Shock and Awe: Observing Fear

In a Philosophy Friday I addressed the question “Did Jesus Fear” where I pointed out that it depends on what we mean by fear. Fear, I noted, isn’t wrong in itself and might actually be necessary for basic living. But I wanted to make a textual observation that I really didn’t have room for in that post (and plus, it detracts from the primary philosophical considerations).

The textual observation is in regards to Hebrews 5:7

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (NASB)

Personally I think piety (even knowing the definition) is a strange word to use but the NASB has a habit of doing that. The NIV does a better job of getting the idea across by translating it as reverent submission.

The Greek term there (eulabeias) is later translated by the NASB in Heb 12:28 as awe.

What’s interesting is when you look at the KJV family. The KJV translates Heb 5:7 as “because he feared” while Heb 12:28 as “godly fear”. This clues us English readers about the problem with translating words only with their literal meaning.

What does the word eulabeia actually mean? Maybe it is only the good fear like reverence?

Well, that collides with its usage when we see the word being used to mean actually fearing (Acts 23:10) something like moved in Heb 11:7 (although the NASB translates it there as reverence) and in the Septuagint (admittedly, an older Greek) 1 Sam 18:29 the word could mean something like being astounded.

So now you have a word (eulabeia) which could mean reverence and it could mean actual fear. Hrm. Maybe we can differentiate it by looking at one of the other words for fear: phobos?

The Bible is choc-full of references with this word but the problem of literal meaning comes up once again. In Matthew 14:26; Rom 13:3; and 1 John 4:18 it means terror or fear but sometimes it could mean reverence, respect, or honor (1 Pet 1:17; 1 Peter 3:2; Rom 13:7; 2 Corinthians 5:11).

Indeed phobos, in some cases seems to mean that terror-sort-of-fear but in (strangely enough) a positive sense (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12).

This is all to conclude that textually, you can’t decide on a position merely because of the words being used. The words can mean something differently in different contexts and within those contexts is where you find the proper breeding ground for this or that position. Mind you, this isn’t to say you can embrace whatever you want. Just because the words have a range of meaning doesn’t imply that you can pick or choose from whatever you want within that range.

In this case a simplistic answer of “No.” or “Yes.” To the question “Did Jesus fear” doesn’t do justice to the words themselves, but it also doesn’t do justice to the text since it doesn’t adress all the complexities involved within the text.

It winds up being primarily a philosophical question (as I pointed out in that other post) based on the implications of the theology of the hypostatic union—which is exceedingly Biblical.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 2: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament

Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint

Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament

Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition.

Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament


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Husband Of One Wife

At a recent men’s conference a question was raised: “Does an elder have to be married?”  I answered live, but I wanted to record my thoughts here.

Textual Considerations
In Greek, the phrase of contention reads mias gynaikos andra. The mias is in the feminine and is a preposition (a word that points to the thing that is following) in the numerical form to indicate quantity of what follows, in this case it is “one” of whatever comes next; gynaikos is a noun for the singular word “woman” or “wife”; andra is the singular noun which means “man” or “husband”.

The phrase is actually “One Woman Man” or “One Wife Husband”

Folk might get nervous about seeing that sort of ambiguity with the specific words but they shouldn’t. In Greek you have words that can function in multiple places and mean different things depending on the context—but not so different that it is necessarily outside of the range of what the word can do. So even in English the word man can mean different things like when we say “The Bride and Her Man” which could mean Bride and Groom, or “The Wife and Her Man” which could mean the wife and her husband or “The Baby Momma and Her Man” which could mean her boyfriend.

This phrase has been interpreted different ways:

  1. The Elder must be a married man
  2. The Elder must be married to only one woman
  3. The Elder if now single, must have been married only once
  4. The Elder must be faithful

Mind you, each of these interpretations have been vigorously defended.

Contextual Considerations
Contextually we must remember that the passage opens with dei episkopon anepilempton which means the overseer/elder must be above criticism/reproach—some translations say blameless and then leads right into the phrase of contention.

The Ephesian Church had people who were forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:3) which may be supportive of position (1) but there also seemed to be a serious problem with sexual sin (2 Tim 3:6 where women are being swayed away by those who enter their households; or 1 Tim 2:15 where Paul says they’re saved by childrearing within the family circle) and marital faithfulness which would lead credence to positions (2), (3)  and (4) but against (1). Apparently a concern since he repeats this for the deacons (1 Tim 3:12), women who are to be qualified widows (1 Tim 5:9) and in the letter to Titus 1:6 .

