Increase Not Decrease: Man Receives From God

“A person can receive nothing unless it is given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27)

John repeats a point that Christ actually makes in the discussion with Nicodemus recorded in the same chapter (John 3). The story is well known. Jesus has been doing (and saying) some pretty impressive things. He comes to Jesus by night, because he was a Pharisee of the Sanhedrin after all, and wonders how it is possible that Jesus is doing this work.

It is the similar question that John’s disciples asked him: how is it possible that Jesus is allowed to do this work?

Jesus responds that entrance into the Kingdom of God is by miraculous means: one must be born again (John 3:3). One isn’t born of their own power but they are born by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). God functions how he functions and he decides how things are to be.

Nicodemus, confused and wondering then how anyone can therefore enter the Kingdom of God asks “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

Christ’s answer is that we speak what we know and what he knows is outright heavenly things. No one has gone up to heaven to be able to explain these things but only the one who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. The Son of Man came with God’s purpose: to be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16).

He points to himself.

Christ’s response to Nicodemus is that God’s initiative is evidenced in the provision of Christ. To hammer this point home, he uses a metaphor from Numbers 21:4-9 to illustrate the point.

The Children of Israel were dying in the wilderness. They had sinned. God punished: they were to be bit by poisonous snakes. Moses interceded and God didn’t have to respond. The people had already covenanted with him that they would be a holy nation, a royal priesthood and they had repeatedly broken their pact with God. God had every right to be done with them.

But God in his mercy and sovereignty provided a solution. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to lift the thing up. If anyone who was bit and dying, poison coursing through their veins, turned away from their situation to look at what God had provided they would live. They wouldn’t diminish. They would be lifted up. They would be able to walk. They would be able to grab hold of the promises of God. They would live.

In that same way, says Christ, the Son of Man is lifted up as God’s provision which God points to wanting people to look. The fact that they don’t look speaks of their own sinfulness and condemnation already because this gift is actually God given.

So John, understanding Mankind’s contingency, says anything man has is actually given, not taken: it is God Given.  Breath. Life. Ministry. All God given.

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Infographic on 1 Corinthians 2:2

I enjoy making graphics and every now and then I have some sort of chart or graphic that makes sense to me, though rarely I share them. One of my favorites is the one on Psalm 110. Here’s one I had made on 1 Cor 2:2 but without highlighting other verse connections. I should probably go back and do that. I’ve included two: one with the intro part of the verse and one which focuses on what Paul might have meant by Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and how that really isn’t a small thing (in other words, it’s not Nothing vs. A Little Something; It’s Nothing–the Wisdom of the World–versus A Whole Lot of Something Encapsulated in Three Words).

Click on the images for biggie sized versions.

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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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God With Us

Article 2 of the Constitution of the United States stipulates the rules for the Executive branch. How long the person would serve. How they would be elected. What was the grounds for electing him. What is the process for removing him. What are the qualifications to function in that role.

In that clause, the Constitution states that the President—indeed, also the Vice President—must be thirty five years old but then it has these two other qualifications: they must have been a natural born citizen and have been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.

The clause is not historically uncommon. Nations throughout history have always wanted a leader who belonged to the country. It’s understandable. When a foreign nation comes in, attacking another country and sits on the throne, the new country is merely real estate with revenue funneling back into the mother country. The ruler doesn’t represent the people of the conquered country at all. Be it Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Mother Russia, England, or the United States the leader represents the needs of his own people.

It was the people’s fear of having a foreign national with us. He’s not really of us—but he’s over us.

So the Constitution drafters insert that clause ensuring that some foreign national doesn’t come along, somehow orchestrate events to become leader of the United States, and then spends the bulk of his time supporting the desires of his real country.

Which brings us to the problem of Hebrews 2.

God Amongst or With Us
The author has established that The Son is the perfect representative of God, acknowledged as such by God, and functions in His Position as God. He does what God does (for example, creating and upholding the world by his word of power) because he has that right, God stands behind Him, and He is, in fact, God. If the Son speaks, God speaks; if the Son works, he completes that work; the very angels of God bow down to him in worship as He sits down at the position of power of the Majesty on High.

