What follows is a series of quotations that highlight a theme that was once prominent among “us.” This theme gets at the very heart of what we where once about, thought we have always struggled to not drift into exclusivity and legalism. Often it is the case that commitment to truth fools us into thinking we have have arrived at “the truth” or that only we have the truth. Print these out and mull over them for a while.

The following quotes are arranged in essentially a chronological sequence to give a historical flow to this post. I believe you will be blessed by our Fathers and Mothers in the faith. Again I encourage you to print this out and come back to it in a few days.  Let these words bath the spirit, soothe the mind, and thrill the heart — Bobby Valentine

I do not pray for these only,
but also for those who believe in me through their word,
that they may all be ONE.” – Jesus

Barton Stone (1804)

IMPRIMIS. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body, and one Spirit, even as we were called into one hope of our calling …

Item. We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less . . .” (Barton W. Stone, Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,1804,in Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union).

Thomas Campbell (1809)

“Let the ministers of Jesus but embrace this exhortation, put their hand to the work, and encourage the people to go forward upon the firm ground of obvious truth, to unite in the bonds of an entire Christian unity; and who will venture to say that it would not soon be accomplished? . . .

Nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them by the word of God… Division among Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian … It is antiscriptural . . . It is antinatural” (Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address, 1809, in Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union).

Alexander Campbell (1825)

(Alexander Campbell, during a long series of articles “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things” responded to a Dunkard named Joseph Hostetler {a German Baptist who immersed 3x} who queried him on footwashing, frequency of the Supper, and the Holy Kiss [all of which J. H. believed Campbell to be in error on]. Campbell’s reply shows the heart of the Stone-Campbell Movement like nothing else — Bobby Valentine]). See my article: Coming Together in 1827: The Unknown Union.

“DEAR BROTHER — For such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion

which you express on some topics, on which we might NEVER agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hope in his salvation. And as to the evidence of this belief and hope, I know of none more decisive than an unfeigned obedience, and willingness to submit to the authority of the Great King” (Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. XI,” Christian Baptist, 1825, p. 223).

Barton Stone (1835)

“The scriptures will never keep together in union, and fellowship members who have not the spirit of the scriptures, which spirit is love, peace, unity, forbearance, and cheerful obedience. This is the spirit of the great Head of the body. I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all-Christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ. There is a day not far ahead which will declare it. Such antisectarian sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause, and advancement of truth, the unity of Christians, and the salvation of the world, than all the skeptics in the world. In fact, they make skeptics” (Barton W. Stone, “Remarks,” Christian Messenger, August 1835, p. 180).

Cyrus Bosworth (1838)

(Bosworth was a bishop of the church in Warren Ohio where Walter Scott worshiped. The following are excerpts from his sermon to the “Session School of Preachers” a sort of early preachers convention that met annually. Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell heard the speech and Scott published it — Bobby Valentine).

“There is nothing that Christians can at present do, more directly favorable to the glorification of God’s will, than the healing of divisions, the divisions of the church. This done, and the world would be converted. As to faith, repentance, confession to God, and obedience to Jesus Christ, and the hope of our calling, there would be found more unity of sentiment and oneness of mind among us all, were the matter examined, than at first sight appears to many.

For myself, I believe, from a candid review of the different denominations, and the contents of Holy Scripture, the real and true followers of Christ are ESSENTIALLY one and ever have been ESSENTIALLY ONE” (Cyrus Bosworth, “On Union,” The Evangelist, February 1838, pp. 26-27.)

“We must admit that the Godly of our Protestant brethren are true believers in Christ. . . But there is no oneness in relation to the great portion of matters that engross the attention of modern professors. This is admitted but observe a vast proportion of these matters ARE WHOLLY UNNECESSARY TO UNION… The articles of faith which constitute the bond of Union, are but few in number, and I repeat it, that all true and pious worshippers throughout Protestendom are one in these essentials — Faith, hope, love … Churches may differ on all questions of policy, and yet their loyalty to the King of Glory be wholly sound and sincere” (Cyrus Bosworth, “On Union,” The Evangelist, March 1838, pp. 49ff).

Alexander Campbell (1840)

“Union, love, and social bliss, are only three ways of expressing the same idea. That glory that Christ gave his disciples is union with him … Who that thinks of heaven, of eternal peace and love, can refrain from pleading the union, concert and cooperation of all the sincere followers of the Lamb of God? ON that all the sons and daughters of our Father in heaven were as children of one family, cordially, firmly, and visibly united in one profession . . .

I know that a considerable improvement in the MANNERS of many … would soon expel the demon spirit of party, and establish the indwelling of peace and amity and brotherly kindness… Union among believers is now desired, prayed for, and to some extent, labored for by nearly all who love our Lord. But it is with seeming ill grace that we preach the practicability of a universal union among believers, while we perpetuate dissension among those who not only believe in the same Lord, but practice the same immersion [at this point Campbell is speaking of the Baptists, Bobby V.] Let us then, put our heads, our hearts, our hands together, and establish a union … and we will be armed and supplied. in all the strength of union and love, to persuade and induce our Paedobaptist [i.e those who sprinkle, Bobby V.] friends to abandon all their sectarian practices and unite in the universal compact of Christian love and fellowship” (Alexander Campbell, “Union,” Millennial Harbinger, November 1840, pp. 41-42).

James Challen (1840)

“There is no evil of the present day more to be deprecated, and to be avoided, than that of partyism in the Christian kingdom … We venture to affirm to affirm that no sectarian institution now on earth could give the one-tithe part the reason for separation from the body of Christ, as could the Jewish converts in the original churches, for separation from the Gentile Christians, or the reverse; and yet with what jealousy did the Apostles guard this point, and how sedulously did they labor to preserve the unity of the spirit by the bond of peace . . .

We may differ about things lawful and expedient, whether repentance precedes faith, or faith repentance; about standing or kneeling in prayer; about what we shall call our public speakers, preachers, teachers, or evangelists; or whether we shall have any such persons or not, or need then; or about how we shall raise funds in the congregation, or how much may be needed … We may differ about the NAME Christian and Disciple, as the great patronymic of the citizens of the kingdom of God. We may express ourselves with freedom upon all these subjects, and may honestly differ; but `let all our works be done in love;” and no evil, but good will result” (James Challen, “Partyism,” Millennial Harbinger February 1840, pp. 66-68).

Thomas Campbell (1840-44)

(Thomas Campbell, unpublished letter to Samuel Riddle Jones, Baptist preacher in Ohio. Letter located in the archives of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, TN. The letter is undated but seems to originate between 1840 and 1844 when Campbell died).

“Dear Brother, I am much gratified with the account of your labors, and of their success; especially among our baptist brethren, between whom and us there never should have been any difference: nor indeed would there, had it not been for a few proud partisans in the Redstone Association, of which once we all were members. The reformation which we propose as defined upon the first page of our prospectus, (of which I think I gave you a copy) has for its object Christian Union upon Christian principles; that is the faith & obedience taught by our Lord & his apostles as expressly recorded in the New Testament. Upon this proposition the Baptists cordially received us; and afterwards were excited to reject us, because we would not adopt the Philadelphia Confession. This we could not consistently do; the adoption of any human creed being expressly contrary to our avowed principle upon which they had received us. Nevertheless we have always considered and treated them as our Brethren, and, as far as I am concerned, always hope so to do. I would humbly advise you to treat them with all christian respect as brethren; and, of course, do anything within your power to build up and edify their societies. The first Christian duty to fellow creatures is to love the brethren for Christ’s sake, as He has loved us. And by this shall all know that we are his disciples; if we manifest this love one to another. (John 13: 34, 35).”

Robert Richardson (1847)

“Were we, indeed asked to define theoretically, in terms the most brief and expressive, the reformation of which we urge, we should denominate it — A GENERALIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY. It is in this character that it presents a basis of Christian union. It is in this point of view that it lays aside the differences; the peculiarities; the distinctions, which disunite and mark out the sects; and retains the agreements, the universalities, the identities which secure harmony and peace.” (Robert Richardson, “Reformation, No. IV.” Millennial Harbinger, September 1847, p. 504).

“Christian Union on the Bible alone, has, from the beginning, been the watchword of our religious movement. To effect a union of the pious of all denominations upon this basis was its original and cherished purpose … For it has been our happiness to learn, and to show to others, that the Christian faith is not a belief in doctrines, as has been generally supposed, but that it is simply a TRUSTING IN CHRIST — A PERSONAL reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. Such was the Christian faith in the beginning . . .

It is not to inferences and abstractions that the homage of the affections, the trust of the soul and the beneficent and self-denying life of the true Christian are devoted. It is a PERSON and not a particular set of doctrines, that are the object of his faith, hope and love … Inferences drawn from facts, are ever to be carefully distinguished from the facts themselves … It is hence Christ in the faith, Christ in the heart; Christ in the life, that constitute genuine orthodoxy” (Robert Richardson, “Union of Christians,” Millennial Harbinger March 1866, pp. 98-101).

Alexander Campbell (1865)

[The very last article published by Alexander Campbell was simply titled “The Gospel” it was published in November 1865. He died in early 1866. — Bobby V.]

Campbell writes of his intense concern for Christology throughout his ministry. He then summarizes seven “sublime facts” of the Gospel the basis of salvation.

1) The Virgin Birth of Jesus
2) The Life of Christ as our perfect example
3) The Death of Christ for our sins
4) The Burial of Christ
5) The Resurrection of Christ
6) The Ascension of Christ
7) The Coronation of Christ

These are the facts of the Gospel.

(Alexander Campbell, “The Gospel,” Millennial Harbinger, November 1865, p. 516).

Isaac Errett

“To persuade men to trust and love and obey a Divine Savior, is the one great end for which we labor in preaching the gospel; assured that if men are right about Christ, Christ will bring them right about everything else. We therefore preach Christ and him crucified. We demand no other faith, in order to baptism and church membership, than the faith of the heart in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God; nor have we any term or bond of fellowship but faith in this Divine Redeemer and obedience to Him. All who trust in the Son of God and obey Him, are our brethren, however wrong they may be about anything else; and those who do not trust in this Divine Savior for salvation and obey his commandments, are not our brethren, however intelligent and excellent they may be besides. Faith in the unequivocal testimonies concerning Jesus -­his incarnation, life, teaching, sufferings, death for sin, resurrection, exaltation, and Divine sovereignty and priesthood … are with us, therefore, the bond of Christian fellowship. In judgments merely inferential, we reach conclusions as nearly unanimous as we can; and where we fail, exercise forbearance, in the confidence that God will lead us into final agreement” (Isaac Errett, “Our Position,” in Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union, pp. 299-300.).

