A Wonderful Study of Lamentations based on sound exegesis showing it powerfully relevant message in 2021

All scripture is inspired by and is useful for teaching … and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.15-17).

Serious Stuff

The book of Lamentations is a scripted liturgy that Jeremiah (there is no better candidate as author) took survivors of the catastrophe of 586 through. The prophet Zechariah (7.3-5) mentions those who gathered at the remains of the temple in the fifth month (that is Av) to fast and mourn the destruction of God’s temple (Leslie Allen’s A Liturgy of Grief is a remarkably insightful engagement with this book). Thousands of years later, Lamentations is still read on Tisha B’Av, בְּאָב תִּשְׁעָה, which will occur on Saturday night July 17 to Sunday night July 18.

In the book of Lamentations, or “How” according to its Hebrew title, horrific disaster has fallen upon Jerusalem. Lamentations freely admits this disaster is the result of a long history of blatant sin. That sin was idolatry. That sin was failure to set the slaves free (cf. Jeremiah 34.8-22). Lamentations reminds us that God takes sin seriously.

In Lamentations 4.13-14, we read of the prophets and priests being responsible for “shedding innocent blood.” Looking in Jeremiah and the prophets (like Ezekiel) this phrase means abusing the poor, the widows, the aliens. In fact, Jeremiah accused the “clergy” of the day in his epic “Temple Sermon” of “shedding innocent blood” (7.5-9). Ezekiel boldly compared Judah’s sin to infamous Sodom and said they were “arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned for the poor!” (Ezekiel 16.49). God did not nuke Judah for petty stuff. God did not send Israel into Exile because of a failure to live up to precision obedience.

Not a Hybrid God

Not infrequently some Christians believe that God is some hybrid composed of equal parts: love and wrath; mercy and justice. It might look like this:

Love = 50%
Wrath = 50%

This is simply not something, I believe, Scripture will sustain. Not even Lamentations. We are often petty in our reading of Scripture but God is not petty within the biblical narrative. God has no sadistic tendencies and no crises of identity.

In the structural heart of the book, the middle of the “liturgy,” we hear something astonishing from the gathered people. After line upon line of lament at Israel’s deserved punishment, the worship leader (a priest perhaps) declares these astonishing words (as the representative of the entire people united before God).

I call to mind, therefore,
I have hope,
Yahweh’s HESED has not ended
His mercies are not finished.
They are RENEWED
[hadas] every morning –
Great is your faithfulness! …

For the Lord
does not reject forever
But brings affliction and has compassion
according to the abundance of his HESED;
For he does not afflict FROM THE HEART
or make humans suffer
.” (Lam 3.21, 33, my translation)

In light of texts from Jeremiah (chapters 8-9) we are not sure who suffers more when punishment finally arrives: God or the People?

But, what our Worship Leader does in chapter 3 is tell us that Exodus 34.6 is actually true. God does not punish “from the heart.” Traditional translations like the NRSV will have “he does not willingly afflict.” Such is true. But “willingly” in the NRSV is milibow, “from the heart.” This action does not arise from the core of God’s being.

It is almost as if the act of punishment will be the “death of God!” Those of us who believe in the canonical Story know that is exactly what happened. How else do we explain the Crucified King of the Jews?

What is the heart of God? Steadfast love – HESED – is the what comes from “the heart of God.” HESED comes from the core of God’s being.

Here in the middle of unbelievable disaster, the Worship Leader has the audacity to claim the story is not over. It does not continue because of us however. No! A thousand times, No!!

Lamentations insists we brought this upon ourselves through the ancient form of the health and wealth gospel where we aggrandize ourselves at the expense of the helpless poor, the widows, and aliens while making idols of our lives and goods.

It is not over because God HESED, even for us, will be just as infinite tomorrow morning as it was yesterday. In the face of catastrophic sin, Hesed abounded even more! The prophet Isaiah before the destruction of Jerusalem once declared that God’s wrath was actually his “strange” and “alien” work. It is just not who God is (Isa. 28.21).

It is not the case that God is 50% love and 50% wrath. Rather God is 100% love. God did not become a “Christian” when Jesus was born. Rather Jesus comes from the heart of the Father … Yahweh IS love!

In our God, Hosea noted, love over rules punishment.

My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no human,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath
” (Hos 11.8-9, cf. 1-11, NRSV)

God will protect the innocent. Jerusalem knows that now.

Yet even those who deserve it as badly as Israel did, Yahweh’s HESED still reigns supreme and will be renewed in the morning. He will not cast-off Israel. It is not in God’s heart. HESED, God’s self-declared nature, is the basis of hope in the middle of the ashes of Jerusalem.

Lamentations reminds us that wrath does sometimes come. But the first, the middle and the word that is renewed everyday is … God’s never ending steadfast love. The depths of death, God’s people discovered Hesed was already there.


Of Related Interest

Lent, Lamentations, and Renewal: The Hurt of the World

The Gospel is about “Stuff”

We, north American Christians, are are a peculiar lot.

Yesterday, I had at least two rebuke me because I wrote about what they called “political” matters. One claimed that I hate Donald Trump. The other was offended that I addressed racism and the Confederate Battle flag. Neither provided the slightest evidence for the claim that I hate Trump (I do not) nor that race is outside the pale of Christian doctrine. (On the Battle Flag see: The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands). I prayed Psalm 72 for Donald Trump when he was President almost every day, just like I do for every politician (including President Biden and Vice President Harris).

I freely admit that I have much (much) to learn yet in life. But I am absolutely certain the Bible, and the Gospel, actually speaks (not by mere inference) by its very nature to every aspect of life “under the sun” to steal a phrase from another preacher named Qoheleth (=Ecclesiastes). The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, deals with every aspect of life in God’s creation. The Bible teaches us what it means to live now – right here and right now – not merely how to go to some platonic heaven. Some examples relating to my critics.

