Podcasts of Lecture Series. Once again, click on the menu page above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” I’ve uploaded a pod cast of Lecture One, Part Two of the lecture series given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016.
“The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God. Monday and Tuesday I have the privilege of doing the Tishomingo County Pastors School at the First United Methodist Church in Iuka, Mississippi. Our study is entitled “The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God: Studies in Ephesians 1-6.” If you click on the Ephesians page above, you can download the note-taking guide for these studies. Pastors receive one CEU for participating.
Podcasts of Lecture Series. Click on the new page in the menu above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” That page is dedicated to a series of lectures given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016. You will find a description of the lectures and a podcast of Lecture One, Part One.
Video on the Bible. Click hereto view the video, “What is the Bible?” on Youtube.
Listen to this Podcast or read the text below. They are identical.
Many within the Church today wish to pick and choose the teachings of Scripture that they accept and those they reject. There are two issues in particular that these people often mention as objectionable: the “violence” in the Old Testament, especially the Conquest of Canaan, and the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. One often gets the impression that the second of these, sexuality, is their main concern, but the first is where they begin because they believe that they can use it to discredit the Bible’s authority. They appeal to our age’s sensitivity to “genocide” (Despite the fact that we are the most violent period in the history of the world and that we kill millions of the unborn). One thinks immediately of Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodists Church in America, and The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, who was dismissed from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Books like these focus on the “violence” of the Conquest and conclude either that ancient Israel misunderstood God’s instruction and/or that, in fact, the conquest never happened.
Usually the people who follow this line of thought take the Conquest out of its Biblical context. If we would address this matter fairly, there are several important considerations that must be mentioned.
(1) The Conquest and the New Testament Writers
Neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer critiqued or denied the Conquest.
(2) The Conquest and Biblical Support for “Violence.”
When taken as a whole, the Bible affords no justification for “genocide.” In fact, its teaching that human beings are made in God’s image and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves stands as a firm bulwark against the mistreatment, much less the killing, of innocent human beings. Even the Old Testament specifically includes the foreigner, the stranger, and even the enemy within the bounds of those who are to be so treated. From the earliest centuries of the faith Christians have reached out to helpless elements within society.
(3) The Conquest and Biblical Theology
We must pay close attention to the role that the Promised Land and its conquest by the People of God play within the message of the Bible. The Promised Land was not just a piece of real estate. It was the place God chose to dwell in the midst of His people in order to make His name known to the world. It was “holy” because it was the place where God’s people lived in fellowship with their “holy” God. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and made covenant with them at Sinai so that He could bring them into this place of fellowship with Himself. As His covenant people they were to live in fellowship with Him in this land in such a way that their new kind of life reflected His holy character before the nations of the world. Their common life was indeed to reflect their love for God and for their neighbor. The Promised Land, then, became the new “Eden,” the new place of fellowship with God, and the type or picture of the ultimate eternal dwelling place of God with his people in the New Heaven and Earth. Thus, to remove the Conquest /Land is to tear the fabric of Biblical teaching. God’s people today are called to a conquest of sin and evil through the power of God and to a life of faithfulness lest they lose their inheritance as did Israel of old.
(4) The Conquest and God
Furthermore, the Scripture is clear that Israel did not conquer the Land by its own strength. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that Israel’s attempt to take the land on its own was an utter failure. The Land was God’s gift to Israel which Israel claimed by trusting God in a conquest that was the work of God, who was the Conqueror. The Conquest was not so much God’s judgment on individuals, as on oppressive, corrupt, idolatrous, Canaanite society. Furthermore, Israel itself, when it became corrupt and godless, received the same judgment at the time of the Exile. The Bible is clear throughout that the eternal Creator God has the right to judge nations and peoples for their wickedness by the use of other nations or through natural disasters. It would be improper to demand proof that class-oppressive, sexually perverse, child-sacrificing Canaanite society was “worse” than some other societies before “approving” of God’s judgment. The Bible is clear that the eternal God is not subject to such exacting finite, fallible, but hubristic human accountability. This was the Land the omnipresent God had chosen for His special presence on earth and no unholy thing was to pollute it.
In light of these considerations it is clear that to represent the Conquest of Canaan as simply an example of Israelite ethnocentricity and Canaanite ethnic cleansing is to grossly misrepresent the Biblical account. I’ve spent most of my life studying Scripture and trying to help others understand its teaching. My book Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014) shows how each part of the Old Testament fits into the entire Bible. Yet Adam Hamilton and others may have gone too far in their attempts to “make sense” of Scripture. Christian faith has always affirmed that God has truly revealed Himself in Christ and in the Scripture. But it has also insisted that God is greater than His self-revelation, that His ways are not our ways, that we will never fully understand the infinite God. There will always be the Divine Mystery that surpasses human comprehension. If, then, we insist on making everything in Scripture conform to our modern, finite prejudices and sensibilities, we will end up worshipping an idol of our own making rather than the living God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. Christopher J. H. Wright’s book The God I Don’t Understand is an effective antidote to our overconfident conformity of God to our own image. And, by the way, Dale Ralph Davis’ Joshua: No Falling Words (Christian Focus, 2000) is an excellent exposition of the book of Joshua.
