Posts Tagged ‘Exegesis’

Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

Says What Now? – A New Series

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This is probably not a new idea to you:  ”Pay attention to context.”  The easiest way to misunderstand a verse is to read it by itself, ignoring the context.  There’s a variety of pithy sayings, like “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.”

My favorite comes from Greg Koukl:  “Never read a Bible verse.”

The point being, never read just one verse.  Always read the surrounding verses, too–to get a better idea of the topic, and to help understand what the main point is, and to help figure out ambiguous phrases.  (I wrote a post a couple years ago on this, called Understanding God’s Word.)  Sometimes it’s a jarring experience to read a familiar verse in context–because you discover that it doesn’t actually say what you always thought.  Maybe the idea is still found elsewhere in the Bible (i.e. maybe it’s just a case of “Right idea, wrong passage”)…or maybe not.  Either way, it’s a moment of dissonance.

I’m going to start a series.  Each entry will present a familiar verse from the evangelical world, describe the common interpretation, and look at the context.  Most of these will be very straightforward.

I’d like to highlight both (1) how important it is to be careful about context, and (2) how easy it is to avoid so many mistakes.  (Some things do require deeper study–but you can get a long way with simple, obvious habits. It’s not esoteric.)

Note: An internet friend of mine, Lisa Robinson, was talking on Facebook about doing some posts like this for Parchment and Pen.  So I’m sort of stealing her idea.  But my own blog has so few readers that I don’t think I’ll actually be stealing her thunder.  :)

Communion: Discerning The Body

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I led communion at my church, Hope Chapel of Austin, TX.  It was an honor and a responsibility, and I’m very happy that Pastor Geno entrusted me with it.

I think it went well.  It was both easy and difficult to prepare.  Easy, because of some excellent sermons & commentary on the Lord’s Supper that were percolating in my brain.  Difficult, to condense it to a concise, clear reflection.  The material on it in 1 Corinthians 10-11 is fairly rich, and I couldn’t begin to do it justice in 5 minutes.  I focused on an element that has not been emphasized, in my past church experience:  How communion relates to community and love and relationship, and what it means to examine ourselves.

There was so much more, though.  I’d like to do a series of posts expanding on it, from the gospel accounts and from more of 1 Corinthians.  I’ll try to get it done during the month of December.

You can listen to or download the recording at our sermon archive, if you’d like.  Or, here’s the transcript.  Also, here’s the short description from the archive:

What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body? The answer is rooted in Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice–and in the gathered church as the body of Christ. We unite in love to participate in Christ, proclaiming the gospel and showing its power.

———————————————-
Good morning, Hope Chapel, my name is Tim Margheim.  Please hold the elements until we all partake together.  If you’re a guest, know we invite all Christians to join with us.  Parents, we leave it to you to determine whether your children are ready to participate.

Today I’d like to speak from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s discussion of communion, in order to draw out something that wasn’t often emphasized about the Lord’s Supper, in my upbringing.

We know that the Lord’s Supper is a thing of joy and grace.  But Paul wrote in disappointment with the church in Corinth, saying, “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  They were taking this meal in a way that turned it from a blessing to a curse.  He cautioned them, saying,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

So Paul is concerned about the way we approach the Lord’s Supper.  What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body?

The more familiar part of the answer is that we should take the meal seriously, remembering Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.  And judging ourselves rightly means that we know we can’t make ourselves worthy.  He didn’t say, “Only come if your life is where God wants it to be,” or “if you pray enough”, or “if you read your Bible enough”, or “if you’ve done enough good deeds”. There is a worthy manner of celebrating, with humble, repentant awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  But we come depending on God’s gift, in the middle of our failures.  This is the gospel, the central meaning of the Supper.

But it might be less familiar that Paul’s main criticism was about the way they were treating each other.  He said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” and “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”.  Some ate full meals while others went hungry.  Paul asked, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  They came together, but they came divisively.

In this light, what does it mean to examine ourselves and “discern the body”?

