Hanukkah and Christmas

Finding of the Baby Moses, Wall painting Dura-Europos, Syria. Copy in tempora on plaster AD.

The month of December on the Gregorian Calendar contains two seasons that traditionally have been important for the children of Abraham. The two seasons often overlap but are always in close proximity. The first is called Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication. The second is called Advent or popularly known as Christmas (The word advent comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word, parousia. It means “coming” or “appearing”). Christians in the East observe Christmas on January 6 (again these different dates are rooted in calendars). Hanukkah runs from December 18 to December 26 here in 2022. Advent runs from November 27 to December 24 (technically Christmas runs December 25 to January 8 and is called Epiphany). Hanukkah is a season on the calendar celebrated by Jesus in John 10.

The close proximity of Hanukkah and Christmas provide a good opportunity to remind Gentile believers of the messages of the Christmas season … The Christian faith is deeply intertwined with Judaism (the Hebrew Scriptures) from beginning to end. I would go so far as to say that Paul would say one cannot be a Christian (he never used that term though) without Judaism. Paul, James, and the Jerusalem Council do insist that Gentiles believers in the King of Israel do not become ethnic Jews (that is what circumcision did, it made a Gentile a Jew). But they also insist they become citizens of Israel, thus heirs to a common heritage (cf. Acts 15.13-21; Romans 11.11-23; Ephesians 2.11-3.11; etc). That heritage shapes our faith and mission. The NT writers assume Gentiles have had their imagination baptized into the history of Israel (to use a metaphor).

Baby Boys, Moses and Jesus

Today I highlight our unrecognized Hebraic heritage that is written in plain view in the pages of the Gospels. Christianity is Jewish at its heart and soul. The depth of the Spirit inspired Jewish character of the Gospels is frequently missed because we do not know the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish world of Jesus. Today we will look at how Matthew thinks we are experts in the Exodus and have lots of Jewish tradition floating in our heads (the fact that we do not says more about us than the disciples for whom Matthew wrote).

The existence of the Gospel of Luke teaches us there was more than one way to tell the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Both Luke and Matthew are stunningly Jewish in their writing though they tell the story quite differently. I will focus on Matthew.

For Matthew, the history of Israel is encapsulated in Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. We might want to say that Matthew believes that Israel’s history is recapitulated in King Jesus. For example it is difficult to know the story of Moses in any detail and miss how Matthew uses it to shape the story of Jesus in chapter 2. Note these rather remarkable parallels, a Mosaic pattern, that Matthew fully expects us to know.

1) Matt 2.13-14, Herod desires to slay Jesus so Joseph take him and Mary away

Ex 2.15, Pharaoh desires to slay Moses, so Moses goes away

2) Matt 2.16, Herod commands all male boys of Bethlehem, 2 and under, murdered

Ex 1.22, Pharaoh commands all male Israelite boys to be killed in the river

3) Matt 2.19, Herod dies

Ex 2.23, Pharaoh dies

4) Matt 2.19-20, Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, ‘go back for those seeking Jesus’s life are dead’

Ex 4.19, Lord speaks to Moses, ‘go back for those seeking your life are dead’

5) Matt 2.21, Joseph took Jesus and Mary back to Israel

Ex 4.20, Moses took his wife and children and returned to Egypt

As significant as these are, Matthew is not done. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of Moses in the biblical and Jewish tradition. Lots of traditions grew up about Moses just like they do every notable person.

The “Nativity” of Moses

The writing known as The Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Jewish historian Josephus, retells the “nativity” of Moses. Josephus does not tell this as a tale, or legend, but seems to think it is history. The story, not something Josephus invented, reveals what Jews of the first century believed about the birth of Moses. Here are the basic tenets of the story told by Josephus.

1) Pharaoh learns the Hebrews constitute an existential threat to himself and the Egyptian Empire

2) This knowledge comes via a “sacred scribe” with prophetic insight. The scribe had a vision that foretold the birth of an Israelite boy whose name would be remembered through all future generations.

3) When Pharaoh hears this news “fear and dread” come over the Egyptians. So fearful of this vision is Pharaoh that he decrees all male Israelite boys to be thrown into the Nile in an effort to circumvent the prophecy.

4) The boy’s father, Amram, prays to the Lord when he learns of the decree. God appears to Amram in a dream and promises safety for the child who will grow to be a savior of the people. Part of God’s speech to Amram is worth quoting as it appears on Josephus:

Know, therefore, that I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for thyself what shall make thee famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be thine child and shall be concealed from those who desire to destroy him. When he is brought up in a surprising way, he shall deliver the Hebrew nation …” (Antiquities of the Jews 2. IX, 3, Whiston’s translation).

5) Pharaoh’s plan to destroy the child is thwarted. Ironically, the Pharaoh himself saves baby Moses from certain death from the “sacred scribe” who recognized the child.

6) At this point Josephus presents Moses’s genealogy just as Matthew does.

(For a detailed study of Moses and Jesus parallels in the birth narrative of Matthew see Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 112-119).

Anyone who has read Matthew chapters 1 and 2 surely recognizes at least some remarkable parallels between the birth of Moses and the birth of Jesus. What are we to make of all of this?

Madonna and Child by
Patricia Brintle

Significance

First, is the fact Christian faith and the Gospel message regarding Jesus simply cannot be divorced from its Jewish soil. This is a truth “Christmas” simply insists upon. To do so does incredible violence to the message that the Holy Spirit gave. Our Jesus is a Jew, remains a Jew, and will forever be a Jew. If our Jesus is not a Jew in every respect then we have a Marcionite or Gnostic Jesus but we do not have Matthew’s Jesus. It is hard to get more Jewish than being circumcised on the eighth day of life as the Christmas story insists Jesus was. He is after, born King of the Jews (Mt 2.2).

Second, Matthew is making a claim. Every Jew knew the amazing story contained in Exodus. It was deeply embedded in the psychology of Jews in Jesus’s day. The Exodus is a story of divine power being exercised in astonishing and pure grace on behalf of powerless slaves. The Exodus was “unique.” It was unparalleled before and since. But Matthew’s claim is that now the God who acted then, is acting in Exodus fashion again. A new Moses is here to save God’s people.

The Exodus did not end with the crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus ends with Immanuel. The coming of God to dwell with his people! That is God living with the redeemed slaves (that beloved is what the Tabernacle is all about!). God does not merely save, God dwells with his people. From the beginning Matthew tells us that the Exodus acting God is doing it again. God is not merely saving (as glorious as that is) but God is dwelling with us! “Immanuel” has come, Matthew insists (Mt 1.22-23). God is dwelling with his people, not in a tent but in a person! The temple that was rescued and rededicated to God on Hanukkah comes to its fullest expression in the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, who is Immanuel. God with us.

Baby Moses and Baby Jesus are powerful messages of redeeming and dwelling God. Maybe for Christmas we need to remember that even in the New Heavens and New Earth all God’s People will sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb. Even on the renewed earth we will not be free from the “Old Testament.”

Happy Hanukkah & Merry Christmas

Further Reading on Christmas and Hanukkah

Jesus the Jew and Hanukkah

Book of First Maccabees: God’s Family of Deliverance

Emmanuel: Why Christmas is Essential to Christian Faith

A Doctrinal Christmas? Two Theological Gifts of Christmas

Rachel, Mary, and the Lament of the World

Miriam (Mary) clearly knew the Psalms

Psalms, the Poor and Miriam/Mary (Jesus’s mother’s name is Miriam, like the Prophet who led worship in song)

Today’s (December 2, 2022) Psalm reading is Psalms 6-10. Being Advent on the traditional Christian calendar and what is generally known as the Christmas season, I could not help but imagine a young Jewish girl singing and praying (these are not two different activities) these Psalms this morning. It is interesting to me anyway what can come out of this exercise.

Luke begins his story of the Messiah with deep interest in the poor, powerless and least of these. Women are the embodiment of these social realities in Luke’s Gospel. They also represent the perennial theme in the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha of widows, orphans and aliens. Luke tells us about an older Jew, Elizabeth. She is barren. Luke tells us about another older Jew, Anna a widow and Prophet who breaks bounds by preaching publicly in the temple for decades. And in between he tells us of Miriam (Mary) who is a young Jew who is poor and quite familiar with oppression and subsistence living. She knew well the meaning of “daily bread.”