This Son is with God, on behalf of God, and Is God.

And yet, that comes with some dire ramifications for us poor humans. Warns the writer “we must pay much closer attention to what we heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” It’s one thing to deny an angel-mediated Law, quite another to deny the very message spoken by the incarnate God, the Lord and subsequently confirmed by those he has placed in power and attested to with miracles and signs by the Holy Spirit.

God is altogether involved in this message and we humans invariably fall short.

But doesn’t this in effect become bad news? This isn’t only some foreign national that’s in control; it’s one with complete power, absolute authority, and the bright white holiness that could incinerate a sinner like paper in a fireplace.

God With Them
Let’s go back to our first parents who found themselves in this sort of relationship of being with God (Gen 1:26-27; (Gen 2: 16-17)

Recently created, blinking in the new light of day, they walked around Dad’s house here on Earth with some familial prerogatives and one dire command: these other things you do, that’s just living—but if you do this one thing, ignore that I have commanded you not to eat of this tree, take it upon yourself to act on your own initiative and your own understanding you will die.

And what does man in this relationship do? He sits on the side, setting aside his authority, watching his wife take the fruit, eat and accepts the thing when offered (as if under her authority) and the immediate response was expulsion and death in later years. Indeed, death in the very home as son rises up against son and proves the catastrophe of man looking no higher for a master than his own wants.

But here, we find that the author to the Hebrews thinking coincides with our own. We’re at the very beginning of creation and seeing the position of man and the position of God. Man is told to reign, to control, to manage, to cultivate but man falls short and God punishes him. As he stands before the Lord, his sin exposed, he hears the mandate that creation will revolt beneath him. He was a cultivator of a garden before, now he’s a tackling thorns and thistles. He was living life to the fullest before now, he’s sweating into the very food he’s taken all this time to make.

David, recalling the wonder of this creation looks back and thinks about the wonder of God’s creation and how he’s established man over this creation, a little lower than God (or the angels as the LXX says), and yet man is crowned with glory and majesty.

Well, not that much glory and majesty because of that Fall. There they fell, deceived by the first murderer, His Satanic Majesty and rendered the world under His power—the prince of power of Darkness. So you arrive at the book of Daniel and hear tell of demonic powers, like the Prince of Persia, holding say over regions (Daniel 9), or you have Paul much later saying that we don’t battle against flesh and blood but against powers, against principalities in heavenly places (Eph 6).

Immanuel
But hear the words of Isaiah as he prophesies of a son being born to a young virgin. This son will show up and his name will be Wonderful, Counselor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Government shall rest upon his shoulders. What’s his name? Oh, Immanuel: God with us.

God With Us, being born amongst us and receiving titles that belong to God alone.

Time passes and a birth is announced: the child that will be born will be called Immanuel (Matt 1:24).  And as the baby is lain in a manger, shepherds watching their flocks receive news that they will find the Savior, Christ the Lord, wrapped in clothes lying in a manger and the angels can’t help it as they cry out in exultation “Glory to God in the Highest, peace on earth and goodwill towards men!” (Luke 2:7). This one grows up (Luke 2:40) and we see him growing tired (John 4:6) and thirsty (John 4:7) and weeping (Luke 19:41-44) and sweating in Gethsemene (Luke 2:41-46). God With Us, doing all these things, and yet being ministered by angels when hungry (Matt 4:11), providing food for thousands without breaking a sweat (John 6) and demanding that a fig tree withers (Matthew 21:18-22), being asked permission to enter pigs by demons (Matthew 8:30) and telling the very waters and wind “Be quiet—stop throwing a fit!” (Mark 4:39)

This is God, surely, but he’s Man. not merely a foreign national walking in our midst—like Superman, among us but not one of us—he is really a Man and God and he acts with the full prerogatives as an obedient master over creation: just as Adam was supposed to.

