Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Task of the Church

I saw a family the other day whose kids were complaining about living in a dump as they swam in their beautiful backyard pool in their $80 swimsuits outside their 3500 sq. ft home for 4, and thought how many people are just squeaking by on minimum wage with 2 kids and a 23-year old car shared by both mom and dad to get the kids to school and them to work every day, with the battery dying leaving mom to rely on jumpstarts from strangers to get home from every third trip to the grocery store where she had just enough to buy a loaf of bread, pack of baloney, and half a gallon of milk for the week.

There should be no poverty in our world. God has put riches enough in our world to provide all of us with not just our needs, but also our joys. But Christians have focused on saving souls instead of fulfilling:
  • Jesus' first sermon (Luke 4:14-19), which explained his mission as giving good news to the poor, and proclaiming freedom to captives, and giving sight to the blind, and freeing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor;
  • or his last (Matt 25:31-46), which was about feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and the prisoner;
  • or that of John, who when asked what should be done to demonstrate repentance, did not tell his listeners to study their Bibles more or bring visitors to church or convert sinners, but told them to share their stuff, to not overcharge for their services, and to be content with what they had;
  • or that of Paul who stressed that the fulfillment of the law of Christ was to bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2);
  • or that of Paul in another sermon wherein he stressed that he didn't mean that one group should fare well while another suffers, but that the well-to-do group should bring the suffering group up to a level of financial equality with them (2 Cor 8:13-15).
There also should be no sickness in our world. Another part of Jesus' first sermon was to heal the blind. I believe God has given us the technological ability to heal all sorts of diseases; we just haven't yet discovered that ability in a lot of cases, and in those cases for which we do have answers, we don't have the fair distribution to get the cures out to everyone who needs them. The church has a mandate, I believe, for making sure its young people are educated and driven to find and deliver medical healing to the world.

There also should be no oppression in our world. There should be no slavery, or political oppression, or subjugation of one person by another, such as in the case of rape or robbery or marital abuse or job abuse. Another part of Jesus' first sermon was to bring liberty to the captive and to the oppressed.

When the church has eradicated poverty and sickness and oppression on this planet, and when it has converted the mindsets of the world to love God and neighbor, then will be fulfilled the prayer of Jesus : "Your rulership come; your will be done, on earth, just like it is in heaven." But we've given up on this earth, focusing on the truth that this world is fading away, doomed for destruction. Yes, it is. But we're to be the salt, the preservative of the world, and we're to spread the rulership, the will of God, to this earth, now, while we're here. We're not supposed to abandon the world to destruction, or worse, hasten the coming of the destruction. We're supposed to be salt, and light, and to do good works - "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16).

Spreading "the gospel" is indeed something we are to be doing. But we're also supposed to be eradicating poverty and sickness and oppression. Until we've done that, we've failed at our task.

Originally published at:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Obedience != Perfection

Think about your own children. Do they obey every rule you lay down, perfectly, every time?


Do you then consider them disobedient because of their failures?


Obedience isn't about obeying the rules perfectly; it's about the attitude. An obedient child is one who tries to obey, not one who necessarily is always successful in his attempts. Nor is he "disobedient" if he disobeys on occasion, as long as his overall attitude is one of obedience.

Yet we think God holds us to a less-graceful standard?

Originally published at:

Monday, February 09, 2015

Wives, Submit!

HCSB Eph 5:18And ... be filled by the Spirit: ... 21 submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord....
In my environment, the typical take-away message from this passage is that women are to be submissive to men, or at least, wives to their husbands.

And indeed, that's what the black-and-white of the text says.

But I would like to perhaps add some coloring to this passage, which we don't often consider.

To whom was this passage written?

To the Ephesians.

And for what were the Ephesians known?
HCSB Act 19:35However, when the city clerk had calmed the crowd down, he said, "Men of Ephesus! What man is there who doesn't know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple guardian of the great Artemis, and of the image that fell from heaven?
So we have a city which is known for its adherence to the cult of the female goddess, Artemis. In this cult, women were the priests. Legend had it that the city was founded by the Amazons, and indeed, Amazon warrior women were a key component of the Artemis Temple. Artemis herself was regarded as the goddess of hunting, and as the "shooter of swift arrows", and as the "mistress of wild beasts".

Paul may have been referring allegorically to troubles with devotees of the Artemis cult when he writes elsewhere (1 Cor 15:32 NIV) that he had "fought wild beasts in Ephesus". (He uses this sort of beast-fighting-human imagery to describe run-ins with human opponents in 2 Tim 4:17, saying that he was "delivered from the lion's mouth".) Still elsewhere (1 Cor 16:9) Paul writes that in Ephesus "there are many who oppose" him.