Hi, everybody. Thanks for patiently waiting. I’ve postponed my promised posts in order to learn how to make videos using Camtasia. Check out my first video on You Tube, entitled “What is the Bible?” You will find it by clicking here What is the Bible?. This video explores the nature of the Bible as God’s interpersonal self-revelation. God did not give the Bible merely to give us facts or laws but to bring us into fellowship with Himself. Some of you will recognize this material as an adaptation from class lecture. I hope this presentation will encourage ministers of the Gospel and help lay people get a deeper understanding of the nature of the Bible. This video features the following “wheel”:
(I’ve decided to take a break from the pod casts on holiness. Will be back with more on that subject later.)
An old Christianity Today article, entitled “We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation,’ by Raymond Van Leeuwen, (Oct. 2, 2001, pages 28-35) has stimulated my thinking about Bible translation and ministry. People often begin by asking, “Well, what Bible translation is best?” or “What Bible translation do you use?” or “What Bible translation is best for Bible study?” or “What Bible translation is best to read in public?”
Let’s begin by talking about the two basic kinds of Bible translations. We often refer to them as “literal” and “figurative.” “Functionally equivalent” is actually a better term than “figurative.” By “literal” we usually mean that the translations in question follow the Greek or Hebrew word order and the syntax of the Greek sentence as closely as possible. Of course, no translation can follow the order and syntax of another language exactly. Greek, for instance, often puts a predicate noun at the beginning of a sentence (John 1:1, “God, was the word”), while English puts it at the end (“The Word was God.”) Van Leeuwen calls this type of translation a “what-the-text-says” translation. The New American Standard, the New King James, the English Standard Bible, and the Revised Standard Version tend to be “what the text says” translations.
A “functionally equivalent” translation, on the other hand, attempts to reproduce the impression of the original on a modern reader. Thus, in order to make the meaning or significance clear words and structure may be significantly changed. Van Leeuwen helpfully calls this kind of translation a “what-the-text-means” translation. The New International Version, Revised English Bible, amd New Jerusalem Bible tend in this direction. The Good News Bible, New Living Translation, and the New Century Bible certainly fall in this category, as do paraphrases such as J. B. Phillips and The Message. I have not used the relatively new Common Bible enough to evaluate it.
What’s the Difference?
Let us clarify the difference between “what-the -text-says” and “what-the-text-means” a little further. “What-the-text-means” translations aim to make the significance and implications of the text, determined by its background and context, immediately accessible to the reader. On the other hand, “what-the-text-says” translations aim at giving readers the material to make those implications themselves. “What-the-text-says” translations are not aiming at unintelligibility and their language need not be wooden or archaic. It is time for an example of the difference between “what-the-text-says” and “what-the-text-means”:
In Mark 2:16 the Teachers of the Law who were Pharisees question Jesus’ actions when they say to the disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (NASB). This translation accurately gives us what they said. The NLT, on the other hand, has them say, “Why does he eat with such scum?” The text has already identified these people as “tax collectors and sinners” so the NLT is free to use the term “such scum” so that the modern reader immediately grasp the scorn and distain in the Pharisees voices. On the other hand, the modern reader will have to study the context and look at related references to tax collectors in order to get this same understanding from the NASB. The NASB gives us accurately “what the text says.” The NLT gives us immediate access to at least one aspect of its significance. In the next verse Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Again the NLT says, “I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” Jesus said, “righteous.” Context, however, shows that he was using this word ironically and thus meant something like, “those who think they are already good enough.”
“What-the-text-says” is Best, Right?
So, obviously, since we want to know what the Bible “says,” a “what-the-text-says” translation is best? Not so fast. We will begin to answer this question next week! See you then!
Not long ago I was surprised to read that we are saved by “faith, not by obedience.” How easily the writer had identified “obedience” with Paul’s “works of the law” in Romans 3:28, ESV: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This error was in material written for the lay person. Sometimes, however, such confusion occurs in scholarly work.
A brief comparison between Paul’s “works of the law” (Romans 3, Galatians 3) and James’ “works” (James 2:14-16) will be instructive. On the surface, James seems to contradict Romans 3:28, quoted above, when he says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24 ESV).
In Paul’s discussion, faith verses works. Faith is reliance on God for our salvation. “Works,” in Paul’s usage, refers to things we do in order to put God in our debt or obtain merit from God. (This statement is true whether Paul is referring to Jewish practices such as circumcision and dietary laws or to the broader demands of the Old Testament law.) We do these “works” in order to earn our salvation as a matter of wages. Understood in this way, “faith” and “works” are opposite and incompatible. Either we trust in God and receive salvation as a gift through the work of Christ or we vainly try to earn that salvation by what we do. To attempt to earn our salvation in this way is, indeed, disobedience because it is diametrically opposed to the word of God.
