is organically connected to our next story of our untamed God and his untamed ways. The origin of the God Creed is the Golden Calf episode (Ex 32-34). In a story that must be read together from Exodus 32 to 34, we find Israel returning to paganism. Moses storms down the mountain, smashes the covenant tablets of stone. Yahweh states he will destroy these ingrates and fulfill his promises to Abraham thru Moses (one should recall that Israel’s sin is worse than that of Nineveh, Israel has seen the wonders of Yahweh, but the Assyrians do not even know who this God is!).

Moses intercedes. Yahweh forgives. Yahweh renews the covenant with Israel. Yahweh comes to dwell with Israel anyway.

What is glaringly missing from anywhere in Exodus 32 to 34 is repentance. There is no sacrifice of atonement. No plea for mercy from Israel.

Moses prays. Moses offers himself as atonement but God rejects the offer.  But, as in Jonah, there is not a peep of “we have sinned against the Lord” in any form.  There is nothing.

What we have in Exodus is a magisterial declaration from Yahweh that he has forgiven. This is where we read

I will do the very thing you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight … and he {the LORD} said, ‘I will make my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, The LORD, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (33.19-20).

This is the Hebrew Bible equivalent of Jesus hanging on the Cross say “Father forgiven them …” Except it comes directly from Yahweh.

Then the Yahweh utters the epic God creed a few verses later in 34.6-7.

Yahweh, Yahweh,
God merciful and gracious
slow to anger,
overflowing with HESED and faithfulness,
keeping HESED for a thousand generations,
forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty.”

You will note that I have not quoted 34.7b. Not because I do not believe it however. But because it is likely not part of the God Creed itself as the grammar shifts from the self-declaration of God.  Also because when Jonah quotes the text, he drops v.7b and replaces it with “who relents from calamity.” That is Jonah interprets the Creed as a whole as not having to do with punishment but the absence of punishment. For more on the God Creed in Exodus 34.6-7 see my sermon here: “Preach the Old Testament #2: The Gracious & Compassionate God.”

In response Moses falls on his face in worship. God’s words in 33.17-19 and 34.6-7 mean what they mean precisely because there was no “basis” for forgiveness other than God’s will to forgive.

Israel did not motivate God’s grace by providing repentance. Its absence makes the God Creed all the more epic. No wonder it is quoted and referred to over and over and over again in the Hebrew Bible.

Jonah is exactly where the historical Israel was. God had showered grace and mercy upon him, God had saved him in spite of himself. Just as he had Israel. This is what makes Jonah’s attack up Yahweh and his plea for Yahweh to kill him so shocking. Such astonishing grace, given to Israel, would be a travesty if given to Nineveh. Jonah’s lack of repentance calls attention to the fact that he did not believe he needed Yahweh’s grace every bit, if not more, than the pagans in Nineveh.

A Note from the Apostle Paul

Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul goes to this very story in Exodus when talking about Israel in Romans 9-11 (9.14 citing Ex 33.19). Paul roots his words not in a theology of repentance or precision obedience (as much as Paul truly believed in true repentance and godly obedience!). Paul grounded his HOPE in the the God of the Golden Calf episode and the God of the book of Jonah.  The God who demonstrates those characteristics listed above.  So Paul quotes the Bible,

What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? [the perspective of the prophet Jonah]
By no means! For he [God] says to Moses,

‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of knowing that God is God is that God is not obligated to wipe out anyone, even people you and I may think deserve to be nuked as Jonah did. It is this fundamental disposition of God to “relent” that is the one thing that gives us all hope!

Those of us who believe we have repented, that believe we have fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law, that believe we have done precisely what God has commanded … the question that we need to ask is, did we really? Jonah has convinced himself that he has done those things.

I do not know how such people sleep at night. I am quite certain that in spite of my best efforts at self examination that I probably have never done any command of God precisely as Jesus would have done … and that is the standard. So Moses, the author of Jonah, and Paul all hang their eternal hope upon GOD and his character.  I suspect the biblical writers are telling us to do the same thing.

Do not misconstrue what I have said. God does call us to repentance. But repentance is no meritorious act. And Scripture, in the most foundational narrative of the people of God, demonstrates God is God and mercy and grace are rooted in God’s own character.  This is precisely what Hosea quotes God as saying in Hosea 11.9, that is alluded to in the Book of Jonah!