Stuff of Race Matters: Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Why did Jesus come to earth and die on the cross? Would we not admit this is a question about the Gospel? The answer is not merely so, when we die, we go to heaven. The answer according to Paul is that the “blood of Christ” was shed to heal the racial and ethnic division that exists on planet earth. The first half of Ephesians is about this but especially 2.11-3.13.

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our [Jews & Gentiles] peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you [Gentiles] who were far off and peace to those who were near [Jews]; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints [Jews] and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you [Gentiles] also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2.11-22).

Paul continues in 3.1-13. The Gospel, the message of the cross, restores God’s creational intent in the Jewish Messiah/King named Jesus. I quote from verse 6.

that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ/King Jesus through the gospel.”

In the King the wisdom of the Creator God is proclaimed in its “rich variety” in the restored, reunited, reconciled “one humanity” in King Jesus (3.8-10; 2.15).

The cross has a direct impact on the social relations between human beings right now. Atonement is not, in Ephesians, merely vertical or effecting our relationship with God. The Cross does not simply span the gap to God, it bridges the Sin caused fractures of the human race. The entire doctrine of salvation by grace through faith is about healing the divisions of God’s world. The Pauline vision of the church is that the church is the new creation here to show the rest of the world what healed creation looks like in all its glory. The “our” in these passages is not merely plural, but ethnic referring to both Jews and Gentiles.

Since I just mentioned “Jews” and “Gentiles,” we Bible students surely know these terms are as much as a racial or ethnic designations in the first century as white and black in north America of our day. If we do not know this then our Bible study has not gone very far. The New Testament is littered with references to race/ethnicity. Paul can hardly speak without mentioning it. Paul uses the term “Gentile” 45 times in his epistles. The book of Acts has an additional 30 references to Gentiles. That is no less than 75 references to “Gentiles” between Acts and Paul alone. Now suppose every time you see the word “Jew” in the NT you substitute the word black and every time you see the word “Gentile” you substitute the word white. How often would we be seeing white and black across the pages of the New Testament. Substitute the words ‘black” and “white” in Ephesians and be prepared to have your world rocked. The Gospel is a direct assault on any racism and ethnocentricism. We cannot preach the Gospel of Christ Jesus without talking about racism. Racial reconciliation is at the heart of the Cross of Christ.

For more on Ephesians see: Worshiping Through Ephesians: Dwelling in God’s Temple

Stuff of Justice & Righteousness

There is not much left of the Bible if we take out the verses, chapters and indeed entire books that address the fundamental issues of justice, righteousness and faithfulness. Jesus himself – in full continuity with the Law and the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible – that the essence of walking with God is “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23.23; Amos 5.24; Micah 6.6; etc etc).

A look at Amos clearly reveals the meaning of these words. Amos chapters 1-2 are directed to “political” entities, that is actual nations and Amos certainly preached it. He addresses war crimes, selling humans into slavery, those eager for war, more war crimes, and how the poor is not protected by the powers that be and the culture around them (Amos 1.2-2.8). The prophet then turns his “guns” on Israel (ch 3) and excoriates those with wealth but use is only for their personal comfort. If you want to know what Jesus, Amos and Micah meant by the words “justice,” “righteousness,” and even “mercy” read the short book of Amos. (For more on Amos: Amos, the Crimes of the Nations, 1.1-2.5).

But we see the meaning of these terms with Moses. God sent Moses to Pharaoh and Egypt. God takes out Egypt (not just Pharaoh) because of its treatment of aliens (Israel). Is it not interesting that Exodus has almost zero condemnation of Egypt’s idolatry and esoteric religion but goes out of its way to stress the injustice of the enslaved situation of Israelites. God’s destruction of injustice is enshrined in the Passover that we continue to celebrate in the Lord’s Supper.

Half of Second Samuel is devoted to the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy against David’s use of power over a powerless Bathsheba. Elijah’s ministry was to torment Ahab and Jezebel for their gross injustice and unfaithfulness. An entire chapter is devoted to the rather “insignificant” detail of the powerful stealing from the poor in the story of Naboth’s vineyard. And it was this episode, not the epic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, that drew the promise of Yahweh that the dogs would lick up their blood (1 Kgs 21).

Isaiah confronts Hezekiah. Jeremiah confronts Zedekiah, and the rich, over their failure to set the slaves free. In fact, according to Jeremiah 36.8-22, this rejection of the Sabbatical year was the straw that broke the camel’s back and sealed the deal on the Babylonian Exile (go read it). Daniel confronted Nebuchadnezzar over his arrogance and his injustice (4.27) and God made him go insane having to eat grass like a cow (4.25ff).

The Lord’s brother, Jacob (James), certainly knew what the words “justice” and “mercy” meant. He castigates the wealthy for failing to pay a livable wage to the working class. Indeed he calls them murderers (James 5.1-6).

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you” (James 5.4-6).

Jacob/James is channeling the language of the Exodus, that he has learned through years of participation in the Passover, regarding the “cries” of the poor and oppressed and Amos (cf. Exodus 2.23; 3.7,9; 6.5; 11.6; 22.21-24; Amos 4.1-4; 5.10-15; etc.).

It is not “politics” to teach the Bible itself. Sometimes we throw the word “politics” around when we do not like what the Gospel and the Biblical text actually demands of us. It becomes a way to shield ourselves from the message of the Kingdom of God. But it is the task of the preacher teach us to pray and live the most radical prayer around …

Our Father in heaven,
May your name be honored,
May your kingdom come,
May your will be done

on earth
as in heaven.”
(Mt 6.9-10).

The Gospel is not some neo-Gnostic or Platonic pipe dream. The Gospel, the entire biblical narrative in fact, is aimed squarely at the stuff of this world God created. It aims to heal the brokenness of creation. This is extremely concrete in the hear and the now and concerns the stuff of everyday life. It is about bringing God’s kingdom and God’s will here; it is not just something about what happens after you and I are dead. Salvation is the restoration and glorification of God’s wonderful, beautiful, diverse creation. The church is supposed to be first fruits of that grand redemptive, restoration, project. So yes, stuff about race, stuff about justice, stuff about righteousness is the stuff the Gospel is about.