Mary/Miriam, like her ancient namesake (Exodus 15) breaks out in classic Jewish song (Lk 1.46-55), which quite literally sets the agenda for the Messiah’s mission in the Gospel of Luke. She describes herself as “lowly” (NRSV) or “humble state” (NIV) in 1.48 and 52. The term used by Miriam/Mary is an interesting one. In the Greek Septuagint, the term refers to barren women such as Hannah (1 Sam 1.11) or Rachael (Genesis 29.31f). It is also used by Judith in her prayer (Judith is a story Luke clearly knows and expects his readers to as well) describing not the barrenness of herself but the people of God who have been humiliated and brought down low (Judith 6.19). It is a word that describes people who, according to the world, do not count! It is a fitting word for Elizabeth, Anna, Judith (who is a widow in her story), Miriam/Mary and especially the people hidden in plain sight: the poor who are humiliated by the haves. Miriam/Mary speaks of those who are “hungry” (1.53) which is no mere metaphor. These are people who are literally hungry. But God has “remembered his servant Israel” because of his “mercy” (1.54).

Miriam/Mary is deeply immersed in the Hebrew Bible. When we read through our lection today (Psalms 6-10) we find many prayers by those who knew the fragility of life on the ragged edge. They cry out “how long” (6.3). In Psalms 9-10 we find the poor, the least of these, front and center. Like Miriam/Mary the psalms confess and praise with a “whole heart” (9.1). Yahweh is the “stronghold for the oppressed” and absolute “trust/faith” is placed in God (9.9).

But the poor have been forgotten. Not by God but by the powers that be. By the people who claim to worship the one true King. Yet sometimes, yes even sometimes, Miriam/Mary as a ten or eleven-year-old or even a fourteen-year-old, and food was scarce and clothes were scarce and no help could be found, might wonder if God had also forgotten. The prayer may ascend in the middle of the night,

Why do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
” (10.1)

She may have reminded the Lord, just as she had heard from the psalm,

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor” (10.2)

They act as if God does not see (10.4, 9, 13).

But you do see!” (10.14).

So, she, along with Elizabeth, Anna the Prophet, and the Jewess called Judith, pleads even though tears “flood my bed” (6.6), “Rise up, O Lord … do not forget the oppressed” (10.12).

Miriam/Mary was among the oppressed. She confessed it outright. But her song, saturated with the words of Israel, says, that God “remembered.”

God has heard!

God has come to deliver and show the lie to those who think God does not care about what the Have’s do to the “Have Not’s” (sometimes what is done is just ignore them!).

These texts mean everything to Miriam/Mary, and they would to her son as well. They are the voice she cried to heaven. They are the words used by Elizabeth. They are sermons of Anna in the temple (that is if her sermons look anything like those from Huldah, Amos, or Isaiah).

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” (9.18).

Because Miriam’s son heard her pray and sing, so he came to proclaim Good News of God’s favor to the Poor (Luke 4.18). The songs of Miriam break forth in Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain (in fact they are shot through the Nazarene’s teachings).

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh

(Luke 6.20-21).

Clearly, Jesus hears his mother sing. He too was immersed in the Psalms. Maybe we should be too. I end my reflections today with this prayer,

Father, may we hear Miriam/Mary’s prayer. May we be the answer to the cries that she, Elizabeth, Anna and all those we turn a blind eye upon. May we be the Good News to the poor, may we be the evidence that Miriam’s Son has come just as we claim to believe during Advent and Christmas. Amen.

DeLorean

Why Some Choose 1950 over AD 60

To be honest is to confront the truth. However unpleasant and inconvenient the truth may be, I believe we must expose it and face it” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up in a “non-denomination” denomination that claims to be “first century Christianity.” As far back as I can remember, we sloganized with Back to the Bible. Speak where the Bible speaks, Silent where the Bible is silent. Call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways.

Perhaps you have heard these slogans yourself. I doubt I am alone in hearing them. What may surprise many outsiders is that a group with this kind of agenda, that claims the first century is normative, is almost completely ahistorical. That is we often have no interest in history at all. In fact it may be a detriment to our faith according to some.

But we have become so Americanized in our view of the “Bible” and “Christianity” that most all of us would not recognize first century Christianity as any expression of Christianity we have encountered in our lives. So for today I offer a handful of surprises about first century “Christianity.” Most of us when we get into our DeLorean to find first century Christians, worshiping in first century ways, are nothing short of shocked and left wondering if we have even found “Christians.”

So lets get into our DeLorean time machine, fire up our Flux Capacitor and hit 88 mph and head “Back to the Past!” That is AD 60 and take a look. Buckle up!

1) Among the biggest surprises when we return to AD 60 we discover no one speaks English. Neither are the vast majority of the people “white.” As our DeLorean takes us through the regions of Jerusalem and Galilee we encounter brown to dark brown people. As we move into Galatia, Asia and Greece we run into sort of a greenish brown olive complexion for most of the people. We decide to head off to center of the Roman Empire, Italy, and we see many of the same shade. But we do come across a band of Germanic people, from beyond the Empire, and they are fair skin. But regardless of where we find ourselves we find people who are bilingual at least and many speaking multiple languages. But we do not find anyone, not even the Britons from the furthest northern part of the Empire, who speak anything remotely like “English.” Our discovery is that early “Christianity” was darker than we in America tend to imagine. And though multilingual it never heard of English.

2) Among the major surprises, as our DeLorean takes us to congregations in Judea and the Aegean, is no one has a “Bible.” In fact no one knows what “the Bible” is. No one, from the apostles to the common disciple in the corner, has ever heard the term “Old Testament.” And perhaps the biggest shocker is not a single person has ever heard of “Christianity.” Suddenly “calling things Bible names” seems problematic. (The irony of the slogan “Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” dawned on my years ago when I realized that neither the word “Bible” nor “Christianity” ever occur in the Bible!).

3) Probably as unsettling as the above discovery in AD 60 the biggest surprise of all is that the believers almost never called themselves “Christians” (the word “Christianity” did not exist until the second century). First century writers like Paul, Peter, James, John and Clement almost never use the first term. Luke used the term 2x and Peter 1x. But neither Peter nor Luke call anyone that, though they accepted it (with conditions) if someone called them such. Instead all these writers used traditional Jewish nomenclature from the “Old Testament” to identify themselves:

the brothers and sisters;
disciples;
the saints;
ekklesia (a frequent term in the Greek LXX);
the people;
the exiles; etc.

We decide to consult the Yellow Pages and Yelp while in Corinth but find no listing for Corinth Church of Christ. In fact we cannot find any congregation called “Church of Christ.” Rather what we discover is “church of God.” “Church of the Galatians.” “Church of the Thessalonians.” “Church of the Judeans.” “Exiles.” This is disorienting.

4) The next biggest surprise is that these first century believers, in AD 60, did not carry around pocket New Testaments. In fact no one had New Testaments. Indeed, no one has heard of the Book of Acts and a good portion of “books” we call “the New Testament.” When we do find a group of “messianics” and worship in first century ways, we are overwhelmed by how much time is spent reading Moses, Psalms and the Prophets. In fact the songs sung are almost all from the Book of Psalms. Someone gets up and tells a story about Jesus. But what is read by the reader is Moses. Suddenly we recall an elder at our home church saying, “why are you teaching Psalms, we are New Testament Christians.” Oh the irony. The first century saint would not have a clue what that elder was saying.

5) Another big surprise for most in our day, if our DeLorean stopped in AD 35, AD 45; AD 55; AD 75; or even AD 90 … they would not find a single church building. If the earliest writers are to be believed then we would find believers in King Jesus gathering in three primary locations: the Temple of God; synagogues; and homes/apartments.

6) Some contemporary believers, who think the first century “church” was basically all made from cookie cutters to be identical, will be nothing short of stunned and even shocked when their DeLorean brings them to the Jerusalem church in AD 60ish. Our eyes and ears are eager to see James and Paul together! Both look nothing like classic paintings we know. They are wearing prayer shawls, tzitzit at least one was blue. Paul looks like a Pharisee and James looks like a High Priest. And what do we see our brothers doing? In nothing short of stunned disbelief, we see James and Paul go through a mikvot to ceremonially cleanse themselves, then enter the temple with hundreds of Levites playing instruments on the steps in the Court of Women, then we see them offering an actual sacrifice! We simply do not have a category for that kind of worship in Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ. We do not know if we should upload this for YouTube or not because it clearly is beyond our thought pattern. Then it dawns on us that there was no single cookie cutter used to define “Christian” worship in the first century at all.

