“Unworthy to Untie the Sandal”

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In five instances the writers of the New Testament refer to John the Baptist’s statement that he was unfit to loose the sandal from the Messiah’s foot. Matthew’s account uses the term “carry” (3.11) which action logically occurs after untying them for the purpose of storage. The other references are found in Mk. 1.7, Luke 3.16, John 1.27, and Acts 13.25.

While observant Jews in Palestine would not participate in the practices of the Roman forces stationed among them, the current foot technology probably was adopted for practical reasons. No biblical prohibition existed dealing with such a mundane need as good footwear. So it seems natural to expect that Israelites would utilize the same approximate technology. Please notice the bucket of scrolls in the last picture which may have been the typical method of storage for written documents.

 

 

 

1 Pet. 3-4 Elaborate Braiding of Women’s Hair

Most Christian readers of the bible are familiar with the discouragement of excessive hair ornamentation from the Apostle Peter. He wanted women in the Christian community rather to display the inward character of meekness and being quiet in spirit. Generally speaking, godly men and women, are to be meek and quiet (contrary to the brazen woman of Prov. 7.11). Men however are called to action at times and so their behavior will be more overt generally.

I recently saw some ancient Roman figurines in a museum which reminded me of Peter’s admonition. These artifacts from Etruria (modern Tuscany and vicinity) show highly coiffured hair from roughly the same period in the Roman Empire.

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Illumination of Scripture

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1.17-19 NIV)

 

The Spirit of wisdom and revelation references Isaiah 11.1-3 which speaks of the seven-fold Spirit which rested on Jesus during His ministry. Since Pentecost, every Christian possesses the Spirit. Though Paul doesn’t say it explicitly, the implied thought, of how the Spirit communicates ideas is by hearing (in the Ephesian’s case) the scriptures read. The NIV rendering is probably the closest to the intent of what Paul prayed for concerning the Ephesians among whom he previously ministered. To help understand his words the context needs to be recognized by how the early church met and operated.

Paul and Jesus both utilized the synagogue and authenticated its ongoing function. Paul told his protege Timothy to practice the same three functions which characterized the synagogue: give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1Tim. 4.13 NET). We call Christian weekly meetings church gatherings to distinguish them from non-Christian Jewish observances but the ideas  are identical. The main purpose of this weekly meeting was schooling the community of believers. At the beginning of the Jewish nation’s institution, Levites were scattered among the tribes in part for explaining the Law and answering judicial questions (see Dt. 33.9-10, Mal. 2.4-6). The synagogue was not primarily for worship since the Tabernacle observances preserved the redemptive theme. Of course, this is not to say that learning about God and His word is not sanctifying, it is, but in a different and complimentary way. By knowing God better, worship becomes more meaningful. The Christian weekly meeting preserves the redemptive theme by observing the Lord’s Supper. Also, by The New Covenant’s provision of the Spirit, the weekly gathering is the corporate temple (see 1 Cor. 3.17 where Paul uses the plural).

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians specifically asks for three separate items:

1.“Knowing” God more comprehensively. This is never achieved apart from scripture and God’s Spirit. The Spirit was directly instrumental using holy prophets to record His words. These godly men were carried along by the Spirit to produce scripture (see 2Pet. 1.21). Additionally, the eternal Spirit gives continued insight to every subsequent generation about this revealed truth, hence illumination. Paul notes the primacy of God’s word by recounting that the Jewish people had a great heritage in receiving, collating, and preserving scripture: What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Rom. 3.1 NIV)

2. Realizing the “hope” of what Christ has in store for His people both now and the resultant storehouse of eternity: “…the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” Too many Christians believe the lie of scoffers who ridicule the invisible realities. This is a subtle appeal to focus on what can be sensed with human faculties instead of operating by faith. They want us to rely on ourselves to make the world better instead of obeying Christ to transform individuals and therefore society. They want us to focus on the temporal state that is subjected to cosmic evil rulers and to forget the glorious reality of Christ’s Kingdom: Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth. (Ps. 46.10 NIV)

3. God’s “power” for life while in the body. This is specifically temporal in nature since it will be unnecessary for the Spirit to inform us of our supernatural abilities during the eternal state. Jesus tells us the resurrected redeemed will be like angels: But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. (Lk. 20.35-36 NET)

 

Context Dictates Usage, not Word Definitions

Craig Keener gives sage advice for understanding and interpreting the bible:

 

Context is the way God gave us the Bible, one book at a time.  The first readers of Mark could not flip over to Revelation to help them understand Mark; Revelation had not been written yet.  The first readers of Galatians did not have a copy of the letter Paul wrote to Rome to help them understand it.  These first readers did share some common information with the author outside the book they received.