David Lipscomb (1875)

“So long as a man really desires to do right, to serve the Lord, to obey His commands, we cannot withdraw from him. We are willing to accept him as a brother, no matter how ignorant he may be, or how far short of the perfect standard his life may fall from his ignorance…We will maintain the truth, press the truth upon him, compromise not one word or iota of that truth, yet forbear with the ignorance, the weakness of our brother who is anxious, but not yet able to see the truth …Why should I not, when I fall so far short of perfect knowledge myself? How do I know that the line beyond which ignorance damns, is behind me, not before me? If I have no forbearance with his ignorance, how can I expect God to forbear with mine? …So long then as a man exhibits a teachable disposition, is willing to hear, to learn and obey the truth of God, I care not how far he may be, how ignorant he is, I am willing to recognize him as a brother.” (David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, April 22, 1875).

T. B. Larimore (1898)

“May the Lord grant that I may die before I sow discord among brethren. I have never done so yet — never. I have never introduced, advocated, agitated, said, or done anything that could tend to dissever church, family, or friends. I love the sentiment of the son of America who said, ‘If I have not the power to lift men to the skies, I thank my God that I have not the will to drag angels down. . . If I cannot bless, then let me not live. . .

How can the unity for which Christ and all his faithful followers pray be procured and preserved? . . . we must be ever ready to yield when and where no principle, but only hobby, opinion, or personal preference is involved. Always courteous and kind . . . Abraham was satisfied with the refuse, rocky and rough. So far as earthly possessions and carnal concessions were concerned, his motto seems to have been: ‘Peace at any price’ in preference to strife among brethren.’ . . .

The sinless friend of sinners and voluntary victim of Calvary, pleading, dying on the cross — all this to save the soul; and yet you, claiming to be a Christian, will deliberately doom and drag him [i.e. your brother, B.V.] to eternal death and dread destruction, rather than deny yourself one fleshly gratification, surrender one selfish desire or waive one personal preference. See him suffering on the cross, and then think of that! . . .

Remembering, ‘he that soweth discord among the brethren,’ is “an abomination’ unto God … remembering Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Gethsemane — Christ, Calvary, and the cross; remembering, we are dying dust, that, `man no sooner begins to live than he begins to die … Remembering where nothing more than hobby, opinion, or personal preference is involved; let us ‘walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye [we] are called, with all lowliness and meekness, and with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (T.B. Larimore, “Unity,” in Biographies and Sermons, ed. F. D. Srygley [Gospel Advocate, 1898], pp. 35-50).

F. D. Srygley (1900ish)

(Srygley was front page editor of the Gospel Advocate from 1890 to his untimely death in 1900. His editorials were assembled in a book published by the Advocate under the title The New Testament Church — it is a classic]. In the first quotation Srygley is defending himself from a Baptist journal over monopolizing the name “Christian.”).

“The [Baptist] Gleaner is badly muddled when it says, `the name Christian’, as I use it, ’embraces just what the name `Campbellite’ embraces.’ As I use the word, it embraces Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles, as well as all the disciples we read about in the New Testament … I also use the word to embrace all the disciples who lived on the earth from New Testament times to the preaching of Alexander Campbell. And worst of all for the Gleaner, I use it to embrace all Christians, or disciples of Christ, who have erroneously connected themselves with the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and such like since the beginning of those denominations.” (F.D. Srygley, in the Gospel Advocate, quoted here from New Testament Church, pp. 122-123.).

“The ADVOCATE has never said that “Baptists are not Christians at all,” or that “there are no other Christians in the world than the followers of Alexander Campbell.” The ADVOCATE’S point is that people can be Christians and be saved without being Baptists or followers of Alexander Campbell. Brother Lofton [i.e. of the Baptist Gleaner] admits all this … The ADVOCATE is laboring and praying to get Baptists, Methodists, Campbellites, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and all other denominationalists to … be simply Christians, or disciples of Christ.” (F.D. Srygley, in the Gospel Advocate, quoted here from New Testament Church, p. 173. — there is lots of this stuff in NTC.).

David Lipscomb (1907)

“A sectarian is one who defends everything his party holds or that will help his party, and opposes all that his party opposes. This partisan takes it for granted that everything his party holds is right, and everything the other party holds to be wrong and is to be opposed. Hence the party line defines his faith and teaching. He sees no good in the other party. He sees no wrong in his own party . . .

“A truth lover and seeker always looks into whatever party he comes in contact with, and will first look to see what truth the party holds … The love of truth is a spirit of kindness and love toward all, even to the holder of error. He loves the holder of truth because he receives truth and strength from him” (David Lipscomb, “A Sectarian and a Truth Seeker,” Gospel Advocate June 27, 1907, p. 409).

M. C. Kurfees (1921)

“Replying to my statement that we should `indorse [sic] all the truth taught by the denominations and condemn all the error,’ Brother George [of the Firm Foundation, Bobby V.], says: To do this I will have to condemn the whole business.’ WHAT A FEARFUL STATEMENT! Surely he did not think of its full import. When I was a little boy, a denomination taught me that Jesus died on the cross to save the world; that he was buried; that he arose from the dead; that he ascended to heaven; and that he is the Savior of all who obey him. It taught me that I must obey him if I would be saved, and that water baptism is one of the commandments which he required me to obey; but it also taught me that sprinkling was baptism, and I submitted to it. Later I learned that it mistaught me in this last item… and I turned as far as I saw them, into which I had been led, and did what the New Testament required; but I did not “condemn” the whole business,” and thus repudiate that Jesus died on the cross to save the world … all these things were taught me by a “sect church.” Surely brother George does not mean to teach that I should “condemn the whole business,” yet that is exactly what he says. On the contrary, I repeat, let us “indorse [sic] all the truth taught by the denominations,” or by anybody else . . .” (M. C. Kurfees, “Where Are the People of God?” Gospel Advocate, January 20, 1921, pp. 67-68).

F. G. Allen (1920s)

“To deny that there are Christians apart from those who stand identified with us in our work would make our plea for Christian union both meaningless and senseless. While we believe that many identified with the denominations are Christians, they have taken on much that is neither Christianity nor any part of it; and this we labor to have them put away. . . . It will be seen, therefore, that while we claim to be Christians only, WE DO NOT CLAIM TO BE THE ONLY CHRISTIANS. Our principles will not allow us to be anything else; and we strive to have others satisfied with the same. Hence the charge so often made, that we arrogate to ourselves alone the name Christian, is false.” (F. G. Allen, “Our Strengths and Our Weakness,” a sermon in New Testament Christianity, vol. 2, ed. by Z. T. Sweeney, p. 245).

N. B. Hardeman (1928)

“I have never been so egotistic as to say that my brethren with whom I commune on the first day of the week are the ONLY Christians on this earth. I never said that in my life. I do make the claim that we are Christians ONLY. But there is a vast difference between that expression and the one formerly made… (N. B. Hardeman, “Unity [No. 1], Tabernacle Sermons, vol. 3, p. 125. The sermon was preached in 1928.).

G. C. Brewer (1929)

“Our brethren did not make the distinctions that we make. They had a much better grasp upon the idea of a non-sectarian church than most of us have. We are far more sectarian than they were. (I am prepared to prove this any day.) The plain fact is that they were better educated, better informed, better balanced men, as a rule, than we are today. The cause of this is easily seen. We have ceased to emphasize broad culture and profound Bible knowledge and have exalted men into the positions of ‘big preachers’ simply because they know a few first principle sermons and ‘skin’ the sects, when they are wholly deficient in many other respects. Then jealousy and a sectarian spirit causes these ‘big preachers’ and their admirers to suspect and to disfellowship any man who gets into the field where they are not acquainted … Think it over, brethren.” (G. C. Brewer, “More Criticism, Gospel Advocate, March 14, 1929, p. 245).

[In the middle of the “premillennial” controversy Brewer spoke on Unity at the ACC lectures and makes a traditional appeal to the Seven Ones in Ephesians 4 as the basis of unity — Bobby Valentine]

“ONES. Seven is a prominent number in the Scriptures. It is by some people supposed to be a magic number; to possess a, charm. We do not attach any such idea to that number but there seems to be no doubt that the number seven is symbolic. It represents something that is complete; a whole, a cycle, a perfect work, a finished mystery. Hence Paul shows us the perfection of unity and subsists in the divine arrangement by enumerating the seven ones that compose the Spirit’s plan. There is One body … There is One Hope … There is One Lord … There is One Faith … There is one Baptism … There is one God . .. What a tremendous appeal this is for Christians to be united. How can we imagine to please God or ever expect to see Him in peace if we foment factions, sanction divisions or perpetuate parties? …

Have we nevertheless divided into factions and contending sects  . . .  Even we it is said, fight and devour each other and split and divide over the most insignificant things. It is sad to have to admit that there is all too much truth in this objection …

Of course, those who are involved in a division always claim that some vital point is in question… Frequently however, it is only our opinion or our judgment that has been disregarded and not the word of God … Even if he [i.e. a brother, B.V.] teaches error, this error would have to be very heinous if it is as great a sin as the sin of division…

This point may have to do with the state of the dead, or the question about the millennium or what will become of the heathen … or some method of getting our money together … or about educating our children … but surely no truth can be as vital as union with God and therefore union with all the children of God. Nothing should separate us from each other unless it is something that separates us from God.” (G. C. Brewer, “A Plea for Unity,” Abilene Christian College Lectures, 1934, pp. 169­f).


These are just a few illustrations of that great foundational theme in the Stone­-Campbell Movement — a UNITY movement. These quotations could be multiplied into the hundreds rather easily. I have posted these at the present time because it is at this moment in our history that we need the perspective of our Fathers and Mothers in the Faith, perhaps more than any other time. There are many running up the flag of division, many building walls and burning bridges — over things that our Fathers and Mothers found to be less than righteous grounds for division. Ask these hard questions:

1) Do we have a zeal for the unity of the Body? Do we recognize the already existing spiritual unity of the Church? Do we pray for that visible unity daily — ever?

2) What is a key theme that runs through all of the above quotations from 1804 to 1928? Where our Fathers wrong in saying there are only a “few” essentials for unity?

3) Is it possible that we have succumbed to the very partyism that our Fathers and Mothers in the faith was running from? Are we intolerant? Do make anything less than “obvious” truth a test of fellowship? Are focused upon Christ in the way Campbell, Richardson and Errett advocated in their quotes? If not perhaps this is a clue to the tension that now exists in the “brotherhood.”

The sad truth is that many times throughout our history we have not sounded these nonsectarian notes but the reality of why were exist as a people is expressed here.

Read and ponder. Ours is a glorious heritage of UNITY within DIVERSITY.

Bobby Valentine

Psalm 136 is called “The Great Hallel.” Hesed is praised 26x.

He Loves Forever
Love and Grace
(Things they do not tell me in Sunday School)

Grace is awesome. Hesed is greater (Steadfast love). We are not knocking grace at all.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!
That save a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
was blind but now I see

What I never understood as a younger disciple/preacher was that grace is a function of God’s love/hesed. Grace is granted because love is already there. Years ago, I imagined the “Old Testament” was deficient because it did not talk about “grace” as much as Paul did (I single him out on purpose because Jesus did not use the word ‘grace.’ Yet I assume all will grant that Jesus is indeed the Lord of Grace even if he never uses the word.).