7) Another major surprise for us when we arrive in Corinth in AD 55 is the Lord’s Supper is part of a full meal. Much like the sacrificial meals, the Passover and weekly Sabbath meal out of the history of Israel. No one is concerned about who serves and who does not serve. They share the whole meal in honor of the living and present Lord. We are surprised when people are not stone dead quiet and that there is no such thing as tiny unleavened wafers and Welch’s juice … it is tasty loaves of leavened bread and real wine!! No wonder we are giving God thanksgiving!

8) One of the major surprises for American believers transported back to AD 60 in our DeLorean, is just how at odds the Way of Jesus is with the national government and the general tenor of culture as a whole. Disciples of Jesus simply do not fit in with anyone of the major groups and we certainly do not sing the national anthem. In fact they are killing some of us as atheists, enemies of the State, and haters of humanity! One of the prophets, John, even called on them to “come out of” the Roman ways of living. So much for needing a “Christian” nation to practice our faith.

9) Another major surprise has been that one of the women at the table (which seems to be the focal point for Paul’s house church in Corinth) speak and pray. We ask who she is, some one whispers she is Phoebe a visiting deacon from the church of God in Cenchreae/Corinth. She reads and explains a long letter from Paul the Pharisee Apostle. Another shares a recitation of Scripture from Moses, the Psalms or Prophets for the edification of the gathered body. No one gets up and says that was unusual or out of place. Indeed we see that women among these first century saints are some of the most prominent folks in the Way!

10) Another major surprise is just how diverse the family of God is. It is as if the social structure of the old age has simply been jettisoned. Greeks and Jews; Romans and Germans; Slaves and Masters; Males and Females; ‘Whites” and Blacks; Rich and Poor not only claim to be equals pledging allegiance to the Messiah King of Israel who is Lord of the Nations. And it actually looks like they actually believe it. Status has been given to the lowly! And the ones with “status” have become servants of the body. It is a complete overturning of what the world says about how things should be. The Table of Jesus, King of the Jews, is the most integrated place in the Roman Empire!

Just a few interesting observations about a trip to the first century to see the beginning of The Way.

Related Articles

Acts: A Jewish Story, James & Paul’s Animal Sacrifice

Reading Luke-Acts: Thoughts on Luke’s “Patternism”

Aroma of Incense: Shadow of the Temple in Luke’s Story of Jesus and the Way

21 Nov 2022

Women and Didactic Teaching: A Note on 1 Timothy 2.12

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Timothy, Amos, Church, Exegesis, Paul, Women

First Timothy 2.12, as it is traditionally translated in the King James Version, is used as the one insurmountable text forbidding women from leadership roles among God’s people. It is claimed the text forbids women from didactic teaching of males.

From the outset it must be admitted, if this text as traditionally translated were not present it would be nigh impossible to make such a claim about women from the rest of the biblical canon. It would be impossible in fact. The Bible is full of “counter evidence” to the claims based on traditional translations of this text.

Counter Evidence

For example there are numerous women prophets in the biblical narrative in both Testaments. But some claim that prophet and preacher are not the same. I do not think this will bear the weight of examination. I suggest that a prophet, biblically, most certainly teaches didactically. Prophets were preachers, they proclaimed the word of the Lord. They are not primarily predictors of the future. This is seen clearly in Amos 7.16

You [Amaziah] say, ‘Do not PROPHESY against Israel
and do PREACH against the house of Isaac
.”

The synonymous parallelism shows the terms “prophesy” and “preach” have the same meaning.

But we also know the prophet teaches from the work of the prophets themselves: Moses, Deborah, Huldah, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, John the Baptist, Anna. If someone can show that Moses, Huldah and Elijah are not teachers they are more creative than me. If Moses is not preaching and teaching the Book of Deuteronomy then there is no such thing as preaching. A prophet, biblically, is a proclaimer of the Word of God.

If we link Amos 7.16 with what Paul says in 1 Cor 14.3-4, prophecy is for the building up the church of God.

Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the assembly/church.”

“Prophecy” is no private enterprise and it is no mere prediction of the future. And Paul states explicitly – though simply ignored by most – women are both public prayer warriors and prophets at Corinth (1 Cor 11.4-5,13) just as both Joel and Peter stated they would (Joel 2.28-29 & Acts 2.17-18).

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
” (Acts 2.17-18)

Second, women were sages in Israel. There could not be a more didactic enterprise. Why is it in Proverbs, chapters 1-9, chooses to have all teaching done through the voice of a woman (Lady Wisdom)? I include them on the list of “roles of women.” See A Biblical Register of Roles God Has Called Women. But Wisdom herself is both Woman and a Preacher throughout the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. See Women, Caricatures and Lady Wisdom (Thoughts inspired by Daughters).

First Timothy 2.12 Does Not Say That …

Finally, 1 Timothy 2.12 does not prohibit women teaching for at least two reasons. First, it sets Paul in explicit contradiction with the entire biblical narrative where women are teachers and explicitly direct the worship of Israel, Esther directs the worship of Israel with “full authority” (Esther 9.29, 32). The Septuagint that Paul and so man early Christians quote from makes it even more explicit by saying that “Esther established it [Purim] by a COMMAND” (Esther 9.32, LXX). I can only assume that Paul, and even Jesus himself were faithful Jews who obeyed the commands of Esther.

Second, the phrase “teach and have authentein” is not two different functions but one. It is regarded as a hendiadys which Blass, Debrunner and Funk discuss in their classic A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, pp. 227-229. That means the conjunction “and” here has these terms expressing a single idea, a single function is in view. Paul is not prohibiting teaching at all. He is forbidding “authentein.”

Third, when we look at this word it is plainly evident that “authentein” does not mean authority. This word occurs only here, nowhere else, in the entire New Testament. That is itself significant. So significant that we should say it again, this term occurs only here, nowhere else, in the entire New Testament.

Paul uses the word “authority” several times, either “exousia” or “proistemi.” But Paul suddenly pulls a word out of the thesaurus that never is used by any biblical writer and is even quite rare outside the biblical corpus. Paul is simply not talking about “authority.” The related noun occurs in 3 Maccabees 2.29, where Jews who resisted Ptolemy’s demand that Dionysus be worshiped are publicly either put to death, branded on their bodies with fire, they shall be “authentein” – “reduced.” (cf. NRSV). They are in some manner humiliated and gutted of life. The term occurs in Wisdom of Solomon 12.6 where the sins of the pagan Canaanites are described in brutal detail, among those are child sacrifice. “these parents who MURDER (authentein) helpless defenseless children” (TEV, cf. NRSV, KJV).

There is no way we can read these texts and simply say that Paul suddenly decides to use this extremely violent word and then say he is talking about mere authority. If a judge tells a robber to stop murdering people no one would imagine the judge was telling the robber to stop exercising authority! If the police tell a person to stop beating their partner, no sane person would imagine the police were saying stop exercising authority! We would never confuse beating someone, humiliating someone, and even killing someone with the exercise of authority. Yet that is exactly what we do when we come to 1 Timothy 2.12, we take a term that refers to abuse and even murder and then claim Paul is forbidding authority. This is bizarre linguistics.

But Paul uses this word here, and only here, because of the historical situation of the church in Ephesus.

Paul is not forbidding teaching, he is forbidding the violent dehumanization of males in Ephesus. Paul is forbidding domination, or dictate like a dictator (see TNIV’s footnote) as many scholars have suggested as the translation here. For much greater detail on authentein see First Timothy 2.8-15 & the Silencing of Women in Worship.

When this text is examined there are so many unusual things about that it demands that we examine it carefully. I mean after all most completely ignore the verses around it.

Blessings

Human blindness is proverbial. Blindness is even more profound where oppression and injustice is perpetuated. The oppressor, short of a miracle, without fail will minimize, deny, or justify what they have done. It is not unusual for the oppressor to blame the oppressed and even claim it was for their good. The Bible testifies to this truth over and over again. One of the most frequent exhortations (or lament) is some variation of the people having eyes to see and ears to hear.

Yahweh said, through the prophet Isaiah, his people are

ever hearing,
but never understanding;
ever seeing
but never perceiving” (Isa 6.9-10).

This truth is never more true than when God’s people contemplate race, racism, and racial justice.