Artemis was believed to be greater than her twin brother-god Apollo, as she had been born first.

In this city, women worshiped Artemis by wearing fancy clothing and fancy hair braids when they entered her temple. Artemis then endowed the women with sexual prowess to manipulate and dominate men, and she would save them during childbirth.

The men would worship by praying to her for victory in battle, as they held their hands, palms up, just above waist level.

Knowing these things, we can now see that when Paul writes to Timothy, whom he had left in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3), he intended to contrast Christian worship with that of Artemis, which had apparently been a source of opposition for him and for Christians in general, perhaps specifically the men:
HCSB 1 Tim 2:8Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.9Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel,10but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.11A woman should learn in silence with full submission.12I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.13For Adam was created first, then Eve.14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.15But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.
( This phrase "have authority over a man" is unique in the Bible, and we must turn to extra-Biblical material to learn that it has reference to a power struggle.)

So Paul is writing to a city in which the women "wore the pants" to a large extent, manipulating and dominating their husbands. In verse 21 he instructs the Ephesians to "submit to one another", and in verse 22 he essentially adds, "This applies to you too, you women; stop dominating your husbands; be submissive!"

I don't believe Paul is telling women to be door-mats, allowing their men to walk all over them. I believe he's telling them that they need to learn submission, just as all Christians should be submissive, one to another.

(Thanks for the insights provided by the Istoria Ministries Blog -

Originally published at:

Friday, February 06, 2015

Paul's Quotation-Response Style, and Women Remaining Silent

About half-way through Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he turns his attention to addressing issues they had written to him about:
HCSB 1 Cor 7:1 Now in response to the matters you wrote about:
As he deals with these issues, he seems to adopt a style that I have often used myself. He first quotes something from their letter, and then gives his response to that quote. We see that here in the first issue he addresses.
HCSB 1 Cor 7:1 “It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman." But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.
The Corinthians are saying that it is good to avoid sex, and Paul's response is that this attitude leads to sexual immorality, and the proper "fix" is not to avoid sex, but to have a spouse.

On the next topic, concerning idols, he again quotes the letter they had written to him, and then provides his response:
HCSB 1 Cor 8:1 About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge." Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. ... About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” ... However, not everyone has this knowledge.
The Corinthians are saying, "We have knowledge", and Paul responds, "Yes, but don't get all snooty; opt for love."

The Corinthians are saying, "We don't have to worry about idols; they're nothing", and Paul responds, "Yes, but not everyone has your knowledge; stop being bad examples to those people."

He then addresses their loose lifestyle, which they have adopted because they recognize that as Christians, they have freedom from restrictive law which their Jewish forbears did not.
HCSB 10:23 “Everything is permissible," but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible," but not everything builds up. 24 No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.
The Corinthians are spouting the slogan that "everything is permissible", but Paul is correcting them that even so, not everything is helpful or constructive, and such things should be judged in the light of how they do or do not help the other person.

I think you can see the pattern now. I want to show just one more example, and then a passage that looks similar to that example, which has been a point of contention for centuries.

This last example is back in chapter 6, wherein again the Corinthians are saying, "Everything is permissible" (v. 12). They're saying "Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food" (v. 13), having no effect on one's moral standing.

And in fact, this latter phrase agrees with what Jesus had said earlier:
HCSB Mark 7:18 And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated." (As a result, He made all foods clean.) 20 Then He said, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him.
But the Corinthians were also applying this philosophy to sexual encounters, to which Paul answers, using the food-stomach relationship they had used:
HCSB 1 Cor 6:13b The body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Paul continues his explanation, and in both verses 16 and 19, he uses a conjunction, "or", to start his sentence. Different versions render it in various ways:

HCSB Don’t you know...

ESV 16 Or do you not know...
YLT 16 have ye not known...

ISV 16 You know ..., don’t you?

KJV 16 What? know ye not...

The emphasis is that Paul is trying to get their attention with this conjunction. I think the KJV probably renders it best: "What?"

Maybe even add an exclamation point: "What?! Don't you get it?! Your body is a temple for GOD! Stop using it to sin!"

Now I want to turn to the last passage I mentioned. This same conjunction is also used in chapter 14. The text just before it, which I'll quote from the KJV, says:
KJV 1 Cor 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
But now look at the very next verse:
36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
This is in a passage wherein all the Christians have just been urged by Paul to use their God-given gifts within the church assembly to build up the members. Right in the middle of this passage is this short aside wherein Paul seemingly tells women to stay silent, and then immediately says, "What?! Has God given his gifts only to a select few?!"

