My Pocket NRSV

My Pocket NRSV is a library no first century person, rich or poor, could have imagined.

An Opening Conversation

Last night a friend said to me in response to something about context, “Bobby I do not believe you have to be a scholar to read the Bible. I will just read the Bible like an ordinary person in the first century.” I looked at him and smiled.  He said “why are you smiling?”  And I replied, “you really do not want to know because it requires acknowledging context.” So he pressed me, “what!?”  So I said, “[name] ordinary people did not read the Bible in the first century.  Ordinary people did not own Bibles in the first century. In fact no one owned a Bible and no ordinary person read it.”

I too do not believe one must be a “scholar” to read the Bible. But we may have to do just a little homework to hear it like an ordinary person in the first century.  Most of us realize that we need to know how to add 2 plus 2 … but knowing that does not make us a mathematician.  It simply means we have mastered a basic fundamental skill to live in our world.  So …

Ordinary Me and My Bible

I suspect that I am about as ordinary as they come.  Plain manila envelope here folks. While I do not care that much for Elvis, I love mom and apple pie! I live in the Southwest, drive a Jeep, ride a Harley, love to explore and camp. I have a handful of friends to watch football and baseball with. Ordinary Me!

Like most ordinary disciples I love my Bible.  In fact like most ordinary disciples I have several versions of the Bible. To the left (or above) is a picture of my pocket size NRSV that is my always Bible. I carry it every where I go.  I have a shelf of a dozen different translations. I even have a Bible app on my phone that has the NIV and Westcott/Hort. I cannot imagine a world without Bibles all over the place.  Modern American disciples are awash in Bibles and now we simply pull up Bible Gateway and look at virtually any translation with in a few seconds.

But Ordinary Me is not Ordinary Disciple in the first century.  My little NRSV with the Old Testament, Apocrypha and New Testament is more than even the apostle Paul would have seen at one time in his entire life.

Ordinary Disciple and the “Bible” in the First Century

Ordinary Disciple never saw a Bible in his or her life.  So how did an “ordinary” person encounter the “Bible” in the first century?  This is such an important question because we simply retroject our ordinary back upon the pages of the New Testament our ordinary experience and it shapes (literally) how we then interpret the Bible itself.

The fact that no ordinary person actually owned a Bible for more than 1500 years after Jesus is a truth I am convinced we have not wrestled with. Most ordinary people would never have even held in their hands a portion of the Bible much less the Bible itself. Producing letters and books was an expensive task in the ancient world.  Paul’s letter to the Romans would have cost, according to scholars, approximately 2000 dollars, an astronomical sum even by today’s standards.  Only the exorbitantly rich, the powerful and institutions possessed “books” (mostly temples or government archives but there were some libraries in the ancient world, the legendary Library of Alexandria being the prime example). For more on this aspect the strangeness of the Bible see my Evel Knievel, The Grand Canyon and the Deep Gulf to the Bible.

Isaiah Scroll from Qumran

Isaiah Scroll from Qumran

Books in the first century were actually scrolls.  Scrolls would normally contain a single writing (a copy of the minor prophets on a single leather scroll found at Masada is an exception).  Thus the book of Isaiah was the scroll of Isaiah (as in Luke 4.17) and the book of Luke itself would have been a scroll of Luke.  Examples of what “books” look are the Dead Sea Scrolls. To consult another part of the Bible you would need to get a completely different scroll.  Paul’s letters were also scrolls just smaller (and papyrus not leather) than the great Isaiah scroll that Jesus would have held in hands in Nazareth.

The Ethiopian eunuch is only an apparent exception in Acts 8. The Ethiopian is not ordinary (he is quite wealthy) and he did not own a Bible but a scroll of Isaiah. powerful. For more on the Ethiopian see my Indiana Jones, Temples & Acts: Who Did Philip Talk to in Acts 8?

Scripture was held by the community. The Temple in Jerusalem would have been the primary place where official copies of the holy writings would have been stored.  Synagogues, like the one in Nazareth, would also have collections of the Scripture.  However it is not a foregone conclusion that even a synagogue would have all the scrolls. Economics are often times bitter but even in the history of the church many local churches often did not have a complete Bible. At Qumran we know the community there had a library that belonged to the whole community.

But no one individual owned these Scriptures.  Some very rich person may have some of the Bible, like the Ethiopian. But most will be like Jesus himself … when he read from Isaiah he read from a scroll owned by the group.

Example of HEARING the Bible

The world of the early church was an oral culture not print. They heard things rather than read things (no one read silently in the ancient world). Most ordinary people were functionally illiterate.  They did not need to read because they did not exist in a print based culture like we do today. Books like the Iliad were memorized in overall detail.

When I was young in the late 1970s, my family lived in a small white house in Cloverdale, AL.  We did not live in the lap of luxury.  We did not have a TV.  We played games at the kitchen table. Monopoly. Clue. Yatzi. Uno. Sorry.  However, one day my mom discovered some old time radio shows on cassette. So we would sit and listen to “The Shadow” which was a detective radio show from the 1930s. There were no images to look at. There was just the family sitting there listening to the story. In fact we would get caught up in that story. To this day I can hear in my head the voice of the narrator and the images that popped up in my imagination. We learned about the characters and most important we learned the story.

That is how people in the first century encountered the Bible. A father or mother would tell the story to the family.  A rabbi would tell the story. They memorized the Story.  The Bible was not carried around in hands rather the Bible was heard orally within a communal context, that is Ordinary Me normally heard the “Bible” not by myself but within a group (recognize I use that word accommodatingly to signify even portions of what we call the Bible).

There is another way the Bible was encountered by Ordinary Me in the first century and that is in worship. Going to the Temple or attending the synagogue. In fact this would have been the major way anyone encountered Scripture in the time of Jesus, Paul, Peter or even the John the Prophet. In the worship festivals the Bible was relived and that is how the word was given to the ordinary person. Disciples dramatically relive the central theme of the Scriptures through the Festivals. As one scholar recently put it, Israel did not read the Bible they acted it out. The festivals reenact the central features of the Story of Redemption (Passover, Booths, Shavuot, Purim, Hanukkah, etc). In these contexts portions of the Bible were read orally to the people. The festivals by their very nature point to the most important part of the “Bible” … what Yahweh has done to save and redeem Israel to make her his own.

One of the great lessons learned from how people encountered the Bible for centuries is that it focuses upon the essential part of the Story. I think we would do well to learn that. These early disciples were indeed “People of the Word” but they were not “People of the Book.

scrolls-pile2Ordinary Me, Printed Pages, Arguments and the Holy Spirit

Some modern disciples have practically come to believe that the printed page is the Holy Spirit. Early on in the Stone-Campbell Movement there were people that advocated the heresy that the Holy Spirit had retired from work in God’s world. Some of these seemed to literally think of the printed Bible as the Spirit. The great Walter Scott satirized these folks in this quip, “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive a New Testament.

This is a position that is not materially different and held by a number is that of famed false teacher Foy Wallace Jr. Wallace wrote

Apart from the inspiration of the apostles and prophets, it is impossible for spirit to communicate with spirit except through words. God and Christ never personally occupied anyone; and for the same reason, the Holy Spirit does not personally occupy anyone.”

Wallace goes on to say

“Now the Word of God is in the Book – THE WRITTEN WORD [his emphasis] – and the direct possession of the Holy Spirit is unnecessary and superfluous.” (Mission & Medium of the Holy Spirit, pp. 7-8; as a side note this is why Wallace thought K. C. Moser was a heretic!)

There is not a person alive in the first century that could have endorsed Wallace’s position. They never had the WRITTEN word, that is they did not have a Bible. Before the end of the first century no congregation, much less an ordinary person like me, had anything remotely like what people typically call the Bible today.

We mentioned the eunuch above. When he returned to Meroe he had nothing whatsoever of our WRITTEN New Testament all he had was the LXX, if he had all of that. The Gospels do not start appearing in written form until the 60s (Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and both Peter, Paul, James were all dead by then).

How did those people encounter the Bible? Not as Wallace suggests. They encountered the Word of God like I did the Shadows as a kid. It was spoken in worship. The Story focused upon God’s work thru Israel and culminating in Jesus. And like my family years ago they encountered the Word most frequently at a table where some one would tell the Story.

Context Matters even for Ordinary People

Sometimes we just need to reflect on how radically different our experience of the “culture” of the Christian faith is from people living in the first Christian centuries. The world of the Bible is strange to us in every possible way. And the more we recognize that the more it challenges us to approach it humbly and seek to hear it just like an ordinary person would in that day

Recognizing the strange world of the Bible could also help end our tragic divisions. It may also help us realize that contrary to Wallace’s claim God’s word is not equivalent to a written page. The written page may be (and is) a RECORD of the word of God but the written page is not what the Bible itself calls “the word of God.” The word of God was HEARD and empowered by God’s own Spirit.  The scroll of Revelation records “Blessed is the ONE {singular} who reads ALOUD the words of the prophecy, and blessed are THOSE {plural} who HEAR …” (Rev 1.3). Revelation was encountered in worship among a gathered group of disciples … One read and the rest listened with rapt attention.

rhema_smFinal Words

I am sooooooooooooooo grateful to have my own “Bible.” Anyone that knows me, knows I have a fascination with anything that has to do with the Bible. I have, and have read, old “Bibles” from cover to cover like Wycliffe’s Bible, Tyndale’s OT and NT, the Geneva Bible, was part of a nerd FB group in 2011 to read the whole 1611 KJV cover to cover for its 400th anniversary.

I love the Bible. But as grateful as I am I need to be historically aware enough that sometimes having my own personal Bible creates both assumptions and expectations that were not only not shared in first century Christianity but simply did not exist in any form in most cases until after the Protestant Reformation.

