Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Live Goat Is Satan

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
Leviticus 16:20–22


Mark now, whether he who charges us with having committed errors of the most impious kind, and with having wandered away from the (true meaning) of the divine enigmas, is not himself clearly in error, from not observing that in the writings of Moses, which are much older not merely than Heraclitus and Pherecydes, but even than Homer, mention is made of this wicked one, and of his having fallen from heaven. For the serpent — from whom the Ophioneus spoken of by Pherecydes is derived — having become the cause of man's expulsion from the divine Paradise, obscurely shadows forth something similar, having deceived the woman by a promise of divinity and of greater blessings; and her example is said to have been followed also by the man. And, further, who else could the destroying angel mentioned in the Exodus of Moses be, than he who was the author of destruction to them that obeyed him, and did not withstand his wicked deeds, nor struggle against them? Moreover (the goat), which in the book of Leviticus is sent away (into the wilderness), and which in the Hebrew language is named Azazel, was none other than this; and it was necessary to send it away into the desert, and to treat it as an expiatory sacrifice, because on it the lot fell. For all who belong to the worse part, on account of their wickedness, being opposed to those who are God's heritage, are deserted by God.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

From pistis, for pistis — the banner that waves over Romans

I'm convinced that Romans 1:17 is the banner that flies over Romans:
δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.

In [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from pistis [of Christ] for pistis [of the nations, 1:5, 16:26], as it is written "The righteous from pistis shall live."
Notice how Romans 3:26 starts to explain how this works:
ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ, πρὸς τὴν ἔνδειξιν τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον καὶ δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who is from the pistis of Jesus.
Jesus demonstrates pistis in his life, death, and resurrection and God justifies the one who participates in/shares in (one whose life is patterned from/ἐκ the source that is) the pistis of Jesus.  From pistis (of Jesus), for pistis (of the nations).

Romans 4:16 taps into this same dynamic, only with Abraham as the "source" rather than Christ:
Διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ πίστεως, ἵνα κατὰ χάριν, εἰς τὸ εἶναι βεβαίαν τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν παντὶ τῷ σπέρματι, οὐ τῷ ἐκ τοῦ νόμου μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ τῷ ἐκ πίστεως Ἀβραάμ (ὅς ἐστιν πατὴρ πάντων ἡμῶν,
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who is from the pistis of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
ESV translates the underlined phrase here as "shares the faith of Abraham" but if you look at the Greek text, it's the exact same construct as the ending in 3:26.  Why don't we translate the former text as "shares the faith of Jesus"?  If I had to guess, I would venture to say our reformation theology doesn't allow us to.

I think what's going on here is that Jesus and Abraham both embody the gospel pattern of Romans 1:17.  The pistis of one becomes the source that others share/participate in unto blessing/salvation.  In this sense, Abraham is for Paul a type of Christ in his life of pistis.

For Christ, this pistis is death-defying embodied fidelity out of which God brings resurrection life (and enthronement over the nations).

For Abraham, this pistis is the exact same: death-defying embodied fidelity out of which God brings resurrection life.  This is precisely why Paul uses the language he does in 4:17-21:
as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness [literally 'deadness'⁠—same root as the word in the previous clause used to describe his body] of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:17–21,ESV)
Notice how Paul goes out of his way to talk about the concept of death in this passage.  What is the result of this death-defying embodied fidelity in the case of Abraham?
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:22, ESV)
But this doesn't mean what we think it means because of the reformers (i.e. imputation).  In context, given the narrative shape of Paul's commentary on Abraham's life, he is using this verse to speak of the birth of Isaac.  In other words, Isaac's birth represents the resurrection life that God brings in response to ("that is why") Abraham's death-defying embodied fidelity.

So now, what's the upshot of this all for the Roman church and for us all who give pistis to Jesus?
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:23–25, ESV)
First point here is that the resurrection-like birth of Isaac isn't just for the sake of Abraham; it's for the sake of all Christ followers to show that God always responds with resurrection life to death-defying embodied fidelity.  Now notice the "it will be counted..." future language.  What is Paul saying?  I think Paul's saying that if we too share in this death-defying embodied fidelity to the God who raised Jesus from the dead over the long haul (just like Abraham's fidelity was one that grew over time, v.20b), God will also give us resurrection life in response to our death-defying embodied fidelity.  Jesus was raised for our justification in the sense that His vindication from death becomes our vindication from death as we share in/participate in His death-defying fidelity.  So the gospel shape of Abraham's life is here to re-enforce the gospel shape of Jesus' life:

From pistis unto resurrection for pistis unto resurrection.