I will not execute my fierce anger:
I will not destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no human,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

In the Book of Jonah it is the pagans that repent and not the people (= Jonah) who have the Bible and correct doctrine.  Perhaps this is why according to ancient Jewish tradition the Book of Jonah is publicly read from beginning to end on the Day of Atonement. We want to join the pagans on the ash heap and we praise the God who forgives and reveals himself in the God Creed in Exodus 34 and ultimately in the Messiah Jesus.

Conclusion … Jesus’s Brother was Correct

So I end where I began. The Bible is a dangerous book. If we read it as God gave it it will constantly tell us that our patterns, our systems and our things surely believed are not always as sure as we want them to be.

James, the Lord’s brother, understood this truth as much as anyone, existentially! He had openly ridiculed Jesus in unbelief (John 7.1-5). Mercy triumphed over judgement in his own personal life, that is why he pens those words in his little letter (James 2.13).

Now I encourage you to read prayerfully Jonah 1-4 and Exodus 32-34. Listen to what is actually there. The author of Jonah assumes you are deeply familiar with the story of the Golden Calf …

K. C. Moser once quipped that God’s grace is his glory He was correct. Note how glory is connected to the grace name in 32.17ff and 34.1-7.

God will rock our world.

Our response is that of Moses and Paul … fall on our face and praise the King of Glory.  God will not be tamed but God is good.

Late night thought. There is controversy in some churches over what is called “the role of women.” So I want to list some indisputable facts about what is stated point blank that women did in the Bible itself. So here they are, indisputable facts. There is not a person that can successfully deny these facts.

The Register of Women from the Holy Spirit

Wives (no need for BCV)

Mothers (no need for BCV)

Lovers (Song of Songs 1.2-8; 2.8-17; etc) Song of Songs does not present women simply as the object of a man’s pursuit.  The Song of Songs is literally egalitarian beyond dispute. Many scholars believe a woman was the author of the Song.  The woman is the primary speaker and primary actor in the Song.  Sadly this book is typically and utterly ignored as having nothing to say regarding how women and men relate as equals.  See my series of blogs on the Song but especially Returning to Eden: Song of Songs, Celebrating Sex & Egalitarian Women.

Singer (Ex 15.20-21; 2 Chr 35.25; etc)

Liturgical Dancer (Ex 15.20; etc)

Deliverer/Redeemer (Miriam, Micah 6.4) The biblical tradition includes another woman redeemer, Judith. She was revered in Jewish and Christian traditions. Sadly she is practically unknown among modern Evangelical believers but Clement, a first century shepherd in Rome, held her up to the Corinthians as a model of faithfulness.  Luke echoes her in describing Mary the Mother of Jesus.  See among other places, Judith: Salvation by a Woman, Judith’s Psalm of Praise.

Judge (Judges 4-5)

Warrior (Judges 4-5)

Proclaimers of God’s Mighty Acts/Victory (Ps 68.10)

Mourners/Comforters (Jeremiah 9.17ff; etc)

Prophet (Ex 15.20; 2 Chr 34.22ff; Lk 2.36ff; Acts 21.8f; 1 Cor 11.5; etc) See Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Female Prophet

Entrepreneurs (Proverbs 31.10-31; Acts 16.14)

Workers at the Tabernacle (1 Sam 2.22)

Rulers (2 Chr 23; Esther)

Author (Esther 9.29, 32; Pr 31.1-9; probably Ps 131)

Pray-er (1 Sam 2.1-10; 1 Cor 11.4-5; etc) In the Greek Bible of the early church (LXX) there are many examples of women prayer warriors.  Susannah in the Greek version of Daniel.  Esther was known as a passionate role model of prayer before the Lord in the LXX.  Susannah was one of the most famous women in the early church and Esther (and Judith) were patterns to emulate.  See on the Greek Esther: Greek Esther: Prayer and Aid from the All-Seeing God and Savior

Legislator for Worship festivals (Esther 9.29,32)

Sage (2 Sam 14; Pr 31.1-9)

Teacher (Pr 1.20-33; Pr 9.1-6; Pr 31.26; Acts 19.26) See Selina Holman: New Woman and the Exegetical Conscience of Churches of Christ

The Voice of Wisdom (Proverbs 1-9, Lady Wisdom)

Worship/Musician leaders in the temple/Psalms (Ps 68.24-25)

Disciple (Jn 4; Lk 8.1-3; 10.38-42; etc)

Deacon (Romans 16.1-2) See Voices on Female Deacons in the Stone-Campbell Movement

The financial support of Jesus’s ministry (Lk 8.1-3)

Carrier of New Testament Epistle (Rom 16.1-2)

Traveling coworkers of Paul (Phil 4.3; Rom 16.6,12)

Evangelists (Jn 4.39-42; Phil 4.2-3) See Where Are ‘Apostate’ Women Preachers taking Us?