Now, consider that for the past few chapters, Paul has been quoting what the Corinthians say, and then correcting what they say.

Is that perhaps happening here? Are the Corinthian men telling women to stay silent in the church assembly, appealing to some law which doesn't exist in the Law of Moses? Is Paul then correcting that false doctrine by pointing out that God hasn't spoken only through men who are saying this? (After all, women were the first people to be tasked with telling the good news (to men!) that Jesus was risen from the dead - Matt 28:5-7).

I believe it's a concept worth considering.

Originally published at:

Should We Bind Examples As We Do Commands?

I was recently asked if examples such as the meeting found in Acts 20:7 are to be considered binding.

My answer is: Yes, and No.

Paul writes:
HCSB 1 Cor 4:16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
HCSB 1 Cor 11:1 Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.Now I praise you because you always remember me and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
The implication, of course, is that whatever the first century church was doing, they were doing according to what Paul had taught them, and thus are traditions to be kept.

But that implication can be pressed beyond its breaking point. After all, they were baptizing for the dead (1 Cor 15:29); is that a tradition they learned from Paul, which we should be maintaining?

I think another question is the more relevant question: If examples are binding, how do we know which examples are binding and which aren't, and in what way/aspects is the example binding?"

For example, when we are told to imitate Paul (as in 1 Cor 4:16, cited above), does that mean we should imitate him in taking a vow and shaving our heads and offering animal sacrifices on the completion of that vow? Does it mean we should go on four missionary journeys across the Middle East? Does it mean we should have night-long church services?

Looking at the Acts 20:7 passage, how should we imitate this passage?

By meeting for supper on the last night a guest speaker is in town? By having church all night long every first day of the week? By having a healing service for dead young men? By having a long-winded lecture until past midnight when people are starting to fall asleep, and then having a group discussion from then until daybreak?

It seems to me that if WE bind something from an example, we'll be binding what WE perceive to matter, whereas our brother, equally devout, may perceive a different thing to matter, which HE then binds, and pretty soon, we're quarreling and then dividing.

So I think the binding we must do with examples is a binding only for ourselves, as we see happening in Romans 14 -- "each must be fully convinced in his own mind" -- without judging someone else who sees it differently. This means we must make room for other people to see it differently, which requires humility rather than "leaning on our own understanding".

Commandments (actually-stated, black-and-white, "direct" commands) are binding on all.

Examples (and inferences) are binding only on one's self according to how he understands the example (/inference).

This doesn't mean I can't try to persuade you to understand the example in the way I understand it, or to even believe you're wrong in your understanding, but it does mean I can't judge you for your understanding, right or wrong. I have to let you stand on your own feet before the Lord. And that's okay, because "[you] will stand. For the Lord is able to make [you] stand" (Rom 14:4).

Originally published at:

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Baptism = Pouring

"What?!" you say. "'baptizo' means 'immerse'! Everyone knows that."

Yes, that's what I thought.

But just now, a thought came into my head, and I checked out some relevant passages. Here they are:
ESV Luke 3:16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
ESV Acts 1: 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
ESV Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
ESV Acts 10:45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.

So the promise was that Jesus would baptize, but the description is of pouring.

Originally published at:

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Church Giving in the First Century

The contribution in the very early years (Acts 2 - 7) went to address the needs of the local Christians. These earliest Christians were "voluntary communists", dividing their possessions among each other so that none had need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35).

It was voluntary, not compulsory (Acts 5:4).

Later, when hard times hit the saints in Jerusalem, the Gentile Christians in Antioch took up a collection to send to the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem, via Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:27-30).

When the Jewish leaders there asked Paul to help, he was glad to do so (Gal 2:10). He began a fund-raising effort among the Gentile churches in Macedonia/Achaia/Galatia/Corinth; the basic instructions are found in 1 Cor 16:1-2. This was a year-long fund-raiser, with a definite start and a definite finish (2 Cor 8:10-11), and was not a command but an appeal (2 Cor 8:8), and was designed to bring parity between the Haves and the Have-Nots, with the expectation that should the situation reverse, such that the Jerusalem church prospered and the Gentiles were needy, the flow of money would also reverse, to go the other direction (2 Cor 8:13-14). Paul did not expect a contribution from those who didn't have (2 Cor 8:11-12), but only from those who had prospered (1 Cor 16:2).

In addition to this contribution for the financial equality of all Christians, Christians are expected to support themselves (Gal 6:5; 2 Thess 3:8-10), to support their own family (1 Tim 5:8), to have a job so they can help the needy (Eph 4:28), and lastly, to support the spread of the gospel, via paying preachers/missionaries/etc (1 Cor 9:1-14; Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18).

