Posts Tagged With: jewish

Paul in Context

So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.

In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.

That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.

If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?

This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.

JewnRomeRomans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.

Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.

Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2)  Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture

Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology

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Categories: Bible, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

These Dry Bones

bonesThe book of Ezekiel is a really strange book. Outside of Daniel it may be the weirdest book in the OT. The three main visions of the book that act as the pillars of the book are about the presence or absence of God. In chapter 1-3 it is the introductory vision of the glory of God by the river Chebar in Babylon. In chapter 9-10 Ezekiel sees how the presence of God leaves Jerusalem and why. Then in chapters 40-47 he sees the return of the glory of God to Jerusalem or the new Jerusalem. The question for the exiled community in Babylon is about whether or not God is present with them in exile. Is God still powerful and worth devotion if they have been removed from the land? Mid-way through the book the exiled community in Babylon learns of the fall of Jerusalem. Now they realize for the first time that they really are dead and finished as a nation and a people. The destruction of the temple sends a strong signal that they really are done for. Thus Ezekiel’s most famous vision in chapter thirty-seven affirms the feelings and of the exiled community that they are really really dead. But perhaps the most powerful message not only of Ezekiel but of the entire biblical narrative is that death is not the end.

Sin and death entered the world in Genesis chapter three but that was not the end of the story rather the beginning of the redemptive nature of the entire story. And similarly to chapter three of Genesis Israel needs to look outside of themselves for life. Only one source for life exists. Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel is meant to remind us of Genesis two when out of the dust of the earth God makes man, and from his own breathe he gives him life. Ezekiel reminds the OR that it is God who does this and that soon he will restore Israel just as he has sought to use Israel to restore life and breathe into all his children.

If nothing else Ezekiel powerfully affirms two things about God and his plans for humanity as a whole as well as Israel. The death and devastation that Israel is going through is not an indicator of Gods absences. This is what the exiled community felt it was. Instead its meant to remind us of our own sin and guilt, or the simple biblical fact of a world that has been seriously infected by the sin of others. Israel desired no doubt to throw God under the buss, so to speak. We also are tempted to continue doing this. However, the second thing that is clear and powerful in Ezekiel’s message is that death is not the end, pain, and suffering are not signs of the end but signs and reminders of the beginning when sin and suffering entered the world through mans rebellion. It can simultaneously remind us of a bright future in which God will restore life and bring the really dead bones back to life.

The theological term here is resurrection. We can ask how the Jewish community thought about the resurrection of the dead. But really it helps just to know it was a topic of discussion for Jews and when Jesus came he spoke of it, he raised people from the dead, he did it himself, and then his apostles were witnesses of it. Actually the first apostles were women, they were the apostles to the apostles. (Women apostles is a topic for another time). Often enough these passages in Ezekiel are thought of in terms of the restoration of Israel as was part of the intended message. But they have a more far reaching fulfillment. First of when we keep in mind the resurrection and redemption narrative beginning in Genesis, and when we recall the importance of the resurrection Christ. In other words the resurrection of Israel after their exile was part of the picture of how God actually intended to bring resurrection to the whole of creation, a theme stretching back to the garden. And when in Romans 8 Paul talks about the revealing of the sons of God he is not speaking merely of Israel but of the church and all of Gods redeemed. The precursor to full restoration and resurrection of Gods creation is the revealing of the sins of God. Which was the whole point of Israels election. A chosen people for the purpose of turning all peoples to the creator. This is a very key element to grasp, it is a true resurrection of Israel when not just ethnic Israelite’s are preserved in the land of Israel, but when Israel has effectively taken part in the purpose for which they were divinely elected when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Categories: Bible, Context, CSBS, Genesis, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art and Bible: Part 2 (JEWS IN ROME)

In Part 1 I began to mention some important background information about the church in Rome. Something else interesting and unique among Paul’s letters is his personal greeting of twenty six individuals in Rome. Why are so many people mentioned in detail. Most likely it has to do with the disunity that exists among the Christians in Rome. I think it is likely and maybe more helpful that we would consider the church in Rome to be many individuals who perhaps have little to no dealings with each other whatsoever. This could be a merely racial issue. As many of the early Christians in Rome were likely Jews who heard the gospel from those at Pentecost. These Jews being filled with the Spirit and beginning to place their hope in Christ as Messiah probably continued to meet in Synagogues and carry on being Jews in the normal sense. They needed the presence of one of the apostles to bring more clarity about what is happening. Jews without the presence of an apostle in Rome may have continued to hold Gentiles at an arm length even if they professed faith in God and now the messiah. Even though they were being filled with the spirit they may not have been welcomed so readily. No doubt this was part of the issue in Galatia. But how did Paul go about addressing issues in Rome. The other issues as I mentioned in ‘Part 1’ was that Jews had recently been expelled and then brought back to Rome. Gentile Christians in Rome had a chance to be the ‘church’ without ‘pesky’ Jews around telling them what they can and can not eat and so on. Having them back to Rome was not sitting well with some of the Gentile Christians in Rome. What is the responsibility of the apostle in this situation? How is he going to address this and bring unity and truth to the situation. Its clear that there are some potential errors on either side of the racial divide.  Jew In Rome

The picture today is interesting to me. After I finished I became aware of how extremely out of place the Jewish man seems with the Colosseum in the backdrop. This is how it must have felt for the Jews. Very out of place. And for Gentile Christians, is this how they saw them. Is this what part of what lead to the judgements and divisions between Jew and Gentile believers in the Messiah.

