Tobit by Jacques Blanchard (1600-1638

Every year as we make our journey thru the Bible we come to that part between Malachi and Matthew that I playfully term the “Middle Testament.” Protestants have traditionally used the word “Apocrypha” for these books but for American Evangelicals that is more of pejorative term than for Martin Luther or John Calvin. So recently we have been reading Tobit. I share John Purvey’s, and Martin Luther’s opinion of Tobit, it is a spiritual treasure.

One of the most frequent teaching in the Bible has to do with having eyes and ears but we are blind and deaf. Sometimes, this teaching comes as a lament and sometimes it is an exhortation. Isaiah records Yahweh’s lament that his people “stop their ears” and “shut their eyes.” Jesus quotes Isaiah in Matthew 13 and says they see but do not “perceive” and hear but never “understand.” It is indeed a sad commentary on the nature of God’s people. We often have memorized lots of Scripture in our head but never come to an understanding of what it says. We parade our loyalty to the “pattern” but do not quite smell like Jesus.

Augustine, the great African church father, believed there was a whole book “in the Bible” (Tobit was in Augustine’s Latin Bible) that addressed the spiritual condition of having eyes but failure to see. Tobit was a man who was blind but had eyes to see.  Tobit, according to Augustine, was a challenge to God’s people and ironically being blind he was exactly what God wanted.

Augustine refers to Tobit many times in his sermons. But it was in a sermon on the Psalms that he brings the story before his congregation in Africa. And since I am reading the Psalms and we just finished Tobit, I thought I would share his insight.

Augustine simply assumes everyone in his church knows the story of Tobit by heart. Tobit is sort of a Job figure. Though in Exile he courageously lives for God, he sacrificed to care for the poor, he assumes the risk of burying the dead, even when it is against the law. But like Job, his faith leads to suffering. He is blinded which threatens his family and even possible death. But he refused to leave God. He was blind and helpless! This is where Augustine picks up in his sermon. I quote,

Tobit was blind, yet he taught his son the way of God. You know this is true because Tobit advised his son, ‘Give alms, my son, for almsdeeds save you from departing into darkness’ [Tobit 4.7, 11, Old Latin]; yet the speaker was in darkness himself … He had no fear that his son might say in his heart, ‘Did you not give alms yourself? Why, then, are you talking to me out of your blindness? Darkness is where almsgiving has evidently led you, so how can you advise me that ‘almsdeeds save you from departing into darkness?‘”

Augustine notes that for those who have eyes, and cannot see, Tobit’s confidence looks misguided at best. It is dangerous even because serving God has no rewards. So Augustine asks his congregation, “How could Tobit give that advice to his son with such confidence?” It was because God gave Tobit to show us what true vision looks like. Though blind, Tobit has 20-20 vision. The great African preacher explained.

It is only because he [Tobit] habitually saw another light. The son held his father’s hand to help him walk, but the father taught his son the way, that he might live. The other light that Tobit (though blind) saw, of course, is the light of FAITH!” (Expositions of the Psalms, vol 2, Psalms 73-98, p. 456)

Through his faith in Yahweh, the blind man, Tobit not only taught his son (Tobias) the way of sight but, according to Augustine, continues to do so “to this day.” Tobit, ironically, is blessed. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for they hear.

The blind man sees. Sadly God’s people often do not. Augustine called his congregation to be like Tobit, have 20-20 vision through faith.


A Gross Denial of the Biblical Worldview

A meme has been floating around Facebook with this statement, superimposed on a group of men (in overalls in front of a mill), holding what appear to be beer mugs, with a barrel that says “Roll out the barrel.”

“If the world is for it,
There’s a good chance

Not only is this statement utterly unbiblical, it is a capitulation to a creation denying, dualistic, asceticism indicative of Gnosticism rather biblical faith. It is perspectives like this that gave voice to Frederick Nietzsche’s trenchant criticism,

“Christians have no Joy and they take the joy out of the world.”

This is clearly not the opinion of Jesus (John 2), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Paul, etc etc. I offer this comment on the post with the meme.

What the World Wants, God Created

I have a hard time thinking of something that the world wants that God is simply against.

The world wants to breathe, God is for it.  God created breathing.

The world wants love, God is for it. God loves passionately.

The world wants food, God is for it. God created food for God’s creatures.

The world wants money, God is not anti-money. God blesses his servants with resources including money.

The world wants joy, God is for it. God’s kingdom is about joy.

The world wants sex, God is for it. God created sex for his creatures both for intimacy and for joy.


The world wants wine, God is not against it. God created wine to make humans “glad” (Psalm 104.14-15, NLT)

The Misuse of God’s Gift and the God Ordained Use of God’s Gift

What the fallen world does, however, is abuse and pervert, the good gifts that God has place within God’s good creation.