In the fall, our elder Cotton Hance pointed out a double-meaning in the phrase, “discern the body”: On the one hand, there’s Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice.  On the other hand, we are the body.  And when they came divisively, they twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

If we remember the work of Christ to save us, we should remember what he saved us for.  He died, not just to save us as individuals from hell, but also to bring us together into a family.  He says “discern the body”, and in the very next chapter he says that we are one body, with many members.  That we need each other, and are called into the most excellent way of love–the love of the Spirit, by which all the world will see that we are Christ’s disciples.  We’re called to be servants, opening our lives and surrendering our time, allowing God to knit us together in true relationship–not just here on Sunday, but throughout each week, in Hope groups, in phone calls, in meetings in coffee shops, in inviting each other into our homes to share meals. This love, this community, where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, is intended to be a light of hope, both proclaiming the gospel and showing its power, to a broken world of sinners in desperate need of salvation.

So now, having come together, let us examine ourselves.  Let us be one, in humble repentance, remembering the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and rejoicing in the gift of his work among us.  Let’s pray.

Father, we receive, and we thank you for your work among us.  Please Father, continue your work of love.  Give us the peace and freedom of loving each other well.  Help us not to keep records of wrongs, and forgive us for sometimes failing each other, and give us hope for new change.  May we approach this meal today with love, and with openness, and with reverence; it is Christ’s body and blood, for us.  And may we approach our relationships with one other with something of the same importance, because together, we are Christ’s body.  May our lives display the work of your love, and may the world see Christ in us.  May we be quick to speak the words of life, the words of good news, calling the world to repent and receive this gift.   May we have the joy of baptizing many into the body of Christ, to be part of your family, adopted through Jesus.  And Father, may every celebration of this table be a renewal and a reminder and a proclamation of all the grace and peace and truth and love that is in Christ.  In the name of Jesus, as his body, by his work, we pray, amen.

So let us eat together, from Christ’s body, broken on the Cross for us.

And let us take the cup together, and drink from Christ’s blood, the new covenant with God, poured out for our sins.

“Was I Really Baptized?”, and Other (Quibbling?) Questions

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Over at the SBC Voices blog, they’re starting a new series of debates between fellow Baptists.  The mission statement requires that they be civil, biblical, non-personal 1000-word essays–enforced by the editors.  It looks to be interesting.

The first debate is over baptism and local church oversight.  Who performs baptisms?  Does it need to be done by a local church?  Can you baptize yourself?  Where the rubber meets the road: If you weren’t baptized by a church, should you be rebaptized?

I like the discussion.  Here are the links.  (I’ll try to add the rest, as they post more.)  As always, I comment under the name “Jugulum”.

  1. Diverse Voices Debate: Is Church Oversight Essential for Baptism?
  2. Diverse Baptists Debate: Church Oversight of Baptism- Foster’s Rebuttal of Miller
  3. A Response to the Baptism Oversight Debate

——————-

In my judgment, the case  for necessary church oversight isn’t strong.  But I want to make two “meta” comments about conversation itself, and one about the content of the debate.  (The specific observation is a quote from a comment I left at the first entry.)

The two general issues:

1.) Is it stupid even to be having this kind of debate?  Is it just quibbling?
2.) Even if we disagree with the other side’s final conclusion, we can still learn & grow from the principles & arguments they use.  (In this case: We can grow in understanding the symbolism & meaning of baptism, and think about how to preserve the richness of what God has given us.)

The specific comment:

3.) We should care about preserving & reflecting the symbolism of baptism in how we practice.  But “this preserves the symbolism better” doesn’t imply “it’s not valid without it.”  A comparison to the Lord’s Supper may help. (more…)

Bible Study, Community, and Orthodoxy

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Recently, I’ve been talking with some friends about some hard questions, and we turned to a particular chapter of Romans.  After I sent them a link discussing part of the passage, one of my friends started searching for other commentary about it.  But then he stopped, because, as he put it:

After that, I decided researching the passage would be counter-productive.  My goal is to understand the passage, not understand what scholars say about the passage.  I suppose I’m going on the assumption that if God is conveying truth, even someone as ignorant (unschooled) as myself should be able to understand at least the main point.

He then proceeded to read the chapter himself, think about it, and send an email to the rest of us explaining what he saw in the passage.

In thinking about his comments and his approach, I find myself both agreeing, and wanting to preserve a right place for commentary.  At the core of good Bible study is personal Bible study–you the Christian, with God, studying the Word and receiving from the Spirit.  It should never be less than that.  But Bible study should be more. It should include community & relationship, accountability, and connection with the rest of the Church–now and in the past.

