Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meeting in the Synagogue

Most Christians know that the early Christians met in the Temple complex and in their own homes (house churches), and by river sides, and later in catacombs, etc. I suspect most even think (without having given it any thought) that the early Christians actually built their own little brick assembly buildings with a sign out front announcing that "the Church of Christ meets here, Sunday AM 9:00, Sun PM 6:00, Wed PM 7:00".

But few, I think realize that they also met in synagogues. For the first fourteen years of the church, the church was exclusively Jewish. And these Jews had been meeting in the synagogue all their lives. Once converted, they did not cease this habit; in fact, Yahshua expected them to continue that habit, Saul expected that's where he'd find these "heretics", and James refers to their synagogue meeting.
HCSB John 16:2 They will ban you from the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God.
HCSB Acts 9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
HCSB Acts 26:11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. Being greatly enraged at them, I even pursued them to foreign cities.
YLT James 2:1My brethren, hold not, in respect of persons, the faith of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in gay raiment, and there may come in also a poor man in vile raiment,3and ye may look upon him bearing the gay raiment, and may say to him, `Thou -- sit thou here well,' and to the poor man may say, `Thou -- stand thou there, or, Sit thou here under my footstool,' -- 4ye did not judge fully in yourselves, and did become ill-reasoning judges

S'mikeh Authority

HCSB Matt 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.
I would like to caution against taking passages out of context. All my life I've heard this Matthew 18:20 reference cited to prove that "church" could be any grouping of Christians, down to the smallest number which might constitute a group.

But that's not what the passage is about; the passage is about the church's authority to make/apply rules in individual situations. In the Jewish Rabbinic culture in which Yahshua and his disciples were raised, the various religious authorities (this rabbi vs that rabbi; this school of thought vs that school of thought) would "bind" or "loose" various aspects of the Law of Moses depending on the situation.

For example, one rabbi would teach that if a donkey needed help on the Sabbath (doctoring, pulling out of a pit, etc) the needs of the donkey took precedence over the rules regarding doing no work on the Sabbath, whereas a different rabbi would insist that the donkey's needs must wait until the Sabbath had passed. Yahshua used this very issue to show that human needs take precedence over legal strictures, when he healed the man with the crippled hand on the Sabbath, which put him on the Pharisees' hit-list (Mark 3:1-6).

These various doctrinal "packages" from the various schools of thought / rabbis were called "yokes". Yahshua said his yoke was easy.

Most rabbis were average, run-of-the-mill rabbis, who could teach what had been determined by rabbis having authority, but they could not glean/apply "new" meaning from the text and teach it. They were limited to teaching what the community considered to be orthodox.

But a rare few rabbis were "s'mikeh rabbis", rabbis who had authority. (s'mikeh is pronounced something like "smee-hah!".) Within the previous generation, both Hillel and Gamaliel had been s'mikeh rabbis. When Yahshua came teaching as one having authority rather than like the scribes (Mark 1:22), it astonished his listeners. The officials then challenged him, asking how he had become a s'mikeh rabbi, and he answered them in typical Jewish fashion with his own question, asking them whether John the Immerser had s'mikeh. His implication was that he had gotten his authoritative position at least partially from John. (A s'mikeh rabbi had to be so endowed by two authorities: John was one; God (in the form of a dove descending on him post-immersion) was the other.) The officials refused to answer Yahshua's question, so he refused to answer theirs, again, in typical Jewish fashion.

In the context of Matthew 18:20, Yahshua is teaching his disciples that he is giving them s'mikeh, the authority to bind and loose. If two of these new s'mikeh rabbis agreed on anything, then that would be the "law" in the church. We later see an example of this in Acts 15, when the church elders and apostles gather together to decide the issue of what would be required of the new Gentile converts: do they have to convert to Judaism and be good Jews in order to be Christians, or not? (The decision was no, the Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism in order to be Christians.)

For convenience, here's the context of the passage:

HCSB Matt 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won't listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. 18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. 19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.

Go Ye Therefore Into all the World...

You grew up hearing Matthew 28:19 rendered thusly:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: ....
Problem is, as I understand it, that's not what the Greek says. Instead, it says:
So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(GOD'S WORD Translation)
Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit....
(International Standard Version)
And as long as I'm beating up on the King James Version, Acts 2:47 does not say:
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Instead, the word translated "church" is the Greek "auto", meaning "self" or "same". Thus the verse should be rendered something more like:
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the same people daily such as should be saved. (my rendering)
praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved. (ERV)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Three Gospels?

