Posts Tagged With: romans

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

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

How God became King – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

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

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Paul’s Reasons for Writting to Rome

Paul - Spain.001For Personal, theological, and for geographical reasons Paul writes to the church in Rome.

As I just said in a recent post, “Romans in not simply a theological book that Paul sought to write” but there were sociological reasons, perhaps political reasons. As we try to be aware of weather or not we are reading into Romans our perception of Paul’s theology we find that the book clearly addresses many things in the life of the church in Rome.

But I mean to highlight that Paul specifically in the beginning and ending of his book he speaks of 1) wanting to visit Rome, but 2) returning to Jerusalem from Macedonia region (likely Corinth) first, 3) finishing his work from Jerusalem to Illyricum and not wanting to build on others foundations, 4) wanting to finally come to Rome and get the churches help for further expansion west to Spain.

In other words one of Paul’s primary concerns outside of this specific group of believers in Rome is that he wants to see the ongoing mission of the church. He believes that since Jesus is in fact the Messiah then now is the time when Gods purposes for Israel are being realized when Gentiles believe and worship the God of Israel now revealed in the Messiah.

That said, if the church in Rome wants to be a part of this ongoing mission. Then they, a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles need to learn to get along. Paul speaks plainly in chapter 14 about not despising each other over issues of food and drink, or holy days. But before that Paul goes much deeper in chapters 1-11 as to what exactly they are to find their common ground in. Paul is careful not to shift the balance to far to one side which would lead towards anti-Semitic attitudes, or to attitudes of Jewish superiority.

This becomes more clear with just a simple knowledge of the timeline and historical events of the time. Paul is writing this letter in his third missionary journey 53-57 AD. He is near the end of it. At 54 AD Emperor Caligula died and his edict to ban Jews from Rome ended. The church that had once been Jewish and Gentile had become purely Gentile for a number of years, then the Jews came back. Not difficult then to image hostility towards the Jews from Gentile believers who do not feel the need to observe Jewish holidays and Jewish diet. The returned Jews may be causing some confusion. They may be narrowing the grace of God to yes embracing Jesus as Messiah but also doing the rest of the requirements in order to really be part of the Family of God. Gentiles are not only resisting this but perhaps getting into arguments and judgements directed towards those who historically rejected Jesus and depend on their traditions to much. They need some intervention and conflict resolution. Paul goes to the deepest possibly roots of this conflict. It is no wonder that this book has primarily been used to answer questions of how people get reconciled with God. Since there is a major emphasis on unity it is easy to narrow the discussion to unity between man and God. Really the roots of the problem presented here for the church in Rome goes then to the question of mans unity with God irrespective of their racial ethnicity. So it is not that Paul never talks about reconciliation with God but i would say the primary purposes of Paul in the letter and therefore the emphasis is on getting the church unified by the Faithfulness of God to his covenants.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Faith, Mission, New Testament, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art in the Bible (Part 3): What is Romans all about?

Two Basic points Paul wants to clarify for the church in Rome. How to gain membership in the covenant people of God and what it means to be a member of that covenant family.

How to get Covenant Membership.001

What Covenant Membership Means.001

What are the implications of this kind of reading of Paul in Romans?

Categories: Art, Bible, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romans: Not what I expected

paulRomans is not at all what I had always thought of it as. When I began by School of Biblical Studies in YWAM 8 years ago I thought that Romans was the book I needed to know because this was the most theological book of the bible. I will not doubt in the strict sense of the word that Romans is a book that reveals more about who God is and is therefore a book about theology. However I always felt that how the theology of Paul worked was based around how to get Saved as an individual.

Of course this was of huge concern to me coming into the school because I had encountered some very strong (and I mean hyper) Calvinistic folks right before coming to do my CSBS. So I wanted to be sure Salvation was in fact by faith. Strangely my dilemma with Salvation by Faith was that I felt that there must be some kind of importance in my own heart, and mind, regarding the decision to actually have faith. I was shocked really after getting to Romans and after spending a few years coming back to Romans to the same issue.

Romans was a book written to a specific community of Jews and Gentiles in the first century AD. It was not written directly to me about Salvation. In fact it was not even written to them simply about how individuals get saved. Though there are passages that can be used to clarify how Individual Salvation works. I was shocked to find that it is a book written to groups, groups that Paul wished would learn to have fellowship together and call themselves the true Israel of God.