I have never endorsed a politician. I have never endorsed a political party. I do not tell anyone who to vote for. But I will, to the best of my ability and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, teach and preach the message of the Gospel in “black and white” and the most important things … justice, mercy and faithfulness. This is not out of any claim of moral superiority (I have none). It is simply because this is what we are called to do.

I love yall with the love of the Lord. It is my prayer that the Lord may bless us, keep us, make his face shine upon us, that the Lord gives us grace and the Lord grants us shalom.

25 Jun 2021

“Be Sober”: 1 Peter 5.8 is Not about Beer

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Uncategorized
A Classically Abused Text

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, KJV).

Context Matters

One of my heroes in the Churches of Christ was K. C. Moser. Moser was a leading advocate of the Holy Spirit, the cross, the grace of God, faith and context. He was a careful student of Scripture. In the early 1930’s he had a column in the Gospel Advocate called “Text & Context.” He took individual verses that brothers and sisters commonly abused through taking them out of context, often in polemical debates. Many were grateful for the correction. Sectarians hated having their beloved proof texts examined. Bereans were always thankful however.

1611 English

Any time the subject of wine/beer comes up a brother/sister will throw out 1 Peter 5.8. The old classic King James Version reads, “be sober minded.” So the argument goes you cannot have a drop of wine/beer. Reading the phrase “sober minded” through 2021 understandings means, it is asserted, you cannot touch wine or beer.

Frankly, it does not matter, seemingly, that 1 Peter 5.8 never mentions wine/beer and is not talking about consuming such beverages anywhere in the context. It also does not seem to matter that “sober minded” in 1611 did not to refer to avoiding alcoholic beverages. Rather it meant “being on guard” or “be alert” or “be cautious” or “watch out” or “beware” or “keep an eye out,” like a sentry in the military.

Being on guard/alert/staying sharp against the devil is the context. Peter has been waxing eloquently how God has loving, caring, interest in his Flock but in v.8f shifts gears and announces that the devil also has a keen interest in the Flock. Therefore we need to be alert, we need to be focused, we need to watchful for Satan’s attack.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, teaches that wine (like both food and sexuality) is a gift of grace from God to Humanity. These three, including wine/beer, are subject to gross abuse in a fallen world but the Bible never embraces a Gnostic or ascetic position on any of these.

Rather the biblical way of approaching wine, food and sexuality is basically doxologically, through thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the antidote to abuse. Treasures are treasured they are not trashed. First Peter 5.8, however, has nothing at all to do with the subject and people who throw this verse out have simply yanked a verse because of a peculiar wording to suit their agenda. We do not have to know Greek to understand this text in its context.

Read Other Translations

Letting the King James Version “rest in peace” is a good thing. Reading the Bible in multiple translations is a helpful guideline and keeps us from getting attached to specific wording of a specific translation. The Bible was not written in English and various translations shed light on the what the Greek or Hebrew actually means. I checked a number of English versions outside the KJV translation tradition and the meaning of the text is plain. But even the KJV is very plain when read in context even consulting a dictionary that shows antiquated meaning can be helpful.

New English Bible, “Awake! be alert.”

Revised English Bible, “Be alert, awake.”

Jerusalem Bible, “Be calm but vigilant.”

Today’s English Version, “Be alert, be on watch!

E. J. Goodspeed NT An American Translation, “Be calm and watchful.

Hugo McCord’s NT, “Be alert; be watchful.

GOD’S Word, “Keep your mind clear.”

Message, “Keep a cool head.”

And for good measure the NRSV reads

NRSV, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert.”

The KJV was not wrong to render the Greek as “sober minded” in 1611.

The End of the Matter

The problem is is not the King James Version frankly. The problem is people do not understand what the King James Version actually says. In 1611 this was a clear call to thinking, being focused and staying alert. It is only when people in 2021 read that phrase and making it mean something it did not 1611 that we have a problem.

This is where reading multiple translations save us from our sectarian and partisan attachments. The Bible does condemn drunkenness, gluttony, fornication. But it does not condemn wine, food and sexuality. And we are supposed to be alert and watchful for the attack of the Devil. First Peter 5.8 is about the latter it is not about the former.

We need to respect the text and the context in which the text is given.

Related Articles

Beer & The Bible: What the Bible Really Says

Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine

Luke the Priest?

Sometimes you might hear or read something like this, “Paul wrote more of the New Testament than anyone.” This is usually said because Paul wrote more “books” of the NT with 13. By that method of counting it is true. But when we talk about the number of words, or the length of writing, Paul is actually in second place to another.

Luke actually wrote more of the New Testament than anyone. His two volumes, Luke and Acts, make up 27% of the words in the Greek New Testament while Paul accounts for 23%. Luke wrote 37,933 words but Paul wrote 32,407 (give or take a few because of textual variants).

Luke’s Gospel is also the longest Gospel while Matthew is the second longest. So between Luke and Paul we have exactly 50% of the New Testament.

Paul was a charismatic rabbi. Paul was a Pharisee in fact (Phil 3.5; Acts 23.6; 26.4). I think when Martin Luther, F. C. Baur, and J. W. McGarvey meet Paul in the new heavens and new earth they may die of a heart attack when this man in a prayer shawl, phylacteries and tassels comes up and introduces himself as Saul of Tarsus.

Luke. Well who was Luke? Luke is mentioned by name three times in the NT, Colossians 4.14; 2 Timothy 4.11; and Philemon 1.24. Colossians 4.14 notes that he was a physician. Some think he is the “yokefellow” in Philippians 4.2.