Patron/Benefactor (Romans 16.2)

Shepherds (Gen 29.1-9; Ex 2.15-19)

Hosts/Leaders for congregations (Rom 16.3-16; 1 Cor 1.11)

First to proclaim the resurrection (Jn 20.17-18; Mt 28.1-10; Lk 24.1-12, 22)

I think too often we do not acknowledge these facts. In fact many simply do not know these facts.


Overlooked Memory verses on women in the Sacred Record

““Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with FULL AUTHORITY to confirm this second letter concerning Purim … Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records” (Esther 9.29, 32)


The Lord announces the word,
and the women who proclaim it
are a mighty throng …” (Ps 68.11)


Yahweh gives the command:
great is the company of women
who bore the [glad] tidings
(Ps 68.11)


Biblical women are not simply seen but not heard.  Nor are biblical women only allowed to participate in the singing of the church.

Women are the image bearers of God and reflect his glory into the world around. Biblical women are not just wives, daughters, handmaidens and caretakers of children (and nothing wrong with any of these!). Biblical women serve, at the call of God, every conceivable role that men have served in the Bible.

Some times what people call and mean by “traditional” roles of women they actually mean “male made roles for women,” not biblical roles for women.

5 Apr 2017

Yahweh, God of Grace for the Nations

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Jeremiah, Love, Salvation

Several years ago Ronald Hals in an epic little book, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (should be required reading, only 96 pages), noted that many western believers miss the “ocean of grace” in the Hebrew Bible because they have have not “learned to listen to it.” Grace, of course, comes to us via the Greek language yet the “OT” is written in Hebrew, so we do not expect it to use Greek vocabulary. To illustrate, simply because a particular language does not use the English word “car” does not imply there are not millions of “four wheeled internal combustion engine vehicles going down the road” in that country.

Grace Not Invented by Paul

Grace is not the invention of the apostle Paul. It is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. There are a cluster of words that proclaim the teaching, and they are everywhere. But more often the Hebrew Bible shows us pictures of Yahweh. When I lived in Milwaukee I became friends with a Jewish rabbi.  One of his statements to me has never left, “If Saul of Tarsus was half the student of the Torah his writings indicate he was then he did not need an encounter with Jesus to know that Ha-Shem is infinitely loving, merciful and gracious. It is on ever page of the Tanak.” I already knew that but to have a Jewish rabbi emphatically point it out was memorable.

Some of the most poignant images of grace in the Bible are the pictures of the suffering that Yahweh endures, not only from the sin of Israel but the sin of the nations. And of these, one of the most moving images is the “emotional catastrophe” (to use an image myself) that comes upon Yahweh, when God must finally deal with horrific sin.

Even when punishment must finally be given, after Yahweh’s long suffering, the Hebrew Bible voices these poignant words towards the murderous Babylonian Empire:

[I]n wrath may you remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3.2)

These images reveal what kind of God we worship. Jeremiah contains some of the most gripping of these. Christians are not mere theists! I am, in fact, an atheist towards many of idols and false gods that people fashion and worship. Christians do not merely believe just any god. We believe in and worship the Father of Jesus! That is the God of Israel revealed ultimately in the Nazarene.

Yahweh’s Merciful Justice

Near the end of the book of Jeremiah, there are a series of oracles against various pagan nations that have tormented Israel from the days of Abraham down to the the time of Huldah and Jeremiah. These nations have committed every war crime imaginable from enslaving refugees to raping women and making war on various non-combatants. Thus we read of Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and Edom. Each of these enemies of God have oracles “against them” in Isaiah, Obadiah, Amos, and other prophets. Jeremiah also notes that each of these nations, pagan idolaters all, and enemies of humanity, will finally be dealt with.