I first “met” James Baldwin about twenty years ago when I discovered The Fire Next Time. I wrote my first blog on Baldwin in February 2010 when I “meditated” on Nobody Knows My Name: Thoughts Prompted by James Baldwin and Black History Month. Not only is Baldwin, literally, one of the greatest American writers in our collective history, he is an amazing speaker. Baldwin wrote both fiction and essays. His language is elegant, even beautiful. He is among the most profound thinkers I have ever engaged. I do not know why I was not introduced to Baldwin in high school. Given the “blind” rage going on in our public schools right now, Baldwin ought to be added to the curricula not removed.

Years before I was born, in 1965, William F. Buckley engaged Baldwin in a debate at Cambridge University that I only discovered 7 or 8 years ago (the entire debate is on YouTube). I went down the rabbit hole. Nicholas Buccola traces the events leading up to debate and then traces how Buckley and Baldwin pretty much set the parameters for discussion on race relations basically to this day in the United States. Buckley exerting heavy influence through such persons as Ronald Reagan. The sheer moral force of Baldwin destroyed Buckley. But 57 years later it amazes me how many Christians still sound like Buckley. I cannot recommend The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr and the Debate over Race in America enough. (This book also contains a full transcript of the debate).

Buckley did not want to “hear.” To this day, even those of us who claim we want to hear, often do not. Too much self-investment is at stake.

In July 1968, about two months after Martin Luther King Jr was murdered, Baldwin was interviewed by Esquire magazine. The magazine wanted Baldwin to reflect on King’s murder and the hell that erupted in America. Baldwin sounds like the beautifully poetic Isaiah himself and spoke words we still, 54 years later, do not want to hear.

I’m not trying to accuse you, you know. That’s not the point. But you have a lot to face … All that can save you now is your confrontation with your own history … which is not your past, but your present. Nobody cares what happened in the past. One can’t afford to care what happened in the past. But your history had led you to this moment, and you can only begin to change yourself and save yourself by looking at what you are doing in the name of your history.

That is quite a profound statement. It is one that many will deny. Buckley did. But it certainly describes what is happening in our country right now.

In Isaiah’s day, people with no eyes to see and ears to hear thought Israel was declining because they did not spend money enough on the army or they did not have powerful alliances with Egypt to face Assyria. Even though Isaiah, along with Amos and Micah and the rest of the prophets, explained clearly that was not the issue. Israel was in the predicament it was in not because the army budget, but because of the country was fundamentally greedy and full injustice toward the widows, orphans, aliens. Israel was not serving the least of these.

cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead the cause of the widows” [in court]

(Isaiah 1.17)

You are doomed!
You buy more houses and fields to add to those you already have.
Soon there will be no place for anyone else to live,
and you alone will live in the land.
I have heard the LORD Almighty say,
‘All these big, fine houses will be empty ruins
.”
(Isaiah 5.8-9, TEV, read verses 8-30)

They covet fields and seize them;
houses, and take them away;
they oppress families
and steal their inheritance

(Micah 2.2, BV translation, “inheritance” refers to ancestral family land)

Greed driven injustice towards the poor and the powerless. The wealthy never had enough so they find ways to take the little the poor have. And they even seem to find “legal” ways to do this, which is Isaiah’s point about defending the cause of the poor and powerless in court. This is why Israel is doomed. God is the God of the Oppressed, this is “inscripturated” into Israel’s very foundation in the Exodus story memorialized in Sabbath and Passover.

It is only after this condemnation of oppression on the widows, orphans and aliens by those who had enough but wanted more, that we get the “call” of Isaiah. It is in that call that Yahweh told the prophet, they will never open their ears. They will never open their eyes to see what they are doing and have done. Israel will not “confront” its history.

Periodically women and men appear before the human family and tell us the truth. One of those men was James Baldwin. And Baldwin said many of the same things as Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and even John the Baptist. But Israel did not want to hear that “your history has lead you to this moment.” Neither do we!

Baldwin, in 1969, about a year after King’s murder and the soul of America was in the balance, sounded not merely like Isaiah, but Yahweh.

A Man we Should Read

It began to be very clear to black people in the United States that what Time magazine calls ‘the troubled American’ is not going to listen, does not want to know, does not want to hear the truth about the situation of the American black.

Israel never did “hear” and never did “perceive.” Jerusalem was destroyed not because Israel did not have a big enough army but because Israel refused to accept responsibility for her actions (or non-actions) toward her greed and injustice in the land.

Baldwin is one of the reasons I believe Black History Matters. We must know that our history has brought us to this moment. We must confront it. We must SEE and HEAR and then we will finally recognize the truth. It is the truth that will set us free. We can find healing. As Maya Angelou said so beautifully,

History, despite its wrenching pains cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

Amen.

Pre·sup·po·si·tion

a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.”

Years ago I wrote a blog series called Text & Context. In that series I examined what E. D. Hirsch called “authorial givens.” Givens are things the author of a particular writing presumes (presupposes) that the readers already know before a conversation even begins. That is the readers (or hearers) bring certain assumed information to the text as they encounter it without which communication simply does not occur. A typical “newspaper” or online article reveals just how much an author presumes on the readers.

A federal appeals panel today upheld an order barring foreclosure on a Missouri farm, saying the U.S. Agriculture Secretary John R. Block has reneged on his responsibilities to some debt ridden farmers. The appeals panel directed the USDA to create a system of processing loan deferments and of publicizing them as it said Congress had intended. The panel said that it is the responsibility of the agricultural secretary to carry out this intent ‘not as a private banker, but as a public broker.”

There are a “ton” of presumptions on the part of the author that he/she simply takes for granted that the reader will “fill in the blanks.”

What is a foreclosure?
Where is Missouri?
What is the USDA?
What does this have to do with farming, etc.

The author does not explain any of these. Rather it is presumed the reader understands the significance of each of these ideas that the article actually turns on. See my article Text & Context, 2: Authorial Givens.

A presupposition is something that is assumed at the beginning and is simply necessary for understanding what is being said. In the example above the reader brings to the text an assumed knowledge of the USDA, banking, Congress (some basic understanding of the US Government, etc. In fact if the reader does not bring this knowledge to this newspaper article then it might as well be written in Cuneiform because it simply would make no sense whatsoever.

The New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, makes the same presupposition upon its readers as that newspaper article did above.

The Presupposition of the New Testament is a Hebraic Worldview

world·​view

a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.

Growing up in North Alabama the “Old Testament” did not shape my faith, practice, worship, or walk with God in any discernible way. I first attended the University of North Alabama but after being baptized, I went to a Bible college in the late 80s and early 90s, and I still did not learn the utter importance of the “OT” for being a Christian.

When I first began to appreciate the front 76% of Scripture (that is right, seventy-six percent of the Bible is the so called Old Testament. In other words, 3.1 out of every 4 words is “Old Testament.”), I was interested in showing that there is no such thing as legalism in the first testament (and there is none). Yet I still did not understand the depth of how the “OT” is foundational to biblical to the faith of the so called New Testament.

I think many today still struggle with this. If, for example, we write of the importance of the OT to us, numerous unique responses are typically made (all of these have actually been said to me just a couple days ago).

  • Which part?
  • Are you going to stone people?
  • You going to keep the Sabbath?
  • You going to offer sacrifice!?”

Or, and this is the real issue for some, “are you going to use instruments?”

These kinds of responses are deeply rooted in fundamental misunderstanding, caricature, and even special pleading. For example, these same critics do not cut off his hands (Mt 5.30); do not pull out their eye ball (Mt 5.29); they do not wear veils (1 Cor 11.7); nor lift up hands in prayer (1 Tim 2.8); nor anoint the sick (James 5.14-15); while they both forbid speaking in tongues (contrary to 1 Cor 14.29) and fail to enroll the widows (1 Tim 5.3-16), though each of these are expressly stated in the so called New Testament, not the “Old.”

Yet they are worried about which “OT” command is “binding.” So the question could be answered with the question, “well which ‘new’ covenant commands do you set aside with ease?'”

But those responses fundamentally misunderstand the entire issue. Biblical faith, in either Testament, is not and cannot be reduced to some do’s and don’ts … commands to be performed or not.

The Hebrew Bible provides the grammar for our faith. It provides the structure of thought. The New Testament is not the Bible, nor a Bible itself. The NT is a small body of literature that is filled with presuppositions which have no meaning apart from the “Old Testament.” The basic presupposition of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, Peter, James and John is the Hebrew Bible. This is a fact on every page of the New Testament. To put it another way, the New Testament was written within the Hebraic worldview. (We thank N. T. Wright for discussing the huge importance of worldview in properly reading the New Testament especially in his epic book The New Testament and the People of God).