Personal Bible Study

We’re supposed to pore over Scripture directly.  I think study Bibles aren’t very good for new Christians–they should be poring over Scripture, getting in the habit of looking there, first.  Not getting in the habit of answering every question by reading what other Christians say.  We shouldn’t depend on study notes to give us the answers–our first impulse shouldn’t be to look there, but rather to wrestle with the Word.  The same applies to commentaries.  We can’t let studying them replace Bible study.

Bible Study in Community

The Christian life isn’t about me & God, it’s about us & God.  We’re not supposed to be solo Christians.  That goes for Bible study, too.  It should be relational.  It’s not “me & my Bible & God alone in the woods”.  We study by ourselves (just like we pray by ourselves), but we shouldn’t stop there.  We need to do things in community, in fellowship.  Solo prayer & worship is important, but there’s also a richness to group prayer & worship–to the “one another” work of the Spirit.  Same with Bible study–there is richness and help in studying together.  Christ did not die to make solo Christians; he died to purify a people, to make a family, to make a Body of various parts joined together–who will be loving and serving and blessing each other, teaching each other, through the work of the Spirit.

So we talk about it, and you help me see what I might have missed, and vice versa.  Or you help me see that it doesn’t say what I thought, and vice versa.  If something seems obvious to me but you can’t see it at all… Then we need to step back and look again, together.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Is the Bible Plain?

Community Bible study is part of accountability, and we all need it.  Because the Bible is written for us all to read, but there are lots of ways that we can get things wrong.  We have blind spots, we have preconceived ideas.  We fail to see things because we don’t want to, or we see things because we want to see them.  Or we just miss things for no apparent reason–even things that seem obvious after someone points it out.  And sometimes the Bible is hard to understand–it’s not written for scholars, but not everything is plain & easy.  As people say, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”  The basics of the Gospel & following Christ are plain, but it’s also easy to miss things, and we need to help each other see more clearly.

So… I think Bible study should have steps.  (1) Spend time prayerfully studying the Word by yourself.  (2) Spend time studying it with other Christians.

Commentaries Are Christian Community, Too

“Studying it with other Christians” includes going out into our Christian community and study it with each other.  But commentaries are another way.

A commentary is just something that another Christian has written.  It might be quite helpful, and show you things in the passage that you missed.  It might tell you some helpful background info–something that would have been obvious to the original audience, but isn’t obvious to a 21st century American.  Or it might say things that are totally off-base.  Just like any time you study the Bible with another Christian.  It’s not a replacement for reading the Bible yourself, and you need to apply discernment to what you read.  But it can be very, very helpful.  Our fellow Christians can be very, very helpful.

Christians Who Aren’t Like Us

We all have blinders & bad assumptions–things that make us misunderstand Scripture, or read our theology into the text instead of reading it out of the text.  Those problems sometimes come from our cultural background.

But people from other cultures have different blinders.  We make different mistakes–and if we examine them together, we can help one another to see more clearly.

The more we listen to Christians who are very different from us, the more we will have iron sharpening iron.

So, it’s exciting that Christianity is growing so much in Africa and China.  I can’t wait to find out how they contribute to our understanding of what God has said–to see how they challenge the Western church’s priorities and assumptions.

The History of the Church

We also shouldn’t just read commentary from modern people.  We should be connected with the church as a whole, throughout history.  We should be grounded in history.  We should be aware of how Christians have wrestled with and answered questions in the past, and we should hear their voices as well.  Because:

  • Just as people from other cultures today have different blinders, so do people from the past.  They’re less likely to make our mistakes, and we’re less likely to make theirs.
  • If we really think the Bible is clear, do we think it is clear only to us, now?  If we think the Bible is saying something that no other Christian in the history of the world has seen, shouldn’t that make us wonder?
  • If we have the Holy Spirit, so did they.  If we are fallible, so were they.  If our fellow Christians today are worth listening to, so were they.

Let’s listen to the dead guys, too.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox understand this point, but go too far.  They invest the history of the Church with too much authority, letting it move into the role of interpreting  for us, instead of with us.  But sometimes Protestants do a pendulum swing, too far in the other direction.

Only sometimes.  But it definitely happens.