But I did not understand. I had not spent time reflecting. I had not done as Jesus said, “go learn what this means” and “if you had known what this means” (Mt 9.13 & 12.7) where Jesus points his critics to the Prophet Hosea who said, “I [Yahweh] desire mercy rather than sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6).

It is difficult to find a more profound picture of unconditional love than that in the story of Hosea. God’s love is depicted (figuratively) as “Hell will freeze over, I may go thru Hades because of you, but I will never give you up!” That is love. This pure “grace.” The welcome back (=grace) is there because love was there all along.

People think Paul is the apostle of grace but he is really an apostle of love … as is John. Love is the greatest of all says Paul (he got that from his Hebrew Bible). Yahweh is love. Grace is a function of infinite love.

There is no shortage of “love” in the Hebrew Bible, it shocks many to learn that Moses speaks of “love” more than any biblical writer save John. Deuteronomy speaks of “love” 21x while Romans only 14. Only the Gospel of John in the New Testament beats out Deuteronomy with 27. But it is Psalms that is King of Hesed with a whopping 150+ times.

The Exodus is, perhaps, the best example of “grace alone” in history (the Bible). The Hebrews were unbelieving pagans at best. They did not believe. Israel confessed her lack of faith for centuries in worship.

for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance …
In spite of all this, they kept on sinning;
in spite of his wonders,
they did not believe
” (Psalm 78.22, 32; the entire Psalm is worthy of serious rumination)

Our spiritual ancestors grumbled and cursed Moses at every turn. After the mighty displays of Yahweh over Pharoah and the gods of Egypt, they still were afraid and wanted to go back. Yahweh told Moses to tell them to shut up and watch their God! (Read Exodus 14 till we get it).

The crossing of the Red Sea was the result. Israel did not “contribute” to her salvation anything but unfaith. It is a shame that so many disciples fail to recognize the “Exodus Pattern” through the rest of Scripture … including the work of Jesus himself. (See my article: Exodus: The Biblical Context of the New Testament).

Israel’s relationship with God was based upon “love [Hesed] alone” (love is greater than grace! Or we say better, grace is the expression of love). God loved Israel so God rescued Israel from the land of slavery, the land of death. “It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery … keeping his covenant of love …” (Deuteronomy 7.8, 9).

From one end of the Hebrew Bible to the other this is true. Ezekiel used the graphic, and offensive, image of an exposed/abandoned baby girl for Israel (it was common in ancient cultures to throw away baby girls because they were viewed as “less than.” That is precisely Ezekiel’s point, Israel was “less than 0” in the eyes of others) in Ezekiel 16. Yahweh found her abandoned. Yahweh loved her. Yahweh “commands” that she “live.” Moses says they were the “least/fewest of all people” that they had nothing about them to draw anyone, that they had no righteousness nor even integrity, but it was precisely because Yahweh “loved them” and the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he entered his “covenant of love” … (Deut 7.9, 12; cf. 1 Kgs 8.29; 2 Chron 6.14; Neh 1.5; 9.32; Dan 9.4).

Contrary to so much bad theology based upon the faulty King James Version and the mountains of anti-Semitic preaching flowing from it, John says that the Jesus is the Incarnation of the Heart of the Hebrew Bible. “For law came through Moses BUT grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1.17, KJV). This mistranslation alone has done incalculable harm. Even though almost all modern translations have not followed this incorrect reading it is deeply embedded in our religious psychology. We read the text in modern translations as if it still says what the KJV reads. But there is no “But.” There is none in Greek.

John does not create a contrast. There is no antithesis in the text. Instead, John actually quotes the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 34.6, and applies it to Jesus. Grace and Truth … Hesed and ‘emeth … the central revelation of the steadfast love (grace!) in Yahweh is enfleshed in King Jesus. (See my article: Grace and Truth: Moses Heard it, We Saw it!).

Hesed reigns supreme in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed is the God of Israel’s “name tag.” That God creates in Hesed, redeems in Hesed, covenants in Hesed, walks in Exile in Hesed, raises Israel from the dead out of sheol in Hesed. The old song we (sometimes) sing, “grace, grace God’s grace, grace that will pardon, and cleanse within” could justly be sung about God’s Hesed.

Marvelous Hesed of our loving Lord,
Hesed that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt
Hesed, hesed, God’s hesed,
Hesed that will pardon and cleanse within
Hesed, hesed, God’s hesed,
Hesed that is greater than all our sin

The Hebrew Bible does in fact rhapsodize on Hesed. Just for fun, go read Psalm 103, Psalm 107, Psalm 136. And if you are adventurous read them out loud.

In fact, if someone wanted to summarize the entire Hebrew Bible to a single sentence it can be done faithfully and accurately:

He Loves (Hesed) Forever!

The Hebrew Bible is oozing Hesed, God’s love, God’s amazing grace. I was not taught this in Sunday School.

Recommended Reading

Thomas H. Olbricht’s classic, He Loves Forever: The Enduring Message of the Old Testament

Hermann Spieckermann, “God’s Steadfast Love: Towards a New Conception of Old Testament Theology,” Biblica 81 (2000): 305-327

This afternoon I’ve been reading the Psalms and reflecting on our Rabbi in the Gospel of Luke. I began meditating on Luke 15 especially and soaked in the brilliant portrait of Luke’s extremely Jewish Messiah.

Contrary to much popular teaching, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are among the “most Jewish” documents in the New Testament. Numerous scholars have even argued that Luke-Acts is so Jewish that Luke himself (the author) was himself Jewish or proselyte at the very least. A few of these scholars are Jacob Jervell, Donald Juel, and Greg Sterling. Rick Strelan even argued, at length, that Luke is a priest in his 2008 study, Luke the Priest: The Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. For more on the Jewish character of Luke-Acts see my article: Luke the Priest? Was Luke Gentile or Jewish? Regardless whether Luke is Jewish or a priest or not, the Jewish character of the writing is deep and important for interpreting the two volumes. On to Luke 15.

The Setting

The story in Luke 15 reveals Jesus, and Luke, to be a deep student of his Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures/Septuagint) and reveals how deeply embedded his teaching is with it. Jesus breathes the Hebrew Bible. The story before us also reveals how scandalous our young rabbi was. It is not merely the gospel that is a scandal, Jesus is the scandal. It is worth remembering that Jesus is only in his early 30s (between 30 and 33).

Luke 15 is saturated with echoes and allusions to Jesus’s (and Luke’s) source material, the First Testament. We miss so much in Jesus (and the rest of the apostolic writings) when we are not formed by Israel’s worship and Scriptures as they themselves were.

Luke sets the stage by drawing allusions to Israel’s foundation narratives in the Torah. He does this through three primary images or the use of biblical idiom:

  • “coming near/drawing near,”
  • “grumbling/murmuring,”
  • welcoming/eating with tax collectors and sinners.

First, “coming near/drawing near” is typical liturgical language of coming into/entering into God’s Presence. Coming Near/drawing near and eating are brought together in one of the most remarkable passages in the Hebrew Bible in the very core of the Exodus story, Exodus 24.1-11 (a text I never heard of growing up).

The Septuagint Exodus (LXX) uses the same roots as Luke 15.1, Yahweh says only Moses is to “come near.” After the covenant is enacted Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the Seventy Elders go up the mountain. What is described in Exodus is stunning. There on the mountain this Assembly encounters the God of Israel and “eat and drink” in the presence of God, and they “saw the God of Israel” and God did “not raise his hand against them” (24.9-11). It is worth actually quoting.

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him … Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24.1-3, 9-11).

God “welcomed,” even ate with, sinners. Drawing near and eating with God indicated a restoration of God/human communion on an Edenic level. That is they “saw God,” they communed with God at the table. Luke tells us that “tax collectors and sinners” came near/drew near and ate with Jesus and they were “welcomed” by him. Jesus is doing what Yahweh does. Jesus extends Jubilee fellowship with the rejects (Lk 5.27-33; 7.33-35; 15.1-2). Jubilee is significant motif in Luke-Acts.

Second, Luke draws listeners of his Gospel story into the foundational narrative of Israel through the murmuring/grumbling motif. Throughout Exodus and Numbers, the rebellious, ungrateful, people of God are constantly grumbling and murmuring. They grumble against Moses. They murmur against God. In the face of astonishing works of grace, they “grumble.” Luke tells us in 15.2 when Jesus does something as remarkable as Yahweh (welcome the unworthy by letting them come near) they respond as did their ancestors in the Wilderness, they grumble.

At this point we must grasp the import of “tax collector” and “sinner.” Tax collectors are not simply IRS agents. They were regarded as the enemy (literally). They are agents of Rome. They fund the occupying imperial army. They weren’t just dishonest, they are enemies. Philo of Alexandria gives us a glimpse into how notorious a reputation tax collectors had. He tells the story of a tax collector who had the authority to sell families into slavery or exile because they did not or could not pay their taxes (it is a lengthy text so I will not quote it, but see Philo, On Special Laws 3.159-63 in The Works of Philo translated by C. D. Yonge). Tax collectors are “sinners” indeed, but they are worse than sinners. They are (if you are Republican) Antifa. Or Aryan Cowboys (if you are BLM). You get the picture. Sinners are all manner of less than desirable people that religious people habitually look down their noses on (gays, Lesbians, divorced, Muslims, Marxists, Capitalists, the poor, you get the idea, see Luke 10.25-37).

The “riff raff” are “drawing near” to Jesus who in turn is welcoming and eating with the enemies.

The brotherhood watch dogs are incensed by Jesus’s flaunting of the Bible (in their view). But Jesus is only starting.

Jesus’s Radically Biblical Response

Luke tells us that Jesus defends himself by responding to the grumbling on the part of the “shepherds” of God’s people with a parable. The Shepherds of God’s people have been tasked with taking care of the very people Jesus is “welcoming.” Their job is seeking and rescuing but instead they “grumble.”

Mere Orthodoxy, it would seem, is not equated with faithfulness.

Jesus draws from one of the most prevalent motifs of the Hebrew Bible, God is a Shepherd. This image goes back to Jacob/Israel who says “by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Gen 49.15; cf. 48.24). God led Israel as a Shepherd in the wilderness (Num 27.17). Ezekiel records Yahweh chastising the Shepherds of Israel precisely because they did not “bind up” the broken but are self-centered. So, God himself will seek the lost sheep (Ezekiel 34 and 37).

For thus says the LORD God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness … I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak … I will feed them with justice” (34.11-12, 16).