The point here is not to discourage Bible reading.  Just the opposite is the case.  This is to encourage reading that ushers us into the realm of the first century so we can indeed hear and understand as did Ordinary people in the time of Jesus and the Jerusalem church.  Recognizing the strange world of the Bible is part of having “eyes to see” and more importantly in this case “ears to HEAR.”

Bobby V

You may also enjoy my Ancestry of the KJV: Making Books in the Ancient World

slide-02Opening a Letter

Some “Sabbath” reflections are offered today on Paul’s legendary Epistle to the Romans. There are lots of modern assumptions that function like a prism more than a lens when we look at Romans (see why Assumptions often hide the truth). These assumptions have done some interesting things to us in reading Romans.

Some of my first blogs focus on Romans as I was preparing to preach through the book: Praying with Romans & Manasseh (2006); Praying through Romans (2006); Wrestling with Romans (2006); Romans 8 (2007)  among others. I have returned to Romans every year as I read through Bible but three years ago I engaged in an intense program of Romans studies for a sermon series. To say that Romans, like the Psalms, is deeply profound is an understatement.  Romans, also like the Psalms, is connected to the entire biblical story and the more you understand the Story the more you see how the whole story flows into Romans. Paul’s own thinking is shaped mightily by that narrative structure that the Psalms also bear witness too.

Rules of Engagement

There are two rules that I believe are simply nonnegotiable for any serious engagement with a writing and those are context and context. One of the major advances in NT studies since World War II is the belief that these two rules actually apply to the book of Romans.  For centuries since the Protestant Reformation it has been simply ignored that Romans is a letter to a historical believers living in a historical situation.  Further Paul has a context as well as the believers in Rome we need to pay attention to these facts and understand them as best we can.

Opening of Romans. Medieval text

Opening of Romans. Medieval text

Romans is Jewish … Surprise

First Romans is not only a Jewish document, it is very Jewish.  Since the Reformation, this astounding fact has bothered Protestant scholars and believers who have had a certain picture of Paul already in their head. That portrait is, Paul was fleeing a ritualistic, carnal, legalistic, law based religion as fast as he possibly could to found something radically different from his previous life. This picture was, and is, incredibly difficult to maintain in light of Acts, other Pauline letters, etc.  So contrary evidence has been marginalized, ignored, and among liberal scholars simply declared to be non-Pauline.

In Romans itself parts are so Jewish that scholars who recognize this Jewish element have frequently decided that this or that text is not actually Paul but his incorporation of inherited material that does not necessarily reveal what is important to him. An example is the unbelievably Jewish presentation of the Gospel in 1.1-7.

the gospel of God, promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 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 holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord …” (1.2-4)

The Story of the Gospel is the story of Israel. Older scholars recognized the Jewish character and claimed the text is non-Pauline fragments and believers failed to recognize it is Jewish and simply ignore it.  The result is the same.

I have often thought such logic on the scholars part to be humorous in the extreme. If I wrote my girl friend a letter and I incorporated some lyrics from a song for her, it most assuredly represents MY thinking for her even if I did not write it or say it! Romans is utterly Jewish. We will return to this repeatedly.

The Greeting

Have you noticed Paul never once addresses the Romans as “the church of God/Christ?” Why is this? One massive assumption modern disciples have is that first century followers of Christ believed they were starting a different religion. This underlies the common description of Paul’s encounter on the Damascus Road as his “conversion.” No doubt something radical happened to Paul but conversion is probably not what he would call it.  Luke presents the story pretty much in line with traditional prophetic calls we read about in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel for example).

But the separation of Judaism and what we call Christianity is a post AD-70 reality, it had not happened in Paul’s day. And it would take quite some time before it was a real separation. There is no archeological evidence of a large synagogue, or church building, in Rome until centuries after Paul. But 20,000 to 50,000 Jews lived in Rome. Where did they meet? They met in homes as associations! In fact, the word “synagogue” referred as much to a group of people as it did a building in the first century.

Oakes presents us with a concrete social setting for the original readers of Romans. Not all readers were the same either either. So what might a small apartment Gathering look like?

Oakes presents us with a concrete social setting for the original readers of Romans. Not all readers were the same either either. So what might a small apartment Gathering look like?

We know that before AD 49 the followers of the Way, and traditional Jews, still met together. And house “churches” seem to have been modeled upon house synagogues. What modern folks do not realize is that Julius Caesar banned the assembly of religious societies in the city of Rome except for the Jews. The saints – if they are in independent assemblies would still have been thought of as a synagogue by everyone else. The historical record shows that, as late as the first century, the Romans did not distinguish between “Christians” and Jews at all. Messianics were simply a sect within Judaism.

All of this does have a bearing on reading Romans. The house gatherings of disciples in cramped apartment buildings in Rome are rooted in a Jewish social environment. Mixed in this complex social environment is a latent and not so subtle anti-Jewish sentiment that is growing among the Romans themselves.  This anti-Jewish (not simply anti-“Christian”) has been amply documented by scholars and is addressed point blank in the letter itself.

Romans is NOT Galatians

After first getting excited about Romans with K. C. Moser’s Gist of Romans, I have wrestled with it over and over. There is much in Moser’s book that is on target. The glory of grace and the truth about faith in Christ. Moser reads Romans as most did in his day, as if it were an attack on that evil legalistic religion–Judaism. When we assume that Romans is simply Galatians expanded we divorce both writings from their own context. Many take Galatians and declare it to be Paul’s views on the law in particular across the board.  But Paul is dealing with Gentiles and the law in relation to justification in Galatians not in general.

But my understanding of Romans as a whole is different than Moser. Let me give one major example, there are no Judaizers in Romans. In the past, when it was commonly stated and assumed that Paul was fleeing Jewish legalism folks basically only read parts of Romans basically 3 to 8 with no idea what to do with 9-11 and then thinking 12 to 15 was just an addendum at best. None of 9-16 was really related to the argument in 1-8 … this was possible because moderns had divorced Paul from his Jewish context. But chapters 9-16 are in fact intimately related to 1-8.

In fact Romans was just Galatians on steroids in much thinking. But Romans is more than 3 to 8 in fact it is a whole unified argument. What if we read the whole, taking its social context seriously, from beginning to end? We just might conclude that instead of Judaizing we discover that Paul is actually concerned with the “Gentilizing” of the Gospel! ” That certainly explains some significant passages in the letter that are routinely ignored.

Recent work with short chapters illustrating how Romans coheres and contrasts with Jewish perspectives. Written on an introductory level and thus is very accessible.

Recent work with short chapters illustrating how Romans coheres and contrasts with Jewish perspectives. Written on an introductory level and thus is very accessible.

Context Explains …

If Paul is addressing Gentiles that have contact with Jews on a regular basis (and that seems utterly clear this is happening from Romans 14 and given what was said above) with growing Gentile prejudice towards Jews then that helps explain what we actually read in Romans.

The Gentile “saints” (“saint” is a Jewish word coming from the LXX, Paul never uses the word Christian) are not tempted toward circumcision, as in Galatians, but toward an arrogant triumphalism against the circumcised! It is the opposite end of the spectrum encountered in Romans from that found in Galatia.  Thus, while in Galatians there is significant criticism of the law, there is no criticism of the Law in Romans (a stark fact). Instead Paul “delights” (7.22) in the Law and declares that it is Spiritual (7.14), holy, righteous and good (7.12, 16). There is no negativity regarding the Law in Romans 7, the problem is Sin and Death.

Paul even declares that faith rather than undermining actually “upholds the law” (3.31, one of those texts – among many – that are conveniently swept away). Paul dares to say that the Law is even an “advantage” for Jews ( 3.1-2) in Romans.  The apostle Paul calls the Law a “gift” in 9.1-5 and 11.28-29

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; so to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah …”

for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable …”

This is language straight from the so called “Old Testament” which frequently views the torah as a gift of grace (Deuteronomy, Psalm 1, 19, 119, etc). This sounds very different than Galatians but the context explains why. In passing note that Paul uses the plural for “covenants” and he does not equate “covenants” with the “law.”  God has given gifts to Israel and the Law is among them. Paul is not saying this for the sake of Jews but for the sake of Gentile triumphalism over Jews!

Paul confesses his desire to obey the Law and says that “in Christ” he finds the victory enabling him to fulfill the righteous requirement of Torah (7.7-8.4; 13.8-10). The attitude of Paul towards the Law in Romans is clearly different than what is sometimes imagined.  The Law is not an instrument of justification and never was envisioned to be one by Moses (I do not have time to stop and talk about the nature of the “I” in Romans 7).

Again why all this emphasis that is found throughout Romans? I call it Paul’s effort to correct Gentilizing … that is the misconceived triumphalism on the part of Gentile saints in Rome over Jews and Jewish heritage of their own faith. That was the effort to have a “Christian” faith apart from story of Israel, apart the “Old Testament” and apart from it fundamental Jewish character. If rumors of these attitudes among Gentile believers were filtering back to Jerusalem, even though Paul is not responsible, that would explain the concern of James and the elders in Acts 21.21f.  One scholar, Jacob Jervell, has called Romans “Paul’s letter to Jerusalem.” That is, what we read in Romans, is what Paul intends to say to the Jerusalem leadership that has heard distortions of his teaching.  Such a perspective is quite valuable in keeping us grounded in the historical context.

Classic collection of essays on exegesis of Romans. I cannot imagine wrestling with Romans apart from this classic.

Classic collection of essays on exegesis of Romans. I cannot imagine wrestling with Romans apart from this classic.