That does not sound very gracious, we may possibly think. But that is not the end of the story.  The ugliness of the Cross turns into the beauty of Resurrection. God’s judgement comes only after sometimes centuries of mercy. There is no knee-jerk in the Lord. God will stop evil! That in itself is Good News, just ask anyone that has been victim of continual systemic evil!

Jeremiah’s Images of Hesed and Grace

But punishment for the pagan nations is not God’s last word. After punishing Egypt, Yahweh declares his mercy on them. They, like Judah, with have an “exile” because of their sin. But “afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, says Yahweh” (46.26). Of Ammon, God promises them, “afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, says Yahweh” (49.6). And of Elam, “but in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam” (49.39).

It is with Moab, that ancient enemy of God’s people, that we get an incredibly moving picture of Yahweh. Moab is arrogant, prideful, worshipers of the demonic god “Chemosh.” They have been Israel’s enemy since the days of the Exodus. They too will suffer the fate shared with Judah from the Babylonian invasion. In language that echoes the Exodus narrative itself, Moab has brought the “destroyer” upon themselves.

But Yahweh, the God of Israel, loves Moabites. The knowledge of the self-inflicted consequences of their sin moves the Lord in powerful ways. As the consequences of that sin are manifest in Jeremiah 48, God bursts into tears. Our God!

Usually available for five bucks used via Amazon this book should be on your immediate reading list. Learning to “listen” (ears to hear) is the gift of this small treasure of a book. Just may change the way you read the whole Bible.

I myself know his insolence, says Yahweh;
his boasts are false,
his deeds are false.
Therefore I wail for Moab;
I cry for all Moab;
for the people of Kir-heres I mourn.
More than for Jazer I weep for you,
O vine of Sibmah! (48.30-32)

The narrative in Jeremiah does not simply tell us that Yahweh mourns and cries over the punishment of pagans. That is moving enough. Rather the text goes on to describe that this is a traumatic event for Yahweh. Moab’s punishment causes God pain. There is no image here of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The image is that of “Sinners in the Hands of a Suffering God of Hesed.” Note how Jeremiah directly connects Moab’s self inflicted wound to God’s pain.

And I will bring an end in Moab, says Yahweh, those who offer sacrifice at a high place and make offerings to their gods. Therefore my heart moans for Moab like a flute, and my heart moans like a flute for the people of Kir-heres; for the riches they gained have perished” (48.36).

These are arresting words to say the least. God’s heart “moans like a flute!” That is a powerful image. I think we are supposed to hear the sound of the flute as we read those words.

Egypt, Ammon, and Elam all “deserved” what they got as the saying goes. But such punishment seems to effect the Creator God deeper than it is possible for humans to imagine. In Jeremiah the Lord is torn to pieces by Judah his people (Jer 8-9). In Hosea God’s heart is “destroyed” at the thought of punishing his “son” (11.8). God has this same response at the thought of having to deal with evil in the pagan nations in Jeremiah.

But as with Israel, God’s last word to Moab is not punishment. God’s last word is the promise of mercy to Moab. God’s tears flow into rivers of grace for even the pagan nations. This is the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus of Nazareth, speaking,

Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab
in the latter days, says Yahweh.
Thus far is the judgment on Moab.” (48.47)

The Last Word … is Grace

The last word is is not that Yahweh will overcome the evil. The last word is that Yahweh will find a way to not only to remove evil from Moab, Egypt, Ammon, and Elam the bitter enemies of Israel and Judah for centuries. Rather the final word is that Yahweh will find a way to “restore the fortunes” of these nations.

The God We Worship

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God that loves even the pagan tormenting enemies of his own people so much, that he weeps so violently that his heart is like a flute in mourning.

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God who does indeed deal with evil ultimately by overcoming it. Now Jeremiah does not tell us how Yahweh is going to do that. But as disciples further along in the Story, we know that Yahweh has done this through a weeping and suffering Servant whom we call Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

Grace is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. God’s love is so rich, so deep, so powerful that the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is the testimony of Yahweh’s love for the world. A love that is not only for Israel. It is for the pagan nations. In fact it is not only for Israel and the pagan nations but literally for the “world.” John 3.15-16 is about the God of the “Old Testament” it is not about Jesus’s love.