We’ll call this shared information “background”: some knowledge of the culture, earlier biblical history, and so on.  But they had, most importantly, the individual book of the Bible that was in front of them.  Therefore we can be confident that the writers of the Bible included enough within each book of the Bible to help the readers understand that book of the Bible without referring to information they lacked.  For that reason, context is the most important academic key to Bible interpretation.

Often popular ministers today quote various isolated verses they have memorized, even though this means that they will usually leave 99% of the Bible’s verses unpreached.  One seemingly well-educated person told a Bible teacher that she thought the purpose of having a Bible was to look up the verses the minister quoted in church!  But the Bible is not a collection of people’s favorite verses with a lot of blank space in between.  Using verses out of context one could “prove” almost anything about God or justify almost any kind of behavior–as history testifies.  But in the Bible God revealed Himself in His acts in history, through the inspired records of those acts and the inspired wisdom of His servants addressing specific situations.

People in my culture value everything “instant”: “instant” mashed potatoes; fast food; and so forth.  Similarly, we too often take short-cuts to understanding the Bible by quoting random verses or assuming that others who taught us have understood them correctly.  When we do so, we fail to be diligent in seeking God’s Word (Proverbs 2:2-5; 4:7; 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

One prominent minister in the U.S., Jim Bakker, was so busy with his ministry to millions of people that he did not have time to study Scripture carefully in context.  He trusted that his friends whose teachings he helped promote surely had done so.  Later, when his ministry collapsed, he spent many hours honestly searching the Scriptures and realized to his horror that on some points Jesus’ teachings, understood in context, meant the exact opposite of what he and his friends had been teaching!  It is never safe to simply depend on what someone else claims that God says (1 Kings 13:15-26).

I discovered this for myself when, as a young Christian, I began reading 40 chapters of the Bible a day (enough to finish the New Testament every week or the Bible every month).  I was shocked to discover how much Scripture I had essentially ignored between the verses I had memorized, and how carefully the intervening text connected those verses.  I had been missing so much, simply using the Bible to defend what I already believed!  After one begins reading the Bible a book at a time, one quickly recognizes that verses isolated from their context nearly always mean something different when read in context.

We cannot, in fact, even pretend to make sense of most verses without reading their context.  Isolating verses from their context disrespects the authority of Scripture because this method of interpretation cannot be consistently applied to the whole of Scripture.  It picks verses that seem to make sense on their own, but most of the rest of the Bible is left over when it is done, incapable of being used the same way.  Preaching and teaching the Bible the way it invites us to interpret it—in its original context–both explains the Bible accurately and provides our hearers a good example how they can learn the Bible better for themselves.

If we read any other book, we would not simply take an isolated statement in the middle of the book and ignore the surrounding statements that help us understand the reason for that statement.  If we hand a storybook to a child already learning how to read, the child would probably start reading at the beginning.  That people so often read the Bible out of context is not because it comes naturally to us, but because we have been taught the wrong way by frequent example.  Without disrespecting those who have done the best they could without understanding the principle of context, we must now avail ourselves of the chance to begin teaching the next generation the right way to interpret the Bible.

Many contradictions some readers claim to find in the Bible arise simply from ignoring the context of the passages they cite, jumping from one text to another without taking the time to first understand each text on its own terms.  To develop an example offered above, when Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Romans 1:5).  James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18).  In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning.  If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined.

The importance of context in Bible study

Review: Did Adam Exist? by Vern S Poythress

Here is a book I hope to explore soon. Vern Poythress is a favorite author of mine who has explained well many theological issues. This review whets my appetite for Poythress’ examination of this important subject.

The Domain for Truth

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Vern Poythress is quite the Renaissance man; or more appropriately I should say he’s quite the Reformation man. With degrees in Mathematics from Cal Tech and Harvard balanced with a theological degree in apologetics from Westminster and also New Testament studies at Oxford, Poythress over the years have shown himself to be quite a capable scholar when it comes to discussion of various disciplines from the Christian Worldview.  When I learned that the editors for the “Christian Answers to Hard Questions” series has selected Poythress to write in defense of the historicity of Adam, I was quite delighted.  The debate on the historicity of Adam has been a source of contention the last few years in Evangelical circles and survey of the literature reveal that it involves the discipline of biology, Old Testament studies and Ancient Near East studies.  Given the inter-disciplinary nature of the debate, Poythress’ ability to navigate…