Gentiles do not Replace Israel but become Part of Israel

What Paul does in Romans to counter the Gentilizing is show how Gentiles themselves have entered God’s Story with Israel, a story intended to bring about the healing of the nations and indeed all of creation. This is why Romans 1.1-7, even if a summary of pre-pauline material, is the heart of Paul’s own gospel. As Christian Beker noted, though Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles rejects (along with the Jerusalem church itself btw) requiring circumcision of Gentile converts to the Way he still demands a particular Jewish orientation to the Gospel itself (Beker calls it Paul’s “dogmatic imposition,” Paul the Apostle, p. 170-173). Paula Fredriksen, a Jewish scholar, has argued that Paul is “Judiazing the Gentiles” and demands more of Gentiles than any Jewish teacher of his time. Thus in her view Paul is the most Jewish of the Jewish writers of the New Testament.

The Gospel will always be the culmination of the God’s promises to Israel, and the Messiah will always be Israel’s Messiah, and Gentiles will will always be grafted into Israel … not the other way around. Paul does not make Israel irrelevant to the Gentiles rather he says now we Gentiles are part of that great line we read about from Genesis to Malachi.

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles, inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify in my ministry …
“and you, a while olive shoot, were grafted in their place … do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root but the root that supports you … Do not be arrogant, but be afraid …
So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are …
” (11.13, 17, 18, 20, 25)

Pretty straight talk from Paul to Gentiles! Gentile arrogance boasting was excluded. The Gentiles were dependent for everything to the Israel Story.

I have long wondered why the phrase, “I appeal to you {plural – the group}, therefore … be transformed by the renewing of your {plural – the group} mind,” comes after a discussion of Israel (ch’s 9-11).  But I ignored the fact that Paul explicitly points back to chapter 11 with the word “therefore.” Paul is still addressing the same group of people in 12.1f as in chapter 11. What he says about renewing our collective minds flows from the discussion of Israel and Gentiles relationship.

We might expect Paul to say something about renewing our minds after mentioning immorality or idolatry (like in chapter 1!) but he doesn’t. The “renewing of our mind” has reference to what those Gentiles thought about Jews being “enemies” of God as chapter 11 closes (Paul did not put these breaks in the text!). Perhaps the Gentiles needed to re-evaluate their status in the kingdom, their relationship to the Story and praise God that they are actually the product of God’s grace to Israel.

Gentiles and Law

Paul clearly thought there was a wrong way for Gentiles to be related to the Law. Galatians deals with that error. The Jerusalem Decree addresses that problem. Paul and James are in the same boat on this matter. They are also in agreement coming the other direction.

Romans is saturated with the Israel's Bible. Using Richard Hays methodology, Crisler takes us thru the whole Letter to the Romans with an eye on how the so called OT shapes and molds Paul's own language and argument. Lament plays a large role.

Romans is saturated with the Israel’s Bible. Using Richard Hays methodology, Crisler takes us thru the whole Letter to the Romans with an eye on how the so called OT shapes and molds Paul’s own language and argument. Lament plays a large role.

But there is also a right way to relate to God’s gift and to Jews themselves. And, this is my conviction and where I am today, Romans and Ephesians show us the Paul that Luke tells a story about in Acts is real. Acts shows that Paul believed what he wrote in Romans 9.4 and 14 for he is one of those that keeps holy days and seeks God in Temple worship.

Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles brings them Israel’s gospel, Israel’s story, Israel’s Messiah and shows how they can become part of that Story on the same basis as Abraham – faith. This is all done on the basis of Israel’s own Scripture too. Paul says the Gospel is according to the Scripture, it is not separate and apart from Israel’s Bible. At the same time his preaching shows how Gentiles are actually now part of the Israel of God that has existed since Abraham. They have been grafted INTO Israel and are now heirs to the covenants of promise.

Rather than chunking God’s word as irrelevant or assuming arrogant and superior attitudes, Gentiles now humbly take their place as part of Israel and join heirs according the Promise embedded in Scripture itself. This is the Paul we find in Acts. He is a Jew and has never “converted” to Christianity rather he has embraced his own STORY. The Story said the Messiah would come and renew the covenant, grant the Spirit, and the gentiles would come and worship the God of Israel.

So Paul is a Pharisee (not was) according to his traveling buddy Luke. So Paul, who says the torah was a “gift” and an “advantage” in Romans, keeps vows and delights in “the worship” (cf Romans 9.4 and Acts 24.11, 14, 17). In fact the Paul we see throughout the Epistle to the Romans is the very one who puts his own principles in action about relating to Jews in Acts 21.

Conclusion: Romans and the One Story

The more I read the Hebrew Bible the more I understand Paul. The more I understand the truth that Paul was a rabbinic Jew till he died, the more he makes sense. My blog has grown long and we have not even begun to touch how Paul weaves the story of the Exodus into the book of Romans on macro scale.  Nor how Paul envisions this renewed Israel with Gentiles is how God is renewing his whole creation, all according to Scripture.  And how now Gentiles and Jews gather around the Jewish Messiah “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Messiah” (15.6).  God heals the world in his renewed Israel and all the world now worships the one true God … just as the Psalms and the Prophets envisioned.  There are not two stories, one of Israel and one of “church.”  There is only one.  We Gentiles, by grace have become part of that amazing Story.

The more I read Paul and look at my own heritage the more I am convinced that Paul’s concern about Gentilizing may be a problem that Christians in general and Christians in the Restoration Movement need to wrestle with.

A Few Suggested Resources Besides those already Noted in the Pix

For me Paul Sampley’s “Romans and Galatians Compared and Contrasted” in Understanding the Word: Essays in Honor of Bernhard Anderson was very illuminating when I first read it many years ago. I had fallen into the trap of viewing Galatians as a cliff notes version of Romans. I was very wrong.


26 May 2016

God as Prayer Partner – a Short Thought

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Discipleship, Prayer
Prayer can be tough ... just ask Jesus

Prayer can be tough … just ask Jesus

Prayer is hard work for me.

One of the reasons I have become so devoted to the Psalms is because they build the “vocabulary” of prayer into my life.  I have however accepted the fact that I will always be an amateur when it comes to prayer.  Many years ago Eugene Peterson helped me immeasurably as I struggled.  It was his book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. He begins by explaining that biblical prayer is always a response. The whole of human life is answering God. God has already acted and spoken even before I was born therefore my life in every dimension is my reply to grace God has already lavishly poured. Understanding that my prayer(s) is an answer or response or reply to God’s previous word has had a profound impact on me.

Biblical prayer assumes that the Hebraic worldview that God is not a robot or an abstract idea.  Rather God is a person deeply involved with his creation at every level and in every dimension.  Biblical prayer assumes that God is not somewhere over the rainbow but “very near.” If God has acted/spoken, God waits for our answer.  In this way prayer is seen as a conversation between creation and God.  It is a genuine dialogue but not a dialogue of equals.

God Waits

When we read through the book of Isaiah we come to an interesting passage that tells us something about our God and prayer.

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious for you:
Therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
Truly, O people of Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem,
you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious
to you at the sound of your cry;
when he hears it, he will answer you.”
(Isaiah 30.18-19)

This text reveals the character of God.  No one has to wonder about God.  He is waiting to be gracious.  The text knows that God’s people have been disciplined for their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant.  Yet something is revealed even in the chastisement both about God and prayer.  God is waiting for those who seek him.  God is actively listening for the prayer responds to his action.

Learning to Listen

Since prayer is answering God we need to cultivate the discipline of listening ourselves.  There is not a micron of Deism in the Bible.  God has not stopped acting.  God has not stopped pursuing his Mission.  God has not stopped even speaking. We need to listen.  We need to see.  We need to recognize the voice and hand of our Father. We lovingly feast on his word.  We seek his face with the saints in communal worship.  We discern the path he has blazed in our world. We need to listen so we can answer.

Final Thought

God has acted.  He waits for his people to answer him.  At the sound of our cry he responds. His response is grace and mercy even in the midst of discipline.  God is revealed as a partner in prayer. He longs for our answer …

Prayer is hard work but …

God is talking.  God is acting. God is waiting on our answer.

Ghosts do not have flesh and bones as you see that I have ...

Ghosts do not have flesh and bones as you see that I have …

Famously Abused Text

Next to Song of Songs, Paul’s lines near the end of his famous resurrection chapter, are perhaps the most tortured and grossly misunderstood words in the Bible by modern North American disciples. The instrument of abuse for both texts is Platonic dualism.

It is amazing how many think that after all Paul has said about the truth and essentiality of the resurrection that he suddenly embraces some kind of platonic dualism and pulls a huge bait and switch at the perfect moment and declares:

flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God …”

Ahhhh see Paul does not really believe in anything so carnal as a literal bodily resurrection of flesh and blood humans we are told! We will be “transformed,” so the modern mythology goes, into spirit beings.  This is indeed the reading of Paul that was promoted by the second and third century Gnostics but not what he meant at all.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 15

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is not arguing for the resurrection of Jesus.  The Corinthians believe Jesus was raised from the dead. They have accepted the Gospel as Paul points out. The sole argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is not Jesus’s resurrection but OURS! The bone of contention is the resurrection of God’s people.  Paul argues that Christ’s resurrection is the paradigm for the whole world which would include you and me.

John Mark Hicks, Mark Wilson and myself include an exposition of 1 Cor 15 in our book Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission in a chapter called “the Gospel of Promise.” In this blog I want to look in more detail at those famous or infamous words, depending on your commitment to Plato, in verses 50 and 51.  There are two rules that really have to guide the interpretation of Scripture and those are 1) context and 2) context … literary and historical.  Paul has not pulled an epic bait and switch on his readers.  In fact when examined closely from his Jewish setting Paul in fact sounds even more Jewish in these verses than ever and did not surrendered even a single cell to Plato.

