Saturday, September 26, 2009

Autumnal reminiscence

Last night I cleaned birch leaves from the valleys on the roof and noticed that 2009 has been a terrific year for moss.

I looked out my bedroom door this morning and saw that it had rained again. After a tentative summer, autumn has arrived unexpectedly. Leaves are falling and the apples (such as they are this year) are ripe. The little girls are picking what they can reach. The harvest will not equal last year's bounty. The cool summer, birds, and squirrels have taken a toll.

A week from tomorrow, the full moon will announce Sukkot and in our home we will remember the birth of the Christ, who tabernacled among men for a season.

John 1:1-14 (KJV)

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The same came for a witness,
to bear witness of the Light,
that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light,
but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light,
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own,
and his own received him not.
But as many as received him,
to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh,
and [tabernacled] among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insipidity and self-importance

It is no mystery that Jesus often spoke in mysteries. When his speech alludes to Old Testament passages, He provides a dimension that should enlighten and constrain our interpretation of the passage. The second half of the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel appears on casual reading to contain several disconnected thoughts. A footnote in the 1966 Jerusalem Bible claims, for instance, “It appears that v. 50 cf. Mt 5:13, has been inserted here for no other reason than the recurrence of the word ‘salt’.”

Really? Imagine the self-importance of the translator – God’s editor –presuming that because he doesn’t understand something in Scripture that it just doesn’t belong there.

While chapter divisions in Scripture are arbitrary, there are apparent sections. Mark 9 is divided into three segments. The first section recounts the Transfiguration. The second deals with the healing of a demonized boy, and the third section, verses 33-50, addresses the disciples' sense of self-importance. The disciples argued among themselves who among them was greatest. When Jesus asked them about their discussions none wanted to admit to their petty competition. Jesus rebukes them saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (AB)

Jesus then offers an illustration of what he means. Embracing a child he tells his disciples, “Whoever should receive one of such children in my name, receives me; and whoever should receive me, receives not me, but the one having sent me.” Mark 9:37 (AB)

John, remembers someone whom the disciples had not received. He tells Jesus, “We beheld a certain one in your name casting out demons, who does not follow us; and we restrained him, for he does not follow us.” Whether John was seeking clarity or justification is uncertain, but Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not restrain him! For there is none who shall do a work of power in my name, and be able to quickly speak evil of me. For he who is not against us, is for us.” Mark 9:38-40 (AB)

The disciples were obviously absorbed with their status as followers of Christ that they felt justified and even responsible to dictate the behavior of strangers. Their arrogance was so extreme that they commanded someone friendly to the cause of Christ to cease and desist performing miracles in the name of Jesus.

Rather than telling his disciples how to treat people, as he had with the child, he presents the logical converse, saying, “For whoever should give you a drink of a cup of water in my name, for you are of Christ, amen, I say to you, in no way should he lose his wage.” Mark 9:41 (AB) Earlier Jesus told his disciples that if they received a little child in his name, they received him and the one who sent him. Here he explains that strangers who likewise show the disciples favor will certainly be rewarded. Jesus presents scenarios wherein the disciples are both giving and receiving favor.

By rebuking the one casting out demons in Jesus’ name, the disciples responded to favor with disfavor. Jesus commanded them to share God’s grace both as givers and receivers.

Jesus follows his instructions with a series of warnings. Using the same child as an illustration he says, “Whoever should cause to stumble one of the little ones trusting in me, it is good to him rather if a millstone encompass around his neck, and to be thrown into the sea.” After instructing the disciples to receive a child in His name, he illustrates the severity of causing a child to stumble. He does not specify how the child would be caused to stumble, but in the context he confronts the disciples’ arrogance.

Next, Jesus again presents a logical converse. Instead of picturing the disciples causing a child to stumble, he presents three scenarios whereby something might cause the disciples to stumble. Rather than pointing to external sources for the disciples’ hypothetical stumbling he chooses three very personal things. He says,

  1. If your hand should cause you to stumble . . .
  2. If your foot should cause you to stumble . . .
  3. If your eye should cause you to stumble . . .