One of the mantras I grew up on was that Luke was a Gentile. Interestingly enough, the New Testament never says this. For Protestant scholars of the late 18th thru the mid-20th century the Gentile ethnicity of Luke was simply taken for granted. Scholarship of the day, however, anathematized anything “Jewish.” And it seems to be par for the course in much Restoration/Evangelical preaching. The only possible way, the assumption goes, that Luke could have such an interest in the “Gentile” mission, so the argument goes, was that he himself was Gentile. The Gentile Mission and defending Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles was, in this view, clearly what Acts was about. Such an assumption directly colors how we interpret the “conversion” of Saul (he clearly stopped being a Jew and became a “Christian” we assume. But Saul did not convert, i.e. change religions and he never once describes himself, or anyone, else a “Christian.”). Such a view views Paul’s sacrifice as an anomaly, a capitulation to legalistic Jews rather than part of Paul’s normal routine when in Jerusalem. But what if Saul was called, like Isaiah or Jeremiah or the prophets, to be a herald to the nations – an extension of Israel’s own historical mission – to announce the arrival of the King.

The assumption of Luke’s Gentile DNA often colors (distorts?) the reading of the narrative of the Gospel and Acts. Indeed, it often obscures what is actually there. What is the nature of that Gentile mission, for example? Is it an extension of vision of the vision of the prophets and psalms where Gentiles flow to Mt. Zion when Israel has been restored or is it merely an explanation of God replacing Jews with Gentiles as the covenant people? What if the “Gentile mission” is the announcement to tell the Gentiles that the King has come. And now they are the inheritance of the Son of David, the Davidic Messiah (as in Psalm 2 and many other texts)? They are not replacing Israel but being grafted into Israel.

Most of those assumptions have fallen apart however. Many scholars always thought Luke was in fact Jewish and they based this on the text of Luke and Acts together. Joseph Fitzmeyer takes the interesting position that yes Luke was a Gentile but also Semitic!

The trend among scholarship, is rather that Luke was Jewish. Luke-Acts is not written to simply to defend Paul at his trial in Rome. Rather Luke’s emphasis from beginning to end is the renewal of Israel in accordance with the promises of God. Paul’s mission is not anti-Jewish at all but straight out of the Jewish Scriptures. Jacob Jervell argues in numerous books and articles that Luke, like Paul, was a diaspora Jew. Greg Sterling, now dean of the Yale Divinity School, and great NT scholar seems to think the question is settled. Luke was a Jew.

Many New Testament scholars now view Luke and Acts as some of the most Jewish writings in the New Testament. This is surprising, even stunning, to many. But the “Jewishness” the Gospel of Luke and Acts is on display from the opening of the Gospel to the end of Acts. Among Protestant scholars in Germany among the chief reasons for discounting Acts as a historical source was the reality, vividly displayed in the narrative, is Paul is a devout, even law keeping, Jew. Thus Luke was a pious fiction written rather late to heal the rift between factions in the early church. Luke was “conservative!” It is only with the coming of the “New Perspective on Paul” that has suggested that the epistles of Paul may not be Protestant after all (or Lutheran!). So the distance between the epistles and the “Lukan Paul” is not nearly so great (in fact I think they are the same).

Conservatives just ignored a good bit of the text in Luke-Acts. The assumptions we read the text through filter out a good deal of this because we are unfamiliar with the Jewish scriptures, Jewish liturgy in the temple, and Second Temple Judaism in general. If you are interested in these Jewish themes that are right on the surface of Luke-Acts, here are a few articles to help.

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

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

Acts 2: Shavuot/Pentecost, The Day God Renewed His Covenant

Acts 1: Luke’s “Old Testament” Connection with Isaiah, Joel and Tobit

In 2008, Rick Stelan, an Australian NT scholar, wrote a comprehensive study called, Luke the Priest: The Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. After surveying the history of positions and the arguments used to support them, he finds the arguments are persuasive that Luke was a Jew.

Stelan goes further. Taking Jervell’s arguments even further and dealing with the social and political situation of the emerging Jesus Movement (the term Christianity did not exist yet and does not show up until the second century), he argues that Luke not only was a Jew, but a priest (Acts does indicate that a “large company of priests” believed in the Messiah, Acts 6.7). One cannot be dogmatic but the cumulative nature of the evidence certainly is thought provoking.

So who was Luke, the man who wrote more of the NT than any other individual? He was a Jew whose paths crossed with Paul in Asia. He may have been a believer already, Paul never refers to him as his son in the faith (as with Timothy, who was also Jewish). He probably was a priest who earned money as a physician. He traveled with Paul. He interviewed many, read other works and researched the history of the Way (Luke 1.1-4). He was a master of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Greek translation called the Septuagint. His Greek is very good Greek, some of the best in the NT but it is still distinctly “Semitic” Greek.

There you have it, who was Luke the man who wrote a chunk of the NT. He almost certainly was not a Gentile. He was a Jew and … if I was a betting man … he was a priest. All of the New Testament was written by Jews. A Pharisee and a likely priest wrote exactly half of it.

What happens to Luke-Acts when we read it as the product of a Jewish scripture scholar telling the story of how God has renewed God’s people?

Just something to make you (and me) go hmmmmmmmm.


What Does “the End” Mean?

I begin with a quote from Karl Barth in a sermon he gave on Psalm 119.67, “Now I Keep Your Word,” as he was leaving Nazi Germany because of his opposition to Hitler.

“And now THE END has come … So listen to my piece of advice: exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis! … Keep to the Word, to the Scripture that has been given to us.” (my emphasis)

Exegesis tests all. But exegesis is what so few seem to want to actually do. And if exegesis reveals weakness in some previous belief many will choose their previous belief over what we now know the text to say. Exegesis will rewrite our assumptions.

Look at some attitudes toward the Old Testament, as Melito of Sardis taught us to refer to the Hebrew Bible. It is stunning, to me, some preachers talk about the Hebrew Bible. I recently posted something about the “Old Testament” and was chastised for “going to the shadows,” “Christ delivered us from the that which is against us,” “that has no authority for us,” “are you a Jew,” “Christ is the end of the law.”