So then, the book references so much from the OT, stories, symbols, practices. It is a book certainly written with the Jewish people in mind. They are one of the communities he is speaking to. He uses the stories and symbols not at random to prove theological points. Instead he uses them (often in order) to show that there is an ongoing story of Gods redemptive work in the world. How that plan started when the race of man fell, or rather rejected God and his original plan. So God starts with plan two so to speak. Abraham, the rest of the patriarchs, Exodus, Law, Land, Temple, Exile, and eventually he climaxes with Christ. He retells the story to show that God had a plan to use the family of Abraham, to give him land, law, influence. But that just as Adam rejected Gods plan so Israel rejected Gods plan, they embraced pagan lifestyle. But what about the Jew during the time of Paul. They did not reject Gods Law. Some say they made an idol of it. That is very simplistic. However, I think it is not far from what Paul himself thinks is the problem in his own day. Paul’s thoughts on the Law are not limited to such a simple reduction. Its perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of Paul. I have written at length in other posts about that specifically. But in summary here I think Paul believed there were multiple functions that Law played both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus.

It did pronounce judgement. It did serve as revelation of God and witness to surrounding nations. It did intend to shape identity of Israel. Some focus in on specific uses of the Law because so many wish to simplify what Paul says about the Law. But to ask Paul to give one purpose for the Law would actually be very crude. Paul was a Jew. Jews in the first century saw a great many uses of the Law. One of which was that by paying close attention to it, study, and practice would bring about Gods blessing in the form of his deliverance and vindication of Israel. In short, Law brought salvation. Paul because of his faith in a faithful Jewish Messiah believes this has already taken place in Jesus. But of course Paul’s twist is that when God did what he had always promised to do in the Messiah he did it not just for the vindication of Israel in the Flesh but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Passages that always terrified me in Romans could be narrowed down to two references to the OT. First is when Paul is telling the story of the Exodus and Pharaoh and the second is when he is talk about how God had always made distinctions between the people of Jacob and the people of Esau. The combination of God hating Esau, and God manipulating the heart of Pharaoh made me scared to press in any further. But why did Paul use those quotes of OT passages? Pharaohs heart was in fact hardened by God to bring about his salvation for all people, Jews and Egyptians alike. And God did not actually hate Esau or his family. Paul quotes this as a reminder that God simply made a distinction between Israel in the Flesh and its fleshly enemies. God had a plan for ethnic or fleshly Israel. That is why there is a distinction. They are being called to account for why they failed to carry out Gods plans of blessing the nations around them. Thus, the reference to Esau and Jacob is not about blind favoritism. It is about who had the greater responsibility. Paul goes on to say that it is in fact these tribes and nations that are coming into the Israel of God by faith, that they are being grafted in.

In short one of Paul’s most profound points is that being the people of God, the Israel of God, the Elect, is not just about privileged but it is about responsibility. This is my summarizing title for the book of Romans.

“The Story and the Future of the People of the One God”

Thus Paul is not doing Theology so much as he is implementing the use of Jewish story telling, with the key themes being eschatology, election, and monotheism.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Law, Jesus, and Paul: Part 2

I felt like a summarized clarification of the first post on the Law from the angle Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Since part two is actually long over due. We will recap and get back to the topic for a third part.

There are three main ways I would propose you begin looking at the differences in Jesus statements about the Law from Paul’s statements.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Point 1 of 3: Jesus was not speaking about how to gain Salvation. He was primarily speaking on how when we understand the law and teach it well, it brings the kingdom of God. Jesus felt free to discuss the ongoing purpose of the law for the ‘his people’. Whereas, Paul felt obligated with his letter to the Galatians, to warn that relying on works of the law for salvation brings a curse. For if that was the way to salvation there would be no way for any person to abide by all the things written in the law.

Point 2 of 3: Both Jesus and Paul dealt not only with some misconceptions about the law as a means of attaining salvation. They dealt with the ‘other’ law. The Oral Laws that in the first century had taken on as much or more authority as the written law. The nature of the oral teachings was that they were new laws laid down by rabbis that kept people from breaking the laws of Moses. These Oral teachers felt they were doing Israel a service by making sure no one would break the Mosaic law. But the problem with that is they did not teach how to do the Mosaic law. Moses was clear that the whole heart of following the law is about loving God and people. Jesus said this because people had not realized how far off they had got from the heart of the true law given by God. Paul and Jesus had these things in mind when they ministered to the new church.

