Sunday, January 10, 2010

The good pleasure

by John D Ramsey

I live in a world of jargon. Jobs in multiple industries have acquainted me with a spectrum of vocabulary that is common among the cognoscenti, but meaningless to outsiders. As a technical manager, my current working vocabulary includes networking, programming, and business words and acronyms. Lisa and the little girls struggle sometimes to understand me. Sometimes I have to pause before I speak to consider whether the listener and I share a common vocabulary.

Within the context of a discipline, jargon and even acronyms are very helpful things. If you think about your own experience, there are certainly words and phrases that communicate specific meanings to industry insiders. While a reasonably informed person might be able to follow your conversations with your peers, his understanding might be more generalized. The outsider might not understand in detail exactly what is conveyed by your jargon.

The Bible also incorporates jargon; although thankfully, it does not incorporate acronyms. The New Testament writers John and Peter use the term, “born again,” for instance, as a synonym for “salvation.” Likewise, the word often translated “gospel,” in the Greek is a compound word meaning, simply, “good news.” In Luke 2:10, the angel announced “good news” to the shepherds at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. While the King James, and other translations say, “good tidings” or “glad tidings,” the same word very quickly becomes “gospel.” When Jesus, reading Isaiah, says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor,” a literal translation might say, “good news,” instead. There is no doubt that the good news that the angels brought to the shepherds is the same good news that Jesus preaches to the poor, but translators recognize the recurrence of the word, and it becomes part of the New Testament jargon.

This jargon encapsulates ideas that Christians understand in common. This is within the writers’ intent that we understand that the Christ’s coming is indeed the “good news.” Translators should not be faulted for recognizing and highlighting the jargon of the Bible. The Gospel, or good news, is the same to the shepherds as it is to each of us. God himself became a man to deliver man from his bondage to sin.

When we read the word, “gospel,” we understand that it refers to the Good News, and not just some good news. In Luke 2:14, similar word appears. The King James translates it in this context, “good will” as in “good will to men.” Unlike the “good news,” which becomes “gospel,” “good will” or, more accurately, “good pleasure” is not treated evenly when it occurs in other passages.

Matthew 11:25-26 and Luke 10:21 are nearly identical. In these verses Jesus prays,

I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.

The phrase translated “good in thy sight” contains the same word translated, “good will” in Luke 2:14. A literal translation might read, “it was good pleasure before you.” In other words, the “good pleasure” is the Father’s revelation of the Son! Does this pattern hold up in other New Testament passages? Surprisingly, it does. Paul evokes “good pleasure” in Romans 10 to express his desire that Israel should come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Likewise Paul refers to the revelation of Jesus Christ to believers as “the good pleasure of his will” and “his good pleasure” in Ephesians 1:5 and 9. Paul tells the Thessalonians,

We pray at all times for you, that you should fulfill every good-pleasure of goodness, and word of belief with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified in you.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 (AB)

Fulfilling the “good pleasure” is the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is the same blessing which the angels delivered to the shepherds when they cried out, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace upon earth, and good pleasure among men.”

Philippians 2:12-13 reads in the King James,

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.

Other translations say things like “do what pleases him.” The King James rightly translates the word “good pleasure” in this instance, but the Greek does not read “his good pleasure;” rather, it literally means, “the good pleasure.” The article preceding “good pleasure” indicates that the Philippians should already know what “good pleasure” means. Earlier in Philippians, Paul tells them that some preach Christ because they were motivated by envy and strife, but some preach Christ through “good pleasure.” In Philippians 2, Paul says, “the good pleasure” because “good pleasure” like “good news” is part of the New Testament jargon.

“Good pleasure” refers to the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ by the will of God, the Father. When Paul writes, “God is the one operating in you both to want and to operate for the good-pleasure,” the “good pleasure” is not some hidden whimsy as some translations make it out to be. By recognizing the jargon of the New Testament, we can understand that “God is the one operating in [us] both to want and to operate for the revelation and glorification of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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