N. T. Wright has offered, perhaps, the most exhaustive exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15, at least that I am aware, in The Resurrection of the Son of God (pp. 312-361) and I am indebted to him along with many other scholars both ancient and modern.  Outlining the chapter helps us to see what is going on fairly quickly:

15.1-11 Shared Gospel narrative between Paul’s gentile believers and Jewish believers. The gentiles believe the same framework for the Gospel.
B  15.12-28 If Messiah has been raised how can some claim we are not raised? He has been therefore we will be!
15.29-34  Rhetorical interlude
15.35-49  A body animated by the Holy Spirit will be the result of the resurrection
E  15.50-58  Death is destroyed and raised human bodies glorified with immortality

This is, as I see it, the flow of Paul’s argument. We do not have to speculate on the nature of what the paradigmatic resurrection of the Messiah looks like for Luke offers it at the end of his Gospel in 24.37-42.  There is no doubt that Luke intends this description to be the meaning of the apostolic preaching in Acts.  When Theophilus and his church heard Acts read and Paul proclaimed the resurrection of the dead in Acts 17 or Peter did in Acts 2 … that scene is what Luke intends his hearers to understand.  For our purposes it is interesting that Jesus specifically states

Look at my hands and my feet; see it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have FLESH and BONES as you see that I have.”  (24.39)

As Alexander Campbell noted back in 1833, it is not as a spirit that Jesus was raised from the dead but in the flesh.  And it was not as a Spirit that Jesus ascended to the Father (See my Alexander Campbell & the Regeneration of Creation).  And it is not as Spirit that Jesus has become the head of the new creation.  Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 reveals that his Greek speaking converts were presented with the same Jewish content for the Gospel … that content included resurrection of the human body from the grave.

The resurrection body will be a fully human body just as Jesus’s own resurrection in the body that has been set free from death and made fully alive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is declared pretty much point blank in vv.20f

But in fact Messiah has been raised from the dead, the FIRST FRUITS OF THOSE who have died … But each in his own order; Christ the first fruit, then at his coming those who belong to Messiah” (vv.20, 23)

Christ’s resurrection is, declared right here, to be the “pattern” for all resurrection. Paul draws on good Hebrew Bible themes to make his point. During the festival of first fruits, Jews bring the first stalks/grains of the harvest to the Lord in worship as the guarantee that the rest of the harvest will come in.  The grain that is brought to God is the same grain that waits further harvest in the field.  Joachim Jeremias, in his 1955 Presidential Address to the Society of New Testament Studies, commented on this verse saying “But now Christ is risen (v.20), and his resurrection is the guarantee for the universal resurrection.” Paul consistently uses the “Old Testament” notion of first fruits in just this manner see Romans 8.23; Romans 11.16; Romans 16.5 and 2 Thessalonians 2.13.

Again it is important to remember that Paul is not trying to prove the resurrection of Jesus to the Corinthians as if they were some sort of secular humanist.  Paul is showing the Corinthians that Christ’s resurrection is about THEIR future, that is that Christ’s resurrection is about their own resurrection.

Mentioning the secular humanists is also important for this reason.  Paul is not trying to convince the Corinthians that there is such a thing as life after death. The vast majority of the pagan world had some conception of life after death. Christianity did not invent that idea! Paul’s argument is not life after death but resurrection of our bodies – just as in Acts 17.

What is it that Does not Inherit the Kingdom? (15.50-51)

Our brief look at the whole (and no one will read this if we go verse by verse) brings us back to the crux of the argument: Christ’s resurrection is paradigmatic for believers.  Paul does not suddenly inject Platonic dualism when he writes,

what I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God

The singular dunatai shows that the phrase “flesh and blood” is to be understood and taken as a single idea.  Just when some imagine that Paul has embraced Plato, he instead sounds very much like a rabbi.  The phrase “flesh and blood” is a semitic idiom (Paul is a Jew and still thinks within that worldview though he is writing in Greek).  The phrase first pops up in Jewish literature translated into Greek in a book both Jesus and Paul are quite familiar: Sirach.  Its Hebrew original, basar wadam, is found throughout rabbinic literature.  Here is something to grab a hold of … the phrase always refers to LIVING PEOPLE and not dead ones.  And as we shall see that is exactly the case in 15.50f.  But some texts …

What is brighter than the sun? Yet it
can be eclipsed.
So FLESH and BLOOD devise evil
(Sirach 17.31; cf 14.18; etc)

The Lord Jesus uses the same semitic idiom when he says to Peter

“… Simon son of Jonah! For FLESH and BLOOD has not revealed this to you …”

Dozens of citations can be produced to demonstrate the meaning of this idiom.  But I do not need to do so.  The phrase is a Jewish way of talking (an idiom) that is only applied to living persons (not dead ones) and denotes unredeemed frail humans.  Or as Jeremias states “it denotes the natural man as a frail creature in opposition to God.” So Paul in v.50 is not talking about dead people who will experience the resurrection at all. He is talking about living people, those who are alive, those who have not died, at his appearing. “Flesh and blood” refers to unredeemed humans on that day.  So literally the phrase “flesh and blood” does not literally refer to “flesh and blood” at all but living breathing humans living in a fallen state! That is how idioms work even in English. This is important to know.

What will happen to the LIVING on the day of appearing, the day of resurrection? If Resurrection is so important, then will they miss out? That is the issue in vv. 50 and 51.  Verse 50 offers a negative assertion neither the living nor the dead can inherit the kingdom of God as they are! Verses 51-53 add the positive assertion, the “mystery” … both the dead and the living will be transformed at the parousia.  No one will be left out!

The Good News of the Mystery

Not every human will be dead at the appearing of the Messiah, Paul says (“we will not all die”).  The mystery is not that, after all is said and done, humans really simply become spirit beings.  That is not the mystery at all.  The mystery is not that unredeemed humanity cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  When people turn a Jewish idiom into a Platonic dualism disaster occurs.  This can only happen by divorcing Paul from his context.

The mystery has to do with the event of resurrection or better what will happen at that event. All will share in the benefit of the resurrection (even those disciples that are not dead) at the same time at the parousia of the Messiah.

The change/transformation is not from physical to non-physical.  Paul has already told us that Jesus’s resurrection is the paradigm.  Rather our fallen, corruptible, sin infested nature will be redeemed from sin and death. The “transformation” is the “application” of the benefit of resurrection to those who have not died.   The Good News is that even fallen, but living human beings, can also share in the glory of the resurrection.  They will if they belong to the One already raised in the body from the grave.  This is the mystery that has now been revealed in the Messiah’s own resurrection.   Both those being raised and those living will share in what the Messiah’s resurrection victory over dead brought.

11-18-12-Resurrection-of-the-BodyConclusion: What Inherits the Kingdom of God

Paul’s concern throughout the chapter is that the Gospel is not merely about Jesus’s personal resurrection.  The Gospel is about our participation in resurrection.  So as he concludes the chapter he stresses that on that day, whether we are in the grave or among the living, we will both experience the blessing of the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8.11, 23-24) on that day.

The “Spiritual body” is patterned on the resurrection of Jesus himself. Paul has not embraced Platonic or Gnostic spiritualism – that is the body is a prison for the soul and longs to be set free.  In fact in 1 Corinthians 15, the human body is not the problem at all, anywhere.  Rather sin and death are the problem.  Sin and death have corrupted all of God’s world and that includes our body.  Through the resurrection of the Messiah this has radically changed.  We share in that resurrection, our bodies are redeemed from sin and death; our souls are not redeemed from our bodies.

“Bodies are good. Flesh, as the incarnation declares, is good.” (Embracing Creation, p. 112). Bodies are good.  Flesh is good.  Christ’s resurrection body, according to his own lips, is flesh and bones.  His body had been redeemed from death.

So Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15.50-51 that NEITHER the living nor the dead can inherit the kingdom of God apart from the grace of the resurrection being applied to them.  “Flesh and blood”,  that is unredeemed humans cannot inherit God’s kingdom.  But thanks be to God, to quote Paul in Romans 8, he sends the Holy Spirit to animate, fill, and give life to, our “mortal body.”  On that day as we are redeemed by the power of God, we shall see our Resurrected Lord, dwell with him and his Resurrected people on his Resurrected world.

Suggested Reading

John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission

N. T. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God
_____, Surprised by Hope

Joachim Jeremias, “Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God,” New Testament Studies 2.3 (1956): 151-159.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God's aim to redeem all of it.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God’s aim to redeem all of it.

Embracing Creation: New Book by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson

Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission” is a new publication by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Mark Wilson available on ACU Press/Leafwood.

Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission tells the story of the relationship between God, humanity and Creation … Recalling the original story of Creation, the authors retell the story of Israel, Jesus and the Church in light of God’s love for the cosmos. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God redeems humanity and Creation from the bondage of death.”


The book’s fourteen chapters are divided into two parts: The Biblical Narrative and Living the Narrative. The chapters are:

Introduction: An Invitation to Hear the Story
1) What Will Happen to God’s Creation? Nature of Christian Hope

Part 1: Biblical Narrative
2) A Cathedral of Praise: God, Creation & Human Vocation
3) Praise Him, Sun and Moon: Creation and its Praise of God in Psalms
4) Wisdom and Creation: Delight in Beauty; Agony in Chaos
5) Dreams of Eden: Death and Resurrection in the Prophets
6) The Christ Event: Creation and New Creation
7) God’s Shofar: The Jubilee Mission of Jesus
8) The Gospel of Promise: Resurrected Lord, Resurrected People and the Resurrected World
9) Our Inheritance: New Heaven and New Earth

Part 2: Living the Narrative
10) Practicing Resurrection: Living God’s New Creation
11) Creation, New Creation & the Sacraments: Baptism, LS & Assembly
12) The Most Ancient Order: Proper Stewardship of God’s Creation
13) Exemplary Creation Stewardship
14) God’s Restoration Movement: Revisioning the Restoration Plea

Appendix: Curiosities and Supposed Countertexts

What others have said:

The authors combine their expertise in the fields of theology, restoration history, and wildlife biology to provide readers with a fresh and long overdue look at a biblical theology of creation. As they take us through Scripture, they demonstrate definitively the centrality of that theology and the truth that God is in the process of redeeming all of creation … One will leave the reading of this book with a deeper appreciation of the physical world and a renewed commitment to embrace God’s forgotten mission.” (David Bland, PhD, Harding School of Theology)


Walter Brueggemann & Bobby Valentine 2015 Pepperdine Bible Lectures

Walter Brueggemann & Bobby Valentine 2015 Pepperdine Bible Lectures

Everyone now knows about the deep seriousness of our environmental crisis. These authors make a vigorous, compelling response to that crisis with acute theological probes. They mobilize the entire witness of Scripture and make clear that the well-being of creation is no incidental matter to the gospel. That well being, as they show, is a primary gift and intent of the creator and a primary human task. The good news pertains to all of creation, so the argument goes, or it is no good news at all. (Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary)

Embracing Creation is not a difficult read and is intended to be a message directly to the church, her ministers, elders, teachers and all who make up the body. In essence it is an exposition of why God created the world in the first place and what it means to be redeemed. Thus it is the story of salvation (that multifaceted term) from Genesis to Revelation and what that means to live out that story in our day and our time.