So when we read Psalm 8, we find that it not only speaks about the first Adam for those few moments where creation actually listened to him before he fell but it hearkens to the second and greater Adam who stands as master over creation.

But not everything is under Christ’s feet just yet, just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. We see Jesus, the man, for a little while made lower than the angels but then we see him crowned with glory and honor but not merely on account of being placed over creation but because he suffered, tasting death for everyone.

Man stands beneath God the Father, and the Son humbled Himself and stands beneath the Father as a real representative for God but an equally real representative for Man. And just as he cried out on the cross “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtini” from Psalm 22 he stands with Humans before God and says “these are my brethren”. Recall the words of Jesus to Mary “Go to my” not disciples but rather “brothers and say to them: I’m going to My Father and your Father, my God and your God”

Earth-shattering. Ground-swelling. Immanuel. God With Us not merely as God in our Midst but God Stands  With Us As A Man. He trusted God, and he stands with his family showing them to God.

And in so doing he reverses the power grab of the devil and his minions. Man is placed back in charge and the demons are robbed of power since death is robbed of power. And those that are plagued by the power of the devil are able to find real, honest to goodness mercy because he is actually one of us, born of our country, not a foreign national, and has our interests in mind.

Help has never been offered to angels. It has never been theirs to reach. But it was offered to Christ, the seed of Abraham. And Paul, looking at the seed of Abraham of Promise says that we are, on account of Christ, Abraham’s seed.

He’s God’s perfect representative. He speaks, God speaks. He is God with God standing behind him. And yet, he is fully man: one of us crowned with glory because he suffered and died.

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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.


Bibliography

  • 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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Major Themes of Scripture

On my iPhone (it’s really an iPod Touch but it’s annoying calling it an iPod Touch and it sounds slightly perverse calling it an iTouch and with the right applications and microphone it is essentially the same device sans camera so I’ll continue calling it an iPhone for any future posts though I don’t technically own one) I have a document that I reference when I’m out and about reading Scripture. It contains some themes that shoot right through Scripture, from beginning to end, and which all are tied up to the Gospel and eventually are the very things that God is culminating. Of course, the ideas aren’t original. My thinking was influenced by DA Carson, Dwight Pentacost, even John Piper and NT Wright (if you believe it).

In the list you might notice I’m missing some things like “Shepherd” or “Davidic King” but that’s because I think those tie into Man and his position under God. I didn’t mention Israel, though it is surely a major theme but I’ve subsumed it under People of God—but I don’t feel quite right about that. I might still put them under their own number—not sure.

I’ve noticed that some make a mistake of taking one of the themes of Scripture and making it the central focus of the Gospel (the good news). For example, NT Wright loves to make the Gospel all about the Kingdom. Piper loves to make the Gospel all about God (even has a book called God is the Gospel). So on. I think that to say the main theme of the Gospel is any one of these things is seriously mistaken and ignores the breadth of what God is accomplishing. Also, I think some would like to remove some of these things as being tied to the Gospel. So, one might argue that Creation is central to the Gospel and Sin is merely a side issue: that is mistaken. The Gospel necessarily deals with both of those (and other) things but I won’t argue the point beyond listing the themes from my iPhone here sans scripture:

  1. God (all that He implies)
  2. His Kingdom
  3. Creation
  4. Man (and his Position)
  5. Family
  6. Marriage / Relationship
  7. Sin
  8. Bondage (might bundle up with sin, possibly)
  9. Life – Healing – Salvation
  10. Death  – Sickness – Suffering
  11. Promise / Covenant
  12. Judgment
  13. Sacrifice  / Blood
  14. Atonement
  15. Holiness (and the levels Holy-Clean-Unclean-Profane)
  16. Light / Glory / Dark / Shadow
  17. Son
  18. Joy (Wine?)
  19. Love
  20. Temple / Tabernacle
  21. Rest
  22. Priesthood
  23. People of God
  24. Food / Eating (Bread)
  25. Word
  26. Water

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