We should draw on the wisdom of the Christians who have gone before us.  It’s one thing to look at it with caution and discernment; it’s another to throw it off entirely, like a teenager convinced of his parents’ irrelevance & foolishness.

Summary

The Holy Spirit has been teaching Christians from the Scripture for 2000 years, and it doesn’t make sense to cut ourselves off from that.  It is not “Me and my Bible alone in the woods with God.”  As we pray for God to help us understand his word, we should be plugged in directly to the Bible, and into our community, and into the broader community of Christians, living and dead.  Study the Bible directly, and then do it with other Christians.  We help keep each other from going off in weird directions.

The Church & Israel — How Much Does Romans Say?

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m still discussing Romans 9-11 with Bob in the comment section of the last entry.  I may take some of that and make a new entry.  In the meantime, I had already written out this fourth post in the series.  Just a quick thought on how much Romans 9-11 actually addresses.

I think it’s pretty clear that Paul is pointing forward to a future spiritual renewal of ethnic Israel, in which many many Jews will find the Messiah.

But I don’t think Romans 9-11 says anything else about the end times.  It doesn’t say anything about the role of Israel in the end times.  If you only read these chapters, you don’t find anything about Israel’s role in the kingdom of God.  You don’t find anything about the millenium.  You don’t even find anything about the land of Israel.

Not directly, anyway.  Paul does say, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).  And he does seem to think that the bloodlines still matter for something.  But we have to read other parts of the Bible in order to find out what exactly are “the gifts and calling of God”.

It might still turn out that some of the promises & prophecies were typological, or “spiritual” in some sense.  Not face value.  (When they’re fulfilled, it might not turn out like you would think at first glance.)  But like I said in the last entry, we have to be careful with that.  If you want to claim that’s what will happen, you should have good exegetical reason for doing it.  (Just because you can think of some way that “This promise about Israel is fulfilled in Christ & the Church”, doesn’t mean you’re reading it the way it was intended.)  Especially the further you move away from taking it at “face value”.

The Church & Israel — Thinking About Rom. 9-11

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing from the last entry, where I put Romans 7-12 in my own words, here are some observations.

Observations

1.) When Paul says that God’s promise hasn’t failed, his emphasis is not, “Because the Church is the true Israel.”  (That’s what Replacement theologians tend to say.)  Instead, his emphasis is, “Because the remnant of the Jews has come to Christ.”   Even if you think the Church is Israel–even if you think Paul says so–it should be clear that Paul doesn’t depend on that idea here.  His response is based on the remnant.

2.) Paul makes a big point of the fact that God did have a faithful remnant of some Jews.  Apparently, if all the Jews had rejected the Messiah, God’s promise would have failed.  So in some way, the bloodlines do still matter.   It does matter for ethnic Jews to follow Christ.

3.) Paul does talk about including the Gentiles as God’s children, as beloveds, as his people.  God brings “vessels of mercy” from out of the Gentiles, as well as from out of the Jews.  But Paul doesn’t directly say anything here like, “Therefore we can call the whole body of Christ ‘Israel’.”  (The arguable place is 11:25-26, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Also, Gal. 6:16 or Rom. 2:29 might say so–but that would be a different argument.  What does this passage mean?)

4.) In some places in the passage, “Israel” can only mean ethnic Israel, not “believing Jews + the Gentiles”.

As an exercise, try walking through all three chapters, and replace “Israel” with either “ethnic Israel” or “true Israel”.  Try it both ways in each case.  See which ones are clearly “ethnic Israel”.  See which ones are arguable.

Especially, let’s try that in 11:25-26.

5.) “Israel” shows up twice in 11:25-26.  The first time is clear, but the second time is arguable.

a partial hardening has come upon [ethnic] Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel [???] will be saved, as it is written,

On the one hand, maybe it means “a vast majority of Jews will come to Christ”.  (“All Israel” doesn’t necessarily mean “every individual”, even though that might sound more natural.)

On the other hand, maybe it means, “every individual from true Israel (whether Jew or Gentile) will find mercy”.

That makes more sense out of “all Israel”.  And the basic idea of “true Israel” makes sense with the earlier stuff about including the Gentiles.  And it makes sense with some other passages.  But–I can’t make sense of it in the context.