The book can be presently obtained directly from ACU Press at 1-877-816-4455 or  and does have copies left of the first printing.

It is our prayer, that this book fuels lots of prayer, lots of study and more than anything, lots of missional living in light of God’s long forgotten mission.

trumpetsJesus Loved “Going to Church”

We continue our brief survey of the worship of Jesus himself as we head toward Pentecost Sunday on May 15, 2016. Some seem surprised that Jesus offered worship to God however the Gospels reveal that he worshiped in every way as a normal and typical Jew. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover “every year” (2.41-42) and John’s Gospel records Jesus constantly traveling to Jerusalem for all the other normal pilgrim festivals (John 5-11).  Jesus did not only go to the synagogue but revered the temple itself as “my Father’s house.”  He prayed the Psalms and other Jewish prayers.  He sang with the festive throng in the Temple.  He gathered to worship his Father for rededicating the Temple in Hanukkah (John 10.22ff). He even offered sacrifice and commanded other people to do the same.  The worshiping Jesus on earth has now become our heavenly human High Priest who continues to lead the great assembly of God’s people in worship as we saw yesterday in Jesus and Yom Kippur.   From Jesus of Nazareth we see public communal worship and, what we today call personal Spiritual disciplines, are united together rather than being in conflict.  Today we will explore Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of Trumpets.

New Year/New Creation

Rosh Hashanah, or Feast of Trumpets, marks the New Year and the creation of the world. It was a day of rest and sacred assembly (Lev 23:24; Num 29:1). The blowing of the shofar is frequently associated with the presence of the Lord in the Old Testament (Ex 19:19; Ps 47:5; Zech 9:14). Some suggest that the blaring of the trumpets was an attempt to replicate the thunder that Israel heard as Yahweh descended on Mount Sinai on the “day of church/assembly” (Acts 7.38). As such Israel is once again reminded of the loving God who carried her on eagles’ wings to himself (Exodus 19.4). Israel’s worship was directed to the Creator God who has redeemed Israel for the sake of all creation.  But true worship injected the twin themes of shalom and joy into the lives of God’s people (Deut 16. 11, 14, 15, etc). When Paul speaks of “edification” he is resting on these worship themes from the Hebrew Bible.

Probably the best place to turn to get some idea of Trumpets is the book of Nehemiah (as story also told in 1 Esdras). Nehemiah, convening an sacred assembly for the Feast of Trumpets. Ezra used this feast to gather the people as one in order to renew their covenant with the Lord. During this celebration the people listened to the Torah, read and preached, from “daybreak until noon” (Neh 8:3). Ezra ascended the pulpit built just for the occasion and the scribe “praised God” while the people shouted “Amen” and bowed in worship before the Lord (Neh 8:8).

So moved were the people that many began weeping (Neh 8:9). But it was not a time for weeping so Nehemiah instructed the people “go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks … do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8:10). Sensing the people’s mood, the Levites moved through the assembly calming the worshipers with the words “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve” (Neh 8:11). When the gathered people of God understood the words from God they “celebrate[d] with great joy” (Neh 8:12). The experience of God’s grace in corporate worship moves God’s people to overflowing generosity by giving portions of their fellowship offerings to “those who have nothing” (Neh 8:10).

Gloom and holiness do not make good companions in the biblical narrative. This narrative demonstrates the festive joy associated with Israel’s “holy convocations” as they mediated the divine presence in Israel. Rosh Hashanah boldly proclaims the new beginning offered to creation. Even struggling exiles like those in Nehemiah’s day found joy and shalom in the Presence of the Lord at the dawn of a new day!

Rosh Hashanah in Jesus’s Day

Three additional themes pervaded Rosh Hashanah in the Second Temple period.

First is God’s Sovereignty or kingdom.  Yahweh did after all create the whole world! Creator is directly tied to being King in the Hebrew Bible. Thus Psalm 47 was important in Jewish worship and read in the temple 7x on this day. The seven seems to be connected to week of creation. The joyous proclamation that God is King of “all the earth” was made to loud songs of praise and the blowing of the shofar.

Clap your hands, all you peoples [= Gentile nations];
Shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the LORD, Most High, is awesome,
a great King over all the earth.
He subdued the peoples [nations] under us …
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of the Trumpet
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, Sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.

God is King over all the nations;
God sits on his holy throne
(Psalm 47)

It is easy to see why, when Jesus proclaimed the “kingdom of God” that people were excited and the Romans were threatened!

Second is Remembrance which is an appeal to remember the covenant. The rabbis suggested that the horn of a cow was not allowed for that would remind God of the “golden calf” thus a rams horn is used to remind God of the sacrifice of Isaac (or the rescue of).  We will return to this momentarily.

Third, Shofarot which recalls the history of the blowing of the shofar itself. The whole festival recalls judgment, but proclaims judgement is not as an end in itself. Rather the focus was on the aversion of judgment or mercy!

In the NT there are a number of passages that contain allusions to the traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah. Jesus and Paul allude to the Feast of Trumpets. In Mt 24.29-31 the regathering of God’s faithful in the context of judgment and restoration draw themes of this great day … the day of the new beginning.

Paul’s reference in 1 Thes 4.16 draws on this tradition as well. The Prophet John uses the themes from Rosh Hashanah in 11.15-18, like in Ps 47, the sovereignty of God is proclaimed with the loud sofar.

abrahamThe Akedah or The Binding of Isaac

Probably the most important tradition associated with Rosh Hashanah in Jesus’s day however is what is called the Akedah or “the binding.” Genesis 22 does not say when Abraham bound Isaac. However, from ancient times it was believed to be the first of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah … The Feast of Trumpets!

It is a shame that most Christians are utterly unaware of this Jewish tradition that is clearly “hidden” in plain view on the pages of the New Testament. There are numerous parallels of this tradition with the story of Jesus himself. For example:

Isaac was both a promised child and the result of a miraculous birth (like Jesus).
He was the symbol of Hope (like Jesus).
The rabbis stress that Isaac was “innocent” having done nothing deserving of death (like Jesus).
Isaac, whatever age he was, was obedient to the will of his father even in extreme circumstances (like Jesus).
Various Jewish representations of the Akedah suggest that Isaac died of terror on the altar (Jesus crying out Ps 22.1) but was “resurrected” by the voice of heaven.
The blood of the Passover Lamb was even identified with the blood of Isaac in some tellings of the Binding (Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God)

The NT clearly assumes familiarity with these traditional Jewish beliefs. “He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type” (Heb 11.19). This passage makes considerable sense against the backdrop of the tradition of the “the Binding.”

The ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus is certainly illuminated by knowledge of Rosh Hashanah in the Hebrew Bible, and the traditions that Jesus, Paul and the early Way breathed and drew on to express the heart of the Christian faith.

Final Notes

So on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate that God created the world out of, and for, love. On this day we celebrate that God is King of “all the earth” (read Ps 47 at least!). On this day we celebrate that God remembers his covenant of love with all the world, with Abraham, with David, with you and me. On this day, we celebrate all the multiple deliverances the Gracious One has wrought in the history of his people … joining those in Nehemiah’s day weeping over our faithlessness but bursting with tears of joy at his forgiveness. On this day we celebrate that a Jew named Jesus who was faithful in all his Father’s will and has been raised in the flesh to bring in the New Creation … to BE Rosh Hashanah itself!

On this day become acquainted with your biblical heritage and let the rhythm of the bible proved the cadence for your life as in Nehemiah’s day … the “pattern.”

(In just speaking of “this day” I want it understood that today, May 13, 2016 is not literally Rosh Hashanah.  I am simply attempting to get us into the mindset of Israelites and Jesus as they gather in sacred assembly to worship together for this Spiritually wonderful time of corporate worship.  Remember this blog is part of a short series on Jesus’s own worship that is taking us to the “actual” day of Pentecost on Sunday).

Be Blessed.

Yom_Kippur_GraphicThe New Testament is a Jewish Book

As noted yesterday I am sharing a series of blogs focusing on the Israel’s worship and Jesus’s participation within it leading up to Pentecost this coming Sunday (May 15).  Today I share an edited version of something I wrote literally on the Day of Atonement in 2015. This is a good time to share it on my blog.

As you are no doubt aware today (in 2015) is the great Day of Atonement. I confess that it is to our shame that Protestant Evangelicals and Restorationists, in particular, have very little understanding of the calendar of God’s People.

The New Testament documents being produced exclusively by Jews (or Jews and a proselyte – many contemporary scholars think Luke was an actual Jew or at the very least among the “God-fearers” converted by Paul) it is no surprise that various “high holy days” find their way woven in to the fabric of the NT documents. We often miss this because we do not know the traditions of the holy days themselves.  But they were part of Jesus’s own worship and the early church was intimately familiar with them.  It would seem that those urging a “restoration” of New Testament Christianity would have a special interest in these days precisely because they were simply assumed in the first century church.