Jesus points out that while a disciple might cause a trusting child to stumble, should a disciple stumble, he would have no one to blame but himself. Jesus tells them, It better to enter into life crippled, lame, or one-eyed than to be “thrown into Gehenna, into the inextinguishable fire, where their worm does not come to an end, and the fire is not extinguished.” Mark 9:48 (AB)

Many of the disciples were fishermen. Without a hand, or a foot, or an eye, their potential in first century society would be severely impeded. Moreover, once maimed, a Jewish man became somewhat of a pariah. According to Leviticus 21, a Levite with a deformity or injury was disqualified from service in the tabernacle. Surely, Jesus words must have seemed bizarre to his disciples. The very things that they might imagine as impediments to God’s acceptance were actually impediments to their salvation.

Jesus is speaking figuratively. Our hands, feet, and eyes do not cause us to stumble. Nevertheless, our pride does. Jesus was telling his disciples that anything about them that caused them to feel superior to even the lame or blind, they should forsake to gain life. When Jesus speaks of Gehenna, he alludes to Isaiah 66:24,

And they shall go forth, and shall see the carcasses of men, the ones violating against me. For their worm shall not come to an end, and their fire shall not be extinguished. And they will be a sight to all flesh.

Isaiah 65 and 66 speaks of the time of the Messianic kingdom where “. . . wolves and lambs shall graze together; and the lion shall eat straw as an ox.” Isaiah 65:25 (AB) At this time, those resisting God will be punished. By quoting Isaiah in the context of Mark chapter 9, Jesus demonstrates the severity of the disciples' pride. By comparing them to the living dead forever burning outside the city, he implies that their pride is the same as rebellion against God.

Jesus then addresses the disciples’ confusion over their proper place. They had been arguing about who among them was greatest. Jesus concludes his discourse saying,

For all shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. The salt is good; but if the salt becomes insipid, by what means shall you season? Have salt in yourselves, and make peace with one another.

Here Jesus alludes to Leviticus 2:13, “every gift offering of your sacrifices shall be salted with salt. You shall not discontinue salt from the covenant of the LORD with your sacrifices.” Most of the sacrifices of the Old Testament were consumed by the priests and the giver. The salt on the sacrifice made it savory or pleasing.

In Mark 9, Jesus is telling his disciples that they will all be tried by fire. They will all make sacrifices. The salt of the sacrifice demonstrates their willingness to endure trials for the sake of Christ. The salt makes the sacrifice pleasing. Jesus tells them, however, “if the salt become insipid, by what shall you season? Have salt within yourselves, and make peace with one another.”

The disciples' imagined self-importance was making their service to Christ insipid or flavorless. While a casual reader might presume to think that Mark 9:33-50 is a disconnected narrative, Jesus is actually teaching one central thought – the consequences of pride.

  • The disciples’ pride was an impediment to others’ faith.
  • It was an impediment to the disciples’ relationship with God.
  • Moreover, the disciples’ pride made their service meaningless.

The disciples had been arguing about who among them was greatest but Jesus tells them, “Have salt in yourselves, and make peace with one another.”

As I was discussing this passage with Lisa, she heard the words “Have salt within yourself” and was stunned by the imagery that Jesus used. In the New Testament, yeast or leaven always refers to the sin of pride. Some scholars believe that Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20 depart from this pattern, but they miss Jesus’ warning in these passages entirely. What Lisa knew about salt that I did not know, is that salt is an impediment to yeast.

In the Old Testament, leavening was banned from the sacrifices; however, salt was required.

In other New Testament passages, Jesus commanded his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (an obvious reference to the destructive power of self-importance.) In Mark 9, Jesus tells them to have salt in themselves and make peace. He warns them to cast off their pride and take upon themselves humility and sacrifice.

The disciples were displaying the affects of leaven. They were becoming puffed up. Jesus rebukes them, saying, put a little salt on that insipid pride.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Forbearing one another

We visited a house church in the Houston area over the weekend. One of the passages of Scripture read that evening was Ephesians 4:2, “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. . . Someone asked the group what the word, forbear really means. This question surprised me. I can define forbear, but I realized that I had no idea what it meant in Scripture.

The Bible in Basic English translates the phrase as “putting up with one another.” The NASB says, “showing tolerance for one another.” The NIV merely says, “bearing with one another.” Because I realized my ignorance of the word forbear, I did not contribute to the discussion. Instead, on the drive back to Kansas City Lisa helped me conduct a word study of anexomai, which is often translated forbear, endure, and such.