All of those statements are direct quotes. Much of the rhetoric sounds like it is coming from non-believers. And sometimes they even use a “biblical” phrase but in ways the NT writer simply does not (this is true on the “shadows” rhetoric from Hebrews and “Christ is the end of the law” from Romans). It is amazing how some respond to any positive exposition of the Hebrew Bible. I simply do not get it. But their distortion of the Hebrew Bible has resulted in their distortion of the New Testament writings themselves which have been divorced from their Scriptural context.

So my critic quoted “Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4)” and then added this commentary “the Old Testament can only be understood in terms of the New Testament.”

While I believe that Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to us, the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament dares to say that it is Jesus and the Gospel that must be understood in terms of the Old Testament not the other way around. In fact they claim the Faith once delivered cannot be understood apart from the Hebrew Bible.

For I delivered unto you that which is first importance:
that Messiah died for our sins,
and that he was buried,
and that he was raised on the third day

(1 Cor 15.3-4)

for the gospel of God, which he promised before hand
through his prophets IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES,
the gospel concerning his Son,
who was descended from David

(Romans 1.2-3).

Matthew, the Gospel that opens the “New Testament” opens with a “book of genesis” that looks an awful lot like the material in the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles. Its almost like a Third Chronicles in fact. Jesus simply cannot be separated from the genealogy of Israel. According to Matthew and Paul, “the Gospel” is according to the “Old Testament” not the Old Testament according to the New.

To be “in accordance with” does not mean simply, or even primarily, that Jesus was predicted. Rather the message of the Gospel is in “harmony” and “in line with” and “conforms” with the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets something that Paul makes abundantly clear as he goes thru Romans itself.

So while some people are bothered (for some unknown reason) that we might go study the Hebrew Bible, the apostles say you cannot preach the Gospel unless it is “according to the Scriptures” because the Gospel is about an Israelite King.

This brings us to our “proof text” in Romans 10.4. Barth told us “exegesis” and more “exegesis.” My critic quotes a translation that reads, “Christ is the END of the law.” In his interpretation “end” means “do away with” or “termination,” “get rid of.” But this is an assumption.

The word “end” can mean the following according to the dictionary and thesaurus: intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, object, goal, culmination. Now stick any of these synonyms in Romans 10.4 and see what happens to the unproved assumption?

“Christ is the purpose of the law”
“Christ is the design of the law”
“Christ is the object of the law”
“Christ is the goal of the law”
“Christ is the CULMINATION of the law”

Each of those sound radically different than Jesus terminated, did away with, got rid of the law.

The last possibility is the translation of the TNIV/NIV in fact. Christ is the “end” of the law in the sense that he its object, goal and culmination. The Messiah is the culmination not its repudiation.

The message of the Messiah/Christ is “according to the Scriptures,” he did not come to get rid of the Scriptures.

We do not have to apologize when we study or preach the Hebrew Bible. In fact we should be apologetic that we do not have the same view of them that Jesus did, that Peter did, that Paul did, that John did, and that the Holy Spirit does.

Christ is the goal of the law” (Romans 10.4, CEB; See also the Kingdom New Testament)

Great is the Truth, and mighty above all things, and will prevail” (1 Esdras 4.35, KJV. From the masthead of the 1858 Millennial Harbinger)

In March 1858 an elderly Alexander Campbell was on the steamboat Tempest in the Cumberland River. He occupied his time by reading articles and writing.

Campbell read an article clipped out for him from the Western Recorder, a Baptist publication out of Louisville. The Recorder, apparently, had a new editor who was determined to make the paper “intensely Baptistic” as Campbell quotes the editor, “let the lines be strictly drawn.”

Campbell complimented the editor for being upfront about his sectarian loyalties. He was wrong but he was honest, many are not honest about their sectarian loyalty. At this point Campbell does not criticize any point of doctrine but the perspective of approaching a subject. The editor was more concerned about party loyalty than what the actual truth may be. Truth may not be our position. Campbell then quotes from a contributor to the Recorder who noted that it was important to have equal space for opposing ideas because that is how “impartial men” discover truth rather than “our position.” Campbell praises this idea. He then testifies,

We SYMPATHIZE with the latter, while we ANTIPATHIZE against the former. We have, on sundry occasions, gone even farther than this, in giving equal space to those opposing our main positions with that occupied by ourself, in defending them. We prefer to be generous rather than merely just to our opponents.” A lover of truth has no loyalty to a party or “our position.

A lover of truth has no fear from free examination of the evidence. We cannot simply assume that “our position” is identical with “the truth.” A lover of truth does not decide ahead of time that you are wrong and we are right. And a lover of truth does not demand homage to “our” position as the basis of recognizing one’s Christianity nor as the basis of Christian fellowship. A lover of truth seeks the truth as “our position” regardless of who said it and what it is. This strikes fear into the sectarian.

Every man who propounds any Basis of church union, communion and co-operation, other than that ‘Jesus is the Christ the Son of God,’ is a HERETIC, — a full developed heretic–or a SECTARY, according to Paul.”

Campbell then notes that many Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Papists etc are “heretics” in the Pauline sense of the term.

It is true that he who lays down any other foundation [for Christian faith/unity] is the heretic, the schismatic … It is a fearful thing to lay a human, a false basis for the church of Jesus the Christ.”Campbell, reflecting on the article, notes that most “heretics” make some form of agreement on church government the basis of fellowship with themselves. “Most modern sects make church POLITY and POLITICS their basis.”

Church polity, including Campbell’s own “ancient order,” is not and never can be the basis of unity except as insisted upon by “heretics.”

A lover of truth, a seeker of truth, may have his or her understanding on the biblical data on all of these matters. But it is the love of party that makes our understanding of those positions the basis of recognizing the Christianity of others and the basis of fellowship with them. Campbell certainly had “positions” (i.e. understandings/opinions) on these matters.