What follows is not by any means either exhaustive or complete but simply an attempt to call attention to themes of the liturgical calendar that are written like neon lights in the writings of the apostles but often overlooked.

The Fast

Jews have historically referred to this day as “the Fast.” This is because this is the only day on which fasting is commanded in the Hebrew Bible. So ingrained is this in Jewish consciousness, but not in our own day, we can read explicit references to the Day of Atonement in the NT and not recognize it. Luke writes, “Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even THE FAST had already gone by …” (Acts 27.9). This is the Day of Atonement. This incidental reference to Yom Kippur, with zilch for explanation, clearly demonstrates that Luke made the assumption his readers/hearers that they would know what this was all about (contrast when Mark offers editorial commentary for his readers assuming they would NOT know, cf Mark 7.3-4). Is it not very interesting that (if Luke is addressing gentile believers) his readers have come to view time, even for sailing, not thru the Roman calendar but thru the Israelite’s Temple calendar.

At any rate there are significant allusions to Yom Kippur, and its themes, in the NT. Hebrews is full of them. I want to note just a few …


There are a number of scholars that have argued that Hebrews is a sermon delivered to a messianic congregation on the Day of Atonement itself.  The argument is that such a social setting explains far more in the homily than any thing else.  I do not think we can be dogmatic about it but clearly the liturgy of Yom Kippur is embedded in the sermon.  I will note a few examples.

The Messiah is said to have “entered a sanctuary” and “to appear before God” on “our behalf” (9.24f). This is an unmistakable reference to the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies each year on Yom Kippur. The High Priest enters to perform sacrifice, and intercession, on behalf of the people. The Messiah, our Human in Heaven, is presently doing this (yes Hebrews insists that Jesus is a Human as our present High Priest). He, like the High Priest in the sanctuary, is hidden from view at this moment.  When the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies no one can see what he is doing and the people anxiously wait for his emergence.

At the Temple thousands of pious Jews would be gathered together as the Priest entered into the sanctuary. They would “wait” for him to come out as he performed his duties. He will emerge from the Presence of God. The Hebrews Preacher says in 9.28 … “[He] will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those eagerly waiting for him.” This is an unmistakable reference to the part of the ceremony where (as noted a moment ago) of the High Priest coming OUT of the sanctuary to joy of the worshipers.

The Preacher compares the period of waiting between the going in and the coming out of the Holy of Holies by the High Priest to the followers of the Messiah. Our Priest is presently IN the sanctuary worshiping on our behalf!! We wait “eagerly” for his emergence from the Presence of God.

Following Hebrews 9.24ff and its reference to the Yom Kippur liturgy, we have a series of references to “the Day.” We are to hold fast, encouraging one another, not forsaking the assembly (duhhhh we are supposed to be gathered with all those sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the High Priest to emerge from the throne room of God, the Holy of Holies!!!) … “all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10.23-25). The Preacher is still applying Yom Kippur liturgy to his congregation. “The Day” is of course, what we call the “second coming,” more accurately the “appearing,” but his “appearing” is nothing more than the emergence of the Priest from the Sanctuary. It marks the End of the Priest’s sanctuary activity.

RabbiThe Hebrews Preacher conceives the “Christian” life as a Yom Kippur worship service. Since the Hebrews Preacher never uses the word “Christian” it may be more accurate to say that he (or she?) sees the “new/renewed covenant” life as an extended Yom Kippur worship “service.” It is life between the entering of the Holy of Holies and the exist by the High Priest Jesus.

How deeply ingrained is the so called “Old Testament” into the worship of the people of God. Jesus, the True Worshiper, leads the gathered people of God in a “day of atonement” worship service.

As an aside, if you pick up a Mishnah and flip thru it to the tractate on Yom Kippur it is titled simply “Yoma” … that is THE Day … just as Hebrews does.

And Briefly – Revelation of John

In Revelation 11.19 we have a glimpse into the Holy of Holies that the Messiah goes to bring our worship. What did John see? “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant was seen within in his temple …” Another Yom Kippur allusion.

Final Thoughts

I conclude this extremely brief look at the most sacred day of the year in the life of Israel and how it shows up in the life of Jesus and the early church with these thoughts.

If you would like to read what those “waiting eagerly” were expecting to see then we need to turn to the book of Sirach 50. Here Ben Sira describes the High Priest, Simon, entering the sanctuary and the burst of joyous celebration as he existed (Sirach is either describing the daily tamid or the day of atonement but the point is the same). The trumpets are blown loudly as he comes out (doesn’t Paul says something about a trumpet at his appearing?). “And all the people together quickly fell to the ground on their faces to worship their Lord, the Almighty, God Most High” (Sirach 50.17). Then Simon lifts his hands over the congregation and pronounces God’s shalom upon God’s people. Sirach 50 is clearly operative in Hebrews (Luke also alludes to the passage in the ascension scene of Jesus) and helps us in understanding what the Preacher simply assumes on the part of his listeners.

So, today is Yom Kippur. If you attend a synagogue you would hear readings from Leviticus 16, Psalm 27 and the Book of Jonah is read in entirety. It is a day where we recognize both our sinfulness AND God’s incredible grace not only to us but to all he has made.

As followers of the Lamb we will read these texts because, as the Hebrews Preacher reminds us, we are living our entire new covenant life between the beginning of liturgy of Yom Kippur and the End of Yom Kippur.  The Christian life is, according to Hebrews, literally experience within a “worship service” in which our Human High Priest is conducting behind the curtain and thru him we boldly enter in.  As the Preacher note in 12.18-28 we, the gathered before the Presence of God people, are taken into that sanctuary, the very throne room of God, and participate in the most amazing Yom Kippur experience possible.

Just a few thoughts to help us appreciate the significance of the Jewish culture that pervades New Testament Christianity. How can we embrace NT Christianity without embracing its Jewish character?

As the Priest would say to the eagerly expectant people as he “appears” …

May Yahweh bless you, May he make his face shine upon you, May he give you shalom

On this day as we remember what God promised to do and what Jesus is doing right now spend some time reading Leviticus 16, Psalm 27, Jonah, and throw in our texts from Hebrews. And if you are Berean … Sirach 50.1-21.

Atonement is Peace. Jesus is OUR shalom and he is IN the Holy of Holies worshiping for you … and for me … and we are worshiping thru him.

BoothsJesus’s Jewishness and Jewish Worship

Sunday, May 15, will be Pentecost or the Festival of weeks.  I have attempted on my blog to help us gentile readers more fully appreciate the Jewish/Hebraic worldview of Christianity.  I think one of the most helpful things that could ever be done for contemporary Christians is to mentally replace Warner Sallman’s 1941 head of Jesus with one of him in a prayer shawl, phylacteries and tzitzit.  Jesus was not a Jew, he IS a Jew, and will always be so. We western believers have routinely obliterated the Jewishness of Jesus and the early Way. It concerns me greatly how little this shapes our reading of the Bible.

In the last couple of months I have had several conversations regarding Jesus’s place within his Jewish world and in two different conversations the idea that Jesus offered sacrifice gave considerable offense. So in the next few days, I want to offer a series of short pictures of Jesus’s and his worship to God the Father.  I will focus mainly on the Festivals but not exclusively.  We often hear much about Jesus and prayer and there is no doubt Jesus was (and is) a man of prayer. But so were all pious Jews.  But we usually completely miss how the Gospels routinely paint Jesus as a faithful pious Jew in all of his worship to the God of Israel.  So that is sort of my map leading up to Weeks.

Back in 2007, John Mark Hicks, Johnny Melton and I, wrote a book called A Gathered People. In that book we called Jesus “the True Worshipper” (pp. 30-33). In the years since then my conviction has only deepened that all the Church’s worship is grounded in, and flows from, Jesus’s own worship.  I hope our journey will be helpful not only in appreciating Jesus and perhaps seeing Scripture more clearly but also call us to faithful missional living just as Jesus’s own life was filled with the mission of God.

Israel and Tabernacles/Booths

First century followers of the Way were attuned to the biblical rhythm of grace inculcated in the life of every Israelite/Jew. Their lives, even in the “New Testament,” were dictated by the “church” calendar that God gave to Moses in the Torah.  Luke routinely offers calendar references in the book of Acts that are the nothing but the liturgical calendar.  This indicates that it had meaning to them. We miss so much when we are willfully ignorant of Hebrew Bible.

The Bible “plays” on the themes of all the liturgical calendar in many ways. An example or two for Booths: one in the “OT and one in the “NT.” Booths is a week after Yom Kippur and the drama involving a scapegoat and entering the Holy of Holies. Intense is a good word for it the Day of Atonement.

Booths is a harvest festival and celebrates Yahweh’s provision of grace for his people during the wandering in Sinai. This sacred assembly is a time of great rejoicing. Indeed Moses says it should be a “happy time of rejoicing with your family, with your servants, and with the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows” (Deut 16:14, NLT). Israel’s sacred assemblies were never designed to separate individuals from the community. Rather they functioned as a powerful reminder that regardless of gender or social status the joy of the Lord is best experienced together. Thus the festival pulled the scattered individuals back into the community of grace.  In a sort of prophetic picture of the renewed world there is no “Jew or Greek, nor male nor female” in the festival.  All get to share in the worship of the God of the Exodus and his redemption.

The prophet Zechariah in fact prophecies, by the Spirit, that in the great Messianic age the implicit invitation already in the Law of Moses for all gentiles to come worship the Lord during Weeks will become a living reality.

All who survive of the nations that have come up against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths. If any of the families of he earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them. And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves … [to] keep the festival of booths [the plague will fall on them] ...” (Zechariah 14.16-19)

At least Zechariah thought Gentiles would be worshiping in “spirit and truth” in the festival of tabernacles.