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The Branch

Jeremiah 33.14-16 records the initial promise that the Divine Davidic King would be the True Vine (Branch) in righteousness: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” At the time this promise was given through Jeremiah the Kingdom of Judah was about to fall to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah’s words of judgment had been unheeded by Judah’s leaders, how much more the promises of restoration and the ultimate promise of the Messiah. Never the less and despite the false prophets both in the exile of Babylon and with the besieged in Jerusalem, God was not done with Israel. God’s promise to the Patriarchs was inviolable: Through the Seed of the woman and Abraham’s Seed One would arise to crush the serpent’s head. Later the promised line was narrowed to David’s descendent who would also be King forever. It was necessary for any redeemer to be connected to the human race and to be able to trace his lineage back to Adam. God chose Abraham to father the line of the Messiah, the Seed, who would bless all nations (see Gal.3.16).

Previously, Israel was pictured as a vine that the Lord brought out of Egypt and settled in The Land. Ps.80 records this imagery: You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. The Promised Land was an ideal place to grow grapes and viticulture was central in the agricultural year. With this imagery Israel was well familiar and later would even adorn the Second Temple with a huge vine covered in gold. The figure of the vine was Israel’s predominate image.

Isaiah 5 is a lament over the vineyard of the Lord: Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?     And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (vss. 1-7)

Jeremiah’s Branch therefore would be the True Vine which yielded righteousness unlike Israel. This speaks of a righteous substitute who would provide His righteousness on humanity’s account. This hearkens back to the sacrifices of the Tabernacle and later, the Solomonic and Second Temple. The worshiper would place his hands on the sacrifice and symbolically transfer his sins to it. Everything that happened to the sacrifice afterwards was deserved by the one who brought it. Redemption in Israel was about substitution, the unblemished for the guilty. This imagery prefigured Christ.

Contrast the time of Jeremiah with the scene in 70 AD when the Second Temple was destroyed by the hands of the Romans and God never renewed the sacrifices since the Ultimate Sacrifice for human sin already occurred when Christ shed His blood at Passover about 40 years earlier. Also, it should  be noted when the Church was in its formation in Acts 6 that many priests became Christians: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (vs.7). It is fair to infer that these priests recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

This brings us to the renewed promise of the coming of The Branch in Zechariah. Now the promise of Babylon’s demise is fulfilled and the people are returning to the land about 535 BC. Joshua (same name as the Greek version of Jesus), son of Jehozadak was High Priest when the word of God came to Zechariah concerning the Branch: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (3.8-9) Here, Joshua son of Jehozadak, is spoken of as a sign referring to a greater fulfillment: Joshua (Jesus) who would lead His people into the ultimate Promised Land of eternal life. This High Priest Jesus would receive the serpent’s fatal bite on the heal (Gen.3.15) and secure redemption by paying the penalty of Adam’s (and therefore all humanity’s) sin.

Again Zechariah speaks of The Branch in chapter 6 and says that Joshua’s name (Jesus) will be the name of The Branch: “Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (vss.12-13)

There were two authorities in Biblical Judaism: the Davidic King and the Jewish High Priest. Notice how Paul in Acts 23.5 apologizes for calling the High Priest a “whited wall” by quoting- “don’t speak evil of the ruler of your people.” Also, Paul previously had authority to arrest Jews in Damascus from the Jewish priests. Therefore, the Jewish High Priesthood functioned as a sort of religious authority while the Davidic King acted as the civil authority. God promises to combine the offices of priest and king through the Branch, the promise given in Zechariah 6.13: “And there shall be a priest on his throne”

Now the question becomes how these two offices would be combined since the High Priesthood is exclusive to the sons of Aaron while the Messiah is of David’s line of Judah. The answer derives from the prophecy of a new high priesthood, one in Melchizedek’s order: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps.110.1-4)

Jesus the Messiah came as High Priest at His first advent (notice how John the Baptist, himself a son of Aaron, announces Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”). Only Jesus by the power of an indestructible life could both pay for humanity’s sin and rule eternally. The change in the priesthood required a change in the law: Jesus by His blood cut the New Covenant (see Jer.31 and Heb. 8) where the promise that “all would know the Lord” would be fulfilled 50 days hence after the crucifixion at Pentecost when the Spirit was given to believers so as to know the Lord in a personal way. Therefore this Branch (Jesus) is the True Vine: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn.15.1).