Isaiah adds his voice to the image of God as Shepherd saying that, “the LORD God who gathers the OUTCASTS of Israel …” (56.8; see also Sirach 18.13; 2 Esdras 2.33-34; 5.18 and famously Ps 23, etc.).

Not a listener who heard Jesus missed his image. Jesus placed the leaders in the position of the false shepherds of Ezekiel who have ruled with ‘harshness” (34.4) and thus the sheep were “scattered/lost.” (Interestingly, Luke has a woman set this agenda, Jesus’s own mother, in Mary’s Song, (1.52-55) of bringing down the powerful but exalting the lowly). God will seek the scattered sheep, the “outcasts,” and place his servant David over them as Shepherd (Ezekiel 34.23-24; 37.24-25).

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken” (Ezekiel 34.23-24).

Jesus is clearly claiming to be the Davidic representative here. He does what God does. But more than that, he rejoices over the very things that the God of Israel rejoices about. The Shepherd places the lost sheep on his shoulders and “rejoices.”

This is not the sheep’s joy. Rather it is that of the Shepherd’s (the Davidic King/God) joy. The calling of the friends and neighbors to join the celebration is a rebuke of the Pharisees and scribes. They, the watch dogs, are invited to the party however. They should be partying with the Davidic representative but instead they have joined the murmuring generation in the wilderness by grumbling against God and his anointed (I have not decided if this could be a subtle allusion to Psalm 2.2).

Then Jesus lowers the boom on the grumblers with the woman and her coin. Here Jesus compares God to a Woman! Women were among the most despised of the “outcasts” that God will gather to himself. They are, perhaps, worse than “tax collectors.”

But Jesus, with none of the hang ups of modern Evangelicals, stunningly applies the image of a gendered woman to God. Of course, even here there is biblical precedent for Jesus’s action.

You were unmindful of the Rock, that bore you:
you forgot the God who gave you BIRTH” (Dt 32.18).

can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you” (Isa 49.15).

As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you …” (Isa 66.13).

God frantically searches for his lost coin (the enemies and sinners) as desperately as a woman who has lost one of her coins.

Again, the joy in the parable is not the coin’s joy. The person rejoicing is the Woman/God! The Woman calls her friends and throws a lavish party. Treasure has been found. God welcomes the enemies, the outcasts, the sinners.

Concluding Reflections

Jesus does not tolerate the outcasts. Jesus, as the Davidic Shepherd, welcomes them. The difference is huge. Jesus does what the God of Israel does. While the Pharisee Shepherds believed that they served God by abstaining from fellowship with undesirables, Jesus smacked that down by showing that God has a party and has called Jesus to announce Jubilee to the very people the scribes “marked and avoided” at all costs.

But the invitation is extended by Jesus to the Pharisees … they are welcome at the party. But to come one must welcome those who you think are not nearly as precisely obedient as themselves.

Jesus loved, and blessed, the “enemies” (tax collectors) and sat eating and drinking with them. Jesus loved the “sinners” and sat and welcomed them … he went out to find them.

And then the Son of David partied with them.

Welcome to the party.

Jennifer Rosner has gifted us in this wonderful book.

James is a Jew. Peter is a Jew. John is a Jew. Jude is a Jew. Matthew is a Jew. Mark is a Jew. Paul is a Jew. And according to a good number of New Testament scholars, Luke is either a Jew or likely a proselyte. The New Testament writings are Jewish writings. Jennifer Rosner is a Jew. Like all the Jews just named, she also believes in Jesus, who is also a Jew. Jennifer is a scholar with a PhD in the history of Jewish and Christian relations. But she has a gift for communicating in writing.

In today’s world, most Christians however are not Jewish and most Jews are not followers of the Jew from Nazareth. Jennifer has given us a wonderful blessing in her book Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel. She blends her personal story of discovery and finding faith in the Messiah with unique windows on the very Jewish character of the writings of the New Testament and the of the Way itself. Having grown up in what might be called a secular Jewish home, Jennifer rediscovers he own Jewishness through finding the Messiah.

There is a problem. Gentile believers in the Messiah tend to forget that Jesus is a Jew and overlook the Jewish character of the New Testament. And for many who remember these are treated as irrelevant to understanding Jesus and the Way. But in thirteen chapters, we are eased into a journey of discovery for ourselves. We too are “finding Messiah” along with Rosner. What we find is that Jesus was as Jewish as any other rabbi in Galilee and Judea.

We Gentile believers often miss quite a bit for several reasons. First, we do not know our Hebrew Bibles (which most call the Old Testament). Second, we do not know Second Temple Judaism. And third, we do not know any Jews. Even though Christians claim the Old Testament as Scripture many embrace the worst of caricatures of it and seek to divorce Jesus and the New Testament from the Hebrew Bible. Rosner mentions Andy Stanley in this regard but he is by no means alone. These three shortcomings are the opposite of the historical realities of the first century. The NT writings themselves are as saturated with Jewish scripture as any other Jewish document (say for example from the Dead Sea Scrolls). Thirty-three percent of the actual words of the NT are taken out of the “Old Testament.” And the Book of Acts clearly shows that even Paul’s converts were typically (but not exclusively) from among Gentiles that had already attached themselves to Jewish synagogues. But as the faith grew more and more Gentiles entered the Way who knew nothing of the Hebrew Scriptures and knew Jews only from the prevalent stereotypes in the Greco-Roman world. By the end of the second century (perhaps earlier) there we more Gentiles than Jewish followers. And knowledge that was assumed by the writers of the New Testament was lost and frequently replaced with sheer prejudice.

Our journey to the Messiah takes us through eye opening discussions of ritual purity, human bodies, the land, Sabbath and a look at Paul. Many things are lost in translation. Much in fact. We forget that Jesus is actually Joshua, Mary is actually Miriam, James is actually Jacob, the family of the Messiah is simply typically Jewish. Lost in translation is Joshua the Messiah dresses like a Jewish man with prayer tassels just like any Pharisee. Speaking of Pharisees, a Pharisee wrote the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans!

Finding Messiah is a warm book. Rosner pulls us into the her journey so that we too will find the Messiah. the real one. For those in the Stone-Campbell tradition her book should be widely read for it is an invitation to return to the Bible itself. What did Jesus/Joshua actually set out to do? What did Paul the Pharisee who happens to be an apostle to the Gentiles actually teach regarding both Jews and Gentiles. Discovering our Jewish Messiah does not mean, Rosner says correctly, that Gentiles become Jews themselves. But we do become citizens of God’s renewed Israel which is made up of Jews and Gentiles. What it does mean is that some of our doctrine may have to be emended in light of the real Jesus and the real teachings of the very Jewish New Testament.

I could not put Finding Messiah down. I had it read in a single day. Then I read it again. I have already given out four copies to friends. The book comes with a very helpful glossary and questions for each chapter making it ideal for use in small groups and book clubs too. It comes with the usual caveat that I do not agree with every iota but what I might have said slightly different is so insignificant as not worth mentioning.

Be gracious to yourself. Buy a copy of this book. Read it. Buy a copy for your minister and shepherds. Insist that they read it too. Click on the title above to find it online.

Disclaimer: I get no money from reviewing or recommending this book. I have written out of my own feeling this is an extremely important and needed work for Christians to ruminate upon.

Related Links:

Picturing Jesus the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology

Jesus, Jewish Big Brother: Gospel Truths about Jesus’s Family Hidden in Plain View

Jesus of Nazareth: Does it Matter that the Messiah is a Jew?

The Aryan Jesus: Part 1, Give Me the Hebrew Bible

One Story Part of an Ongoing Story

Growing Up with Acts

I grew up on Acts.

Actually, I grew up on selected portions of Acts. I grew up with bits and pieces of Acts cut apart, shuffled, and reassembled. Acts was a “book of conversions” as I was taught. What I did not grow up on was Acts as a coherent and unified narrative as it is presented by its author, Luke. Frankly there were large swaths of Acts that was quite literally terra incognita.

In 2021, I did a series on the Book of Acts called “Walk this Way.” For months leading up to that series, I read the book as a whole every week and then I would read Luke and Acts together. In preparing for this series I reread numerous sources. My reading of Acts is profoundly indebted to Richard Oster, Jacob Jervell (I cannot imagine doing exegesis of Luke/Acts without Jervell), Richard Bauckham, C. H. Talbert, Greg Sterling, Donald Juel, William Willimon, Mark Kinzer, and Carl Holladay. To a lesser extent it has been shaped by N. T. Wright/M. Bird, F. F. Bruce, and Willie Jennings.

I confess that my understanding of Luke-Acts is very different than what I learned in David Underwood’s (of blessed memory) Acts class in undergrad many moons ago. This is no knock on my beloved teacher rather it is a tribute to the love he instilled for the book. I have just come to appreciate that Luke’s agenda and our agenda did not always come together.

To offer a brief summary, Luke’s “agenda” is to present a continuing story, it is the continuing story of Israel. Luke’s continuing story is analogous to how Chronicles retells the same story contained in Samuel-Kings and extends it. It is:

The Same God: the God of Israel.

The Same Promises: the Promises to Abraham, David & Israel.

The Same Mission: the Mission for which Israel was created.

The Same People: Renewed.

Luke writes a fundamentally Jewish story. In fact it is incredibly Jewish. That’s right, Luke is not the “Gentile” Gospel but the faithful God of the ancestors keeping faith and promises to the fathers and people of God. It is an Israel made new story.

Ten Pointers on Faithfully Reading Luke’s Story

First. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Luke to write Acts. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write a single unified narrative of what Jesus began to do and say (Acts 1.1), a story that continues thru what we call Acts. Thus Luke and Acts are a single, holistic, story with unifying themes in two-volumes.

Imagine a multi-volume series today: Lord of the Rings; Hunger Games; Star Wars; Game of Thrones; the Pendragon Cycle. One cannot take Return of the King or Return of the Jedi as a stand alone work. To use an analogy: as Return of the Jedi shows the redemption and renewal of Anakin Skywalker, so Acts continues the “tale” of the redemption and renewal of Israel as the people of God. Return of the King reads different, and reads more coherently, when one connects the people, places and episodes against The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.

So, Acts first of all reads differently, and coherently, when connected specifically first to the Gospel of Luke and with the history of Israel in the Hebrew Bible (or Luke’s copy of it in the LXX). Luke himself points to the connections between not only the two books but the umbilical cord to the Story of Israel when he narrates Mary/Miriam’s song (Lk 1.46-55) and when tells us that the resurrected Jesus spent forty days giving the disciples a graduate course on “Old Testament” theology which becomes the basis of Acts (Luke 24.44-45).

I encourage you, when you read Acts – read it in light of the Gospel of Luke. When you study Acts – study in light of Luke and the “living oracles” – which for him are only the Scriptures of Israel. Not just in light of however but as the same ongoing story.