The slogan above highlights the excess and abuse not the proper use. It does not even recognize the proper use of God’s gifts. It creates a false dichotomy.  Moderation, gratitude and thanksgiving point to proper use of God’s good gifts.

Augustine, the great African Church Father, was correct. Evil has nothing to offer on its own. It is “parasitic upon the good and distorts it.

Scripture calls us to demonstrate the holy, and proper, receiving offer God’s gifts with gratitude and thanksgiving (1 Tim 4.1-5 & Col 2.20-23, clearly reveal Paul’s rejection of any form of asceticism).

The wisdom literature of the Bible was written for our learning and for training in righteousness (Romans 15.4; 2 Tim 3.15-16).  In those books we learn about wrong and the proper use of good things that can be used wrongly. The abuse of God’s gifts is clearly condemned as sinful.  Abuse of food is sinful gluttony.  Abuse of sex is sinful fornication or adultery. Abuse of wine is sinful drunkenness.  Yet at no point is the answer of the Holy Spirit to the sinful use of God’s gifts to never eat (we are not “one bit gluttons”), to never have sex (we are not “one sexual act fornicators”), or to never sip one glass of wine (we are not “one drink drunkards”).

The Holy Spirit’s (God’s) approach is the very one that so many preachers and Christians, actually reject. In fact the Spirit’s way is often either denied outright or ignored. We, instead, actually embrace pagan values of dualism and asceticism. The Bible’s approach, though, is that of thanksgiving, gratitude, joy, and moderation.  Those gifts so frequently abused, are brought together by the Holy Spirit guided authors.  Watch what Qoheleth does.

it is God’s GIFT that all should EAT [food] and DRINK [not Dr. Pepper beloved] and take PLEASURE in all their toil” (Ecclesiastes 3.13)

Go eat your bread [food] with ENJOYMENT,
and drink your wine [wine] with a MERRY HEART;
for God has long ago approved what you do …
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love [sex] …
(Ecclesiastes 9.7-9)

Food is the creation of God. It is divine gift and good.
Wine is the creation of God. It is divine gift and good.
Sex is the creation of God. It is divine gift and good.

God’s gifts of grace are to received with thanksgiving and gratitude. Thanksgiving and gratitude are the biblical antidote to abuse.  If we are grateful for the blessing of our wife/husband, we will not abuse her/him.  False, human made, laws deny God as Creator but they do not, in fact, keep our being from being self-indulgent.  Paul states this point blank.

Do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink [this is not Dr. Pepper!] … Why do you submit to regulations ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed the APPEARANCE of wisdom in promoting  SELF-IMPOSED piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of NO VALUE IN CHECKING SELF-INDULGENCE” (Col 2.16, 20-23).

Paul calls these false commands what they are, human inventions.  They are a show of wisdom but actually not wise. They are of no value.  Because Sin, the abuse of God’s creation, will not be prevented by a invented rules, especially human ones.  Thanksgiving, what Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and yes that ignored book, Song of Songs proclaims, is the Spirit way of transforming our desire from self-indulgence to God honoring gratitude.  Paul states it,

They forbid marriage [sex, intimacy] and demand abstinence from foods [same as in the marriage folks], WHICH GOD CREATED TO BE RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is GOOD, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer” (1 Tim 4.3-5)

Paul’s fundamental answer to dualistic, creation denying, asceticism that claims it is spiritual to deny sexuality, to deny eating, and yes even deny wine, is to go back to the “Old Testament” and declare God is Creator! Paul’s evaluation of Creation is that of Genesis 1.31.  God made food, wine and intimacy to be received with “thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving. Gratitude. Joy. These are cardinal Holy Spirit virtues. We as Christians condemn the abuse of God’s gifts. We, as Christians, model the thankful way of receiving God’s gifts which result in joy not gluttony, not fornication, not drunkenness.  Paul says those who “know the truth“(what truth? God is Creator!)  recognize this position and reject as utterly false, the creation denying false spirituality of neo-platonism and neo-gnosticism.

Nietzsche is wrong.

It is not true to say that if the world wants it then God is against it. What the world wants is an echo of the reality that God created the world! What the world wants is not wrong. What is wrong is the manner in which the fallen world tries to meet those wants.

Christianity is about JOY (Romans 15.23)

Think about it.

11 Aug 2017

Dishing Out Mercy: A Most Radical Text, Do We Live it?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Forgiveness, James, Jesus, Love, Matthew, Paul

Do We Dish It Out?

One of the most radical texts in the Bible is one that Christians seemingly do not believe. This text is not in Paul and may be more radical than anything he wrote.  It is as radical as anything he says on grace. In fact the text has a two fold thrust and both tend to not be believed.