Any New Testament word study must include a study of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. While I use many English translations, I conduct serious study from The Apostolic Bible. Not only does the Septuagint (LXX) enlighten the meanings of New Testament Greek words, it was the version Scripture commonly available to the Apostles. The language of the LXX framed the language of the New Testament more so than the Hebrew and Aramaic.

In the LXX, anexomai first appears in Genesis 45:1. Joseph was unable to contain himself as he revealed his identity to his brothers, so he sent all of his attendants away. The Apostolic Bible says, “Joseph was not able to withhold.” Imagine Joseph, many years after being sold as a slave and deported to Egypt. He is now second only to Pharaoh. He has restrained himself as he assessed his brothers’ change of heart. Now overwhelmed by emotion, he reveals himself and asks, “Is my father still living?” Joseph was not able to withhold. Imagine the effort it must have taken for him to withhold his emotions to this moment. Suddenly, anexomai appears to be a stronger word than “putting up with” appears to be.

Job chapter 6 contains the next two occurrences of anexomai. Job asks in his misery, “What is my strength, that I remain? or what is my time, that my soul endures?” Job questions how his soul can endure his present suffering. Here anexomai again appears to be an intense word. Later in the same chapter, Job tells his friends turned accusers, “Nor will your reproof cause me to cease my words; for neither your utterance of a word will I endure. Besides that, you fall upon an orphan, you assail against your friend.” Job refuses to receive the accusations from his friends. He hears them, but he will not endure them.

The Greek translation of Isaiah uses anexomai several times. In chapter 1, God speaks through Isaiah to Israel saying, “If you should bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me, I cannot endure your new moons and the Sabbaths and the great day.” God rebukes Israel for their rote ceremonies because their hearts were far from God.

In Isaiah 42 God promises a day of judgment, saying, “I kept silent from the eon; shall I continually keep silent and endure?” Throughout history God has revealed himself through Creation, through prophets, and in the person of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. A day is coming when God will no longer withhold knowledge of himself. In that day, the unbelieving will have to account for their unbelief in the light of the revelation they have rejected. A careful reading of Isaiah 42 reveals a companion passage in Romans 8, but this is an entirely different discussion.

In Isaiah 46, God promises deliverance to Israel, saying,

Hear me, O house of Jacob, and all the rest of Israel! O ones being lifted up from the belly, and being corrected from childhood until old age; I AM, and until whenever you should become aged, I AM. I endure you. I made, and I shall spare. I shall take up and I shall deliver you.

Isaiah 46:3-4 (AB)

In Isaiah 63 and 64, Israel turns to God in repentance, asking God,
Where is your zeal and your strength? Where is the abundance of your mercy and your compassion, that you withhold from us? For you are our father. For Abraham did not know us, and Israel did not recognize us. But you, O LORD our father, rescue us! From the beginning your name is upon us. Why did you wander us, O LORD, from your way. You hardened our hearts to not fear you? Return on account of your servants! on account of the tribes of your inheritance that we should inherit a little of your holy mountain.

Isaiah 63:15-18 (AB)

In this passage, anexomai is translated “withhold.” God endured or withheld his blessing from Israel. Isaiah 64 recounts the pain inflicted upon Israel, and Isaiah says, “All over all these things you endured, O LORD, and kept silent, and humbled us very much.” In Romans 11, Paul explains why Israel experienced a hardening, but again, this is another discussion.

The next appearance of anexomai, we find in Amos 4. The Lord indicts Israel’s unbelief saying, “I withheld from you the rain before the three months of gathering crops . . . And you returned not to me.” God persisted in judging Israel, but they would not respond in repentance. Likewise because of Israel’s disobedience, the Lord says through Haggia, “On account of this the heaven withholds of dew, and the earth keeps back its resources.” Haggai 1:10 (AB)

Moving into the New Testament, Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 recount the healing of a demonized young man. Jesus’ disciples had not been able to cast out the demon and Jesus responded saying, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, until when shall I be with you? Until when shall I endure you?” Jesus then rebuked the demon and the child was healed. Jesus was intensely involved in his disciples lives. He was teaching them, but they exasperated him at times? He’s asking rhetorically, How much more time do we have here? Jesus’ enduring of his disciples was not a casual “putting up with” them. It was intensive, intimate, daily involvement in their lives.