Second. When we read Acts as part of Luke-Acts, the unified and single story, that the Holy Spirit inspired, something interesting does happen. First certain narrative patterns emerge. This is undeniable. When we read Acts 1 to 28, however, the patterns that emerge are not Roberts Rules for Doing Church. In fact as Acts is written there are considerable differences he relates to us. They are not the pattern he seeks to inculcate. But first we need to recognize that the “story” does not begin in Acts 1.1. It begins in Luke 1.1, and even before that as Luke assumes the hearers of his single story are in fact saturated in the LXX.

Third. If Acts is continuing the story of what Jesus the Messiah not only did but is doing, and we connect Acts to the Gospel of Luke, there is one pattern that emerges. Jesus is found praying and seeking divine guidance and power at every turn: at his baptism (3.21) at choosing his disciples (5.16) all night (6.12) when his name is confessed (9.18) at his transfiguration (9.28) at the cross (22.41). The “church” follows this “pattern” thus they pray while waiting (1.14) while seeking to replace one of the twelve (1.24) the apostles devote themselves to prayer (6.4-6) when performing miracles (8.15; 9.40) Peter “gets away” to pray at Joppa (10.9) gathering at Mark’s house (12.12) commissioning mission (13.3) and these places 16.25; 20.36; 21.5; 22.17; and 28.8. What is the point of this pattern? It is that Jesus is now living in and through his people, restored Israel. The church did not ask “What would Jesus do?” The church did what Jesus would do. Or that is what they are supposed to do.

Fourth. When we begin in Luke we notice that the Spirit is given to Jesus in prayer at his baptism (in fact unlike Matthew, Luke does not actually narrate Jesus’s baptism.). The dove descends and the voice is heard while Jesus is praying (3.22). Only then does he begin his ministry (3.22). The 120 follow this pattern. They are told to wait until they receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.5, 8 ). Only When the Spirit descends on them do they begin a public ministry. All the “characters” in Acts are, like Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit: Peter (4.8); Stephen (6.5); Paul (13.9) and many other references. What is the point of this pattern? That the early church is lead by and directed by God’s own Spirit to do and say what Jesus did.

Fifth. The Stephen narrative is instructive. Here Luke brings together three parallel stories in fact: Moses, Jesus, and Stephen. For my purpose, I focus on Jesus and Stephen. Both are spoken well of. Both are filled with the Spirit. Both are recipients of wisdom, grace and power. Both do “signs and wonders” (a Mosaic connection). Both are accused of blasphemy. Both are taken to the council. Both have the eyes of the group fixed on them. Both are cast out of the city. Both pray to God that this crime will not be held against them. Both commit their lives to God. Both are killed. Both are buried by devout faithful people. What is the point of this pattern? That Jesus’s life is radically reproduced in the life of his church. The story of the church should be the story of what Jesus said and did.

Sixth. In Acts we find the disciples doing what Jesus had commanded in his ministry. Thus the disciples “rejoice” when persecuted (Acts 5.41, etc), they “shake the dust” off when rejected (Lk 9.3-5; Acts 13.51; 18.6). This pattern of doing as Jesus directed is most evident in the troublesome area of money and economics in Acts. In the Gospel of Luke, much more than in Matthew, Mark or John (though not absent in these Gospels) Jesus encourages a Year of Jubilee ethic. Jesus defined his entire ministry in terms of the Sabbath of Sabbaths: God’s Jubilee (Lk 4.16-19). He encourages sharing possessions and condemns greed and selfishness harshly. Stories on this theme told only in Luke’s Gospel are (and Luke knows you have read these stories when he tells these other stories in Acts): the Rich Man and Lazarus; ‘blessed are you who are poor now“; Zaccheus; parables about inviting the poor, lame, maimed, blind; the dishonest steward; and the command to sell your possessions and give alms. This pattern shows up in Acts. Both positively and negatively. Thus the early church “sells” their possessions and no one claimed their property as their own (Acts 2 & 4); we are told of Barnabas’s generosity, Dorcas caring for the poor, Paul and the Antioch church. Negatively we read of Ananias and Sapphira, Simon, Felix and even Judas. What is the point of this Pattern? That the early church became what Jesus taught … Year of Jubilee people. The ministry of Jesus was the pattern for the life, thought and teaching of the early Way. And Luke is inviting us to “Walk on this Way.”

Seventh. Shift gears slightly. Traditional “Church of Christ” patternism claims that “uniformity is the very thing that the Lord requires.” Acts, however, does not teach this claim anywhere. We have noted some genuine patterns in Luke-Acts however. Many resist these patterns. These patterns are in fact “hard.” But For the Luke, the Life of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus the King of Israel, interpreted through the Spirit and the so called Old Testament, was the authority. But reading from Acts 1 to 28 we are hard pressed to find “churches” that are “uniform.”

That oft quoted text in Acts 2.42 of continuing “steadfastly in the apostles doctrine” (KJV) is not believed, though quoted. That text refers to assembling and worshiping in the Temple at the daily hours of sacrifice. That text refers to selling possessions and sharing all things in common (v.45). That Way is absolutely nothing like any church I have ever been in my life. This church, described in Acts 2.42, is the same church that is “the mother church” when we are through 75 percent of the Book of Acts (that is by Acts 21). It is clear – on every page nearly of Acts – that churches in Jerusalem, Joppa, and Samaria, are quite different than those in Antioch, Corinth, Galatia and other places. Ironically this is in fact a “pattern.” It is a pattern of diversity. Gentiles did not have to become ethnic Jews to be part of Israel. Jews did not have to become Gentiles to be part of renewed Israel. This is the entire point of Acts 15. But Gentiles do become part of the restored House of David, the renewed Israel. The Gentiles, as Gentiles, is proof the God of Israel is keeping the promises to (cf. Acts 15.16; see 15.15-17). Gentiles live among Jews with the same “rules” as the Law says for resident aliens in the land (Acts 15.21; Leviticus 17.8,9,10; 18.6-23; etc).

Eight. The pattern of diversity canonized by Luke under Spirit guidance is breath taking. It was not uniformity of liturgy that bound the early Way together in Acts. If we ever caught the biblical vision of the Spirit diversity of God’s renewed Israel it would save us a lot of trouble. The Jerusalem church was as authentically on The Way as the disciples in Galatia. Our false assumptions have quite literally blinded us at times to the pattern that Luke actually gave us and has caused caused us to deny what is plainly there.

In Acts we learn that “great compan[ies] of priests” embrace the Messiah but do not cease to be priests (6.7). In Acts we learne that Paul is a Pharisee who just happened to be an “apostle” (Acts 23.6; 26.4). We learn that Paul explicitly defines “salvation” itself in terms of “the hope of ISRAEL” (28.20; 23.6). We learn that Paul takes Jewish Nazarite vows seemingly routinely (Acts 18.18; 23.23-27). We learn that the Jerusalem Way and Paul offer sacrifices in the Temple (Acts 24.11,17-18). We learn that James and Paul are both concerned that liturgical diversity not undermine the oneness of God’s renewed Israel. The early church, liturgically, participated in the Temple. This is crystal clear from Acts 2, 21 and 24. Because we have, most of the time, failed to read Acts from the direction of 1) the “Living Oracles” and 2) the Gospel of Luke we have failed to notice that Paul and James are “in one accord” that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be part of God’s renewed Israel. But Paul and James did in fact think Gentiles were bound to Torah instruction regarding “aliens” in the midst of Israel (the Apostolic letter in Acts 15 contains the gist of that Mosaic instruction) and now part of the same story as natural born Israelites.

Liturgically (that is how WORSHIP IS DONE) this meant diversity. Paul did not have his arm twisted to take vows, honor the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20.4-6), desire to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost (20.16), offer animal sacrifice in Acts 21. He says himself, that he was going to do that whether James suggested it or not (Acts 24.11-17, a text that habitually ignored by many including “traditional” Pauline NT scholarship).

Disciples, shaped by the Protestant Reformation more than we ever realize, are often surprised that in the early church James was more influential that Paul (Paul is the “go to guy” in Protestantism. I try to avoid a canon within a canon, though I probably have not succeeded in that). The apostle James (and our Lord’s brother), according to surviving testimony, was so Jewish that he looked and dressed like a Jewish priest as an apostle for Jesus (but it is difficult to believe that James was any more Jewish than brother, the King of the Jews!). But this belies our prejudice because Paul himself looked so Jewish he was routinely invited to teach in synagogues. Paul has his phylacteries on!

These are just some of the diversity of the early Way. Yet in spite of this Luke tells us that God’s people are one and diversity is part of that oneness. Luke notes there is in fact conflict but unless Luke is lying the conflict was not between the leadership and most of the followers of the Way. The Jerusalem leadership celebrated the Gentile mission (cf. Acts 21.20). There were rogue elements however as there always is (just read the Psalms!). The issue at contention among those rogue groups was the rumors of what Paul was telling JEWS in the Diaspora, not what he was teaching Gentiles.

Nine. When we read Luke-Acts as the Spirit gave it and not a little here and a little there (like the excess dough in those Christmas cookie cutters) we see an interesting and very significant fact. Luke, unless I’m missing something, relates a grand total of zero stories of the appointing of elders, or relating advice on how a church was to be “organized.” We learn that the church in Antioch had elders (11.30) but we do not read of the actual appointment of elders in Acts until 14.23. What is significant about 14.23 is that we have already read about “elders” within a specifically Jewish context in Acts. Paul is simply using Jewish synagogue polity for his Gentile congregations. They are after all now part of the restored “House of David.” Acts shows no interest at all in how a congregation is “organized” (a question that has consumed so much of our own historic patternism), not one iota is given in the narrative to the subject. Not one worship “service” is related by Luke, unless we take Acts 2.42’s declaration they gathered for worship at the “hour of prayer/sacrifice” is Luke’s depiction. Singing is mentioned once and it took place in a jailhouse (Acts 16.25; the other example of singing is Mary’s Song, Lk 2.46-55). What we know is that some disciples followed Temple liturgy and we know that some disciples followed more of a diaspora synagogue pattern – like in Troas. This pattern is hard to accept … we want to “fix” Luke! But Luke loves diversity.

Ten. When we read Luke-Acts as a single unified story with an eye on how that continues the story that is related in Israel’s scriptures, we learn that “ecclesiology” is not unimportant to Luke. But what Luke means by ecclesiology has nothing to do with five acts of worship, almost nothing to do with the “name” of the group (in fact almost all the designations used by Luke come from Israel’s scriptures!), virtually nothing to do with the organization of the church and almost nothing to do with liturgy. Just read Luke-Acts yourself from beginning to end and see for yourself.

For Luke what we call ecclesiology is derived from Christology. The goal of Luke’s narrative is to reproduce a pattern of sorts. But he is not trying to make churches like those in Palestine nor like those in Galatia. The Pattern for the church is none other than the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus the promised Messiah reproduced in the life of renewed Israel whether in Palestine or Greece. The hermeneutical goal is not to be like the first century church but like Christ = The King of Israel in every fashion. We know we are on Christ’s Way when a historian has a hard time telling if what we do is what “we” do or if it is what “Jesus” is doing.