Believing something is not determined by whether we claim to believe it. Believing something is determined by how we live it.

The text is actually in the Epistle of James. James, that little Epistle by our Lord’s brother. Most Protestants know it for one half understood text in chapter 2, that says something about faith and works and the like. But right smack in the middle of that very context is our revolutionary text. The first part of the text says,

For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy …” (James 2.13)

Of course James is channeling his big brother on this point. Judgment without mercy will be directed towards those who do not “dish out mercy.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5.7)

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6.14-15)

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7.2; see the Parable of the Wicked Servant, Mt 18.21-35)

Where is it?

From the way a lot of us live, it is clearly evident we do not believe this text. Christians are known for many things in our world, but a reputation for dishing out mercy is not one of them.

Are we merciful toward the divorced? (A preacher friend of mine once said it is easier to commit murder, be thrown in jail, come out with a “testimony” and be received by the brotherhood than get a divorce! … is he wrong)

Are we merciful to gays? Based on what we see we have to confess that “merciful” is not the first word that comes to mind.

Are we merciful to the those “out there?” Are our sins safer sins than theirs?

Are we merciful to the homeless? to Aliens? to Muslims? Buddhists?

Are we merciful to those created in the image of God?

Are we merciful to each other?

Do we not routinely “tar and feather” one another? Do we not suddenly divorce the elders or the preacher or the family of God because some one did not jump when we demanded they do so? Would anyone reading most of our online conversations come away and say “Wow, what beautiful mercy can be found here?”

Perhaps we are like Commodus in the classic movie Gladiator. After destroying a human we get in their face and scream, “Am I not merciful!!!

Triumph over Judgment

The first line in James’s inspired word, is a nuclear bomb. Mercy is not an idea. Mercy is not a notion.  Mercy is not simply one more doctrine to assent to. Mercy is not reduced to hymnody.

Mercy is an action that we live. Mercy is a weightier matter of the Torah of God. When we come to mercy we have reached the true depths of God’s torah. There is heaviness when it comes to mercy.  On at least two occasions James’s brother scolded those who thought they had mastered the depth of God’s Word with the words,

We see just how “weighty” mercy is in the rest of James radical text. It reads,

“Go learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9.13)

If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would have not condemned the guiltless” (Mt 12.7)

The reason that mercy is the heaviness of the Torah, the reason that mercy is the weighty part of the Torah, is because the whole point of the Torah is mercy! Not condemnation. Hosea (6.6) understood this.  Jesus understood this. James, as Jesus said to do, learned it.

“Mercy TRIUMPHS over judgment.

James makes this statement based on the character of God, not nature of humanity. Nothing in Paul is more radical than this. Over and over in the Hebrew Bible, the Creator God subverts the adage of “you reap what you sow!” Our self-inflicted death is not the end of the story. MERCY triumphs over judgment. Each word merits prayerful meditation.


No one understood the existential need for mercy instead of judgment more than James, the brother of Jesus. James grew up in the same home as Jesus. He rubbed shoulders with Jesus, ate with Jesus, played with Jesus … and he did not believe in Jesus. The Gospel of John records explicitly that Jesus’s immediate family did not believe in him.  His brothers, perhaps with a nod to the Joseph story in Genesis, even mock Jesus. The brothers (must include James) mock Jesus, telling him he needs to be at the Festival of Booths so he could display his works, “for anyone who wants to be well known does not act in secret” (John 7.4). Then the Gospel writer declares forthrightly, “For even his brothers did not believe in him” (John 7.5).

James needed mercy. He received it!

We have received mercy. We have received everything. We practice mercy because we receive mercy.

James, it seems to me, is making a statement regarding how we treat one another. In the context we are ALL transgressors (2.8-12). How do we treat OTHER transgressors? Does it reflect how God has treated us who are also transgressors? So James states,

So speak and ACT as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (2.12)

What law is that? LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR (James cites the Torah of God in Leviticus 19.18 referring to it in 2.8 and 1.25). If we speak and act according to this law then we will be MERCIFUL.

Do we believe James 2.13? If we did then how we often treat people both Christians and non-Christians would change drastically.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.


“You have heard it said, do not murder, but I say do not be angry!

I recently went through Jesus’s epic Sermon on the Mount with the band of disciples in Gunnison, Colorado.  I have long been a fan of the Sermon and agree with David Lipscomb that the Sermon is the essence of Christian teaching. The Sermon has been misused by many however to try to do exactly what Jesus said he was not doing, driving a wedge between his teaching ministry and the Hebrew Bible (Mt 5.17-20).

So in this second installment we will continue to explore how Jesus is not only in fundamental harmony with the Hebrew Bible but is preaching it. It is amazing to me the zeal many have for promoting caricatures of the Scriptures that comes from the same Holy Spirit that was poured out on Jesus in his baptism. But they are just that, caricatures rooted in failure to come within “understanding distance” (Alexander Campbell’s phrase).