Point 3 of 3: The law is made of the books of the entire Torah. In the Hebrew bible in the time of Jesus and Paul the Law was the torah. That means Genesis too. It is clear that there exists an ongoing purpose of the law for the church. We the church and the Hebrew people were never intended to attempt to follow the law in order to achieve our own salvation. The reason the Law remains a part of our revelation of God, Man, and all of life is for the ongoing development of individuals and communities who are learning to love God and love people. Or in Jesus’ words, the Kingdom.

Much more could be said, for part three will will look more in depth at the idea of Gods Faithfulness to Covenants. The Law being only one of the 5 possible covenants located in the OT. So really the ongoing discussion will be to extend the third point here in this post. It could be said like this, “The goal of the covenants (Law) was that people would get saved. The means of Salvation is something that gets worked out in the language of the covenants. Particularly in the Abrahamic Covenant it is understood that the moment of Salvation for Abraham came when he believed in Gods promise. In other words Faith in the God who makes covenants and is faithful to them makes men righteous. Salvation becomes available to more when both God and man show faithfulness to the covenant. Cool thing is, God proved his faithfulness to the covenants and brought completion to them by introducing a brand new covenant that embodies the old ones. In other words, we still have a covenant in which we are called to be faithful to. A covenant built firmly on the faithfulness of God, and not man. The new covenant is both a free gift and a big responsibility for those who receive it. There is still much to learn from previous covenants that helps us gain clarity about the current one.

We will go more in depth in the third part.

Categories: Bible, Context, Doctrine, New Testament, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Art & Bible: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on Theology, World View (both ancient and modern, east and western), and my own Art. I would not consider myself an artist really but I enjoy it. I’ve no training or art classes. But sometimes I will be spending hours studying and the urge to draw something comes over me and once I actually sit down and draw or maybe paint something my brain feels better and I am able to continue working. So I have two projects. One of them is an Old Testament project to teach the book of Genesis in Salem Oregon in the spring of 2015, and then to teach the book of Romans for the first time in Tijuana, and in Honolulu with the CSBS in the spring of 2015 as well. I have piles of resources I will be going through and projected hours of time in study. I want to make a plan now to produce no less then 20 posts here on bibleontap over the coming months that include my art and theological and cultural ramblings from this or that area of my study in both Genesis and Romans. These two books I believe are two of thee most essential texts of scripture one could set out to study. Please join me and give your feedback along the way.

ST.Paul

This particular drawing is one I did in just a couple of minutes and it is what gave me the idea for this blog roll. I had already spent about 4-5 hours grinding away and then I just thought I want to draw a picture of the Apostle Paul. I have done this sort of thing before in prep for teachings as it helps me focus and connect more with the particular author or character I am studying.

When the church first reached Rome it was mostly a Jewish thing. The first churches of Rome were likely held in Synagogues and I doubt we would be able to tell the difference between a strictly Jewish synagogue in ancient Rome and a Christian one. Crazy thought. But then in 49 AD Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, in a blink of an eye, now becomes a mostly Gentile church. Then during the reign of Nero in 54 AD they were allowed back into Rome. It is a post 54 AD church in Rome that Paul writes his famous epistle to. The disunity of the church is apparent in his writing. His central focus is the work of God throughout history climaxing in his work of Christ. Though Romans is one of the most generally theological books it is not a book in which he specifically set out to be theological, or to write a letter about how to be saved. Many going along the whole “Romans Road” concept with Romans believe it to be a book that one would study to be sure how to be saved. The typical answer for many is now a compact definition based off of the passage in Romans, “Saved by grace through faith…”. Though this can often mislead folks. You might say to some one, this is how you get saved. Have faith. Someone might respond, “well, I’m not sure if I can right now. I don’t think I am ready to have faith.” In other words, just that line stripped out of context gives no hope to mans situation. Paul did not set out to give the church a simple formula for salvation. He set out to tell the story well. He begins in Adam, and explains Abraham, Moses, Egypt, David, Prophets, Exile, and more climaxing of course in the part of the story where God shows up and finishes the great work of salvation for all. This is less likely to mislead folks today. People need to know the story of how God did the work of salvation. Faith then is not a human effort to believe in something. It is simply what happens when people are confronted with the wonderful story of Gods work of salvation through out history and in Christ. Faith happens when people gladly receive and believe in the wonderful story.