I've recently been exposed to a teaching that there are three gospels mentioned in the Bible (http://yesforfamilies.com/covenant/book/ - I've not yet finished reading this, so there may be more comment/retraction to come):

1) the gospel preached to Abraham

2) the gospel of the kingdom of God

3) the gospel of Jesus Christ

The idea is that there have been different gospels at different times and with different peoples.

At first that piqued my interest, but as I consider it further, I see that all three of these gospels are really one and the same.

The good news ("gospel") preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8-9) is that God would justify all nations, including non-Jews, by faith.
8 Now the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed in you. 9 So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.
The good news ("gospel") as summarized by Paul elsewhere (1 Cor 15:1-8) is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and appeared to several hundred people, including the apostles.
1 Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. 2 You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed to no purpose. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4 that He was buried,

that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

6 Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time,

most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8 Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.

The "first" gospel is not a different gospel than the "second": it's merely emphasizing the what instead of the how. All nations are justified by faith in and because of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus.

This one gospel is contrasted with the false gospel of Galatians 1 and 2: The true good news is that all nations will be justified by faith (Gal 3:8-9) via the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-8); the false good news of Gal 1:6-9 was that we are justified by works of the law (Gal 2:15).

The good news ("gospel") which Jesus preached during his three years of ministry was that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:14-15).
14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: 15 "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.
Again, this is not a different, third gospel; it's the same, simply worded differently: Justification is in the kingdom of God, established at the cross.

The good news is that the kingship of Jesus has come, established by his death, burial, resurrection, and appearance, and that this process enables God to justify all nations by faith. To separate this one package of good news into three separate packages is to miss that they are all essentially the same thing, just worded differently.


True Good News - the kingdom of God has arrived, established by the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus, which provides justification to all nations by faith.

False Good News - we are justified by works of the law

(All references from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Reason for Suffering

From Deuteronomy 8 (The Message, modified):
Remember every road that YHWH led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don't live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from YHWH's mouth. Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that YHWH disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.

So it's paramount that you keep the commandments of YHWH, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. YHWH is about to bring you into a good land, a land with brooks and rivers, springs and lakes, streams out of the hills and through the valleys. It's a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, of olives, oil, and honey. It's land where you'll never go hungry—always food on the table and a roof over your head. It's a land where you'll get iron out of rocks and mine copper from the hills.

After a meal, satisfied, bless YHWH, your God, for the good land he has given you.

Make sure you don't forget YHWH, your God, by not keeping his commandments, his rules and regulations that I command you today. Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don't become so full of yourself and your things that you forget YHWH, your God,

the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery;
the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness, those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions;
the God who gave you water gushing from hard rock;
the God who gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of, in order to give you a taste of the hard life, to test you so that you would be prepared to live well in the days ahead of you.

If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that YHWH, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth ....

I'm Righteous! I'm Righteous! Therefore I'm Saved!

A bit earlier today I was reading in the book of Job. As you know, Job was blessed in many ways by God, then Satan challenged God that Job was only a righteous man because God blessed him, and that he would turn from God if God took away his blessings, and God allowed Satan to take away God's blessings from Job as a test of Job.

During the resulting suffering that Job underwent, four friends came along, and three of them tried to convince Job that he had done something wrong. Job kept claiming that he hadn't done anything wrong, but that God was doing wrong by him.

Eventually the fourth friend, Elihu, spoke up, and said that the first three, although older and presumably wiser, were not wise, and he spoke his peace.

Finally, God Himself spoke, and castigated Job for thinking he was oh-so-righteous and knew better than God did, but that Job was right, he hadn't done anything wrong to deserve the suffering. God also forced the first three friends to apologize (via sacrifice), saying He was angry with the three friends. But He spoke nothing of the fourth friend who spoke last, which is interesting, because of what was said about the fourth friend just before he began his speech:
HCSB Job 32:2 Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite from the family of Ram became angry. He was angry at Job because he had justified himself rather than God.
Job did everything right, but what got him into trouble with God (or at least Elihu) is that Job justified himself by his right-doing, rather than giving the credit to God.

Genesis 6:22 says that "Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him", but that's not what saved him and his family. Instead, "By his faith Noah ... received the righteousness that comes by faith" (Heb 11:7 NLT).

Don't trust in your own right-ness. Instead, have faith that the right-ness of Yahshua is given to you by God's grace, and then do the right thing.