The redemption of Israel is a blessing for all the nations of the world (for more I recommend chapter 2 of A Gathered People, “Assemblies in Israel: We Shall Assemble on the Mountain,” pp. 35-60).

Jonah and Tabernacles

The New Testament writers are not the only biblical writers to weave tapestry from the liturgical calendar into their narrative and simply assume the hearer/reader will be “in the know.”

First example is Jonah’s response to Yahweh’s mercy on Nineveh in Jonah 4. The Book of Jonah relishes “irony.” The Dove’s (“Jonah” means “Dove”) response to Yahweh’s impassioned question, “do you have a right to be angry?“, is to fly away!

Rather than engage the Lord, Jonah flies to the “East” of the city. Here, we are told, he constructs a “sukkah” (a word deliberately chosen by the narrator). This is one of those words the Singer loves to pull out of his hat because it can carry double meanings. While the word quite literally means a shack or lean to, it is also the word that Israel’s worship tradition uses for the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (Lev 23.42-43; Neh 8.14-18; Deut 16.13, 16; Zech 14.16,18,19).

There is delicious irony here! Yes, Jonah literally built a tent. But the writer does not call it a mere tent. Rather in the eyes of the narrator he built a tabernacle! The Feast of Tabernacles/booths is one of the great festivals of the Lord. Israel celebrated their time of wandering when God delivered them by his hesed. They gather before the face of the Lord to celebrate – redemption, to revel in grace.

During Tabernacles the Torah is read again to the people (Deut 31.12-13). Sukkoth, then in Israel was a time of consecration to God and renewing the covenant of love (see Neh 8.13ff and Ezra 3.1-7). Interestingly enough another part of the cluster of ideas around Booths, already mentioned above, is Israel’s welcoming inclusion of Gentiles in the festival!! Strangers, pagans, aliens were all to be welcomed (Deut 16.14).

Tabernacles/Booths extends the hospitality (hospitality is grace) of Yahweh himself to those outside the covenant. The delicious irony is that the Dove is stewing in wrath against God’s self-proclaimed hesed in his sukkah — outside the Gentile city that is “great to the LORD!

Jonah is celebrating an “anti” Booths! The narrator reveals a reversal of the festival of booths! We have a subversion of the calling of the people of God to be a blessing to all nations. And Jonah had the impudence to declare that it was they that “forfeit the grace that could be theirs!!!” (Jonah 1.8).

Part of the “doctrine” of Tabernacles and the Book of Jonah is that God can extend grace to whomever he pleases regardless of the protests of the guardians of sound doctrine (that would be the character Jonah).  Paul agrees, Romans 9.13-14 citing Exodus 33.19.


Jesus-and-the-FeastJesus of Nazareth and Tabernacles

Jesus loved going to his Father’s house to sing, dance, pray – to worship his God. The Synoptics emphasize Jesus’s faithful synagogue attendance but it is John who shows Jesus embedded in the liturgical life of Israel. He, John, uses the calendar that most Evangelical Protestants and Restorationists know virtually nothing about to structure his Gospel and to tell us who Jesus is.

The texture of John 7 and 8 is a tapestry laced with imagery from the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles. Jesus arrived at his Father’s house halfway through the feast (7:14). On the last day of the feast, Jesus seized a great teaching opportunity.

Each day, at dawn, a priest filled a golden pitcher from the pool of Siloam and brought it to the temple while the people sang the words of Isaiah 12, “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3). The temple choir sang the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) as the priest poured the water and wine into a bowl at the altar. The dramatic ceremony recalled God’s blessing of water in the wilderness (Ex 17:1-6, Booths recalls the Wilderness as noted above) and the promise of living water flowing from Ezekiel’s new temple (47:1-12).

In this dramatic liturgy, Jesus identifies with, and claims to be, the source of this ever flowing water (John 7:37-39). What happens in John 8:12ff, apparently, takes place during the evening of the last day of the Festival. Near the end of the feast, lamps and torches were placed in the Court of Women of the Temple. Pious Jews brought lamps and would dance and sing as the Levites played zithers, harps and other musical instruments. The entire area was ablaze with light and rejoicing. Or as Deuteronomy puts it, “you shall SURELY celebrate!” (16.15, NRSV).

Jesus seized this moment of congregational worship to proclaim “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). What a powerful claim by Jesus made in Israel’s worshiping assembly.

Its all about Grace

There are many other allusions to Booths in both Testaments. For those who say “We are not Jews, we are not under the Old Testament” completely miss the point. Whether you do or do not literally go out and build a booth to camp in for a week, the biblical writers (including the NT) simply ASSUME you are intimately acquainted with these themes and play on them to communicate substantial sound doctrine. They assume, as in Acts, the reference is meaningful.  Almost every word that appears in the New Testament is shaped by the Hebrew Bible and we often miss the import because we do know what the writers “assume” we know.

Booths is about Grace, God’s grace. Booths is about feasting on God’s word. Tabernacles is about responding to grace by sharing that grace whether it is the bounty of the earth or the knowledge that Creator God to those who know nothing (like Nineveh).

Tabernacles reminds us that the God of Israel is the God of all.  Worship in the Festival of Booths removes the fault lines of the fallen world by having homeless Israelites play host to Moabites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Barbarians, Scythians, Slaves and even women.  These themes find expression in Jesus’ own personal worship in John 7-8 and flow into his Messianic identity and they become part of the identity of the Messiah’s people on the Way.

It is not a stretch claim that, Jesus says in effect … I am what Booths is all about!

136psalmPsalms and the Spirit of Grace

From the beginning, Jews and Christians have instinctively known there is something special about the book of Psalms. Lovers of Yahweh from other biblical writers, to Jesus, to the monks in caves, to Luther, to Bono and Eugene Peterson have prayed, meditated upon, sang and ruminated on the Psalms. They have been called the Little Bible, the Mirror of the Soul, and the “soul of the people of God.”

Making a Spiritual habit of letting these God words flow over and thru us, gives the Holy Spirit “permission” to do remarkable things to our way of looking at the world and ourselves.  There are many that will resist the practice of simply reading the Psalms prayerfully from beginning to end over and over. But as Thomas Merton once noted, the Psalms “warrant lectio continua.” That is, they are worthy of simply washing over our hearts and minds daily, drinking the whole Psalter and letting the Spirit that gave the words mold us and shape us into Messianic people.

While at the recent 2016 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I had the opportunity to walk with the Psalms on the beach between 5:30 and 6 twice and once from the Garden of Heroes. What beautiful places to enter into the Bible’s “sanctuary” (Psalms).  In the Garden of Heroes, as I finished praying, I reflected on how the Spirit has taught me grace in the Psalms. Sometimes learning grace has been painful recognition that I, yes even me, stand in need of mercy and grace because I am not nearly as smart, nearly as righteous, and do not worship, walk or understand the Bible nearly as well as I think I do. Grace in Psalms is humbling but that humbling is also liberating and produces joy in the Lord of all grace.

And the Psalms are like a honeycomb that pours out grace unapologetically.

What follows is ten ways the Psalms inoculate us against legalism by putting transfusions of grace directly into the blood stream of the people of God who plug into the river of God’s Spirit in the Psalter.  Just remember some of the greatest preachers of grace in history have been saturated in the Psalms … Jesus, Paul, Peter, Augustine, Luther, Barth, Bonhoeffer and many many more.  As we sometimes sing “deeper than the ocean and wider than the sea” is God’s grace.  The Psalms remind us of the priority of Yahweh’s grace in biblical faith.

Grace Lessons from the Holy Spirit in the Psalms

1) The Psalms constantly remind me that long before I had faith, long before I decided to follow him, long before I was even born … Yahweh had already Graced me. Psalm 75; Psalm 77; Psalm 114; Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep … (Ps 121)

2) The Psalms constantly remind me that my standing within the family of God is a matter of God’s grace and not my righteousness, holiness, or anything else. Psalm 8; Psalm 23; Psalm 32; Psalm 66; Psalm 107; Psalm 126; Psalm 130, etc

Out of the depths I cry to you,
LORD hear my voice!

If you, O LORD, kept a record of iniquities
LORD, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you … (Ps 130)

3) The Psalms force Israel to practice the confession that they (we) NEVER were faithful. I wonder what would happen in our churches if we regularly went before God to confess that our grandparents were faithless. That our parents were faithless. That we are faithless. The Psalms force us to be honest with the magnitude of our faithlessness. Our righteousness is literally filthy rags. How different Christians would be if we genuinely believed that we bring nothing worthy to God. We do bring our rebellion. Psalm 32; Psalm 51; Psalm 65; Psalm 78; Psalm 81; Psalm 106; Psalm 124; etc

Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people,
help me when you deliver them …

Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
we have committed iniquity, have done wicked things …
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake ... (Ps 106)

4) The Psalms taught me that God’s grace for Israel/People of God is supposed to inspire awe and worship among the pagans … not self-righteous, judgmental, attitudes. Psalm 93; Psalm 95; Psalm 98; Psalm 111; Psalm 117; Psalm 149, Psalm 150, etc

O sing to the LORD a new song
for he has done marvelous things …
He has remembered his steadfast love (hesed)
and faithfulness …
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth … (Ps 98)

5) The Psalms teach me that I can be wrong and still be on God’s side. Being right was never the criteria for being God’s people. Psalm 105; Psalm 106; Psalm 136; and I will place the longest of all psalms here, Psalm 119

I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek out your servant
for I do not forget your
commandments (Psalm 119)

6) The Psalms teach me that a true experience of grace results in joyous praise for the goodness of God. Psalm 29; Psalm 84; Psalm 135; Psalm 149, etc

For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the
house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
FOR  the LORD God is a sun and a shield;
he bestows grace and honor … (Ps 84)

7) The Psalms teach me that Yahweh’s Hesed is higher than the skies and deeper than the oceans and new every morning. They taught me his grace is greater than my sin. Psalm 33; Psalm 107; Psalm 136, etc

O give thanks to the LORD, for
he is good;
for his steadfast love (hesed) endures forever.