Campbell notes that the first and original designation for Christ’s followers was not Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, not even “Christian.” The original and most basic designation was, and is, disciple. Jesus was the “Great Teacher.” He is the master, the teacher. We are the learners who shall never cease to learn from the Great Teacher. Disciples, learners, do not evaluate other students standing with the Teacher based on their position (i.e. understanding) of the Teacher. Our task as disciples is to learn.

Campbell closes by taking us to John 17 and the prayer for us as disciples to be “one.” We are already “one.” God’s fractured people are already one. The problem is many disciples have become heretics by insisting that other students embrace “our position,” before we can recognize them.

What a timely article penned by Campbell. Lovers of Truth, as opposed to Heretics/Lovers of Party, have no fear from study, from learning, from growing, from admitting the other may right and “we” (I) may be wrong. Lovers of Truth have no fear from letting other people see the evidence from the person who holds the position themselves.

Campbell put his pen down and found a post office at the next town to mail his brief article back to Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Lovers of Truth recognize the ultimate truth, it is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, that holds us together not sectarian loyalties. Have we become “heretics?” I believe it is a message that so many within the Stone Campbell Movement desperately need to hear today.

For more see Alexander Campbell, “The LOVE of PARTY versus THE LOVE OF TRUTH,” Millennial Harbinger, May 1858, pp. 260-262.

Articles of Related Interest on this Blog See

A Taxonomy of Sectarianism …

Church of Christ, Sectarianism & Romans 16.16

1835: Tares Among the Wheat, Roots of Sectarianism in Churches of Christ

Many years ago, I was preaching for a congregation. A 16 year old girl in our youth group became pregnant. An elder visited me and told me I had preach on the evils of premarital sex. “We cannot let them think this is OK.” I was much younger then but I recall suggesting to him that instead we throw her a baby shower. He demurred. I recall saying, “Don’t you think she is probably scared right now? That she feels everyone has already condemned her and are whispering all manner of unChristian things. We have a golden moment as a church to do what Jesus would do.” I recall asking him to pray through John 4 and John 8. We did throw her a baby shower.

Several years later a former widower elder sat in my office. As we talked he confessed he was sexually active with a woman he was seeing. He had been desperately lonely. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I began by saying that I love him. God loves him. And then I asked, why is it OK for you but not a 16 year old girl. (They make viagra for old men not teenagers!)

This experience highlights the huge double standard we often have in the church, especially when it comes to sex. One for men and one for women. I’ve seen it and so have you. Boys will be boys but girls become sluts in the eyes of many. She is stigmatized but he is given a pass. She is often excluded from the youth group, not allowed to teach, regarded as a bad example. How different it is for him.

The saddest part of this is that frequently those who are not Christian are far more gracious than church members on these very issues.

Some of these men even become leaders in local churches. Ministers, youth workers, counselors on staff that prey on women, children and even sometimes on men. It is often, sadly, that the men are protected and the women are the Jezebel’s and evil one’s. On these matters see my review of Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer’s important book, A Church called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture.

A trail of broken lives is what remains. Young girls shamed and taught to see themselves as damaged or tarnished or just “less than.” These women are often left behind without a second thought. But a former elder can engage in sexual intimacy and it never occurs to him he may be even more culpable than that 16 year old. (My story, though real, is illustrative of many numerous kinds of scenarios Christian women find themselves in.).

These women, not only these ones but many, are simply seen as inferior. They are not permitted to use their gifts. They are not believed (frequently) when they share a story (like the one above). Widows are overlooked. The depressed, the anxious and others are afraid to share their struggles. Those of different ethnicities often feel out of step or overlooked, especially women.

But it is not so in the Bible nor in the Kingdom.

God did not blame Bathsheba. Bathsheba is not the culprit. She is not shamed for taking a bath or because she wore the wrong clothes. God sent Nathan to rebuke David, not Bathsheba. God punished David, not Bathsheba.

God, in fact, honored Bathsheba. David tried to make her life hell but God did not abandon her. She is not some minor footnote in the Hebrew Bible. Anytime we tell the story of Jesus faithfully we must talk about Bathsheba’s (Mt. 1.6) pain and misery and how God took it into himself in the person of Christ. Jesus is as much the “Son of shamed Bathsheba” as he is the Son of David.

More remarkable still, God did not rebuke Tamar! In one of the most salacious episodes in the Bible, Genesis 38, Judah is in the wrong. Not Tamar. And Tamar too is honored by God in every faithful telling of the story of Jesus (Mt. 1.3). Indeed Jesus is the son of scandalous women that would be shunned and written off in my churches: Tamar (Mt.1.3), Rahab (Mt. 1.5), Ruth (Mt. 1.5), and Bathsheba, “Uriah’s wife” (Mt. 1.6). God reversed the verdict of so many men on these women.

The great heroes of the Bible are not white men. They are brown women and brown men. Not one person in the Bible is a white man (the only possible exception is Cornelius). They are Hagar, Leah, Rachael, Rebekah, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Abigail, Huldah, Anna, Mary the mother of Jesus (a single pregnant out of wedlock teenager!), Mary Magdalen, the Woman at the Well, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, the daughters of Philip and many more. And don’t overlook the “unnamed” women heroes like Lady Wisdom and the Song of Songs woman. If we read the Greek Bible of the early church we would add Susanna and Judith.

The problem is not just a matter of recognizing women can or cannot pass communion. The story I began with highlights the actual issue: how do we view women themselves. Do we believe that women themselves, that is a woman in her “womanness,” is every bit the Icon (image) of God as a man. How you and I treat any woman (every woman is represented in the individual woman standing before me) reveals more about our theology of women as image bearers than anything we claim.

Jesus ran into men who did not think so. In the passages I asked my elder to read (John 4 and John 8 ) the woman is the victim but the men are no where to be found. Jesus does not shame the woman at the well for divorces or even for living with a man. It is not there! The men had all the power, she had none. It is this woman who became the first Gospel preacher in history (4.39-42, this woman “testifies” or is a “witness,” the same Greek as for the apostles in Acts 1.8 ).