I pray you will be challenged but blessed even more. May we ever study God’s word and worship him who loves us so.

We who are Messiah followers worship, serve, pray to, and love the same God the Messiah also worshiped, served, prayed to, and loved. God has did not change. He did not become a Christian between Malachi 4 and Matthew 1 (the division in the Protestant Bible).

But disciples of the Nazarene have centuries, in fact millennium!, of anti-Jewish prejudice that is so deeply rooted, it is nearly in our DNA. So as one brother (and he is very supportive) noted, “I have a hard time imagining Jesus/Paul looking like a Jew, with tassels and things on his forehead [phylacteries] and the like.” And if we cannot imagine Jesus looking Jewish, then it becomes nearly impossible to imagine him sounding Jewish and teaching Jewish stuff.

So since Marcion, believers have battled this ghost of the caricature of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus is against the “legalism of the Old Testament.” Jesus brought a faith focused upon love and grace that is alien to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religion. Ironically the Sermon on the Mount is, as we stated yesterday, the best place in the world to go to watch Jesus himself deconstruct such nonsense.

Jesus preached the same God that he prayed to. That is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, David, Huldah, Mary, Anna, Martha, John the Baptist. The God of the “Old Testament” is the Christian God.

You Shall Not Murder … But I Say Don’t Get Angry

Many older Protestant scholars openly declared that in Matthew 5.21-26, Jesus explicitly contradicts Moses, that Jesus is unsatisfied with the “Old Testament.” Scholars as A.M. Hunter, and virtually any commentator from the 19th and thru much of the 20th century promoted this view. It is a view that both Catholic and Protestants found common ground in.  It is a view that has been repeated in pulpits across the land. They also had a problem imagining Jesus as a real Jew.  See my article Picturing Jesus, the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology.

But they are wrong. And most contemporary scholarship admits the blind prejudice of the past. The primary reason they are wrong is the “Old Testament” itself and then Jewish writings from the time of Jesus like Sirach (which is in the canon of most Christian traditions but not recognized as canon among Protestants).

As we saw in our previous article, the notion that the Hebrew Bible sanctions “hate” is simply absurd and ignorant in the extreme. So here in Mt 5.21ff Jesus is not saying “well Moses forbade murder but allowed anger to go unbridled.” See Part 1 on “hate” here: Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount & the Old Testament: You Shall Hate Your Enemy.

Jesus is not merely anti-anger btw. In fact Jesus himself gets fairly upset more than once (Mk 3.5; Mk 11.15-18; Mt 21.12-13; Jn 2.13ff; etc). Jesus is dealing with destructive, unbridled, anger. The old scribe made sure people understood by adding the textual variant “without cause” to the passage.  So lets explore the teaching of the Hebrew Bible.

Uncontrolled Anger in the Hebrew Bible

The Torah does forbid murder. But people have a way of doing to people what murder does without taking their biological life. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly speaks to this matter. Proverbs especially devotes considerable space to the power of the tongue (speech, what comes out of our mouth) and the destructive power of anger. But I begin with a text from the Psalms that is quoted in the New Testament.

When you are angry, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent” (Ps 4.4; cf Eph 4.26)

This text continues by relating how our anger is connected sacrifice. “Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the LORD” (4.5). Anger hinders worship. Jesus says this. We with this very text that the New Testament has the same perspective as the “Old” on this matter since Paul quotes the “Old” to address anger.

Proverbs …

Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools” (14.33)

Here, as Jesus notes, speech will make clear what is in the heart and mind of the one talking (cf. Mt 15.18-19). Uncontrolled anger is the domain of fools as we will see in Proverbs.

Fools show their anger at once,
but the prudent ignore an insult” (12.16)

Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both of them
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
but who is able to stand before jealousy” (27.3-4)


One given to anger stirs up strife,
and the hot tempered man commits many sins” (29.22)

For as pressing milk produces curds,
and pressing the nose produces blood,
so pressing anger produces strife” (30.33)

These passages in Proverbs about the destructive nature of foolish anger is why the Sages say these following words as well … the one who refrains from foolish anger is actually wise.

Who is slow to anger has great understanding
but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14.29)

Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,
but those who are slow to anger calm contention” (15.18)

One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city” (16.32)

Those of good sense are slow to anger,
and it is their glory to overlook an offense” (19.11)

In these texts anger produces strife, destroys relationships and reaps a world of sin. That Jesus’s teaching about unbridled anger is also about the destruction relationships, as well as their restoration is crystal clear in 5.23-26. Jesus had absorbed the Spiritual wisdom of the Psalms and the Sages in Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. The wise can avert the horror of dissension as the Sage taught,

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge,
but the mouth of fools pour out folly
” (15.1-2).