The Pattern for the “church” in Luke-Acts is the church reproducing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. That pattern not only recognizes the diversity of God’s renewed Israel but, like James and Paul, we are willing to go the extra mile to protect it and affirm our oneness because that is what Jesus did: he got a tax collector and a zealot to sit at the same table!! The church that Luke writes about does the same thing. His interest or pattern is, in short this:

The Same God: the God of Israel.

The Same Promises: the Promises to Abraham, David & Israel.

The Same Mission: the Mission for which Israel was created.

The Same People: Renewed.

Be blessed.

Biblical “fact checkers” verdict on this meme is it is partly true and mostly false because of seriously missing context! The posters of the meme exempt themselves from Proverbs 6.16-19.

Go in Shalom.” Those are the radical words from Jesus to a woman of shocking reputation while sitting at Simon’s table.


We disciples, it seems to me, often try to circumvent our own doctrine. We have select sins that are (seemingly) perfectly “kosher.” Most of the “Seven Deadly Sins” (Proverbs 6.16-19) are routinely found in most Evangelical/Restorationist churches.

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community

But when we find a person struggling with “sins” we do not like (or simply do not live in our approved manner) such as “homosexuality” we pop out the slogan, Jesus said “go and sin no more.”

In my experience this sloganizing is usually a thinly veiled effort at self-justification for our harshness and lack of compassion (empathy is often not on the radar screen). Indeed, we often do come off as if we hate the “sinner.” They are the “sinners.” They are the ones in need of repentance. They are out of step with God. They are the ones who hate God’s word. They are the ones that need change.

Never us. Never me.

The point of the Scriptures are not so I can tell everyone else they need to repent. Rather the point is to reveal the depths of my own sin and radical need of God’s mercy.

It isn’t that we do not know what the Scripture says. But we, like when the Bible scholar when asked about the Greatest Command said, “well then, just who is my neighbor.” He, like us, actually knew the answer. But he, like us, wants to get around the ethic of living that Scripture.

It is not my job, and never has been, to decide if your sin is more disgusting to God than mine (that is if we admit we are indeed dripping in sin). But it is worth noting that in the Seven Things that God “hates” (Proverbs 6.16f) arrogance, lying, and discord are all mentioned but adultery, fornication, homosexuality (etc) are not. I am not saying those are not sin rather the point is that we cozy up with the very things God is said to hate. We can add racism, sexism, love of money, being overfed and unconcerned for the poor, you know the real sin of Sodom.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:
She and her daughters were arrogant,
overfed and unconcerned;
they did not help the poor and needy
(Ezekiel 16.49)

What about “Go and Sin No More?”

So what about that phrase “go and sin no more.” We do find it in a story presently located in John 7.53-8.11. The saying is in 8.11.

Just for the sake of truth, this text is a textual variant. Every modern translation tells you that John 7.53-8.11 is not original to the Gospel of John. Most translations will have an extended note similar to this one in the NIV.

[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.
A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

The 2011 NIV places the passage as a whole in italics. It is a great story and many scholars believe it is an actual event in the life of Jesus. One of the many stories of Jesus that never made it into a Gospel. It is interesting that none of the Church Fathers seem to know the story for several hundred years after the Ascension. It is a good story. I love it. I think it illustrates well the compassion of Jesus. But John did not write it.

But before Jesus, first says to this woman, says to the men “you without sin can cast the first stone.” After a few moments he said to the woman, “where are your accusers?” They fled. Then Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you.

One wonders if those who post memes, such as the one accompanying this article, realize the we do not have a leg to stand on when we post such things.

What did Jesus Do? Go in Shalom …

Well in Luke 7.36-50 we find Jesus at a church man’s house, Simon. At lunch, some woman came off the street and started playing with Jesus’s feet. She even undid her hair, rubbing locks of her hair all over his feet as she caressed his feet with her lips (7.45).

Beloved reader, it is difficult to state just how outrageously shocking this story is in the first century. We have sanitized this story to the point of it being unrecognizable. But it was no pious moment. It was interpreted as absolute proof Jesus was a fraud.

If this happened in John MacArthur’s/John Piper’s church or Eastside, they would die of a heart attack. If this episode happened to any modern preacher, and he did not speak up and stop her, he would be looking elsewhere for a job. The people would drag her out by the hair in unbridled indignation. It is not strange that Simon and everyone else is scandalized.

Simon condemned Jesus in his heart. The crowd did too. Why? Because this woman’s reputation had proceeded her. They responded as many of us today. They condemned her.

But Jesus says this woman “whose sins are MANY” (7.47) was forgiven.

She never even asked!

Then Jesus said a phrase like John 8.11 but one word is significantly different, “Your faith has saved you; go in PEACE/shalom” (7.50). Jubilee has been announced to this woman. Not a Jew present would have missed the “priestly” blessing Jesus pronounces upon this woman. Her world has been reframed. Go in Shalom!

Then Jesus made it absolutely clear that Simon and the woman were the same.

This nameless woman is just one of a long line of biblical women that are often judged by men. We have no idea from the text what kind of woman she was. Simon regarded her as a “sinner” (7.39). The text though does not say she was just a fornicator or adulterous. She could just as easily have been a woman who had been divorced or widowed and had no way of actually living except her body (in fact I suspect this is the case with her). We need to remember such stories as Tamar (Genesis 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12), the woman at the well (John 4), etc, not one received a word of rebuke (much less condemnation). Rather, each received a word of grace in the graceless world they lived in.

God surely wants us to go and sin no more. We are to be renewed in mind and sanctified in the Spirit. But it is not my job to determine whether a person is doing that sufficiently or not. Most of us are Simon, unaware that we need to be forgiven as much as the shameless woman. But she received the priestly blessing, he did not (see the Jubilee parable Jesus tells Simon in the middle of the story, 7.40-43).

In my life, when I see someone embrace God’s astonishing grace, I have cultivated the habit of saying,

your faith has saved you,
go in SHALOM

W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963)

Confederate Memorials have been controversial and divisive from the moment they were constructed. For the most part they were constructed with division as their goal to begin with. The Confederate monument building phenomena dominated the years of 1895 to 1920 and then again the years of 1954 to 1965. These dates are not accidental. These years correspond to the Supreme Court decisions of Plessy v. Ferguson that canonized Jim Crow in the United States and 1954 was the Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools. For more on the symbols see my article The Confederate Flag and the Nation for Which it Stands. There has never been a time in the history of these monuments that they were not divisive and offensive. That was their purpose for the proclaimed, from the beginning, a divisive and offensive message.

W. E. B. DuBois, the legendary civil rights crusader, intellectual, author of The Souls of Black Folks and so much more, loathed Civil War monuments. DuBois addressed monuments on a number of occasions. For example in 1931 he wrote, “the most terrible thing about the War, I am convinced, is its monuments.” In March 1928, he penned a piece called “Robert E. Lee” in the magazine he edited called The Crises. It is one of the most succinct explanations of the moral quagmire of Lee I have ever read. I share it in full. It is not that long.

Read it. Ponder it. It is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1928.

“Each year on the 19th of January {Lee’s birthday, BV} there is renewed effort to canonize Robert E. Lee, the greatest confederate general. His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing–one terrible fact–militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery. Copperheads like the New York Times may magisterially declare: “of course, he never fought for slavery.” Well, for what did he fight? State rights? Nonsense. The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

No. People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege and that was what Virginia fought for in the Civil War. And Lee followed Virginia. He followed Virginia not because he particularly loved slavery (although he certainly did not hate it), but because he did not have the moral courage to stand against his family and his clan. Lee hesitated and hung his head in shame because he was asked to lead armies against human progress and Christian decency and did not dare refuse. He surrendered not to Grant, but to Negro Emancipation.

Lee Memorial in Richmond, Va turned into a postcard. Contemporary with DuBois critique.

Today we can best perpetuate his memory and his nobler traits not by falsifying his moral debacle, but by explaining it to the young white south. What Lee did in 1861, other Lees are doing in 1928. They lack the moral courage to stand up for justice to the Negro because of the overwhelming public opinion of their social environment. Their fathers in the past have condoned lynching and mob violence, just as today they acquiesce in the disfranchisement of educated and worthy black citizens, provide wretchedly inadequate public schools for Negro children and endorse a public treatment of sickness, poverty and crime which disgraces civilization.

It is the punishment of the South that its Robert Lees and Jefferson Davises will always be tall, handsome and well-born. That their courage will be physical and not moral. That their leadership will be weak compliance with public opinion and never costly and unswerving revolt for justice and right. It is ridiculous to seek to excuse Robert Lee as the most formidable agency this nation ever raised to make 4 million human beings goods instead of men. Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not. If he did not he was a fool. If he did, Robert Lee was a traitor and a rebel–not indeed to his country, but to humanity and humanity’s God.”

This should be read and reread and then read again. This my friends is the unvarnished truth.

12 Jul 2022

Jesus of Nazareth, the Psalms, and Instruments

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Music, Psalms, Worship

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy
(Psalm 33.1-3)

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the
King, the LORD

(Psalm 98.4-6)

I was sitting on my couch meditating on my daily Psalm reading (Psalms 98-102). I had some music playing in the background as I often do. An album came on I have not heard in a while. It was one of my favs for a few years. “City on a Hill” has material by Third Day, Caedmon’s Call, Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer and others.

I found myself just leaning back and letting the music flow through my mind and fill my body. I was uplifted. In fact I was literally drawn into the worship of the One who is enthroned upon Israel’s praise (Ps 22.3). Chronicles captures it like this,

in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying,

‘He indeed is good
for His loving kindness [hesed] is everlasting,

then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud” (2 Chron 5.13).

Worship. Song. Music. The Glory of the Lord.

After a few minutes, my mind returned to this morning’s Psalm reading. Music filled me. Music is not merely vocal. Music is not merely instruments. Music is both. Music connects the entire human with the glory of the Lord.

Replica of the Lyre of Meggido dating to about 1000 BC

The Psalms are both. They are music. There are plenty of instruments in the Psalms. Instruments are mentioned in the Psalms and in their headings (Headings in the Hebrew Bible are literally the first verse of the psalm). Instruments appear already by Psalm 4.1, “with stringed instruments.”; 5.1, “for the flutes“; 6.1, with stringed instruments“; 54.1, “with stringed instruments“; etc. In the temple, King David, at the command of God, had 4000 Levites trained (yep trained) as both singers and instrumental musicians (1 Chron 23.5). He divided them into 288 courses (that is groups of 13) under the leadership of Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman.

There seems to be nine basic instruments mentioned in the Psalms themselves which can be divided into three basic kinds of instruments:

  • stringed instruments
  • wind instruments
  • percussion instruments.