No wonder Israel proclaimed in song to the nations, as our Psalms regularly point out, “your [Yahweh’s] steadfast love {hesed} is higher than the heavens” (Ps 108.4).

This is the message of the saved by Yahweh’s grace people TO the pagans that surround us. That my beloved friends is worth reflecting on.

The Old Days

Many years ago I began to pray thru the Psalms from beginning to end each month. There were a lot of reasons for this but it has truly altered my experience of the entire biblical text. I grew up with very little exposure to the “Old Testament” beyond a VBS level of instruction. The most consistent emphasis in my memory was that the “Old Testament” was largely irrelevant to “New Testament Christianity.”  There was major discontinuity between the “Old Testament” and “New Testament Christianity” in fact.  Its worship had nothing to do with Christians for it was grounded in ritual, legalistic, and was the opposite of “spiritual” worship thus it was “nailed to the cross.”

But I started to develop a love affair with the Hebrew Bible while in undergraduate college at what is now Heritage Christian University. I took my first Hebrew class in the fall of 1987 with Stephen Broyles. I ended up taking all the Hebrew classes available (Broyles was the only teacher, later I would take more Hebrew with Dr James Smith at Florida Christian College when I lived in Kissimmee and then at Harding Grad) majoring in the “Old Testament.” Broyles was the first to tell me to check to see “how the NT used the OT” a thought that never occurred to me. Why would Paul “use” the “Old Testament” when he was an inspired apostle and could speak on his own authority (something Paul rarely does btw).


Several years ago I picked up a used book by Henry Shires by the title Finding the Old Testament in the New. It is an older book dating back to 1973. I read it with great profit. Nearly one third of the book, chapter 6, was devoted to “The Book of Psalms in the New Testament.” Even though I had worked my way thru the Psalms many times by then I was blown away with how deep the NT writers are immersed in the Psalms.

This immersion carried forward into the early history of the church. And because it is impossible to exaggerate the Psalms in the early church, if a person truly wants to understand “New Testament Christianity” the Psalms are going to be involved in whatever they mean by the historical reality of first century Christianity.

I used to imagine early Christians were just like us. Everyone had a Bible! But in fact NO ONE had a Bible. No one owned even a portion of it. “Books” were scrolls and later a codex. These were incredibly expensive so books were kept in communal locations. They were read orally never silently to oneself. The Psalms was one of the single most important books in early Christianity. The Shepherd of Hermas was immensely important. If you want something besides a fantasy of early Christianity, Hurtado is essential.

I repeat, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Psalter in the life of Jesus or early church. I noted not long ago that of all the Christian manuscripts that survive from the first 3 centuries, the Psalms outnumber every book of the NT by magnitudes of order except Matthew and John both beat the Psalms by 1.  See my linked Psalms and the Temple: : What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced.

There are few things that have hindered (in my opinion) the appreciation of biblical faith more than the inherited Dispensationalism of the Stone-Campbell Movement. This misguided tool foists upon the “New Testament” text categories that simply did not exist in the first century. But it has been useful in polemical debate. We have to use it to get rid of instrumental music, circumcision, holy days … and Huldah!! But the use of the “Old Testament” by the writers of the New Testament proves beyond reasonable doubt that for them it was authoritative.

But that does not solve, in my mind, how the NT writers sought out the “Old Testament” (a phrase that no biblical writer ever used in reference to the books of the Hebrew Bible) to guide the “Gatherings” in the first century. See for example my linked Paul and the Unquestioned Authority of the Old Testament.

Ephesians 5.19 and the Psalms

Take Ephesians 5.19 as today’s example. For years we have gone to battle over the meaning of psallo. It is an inconvenient truth that all admit the word “at one time” included instruments. But the argument is, that, when Paul used the word it had changed and no longer included it. Debaters will say that TODAY’S Greek the word does not include instruments.  But there is a two thousand year journey there.

But then there is Josephus, a contemporary of Paul, who uses the word multiple times to describe Levites singing and playing on harps in the temple. But the claim is that Josephus is imitating classical Greek rather than koine. It really is quite complex in fact (and then you have those folks that say you don’t have to have a PhD to read and understand the Bible but then they mark arguments on psallo that are so complex that many PhDs cannot follow them!). All lexicons will tell you the word means to play in the LXX which is also koine Greek but debaters will not tell you that! Standard lexicons like Liddel and Scott will say the word includes instruments. Finding evidence for psallo including instruments is not difficult to do.