A Look At Ben Sira

Before turning to the sacrifice Jesus envisions and the Torah I want to call attention to the book of Sirach. Jesus is quite familiar with the teaching of Jesus the son of Sirach. Ben Sira’s book was popular and known in Hebrew and Greek in Jesus’s day. He makes it clear that destructive anger will lead to the judgement of God against that person.

Unjust anger cannot be justified,
for anger tips the scale to one’s ruin” (Sirach 1.22)

Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury,
and do not resort to acts of insolence.” (Sirach 10.6)

Anger and wrath, these also are abominations,
yet a sinner holds on to them.
The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance,
for he keeps a strict account of their sin …
Refrain from strife and your sins will be fewer;
for the hot-tempered kindle strife,
and the sinner disrupts friendships
and sows discord among those who
are at peace. In proportion to the fuel,
so will the fire burn, and in proportion to
the obstinacy so will strife increase;
in proportion to a person’s strength will
be his anger
(Sirach 27.30-28.10, the whole of chapter 28 could be quoted)

In his “Hall of Fame” of faith, Sirach features the destructive nature of anger and how it unleashed God’s judgement upon hot heads. In relating the story of the hero, Aaron, Ben Sira tells the story in Numbers 16. But he does not just tell it he interprets it. Yes Dathan, Abiram and Korah all rebelled against God, but why? They let anger and wrath warp their judgement. So the culmination of Sirach’s teaching on anger, is that unjustified anger against a brother brought the judgement of God. The text reads,

Outsiders conspired against him [Aaron],
and envied him in the wilderness,
Dathan and Abiram and their followers
and the company of Korah,
IN WRATH AND ANGER. The Lord saw it
and was not pleased, and in the heat of HIS
ANGER, they were destroyed” (Sirach 44.18-19)

Unbridled, unjustified, foolish anger leads to the judgement of God because anger destroys relationships, breads sin, leads to actual assault on God’s people. The Hebrew Bible is not merely against murder it aims at the heart and calls us to love. Jesus said, “Amen.”

Sacrifice and Reconciliation

Those who imagine that Jesus is against the Hebrew Bible in this text never seem to deal with the fact, that if true, why did Jesus expect there to be a sacrifice made in the Temple? This fact is simply ignored by most. Yet in 5.23-24, our Lord talks about the “gift” and the “altar.” This is temple stuff. The gift is a sacrifice. The altar is the place of sacrifice in the temple. Jesus is pointing his listeners to Leviticus 6, to the Torah!

In Leviticus 6.1-7, we read of the sacrifice made by the guilty/offending party when they become aware that they have wronged another human being. Just as in Matthew 5, the person becomes aware there is an issue between him/herself and another. Since many are unfamiliar with Leviticus I will quote the text.

The LORD said to Moses: ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful TO THE LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do [these are EXAMPLES of sin against other humans and not limited to these specifics]–when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion … or whatever he has sworn falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner ON THE DAY HE PRESENTS HIS GUILT OFFERING. And as a penalty he must bring the priest, that is, the LORD, his guilt offering, … In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”

In Matthew, Jesus assumes the guilty party is on the way to the temple to do what Leviticus 6 prescribes. But the relationship has been breached by anger. Jesus’s words follow the outline of Leviticus 6. Be reconciled then offer your gift. In Leviticus restoration of property or undoing the damage is done on the same day as the sacrifice and it is done “when you realize your guilt” (Lev 6.4-5).

As is the case today (this is not a legalistic Jewish problem) so many want to just go back to church but they do not want to be reconciled. But the Torah said, before you can go worship Jesus’s God and Father, you had to go to your brother or sister and make things right and then offer your sacrifice, together.

Jesus says the same thing. If we are on our way to church (worship) and we become aware that we have done wrong against a brother or sister … stop the worship! Leave the sacrifice. It is meaningless. Go make reconciliation and THEN come offer the sacrifice at the altar of God. Jesus fully anticipates a real sacrifice in the Temple in Matthew 5.24. He is not correcting Moses. He is preaching Moses.

The Lord’s Supper is the table of the reconciled not only with God but with one another. It is the table of fellowship, communion, the table of grace and love where we discern the body … which is sisters and brothers.


Jesus preached the God that revealed God’s self to Israel in the burning bush, in the Exodus and invited them into a covenant of love at Mt Sinai.

God expected his people to be a place where justice, mercy and faithfulness were planted in this fallen world. Israel was supposed to be the place where God’s will was done on Earth as in heaven. Murder was banished. But so was unbridled, unjustified, foolish anger. Such anger is contrary to human flourishing and shalom. The Hebrew Bible and Sirach teach this often and clearly. They teach that such anger will unleash the judgment of God.