In Acts 18, the Jews in Corinth dragged Paul to the rostrum before the ruler Gallio. There they complained that Paul’s teachings were contrary to their own. Paul started to offer his defense, which was his right, but Gallio interrupted and said,

If indeed then it was some offense or evil villainy, O Jews, on this account I would have endured you; but if the matter is concerning a word and names and a law of yours, you shall see to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of these things.

Acts 18:14-15 (AB)

Gallio sent the Jews away, and some of the Greeks grabbed Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him publically. In this account, Gallio was obligated to follow the legal process. However, he would not see it through to the end because it did not interest him. He abruptly ended the proceedings because he was not willing to endure.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his affliction, saying,

As far as the present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted and unsettled; and we tire of working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being blasphemed, we appeal; as the rubbish of the world, we were all the sweepings until now.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (AB)

In this passage, the Bible in Basic English does not translate anexomai, “put up with” . It says, “When we undergo punishment, we take it quietly.” Of course, that is a bad translation, but at least it acknowledges that anexomai is not a casual word.

In 2 Corinthians 11, the word anexomai appears five times. Paul implores the Corinthians to endure his foolishness as he compares his credentials with those who also commend themselves to the Corinthians. Paul commends them for not enduring another Gospel, but he also chides them for enduring those who enslave them, promoting themselves, and even those who slap the Corinthians in the face.

When Paul asked the Corinthians to endure his foolishness, he was not asking to be casually ignored or put up with. Rather, he was asking them to consider his credentials using the same criteria by which they evaluated false teachers who were abusing them. They endured those who enslaved them! Paul, of course, was telling them they should rather withstand such false teaching. Paul’s play on words becomes apparent in the context illustrating that anexomai does not mean merely tolerating anything, but rather standing firm in a course of action.

Paul commended the Thessalonians telling them that he boasted of them in the assemblies for their “endurance and belief in all [their] persecutions and the afflictions which [they] endure.” 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (AB)

Paul warned Timothy, saying,

For their will come a time when they will not endure healthy teaching, but according to their own desires they will accumulate to themselves teachers tickling the hearing. And from indeed the truth, the one hearing, they shall turn away, and they shall be turned aside unto the fables.

2 Timothy 4:3 (AB)

Conversely, the writer of Hebrews implores us, “Brethren, endure the word of the exhortation!” Hebrews 13:22 (AB)

Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians to “endure one another.” Considering the intensity surrounding the word anexomai in the rest of Scripture, it is unfathomable that Paul uses it here to mean something less.

Paul does not tell us to forbear everyone. He says endure one another. One another conveys mutuality to the equation. We know from 2 Corinthians 11 that we are not to forbear those who teach another Gospel, or those who promote themselves at the expense of others. We should learn to spot such people and follow Paul’s instructions in Titus 3:10.

Still, “Forbearing one another” is not supposed to be easy. Paul uses an intense word to tell us that we are to remain involved in each others' lives even when it is not easy. Forbearance in Scripture is not casual neglect. Rather it is engagement or entrenchment. We are to entrench ourselves mutually in the lives of our fellow believers. We are supposed to stick it out from the beginning to the end.

I appeal then you you,
I the prisoner in the Lord,
to walk worthy of the calling
of which you were called,
with all humility,
and gentleness,
with leniency,
enduring one another in love;
hurrying to keep the unity of the spirit
in the bonding together of peace.
One body,
and one spirit,
as also you were called in one hope of your calling.
One Lord,
one belief,
one immersion;
on God and father of all,
the one over all,
and through all,
and in you all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (AB)

Put on then as chosen ones of God,
holy ones, and beloved,
feelings of compassion,
enduring one another,
and granting forgiveness to each other
if any should have any blame against any.
As also Christ granted forgiveness to you,
so also you.
And upon all these things
the love which is the bonding together of the perfection.
And let the peace of God preside in your hearts!
in which also you were called in one body.

Colossians 3:12-15 (AB)