In John 8, they drag a woman “caught in the very act.” Where was the man!? The woman was not regarded as the image of Yahweh himself though by those men. She was an object. To be used, abused, to be tossed aside … to be a matter of religious dispute! There was not an ounce of respect for her coming from those who wanted to enforce the Bible. The Bible was for her, not for them!

Just as God did not rebuke Bathsheba, Jesus does not this woman. Jesus does not shame this woman. He recognizes her humanity. Jesus treated her like the Image of God that she was. Her “sex outside of marriage” was not a greater crime than the arrogant self-righteousness of that “moral majority.” The mere fact that she is on trial and the male was no where to be found highlights their abuse. I know some one will loudly proclaim, “Jesus told her to go and sin no more.” True. True. But first he said to that terrified woman, “I do not condemn you” (John 8.11, TEV). He did not even tell her to “repent.” His words to her were no rebuke they were gracious life. I am in awe of how Jesus lovingly cared for this woman in John 8.

We have a long way to go church. We have elevated sexual impropriety (especially by women and homosexuality) as the Sin of all Sin. Even while we give a pass to ourselves, like the religious men of John 8.

Proverbs declares there are seven things the Lord detests (6.6-19). It is interesting that these items are often found in most conservative churches. What is not listed is what we have made the Sin of Sins.

There are six thing that the LORD hates,
seven that are an ABOMINATION
[to’ebah] to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are quick to rush to evil,
a lying witness who lies,
and one who sows dissension among the family.

(Proverbs 6.16-19)

See how Proverbs 6 shed’s light on Ezekiel’s description of Sodom’s “sin” in Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion.

I can already hear people claiming, “he is justifying immorality.” Some people will never have ears to hear though.

I dream of a church that is genuinely a grace culture. Grace for me, a divorced single dad. Grace for women. Grace for my daughters. Not just those who have had sex (for every woman that did “it” there was a dude there too!). But simply a place that genuinely believes that women are the Icons of God.

A church culture of grace that values all women, as women, and does not abuse them. A culture in which women are safe. Mothers, wives, daughters, single women, older women, black women, white women, all women.

A church culture of grace is safe from double standards. It will be safe from predatory males masking behind clergy status. It will be safe from self-righteous condemnation. It is safe because genuine love, respect and care is the very air we breathe in a culture of grace.

A church culture of grace teaches the truth … God did not blame Bathsheba. He blamed David.

See the Related Article

Abomination: Christian Hypocrisy, Homosexuality & Compassion

“The real student is an adventurer in search of truth. He should have no preference as to what truth is. The partisan spirit has no place in the study of truth. To permit some preconceived notion keep one from seeing or admitting truth is beneath the dignity of the real student.”
– (K. C. Moser, 1937 Journal, p.53)

As soon as night came, the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived, they went to the synagogue. The people there were more open-minded than the people in Thessalonica. They listened to the message with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true.” (Acts 17.10-11, Good News Translation)

Scientist:Quest for Knowledge

A scientist goes to her telescope. She collects mountains of data. She notices that somethings do not seem to fit currently held views and understandings regarding the behavior of a planet’s orbit or variation of a star’s light or that particle did not do what it was supposed to do.

After consulting the received canon of wisdom from Newton, Einstein and Hawking does not solve the puzzle. She decides that there is a mystery to be figured out. So this scientist returns to her telescope, lab or where ever and gets more and more data. She spends months and months crunching the data, she goes back over the numbers, checks the instruments and finally decides there is only one way to solve the mystery … postulate the existence of something affecting the movement of the planets orbit or that there is something in between the star and earth that is affecting its variation. What could account for this. She comes up with a theory and gets more time on the telescope or lab and points it not at what she was studying before but at the location she has calculated would hold this new object. And low and behold there it is! A planet, a galaxy in between us and the former object. Because she was willing to question previously held beliefs she actually discovered a truth that was unknown to previously smart people. So scientists announced the discovery of a new “state” of matter that exists in a one dimensional quantum gas. They had to be able to be non-threatened by questioning the status quo. See Stanford Physicists Find New State of Matter.

She is recognized. Congratulated. Nominated for a science prize. And we are grateful because our universe just got a little bigger.

Minister: Quest for Truth

A preacher goes into the study to “study to show thyself approved.” The student opens the word with the prayer of Psalm 119, “open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18).

Instruments are employed for study. Mountains of data are collected. The minister notices that somethings do not fit with currently held views and opinions regarding this or that passage or belief. Consulting the received canon of wisdom from the Gospel Advocate, Spiritual Sword or Wineskins does not solve the puzzle.

The minister decides to return to the excavation dig, gets more data, checks the instruments, goes over the numbers and finally decides there is only one way to solve the mystery. Postulate that currently accepted wisdom is WRONG. The minister postulates a theory and points the telescope and discovers “there it is.” Low and behold we have learned something new because the minister was willing to practice the “restoration plea” and go study and not think that previously held beliefs were sacred. The minister announces the discovery.

The minister is fired. The Berean is written up as not believing “things surely believed” known to “faithful and representative men.” The minister is called a “liberal.” He, or she, is castigated by critics with the slogan “you believe you have a PhD to understand the Bible and go to heaven.” What was discovered is denied as fake. We discourage fresh exploration. Instead we, in the words of K. C. Moser, cast the minister out of the synagogue as a heretic. And we are fearful and our universe just got a little bit smaller.

For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge” (2 Peter 1.5, Good News Translation).

Disciples are called to a life of adventure in the quest for God’s truth.

Sometimes I am simply astonished by my brothers and sisters. Jesus once asked a group of Bible experts, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mk 12.24). Yes, this statement is directed to men who thought of themselves to be Bible experts.

A person has written to me, concerning Easter, “I am grateful that I remember the resurrection of Jesus every week not once a year.” And I’ve received other messages with the same basic message some nearly verbatim.