But Jesus, in the wake of the wrathful outburst that lead to the assault upon a person in 5.22, saw that this could not simply be winked at. The breach brought about by our foolish anger had to be healed. The guilty party thought they could just go to the Temple and make it right. Jesus said No! God’s Torah requires not a wink, but a restoration of justice, mercy and faithfulness between the parties. The sacrifice was intended to do just that. But the sacrifice required going to the person we have wronged! So Jesus states clearly GO find the person you, in your anger, wronged. Do the hard work of looking that person in the eye and make amends. THEN complete the actual sacrifice in the Temple. The sacrifice is about atonement … reconciliation! How can we do that if we do not actually practice reconciliation.

Jesus does not circumvent the Old Testament. He is preaching obedience to the reconciling Torah in Matthew 5.21-26.



I worship, serve, praise, and call Father, the very same God that Jesus of Nazareth did. This God has not changed. He did not become a Christian when Jesus was born, when he died nor when he was raised from the dead.

God did not change between Malachi and Matthew 1. God is the same today as God was at Creation, at the gracious calling of the pagan Abram, at the loving rescue of faithless Israel, at the astounding promises made to the adulterer David. The One Jesus prayed to, as “Abba,” is Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus came because of Yahweh’s love, Yahweh’s grace, Yahweh’s will. John 3.16 preaches the love of Yahweh, the God of Israel (Jesus does love us but John 3.16 is not about his love but the Father who gave out of love, Yahweh).

This bedrock truth is so frequently overlooked, minimized and outright distorted by disciples of the Messiah. Disciples (because of preachers) frequently contrast the “spirituality” of the New Testament with the “physicality” of the Old Testament; the “love” of the New Testament with the “hate” of the Old Testament; the grace of the New with the law of the Old. These perspectives are often purveyed with no effort to justify them at all.

Assumptions abound. But Jesus preached the revelation of the God of Israel. The New Testament writers did not make the assumptions many do today but proclaim the oneness of God of Israel and the Father of Jesus; the oneness of the people of God in the Hebrew Bible with the people of God in the NT and they do this on every page of the NT.

Love Your Neighbor; Hate Your Enemy

No better example of these misunderstandings are how people view the Sermon on the Mount. But the Sermon on the Mount is, ironically, the very place to go to show that Jesus is not doing anything but bringing people back to the Bible. We may think of the Sermon as a “restoration movement.” No better text to show this than Mt 5.43.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

Jesus follows this up in v.44 by grounding our action in GOD’s “FOR your Father in heaven makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, etc”

But there is not a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible or its translation into Greek that says the former but there is plenty of support for the latter as we will see.

Gentile Christian interpretation of the “Old Testament” is often filtered through centuries of anti-semitism. There is no more classic example than with these verses. If and when expositors acknowledge that Leviticus 19.18 commands love for neighbor they will try to undermine it with the claim that Moses makes “neighbor” a fellow Israelite, so Jesus is tightening the screws on the Torah. Most of these simply ignore that in the immediate context, verse 17 states that hate “in your heart” is forbidden. Again those who note this, claim the OT is inferior because it speaks, again, of fellow Israelites.

But Moses in no way limits love to fellow Israelites, even in the same chapter of Leviticus. We read in verses 33-34

When an ALIEN [non-Israelite] resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; YOU SHALL LOVE THE ALIEN AS YOURSELF, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

This is explicit language from Moses. But Moses is not done. He reduces Israelite obedience to two things in Deuteronomy. In fact, as the Prophet that was LIKE MOSES would do, Moses grounds our obedience in the character of God himself.

So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? ...”

1) circumcise your heart

2) “you shall also LOVE THE ALIEN, for you were aliens in Egypt

This is explicitly rooted in the character of Yahweh, the “God of gods” who “LOVES THE ALIEN providing them with food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10.12, 16, 18-19).

Jesus not only brings us back to Leviticus, but to Deuteronomy 10 in the Sermon on the Mount. What surprises people is that caring for the alien (non-Israelite) is one of the most frequent commands in the “Old Testament.” Along with widows and orphans, it is in fact the pure religion of the Old Testament. We love, not hate, because Yahweh loves and blesses. Jesus adds his “Amen” in Matthew 5.43ff.

The Torah requires that we bless those who are our enemy. This naturally flows from what we have seen in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We will not ignore these texts as has been done so many times.

Exodus 23.4-9 speaks of both attitudes and actions regarding those who might HATE ME. If I encounter “my enemy’s” means of making a living (ox, donkey) because it has been lost or strayed away, I must collect the animal and bring it back to my enemy. If I see the donkey of the one who “hates me” … even if I do not want to … (the text recognizes the anti-human nature thrust of this command), I “must help.” Lets quote the text.