Paul had talked about making the unbelieving Jews jealous in order to save them, and desiring them to be grafted back in.  Then he talks about a temporary partial hardening.  It seems to go, “Partial hardening on the Jews until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, and then the hardening will be released, and more Jews will be saved.”

The “true Israel” really doesn’t fit well, if you keep going from v. 25 through to vs. 32.  You might think “true Israel” works in v. 26, but keep reading.  Pay attention to what happens when you hit v. 28, and especially v. 31:

so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Who has been disobedient?  Ethnic Israel.  Who is Paul hoping will receive mercy?  Ethnic Israel.

If you read v. 26 by itself, maybe it can work.  But it stops working when you hit v. 28.

6.) Last comment: Paul definitely talks about the Gentiles being included as God’s people, and he says they are “children of the promise”.  Galatians also connects us with Abraham (Gal. 3:29).  But what about the later Mosaic covenant?  Maybe we’re included in Abraham, but not Moses.  What about all the later promises that God didn’t make to Abraham, but made to Israel and the people of Israel?  Do we have to be included in both?

I really don’t know.  But I don’t think Paul intended to answer that question in Rom. 9-11–he’s mainly addressing the promises of salvation.  (And in 9:3-5 and 11:28-29, he’s maybe pointing out some particular promises & blessings for ethnic Israel.  I’m not sure.)

So, I don’t think you should take your final answer from Rom. 9-11.  Even if it turns out that Gentile Christians do receive all the promises & covenants & prophecies to Israel, we would need to do more work to figure that out. We need to look at the various promises and prophecies, and look at what the New Testament says about them, and see what makes sense.  In particular, we need to look at the land promises, and see what God specifically promised.  And Jeremiah 31:35-37 is important.

—-

Back to “How do we interpret the Bible?” in general.

Covenant theologians are right–that we need to let the New Testament interpret the Old, where it does so. And Dispensationalists are right–that we need to be careful about over-allegorizing, where the Bible doesn’t justify doing it.  We should take it at face value unless we have good reason not to.

That’s where I’m at.  I need to study the Old Testament promises, and find out what the New Testament says about them.

I have just one more comment about Israel and the Church in the end-times.  But I’ll save that for another entry.  A brief one.  I promise.

The Church & Israel — Summarizing Romans 9-11

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Continuing my look at the Church, Israel, and Replacement Theology:

Romans 9-11 is one of the most important New Testament passages about the Church and Israel.  It’s interesting:  People on both sides argue, “My side has to be right–just look at Romans 9-11!”  There are other important passages–Galatians, Hebrews, & Revelation (particularly Gal. 6:16 and Rom. 2:29.) I know I haven’t studied them enough to come to really solid conclusions.  But on Romans 9-11, there are some things that I think are pretty clear.

The three chapters culminate in 11:25-32.  And that passage includes the key phrase, “in this way all Israel will be saved”.  What does Paul mean?  Is he talking about ethnic Israel?  Or is he talking about “true Israel”–all the children of God in Christ?

Dispensationalists (and some Replacement theologians) take “all Israel will be saved” to mean that there will be a future restoration of ethnic Israel:  Many Jews will turn to Christ.  (“See!”, they say, “Israel is still distinct from the Church in the plans of God!”)

Replacement theologians tend to take it this way:  Even though so much of Israel has rejected Christ, the promises of God will not fail–because true Israel is all those who believe in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.  And all of true Israel will be saved.  (“See!”, they say, “Everyone who knows Christ is now part of Israel!”)

I’m still trying to work some things out–there are pieces of this passage that aren’t clear to me.  I do think the Replacement crowd are at least partly right.  Ch. 9-11 is definitely about how the promises of God have not failed, and it definitely emphasizes unity between Jews and Gentiles in salvation.  The whole Church is definitely part of God’s family, and does inherit promises from the Old Testament.

But I’ve also concluded this:  Paul does point to future restoration & salvation for ethnic Israel, i.e. for currently unbelieving Jews.  And ultimately, this passage doesn’t say, “‘Israel’ now means the Church.” Replacement theologians are reading that in, they’re not getting it from here.  (Maybe you could build a case from other passages, but here, it’s not what Paul said.)