Those presuppositions are easily filled with alien thought forms, incorrect “grammar” and pagan thought patterns when divorced from their context. It is the Hebrew Bible that provides the container and categories from everything from “redemption” to “salvation” to “messiah” to “spiritual” etc all of which are radically redefined when taken away from their Hebraic roots.

I did not understand this growing up. I was deeply immersed in a semi-gnostic, neo-platonic, environment blissfully unaware. But the Hebrew Bible in the epic words of G. Ernst Wright, is “the church’s bulwark against paganism.” Without the worldview of the Hebrew Bible, the “church” turns the Gospel into Platonic and Gnostic dreams, all of which looks and sounds so wonderful to modern people because it is a private “spiritual experience.”

Example Please

I just used the word spiritual in the previous paragraph. “Spiritual” is the perfect test case of what we are stressing. For most Americans, believers or non-believers, the word “spiritual” conjures up ideas of piety, an inner experience, religious, non-material, the opposite of physical, and even the mystical. So when Paul speaks of spiritual blessings or a spiritual body (as in 1 Cor 15) Americans think of religious blessings or inner blessings or non-material, non-physical blessings, and absolutely think of non-material/non-physical bodies (whatever those are). Jesus’s resurrected body was composed of the same, very material, Jewish flesh and bones that were born to his mother Mary (Luke 24.39-40).

Yet, not one of those ideas is associated with the use of spiritual by Paul. Those ideas are Greek, especially Platonic, ideas that have permeated the Western intellectual tradition especially since the Enlightenment. Those notions are not found in Paul the Jew (see the discussion of the word in Gordon Fee’s massive study, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, pp. 28-32). Paul never uses the word spiritual as something that is over and against and opposite of matter (the “stuff” of creation). Spiritual is not the antithesis of materiality in the New Testament. It is in Platonism but it is not in the Hebrew Bible. Spiritual word is an adjective rooted in Hebraic worldview and simply means a property belonging to the Spirit or from the Spirit.

Paul’s presupposition is the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible but it is a presupposition that is redefined via paganism. Then we have a whole conception of spirituality that is completely foreign to anything in Scripture.

When the Hebrew Bible does not form the grammar of our faith and the structure for expressing it, we end up exactly with the Gnostics on the meaning of redemption and resurrection.

This is not just important for the word spiritual but redemption. Redemption in the Bible is of what God created. God created matter. God redeems matter. To put is bluntly, redemption is of stuff!

Resurrection is of the material human body set free from the power of sin and death (material human body of Jesus is the model of resurrection). Gnostics denied the first and therefore rejected the second. Redemption is merely of our “spiritual” nature (=non-material soul) therefore “resurrection” is simply the experience of eternal “spiritual/non-material” existence in heaven. But the NT does not teach this nor did anyone in the early church except for – you guessed it – the Gnostics.

Alexander Campbell understood the point of this post with clarity. He wrote in 1826, “We would also remind readers that an intimate acquaintance with the Septuagint Greek of the Old Testament, is of essential importance in translating the New Testament. The seventy Hebrews who translated their own scriptures into the Greek language, gave to that translation the idiom of their vernacular tongue. Their translation, if I may so speak is a sort of Hebrew Greek. The BODY [sic] is Greek but the SOUL [sic] is Hebrew; and, in effect, it comes to this … we have no Greek by which to understand the apostolic writings, but the Greek of the Jewish and Christian prophets.” (my italics).

The NT is written in Greek but it has the “soul” of Hebrew. The NT writers inhabit the worldview of the so called “Old Testament.” They think, they speak, they write, they instruct out of that Hebraic worldview. The heartbeat of the New Testament is so “Old Testament” in its character and teaching that Christopher J. H. Wright even called the NT “the world’s first Old Testament theology.”

The book to master in order to properly read the New Testament is the so called Old Testament. It is the one essential work for any New Testament interpretation. The New Testament writings mean what they mean in relation to the Hebrew Bible. The first century church was Jewish to the core. Not just in its ethnic make up (though that is also the case) but in its theological/doctrinal thought. The community that produced the writings we call today the New Testament was Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They were as Jewish as the Essenes out at Qumran (producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is why the Old Testament is not merely illustrative but absolutely essential to understanding Christian faith … because the “soul of Christianity is Jewish.”

A fantastic, and illuminating, work for any student to wrestle with is Marvin R. Wilson’s Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith which explores the Jewish worldview of Christianity beautifully. A good introduction to a Christian worldview as a whole is Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision.

Begin reading and studying the Hebrew Scriptures daily so we hear and understand Jesus our Messiah and the apostles more faithfully.

Of Related Interest

Soul: Moses vs Plato: The Biblical Worldview

Spiritual Bodies: Cultural History and Bible Reading

Abba Father: Walking with Jesus’s Father in the ‘Old Testament’

Journey thru the Psalms, the Prayerbook of Jesus. Day 15, Today’s lection is Pss 73-77. Today is November 15, 2022 in the Land by the Bay.

For those who follow me on Facebook know that I frequently post daily meditations on the day’s Psalm reading (which follows a lectio continua fashion from 1 to 150 every month). But this morning I decided to place it on my blog.

It is dark when we wake up at 5:30. Casper insists on being pet. Turned on the coffee, grabbed this month’s translation of the Psalms (Contemporary English Version, CEV). We begin with confessing the Shema and saying a brief prayer of thanksgiving for love, mercy, fellowship in the Spirit, the gift of life and seeking the Spirit’s attendance with our time in the Psalms, I turned to Psalms 73 to 77 to read.

This morning we begin “Book III” of the Psalter (that is Pss 73-89), in which most of the poems are ascribed, or dedicated to, or by Asaph. It is here in Book III that we encounter some of the deepest and the darkest, songs of Israel’s pain and suffering. Biblical faith is familiar with the hurt of the world.

Asaph knew how to express what could not be put in words. Asaph is the psalmist used by God to give voice to the groaning of all of creation as it longs for the redemption pictured in the Cross and Resurrection of the Messiah (cf. Romans 8.11, 19-23). These psalms reveal the two worlds God’s people live in simultaneously as we noted back on Day 1 of our journey:

  1. that is in worship we confess to live in God’s Kingdom, and pledge allegiance to
  2. at the same time we live in the fallen rebellious world that refuses to acknowledge the King.

This tension in the faith of the psalms, sort of an “already” but “not yet,” is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple to this day. We inhabit two world simultaneously.

In my opinion, it is by design that songs by, and in honor, of Asaph have not only been brought together but form the center of the Book of Psalms. There are laments throughout the Psalter, but they are concentrated here in Book III. The psalms of Asaph are the epitome of pathos. Some of my personal favorites are in Book III.

With these ancient saints (many do not realize that “saint” is an “Old Testament” word that has been appropriated by NT writers) urge upon us the necessity of worship, in order to have a true understanding of reality.

When we look “out there” and see how the wicked are thriving (!), they have bodies like Hercules and Aphrodite and the masses swoon over them in their arrogance (the Hollywood and politicians of ancient Israel!) and that they publicly flaunt their disgust (or deceptively pander for it) for God’s Reign. It causes angst.

Despondency comes “until” we enter into the realm of worship and see majestic holiness and the “end” of the wicked is undeniable (73.1-17). In worship, we reject the arrogance of the self-sufficient, confessing that,

there is NOTHING on earth that I desire other than you” (73.25).

In gathered worship we see the world as it truly shall be (destined to be).

Psalm 73 is literally the middle of the Psalter and it is also provides the lens for reading the whole. It is a sort of macro version of Psalm 1 (or better an expanded interpretation/commentary of Psalm 1). The editors of the Psalter, I believe, were guided by the Spirit to place it right here to remind us, once again, of the proper way to see reality proclaimed in Psalm 1 and 2.

Psalm 73.17 shows us that eschatology is essential for anything that resembles faithful living in covenant with God. That is when we know the end of the Story, it casts the entire journey in fresh, and even, surprising new light. (Eschatology is not merely concern for the last days rather it is living now in light of the Victory of God that we know has already taken place. God truly is King and sits on the throne).

Meanwhile, I’ve kept my heart pure for no good reason;
I’ve washed my hands to stay innocent for nothing.
I’m weighed down all day long.
    I’m punished every morning.
If I said, “I will talk about all this,”
    I would have been unfaithful to your children.
But when I tried to understand these things,
    it just seemed like hard work
     UNTIL I entered God’s sanctuary
        and understood what would happen to the wicked
.” (73.13-17, CEV).