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free … You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23.4-9)

The sages applied these words in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to not just rescuing my enemies means to make a living, but I must bless him or her when they have no means to even eat. So Proverbs states,

If your ENEMIES are hungry give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink …
the LORD will reward you” (25.21-22)

And we are not to even rejoice when calamity befalls the one who makes themselves our enemy,

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls
and do not let your HEART be glad when he stumbles;
lest the LORD see it and it displeases him
(Pr 24.17f; see what Job claims in 31.29-30)

Even in times of actual war (I note that Joshua is one of the most abused books in the Bible but what it says about war was never viewed as normative in Israel nor in any Jewish thinking) these texts seem to apply.

In 2 Kings 6 we read the famous “open the eyes” of the servant text. But what is forgotten is directly related to our theme. Elisha prayed for the opening of his servant’s eyes and for the blindness of the Arameans. They are blinded and lead into the city of Samaria. In the city their blindness is lifted. The king suggested slaughtering the enemy soldiers (6.21). But Elisha said, essentially, you did not capture them by any means of war and you will not kill them. Instead of slaughtering their enemies the Israelites,

set before them food and water so that they may eat and drink

It was not mere rations given to the enemy either. It was not just enough to stay alive. The Hebrew Bible declares,

So he prepared for them a GREAT FEAST” (6.23).

Can you imagine the USA doing this to the enemies held in Guantanamo Bay, how many would be up in arms about the great treatment of our enemies!

And then the Israelites set the enemy’s FREE!!! (6.23)


When Jesus said, “you have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy” he is not talking about anything whatsoever in the “Old Testament.” It is the case, though, that God’s People have always sought to circumvent the plain language of Scripture. Like the man in Luke 10, religious people have compartmentalized who gets God’s love through us. In the Old Testament the enemy is our neighbor! The alien is the same as the citizen. God loves the alien and cares for them … We are to do so as well.

Jesus is not correcting Moses. In fact, Jesus declares the words of Moses in Leviticus 19.18 (the very text many declare Jesus is correcting) as the second “Greatest” command (Mt 22.34-40).

Jesus is preaching Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, to people who want to quantify and regulate God’s love to people we think are worthy. But Jesus simply said, God is the same today as he was when he loved the aliens and dared to tell us to do the same through Moses. Moses essentially says, some one may view themselves as MY enemy, but as one redeemed by Yahweh, I am the enemy of NO ONE. Jesus said, Amen!


What is THE Gospel? Whatever THE Gospel is it is Good News.

This is an important question.

There are numerous answers to the question, “what is the Gospel” given. The “Gospel Coalition” group (i.e. John Piper, John MacArthur, etc) states that the Gospel is the doctrine of Justification by faith especially articulated by Martin Luther or John Calvin. Some in Churches of Christ will say that the Gospel is the “plan of salvation” that Jesus died to give us by which we can be saved. This plan ranges from Five Fingers to the identity marks of the one true church. Others, closer to the biblical mark say it is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel is not justification by faith. The Gospel is not what the “planners” say. The Gospel certainly tells us how God will save us, don’t misunderstand. But in First Corinthians 15 we find how Paul summarizes both his, and the Jerusalem Church’s, statement of the gospel, but when people quote it they often “edit” it unconsciously.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and that he appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.

Hearing Paul

Paul’s Gospel, the one he “received” is more than Jesus died, was buried, and raised. Paul uses the word “Christ” which has a boatload of Jewish meaning (it is a title not a name) … the closest equivalent in English for this is “King.” The KING died. He died and rose “according to the Scriptures.” Even in 1 Cor 15, Paul states that the Gospel is a JEWISH story about a JEWISH King. The Gospel is “according” to the Scriptures.  These means more than the death of Jesus was predicted. It means the message of the Gospel, is about the “Messiah” who is Israel’s King … and the world’s King.

Romans is where we get the clearest declaration from Paul. It is a “special providence,”  as James A. Harding would point out, perhaps that Romans 1 is on the very next page from Acts 28 in our Bibles. As Acts closes, Paul languishes in prison and declares the Gospel in Rome. The next page we read of the King being proclaimed in Romans.

So why is Paul in chains? Why has Paul been beaten? Why has Paul been shipwreaked? Why has Paul faced the beasts? Why the Gospel of course.  But let Luke and Paul tell us what this means. Paul tells us point blank in Acts 28.20 that it i,

for the sake of the HOPE OF ISRAEL that I am bound with this chain.” Jesus and the kingdom of God are about the “hope of Israel” (v.23).

When we open up Romans 1, just a column away from Acts 28, this notion of the “hope of Israel” is how Paul defines the Gospel.