To see that, I want to walk through the passage to see the major flow of thought.  Then I want to look at how is the word “Israel” is used–and at what exactly the Gentiles are included in.  (I’m not perfectly clear on the last part.) (more…)

No Infallibility for Anyone

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

So, something I’ve been doing during the long gap between my posts has been an occasional comment on other blogs, under the name Jugulum.  One of my exchanges ended up being highlighted by Carrie (a contributor to the blog), who posted excerpts in a separate entry, saying,  “Not that the general discussion points haven’t been covered here and elsewhere many times over, but I thought Jugulum provided a nice clarity to the issue in his comments”.  Thanks, Carrie. :)

The exchange has to do with infallibility in Roman Catholicism.  One of the appeals of Catholicism is the idea of certainty.  If you have to read & interpret the Bible for yourself, how do you know if you’ve got it right? You’re just a fallible private interpreter.  But if you listen to the Church, you have an infallible interpreter to tell you what you should believe.

The major problem is this: Who interprets the interpreter?

When you read the Scriptures, you have to try to figure out what they mean.  You might get it wrong.  And when you listen to the Pope or read the Catechism or read the rulings of councils, then you also have to try to figure out what they mean, and you might get it wrong.  Either you’re reading the infallible Scriptures, or you’re reading (allegedly) infallible proclamations of the Church–and you have to interpret both.  Because you’re fallible, your theology will always be fallible–even if you were sitting at the feet of Christ during his ministry on earth, you could still misunderstand.

  • Note: This argument doesn’t tell us whether or not God actually did give us the Catholic teaching Magisterium to be our guide.  It just means that your theology will always be fallible, regardless of who’s right about sola Scriptura.  This common Catholic argument ends up being an (unintentional) shell game.
  • However, the Catholic system does offer something that would be nice, if it were really from God.  Even though we can’t become infallible, it would be nice to have an infallible interpreter.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask Paul what he meant sometimes?  To interact with him in person? If the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church) could actually give us authoritative interpretations from God, it would be nice.  (And we would be obliged to submit.)  But, we can be assured that if God didn’t give us such a thing, then we don’t need it.  If we Protestants are right that the only infallible authority is Scripture, then we can be confident that we have all the guidance we require–everything God wanted us to have.  (Other authorities–like tradition, philosophy, etc.–might be helpful, but they’re under Scripture, and they’re not infallible.)  If so, then Catholics are (sadly) seeing deficiency in what God has graciously lavished on us.  We need to get this right.

So, now that I’ve summarized it, on to the exchange.  It started when I replied to this comment from Alexander Greco:

Within Catholicism, granting that its teachings are true, a person has the possibility to know that he or she is holding beliefs at variance with sound doctrine, and can avoid this.

My reply starts here, and the exchange continues through the combox.  Or, if you don’t want to read everything, you can check out the excerpts pulled out by Carrie.

Understanding God’s Word

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Easy Exegesis

“Exegesis” is a technical term for interpretation of a text. It’s about serious interpretation–doing your best to get past what you want it to mean, or what you’ve always assumed it means, or what you’ve been told it means, getting through to figure out what the author actually meant. The nutshell definition is “drawing meaning out of a text”.

It’s the opposite of “eisegesis”, which means “reading meaning into a text”. (Calling someone’s interpretation “eisegesis” is basically polite, scholarly trash talk. Any time I read something like, “That’s really more eisegetical than exegetical,” I imagine the target of the comment saying, “Oh no you di-int! Snap!”)

An in-depth exegesis involves looking at the context of the individual verse or passage, at the flow of thought, at the details of the language, at the original audience, at the historical context, and at the other writings of the author (if there are any). That’s the best way to get the most confidence that you’re understanding the fullest meaning of what the text was intended to say.

But…Well, all that makes it sound very complicated, very involved, and much too difficult for anyone who can’t read the Greek text and translate it on the fly. But it’s not. It doesn’t have to be. Don’t get me wrong, some passages really are very challenging, even for the brightest minds with the best resources and the strongest education. But most of the Bible isn’t like that. To get the fullest meaning, it may take practice and a lot of effort–but there are very simple ways to study the Bible that will help you understand quite a lot.

There’s a simple, easy rule of exegesis–one you’ll find yourself using all the time, one that’s widely useful, one that will prevent you from making most of the easy mistakes of interpretation.

(more…)