But while we fought over psallo, I missed something vitally important largely because I did not know the “Old Testament” like Paul and the first century church. I knew that Paul told the believers to sing … Psalms. This is why in the Church Fathers we find such devotion to the Psalter. Paul commanded that we sing PSALMS. Down through the history of the church there are numerous examples of believers that held the opinion that the ONLY “authorized” words to give to God in praise was the book of Psalms itself. The Regulative Principle forbade the use of “humanly made words” in the worship of God. Most have not taken this position but it is not a rare one (many in the Reformed tradition have held this position especially, they rejected humanly authored songs just as they rejected instrumental music).

What I missed for a long time, was that Paul’s entire directive is formulated in language that comes from the Psalter itself. Paul does not say just sing Psalms. Paul says,

sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart …”

sing and make melody [to the Lord]” is a directive that occurs in the Psalter no less than five times. The exact Greek phrase, “sing and make melody to …” occurs no less than three.

“… I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
I will sing and make melody to the LORD {ᾄσομαι καὶ ψαλῶ τῷ κυρίῳ}”
(Psalm 27.6 = 26.6, LXX)

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the LORD with the lyre;
make melody {ψαλῶ}to him [the Lord] with the harp of ten strings
(Psalm 33.1-2)

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody {ψαλῶ} to our God on the lyre
(Psalm 147.7, we recall that Paul mentions thanksgiving as well in 5.20)

Other parallel texts but not the exact Greek but very close …

O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody
(Psalm 57.7)

My heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make melody …”
(Psalm 108.1)

What is noticeable is how closely associated the word psallo is to the phrase Paul quotes and its use in the Psalter. Is there any indication that Paul uses the word in a manner differently than in source material he quotes??

These last two texts, Psalm 57.7 and 108.1, also mention Paul’s other debt to the Psalter, “the heart.

The “heart” is one of the most common words in the Psalms occurring a whopping 105 times. It is beat out by “hesed” (steadfast love in NRSV).

You have put gladness in my heart” (Ps 4.7)

God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps 7.10)

Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his [Yahweh’s] face!” (Ps 27.8)

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him
(Ps 28.7)

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king
(Ps 45.1)

“I give thanks to you, O LORD my God,
with my whole heart
and I will glorify your name forever.”
(Psalm 86.12)

I will praise you with an upright heart
(Psalm 119.7)

We can multiply these quotations but this is sufficient to make the point. Paul is not giving the Ephesian congregation some new “spiritual” directives for worship of God. Paul is literally channeling the Book of Psalms. The Psalms proclaim loudly, and clearly, that the values of a human being, the loves, the desires, the grateful worship with thanksgiving comes from the heart and are expressed in singing joyfully with music to the Lord.

Finding the Old Testament in the New

So some conclusions:

When Paul instructs believers to sing the Psalms he uses language from the Psalms themselves to do it.

When Paul tells us to “make melody to the Lord” he is quoting the Psalter itself. We “make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27.6/Eph 5.19)

Making melody, as we have seen, is the sound of “thanksgiving” being offered to the Lord as we see Paul say the next verse in Eph 5.20, this too comes from the Psalms.

When the apostle conceived of a life of song, a life of praise, a life of thanksgiving, a life of worship, he framed it according to the Hebrew Bible and particularly the Book of Psalms. The “Old Testament” taught the “New Testament” church how to worship the God of Israel.  This is also why all the words that the New Testament uses for “worship” come straight out of the Septuagint … there is no exception to this.

The apostle that wrote these words in Ephesians 5.19-20, and the manner in which he did, is exactly why we can see this very same apostle going to the temple in the book of Acts to “worship” (Acts 24.11, cf 21.26-27) and declares to the anti-Semitic Roman believers that “the worship” belongs to the Israelites (Romans 9.4, a passage that is routinely silenced).

I knew that Paul mentioned singing Psalms in Ephesians 5.19. The significance of that never sunk into my consciousness however. But what I did not know for many years, was that Paul quotes the Psalms, when he tells us to sing the Psalms from the heart and given thanksgiving.

The reason I did not know was because I did had not studied one of the most important books in the first century church, the Psalms.