Paul … set apart for the gospel of God, which he PROMISED beforehand 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, Jesus Messiah our Lord … to bring the obedience of faith among the gentiles for the sake of his name …”

This is a different conception than many are used to, though Paul essentially says the same thing again in 2 Timothy 2.8.

Remember Jesus Messiah, raised from the dead, a descendant of David –
this is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship.

This fits quite well with the accusation that was made against Paul in Thessalonica. “They [Paul & Silas and company] are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying there is another KING named Jesus” (Acts 17.7; cf. 16.25).  To proclaim Jesus as “messiah” meant to proclaim him as KING, the promised king, the “son of David.” Here we learn what “according to the scriptures” means for Paul.  To be the “son of David,” Paul connects Jesus to the promise that was made to the legendary King of Israel. The Gospel is “according” to the Scriptures. The New Testament Gospel simply does not exist apart from the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be minimized, it cannot be divorced from, it cannot be taught apart from those Scriptures … that is what Paul states in Romans 1, 1 Cor 15 and 2 Tim 2.8 and other places.

The Promises

The Gospel is about the PROMISES that God made to Abraham, Isaac, Israel, David and all the descendants of the Patriarchs. It is not simply about a man who died, even on a cross. Thousands of people died on crosses. It is about the promised son of David (=king), and through that King, God rescues the world from the mess we have made of it. God has kept his word to Israel. Paul calls this “the hope of Israel” in Acts 28. The Hope of Israel is actually the hope of the whole world!

The Gospel is the culmination, not the repudiation, of the story of the promises of God to Israel. Jesus is King and Caesar is not. Israel is the Kingdom of God, the Roman Empire is not. Paul has been appointed to tell the nations that Psalm 2 has come true in the person of the Jewish King. That King’s name is Jesus (notice how the nations are the “inheritance” of the anointed King of Israel in Psalm 2.7-8).  For a much more detailed look at these promises see my The Promise(s): The New Testament Gospel is the Old Testament Promise.

The Book of Romans

Paul’s concern for these promises frames the book of Romans. We have already quoted the opening way Paul defines his Gospel in 1.2-4 above. Note how he concludes the book in chapter 15, he states about the King,

I tell you that Messiah {King} has become a servant of the Jews {the circumcised} on behalf of the truth of God IN ORDER THAT HE MIGHT CONFIRM THE PROMISES GIVEN TO THE PATRIARCHS, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (15.8-9).

At the very closing of the book Paul again ties what he writes with his statement of the Gospel in 1.2-4,

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to MY GOSPEL and the proclamation of Jesus MESSIAH {King} … now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is make known to all the Gentiles …” (16.25-26)

Paul refers to these promises in between his opening and closing of Romans. In chapter 4 he mentions the promises that Abraham “and his descendants” were to “inherit THE WORLD” (4.13) etc.

The Gospel is message that the God of Israel has kept his promises to Israel. They are no one elses promises apart from the Jewish King. God has sent the Messiah and he is King. Through the Jewish King, the servant of Israel, the Gentiles are commanded to come and serve the God of Israel and share in the promises themselves. The sins of the world are dealt with through the Jewish King who has been raised from the dead by power of God in the Spirit.

The Messiah reigns. Jesus is the King of the Jews and thus the King of all Creation! The world is put back together by God through him. Jews and Gentiles together are brought together as a renewed Israel in the world as the portrait of the new creation … in accordance with the Promises, in accordance with the Scriptures.

God keeping his promises … no wonder the Gospel is seen as the “power of God …” The Power of God to save the world.

K. C. Moser speaking at a Campus Evangelism Seminar

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

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

A Life in a Paragraph

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

Moser’s 1929 booklet

Romans “Converts” Moser (1923-1926)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Studies in Romans (1937)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans is Dangerous: Three Necessities for Approaching Romans

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

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

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


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

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

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

Some Moser Annotations on Romans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans in Moser’s ASV Bible purchased in 1941

Romans’ Gifts to Moser

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


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

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

The Cross

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

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

The Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

Suggested Links of Interest

K. C. Moser: Student of the Word

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

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

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


A Lesson from Frederick Douglass

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

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

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

Jesus the White European

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picturing Jesus the Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abba, The God who is All in All

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

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

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

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

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

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

The God Creeds of the Hebrew Bible

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

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

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

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

The God Creed: Who is God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some resources for preaching the God Creed see:

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

Exodus 34: Pulse of the Bible.

The Grace Creed: What Does God Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Immanuel Creed: Where Does God Live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing Abba, Father

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

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

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

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


Helpful Resources

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotable Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on …

Wine is a Prominent Theme in Scripture and Church History

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

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

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

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

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

Wine and Christ’s Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Drink is to Pray …

Wine is Gift.  Wine is Joy

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

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

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

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

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


Some Related Links:

When Wine is “Really” Wine.

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