The “lyre” (kennor) we know what this instrument looks like and even what it sounds like. Depictions of temple “lyre’s” can be found on Jewish coins from the Bar Kokhba period and Semite’s playing them in ancient Egyptian art. Right in Israel the “Lyre of Megiddo” was excavated by Gordon Loud in the 1920s that dates to about 1000 B.C, nearly contemporary with David. We find specific references to this beautiful instrument in 33.2; 43.4; 57.8; 71.22; 81.2; 92.3; 98.5; 108.2; 137.2; 147.7; 149.3; 150.3 among others.

Several different kinds of wind instruments are mentioned. The “pipes” (halil) are typically translated as “flutes.” This is another ancient instrument we know what it looked like thanks to archeology. An Israelite terracotta figure is playing one of these instruments. These instruments were used in the Psalms and during the holy festivals of Israel. Isaiah speaks of the gladness of God’s people ascending the Mount Zion to the sound of the “halil” on the night “holy festival is kept” (Isa 30.29).

In Jesus’s temple the “halil” was played during those festivals and sacrifice. Jesus and his disciples would have heard it the night of the Last Supper. We learn in the Mishnah,

On twelve days in the year was the halil played before the altar: at the killing of the first Passover sacrifice, at the killing of the second Passover sacrifice, on the first festival day of Passover, on the festival day of Pentecost, and on the eight days of the Feast [of Sukkot/Tabernacles].”

The “trumpets” are of two varieties: the shofar and silver trumpets. We know exactly what the latter looked like in Jesus’s day and the early church. For 2000 years the Arch of Titus, near the Coliseum in Rome, has depicted booty laden Roman soldiers carrying off the sacred vessels of the Temple: the Menorah, the table of shewbread, and the sacred trumpets.

Coins minted during the years of Simon bar Kokhba depicting temple lyre of the first century

With these sacred trumpets (and all these instruments), the Way would be quite familiar. According to the Book of Acts, the Way gathered daily “worshiped in the Temple” (Acts 2.46, NLT) and gathered for “the prayers” at the “hour of prayer, three o’clock in the afternoon” (Acts 3.1-2, NRSV). The “hours of prayer” coincided with the daily sacrifices at Jesus’s temple: at 9 am and at 3 pm. These trumpets were used as part of the sacrificial and prayer service.

They never sounded less than twenty-one tekia in the temple, and never more than forty-eight. Every day they blew twenty-one tekia in the temple, three at the opening of the gates, nine at the daily morning sacrifice, and nine at the daily evening sacrifice. At the additional sacrifices they sounded an additional nine; and on the eve of the sabbath they added six …”

During Jesus’s day and the early Way, an additional instrument was used in the Temple. When I learned this I was just stunned. That is the “magrefah.” The “magrefah” was an early organ. The Mishnah tells us the organ was placed between the Temple portico and the altar (M.Tam 5.6).

The Gospels depict Jesus as zealous for “my Father’s house” (Jn 2.16) and frequently there. He even made it to Hanukkah which celebrates the renewal of the Temple by the Maccabees (Jn 10.22ff). In the Court of Women, where rabbis like Jesus would teach regularly and participate in worship, there were fifteen steps. On these steps the Levites would gather and lead the pilgrims in worship and the women (and men) would dance in joy before the Lord. The Psalms they played were the Songs of Ascents perfectly blending music; vocal and instrumental.

My mind went wandering all because a song came on. Most of today’s disciples know very little about the Psalms and even less about the Temple. Jesus’s temple was alive with music, the praise of Yahweh. As the Psalter ends,

Let everything that has breath, praise Yahweh.”

Blame the old CD

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more …” (Romans 5)

Reading and Praying the Psalms lectio continua will change your world. Not magically, not overnight. But daily reading and praying through the Psalter as a discipline beginning to end every month, in order, does things to us. Five Psalms a day, everyday, every month. Let me share one example.

Celebrating grace is not endorsing, much less condoning, error. On the contrary, celebrating grace is holy acknowledgment of the doctrinal truth that grace is greater than our error (or sin).

Some do not believe, it seems, this truth.

So I was reading in God’s word and I have, once again, been struck by two significant facts that seemingly smack us, or at least me, up side the head.

First Truth

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts …
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced
…” (105.1-3, 5)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever …
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind …
Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the steadfast love of the Lord
.” (107.1, 8, 43, Hesed dominates Psalm 107)

First Truth comes from two lengthy Psalms that close Book IV and begin Book V, these are Psalms 105 and Psalms 107. In these Psalms, God’s People are led by the Holy Spirit to confess and sing with unabashed abandon the truth that Yahweh is incredibly, unbelievably, amazingly, long-suffering, gracious, and merciful. Repeated oral reading of these Psalms will carve Hesed rivers into our communal consciousness. Often, when the Bible speaks of the uniqueness of God it does squarely in terms of Hesed and grace (we Gentiles miss this many times).

Who is a God LIKE YOU?

The prophet places the question squarely in the context of the character of the God of Israel,

who is a God like you,
and passing over transgression …
because he delights in showing mercy …
you will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”
(Micah 7.18-19).

Many Christians certainly believe in God. But it is not merely the existence of God that Micah is concerned with. Rather it is the character of God. What kind of God do we worship?

Second Truth

Second Truth comes from Psalm 106. It is equally significant that the editors of the Psalter framed Psalm 106 with Psalm 105 before and Psalm 107 following it. It is only after celebrating the infinite Hesed of Yahweh in Psalm 105 that we encounter the darkness of Psalm 106. And immediately following encounter the blazing brightness of Hesed, a greatness that is only magnified by the stark black contrast of Psalm 106 with 105 and 107.

In Psalm 106, we confess with all God’s People we are the polar opposite of Yahweh. We and our ancestors are incredibly rebellious, we are blind, we are disobedient, we are selfish, we are greedy, we are self-righteous. Our story can reach incredible depths of ugliness. It is hard to conceive of a lower point than in parts of the book of Judges. It is painful, I confess, to read Judges 17-19. Yet we are driven to confess that this is our story.

Shocking Truth

Just as Psalm 105 and 107 are even brighter in contrast with Psalm 106; so the opposite is true. Psalm 106 is even sadder in the light of glory of Hesed that surrounds it in Psalm 105 and Psalm 107. This is by design dear reader.

Here is the shocking truth of Hesed from these Psalms. Though full of sin and abounding in apostasy they remain God’s People.


Because of the First Truth!


Because of the First Truth!

Surely if that which was written before was for our learning, and is good for doctrine, and equips the people of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3.14-17), then we can learn something about the way God relates to his people. In fact it is in precisely a context of telling largely Gentile disciples of Jesus that the scripture was written for our learning. Learning how to graciously treat one another (cf. Romans 15.4).

Our Lord calls them (us) to a very high ideal and deals with them (us) with incredible long suffering and mercy. Perhaps we should also take to heart what Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and LIVE IN LOVE, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5.1-2). Clearly, Psalm 106, and Judges, teaches us the depth of God’s long suffering Hesed for the most desperately out of whack people, US! If we are imitators of God would that not mean we are just as long suffering, merciful and full of Hesed with each other regarding the foibles we have, which are a cake walk by comparison to Judges and Psalm 106!

Further, when we look at the leaders of God’s People from Joshua to Samson the quality seems fairly low (Joshua clearly being the best of the bunch but then there was the Gibeonite episode). I confess, if Samson showed up on my door step to ask my daughter out, I’d call the cops!!! Yet the Lord of Hesed did in fact use him, and them, and blessed the feeble efforts.

Now when we move from the history of God’s people within Scripture to that of “profane” history what do we see? We see men like Martin Luther (or John Calvin, Martin Luther King Jr, C. S. Lewis, Alexander Campbell, etc). We should ask ourselves how he would compare to Jepthah, Samson, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Jacob? Clearly he (Luther) was mistaken (like Joshua whose mistake cost the entire people!) on stuff. Even important stuff.

Yet, I wonder if God changed how he dealt with human beings from the time of Psalms 105-107 and Samson to Martin Luther? One wonders if Luther would have been satisfied with just one night of dew on the ground and a dry cloth? Or if Luther would have visited prostitutes before bringing a visitation on the Philistines? I am just wondering “out loud?” Are Luther’s sins greater than those recorded in Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” I wonder if the grace Samson found from Micah’s God was denied to Luther?

So many times we act like God has ceased to be the God of Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107. Hesed celebrates, in these Psalms, the doctrinal truth that Yahweh delights to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34.6).

Interestingly enough it is only in fairly recent times that restoration Christians decided that Luther was not much better than a pagan. Alexander Campbell could chastise those who claimed the epitaph “Protestant” as traitors to Luther. He could say:

O for another Luther, to lash the popery of false Protestants, who prefer implicit surrender of their own judgment to the decision of … pretenders to divine wisdom …”

In his debate with N. L. Rice, Campbell extolled his gratitude and respect not only on Martin Luther and John Calvin but on their predecessors. Specifically of Luther and Calvin he says these astonishing words. They,

were God’s chosen vessels to accomplish at the proper time a mighty moral revolution, whose might, sway and extended empire over the human mind and destinies of the world, have not yet been fully appreciated.” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 587).

“God’s chosen vessels.” Those are fascinating words. Now Campbell, someone will say, was uninspired. I agree. His opinion matters for nothing, right!

However, I think Campbell recognized something quite significant and true. Something we need to accept as biblical truth precisely because it is TRUTH …

Perfection of either understanding or Precision Obedience in practice is not what makes one a part of the family of God nor makes a people the People of God. The Hebrew Bible as a whole, but the Psalms especially teach the doctrine that Yahweh’s grace is greater than our error.

Could it be that Luther was in fact truly a disciple? Surely he was. That term is used to describe the “Way,” that is the people of Jesus in the NT, more than any other term (by a long way). The word “disciple” implies neither “arrivedness” nor “perfection.” Rather the term actually implies the people of God are sophomoric, imperfect, always learning and growing.

Thus I think Luther was in fact a disciple of Christ. How Luther’s errors are worse than Israel’s I fail to be able to discern … but that is just me.

Lord, we pray thee, to have mercy on our arrogance and our inability to even perceive YOUR work in the cracked pot Martin Luther.

Martin Luther is just an illustration. The truth of grace is actually applied to everyone, including ourselves. We, as Psalm 106 makes abundantly clear, are in error and God’s people have always been in error. Error that is surrounded by and enveloped in God’s Hesed just as Psalm 106 is swallowed in the brilliance of Psalms 105 and Psalm 107. Celebrating grace is not an endorsement of error. Celebrating grace is simply the acknowledgment of the “doctrinal” truth that grace is greater than our sin.

Be blessed.
Go Read Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Psalm 107, out loud.

N.T. Wright’s survey and critique of 20th century Pauline scholarship. Excellent book but lacks significant engagement with the “Paul within Judaism” school.