The editors of the Psalms were very wise in not denying the reality of pain and the dismay that pain brings in God’s people. But the Psalms (and Ps 73 in particular) gives us the proper filter for understanding, or better continuing to live in hope for the manifestation of God’s kingdom … where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Such truth is perceived, according to the Psalms, in gathered worship, in the glorious Presence of the Cosmic King, a place the “wicked” cannot even imagine (cf. Psalm 15 & Psalm 24).

Psalms 74 and 76 pull us back to the bedrock of the covenant of love. Proclaiming “God is King from of old” (74.12) by recalling, both, the Exodus and Creation, the now exiled community pleads with God to remember, both them and those who perpetuate evil. It is in the King that all hope rests.

We are “here” (that is in Exile/a grave) because of our history of arrogant sin. But it is the King who made the covenant of love, thus we have hope despite our rebellion. Our Plea is on the basis of God’s promise not our precision obedience (a notion the Psalmists scoff at).

And Yahweh, the King, speaks in worship (75.2-5). He responds to the people, in worship. He announces that he will indeed judge the earth with equity, and he holds the whole world up lest it cave in upon itself.

You have set a time
    to judge with fairness.
The earth trembles,
    and its people shake;
you alone keep
    its foundations firm.
You tell every bragger,
    “Stop bragging!”
And to the wicked you say,
    “Don’t boast of your power!
Stop bragging! Quit telling me
    how great you are
.” (75.2-5, CEV)

When God comes in judgement he will “save all the oppressed of the earth” (76.9).

Here, as most frequently in Scripture, judgment is not penal punishment but deliverance and making things right. Good News is always for the poor and the aliens. Just as typically violations of the Covenant of Love in Israel is failure to care for the widows, orphans, and aliens. Indeed it was that which broke the camel’s back to bring on the Exile.

Sometimes, I confess with the psalmists themselves, that God may be a little too patient. I do not want him speeding up patience with me. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I do with others. When God does not meet my timetable and anguish and tears are our diet, we begin to question Yahweh’s “steadfast love” (77.8).

At times like this we recall the Story of God’s power and grace that we hear, and know to be true in worship. It is the Story of “the deeds of the Lord.” What are those mighty acts or deeds in Psalm 77, this is the a narration of what I call “the Grace Creed” of the Hebrew Bible. God’s acts of Hesed in,

– the creation,
– calling the pagan Abram,
– being with the arrogant Joseph,
– redeeming rebellious Israel,
– his patience, mercy, and grace on David,
– how Yahweh graciously dwells with God’s people.

Through this Story, we find courage and hope, even in the Dark Night. It is the Story of Grace and Steadfast Love that gives us courage and faith to continue in hope. It is not delusions of our own faithfulness and precision obedience that help in the dark night of the soul.

God has never ceased to be gracious. God has never ceased his steadfast love (Hesed), which the Story reminds us, reaches to the highest heavens (77.11-20).

But I will remember the Lord’s deeds;
    yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past.
I will meditate on all your works;
    I will ponder your deeds.
God, your way is holiness!
    Who is as great a god as you, God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people;
    redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph
. Selah

The waters saw you, God—
    the waters saw you and reeled!
        Even the deep depths shook!
The clouds poured water,
    the skies cracked thunder;
        your arrows were flying all around!
The crash of your thunder was in the swirling storm;
    lightning lit up the whole world;
        the earth shook and quaked.
Your way went straight through the sea;
    your pathways went right through the mighty waters.
        But your footprints left no trace!
You led your people like sheep
    under the care of Moses and Aaron.

It is fitting to recall how the Psalms are intermingled with the Life of Jesus. Especially in the godforsakenness of that dark weekend. Jesus’s soul “refuse[d] to be comforted” (77.2). Jesus had to walk by faith into that darkness … and in that darkness he grasped hold of the promises of Yahweh for life.

God burst forth into the darkness, vindicating the faith of Asaph and the faith of Jesus. Yahweh vindicated them by showing steadfast love does in fact reach not only to the highest heaven but into the darkness of the grave … to bring about resurrection of the physical body.

And that is why we Gather in his Presence soaking up his glory. God rose in judgment and saved the oppressed, even Jesus! And because he rescued Jesus … God rescues us! We know the end of story and live victoriously in the present.

Shalom.

The 369th, Harlem Hellfighters, in French helmets and French weapons.

A Veteran’s Day Moment: The Harlem Hellfighters, Honor Long Overdue (Veterans Day comes from Armistice Day, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, so have chosen to write about a unit from World War I).

I have written on the Harlem Hellfighters on Facebook during Black History Month, but I do so again today. The unrequited love of many veterans of color is all the more reason to honor them. They fought for freedom not only in Europe but the tyranny that prevailed right here in the USA. We cannot ignore their experiences because to do so dishonors them even more.

Brief Background of African Americans in the US Military

Most Americans have heard of elite units like the Navy Seals, the Army’s Green Berets, and the 101st Airborne Division and there is nothing wrong with that. They are justly famous.

But if we have heard of those units, the question is why most Americans have no clue who the 369th Infantry Regiment, aka, The Harlem Hellfighters were. Chances are we do not know … this is why we need black history precisely because that history has been systematically repressed.

Prior to World War I, African Americans had fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, used throughout the “Indian Wars,” the War with Spain in 1898. Each time they distinguished themselves. Each time there was the hope that respect, dignity and some sort of equality in American society would emerge. Each time those hopes were dashed.

In fact, prior to the Civil War Southern slave owners worked hard to ban black participation in the United States Military. A black solider was a direct challenge to the ideology of white supremacy and could not be tolerated. As early as 1792, though thousands of blacks and native Americans served in the Continental Army, the Federal Militia Act banned blacks from service in the US Army. The Navy remained open to blacks and they comprised approximately 15 to 20 percent of the Navy in the War of 1812.

February 17, 1919, the 369th, Harlem Hellfighters, paraded into Harlem to a heroes welcome. W. E. B. DuBois believed it was a significant moment. And many date the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance to this moment. Sadly, the return of Black veterans saw the rise of massive racial violence throughout the “Red Summer” of 1919.

But during the Civil War, the United States needed men to fight the slave enemy the Confederate States (a nation established for the sole purpose of white supremacy). The United States ended up arming over 200,000 black men to fight for the freedoms specified for all people in our founding documents like the Declaration of Independence. After the War, many once again tried to squeeze African Americans out of the United States armed forces. Jim Crow hit the Army and Navy with a vengeance and black soldiers with Old Glory flying above them were often treated worse than black civilians precisely because they were a threat to the hegemony of white supremacy.

By the time World War I came, there was only a small number of black men in the Army or Navy being forced out by numerous methods. Woodrow Wilson, a rabid racist, and the War Department was extremely reluctant to arm and employ African Americans and did so only after considerable pressure. However, by the end of the war 220,000 black men had been sent to Europe. Most were relegated to labor battalions but 30,000 were sent to the trenches.

The Harlem Hellfighters

The 369th was created and then shipped to France on December 17, 1917. General Pershing had insisted that American troops would never be under British or French command. Apparently this did not include black American soldiers. So the US Army assigned the 369th to the French government on April 8, 1918. They were trained on French weapons and even wore French helmets. Then the War Department instructed the French not to praise the men or to let them mingle with French citizenry too much. The French were to practice segregation toward black American solders as in the United States (which did not exist in France).

By the end of the War, the 369th had spent more days in combat (191 days in the trenches) than any other American unit, at the same time suffered more casualties than any other unit (1,500). They fought in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry and the Battle of Belleau Wood during the Aisne-Marne Campaign (27 May – 5 June 1918). They were chosen to lead Allied forces across the Rhine into Germany.

These black soliders impressed both the French and the Germans beyond measure. It was the Germans who dubbed the 369th, Harlem Hellfighters because they were the “fighters from hell.” The French awarded the Croix de Guerre to 170 individual members of the 369th and awarded to the unit as a whole with unit citation was awarded to the entire regiment. It was pinned to the unit’s colors.

Henry Johnson (1892-1929). Interestingly enough, Johnson’s story is told in the song Don’t Tread on Me (Harlem Hellfighters) by the Ukrainian rock band, 1914.

Henry Johnson of the 369th (why do we not know his name!?) became one of the most famous soldiers of the day. Johnson was a forward lookout and came under attack by a German unit. He ran out of ammunition but had killed four of the enemy. Then he engaged in hand to hand combat with a bolo knife and single-handedly captured 22 Germans! He was the first American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre. (The Croix de Guerre is France’s highest military honor equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor).