Against (1)

  • First, it must be noted that the emphasis in the Greek is not the husband—it’s on the one.
  • Second, if (1) were the case, Paul has just disqualified Timothy, himself and Christ.  “Yes, but Paul was an apostle” someone might say and my response would be “so what?” Are the requirements for Apostleship to be less stringent than that for elders? And plus, Timothy and Titus weren’t apostles and yet they seemed to have some pretty hefty tasks (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-9).
  • Third, Paul actually teaches that if the Lord has gifted in that capacity, it is actually better to be a worker who is single (1 Cor 7:25-38)—how does it make sense that Paul sees it as a boon but, when it comes to Church Leadership it is actually a bane?
  • Fourth, as Mounce points out most men were married so for Paul to be arguing that men were to be married it would be redundant. Now, of course, there was a sect forbidding marriage but (whatever their heresy was be it ascetism or some sort of dualism where what we do in our bodies doesn’t matter) it winds up being an unnecessary restriction since he outright says their teaching is wrong and a sign of the end.
  • Last, I have rarely seen this position argue that the elder must have more than one child when the wording in the text actually uses the plural form which is “children”. If that supposed requirement doesn’t apply, on what grounds are they deciding that (1) is the position that is being emphasized?

Possible (2)
As for position (2), Mounce points out how polygamy was very active in the first century and saying “one woman” is a very easy reading of the text but then he points out how the same phrase is applied to women who are to be qualified for the truly-widowed and there is no evidence of polyandry (a woman being married to multiple husbands at the same time). Off-handedly, he mentions that telling Christians to have only one wife is pretty redundant but then says that someone can easily level that charge against the rest of the list. Regardless, he points out how positions (3) and (4) can easily incorporate position (2).

Possible (3)
Position (3) was held by the early Church, fits textually, matches Paul’s teaching which allows remarriage but encourages celibacy (1 Cor 7:9, 39 and possibly Rom 7:1-3) and even Christ’s teaching (Matt 19:9). But, against (3) we have the thorny issues in 1 Tim 5:14 and 1 Cor 7 where Paul actually encourages remarriage after divorce. Mounce points out that the phrase is so similar for the requirements for elders and widows that you would expect it to have the same meaning in both cases which would be an odd requirement that a widow who has even remarried but now is truly widowed shouldn’t be supported because she has had more than one husband in the past!

Yeah, Single Elders—Position (4) Makes Sense
Position (4) seems to have the most going for it. It may very well be an idiom (like a one gal guy) which underscores faithfulness within the relationship instead of a numerical requirement. If that’s the case it would automatically disqualify a polygamous relationship (since the person is not faithful to his woman but to multiple women), it would allow for a person to have been faithful to his wife and be celibate after the fact, it would allow for men who have been divorced to be faithful to their new wife (while disallowing men who use divorce as a form of fornication by marrying-divorcing in cycles) and it would make sense of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 regarding the benefits of being a single worker. If married, the man is a one woman type of guy, if not married he is not-married.

Indeed, position (4) makes sense of the thought-flow of the passage. It’s not merely that Paul is making a list with point one as blameless then point two he’s a husband, but rather Paul is trying to show what being blameless in the marriage relationship looks like. Opening this section with the dei/must should be thought of as “must be blameless [colon]” instead of “must be blameless [comma]”

Also if it is the case that Scriptures envisions a plurality of overseers, then having one overseer among a group of overseers is single shouldn’t be a problem at all but rather a tremendous boon. You would have a worker who can fully devote himself to the Lord’s work and can stand as a model for those who are currently single and doubting their calling.  Indeed, to have an elder who has had children, another who is currently in the process of raising children, and another who can’t have children would all be good models to have for counseling as long as they meet the requirement of being “above criticism”. This criticism isn’t the criticism of the naïve who point out the singleness of a person or the childlessness of a person but rather above the substantial criticism that brings into question the person’s character.

This all being the case I think it’s best to say that yes, single men (if qualified) can and should be elders.


  • Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.)
  • Earle, R. (1981). 1 Timothy. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon
  • Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments
  • Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (2001). Vol. 34: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus
  • MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary  : Old and New Testaments (1 Ti 3:2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
  • Mounce, W. D. (2002). Vol. 46: Word Biblical Commentary : Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary
  • Strauch, A. (1995). Biblical eldership: An urgent call to restore biblical church leadership.
  • Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament :
  • Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (1 Ti 3:2). Biblical Studies Press.
  • The Pulpit Commentary: 1 Timothy. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.)
  • Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures

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Getting Tense With Hebrews 1

In the past, I argued against the liberal (or Kenotic Arian) view of Scripture by looking at what the writer to the Hebrews thought about Scripture. I could have argued from Paul, Peter, John and Christ but I was co-opting some of my studies on Hebrews to make the point. Anyway, there was a fundamental thread that should be seen throughout the entire post easily summarized as follows: the writer to the Hebrews sees God speaking the Gospel right now perfectly through others via the entirety of Scripture written in the past to affect change in the present to save from the future shaking. In fact, if I want a scripture summary, I’d probably just quote Isaiah 40 and what the voice of one crying out in the wilderness was to cry: Good News—God is here!