Insight from N. T. Wright

A few years ago, I read N. T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Reading NTW’s review often reminded me of Susannah Heschel’s book The Aryan Jesus. I was shocked how often ‘Church of Christ” thinkers sound so much like the most outrageously liberal German scholars. On p.17, NTW says, “the underlying question was [for F. C. Baur], ‘What sort of thing is genuine Christianity?”

It was a restoration movement! For him, true Christianity had to be separated from the contaminating Jewish chaff. Baur believed he wanted authentic, true, Christianity. But in his mind true Christianity had nothing to do with the Hebrew Bible and/or Judaism. Why waste time on that stuff! I was familiar with this attitude.

Wright, sometime later, discusses that most famous liberal of them all, Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann consistently interpreted Paul (and John and Jesus) without reference to the “Old Testament.” The OT was irrelevant because that is what Jesus, Paul, etc were getting rid of. Many of the quotations produced at various points made me pause and think, “I’ve heard this before.”

I kept having deja vu moments. How many times, in my developing years, did I see preachers, elders, deacons, “common people,” walking around with their pocket New Testaments to “church.” What better way to get rid of the “Old Testament” than simply not even have it between the covers of your sacred book. We were Christianity without the “Old Testament.” The irony that our theology and that of classic liberals like Bultmann is not far apart should not be lost on us. Divorcing Jesus, Paul, and the early church from Judaism allowed Bultmann, and us, to recreate each in our own image all the while claiming we are simply reading the Bible (or “New Testament”). It also allowed us to comfortably Platonize the kingdom of God and the ethics it demands.

Repeatedly, NTW stresses the necessity of the interpretation of Paul “in reference to the Old Testament.” N.T. Wright could have, at this point, quoted Gerhard von Rad’s brilliant, and brave, speech in 1943 in Nazi Germany. Von Rad stated to a group of ministers facing a tidal way of unhitching Christianity from the Old Testament that the “Old Testament is the gateway to the New Testament and any that wish to read it aright must first travel its path.” Von Rad said what needed to be said,

““It seems paradoxical: Perhaps there was never a time when the attentiveness to the message of the Old Testament was as urgent as ours {i.e look at the Nazis!}. The Old Testament stands as the most faithful guard to the doors of the New Testament, and it assures us that the breadth and fullness of the message of Christ … The exclusion of the Old Testament has inevitably as its consequence a distortion and curtailment of the New Testament message of Christ … There are certainly many ways into the New Testament  {wrong ones!}. But the era seems to be past in which each could see his honor, could have found his own private way. There is only one way that leads into the holy of holies of the New Testament, and that is the way over and through the Old Testament” (“The Christian Understanding of the Old Testament,” delivered on June 13, 1944. It was a daring speech in Nazi Germany).

But Wright did not quote him but he should have! Jesus, Paul, the New Testament writings, mean what they mean because of the Hebrew Bible.

Wright is talking to professional New Testament scholars in his book. But, with von Rad, I think the point is equally essential for preachers. I thank God that one of my rabbis, Dr. Richard Oster, repeatedly stressed to us the importance of the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) for properly understanding Paul. I should have listened even more than I did! If we do not do this then we will in fact end up with the Aryan Jesus, and anti-Semitic Paul, of Nazi Germany.

So my word to preachers, and all disciples, is cultivate the daily habit (yes, daily) of reading the Hebrew Bible. Preferably in large integrated chunks. Make it part of our personal Spiritual growth. Become familiar with the liturgical calendar of Scripture to see its rhythm enmeshed within the narrative itself. Cultivate the discipline of engaging several Psalms on a daily basis (See N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms). When we approach a NT text to preach, explore its foundations in the Hebrew Bible. Take the time to be intimately familiar with the theological motifs of the Hebrew Bible so we recognize them in the words of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John (exodus, salvation, redemption, faith, creation, worship, temple, people of God, etc are all Hebraic/Old Testament ideas). Get the narrative structure down in our DNA. Even when the genre of the writing is an epistle, James Thompson, among others, has shown that the epistle itself has a narrative framework. (see Pastoral Ministry According to Paul). In our preaching we cannot study and preach without reference to the Old Testament.

The Bass Line of the New Testament

Let me use an illustration. In most rock songs, even in classical music, you need to have a bass part. In writing/constructing a tune we start with a beat/the bass and build everything around that. The “bass line” is the “baseline.” The bass line grounds the entire song. Take out the bass and see what happens. It changes the music fundamentally.

The Hebrew Bible is the “bass line” in every part of the New Testament. Without it, you have a song but it does not sound the same. To say it slightly different, the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”) is the foundational worldview of every single sentence in what we call the New Testament. How the New Testament “looks” changes as much as when we look at the night sky through optical wavelengths and infrared ones. So as a matter of course build into your daily routine prayerful reading and study of the Hebrew Bible. Just do it.

As an example let’s think about the Temple. When we say that the Temple was important in the life of Jesus and the Way, we are entering ground that is the exact opposite of older classic biblical scholarship. But the Temple is the pink elephant in the room of the New Testament. The shadow of the Temple is not just a literal building but the language and imagery from the Temple. The NT writers use Temple language in almost every book and we often simply are unaware.

An extension of this was that for years scholars have stressed the importance of the synagogue over the Temple for understanding the church. This, in spite of the fact that Temple imagery dominates even Paul’s writings related to the church.

Protestant scholars have stressed synagogue over Temple for the same reason they divorced Jesus and Paul from Judaism in the first place. They imagined that the Temple and synagogue were the opposite kinds of realities. Since German Lutherans practically invented biblical scholarship as we know it, they also set the terms of debate. They hated anything that looked (in their mind) like Catholicism! And what looks like Catholicism … priests, liturgies, rituals, law, etc. all of these became caricatures and foils for the Old Testament and Judaism. They took the struggles of Martin Luther with medieval Catholicism and projected them onto Jesus’s debates with Pharisees, Paul’s struggle with whoever the “Judiazers” and his supposed conflict with James, and worst of all they overlaid Luther’s “law vs gospel” concept upon the Hebrew Bible itself. This legacy has been inherited by every Protestant, including us in the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Old Testament studies as well as Jesus and Paul scholarship, material related to what was deemed priestly or worship or the like was both late and DEevolution (that is degeneration from what was more “spiritual”). Thus Jesus, by definition, opposed and rejected the Temple. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t even a real Jew in a good deal of this scholarship (to this day many are simply surprised that Jesus is a Jew).

And Paul, the only real apostle in this line of thinking, wanted nothing to do with the Temple. The early church, it was claimed, was not interested in Jewish stuff … that was secondary and legalistic or “proto-Catholicism.” The Apostle James, and Lord’s brother, was the backward misunderstanding legalist who held onto the Hebrew Bible. Luke was misguided because he depicts Paul as a genuine Jewish rabbi, Pharisee in fact, who circumcises Jewish men, takes Nazarite vows, offers sacrifice in the Temple and holds to the Hebrew Bible. Evangelical type believers are often shocked by these statements about Paul because they encounter the Book of Acts piecemeal and filtered through that traditional Protestant perspective on Paul and Jesus.

The real Jesus and Paul, according to this view, were fleeing anything that was Jewish because it was, by definition, unspiritual, legalistic, ritualistic, far from God. Jesus and Paul were, in this perspective, the antithesis of anything Jewish. This perspective has dominated Protestant readings of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament for centuries.  We, in the Stone-Campbell Movement, have not been exempt from this anti-semitic and completely unhistorical prejudice.

David Stubbs recent work is one of the best works, period. He takes us deep into the world of the Temple and how it shapes the central part of Christian worship, the Eucharist. Many passages come to life in this great book.

However, all of this is incredibly difficult to square with what is actually in the Bible. Since 1967, it has been (in many cases) Jewish scholars themselves that have led a reevaluation of Jesus, Paul and the early church and the Temple. The Temple is almost as ubiquitous in the New Testament as references to the death of Jesus.

And now with more discoveries, like the magnificent synagogue at Magdala, show that the old distinction between Temple and synagogue is simply not historically accurate. The synagogue was understood to be connected with the Temple itself (see Mordechai Aviam’s “The Decorated Stone from the Synagogue at Migdal: A Holistic Interpretation and a Glimpse into the Life of Galilean Jews at the Time of Jesus,” Novum Testamentum 55 [2013], 205-220, See the same author’s essay “Reverence for Jerusalem and the Temple in Galilean Society,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed, Jesus and the Temple: Textual and Archeological Explorations, pp. 123-144 published in 2014). An illustration of this is the historical reality that Jewish synagogues had a mikveh attached to it (archeologists have unearthed hundreds of these) just like the Temple. The synagogue from Migdal has shown us that one had to pass through the mikveh to get into the synagogue and it was in some sense sacred space just as the Temple itself. The synagogue was not over and against the Temple in the first century but an extension of it.

A string of publications has shown that the Temple is the shadow that is across the pages of the NT not the synagogue … the synagogue itself is understood in reference to the Temple (the discovery of the synagogue at Magdala was just one of those incredible “accidents” that, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, was like a bomb). This is why we find the Way in the Temple in the Book of Acts. This is why Paul routinely uses Temple imagery to talk to his Gentile converts. The early church was shaped and molded by Judaism that still had the Temple … Rabbinic Judaism was formed when there was no temple.

It may pay rich dividends to begin to understand the Temple both in the Hebrew Bible and in the first century. I suspect it will have a considerable impact on our reading. Jesus was no enemy of the Temple, he called it “my Father’s house.” The Gospel of John shows Jesus’s routinely involved in the Temple. Paul loved the Temple. According to Acts every trip he made to Jerusalem found him worshiping in the Temple. John the Prophet casts his vision of Christian worship in the Revelation in terms of the Temple. The Hebrews Preacher presents Jesus as our High Priest and we are waiting for his “appearing” at the end of his Day of Atonement activities behind the Temple veil.

Yes, the Temple is ubiquitous in the New Testament shining like a light of the Hebrew Bible’s grounding of the apostolic message. We probably would do well to understand its significance and learn to recognize it and it roots us once again in the squarely Jewish nature of The Way in the New Testament.

Some Resources: Some recent sources that are simply outstanding (I want to state clearly I make no money from the sale of these resources):

Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Essential work)

Oskar Skarsuane, In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influence on Early Christianity (a must read on the first three centuries of The Way)

G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Mission of the Church (what are temples and how do they shape the biblical narrative)

James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archeological Explorations (work by well known experts on the historical temple and Jesus’s interaction with it)

Peter J. Leithart, “Synagogue or Temple: Models for the Christian Worship,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002): 119-133 (calls attention to the misguided attempt to dismiss the Temple as a foundational category for understanding Christian worship in the first century).

David L. Stubbs, Table and Temple: The Christian Eucharist and its Jewish Roots (a seminal work on the importance of the Temple for the Eucharist).