Often the approach to a book like Romans (or the bible for that matter) goes like this; “What must I do to be saved?” And we force the conversation with scripture and the interpretation of it around that question. But that is really the wrong question to begin with. Many well meaning theologians all across Christian history have attempted to give answers to that question rather then present a better question as a starting point. The right question might then be; “How has God brought Salvation?” Coming at it in this way opens the door to really see the power of what Paul is doing throughout the book. More then ‘theology’ as we think of it Paul is being sort of Hebrew. He is telling a story of the one Gods redemptive work in the world.

Categories: Art, Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luthers Schism. And, ” The Dark Ages? “

Please read this with an ounce of whimsical and a pound of sincerity.  Martin Luther, 95 Theses

I was kept up last night about what the issue at hand was for Martin Luther. I am preparing for teaching the book of Romans. Since Romans and Galatians are the two books Luther found the most life changing and useful in his endeavors for change in the church I have been thinking a bit about him. I have read and written quite a bit on the middles ages preceding the reformations. As I have often set out to defend the church of the middle ages it is also something I have aimed to clarify, that the church was no doubt in need of reform.

I have laid out in other places that the church indeed had a couple of reforms take place throughout the middle ages. Specifically the Reform of Pope Gregory VII. Though Gregory VII denied the honor saying that honor was to be given to Gregory the Great whose name he took as Pope. Pope Gregory the Great never sought to have a position in the high church. Against his will he was forced into office. Though it was essential for the church to have actually given the Papal office to a man of humility and integrity. Pope Gregory VII sought to honor Gregory the Great by taking his name and continuing the work of reform that Gregory the first had brought. Simony (the buying of priestly offices) was a serious problem in the church. Along with the buying of offices by corrupt men came the depravity of the priesthood. These were area of great concern for the early reformers. 5751120-M

So Luther had sought to bring about his own reforms. Though he went further than any others had ever gone before. His challenge of the Pope’s authority took on greater meaning as the Papal bull of 1302 ‘Unam Sanctum’ was drawn up. A document that most historians consider to be the most extreme statements of Papal authority ever made. So the problems in the church had never been worse then the century leading up to the time of Luther. It is also of important note that Luther was not the first monk to respond to the abuse within the church in those early times. John Wycliffe in 1384 attempted reform in England, then the Czech Jan Hus in 1415 in Prague. Later we come to Luther in Germany, Calvin and Zwingli in Switzerland (there influence spreading throughout other parts of Europe into Scotland, Germany, France, and Hungary.) This is only to mention a few of the locations breaking into reform or schism with the Roman Catholic Church. There was a great need that the church had for change, reform, and even schism. It is important to note that it was reform that men like Luther sought. But they soon realized they could only settle for a break with the previous Roman Catholic institution.

Thus the story of the church throughout the middle ages is rife with corruptions, wheat and tares. But it remains the church until a split has taken place. Though there has been some actual reform in the Roman Catholic church there has also been a sinking into more error. The Roman Catholic Church like any other denomination has issues that need to be addressed, some more serious then the rest. Clarity about salvation and papal infallibility to name just two. The Catholic church was not wrong to attempt to exercise some control over the translation of scriptures for the sake of protecting them and assuring they would be translated well. The need for the Reforms I believe had less to do with the availability of bibles in the language of the people then it had to do with a) how someone gets saved, b) who has the authority. The need was to recognize scripture as having authority where the Pope did not, and for salvation by Faith and Grace rather then by mere association and participation in catholic church rites. The issue at hand with regards to common people having access to scripture was about the need for people to learn to read at all.