An interesting dilemma is brought up when we consider the earliest Jewish believers. Was it wrong for them to feel an obligation to maintain the traditions they had learned from youth while wholeheartedly embracing the messiah? I don’t believe it was. Take a look at the section in Romans when Paul addresses the area of practice. Jews maintained practices that set them apart. It is more obvious when you observe the early part of the book to see that Paul is pointing out essential areas of truth about God and what he has done to provide salvation for ‘his people’ (Jews and Gentiles). Then in the end he teaches them to learn to honor each other practices and the convictions they live by. Unity and Diversity. Something the church should always remember well.

For anyone interested by current reading list for the book of Romans is;

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

NIV Application Commentary – Douglas J. Moo

Eerdmans Introduction to NT – Joel B. Green, Paul J. Atchtemeier

Commentary on Romans – Ernst Kasemann

Categories: Art, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, New Testament, Romans, School of Biblical Studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Biblical Worldview and the Whole Commission

A common buzz word around Christian circles is the “Great Commission”. Many people know of this commission from the words of Jesus in the final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

There is perhaps two important elements of this commission that I think people miss. So I want to be direct in talking about it cause if your reading I know how easy it is to lose interest in something you might be reading on an obscure blog.

1. Original Context of the Commission

2. The Commission in today’s context.

The Commission in today’s evangelical western context is 200+ years in the making. Something wonderful has happened according to most evangelicals. That is the evangelical missions movement. The Christianity of the 1800’s until this day have been one of extraordinary growth in the way of numbers, and nations reached with the message of salvation and the establishment of a local church. For many the great commission is a call to continue this great work of church planting and spreading the message of salvation with the nations. Is this Jesus’ Great commission? Great Commission

When put into its original context and the passage observed carefully, Jesus’ commission has much more to say about the task of the church.

First of all the Book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience. Other Gospels had Jewish characteristics but not a strictly Jewish audience in mind. Jesus was addressing the commission to his disciplers and followers and the book of Matthew was addressed to a later audience of Jews.

What does that mean? What does it have to do with how we understand the commission?

Well, In order to put it into the right context we need to know what the task of the Jewish people was. How was Jesus expanding their concept of the task given to them in the Old Testament?

Simply put, the people of Israel had a task of living according to the law of God. This is not to be understood as simply a very rigorous moral code. The Law includes their history of the origins of all of humanity and Israel’s place in the family of human kind. Then they learn their own origin as a nation. They learn of the origin of their specific task as a people with the life of Abraham. Their task is to be a blessing to nations. They learn that they will be able to be a blessing because God speaks to them and reveals the way. Nations around them learn to fear God when they see what great laws the people live by and by what wisdom they have had revealed to them. But in the end they fail to maintain that blessing to the nations. Then God in the Incarnation and following his Resurrection gives his commission anew. His commission for his disciples to bless nations by discipling them is really not to different from before, there is simply a new dynamic because Christ has removed the barrier and initiated the kingdom.

In many respects the “Evangelical Modern Commission” falls very short because we see nations becoming more Christian by ratio, and by number of churches, but we see something private, something that has brought little fruit. Rwanda was devastated after the 1900’s brought the percentage of Christians from 0% to 80% in about 80 years only to see 1 million people exterminated and calamities ensue. Christians fought Christians and little changed on the level of Rwanda’s culture.

There are many stories where the “Evangelical Movement” has boasted of its great accomplishments to plant churches and save souls. Little has been accomplished in the last 200 year by the evangelical missions movement that would seem to have touched on the original context of the great commission.

The great commission is really an extension of all of Gods commissions given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses & Israel, and David. These covenant commissions remind us that Gods goal is not redemption of souls alone but whole people, whole cultures, and the whole of creation.

What we need to know is the whole picture of Gods redemptive plan. It involved discipling nations and bringing the kingdom as well as the king into whatever communities we touch, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Our brokenness in the Christian worldview is due to the last 200 years of our Evangelical Christian theology.

It is a theology that has rejected secular studies, or humanities, for fear of being humanistic, or secular, or a social gospel adherent. There is a real lack of knowledge with regard to creating and nurturing culture. The abandonment of the studies of humanities has created a really big problem for the defense of the Christian worldview. Because for the past 200 years there is little evidence to defend it. There is a reason to defend it and reason to live it. There are enough examples of this, there are also wonderful examples of this before this whole western strand of evangelicalism began to plague the church. In fact it is dominantly an American Evangelical disaster. America as a nation made strong efforts to break with its European past. This was seen in the movement of the church as well. What the American Christian needs is a better starting point then American Missions movement. We obviously need the whole picture of scripture, the early church, the middles ages, the reformations, the Renaissance, the enlightenment, and the birth of the modern era which has all become the foundation for the modern day, evangelical, missions movement.

We need a better worldview, our belief systems as Christians have been infected throughout a long history of influence. Gnosticism and Platonism of the early church gave us our dualistic Greek thinking. The “enlightenment” encouraged us to keep looking to Greek dualism and add to it all the ‘isms’ of Modernity; humanism, scientism, materialism, rationalism, empiricism, Marxism, existentialism Darwinism, est. These worldviews have corrupted and contributed to the Christianity that we have inherited today. Truly, the only way to cure this begins with seeking God and his truth through commitment to study of the scriptures, and through steady increase in the knowledge of history and worldviews. Then one day you might be able to hold up on one hand a christian worldview that is unparalleled to that of all other worldviews because it is not something man made but God given.

Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Mission, Modern, Modernism, New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy, Renaissance, Salvation, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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