In James, however, “faith” and “works” are close allies, not enemies. Here “works” or “deeds” refers to the things we do that flow from our reliance upon God for our salvation. These works are the fruit of faith. We cannot possibly depend on them as earning merit because they flow from dependence on our gracious God for salvation. It is common to say that such works are “evidence” of our faith. We may be saved by “faith alone” but that faith, if it is true living faith, is “never alone” but always attested by “works.” Does this way of describing the relationship between “faith” and “works” do justice to James straightforward statement, “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”? I don’t think so. James is asserting a more intimate relationship between the two. Let’s look carefully at several of the things that he says.
He begins by implying that a claimed “faith” without corresponding “works” is invisible—that is, unsubstantiated (James 2:14-16). So, “works” are the “evidence” of faith. But what about his next assertion, that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). He goes on to say that “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (2:26 ESV). “Works,” understood as trusting obedience, are not merely the “evidence” of faith, they are what makes faith alive. They are the animating principle of faith. James doesn’t liken faith to the life-giving spirit and works to the body, but faith to the body and works to the life-giving spirit. Finally, note what James 2:22 says about Abraham’s obedient offering of his son Isaac. By this “work” of obedience Abraham’s faith was “completed” or “made perfect,” brought to fulfillment. His faith became real in this act of obedience. God did not command Abraham to offer Isaac just to see if Abraham had faith, he commanded him to make this sacrifice so that, by Abraham’s obedience, that faith would become a concrete reality in his life. Let’s use the word “obedience” for “works” that flow from trusting in God. We might almost say that “faith” and “obedience” are two sides of the same coin, two ways of looking at the same reality.
This understanding of “faith and obedience” is confirmed when we turn to the book of Hebrews. On the basis of Heb 11:1-7 we can define faith as “living like God’s promise for the future is sure and his power in the present is real” (see Cockerill, Hebrews NICNT, Eerdmans, 2012: 520-21, 530-31). According to this definition, faith involves action. Thus, Hebrews can speak of faith and obedience, or, perhaps more often, of unbelief and disobedience, as virtually the same thing. For too long we have, gnostic-like, restricted “faith” to a mental act or inward disposition, rather than acknowledging that it refers to a way of life. The statement that we are saved “by faith, not obedience,” is not only Biblically inaccurate, but dangerous because it suggests the irrelevance of obedience so long as we have something that we call “faith.”
Our Sunday School Class, Sunday, September 6, 2015
For June, July, and August we studied the Old Testament prophets in our Sunday School class. We had selections from the earliest prophets such as Hosea and Amos, from the great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and from the latest post-exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These prophets addressed both Israel and Judah. They spanned a time frame from the eight to the fifth century B.C. They warned God’s people of the coming exile, they promised God’s disobedient people that God would again save them by delivering them from exile, and eventually they encouraged the exiles who had returned to live as the people of God.
This repeated, continuous exposure to the broad sweep of the prophets underscored the simple directness and constancy of their message throughout the varied circumstances of their lives and across the centuries in which they ministered. Some Sundays I said to myself, “What do I do? This lesson says the same thing as the last three lessons? What am I going to say differently this week?” This continuity is built on the fact that the prophets called God’s people back to the covenant God had made with them at Sinai and thus to the Mosaic Law. By living in obedience to this covenant they as a people were to reflect the character of the God they served before the nations—they were to “be holy” as their God was holy.*
Thus the message of the prophets clarifies for us what the concern of that covenant was and what it means to reflect God’s character—to be holy as He is holy. The prophets’ first concern was for God’s people to serve Him alone—to tear down every idol that would deflect their loyalty from Him. They were, indeed, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5, NKJV). Only then would their lives reflect God’s character. The clear message of the prophets, then, is that reflecting God’s character means living in integrity, sexual purity, self-restraint, justice, and mercy. Faithfulness to one’s husband or wife was a direct corollary of faithfulness to God. Integrity was to be expressed in honest business dealings, in the refusal to give or take bribes, and in keeping one’s word. Justice meant treating all people fairly. The meaning of mercy is evident from the prophets repeated concern for the helpless—for such people as the widow, orphan, and alien. Justice and mercy go hand in hand. Justice protects people from abuse but showing mercy or compassion to those in need is also the right or “just” thing to do. If we do not forget the prophets’ concern for sexual purity, the oft-quoted verse from Micah is a good summary of their burden—“And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justice, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV). Note the emphasis on “love” mercy.
Some may object by saying the prophets also had other concerns—they condemned God’s people for not offering their best animals in sacrifice and for not keeping the Old Testament Sabbath. One must remember, however, that these were the ways in which Old Testament people showed their loyalty to God alone. (Freeing those dependent on you from work on the Sabbath was also an expression of justice and mercy, by the way). Thus the prophets’ concern for these things only underscores rather than detracts from their message of devotion to God, integrity, sexual purity, justice, and mercy.
Studying the prophets during these months has only emphasized the difference between what God requires and the personally and politically corrupt, greedy, cruel world in which we live. At the present moment it confronts those of us who profess to follow Jesus, the one who fulfills the prophets and in Himself embodies both the justice and mercy of God, with the hungry who cross our borders and with the plight of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the violent destruction of their homes.
*For more on how to understand the Old Testament prophets and on their relevance for today see Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 195-220. Check out the page by that title on this web site.