One of the many indignities endured by these brave men because of their skin color was that the U. S. War Department insisted that black soldiers not be depicted in the heroic frieze displayed in France’s Pantheon de la Guerre. They were treated far better in France than by their own country both the government and the people.

Following the war, the Harlem Hellfighters returned victoriously to Harlem. They were the stuff of legend, even as black men their deeds had become famous. W. E. B. DuBois understood the revolutionary significance of black soldiers in America. He wrote after the parade into Harlem, reflecting on the irony of making the world “safe for democracy.”

The 402 foot Pantheon de la Guerre, the US War Department forbade the French government from depicting black soldiers in this post World War I memorial to the victors of that conflict.

“The faults of OUR country are OUR faults. Under similar circumstances, we would fight again. But by the God of heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that the war is over we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.

WE RETURN.

WE RETURN FROM FIGHTING.

WE RETURN FIGHTING.

Make way for democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.” [his emphasis].

Post War

The period following the War saw a massive surge in racial violence in the United States. Two hundred and twenty thousand blacks in Europe had seen a radically different society. They had been tested and found triumphant. As DuBois stated “the Negroes will come back feeling like men.”

Newspapers across the USA published warnings that trouble would come if a black veteran decided to parade his medals. The New Orleans paper stated, [this quote has an offensive word in it, I quote it as written] “You niggers are wondering how you are going to be treated after the war. Well, I’ll tell you, you are going to be treated exactly like you were before the war.”

Harris’s Harlem Hellfighters is a great read, wonderfully documented. I highly recommend it.

The exploits of the Harlem Hellfighters, the most famous American unit of World War I, were relegated to the sideline. They were as if “nothing.” Eventually they were simply forgotten. They were honored more by the French, and ironically the Germans, than by the United States. Theirs is a story we ought to know. We ought to celebrate them.

But what they endured for us, and by us, is a travesty and a national shame. Which makes their valor that much more impressive. They loved the United States far more than the United States loved them.

Did you/Do you know the Harlem Hellfighters? Why not? This is why we need Black History Month and Black History in general. We should know them as much as we do the 101st Airborne.

Among the good reads see Stephen Harris’s Harlem’s Hellfighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I. (I make not one cent from recommending this book).

Suggested Links for More Learning:

Black History Month: For the Love of Christ Compels Me

Black History Month: Where did it Come from? And Why?

The Harlem Renaissance

Matthew 5.17

Bad biblical interpretation often has a cascade effect. The wrong interpretation of one text is often used as the key to interpret another text, which then too suffers bad interpretation.  Soon it becomes difficult to understand any of the texts in their contexts because now prejudice has been overlaid upon all of them. 

Rarely is this cascading effect of prejudiced bad interpretation on brighter display than when it comes to texts in the “New Testament” about the “Old Testament.”  Texts like 2 Timothy 3.14-17 are hardly mentioned when it comes to the authority of the Hebrew Bible, even though Paul explicitly states it teaches the way of salvation and doctrine and equips believers for every good work. Paul (nor Peter, James, John) approach Scripture (what they call the Hebrew Bible/LXX) as series of moral examples.  Paul gets Gospel, Christology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology … and even Worship … from those Scriptures.  This fact is plainly evident from every epistle in the “New Testament.”

Romans 15.4, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” is a textbook case. These were written to “indoctrinate” us!  Often cited to prove one does indeed “believe in” the “Old Testament.”  But why does Paul make that statement at that point in Romans? He is making an ecclesiological point about the unity of Gentiles with Jews. Immediately following that statement Paul “indoctrinates” the Gentile readers of Romans with a whole litany of citations from the Hebrew scriptures showing their connectedness to Israel and Israel’s Messiah, the “root of Jesse” who now “rules over the nations” (Romans 15.12, citing Isaiah 11.10, LXX). This continues Paul’s emphasis (that is so often ignored) that the Gentile believers cannot have Jesus without Israel. 

Nowhere does the apostle’s Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude or the Preacher to the Hebrews believe, much less teach, that the Hebrew Scriptures have been “done away” with, abrogated, tossed out.  This belief is based upon centuries of bad biblical interpretation that has cascaded and mixed with anti-Jewish prejudice that we often simply cannot even see what a text is actually saying. 

We often misunderstand Paul because we take him out of his own historical context. Paul was adamant that Gentiles do not become ethnic Jews thus they are not to be circumcised. But Paul and James are equally adamant that Gentiles are now incorporated – as the nations/gentiles – into Israel. Or as James put it in Acts 15 the coming of the Gentiles means the royal kingdom of David is being restored. But it is the kingdom (house of) of David that is being rebuilt (Acts 15.12-21).

Jesus and “Fulfilment”

The Lord Jesus, as I was raised, sort of pulled a “bait” and “switch” in the Sermon on the Mount. He begins his epic Sermon with these words.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (NIV).

But then we interpret Jesus to say that he really did come to “abolish” the Law and the Prophets. When he “fulfilled” them he did away with them. So he actually did what he said he did not “come to” do.  The Sermon is then read as a series of antitheses that pit Jesus’s words against those of the Hebrew Bible. (Which is bizarre because almost every thing said in the Sermon on the Mount actually comes from the so called ‘Old Testament!’). So the bait and switch interpretation of Matthew 5.17 is on brilliant display in this “exposition.”  

“Although the commandments were written again, the day came when Jesus would fulfill them and throw them down once and for all (Mt. 5:17). (Wade Webster, “Crucial Questions Concerning the Old Covenant,” Power [June 2008]).

I confess that I find this a shocking understanding of what Jesus claims he is doing. If Jesus is “throwing them down once and for all” sounds an awful lot like what Jesus explicitly claimed he was not doing.  Jesus did come to destroy the “law and the prophets” according to this writer. 

Fulfill (pleroo) in the Gospel of Matthew

In our convoluted way, we take the word “fulfill” and then we interpret through a bad interpretation of Colossians 2.14 and then twist it till it has the exact same meaning as “abolish” does which is what Jesus said “do not think” he came to do.  Thus both Matthew 5.17 and Colossians 2.14 are the victims of bad interpretation stacked on top of one another and end up with a diametrically opposite hermeneutical practice as that of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews Preacher, and John.

But what if Jesus actually told the truth and meant what he said, he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets?”  What if “fulfill” really does not mean “abolish” after all?

The Gospel of Matthew, like all the apostolic writings was written in Greek and it is the Greek that is always the final arbiter of the meaning of a term in its context and not English.  The English word “fulfill” has a range of meanings. According to the English dictionary the term has the range of:

to put into effect (execute),
to meet requirements,
to develop the potentialities off.

Each of these ranges of meaning does not imply getting rid of, bring to an end, abolishing, abrogation, etc.

But it is the Greek of Matthew that we need to be concerned with. Matthew uses the term pleroo sixteen times and in not one of them does it mean get rid of, abolish, negate, nail to the cross.  The term needs to be understood within Matthew’s larger fulfillment motif.

Let us look at a couple of examples. In Matthew 1.22-23 we read that “all this took place to fulfill (pleroo) what the Lord had said through the prophet … they will call him Immanuel.” Did Jesus come to get rid of what the prophet said? To negate what the prophet said? To abolish what the prophet said?  Is Jesus not Immanuel still? I suggest that Jesus came to “put into effect” what the prophet said.

In the next example of pleroo we read, “And so was fulfilled (pleroo) what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  Did Jesus abolish Hosea? Did Jesus’s coming get rid of Hosea? Or did Jesus’s coming live out Hosea? I suggest that Jesus lived out, “to put into effect,” the story of Hosea.

The next example of pleroo is so compelling that it is the one that forced upon me the reality of our cascading of bad interpretations. Jesus came forward in Matthew 3 and met John the Baptizer at the Jordan River. John attempted to negate Jesus’s actions. John attempted to stop Jesus’s desire. John attempted to abolish what Jesus intended to do. But Jesus said he must be baptized by John to “fulfill (pleroo) all righteousness” (3.15).  Was Jesus abolishing righteousness by fulfilling it? Was Jesus nailing righteousness to the cross in his baptism? Did Jesus so “fulfill righteousness” at his baptism that he (to borrow from Wade Webster) “throw [it] down once and for all!?” Or was Jesus living out righteousness? Was Jesus showing us was righteousness actually looks like?  I suggest to you it was the latter and Jesus did not abolish righteousness by fulfilling it. Jesus was “putting into effect” righteousness.