The Latin Vulgate could be read by anyone with an education in most of Western Europe. If you were from Eastern Europe you spoke and likely read in Greek and could read the bible. If you were form Africa there were a number of translations available to those who could read. Even in Europe there are a handful of German translations the predate Luther’s bible.  Again, only to name a few. Bibles were available, though not as many because the printing press was innovated around the time of Luther’s reform and made it possible for Luther’s bible and theological material to spread quicker to the public then any other materiel before it. In fact though Luther translated his work into German it would still only have been readable by someone who could actually read. That is the reason that during the middle ages if you wanted to hear the reading of scripture in your own language you had but to go to a church where that was made possible. It is therefore easier to say there was a great need for the printing press and more frequent work done to translate scripture into other languages. This was a task that the Catholic Church was up for but did so at a slower rate then we would be satisfied by. They were scared of letting just anyone take on this task. We take this for granted today because we know that now large teams of scribes work together to carefully translate the bible from its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text.

I feel sad discounting the work of scribes and devout monks who worked hard to translate and copy the scripture before the printing press. Their work is significant and important to say the least. But I think we bring shame on the church and its saints by repeating the mistake of calling this broad era of 1,000 years ‘dark’. Luther’s challenge and subsequent schism with the church of Rome was necessary. But was this an era of 1,000 years of darkness that preceded Luther? Hardly.

Though, it is not easy because of the blanket statements that have continued to shape our thought about history in that period. Instead of blanket statements and generalizations about the churches control over western Europe it helps to see that Europe was fractured into many kingdoms throughout most of the middle ages.  The church only gained “control” or at best “influence” over the kingdoms at certain times, during certain reigns, in certain places. Then, there is the dilemma of the state or kingdom exercising its “control” or “influence” over the church. You see it is not always the church with the power to control. Many of the corruptions came because of the opposite being true. Though both had its way of corrupting the right influence of the church in a culture and period of time. Sadly the middle ages had its moments of Wenzelsbibel03darkness but I would hardly call it an era of 1,000 years of darkness. If there is a dark ages within the church then I would say it existed during the 10th-12th Centuries leading up to the time of Luther. But the ‘dark ages’ was a term given to the entire period from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It is a secular term used to smear religion and Christianity and the very idea of God being something to be banished from the public sphere so mankind could get on with its anonymous progress. By using it as protestants we simply mean it to be a slant against a certain kind of church rather then the church. But by using the term we give credence to the movement of the “enlightenment” and its anti-God (not just anti-catholic) bias. What we aught to do as Christians is recognize what Christ said about his church that it would be full of good wheat and creeping tares that corrupt and distort its message of hope. We need to do a better job observing the details and avoid criticizing those who came before us. Thus I would not even go so far as to use the ‘dark age’ term as it is a secular term used to condemn the church as a whole of holding back human progress. When in fact the period from the 10th-12th century was one of the most exciting times of technological and scientific exploration by Catholic scholastic Universities across Europe giving way to the Scientific Revolution of the 13th-14th century. Again, blanket statements and generalizations confuse and are the opposite of learning. If you want to know truth about this issue you need to look closer and observe more carefully.

Luther’s Reforms/schism was needed for the church as a whole to go on being the true church of which the Catholic church is part of and always has been, even though it has had its issues and still does.

The “Dark Ages” (a term coined by Petrarch, an Italian scholar, in the 1330’s to describe the decline of Latin literature) was a term used heavily by enlightenment figures as a sweeping criticism of the Roman Catholic church and the lack of technological, scientific, philosophical, and artistic progress as the result. To which I say, “ABSOLUTELY POPPYCOCK!”

A closer look is warranted for the serious Christian scholar, minister, and social activist. Dark Ages is a term to avoid in order to ever find unity with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a term to avoid in order to not invite unwarranted criticism on the body of Christ of which we are a part. It is a term to avoid because it is far to general and directed (even by the most well meaning folks) at the church and not other important spheres of society of which God is also glorified in.

Read these books for further study.

1. Church History in Plane Language – Bruce L. Shelley

2. The Triumph of Christianity – Rodney Stark

3. The book that made your world – Vishal Mangalwadi

4. For the Glory of God – Rodney Stark

5. Hinges of History Series – Thomas Cahill

6. The Genesis of Science – James Hannam

7. The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark

8. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – C.S. Lewis

9. Story of Christianity: Part 1 & Part 2 – Justo Gonzalez

10. Those Terrible Middles Ages – Regine Pernoud

11. Scripture and the Authority of God – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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