Some wandered in desert wastes …
Some sat in darkness and gloom …
Some were sick through their sinful ways …
Some went down to the sea in ships …
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble
and he brought them out of their distress …

Let those who are wise give heed to these things
and consider the steadfast love (hesed) of
the LORD. (Ps 107)

8) The Psalms teach me that the most studious stickler for God’s word is still in desperate need of, and crying out for, God’s grace to understand his word as it should be and for his dire sin and faithlessness. Ps 119

I treasured your word in my heart
so that I may not sin against you.
Teach me your statutes …
Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law …
Teach me, O LORD …
Before I was humbled,
I went astray …
Let your mercy come to me …
I am yours, save me …
Your word is a lamp to my feet …
Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes … (Ps 119)

9) The Psalms teach me that every breath we take, every moment we have, every sunrise, every sunset, every animal, every tree we see is a sermon on God’s grace. Psalm 19; Psalm 33; Psalm 65; Psalm 104, etc

Praise the LORD with the lyre …
Sing to him a new song …
For the word of the LORD is upright
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his steadfast love (hesed)
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made … (Ps 33)

10) The Psalms teach me that the greatest blessing a human can experience is to behold the beauty of the LORD. Wow what grace. Grace is the gift of God himself to his Graced people. The Psalms teach me that I am never – ever – worthy to behold his beauty. I am here because before I was born God chose to grace us – me – despite the fact that I am from a people of unclean lips, and am myself sinful from time I can remember. Psalm 27; Psalm 73; Psalm 84.

One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
and to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple …
Your face, LORD, do I seek. (Ps 27)

Conclusion: Grace in the Raw

The Psalms proclaim the raw unadulterated truth of God’s grace. I suspect one reason we have a habit of not “living in the Psalms” because they reveal the truth about who we really are. We prefer the illusion that we are better than “them” … and them can be anyone. Yet Israel had supreme confidence in the mercy, hesed, and grace of her Creator and Redeemer and so offered worship to him.



The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (hesed).
The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all
that he has made
(Psalm 145.8-9)

hebrewworship-150x150Words Reflect Values

This Friday morning as we near the end of our prayer journey through the Psalms for April, I have decided to look back over the book’s rich vocabulary related to the idea of “worship.” The Psalms are our friends so we will have “Words with friends” :-)

When thinking about “worship” it is not uncommon for writers to give a short list of a few words that are typically translated as “worship” in our English Bible. My cohorts, John Mark Hicks & Johnny Melton, and I did the same in A Gathered People.  This blog does not reproduce material from our book though.

We sometimes even believe that short list is the whole story but it is not. There are many, many, many words in Hebrew related to what English speaking people might call “worship” that are not translated as such. This is a limitation of “Concordance Theology.”

In Hebrew there are over 50 words that have some relation to the concept of worship. This is important fact to recognize because the number of words a culture has to describe something indicates the value placed on that reality. Two brief examples in American English should suffice. Think of all the words that we have to name or describe a “car.” Some cultures have only one. Think of all the words that Americans have invented to designate women (some good and some bad).

Hebrew has more for “worship” than we do cars and women combined! That should tell us something way beyond the mere lexeme “worship.” So today we will learn a handful of them for Freaky Friday theology … I will give basic English transliteration (words often have more than one way of transliteration). I want us to see the rich depth and variety of conceptions that are pulled together biblically like a string that makes up a softball. All references are to the Book of Psalms.

Words with Friends … “Worship,” like “Love,” Cannot be “Reduced” to One Word

1) Barak is a word that has various shades of meaning. It means to kneel, to give reverence as adoration, etc. It is used in these places

I will BLESS (extol, NIV) the LORD at all times …” (34.1)

let us KNEEL before the LORD our maker” (95.6)

2) Samah is a word that easily shows the reality of Hebrew psychology viewing humans as a psychosomatic unity. The word entails outburst of emotion and even to spin around (as in a dance). This is rather tamely, and lamely, translated into English as “rejoice” most often.  Rejoicing is not simply an emotion but an emotion that is reflected in bodily expression. We find it in these places

REJOICE in the LORD and be glad” (32.11)

This is the day the LORD has made; let us

REJOICE and be glad in it” (118.24)

3) Hallal can mean to make a show, rave about, brag about, to be extravagantly over the top, etc … it is often translated as praise. But again our English word “praise” does not capture hallel. We find this word here

You who fear the LORD, PRAISE him” (22.23)

we will PRAISE your name forever” (44.8)

My soul will be satisfied as with richest foods;

with singing lips my mouth will PRAISE you” (63.5)


4) Zamar has various connotations, all of them with the producing of loud sounds. It is rendered variously as rejoice, sing and shout. We need to understand that volume is included …

SING joyfully to the LORD, you righteous” (33.1)

SHOUT FOR JOY to the LORD all the earth” (98.4)

and will SING praise to the name of the LORD Most High” (7.17)


5) Gadol usually means large, big, excessive, to cause to increase. For instance the city Jonah goes to is a gadol city to the Lord. But Hebrew is flexible and not quite an offspring of Common Sense Realism like Churches of Christ. The word is used in worship frequently. It is rendered as magnify or glorify which, again, is a rather lame translation.

GLORIFY the LORD with me” (34.3)

I will praise God’s name in song and GLORIFY

him with thanksgiving” (69.30)


6) Gol is a word that is related to making noise too. To call out loud, to bleat, even like thunder. It is used twice in Psalm 95 so I will cite those together

let us SHOUT ALOUD to the Rock of our Salvation.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving and SHOUT (extol – NIV)”


7) Kabod is a wonderful word. It has the meaning of something like splendor, luminous or numinous. We encounter it in places like

worship the LORD in the SPLENDOR of his holiness” (29.2)

Ascribe to the LORD the GLORY due his name” (96.8)


8) Yadah is a word, like most of these words, show how the inner and outer attitude and action are supposed to be one and the same. There is no mere “in your head” worship in the Bible. If it is in your head then it will be seen in your body. So yadah indicates holding out our hand, to revere (as shown by the posture of the hand) to praise (as seen by the posture of the hands). This word is found in these places,

Then I will ever sing PRAISE to your name” (61.8)

PRAISE the LORD with the harp” (33.2)


9) Alaz is an energetic word no doubt. Combing notions of jumping for joy, or triumph, and rejoicing we encounter this word in these places. It is tamed in English

extol him who rides the clouds –

the LORD is his name –

and REJOICE before him” (68.4)


10) Anah means to give heed or pay attention or give an account or … we encounter it here

SING to the LORD with thanksgiving” (147.7)


11) Dagal means to flaunt, or to raise which is usually done with something, so we see

We will shout for joy when you are victorious

and will lift up our BANNERS in the name of our God” (20.5)


A biblical theology of assembly

A biblical theology of assembly

12) Tehillah is a spontaneous song of praise. It is where the Book of Psalms derives its name. We find this word in these places

I will bless the LORD at all times; his PRAISE will always be on my lips” (34.2)

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of PRAISE to our God” (40.3)

Sing to the LORD a new song, his PRAISE in the assembly of the saints (149.1)


13) Todah is an extension of the hand, adoration, confession of gratitude, a sacrifice of praise and more. It is often rendered in English as thanksgiving. We find it in these places

Sacrifice THANK OFFERINGS to God” (50.14)

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with THANKSGIVING” (69.30)

Enter his gates with THANKSGIVING ...” (100.4)

So here is a sampling of the large variety of spices in the Bible’s vocabulary of “worship” to the One who is worthy of worship. The Psalms are the Bible’s own laboratory of what it means to worship in Spirit and Truth (that is if we actually believe the Spirit is responsible for these words and the inspiration of our worship as Jn 4.24 actually teaches).

Worship is the Shema in 3D!

Worship is not mere prostration before the Lord as is so frequently asserted. Worship is a reality so complex that the Saints of old had to come up with more than fifty words to describe it. I frequently shutter when I listen in on discussions of worship in our fellowship because we approach worship in ways that are completely alien to the Bible. Worship is a reality that involves everything that means being truly human.

It demands heart.

It demands “soul.”

It demands mind.

It demands strength.

It demands body, soul and spirit.

The sampling of the words above show how complex and varied this thing called “worship” really is. We domesticate and sanitize worship. Westerners turn it into a cerebral exercise foreign to Scripture.

But I think if you asked our Spiritual ancestors like Moses, David, the family of Korah, and most of all, Jesus what worship is in a nutshell? I think they would say that worship is the embodiment of the Shema (Deut 6.4) …

That is we, God’s human creatures, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. When Jesus reduced the entire Bible to the shema it is essentially an act of worship.  Everything that is creaturely, about us creatures, is devoted and given back to the Creator.  Nothing is withheld from him.

This also explains the second greatest command, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  If the Creator is deserving of our utter devotion then so is his IMAGE!! (Place this in the context of ancient Israel, God or the gods are served by maintaining their images in the various temples. Every human is God’s own living breathing image). We express devotion to the invisible God by serving/loving his very own Icon!

When we study the Psalms that is exactly why every part of the human being: body, creativity, voice, mind, devotion, hands … is devoted to God.

This is how I think worship is to be conceived. Worship cannot be conceived of as some king of baptized Platonic dualism that drives a wedge between mind/spirit and bodily/creative expression.  Worship is love God with heart, soul, strength, mind and body … sometimes it is stillness and sometimes it is the body shaking in light of the splendor of the Creator God.

Sometimes, an Israelite would say, we offer only partial “worship.”