Near the end of Matthew’s Story of Jesus we find a similar pronouncement by Jesus as in 5.17. 

In 26.54 and 56 Jesus’s suffering is seen as “fulfilling {anapleroo} the Scriptures” does not mean doing away with the Scriptures. Matthew’s ten explicit “formula quotations” all use the same term (pleroo) as 5.17 and when Matthew says this was to “fulfill that” he does not mean do away, nail to the cross or abolish or even “throw them down once and for all.”

An Analogy on Fulfillment

What if fulfilling the law is more like a man or a woman fulfilling his or her marriage vows? If a man or woman fulfills their marriage covenant that does not imply that now they can suddenly toss their spouse to the side and get a different one.

What if the coming of a “new” covenant is more akin to dating, getting engaged and then married than a repudiation or a destruction of the “old”?

Does a marriage negate the value of the life shared previous to saying “I do?” Far from it. Instead that period we call “dating” and “engagement” are crucial in the development of a later healthy relationship called marriage.

Can you imagine a man sitting down at a table and his wife says to him “do you remember the letter I wrote to when we were dating?” What if that man then said, “No I don’t. That was fulfilled and I smashed it because we now have a ‘new’ relationship. I forgot all those things from before we had our new covenant.” Do you think that man would be in the dog house? I do. And rightfully so.

As there are appropriate levels of intimacy to dating, engagement and marriage so there are deeper depths as we move into the “new” covenant. Being engaged clearly demands deeper levels of commitment on the part of each partner than merely meeting for coffee or dinner.  In engagement there is a promise of exclusive loyalty for the purpose of the relationship. And the marriage goes even beyond the engagement.  While it is painful (likely) to end an engagement, it is catastrophic to end a marriage. Further the movement of the levels of commitment is actually the fulfillment of the previous level.  It embraces the promise in the previous while enriching and deepening them. But there is no repudiation of anything previous.

Yet just because one can enjoy intercourse in marriage does not mean the couple cannot retain and enjoy the level of intimacy available to them at engagement. Indeed, holding hands and a kiss take on even deeper significance but we don’t reject them. In fact there is something deeply wrong in that marriage if the levels of intimacy from dating and engagement are not continually expressed and enjoyed in the “new covenant” of marriage.

That period of dating and engagement will have continuing validity precisely because their promise is being “fulfilled” in a marriage covenant. That is, it is being lived out, it is being expressed in flesh and blood.

And just as a marriage counselor will take a troubled couple “back to the sources” to help them understand themselves and their circumstances (she does not say ‘oh that died when you said “I do”’) so Christians must return to the sources to know who we are and what we are to do. Just as returning to the sources helps us as humans to refocus, evaluate and understand, indeed to help us live up to and understand the very promises we made so returning to the source will help us as God’s People know who we are and what our task is in this world.

Returning to Sources

Returning to the source helps us as Christians see when we have polluted our relationship with pagan (Platonic) views of creation and the world. Returning to those early years of engagement helps us weed out neo-gnostic views of Spirituality. Remembering the walk with God then helps us reject deistic views of God’s involvement with his world and our lives.

Embracing, rather than rejecting, our heritage in the Hebrew Bible calls the bluff of Modernism’s hyper-individualism and loss of communal wisdom. All these egregious “relationship” issues are refocused when we return to the sources. Then when our “wife” (or our God) asks us “do you remember the letter I gave you” … and we say “yes, what a precious gift it has been.” And then our wife (or God) says “what it said can really shed light on where we are right now” we see that in spite of it being shared prior to the “new” covenant of marriage it is rich and has continuing validity. Indeed, it gives the present meaning and validity.

In fact we may find, like the Hebrews Preacher tells that congregation, we see that the Hebrew Scriptures speak to us “Today.” This in fact is what Paul does to his Gentile converts, he places them in the family story of Israel and even tells them they are Gentiles no more but now citizens of Israel (cf. 1 Corinthians 10; 12.2, “when you were Gentiles”; Ephesians 2.11-3.10, ‘fellow citizens with the saints’).

Just perhaps when Jesus said he came to “fulfill” the law rather than “abolish” it he meant something like going from “dating” to being “engaged” and then to “marriage.” He fulfills it by bringing out the promise of relationship and the potential of intimacy showing how it continues to shape God’s People.  Jesus fulfills by living it out in flesh and blood before his God and ours.

Bad interpretation has cost us a great deal.

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground under your feet.” (Mt 5.17f, The Message)

Wisdom title page in King James Version

In the “Middle Testament” there is a book called the “Wisdom of Solomon.” Wisdom, or Sophia Salomonos, is contained in all the ancient Bibles like Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Sinaiticus and part of manuscript Bibles till the invention of the printing press in Europe. In Reformation Bibles (Luther, Zurich, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Geneva, Bishop’s, KJV) it was included though placed between the Testaments (an practice introduced by Martin Luther). (For a general introduction see my article: Wisdom of Solomon, The Righteous Live Forever).

Scholars are divided on exactly when Wisdom was written but it was before the time of Jesus. Some place it as early as 200 BC and others within the century before Messiah. At any rate, it is one of the inherited treasures from the for Septuagint to the church. And it is a treasure. Most of the church fathers quote the book as Scripture (even Athanasius). Its influence is readily seen in the NT writings especially Romans and Hebrews and is quoted countless times by the Church Fathers (and Mothers). Of the many wonderful themes in this book is its witness to God the Creator and the goodness of Creation.

I want to highlight four texts that speak of God the Creators love exhibited in Creation; how Creation mirrors the beauty of the Creator; how Creation is the servant of the Lord even as humanity continues to rebel against the Creator; and finally how all Creation is presented in the Temple because it hangs (literally) on the High Priest. All of this sheds light on New Testament teaching on Creation.

God’s Love Exhibited in Caring for Creation

For it is always in your power to show great strength,
and who can withstand the might of your arm?
Because the whole world before you is like a speck
that tips the scales,
and like a drop of morning dew that falls to the ground.
But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
For you love everything that exist; you do not despise
anything that you have made.
If you did not like it, you would not have made it
in the first place.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth
by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours,
O Lord, you who love the living”

(Wisdom 11.21-26)

Creation Mirrors the Beauty of the Creator

For from the greatness and beauty of created things
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
Yet these people
{idolaters} are little to be blamed,
for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and
desiring to find him. For while they live among
his works, they keep searching, and they trust
what they see, because the things that are
seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they
are to be excused; for they had the power to
know so much that they could investigate
the world, how did they fail to find sooner
the Lord of all these things
…”
(Wisdom 13.5-9, whole chapter is illuminating. This language should resonate with any reader of Romans)

Creation Serves the Creator God

For creation, serving you who made it,
exerts itself to punish the unrighteous and evil,
and in kindness relaxes on behalf of
those who trust in you.
Therefore at that time also, changed
into all forms,
it served your all-nourishing bounty,
according to the desire of those who had need,
So that your children, whom you loved,
O Lord, might learn
that it is not the production of crops that
feeds humanity
but that your word sustains those
who trust in you
.”
(Wisdom 16.24-26)

All Creation is in the Temple Hanging on the High Priest

For when the dead had already fallen
one one anther in heaps,
He
[God] intervened and held back the wrath,
and cut off its way to the living.
For on his long robe
[i.e. High Priest] the whole
world was depicted,
and the glories of the ancestors were
engraved on four rows of stones,
and your
[God’s] was on the diadem
upon his
[High Priest] head.
To these the destroyer yielded,
these he feared
…”
(Wisdom 18.23-25)

Reflections

In Wisdom, Creation is the production of God’s infinite love. The existence of the cosmos is the expression of love of the God of Israel. Creation serves the Creator in both holding human sin in check and while providing for all God has made. Creation itself proclaims the glory of the Creator (it is after all an expression of God’s infinite love!) so beautifully that some even mistake the cosmos itself as divine. And finally Creation is preserved from death by being in God’s presence in the Holy of Holies as the High Priest represents all the world to God but also has God’s “diadem” on his head. The Priest holds, seemingly, Creation and Creator together and banishes death.

Everyone of these themes saturate both the “Old” and “New” Testaments. Wisdom gives us eyes to see the world of Jesus, Paul and Revelation. God really does love the whole world and in our High Priest he does hold Creation and Creator TOGETHER.