I have acknowledged neither. I had to refill my Cup of Java to make sure I was reading the rejection of “Easter/Pascha” correctly. Seriously brothers and sisters, is this supposed to be an objection?

Do these brothers/sisters actually believe that celebrating Easter (early Christians called it Pascha) implies in any universe, that Christians across the globe and thru the centuries celebrating Easter remember the resurrection only once a year! My friends this is actually absurd and I am not trying to be offensive by saying it is absurd. I just know of no other word suitable for it.

If you remember your wife/husband’s anniversary or birthday does that imply you are only grateful for them one day a year? Surely such is worse than silly. It is not even rational.

But these critics seem to not understand a biblical rhythm of life.

Sunday/Lord’s Day and Easter/Pascha function analogously to the Sabbath and Passover. I cannot stress enough that early Christians did not own personal New Testaments, much less Bibles. They learned the contents of the Story thru public worship. This is simply essential to grasp to understand early Christianity.

Early Christians for the first 100 or so years were mostly Jews. They had a “biblical” rhythm to life. That rhythm was dominated by the festivals. The sabbath is the first and primary festival in the Bible.

Sabbath and Passover are connected. So are Lord’s Day and Easter. Some (they do not know the scripture as Jesus said) do not seem to realize that the Sabbath remembers the liberation of slaves from Egypt, the Exodus just as much as it remembers the days of creation. This is stressed many times in the “Old Testament” not least in the Ten Words (Deuteronomy 5.12-15).

So every single week, Israelites, remembered the salvation by the grace of God in the Exodus. But also in the Passover feast, Israel celebrated the event and reenacted the event. They did not only remember God’s astonishing earth shattering grace on the 14th of Nisan. They did it weekly and had a shabbat meal, a miniature Passover.

Just so, the Lord’s Day with its meal remembers the astonishing grace of the God of the Exodus supremely in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Early Christians and modern Christians, like Jews around the world, remember the foundational events of faith every single week.

But Easter/Pascha was viewed in the early church just as the Passover was for a millennia prior to Jesus. The Passover celebrates what the Sabbath does. Easter celebrates what the Lord’s Day does. There was no competition between Sabbath and Passover nor is there any between the Christian Pascha/Easter and the Lord’s Day.

Early Christianity was born in, shaped by, and has the DNA of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism ground into it. It is astonishing how little we understand our own faith.

To celebrate Easter hardly implies only remembering the resurrection once a year. It is the “Christian Passover.” It is genetically connected to the weekly “festival” of gathering in the name of the Lord … the God of the Resurrection is the same God of the Exodus which is why Jesus used the PASSOVER as his Last Supper in the first place. (See how Paul connects them in 1 Corinthians 5.7).

Remember that Jesus, the Apostles, James, Paul, etc were, and are, Jews. The book they wrote, we call it the New Testament, is a Jewish book.

Jews in Jerusalem for Passover

Festivals in Israel, and even in the early church, had several functions. They gathered God’s People to worship. Worship is intended to be communal. The festivals taught the people the “word of God.” You see no one in Israel, or the first 1400 years of the church for that matter, owned personal copies of the Bible. No one went home “from church” to read the Bible prior to Gutenberg. This is a significant fact.

Festivals like the Sabbath, Trumpets, Unleavened Bread … and “Pascha/Easter” served the practical function of teaching God’s People the STORY, that is the WORD of God. In fact through the Festivals of Worship the historical word became the Living Word as God’s people dramatically reenacted the Story of Redemption. Suddenly the flight from Egypt was not something you heard read to you, it was something you participated in dramatically. Those who complain about “drama” in worship have limited historical understandings of what “worship” was like in Israel, and for centuries among Christians. Drama preached the Word. Unleavened bread/Passover, for example, in one dramatic “production” preaches the Story of the book of Exodus.

Unleavened Bread/Passover celebrates the astonishing steadfast love (hesed) and grace of Yahweh for a group of slaves deemed so worthless that the state sanctioned the murder of their infant boys. The feast/festival proclaims the care, mercy and involvement of Yahweh for the “least of these.” The festival culminates in the Passover which proclaims the greatest act of grace in the history of the world until the incarnation of Jesus. It is the story of the Gospel of the Exodus.

God saves.

We get saved.

God redeems.

We do not redeem ourselves.

No Jew shares in these festivals because they are worthy. They participate because they were invited by grace.

Unleavened bread/Passover is mentioned frequently in our written Scriptures. We read of it in Exodus 12.15-20; Leviticus 23.6-8; Deuteronomy 16.3-16; 2 Chronicles 30.23-27; Ezra 6.21-22; etc, etc.

The festival was important in the development of Jesus. Luke tells us his family traveled to Jerusalem annually for the festival (Lk 2.41). John depicts Jesus walking to Jerusalem regularly for the festival.

The apostle James was martyred by Herod during the festival of Unleavened Bread (Acts 12.3). The apostle Paul celebrated Unleavened Bread/Passover with his fellow Jewish disciples (Acts 20.5-6). Paul even told the Corinthian church to “celebrate the festival” (1 Cor 5.8) though scholars argue about what this means.

But most importantly, Unleavened Bread/Passover became the occasion for the Messiah’s New Exodus through his death, burial and resurrection.

The festival is eight days long. Christians have called this week “holy week” since at least the third century AD. It is “holy” in that the events of the greatest moment of redemption in the Hebrew Bible took place AND the the greatest moments of redemption in the history of the world took place. This week changed cosmic history.

During the festival the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) are sung (Mt 26.30) and the Song of Songs is read out loud on the Sabbath during the Passover.

As we head through this week that remembers such momentous events I encourage you to read the following:

1) Story of the Exodus (Exodus 1-15)
2) Psalms 113-118
3) Song of Songs
4) Matthew 21-25

Passover – Pascha – Easter – God cares for the powerless and the aliens. That is why God delivered Israel. God loves the powerless and the aliens. That is why Jesus celebrated the Passover and became the Lamb of God.