With that understanding I think it’s easier to see why the writer to the Hebrews uses the passages he does and the way he does even if it still generates a whole mess of questions. For instance, a reading of Hebrews 1:1-5 generates five questions in my mind. First a quick overview:

  • Heb 1:1 God spoke via Prophets
  • Heb 1:2 God spoke these days via his Son
  • Heb 1:3 God’s Son is the radiance of His glory; exact representation of his nature; upholds all things by the word of his power; made purification for sins; sat down at the right hand of the majesty on High
  • Heb 1:4 God’s Son became much better than the angels by receiving a more excellent name
  • Heb 1:5 Angels never called Son

Now mind, most of the far context has been dealt with in far more detail by David Gooding in his book(amazon) The Unshakeable Kingdom (read online) and DA Carson in a message both drawing heavily from FF Bruce’s commentary so you can look at all of those for some of the more technical questions but here are mine:

  • Question 1: What does this all (including the citations of 2 Sam 7 and Psalm 2) have to do with Gospel anyway?
  • Question 2: If the Son is the brightness of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature and upholds all things by the word of His power—something only God does—then why does the author downgrade (as it were) his argument by appealing to the fact that He is called “Son”?
  • Question 3: what does that argument (being called Son) have to do with the prior point (Brightness of God’s glory, etc) anyway?
  • Question 4: Angels have been called Son (you know Genesis 6 and Job 1—which includes Satan); what gives?
  • Question 5: Why quote Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7 to prove this at all?

Gooding, Carson and Bruce pull out several points from the use of the passages but I particularly wanted to focus on one matter of tense.

In 2 Samuel 7, God makes David a covenant of a future descendant sitting on David’s throne and reigning in David’s Kingdom. God says that the future descendant would build God’s house but if this descendant sins, God will punish him. We know this winds up happening with Solomon (and not with Christ) but God states that David’s throne will endure forever which looks beyond Solomon who winds up being punished for his own iniquities and eventually dies.

What God says in 2 Samuel 7 is, essentially David’s Real Son (not some other human or even a non-human)  will do what God wants (build God’s house) when God wants and he will be called God’s Son as a title—but (in time) Solomon isn’t the perpetual continuation of David’s promise. Each Davidic King is called God’s Son (“I will be a father to him and he will be my Son”) and this pattern will either continue into eternity or there would eventually come a human son of David who retains the God given title of “Son” eternally.

Shorthand: the promise of God’s naming is made in the future tense, even when considering Solomon.

But that changes in Psalm 2. The Psalm is about the Lord’s Anointed already seated in the mountain of the Lord while the nations already rail against him and the Lord (David was given rest and the Lord promised a future rest to him and his people in 2 Samuel 7). The Lord currently laughs and then the Lord’s anointed speaks in the past tense saying “He said unto my ‘I am your father and you are my son’.” He then proceeds to tell the nations to fear the Son (a Kingly role) and to Worship God (a priestly role).

Anyway, the Anointed One is recalling when God said this to him but in 2 Samuel 7, the one who is called “My Son” isn’t even around yet to receive the title.

Now, I’m not saying that the Psalm is definitely Christ speaking in the past tense but, in light of what I previously wrote about how the writer to the Hebrews reads Scripture, when we hear the tense we should be hearing Christ speaking in that portion. At least the early Christians in Acts read the text that way when they cited the words of the Psalm as part of their prayer.

  • Question 5: The writer has to quote 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 2 because it makes a bridge between God Doing and David’s Family Doing (something that the prophets expand on, especially when you read Ezekiel 34 – 37) that the promise of the bestowed title of Son is bestowed on a man, a son of David, who has both kingly (rule the people) and priestly (build God’s house and direct worship to God) roles.
  • Question 4: Although Angels have been called sons (Job 1) it is only in the sense where they are displaying part of God’s qualities. I wrote about functional sonship before but I think it can be easily summarized as God is both spirit and a consuming fire who ministers to others and angels are ministering spirits and flames. None of them reign or hold dominion. That was something that was explicitly given to the human race (Genesis 1).
  • Question 3: The point has much to do with the previous point because the writer displays Christ as doing everything God does—even down to his nature. God creates…so did Christ. God upholds with his power…so did Christ. John 5 makes this point pretty nicely.
  • Question 2: The writer makes the connection that the one who perfectly expresses God is the one who has come near as a man. It’s pretty much the whole basis of the argument in Chapter 2 through 5 so as to eventually show that he has suffered, he understands our weaknesses, he went on before us and he has conquered and has completed his work. That’s powerful stuff to have a person (Christ) who represents God perfectly also be the very one who can rule and represent men perfectly.
  • Question 1: Well, it pretty much is the Gospel, isn’t it?

As a side point, I think it’s interesting that in a book which is often used to prove the most inane things about what Christ’s humanity necessarily entailed (vomiting, believing error, almost dying from sickness, liking brunette little people) that this point that the one who perfectly represents God (created the world, upholds all things by his word of power, brightness of God’s glory, express image of God) is relegated to his postresurrection ministry when Isaiah looks forward to this Son being born and finally the Father Himself from Heaven declares, in the start of Christ’s ministry “This is my beloved Son—hear Him!”(Matt 3:17)  He suffered, surely, but he did so as perfectly representing the Father (John 14:9)

I’m not too sure on the thought-flow of this post since my brain is currently fuzzy; I may have made the points without tightening the connections as much as I would like.

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