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Baptizing Bread

I know that some people agonize with worry about whether their nose tip got pushed under water when they were baptized, wondering if it didn't, if that invalidates their baptism.

It just struck me that derivatives of the word baptizo are used to describe the dipping of bread into the bread-dip at the Last Supper, and to describe the dipping of a finger into cool water.

Matt 26:23 embapsas (having dipped with the hand in the dish)
Mark 14:20 embaptomenos (is dipping with me into the bowl)
Luke 16:24 bapse (he might dip finger in cool water)
John 13:26 bapso (will dip)
John 13:26 bapsas (having dipped)

The bread probably was not fully immersed when it was "baptized" into the bowl. I can't say whether or not this has relevance to a nose-tip not making it under the water during baptism. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.

Originally published at:

Acts 20

 ESV Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

As you may recall, there was a "Second Passover", a month after the first, for those who could not, for reason of being ceremonially unclean (e.g. for having touched a corpse, etc), participate in the first one. You can read about this in Numbers 9:1-14.

Although the timing is somewhat off, the Acts 20:7 event could conceivably be this second Passover.

Luke and his contingent sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6). So they sailed at least one week after the first Passover. It took 5 days to each Troas; that's almost a second week. Then they spent seven days at Troas. That's a third week.

If Luke and his company waited an extra 10 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread before setting sail, instead of leaving immediately after (maybe they wanted to visit another week, or they were having trouble getting on a ship, with all the hordes from the Feast week vying for tickets), that puts the Acts 20:7 meal right on the mark for the second Passover.

Granted, this is just speculation, but it's worth putting on the table for consideration.

Another thing about Acts 20:7, there's no indication whatsoever that they had not been meeting every day that week. There's no indication that they were, but there's no indication that they weren't. It would be more consistent with Paul's standard method of operating to meet daily with the locals. Otherwise the group has just wasted a week (even more for Paul, who had already been there a while - v. 5) waiting seven days for meeting-time.

Likewise, there's no indication that they had not been eating supper together every night that week. After all, people do eat pretty much every day.

If we were writing a brief account of one of our travels, we might write something like, "So we left Hickstown after the Parade Day, was on the road for five days, and got to Dingleville, where we stayed seven days, having a gospel meeting. The first day of the next week, when we had gathered for supper, expecting to leave the next morning, an amazing thing happened. Let me tell you about it."

There's no reason to conclude from this reading that the "gathering for supper" is anything special, or that it hadn't been done every night of the week.

Or, maybe it was a special supper, but not the Lord's Supper; maybe it was a going away supper for the visiting missionaries. Don't we do that sort of thing in our time?

Or maybe the local synagogue always met for supper after the close of the Sabbath assemblies; don't some of us often do that in our churches in our time?

I'm more inclined to think that Paul's crew had been meeting with the locals all week, and when the Sabbath rolled around, they met again in the synagogue, as was Paul's custom, and at the close of the Sabbath, after sundown marked the start of the first day of the week, everyone left the synagogue and met in their "fellowship hall" for a pot luck, just like we often do after Sunday morning assemblies. While the women were preparing the food (they wouldn't have prepared it on the Sabbath itself, both because of their cultural conditioning and so they wouldn't be offensive to the not-yet-converted Jews in their realm of influence), the men talked a long time (the women listening as best they could while cooking), and one of the young men fell asleep and fell out the window. After the excitement of that event, they all went back inside to the dining hall, where the women served the meal, and then the women cleaned up, later joining the men who were in deep discussion until daybreak. And if the Lord's Supper was conducted as a part of this meal (as Jesus had done in the original Lord's Supper, and as the Corinthians had been doing, but selfishly in that they were looking just to feed their own faces, and as probably referenced in Jude 1:12 as a "Love Feast", and as probably intimated in 2 Peter 2:13), it's probably the women who served the Lord's Supper to the congregation, unlike our modern practice where we exclude the women from being servers, because somehow we equate serving with leading or teaching or wresting authority from the men.

And if any of the travelers were meticulous about keeping the Law (which we know Paul was - v. 24 of the very next chapter), they would not be traveling on the Sabbath, which would add another reason for waiting until the first day of the week before having a final meal with everyone.

That's not even touching the meaning of "mia ton sabbaton" as idiomatically meaning "first day of the week" as opposed to the literal meaning of "first [or one] of the sabbaths". People a lot smarter in Greek than I am come done on both sides of the issue (even though most of the standard consensus writers claim it's an idiom meaning "first of the week").

In other words, there are a lot of gray, unanswered questions about this text, and for us to be dogmatic about any one of them is, in my estimation, unwise.

Originally published at: