Ritual Faithfulness in Service

Craig Keener observes the the need of keeping ritual purity in the account of The Lord seeking to kill Moses. God had just commissioned Moses but now threatens to kill him because he had failed to circumcise his son. Ritual purity is vital since it relays information about the status of a follower. It is important to observe the signs God tells us to keep. God told Abraham to observe this sign in Gen. 17.9-14. Everyone who did not keep this sign were “cut off” from God’s covenant. Craig Keener has a typo here in his post by saying that Midian was a child of Moses when in fact it was Abraham’s descendant through Keturah. Evidently the Midianites did not obey the covenant of circumcision which was given to Abraham.

The Israelites in Egypt were all circumcised (Jos. 5.5.) and Moses was supposed to act as their representative to Pharaoh and God’s leader to bring them to the promised land. How could God use Moses when he had not complied with all of God’s required covenantal observances? Later during the night of Passover when all the first born in Egypt were killed, only the circumcised could eat of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12.40-51). Therefore, Moses son would have died during that time. Moses needed confronting for not being faithful in this covenant before starting his commission.

The LXX (Greek translation of O.T.) has Zipporah falling at Moses feet and touching Moses with the bloody foreskin (possibly on Moses genitals) as substitution for him. The Rabbi Umberto Cassuto, a significant Hebrew scholar, saw this as an act of substitution. Cassuto explains the allusion to “bridegroom”: “…she was saying, ‘I have delivered you from death, and your return to life makes you my bridegroom a second time, this time my blood bridegroom, a bridegroom acquired through blood’”



In Exod 4:23, God warns that he will kill Pharaoh’s son because Pharaoh has refused to release God’s son, namely his people (4:22). Why then does the text move directly from this threat to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn (4:23) to the Lord seeking to kill Moses (4:24)? And what does the Lord’s plan to kill Moses have to do with Moses’s own son (4:25)?

Stubborn Moses’s encounter with the Lord here contrasts starkly with the Lord’s benevolent appearance to faithful Abraham in Gen 18. Likewise, Jacob struggled at night with the angel of the Lord and came out with a limp, but he at least persevered until he got a blessing. Moses’s confrontation with God here nearly precipitates his death. This account in Exod 4 is so concise that its meaning seems ambiguous, perhaps clearer to earlier hearers who had heard fuller versions of the story. But the connections between Pharaoh’s son and Moses’s son may suggest a meaning.

Apparently Moses’s offense is not circumcising his firstborn son (4:25); such circumcision would mark Moses’s son as a member of the covenant people that are God’s own son (4:22). God would slay Egypt’s firstborn to redeem God’s own firstborn (4:23), but Moses has not surrendered his own son to God. Moreover, Moses’s resistance is apparently because of his wife’s refusal to allow the circumcision (although she surrenders, she seems quite unhappy about the Lord’s demand in 4:25). (Even in Egypt, Israelites practiced circumcision, as Josh 5:5 testifies; Egyptians also used flint knives when they circumcised, although for them it was not a sign of the covenant. Although Gen 25:2 lists Midian as a child of Moses and Moses presumably circumcised all his children [17:12-13, 26-27], Midianites, or at least Zipporah, did not want to follow the practice.)

If Zipporah has been the one resisting circumcision, why is Moses the one to face punishment? Moses is the Israelite and the one to whom the Lord has spoken, so he is responsible to act on God’s will; the Lord is going to punish him, not his wife, if he refuses to obey. So Zipporah has to sacrifice her son’s foreskin to save Moses’s life. We don’t know the son’s age at this point, but it is not clear that he is merely a baby. He may well have been old enough to voice his own concerns. Of course, even a baby can communicate his displeasure with pain vocally even if he cannot do so verbally.

Zipporah touches the bloody foreskin to Moses’s feet, by this blood from her firstborn apparently atoning for Moses. This act may resemble the way that God later accepted the Passover lamb’s blood in the place of the death of Israel’s firstborn when God struck the firstborn of Egypt. (God later required Israel to redeem every human firstborn with the firstborn of a donkey or a lamb; Exod 13:13; 34:20.) Why she touches Moses’s feet is hard for us to understand at this remove. Perhaps it was because feet were considered one of the dirtier and more disgusting parts of the body; or because they were traveling (though it is not clear that YHWH’s attack on Moses involved this); or as a sign of submission (given the association of the soles of feet with conquest; also cf. 1 Sam 25:41); or an accusation of violence (1 Kgs 2:5); or, perhaps likelier, because of an association with marital duties (cf. Deut 25:9; Ruth 3:4, 7-8) connected with her complaint about him being a “bridegroom involving blood.”

God would defend God’s son by killing Pharaoh’s son. Moses needed to circumcise his own son, identifying fully with God’s covenant, or God could kill him as God could kill Pharaoh’s son. Whatever else this may mean, it offers us a warning. The servant of God with a mission remains responsible to obey God’s covenant at home as well as in public.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy: What Do the NT Books Tell Us About Early Christian Diversity? — Canon Fodder

Here is an important and insightful post from Dr. Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder. A crucial issue for all humans is whom they should believe, or, who or what is ultimately a valid authority, an anchor for the soul. Dr. Kruger believes it is the canonical scriptures which I heartily affirm.

Paul states that the Corinthians can be assured of the truth since Paul is a designated apostle by God as evidenced by God’s manifested works, or signs: I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles (2Cor.12.12 NIV). Even though the history of the church is marked by competing voices, we know definitively what is valid by the issues and resulting answers the apostles dealt with in the first century scriptures.

This gives readers of the scriptures confidence since they have a boundary of authority defined by the canon. Christians do not have to be tossed to and fro by the many winds of doctrine contained in later or extra biblical ideas.



Last week I began a new blog series (see first post here) addressing the theme of unity and diversity in early Christianity, particularly as it pertains to the well-known work of Walter Bauer. Essentially, Bauer argued there was no such thing “heresy” or “orthodoxy” during this time period. These ideas, he argues, are simply artificial…

via The Heresy of Orthodoxy: What Do the NT Books Tell Us About Early Christian Diversity? — Canon Fodder

PhD Not Required

The bible was written for adults to understand sufficiently. The recipients of O.T. Israel were not sophisticated moderns who had access to a wide array of information. The N.T. folks, likewise, in many instances, lacked developed learning. This does not mean that some brilliant folks in those eras did not interact with the bible. Neither am I saying that moderns should stay unlearned. Historical background knowledge and other studies can be readily pursued but one can still be confident of biblical truth without structured learning.

Paul, in a letter to those he formerly ministered to for several years, recites a prayer for them: …the glorious Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you (Eph. 1.17b-18a NIV). He did not tell the Ephesians to study Jewish learning or Greek philosophy to understand the bible reading they heard every week. They needed the illumination of God’s Spirit.

The bible is to be read or heard and meditated upon with a view to understanding and obeying God. I know more of God’s program from reading and thinking upon the English Bible than the 5 years of Greek, 2 years of Hebrew and Aramaic, and loads of theology I studied in Bible College and seminary. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you (1Jn. 2.27a NIV).

I take the incident of Joshua’s long day as apparent daylight. The sun was apparent whether brightly shining or behind clouds during the period of what would normally be the dark of night so that it was two days of light without a night. There is no need to be crassly literal thinking the normal planetary cycle was altered. God could and did, I believe, give apparent sunlight when more time was needed for the battle. Here is an article that exposes the fallacy of always needing empirical evidence to justify belief:


Some of you may have read about an article written by the British physicists Colin J. Humphreys and W. Graeme Waddington and published in the October issue of Astronomy & Geophysics. Titled “Solar Eclipse of 1207 BCE Helps to Date Pharaohs,” it’s an attempt to link the story of the sun’s miraculously standing still in the biblical book of Joshua to an ancient eclipse and to draw historical conclusions from the linkage.

I will get to the substance of Humphreys and Waddington’s thesis, which has received considerable press coverage, in a moment. First, though, I need to point to something that has gone mostly unremarked upon (an exception is a post by Professor James Davila in his blog PaleoJudaica), namely, that these researchers’ argument is practically identical to that of a much longer and more detailed paper published in January of this year, in the Hebrew journal Beyt Mikra, by three Israelis: the physicist Ḥezi Yitzḥak, the Bible scholar Daniel Weinstaub, and the archeologist Uzi Avner. Such coincidences can happen in the world of scholarship and perhaps need not be made too much of, provided that credit goes to where it is due.

In any case, my remarks in this column will refer to both articles as though they were one. The relevant verses in Joshua 10:5-14 are, in the King James Version, as follows:

Therefore the five kings of the Amorites . . . encamped before Gibeon and made war against it. And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly and save us. . . . And so Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him. . . . Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And the Lord discomfited [the Amorites] before Israel and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon and chased them along the way that goeth up to Beth-Horon, and smote them to Azekah. . . . And it came to pass as they fled before Israel that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died. . . . Then spake Joshua to the Lord . . . and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon. And the sun stood still and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. . . . So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down for about a whole day. And there was no day like that before or after it.

Let us summarize. Joshua comes to the Gibeonites’ rescue because there is a pact between them and the Israelites. Marching at night from Gilgal in the Jordan Valley to Gibeon, the biblical Giv’on, in the hill country north of Jerusalem, he surprises the Amorites at the break of day and drives them westward to Azekah in the Judean lowlands, killing them along the way with the assistance of a violent hailstorm. As the day is not long enough for him to finish them off—ancient armies rarely fought at night—he prays for the sun to stop in its tracks, together with the third-quarter moon that is visible in the western sky when the sun is overhead. (The Valley of Ayalon lies to Gibeon’s west.) This they do, prolonging the daylight until the last of the fleeing enemy is cut down.

Such has been the traditional—and, it must be said, the self-evident—understanding of the story. Now, though, along come two teams of Israeli and British scientists and claim that the story in the book of Joshua has been read wrong: its description, they say, is not of a sun and moon that halted in the heavens but of a solar eclipse. What, apart from the understandable but not logically compelling desire to give the biblical story a natural rather than a supernatural explanation, are their reasons?

Essentially, stripped of supporting considerations, those reasons boil down to a new look at two Hebrew verbs, damam and amad, that occupy the center of the biblical narrative. Damam occurs in it twice, once in its imperative form of dom in the phrase shemesh b’Giv’on dom, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon,” and once in its past-tense form of vayidom in vayidom ha-shemesh, “And the sun stood still.” Amad also occurs twice, the first time in v’yare’aḥ amad, “and the moon stayed,” and the second time in vaya’amod ha-shemesh b’ḥatsi ha-shamayim, “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven.” The King James translation is consistent with the use of these verbs elsewhere in the Bible, in which amad generally means “stand,” with the secondary meanings of “halt” or “cease,” and damam means “fall silent,” though it can also can mean “stay in one place” or “perish.”

And yet, our two articles contend, this is not their meaning in the book of Joshua. Why? Because in the astronomical terminology of Akkadian, the ancient and long extinct Semitic language of Babylonia, da’amu refers to the darkness of an annular eclipse, in which the screened sun is encircled by a narrow ring of light, while emedu signifies the conjunction of two heavenly bodies, as when the path of the moon intersects that of the sun and blocks our vision of it.

Since mathematical calculations show that a rare annular eclipse took place in the skies of central Palestine, where Gibeon and the Ayalon valley are located, on October 30, 1207 BCE, Joshua’s prayer, assuming that da’amu and emedu influenced Hebrew damam and amad, must thus be understood to have been, “Sun, be thou eclipsed upon Gibeon and thou Moon, in the valley of Ayalon”—following which, we are told by the Bible, “the sun was eclipsed and the moon stood in conjunction [with it].” Although this eclipse lasted barely an hour-and-a-half from beginning to end, the Bible tells us that the sun “hasted not to go down for about a whole day”—because, write Humphreys and Waddington, “to the awe-inspired Israelites, the amazing spectacle in the sky would have appeared to be long and drawn out; the reaction to such events tends to be exaggerated, particularly with regard to perceived duration.”

This explanation of the story in Joshua, our scholars argue, has great historical significance. In the first place, by corroborating (while reinterpreting) the Bible’s account, it strengthens the case for the veracity of other biblical stories that are commonly considered legends or myths, including that of the Israelite conquest of Canaan in Joshua’s time. Secondly, it enables us to date when this conquest took place—i.e., toward the end of the 13th century BCE, exactly where biblical chronology places it. And thirdly, it establishes a terminus a quo for the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription known (after the pharaoh Merneptah) as the Merneptah stele; inasmuch as a people called Israel is mentioned there as being in Canaan in Merneptah’s time, which it could not have been prior to the age of Joshua, the solar eclipse of 1207 contributes to a more precise dating of events in ancient Egypt as well.

I confess to beingskeptical about all this. Not that it is totally implausible. Akkadian, the language of a Middle Eastern colonial power in the biblical period, did influence other Semitic languages, Hebrew among them, and a knowledge of it can sometimes help in understanding biblical words that are unclear.

An example of this is the kikayon plant in the book of Jonah, whose rapid growth, the Bible relates, shaded Jonah from the torrid sun while he waited outside the city of Nineveh to see what would happen to it. Biblical commentators had no idea what plant this was until modern times, when Assyriologists (a term that includes scholars of Akkadian) unearthed cuneiform tablets in which the word kukkanitu, from which kikayon undoubtedly derives, denotes the castor-oil plant. It is thus possible that Babylonian astronomical terms like da’amu and emedu entered biblical Hebrew, too, especially since the Babylonians were acknowledged by their neighbors to be unequalled as astronomers.

But it is one thing to invoke the aid of Akkadian in explaining a biblical word or passage whose meaning we do not know, and quite another to do so with a passage, like the one in Joshua, that is self-explanatory and needs no outside assistance to be understood. The only reason to read an eclipse into it, as I have said, is wanting to make a biblical account scientifically credible; but to believe that something is true because we want it to be true is hardly scientific.

More than that: the Humphrey-Waddington-Yitzḥak-Weintraub-Avner thesis needs to be taken with a tablespoon of salt not only because it isn’t needed to make sense of the biblical account but because it makes nonsense of that account. Although Joshua, let us recall, prays for a miracle that will prolong the hours of light until his forces have completed their mission, a solar eclipse would only have lessened these hours, and at a time of year—the end of October—when the days were already short. Asking God for it would have made Joshua one bumbler of a general.

This is something that our British and Israeli scholars do not appear to have thought of. It’s not enough, in interpreting the Bible, to know Akkadian and astronomy. You also have to know how to read a simple story.


The Lord’s Prayer

So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we ourselves have forgiven our trespassers. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Mt. 6.9-13 literal translation).

Perhaps a quibble about the label “The Lord’s Prayer.” The text doesn’t give this prayer a title or label. Many have noted that, if any prayer were to be labeled “The Lord’s Prayer,” it would be Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, recorded in John 17. Here, in Matthew, it is the prayer the Lord taught the disciples.

Not all Christians take this “Lord’s Prayer” as merely petition. It seems to start out as praise and affirmation: Hallowed be your name is the confident expectation of the time when God will rule on earth as in heaven with His name praised by the redeemed. Though there may be a yearning aspect, and hard distinctions may not be necessary, it is probably best to view this clause as praise instead of a plea. I understand the Greek construction (aorist imperative) to be a confident expectation. My view recognizes that, elsewhere in the bible, God’s Kingdom manifested on earth is a surety. In God’s due time, He will bring about His earthly rule. The prayer starts out in praise, aligning the disciple to God’s program of eventual triumph over iniquity and the reconciling of creation to Himself.

The words and pattern here is nearly identical to the Kaddish (Qaddish), which is a hymn of praise to God that magnifies and sanctifies God’s name in affirmation. Ezek. 38.23 is thought to be the model for the Kaddish: Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the LORD. “Saying Kaddish” in Judaism is in context of mourning at the passing of a loved one. Despite the loss, it is a confident praise of God. The Jewish Virtual Library identifies it as a “sanctification” and therefore “praise”:

The Kaddish is a prayer that praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The emotional reactions inspired by the Kaddish come from the circumstances in which it is said: it is recited at funerals and by mourners, and sons are required to say Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a parent. The word Kaddish means sanctification, and the prayer is a sanctification of God’s name.

This “disciple’s prayer” also teaches 3 things in the asking part (petition): daily bread as a qualification of sustenance. This encourages a constant dependence, a personal continual learning of how God is able to meet needs. This shows His capacity and greatness in the most minute matters.

Forgive us qualified by the disciple forgiving others as themselves were freely forgiven. Many translations render this as “debts.” This is a very pedantic translation of the Greek term and requires explanation: it is the debt of guilt incurred from failure to perform correctly or failure of wrong action as prescribed previously in the bible. We are able to love others because He first loved us. In verses 14-15 Jesus explains the rationale of forgiving others: For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. This is not the “eye for an eye” stark justice of the Mosaic Code but reflects the obligation of the gift given in The New Covenant. It is the evidence of the new birth’s transformation. If a person is vindictive and revengeful  it would indicate they were not forgiven.

Lead us during the evil days of this temporal journey. Another related admonition to disciples: Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Eph. 5.15-16 NET). The New Testament reflects the Prophet Amos’ observation and admonition: Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil (5.13 NIV). While Amos seems to emphasize keeping quiet so as not to cast pearls before swine, Ephesians instructs making good use of the opportunity (redeeming the time). This may mean studying to know God and being ready to present the gospel. Later, Paul says part of the Christian armor against evil entities involves fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace  (Eph. 6.15 NET). The wise or redeemed person will be sensitive in how to respond to others. The disciple sometimes will be able to storm Hell’s gates to rescue some from captivity. The final clause then, in the “disciple’s prayer,” seems to teach watchfulness and close fellowship with the Lord. It speaks of a very personal dependence and deliverance.

Upon This Rock I will Build My Church – Matthew 16: 13-19

Various Views of the Rock

Many Christians, since before the time of the Great Church Councils of the 4th Century, have believed that Jesus has built the Church on Peter’s ministry. Some Protestants, Baptists particularly, believe Christ’s Church is built on Peter’s confession. Other Protestants believe “the rock” upon which the Church is built is Jesus since the bible speaks of Christ as the cornerstone of a house (temple) with the foundation as the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2.20). Various scriptures affirm that the Church, both collectively, and each member individually, is certainly a temple for the dwelling of God by the Spirit. However, a distinction needs to be observed when speaking of the Church as a whole constituting a body. There is “one body,” not many bodies (Eph. 4.4). This “body” is the universal church as an entity by itself. There is only one church comprised of all who are Christ’s. It is the one people of God for whom Christ died as reflected in Jn. 11.52: and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered (NET). There is a singular people redeemed by God on the basis of Christ’s death which includes all persons since the time of the first redeemed individuals: Adam and Eve. God covered their nakedness with animal skins which typified atonement. The term “church,” I believe, can refer to all the redeemed from every age.

Peter or Other Apostles are not the Rock

Therefore, if my view is correct, the Church cannot be built on Peter. If we examine the New Testament in its historical account of the Church’s establishment, the majority of its writings, and, its influence and authority, then Peter is not the rock. Without a doubt Peter was tremendously influential in the initial preaching and leadership. It was to Peter that God revealed that Gentiles were cleansed by faith and had equal status with Jews (see Acts 10). Yet, the pastor of the Jerusalem church was James the Just, not Peter. Peter was the apostle to the Jews. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles who dominated the Church’s numbers by the end of the first century. Additionally, Peter needed rebuking for separating himself from Gentile believers in Antioch (see Gal. 2.11-21). Paul was the best candidate of anyone whose ministry built the Church. However, I hope to demonstrate that Christ is building His Church on something much sturdier than fallible humans.

Definitively, the N.T. does not present the concept of Christ building upon any human individual. Of course, Christ appeared to Paul and commissioned him as well as all the apostles. Additionally, the Spirit worked through these persons in mighty ways and many turned to the Lord with churches being established throughout the Roman Empire. In a period of a few hundred years, the whole Greco-Roman world was altered in such a way that most people abandoned their pagan gods, and, at least nominally, became Christians.

The New Covenant Promises a Personal Relationship

If Jesus were building His Church on human individuals, then, conceptually, He would be starting an organization. This is exactly the idea of the Orthodox Church with its apostolic succession and the Roman Catholic Church with its popes. However, the New Testament uses terms such as “body” and “living stones” to describe the Church. Christ is establishing an organism, not primarily an organization. The promise of a New Covenant provided the feature of everyone personally knowing the Lord: And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (Jer. 31.34 ESV). This “knowing” is accomplished by the gift of the Spirit, which is sometimes called an “anointing” which every Christian possesses: Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know (1Jn. 2.20 NET). Further, John tells us that this anointing teaches believers directly as promised in Jeremiah’s prophecy: Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him (1Jn. 2.27 NET).

These “neighbors” and “brothers” of Jer. 31.34 refer to the Tribe of Levi with its Aaronic Priesthood. Aaron’s descendants were the only legitimate priests during the Old Covenant and the Levites functioned as instructors among the people of Israel. The Levites didn’t have any territory in Israel, only cities scattered throughout the other tribes which facilitated their ministry among the people. However, the New Covenant would feature a New High Priesthood where direct access to God was available through Christ: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6.19-20 NIV). The Sons of Aaron under the Old Covenant served in a pattern of the heavenly reality. New Covenant believers access the heavenly temple through Christ. Every Christian is a priest in this New Order.

By examining the context of Mt. 16. 13-19, it becomes apparent to what the antecedent of the rock (petra) refers. Here is the section with the bracketed Greek terms:

When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter [petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” (Mt. 16. 13-19 NET)

Jesus as Builder (Carpenter)

Jesus has just changed Simon’s name to “Peter.” The Greek term is “petros,” meaning a small stone such as could be used to build common dwellings in Israel of that day. Before Jesus embarked on His ministry He was known as a carpenter (Mk.6.3). This trade involved constructing houses by using locally acquired stones. This was Jesus’ most likely profession since the term “carpenter” in the New Testament refers both to woodworkers and stone masons.

No wooden building existed (or extremely few) in first century Israel. The risk of fire and scarcity of wood forced them to use the widely available stones. This material offered good insulation in both summer and winter. However, wooden doors, windows with their casements were generally required in these stone dwellings. Also, wood paneling probably adorned wealthy houses. Of course, wooden items such as furniture and utensils were commonly used in everyday life. Both masons and carpenters use the same techniques such as a plumb line which could be made with ordinary string and a large pebble. A stretched line also determined straightness in construction. Hammers and mallets were used in both trades. It is impossible to know exactly what trade Jesus performed prior to His ministry (probably with Joseph initially – Mt. 13.55). I personally think it was a stone mason constructing buildings of the common people of Galilee, observant Jews. This would be both ironic and a sort of wordplay: “the carpenter” building the Church.

Peter “petros”- a Small Stone

Jesus is using figurative speech both in renaming Simon and using “petra” upon which He builds His Church. I examine the use of “petros” (Peter) first since the second usage “petra” will be more involved. Simon Peter writes his first epistle referencing Christians as spiritual stones, a figurative idea: you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1Pet. 2.5 NET). Although Peter doesn’t use the same Greek term as in Matthew, the concept is the same. After all, he doesn’t want to call them living petros since that would confuse his audience into thinking they belong to him, and not Jesus. Jesus changed Simon’s name to indicate him as an integral individual of the Church which He is building.

The Bedrock “petra” as a Foundation

Continuing with the Greek term “rock” (petra), the second instance of the term in the verse is a feminine form which indicates “bedrock” according to the contextual usage. The Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written needs to be interpreted from its context which is different from English in which the terms by themselves indicate the concept. The second usage cannot naturally refer back to Peter, since, in that case, Jesus would be confusing Simon’s name from an ordinary small stone as opposed to a foundation. These are two different ideas. Someone may argue that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, with which I would agree, since Matthew is witnessed in 2nd Century Christian literature as written, initially, to a Jewish audience in Israel.  It needs to be noted, however, that the bible was preserved and inspired in Koine Greek. The translator clearly used “petra” as the second term denoting the bedrock upon which the Church is built. It makes no sense for Jesus to change Simon’s name twice in the space of two phrases. It is difficult to think how the terms could form a wordplay referring to the same person.

The Father’s Revelation to Peter is the Bedrock Upon Which the Church is Built

Jesus will build His Church upon bedrock (petra). Finding the antecedent to this figurative usage gives theological clarity of this most important statement by Jesus. Examining the earlier context provides the use of the figure of speech as the Father’s revelation to Simon son of Jonah. Jesus indicated that Simon was blessed because of this insight. Therefore, it is not the confession which Jesus builds upon, since many may repeat Peter’s confession but actually are not genuine Christians. Those with merely an empty confession would not belong to Christ. Here, Jesus is speaking about what He is building effectively, which is authentic believers comprising the Church. Jesus is certainly the Cornerstone of God’s temple but the concept in Matthew is the bedrock of revelation by the Father.

The Theological Concept as Developed in John’s Gospel

John’s Gospel contains many discourses which the Synoptic Gospels omit. The disciple John was particularly close to Jesus’ teachings as part of the inner circle along with his older brother and Peter. John was always mentioned in the synoptic listings of disciples after his brother James. Therefore, it is believed that he was younger and that Jesus taught John before he could develop the typically wrong ingrained theological thinking which characterized the older disciples. The others had to relearn popular Messianic concepts to correct their understanding of Jesus’ mission as Redeemer instead of the expectation that was current in 1st Century Israel. All the people, and especially Israel’s religious leaders, were hoping for a warrior messiah to free them from Rome’s oppressive rule. The Law, Writings, and Prophets did promise such a conquering deliverer, but, in other instances, a suffering servant is pictured, one who would vicariously be a substitute for the people. This depiction of substitute in the O.T. was cryptically veiled in order for events to fulfill themselves in mysterious ways. The evil powers worked out their sinister will to show where their affections resided: None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1Cor. 2.8 NET). Yet, it was God’s design and will for Christ to die since humanity’s redemption was accomplished by God’s great love for us: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles (Acts 2.23 NET).

John, unlike any of the Synoptic Gospels, develops this theme of the Father’s role in redemption as highlighted both in Jesus’ discourses and prayer. Here is a list of seven instances where Jesus explicitly cites the Father’s action in bringing believers to personal knowledge of who Jesus was just like the revelation given to Peter in Mt. 16.17:

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. (Jn. 6.37 NET)

Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. (Jn. 6.39 NET)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. (Jn. 6.44-45 NET)

Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. (Jn. 17.1-2 NET)

I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. (Jn. 17.6 NET)

I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you. (Jn. 17.9 NET)

Father, the ones you have given me, I want these to be where I am with me, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn. 17.24 literal Greek)

The Keys Given to All the Disciples

However, some may not be convinced with these arguments and point to Mt. 16.19 where Jesus promises the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter in relation to Peter’s status. This is the common misconception of what occurs after a person’s death when they expect to meet Peter standing at heaven’s gate since he supposedly holds keys. These keys, however, speak of binding things on earth so they remain bound in heaven, but they are not for the gate of heaven. Instead, they pertain to deeds of people on earth, which may either be retained or loosed; specifically, sins. Neither does Peter acquire the keys exclusively, but they are given to all disciples of Jesus in this New Covenant of the Spirit operating in believers. Jesus typified benefits of a disciple in promising these keys to Peter. Later, in Matthew 18.15-20, Jesus uses this same language of binding and loosing things on earth with them retaining that same status in heaven. Jesus speaks of two or three of His followers agreeing about a matter and also praying in agreement about issues of discipline for sins. Therefore, Peter cannot be the exclusive recipient of these keys since Jesus is directing all His disciples and mentions several individuals in agreement about an issue.

Further, notice Stephen, the first Deacon, forgiving the mob of their sin of unjust condemnation against him reflecting the same sentiments as Jesus: Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7.60 NET). The exercise of these keys of binding and loosing are to be used in merciful ways so that some individuals would repent as happened with both Jesus and Stephen. At Pentecost, 3,000 were converted just 50 days after Christ’s crucifixion. When Stephen prayed, Saul was there agreeing with Stephen’s death, but, later, God had mercy on Saul, giving the vision on the road to Damascus, in Acts 9, in which he was saved.



Combating Puritanical Narrowness

Yesterday, I posted about narrow theological allegiance. Today, I take issue with overly puritanical narrowness. Merely knowing the bible on a superficial basis along with an anachronistic viewpoint, where interpreting biblical narratives through the lens of our own culture, is distinctly dangerous.

Historically, in Christian America, alcohol use has been greatly proscribed as an evil with most Protestants being teetotalers. Only one time have I witnessed a Protestant observance of The Lord’s Supper with the use of wine as an element which is prescribed by the bible and history. Certainly, I have never witnessed any alcohol served at a church dinner. This is very different from biblical and Jewish culture where peace and freewill offerings included alcoholic wine. The idea was that God shared a meal with the worshiper when they would partake of these same items. Bread and wine were the staple foods of ancient Israel. My understanding of a “drunkard” in the bible was one who didn’t work or provide for his family and only wanted to get drunk. Of course, I am not advocating drunkenness which is sinful. Imbibing alcohol with food in moderation would not result in drunkenness. Our Historical American Culture has had a prohibitionist mindset and some who react against this mindset will often go to the opposite extreme of over indulgence. I believe the ancient biblical culture avoided this pitfall by parental and elder example in everyday contexts. The 3 feasts of O.T. yearly observance was a time of feasting and rejoicing with wine and other strong drinks such as beer. Notice Acts 2.13: But others jeered saying, “They are drunk on wine!” (literal translation). This was the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). Some translations render the term wine as “new wine” or “sweet wine” as if the beverage wasn’t fully fermented. But if the substance wasn’t intoxicating, their mocking would make no sense. Grapes typically take from 5-21 days to fully convert the sugars to alcohol in fermentation. Grapes in Israel mature from August to November. These grapes were picked the preceding autumn, since Pentecost occurs May/June, making this wine “new” as a typical festival beverage from the last grape harvest and fully intoxicating. Generally, the use of the two terms “wine” and “new wine” in the New Testament differentiate between a recent vintage and one that has had time to mature being successively transferred from container to another container leaving the sediments behind.

The open table of Jesus with “tax collectors and sinners” showed ministry in a context of slight inebriation. Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding celebration and His disciples believed in Him. Jesus, the disciples, along with all the guests who imbibed were all under wine’s influence to some degree. Alcohol (wine) feature during the wedding celebration with Abraham and the Patriarchs in the future Reconciliation.

Ironically, I barely use any alcohol myself as old age prevents its efficient digestion. I do use a small amount in cooking. Generally, people change their consciousness every day during sleep. Many folks pray that God would keep them safe during this time. Also, during our normal waking hours Christians will often pray for guidance and help. Perhaps it’s time for Christians to recognize Jesus as King of the altered state and pray that He would give guidance and wisdom for responsible use of their intoxicants.

The Two Sides of Christian Intolerance

The intolerance to which I refer is the perceived Christian intolerance which has been unabated from various quarters from Christianity’s inception. The charge, with its fear, raises its voice from time to time to claim Apostolic Christianity is overly “narrow.” This is an unfounded fear or perhaps one is really outside the bounds. Then the person who is charging intolerance is the one who is intolerant of True belief. We should carefully examine ourselves to see if we are in line with The Faith. This examination should not just occur before taking the Lord’s Supper. In another post I will write about this self-examination issue further and what The Lord’s Supper is speaking about regarding this issue. Stay tuned, most Christian Communities have very fuzzy ideas as  to the purpose and observance of this ordinance. Here is Larry Hurtado’s post which deals with the biblical issues succinctly expositing exactly what John the Apostle says:

In the discussion following the first of his Croall Lectures in New College yesterday, Professor Werner Jeanrond referred to the “Johannine Community” as a group in which he wouldn’t feel comfortable, perceiving it to have been a rather narrow and intolerant group.  It was an off-hand remark during the question period, not at all a focus of his lecture.  And he didn’t expand on it or illustrate what he meant.  But it did set me wondering about the matter.

Now, to be sure, the NT writings typically linked to a “Johannine community” of early Christians (Gospel of John and Epistles of John) certainly reflect an exclusivist stance.  In all of these texts, Jesus is the singular and ultimate expression of God’s purposes, and anyone who denies Jesus’ significance is referred to as benighted.  That is, these writings (along with the other NT writings and a good many more early Christian texts) make allegiance to Jesus requisite for a right relationship with God.  In short, these texts espouse a rather straightforwardly Christian faith-stance in very particularist terms.

But I had the feeling that Jeanrond was asserting some more narrow stance or attitude, perhaps a kind of sectarian intolerance for any Christian diversity.  Whatever he may have meant, I’ll note some texts that suggest to me a somewhat more positive view of those reflected in these writings.

The writing known as “1 John” is probably the clearest evidence of a specific group of early Christians that might comprise “Johannine Christianity.”  1 John reflects some kind of schism in this group, and this seems to have been the occasion for the author to have composed this writing.  It bears noting, however, that this schism was apparently produced by certain members of the group leaving those addressed in this writing.  Those now outside the group weren’t expelled, but abandoned the group:  “They went out from us” (2:19).  So, if there was any narrowness, or sectarian action, it appears more to have characterized these secessionists, not the circle addressed in 1 John.

To be sure, the author characterizes these secessionists in pretty strong terms.  He effectively accuses them of being “antichrists” (2:18), because (as the authors sees the matter) they deny that “Jesus is the Christ” (2:22), and so “deny the Son,” thereby also denying “the Father” (2:22-23).  They appear to advocate some teachings that the author regards as unacceptably revisionist.  They claim special insight for their views, and may have chosen to secede from the “Johannine” circle when their claims and new teachings were not accepted.

The author also characterizes their succession as their abandonment of the necessary love for fellow believers, which seems to be reflected in the repeated emphasis on fraternal love as a requisite expression of authentic faith (e.g., 3:10-18; 4:7-12).  So, these secessionists are portrayed as false prophets (4:1-6), who would “deceive” other believers (their teachings portrayed as some sort of major revisionist view of Jesus in particular that departed from the tradition advocated by the author), and also as failing to exhibit the fraternal love that is to be expected of believers.

These secessionists may have seen themselves as having a superior insight or version of beliefs, and may have found the apparent reluctance of other believers to accede to their claims as a just basis for breaking fellowship with them.  But the observation I reiterate is that they weren’t apparently expelled; they walked away on their own.  They apparently considered the differences with the other believers important enough to separate themselves.  If so, it is they who were acting in a narrow and sectarian manner, not the circle to whom 1 John was addressed.

Granted, the little writing known as 2 John warns recipients (“the elect lady and her children” v. 1) about “deceivers” accused of denying that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (v. 7), urging that they should not be entertained and given a platform to spread their teaching (vv. 10-11).  Some may see this as narrow-minded, but others may see it simply as a concern to guard the religious integrity of the group from those with seriously dissonant aims.

Obviously, the characterization of  “Johannine Christianity” would require much more than this blog posting.   The “Johannine” writings surely reflect strong efforts at religious-group “boundary maintenance,” and they express affirmations of what is presented as the tradition of the group(s) addressed.  But perhaps, just perhaps, Johannine Christianity wasn’t quite as narrow and uncomfortable as Professor Jeanrond seemed to fear.


From Before the Foundation of the World – Part 2

In the previous post, I noted how Gen. 3.15 spoke of The Redeemer having His heal pierced in death. When God announced the heal piercing, during The Judgment after the Fall, it constituted a promise and therefore a certainty that He would redeem humankind. This piercing of the heal happened already as was mentioned at Calvary. God committed to its fulfillment when He announced it and so the “work” was as good as finished at least from the time it was stated. This is reflected in Heb. 4.3 where our phrase “from before the foundation of the world” is used again: …And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world (NET).

Another use of the phrase: “from the foundation of the world” seems to refer to the need for individual sacrifices when the person committed a sin as well as the covenant a person ratifies with God by sacrifice (see Ps. 50.5). Christ did not have to undergo a suffering of death every time a sin occurred by His people but a representation of the act seemed to be required. This was the institution of animal sacrifices which were a shadow of the ultimate act of redemption by Christ. Christ was the second and Last Adam (see Rom. 5) and as such fulfilled the symbol which the animals only suggested. Heb. 9.26 speaks about this idea while using the ‘foundation phrase’: for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice (NET). The phrase also occurs in 1Pet. 1.19-20 reflecting much this same idea of fulfillment of an innocent one instead of the guilty party: but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake (NET).

Not only is Christ known from the foundation of the world, but believers also were in the mind of God which fact should greatly encourage us. This is our “Hope” reserved in heaven. This hope sustains us during our earthly journey since it instills confidence that no suffering on earth can outweigh our comfort and lasting reward for patient endurance. Notice Mt. 25.34: Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (NET). This commonly known as The Sheep and Goat Judgment. God had us in mind as persons and is preparing a dwelling place for us.

Recalling the “parables” cited “before the foundation of the world” in Mt.13.35, again the overt judgment scene after the Fall provides the source of the “parables.” The initial statement of Gen. 3.15 speaks of two groups or division of peoples which agrees well with Mt. 25.34 where Jesus references The Sheep and Goat Judgment: And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. Though Gen. 3.15 gives in a “parable” for the future division of humanity, Jesus uses another parable with a different focus: the division’s end result. The point I am raising is that we all personally were conceived in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. It may be significant to note from Mt. 25 that only the sheep are mentioned having a place prepared. The goats are not personally known and so passed over it seems.

These persons are those given by the Father to Jesus as reflected in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17.24: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (literal Greek translation). Here we note Jesus claiming His Father’s love from before this world’s order and the uniting in glory of His chosen people. Finally, along this same thought, is believers’ names written in the Book of Life and belonging to their Redeemer in Rev. 13.8: …been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed (NET).

From Before The Foundation of the World Part 1

The first instance of the use of the phrase “the foundation of the world” occurs in Matthew’s account at 13.34-35: Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable. This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world” (NET). The “prophet” Matthew is referencing is probably Asaph, whom David appointed as a leader of songs in the Tabernacle. The citation is Ps 78.2: I will sing a song that imparts wisdom; I will make insightful observations about the past (NET). The NET Bible explains the terminology of the Hebrew:

 Heb “I will open with a wise saying my mouth, I will utter insightful sayings from long ago.” Elsewhere the Hebrew word pair חִידָה+מָשָׁל(mashal + khidah) refers to a taunt song [Hab. 2.6], a parable [Ezek. 17.2], proverbial sayings [Pr. 1.6], and an insightful song that reflects on the mortality of humankind and the ultimate inability of riches to prevent death [Ps. 49.4].

Returning to Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry in speaking to the crowds in parables, is it possible to determine when these mysterious and veiled sayings (parables) first occurred to which he and Asaph refer?

Fixing the meaning of the term “world” is the crucial step which allows placement of the idea at a point in time. The lexicon BAGD indicates kosmou (world) as an “adornment.” Or better in this case as the arrangement “of the sum total of everything here and now, the (orderly) universe.” Therefore, it refers to the cosmic ordering of the world system after expulsion from Eden. Some translations render the phrase (here and at other places) as “from before creation.” This rendering is incorrect as shown from the meaning of the term “world.” A further indication that our phrase means after Eden and not the creation of matter, is Jesus’ usage of the phrase in Lk. 11.50-51…for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah… (NET). This shows the “world” is the sphere of influence during this present evil age and not during or before Eden.

With the timing set as the orderly arrangement of the universe, post Eden, what was the “parable” given at the beginning? Gen. 3.15 fits succinctly as it is given in an overt judgment on the serpent by God: He will crush your head, and you will pierce His heal (my translation)This refers to the ‘two hours’ of Christ: the first mentioned is the second hour, crushing of the serpent’s head which is “The Day of The Lord.” The first hour is Christ’s Advent which culminated in the offering of Himself on the cross. Both of these events, or “hours” are judgments since they are given during a scene of judgment after the Fall in Eden. Yes, Christ suffered immensely when His heal was pierced in crucifixion, but it was for us and not because He was guilty. It was the great substitution, His life for ours. Since death could not hold Him, eternal life is given to all who are His.


Difference in Style between 1&2 Peter

Jerome (On Illustrious Men 1) writing about 400 C.E. noted that some Christians of his day rejected the epistle of 2 Peter as canonical due to its difference in style with 1 Peter. This discrepancy of manner may be accounted for if a co-author of 1 Peter is recognized. The Second Epistle of Peter is probably Peter’s native style while his first letter was written with Silvanus (Silas) who was a Prophet but not an Apostle. Peter, no doubt, wanted to certify the letter as authoritative to his readers when saying: “I have written to you briefly, in order to encourage you and testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (1Pet. 5.12b NET). In the first part of verse 12, Peter says: Through Silvanus, whom I know to be a faithful brother. I present arguments below as to why we may view this clause as indicating that Silas helped to produce 1 Peter.

1. Often, it was not necessary to certify the bearer (messenger) of a letter since he could be verified relatively easily in person. The letter spoke for itself and the messenger was in hand to question the source, or veracity, if doubtful. Therefore, by using the clause “through Silas,” Peter is not certifying him as a mere messenger.

2. Peter uses “faithful brother.” So, if the message arrived, there would be no need to indicate the messenger as being “faithful” to the recipients. Forgery or alteration was not really a danger since at that time any alteration of the writing was fairly obvious. They could question the messenger if they suspected forgery but the contents do not suggest it. It was a godly composition after all and no nefarious gain can be imagined. Therefore, the reference to “faithful brother” suggests compositional assistance.

3. That Silas was a chosen delegate of the Apostles and a leader gives him credibility as a sub-author with Peter later when writing his first letter: Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15.22 NET)

4. Silvanus was a Prophet who encouraged Antiochans of Acts 15:  Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech (vs.32 NET). Since he was influential and knowledgeable, he makes a good candidate for helping to construct letters of encouragement to the recipients of 1 Peter.

5. His suffering in ministry along with Paul in the Philippian jail (see Acts 16) adds further credibility as one to help Peter write his letter. The recipients themselves were facing severe trials and Silas’ experience from his previous suffering of persecution could help them.

6. He proclaimed the gospel along with Paul and Timothy in Corinth and Paul mentions him in his second letter (2 Cor. 1.19). It is obvious that his preaching carried weight in the Corinthians’ minds is why Paul refers to him.

7. It seems that Silas may have helped Paul (along with Timothy) write both 1&2 Thessalonians since these letters list all three individuals as their author. Timothy and Silas were not just helpers assisting Paul but workers in their own right.

8. Silas probably had better phrasing than Peter is why Peter said “through (dia) Silvanus” (1 Pet. 5.12a). Since Silas had the gift of prophecy and is seen in numerous instances as preaching and encouraging, Silas probably phrased the letter with Peter producing the main ideas he intended to convey to the hearers.

The Gates of Hell

In response to the charge that He was casting out demons by the power of the Devil, Jesus deftly provided clear reasoning of what His ministry consisted:

So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. But no one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house. (Mk. 3.23-27 NET)

Jesus uses the figure of treasure (property in this version) which the careful listener would have equated with the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt under Moses. God, henceforth, called them His treasured possession. Zechariah, writing of a future rescue, also uses the idea of precious treasure: The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown (9.16 NIV). In the same way, Jesus is now rescuing those demon possessed by plundering Satan’s house.

When Peter confessed Christ (Mt. 16.13-20), Jesus used the now well-known phrase: You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades [Hell] will not overpower it (vss. 17&18 NET). The Rock that Jesus was building upon was not from human revelation but of The Father to Peter. Peter was one of the living stones (or treasured jewels) whom he would write about in his first epistle (1Pet.2.5) who were built on this foundation of The Father’s revelation. The church that Jesus is building will reach through the domain of the Devil (gates of hell) to rescue those imprisoned.

The figure of an ancient gate was the most fortified area of a fortress or castle. It had to be fortified since from it massive doors would be fastened which kept unwanted enemies out. Often, a fortified city would have two or more walls with either a moat or rubbish dump between the walls so if enemies breach one wall, they would be slowed enough for the city’s defenders to prevent them from getting in.

Pictured below is the plan of the ancient fortress of Beersheba which shows a typical layout. Notice the heavily built four chambered gate at the bottom of the image. These chambers were used for civil matters such as transactions where proceedings could be witnessed by elders or other important people, and, therefore, attested. Transactions such as land transfers and marriages were conducted in these chambers. The transaction of Boaz redeeming Ruth is an example of what occurred in gates (see Ruth 4.1-12).



All these concepts are inherent in Jesus’ words of “the gates of hell.” His listeners would have recognized that the church would reach into these gates and redeem some from its hold. Jesus, by His church, would plunder Satan’s possessions and take out His treasured people. Just as Jesus drove out demons, so He would continue His work through the church.

I do not know what was in Tom Petty’s heart when he penned these words but they can be adapted to the Christian message of redemption no matter how he meant the words to be taken. Notice the concepts such as “stand”, “gates of hell”, “I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down”, “I know what’s right”, “I have just one life.”

I Won’t Back Down

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down
No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground
And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
Songwriters: Jeff Lynne / Tom Petty
I Won’t Back Down lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Study Tips

Students (we all are students who need to keep learning about God and His creation) should be familiar with the 5 “Ws”- Who, What, When, Where, Why. There is more: “How” (what way, what means) “How much” (to what extent). Also, an elaboration of “Why”, further significance to fundamental meaning beyond a pedestrian “reason, motive.”

God wants us to meditate on His word. Ps.1 says this will result in an abundant life. Ps. 1 is listed first in the “wisdom books” for a reason, it is foundational. The same exhortation is found to Joshua (1.8) which is the first book of “prophets” in the Hebrew Bible: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (ESV)

Whenever I post pictures with embossed verses, I usually try to follow the same date with reference to the chapter number in Psalms or Proverbs. There is a logic to this method and I hope someone has noticed. A Christian once gave a tip to devotional reading in Psalms and Proverbs (we need to read additional to these books or we will be lopsided in our bible thinking). The scheme is basically to use the calendar date and read that chapter in Proverbs (for months of 30 or Feb. we can just read more chapters during the last day to finish up the book). For Psalms the scheme is different: since many months have 30 days and Psalms has 150 chapters, read the psalm corresponding to the date and then add “30” and read that psalm continuing to the end of the book. For instance: Oct. 4- Ps. 4, 34, 64, 94, 124.

So today (Oct.4) in Proverbs Solomon relates how his father David instructed him: Get wisdom, get insight (vs.5 ESV). Read all of Pr. 4 to see the importance of learning God’s word.

Professor Stackhouse lists the top ten tips he recommends for students in schools to succeed:


  1. Go to class. Courses are like tours, and if you fail to keep up with your tour group, you quickly fall behind, get disoriented, and either waste time paying attention to the wrong things or give up. (Professors, take attendance. Always. Often the first sign that a student is in distress is class absence.)
  1. Use notepaper in class, not a laptop. I love my laptop. I write much faster and clearer on a laptop than I do by hand. But I am easily distracted, and so are you. And no one can truly multitask in class. So face the facts, use notepaper instead, and really listen. Facebook, Instagram, Messenger—they can all wait. They all should wait. You’re doing something important. Study.
  1. Don’t settle for boredom. If a lecturer isn’t fascinating—and no one is, all the time—then don’t sit back in frustration. Sit forward and start thinking: What’s going on? Why is this boring? Have I lost the thread? How does this material connect with what we’ve been talking about? Why does this stuff matter? Is it even true? Completely true, or only partly? How could this material apply to the world outside the university?

Don’t be passive. Go after your education. Grab for it.

  1. Work at understanding, not remembering. We learn best by associating the new with the old, the novel with the familiar. Connect: This goes with that; this is another version of that; this is the opposite of that; these are exceptions to the rule; those are the main evidences for this proposition.

Think organically, linking things together in networks. And see why things go that way, and not some other. If you understand well, remembering is much easier. If you don’t, memorizing is brutal.

  1. Review. Take notes by hand and then enter them into your computer afterward, taking care to think about whether and how what you’re typing actually makes sense. Consider whether you need to ask a classmate for missing notes. And capture any questions that pop up and then ask them in the next class.
  1. Review. On the weekend, take an hour to review your notes from each class. Don’t try to memorize them: Try to understand them. (See #7.)
  1. Review. (I’m not kidding about this “review” business.) Once a month, take a day to review all the notes from all your classes. See the big picture emerging. See how the pieces are fitting together, how topics 1, 2, and 3 set up topics 4, 5, and 6. Keep oriented on your tour and you’ll enjoy it and learn from it. If you let yourself get disoriented, though, all you’ll come out of the course with is a bunch of disjointed memories of what struck you as “interesting” rather than what is actually important.
  1. Sleep. The best thing you can do for your mind is respect your body. So exercise, yes, and eat right, yes. In my experience, however, most students do exercise and get by remarkably well almost no matter what they eat. But no one succeeds with sleep deprivation.

So buy ear plugs and sound conditioning machines. Make clear agreements with roommates about sleep expectations. Talk to your residence authorities or landlords about quiet hours. And insist to yourself and everyone else that you’ll get enough sleep. Lack of sleep equals impairment, and that’s a lousy way to go through any life, let alone cope with a demanding one.

  1. Pray. If you’re a believer, you believe that God wants you to succeed in your life, including in your studies (unless, of course, you’re disobeying God in going to that school or studying that subject—that’s a whole different matter). So each morning start your day with prayer and Bible reading to remind yourself, and to let God remind you, that God goes with you and will always help you to become that better person you’re studying to be.
  1. Go to church. Churches connect students with the real world as little else does. Churches remind us of really big problems that other people are having that put ours into perspective. Churches offer help when our own problems get really big. And churches help us remember and worship God when we are frantically tempted to reduce our vision to the pinpoint of the next assignment and, basically, not failing.

God’s Greatness in Relation to His Goodness – Johnathan Edwards

“In Christ infinite greatness and infinite goodness meet together, and receive luster and glory one from another. His greatness is rendered lovely by his goodness. The greater anyone is without goodness, so much the greater evil. But when infinite goodness is joined with greatness, it renders it a glorious and adorable greatness. So, on the other hand, his infinite goodness receives luster from his greatness.”

Production of the New Testament Text

Here is an overview of Greek paleography and and early printing (copying). It is also an excursus of linguistics and philology. This post reveals the punctilious care employed across the spectrum of time and places in producing the text even in instances where the meaning was not affected but only differences in spelling and accentuation. Observing this extraordinary effort of conformance and accuracy instills deep respect and confidence in the faithfulness of the individuals producing the copies. It also speaks, I believe, to the unseen hand which inspired the hands transmitting the text through the centuries.


All editions of the Greek New Testament read φιλονεικία ‘love of victory, contentiousness’ (Luke 22:24) and φιλόνεικος ‘loving victory, contentious’ (1 Corinthians 11:16). All editions, that is, except one: The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge. As we shall see below, these spellings with [ei] are very curious and have become entrenched in…

via Removing a ‘venerable absurdity’* of spelling: Luke 22.24 and 1 Corinthians 11.16 — The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge

How to Disagree: an Example

David Yoon and Stanley Porter exemplify grace in their remembrance of one whom they didn’t exactly see eye to eye with in technical and theological matters. Christians don’t necessarily have to forge alliances to show respect. God gives a unique ministry to each believer and none have arrived to perfection. May we love God more as we come to know Him better and be kind to all.


Robert L. Thomas, ThD, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary, passed away the morning of September 6, 2017. He was born on June 4, 1928 in Atlanta, GA, graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering (this might explain his approach to Greek), and, after a brief […]

via In Memoriam: Robert L. Thomas, ThD — DOMAIN THIRTY-THREE

The Exodus from Egypt

If a person believes only what they can see, hear, or sense such as archaeological evidence from an earlier epoch, that person is their own arbiter and so is playing God. They are their own reference (or what other humans reference-they being an extension) and so only believe what can be sensed in some way. Unless a record exists from an earlier time, they will not accept testimony of an event. This is the case of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt for many- no record of it in Sinai, so it didn’t happen. I am reminded of a verse in John 14.17: The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

In everyday life we depend upon the laws of nature (so called) to function and physical laws are comforting and predictable for us. God made these predictable laws for our benefit but He overrides them at times for various reasons. Such is the case of Israel’s wanderings in Sinai.

Richard Elliot Friedman, in his forthcoming book writes:

Some archaeologists had said, “We’ve combed the Sinai and didn’t find anything.” But an Israeli archaeologist laughed at that claim and told me, “It was
five jeeps.” It was a survey, not an excavation of the whole Sinai
Peninsula. Moreover, even if we had excavated the whole Sinai,
what could we find that people traveling from Egypt to Israel
around thirty-three hundred years ago would have left that we
would dig up now? A piece of petrified wood with “Moses loves
Zipporah” carved in it? An Israeli archaeologist told me that a
vehicle that was lost in Sinai in the 1973 war was found recently
under sixteen meters of sand. Sixteen meters down in forty years
(a biblical number)! Finding objects thirty-three hundred years
down presents a rather harder challenge. And, above all, our archaeological
work did not turn up evidence to show that an exodus
did not happen. What it turned up was nothing, an absence of
evidence. And some archaeologists then interpreted this nothing
to be proof that the event did not happen. On the other side, people
who challenged such interpretations were fond of quoting the
old principle: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

As Friedman says, what is expected to be found in Sinai? Israel lived in tents and moved around instead of building dwellings. Manna was given them every day except the Sabbath for which they were given twice as much the day before. Their clothes and sandals were miraculously preserved (Dt. 8.4, 29.5, Neh. 9.21). God sustained Israel for 40 years in Sinai through intervening the laws of nature for them. So mounting an expedition or digging in the Sinai wilderness looking for clues of Israeli data will be futile. As with other miracles, no data of it is preserved since that is the nature of miracles-it is an imposition of the normal course of events by a supernatural agent.