Sounds like exactly what Jesus taught: 
...whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25, ESV)
In other words, whoever perseveres in death-defying embodied fidelity will receive resurrection life.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Jesus and the State

[24] When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” [25] He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” [26] And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. [27] However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24–27, ESV)

There is perhaps no passage in the New Testament that throws more light on Jesus' attitude toward the secular state than the account of the didrachma recorded in Matthew 17:24-27.  This didrachma (a half shekel) was an ancient institution, first mentioned in Exodus 30, which required that every adult male in Israel pay a set fee toward the maintenance of the sanctuary.  After falling into disuse during the hectic days of the captivity, it was revived at the return from exile (Neh. 10:32).  According to the context, its revival then was a part of the large-scale attempt to re-establish a sacral order.  There were some irregularities in the handling of these collected moneys (Neh. 13:10).  Whether it was the questionable management or the threat this mode of raising moneys carried in itself (it provided a handy and unobtrusive way to gather funds for the support of seditious undertakings) is a question that need not detain us here.  The fact is that by Jesus' time the Roman government had adopted the policy of picking up these contributions and then footing the bill for such repairs or improvements as these moneys warranted.  We read in Matthew 17 that someone asked Peter whether his master was in the habit of paying the didrachma (literally "the two drams," as the temple tax had come to be called).  No doubt what prompted this prying question was the presumption that ardent flat grace religionists (as the questioner took Jesus to be) usually had scruples against paying the tax to an "uncircumcised" agency, which by its very handling of the money rendered it unfit for the "holy place."  Peter, somewhat embarrassed by the unexpected question, hesitatingly answered in the affirmative.  The matter would no doubt have ended there had not Jesus deliberately reopened it: "What do you think, Simon?  From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute?  From their sons or from others?"  Peter replies that it is "from others," that is, from Jews, whom the Roman government knew as unamalgamated ones, "strangers," or "sojourners."  The "sons," that is, the native Romans, were not asked to pay it.  Thereupon Jesus summarized that if it was a tax exacted from sojourners, then the children, the native sons, ought not to be billed for it.  Then he added, most significantly: "However, not to give offense, go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel [a four-drachma piece]; take that and give it to them for me and for yourself" (Matt. 17:27).

The astounding thing in this incident is that Jesus put himself and his disciples in the category of "sons" rather than "sojourners," indicating that in the matter of his and their relationship to the existing regnum Jesus identified with the Roman citizen rather than the Jew.  We see in this identification the mentality of the proselyte members of the synagogue: he had distanced himself from the older element of the synagogue congregation and its negative attitude toward the nonconfessing regnum.  In not objecting to identification as a "son" of the secular regnum of his day — a "son" rather than a sacral "sojourner" — Jesus clearly was committed to the theology of progressive grace.  What he said in this incident throws an illuminating ray on his statement "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."

—Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid, p. 62-63 (free online version)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Kingdom Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance (Isaiah 45:23, Philippians 2:10, Luke 14:26, 33)
to the throne (Isaiah 9:7, Luke 1:32-33, Hebrews 1:3, 8)
of the risen King, Jesus Christ, (1 Corinthians 15:20, 2 Timothy 2:8, Romans 1:3-4)
to obey His commands, (Genesis 49:10, Matthew 28:20, John 14:15)
until He comes, (Luke 12:42-44, 2 Peter 3:11-12, Titus 2:11-13)
with people from every nation, (Revelation 5:9, John 11:51-52, Romans 1:5)
adopted by God, (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:14-17, 1 John 3:1)
citizens of His kingdom, (Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 5:10)
where grace and peace are multiplied to all. (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2, Jude 2)

He is risen, indeed!

Sunday, December 01, 2019

To Believe *On* Him

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
James 2:19
"That ye believe on Him" not, that ye believe Him.  But if ye believe on Him, ye believe Him; yet he that believes Him does not necessarily believe on Him.  For even the devils believed Him, but they did not believe on Him... For, "to him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness."  What then is "to believe on Him"?  By believing to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members... Not any faith of what kind soever, but "faith that worketh by love."  This cannot happen unless hope and love are added.

--St. Augustine
Scripture's axiom in regard to the relationship between faith and love is clear: "faith without love is nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2); "love believes all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7); and "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6).  Scripture teaches through these and other passages that one must love God in order to truly believe on Him.  Loving God for who he is compels the true seeker to believe in him, even though he cannot see him and even though he may be surrounded by circumstances that tempt him to deny God's love and integrity.  Unless love of God is the basis of faith in him, the mental effort required to believe firmly is simply too much for the individual mind to sustain.  The mental exercise of raw faith, without love, results in a distortion of and revulsion towards the personality of the thing believed.

--Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, p. 552-553

Monday, October 21, 2019

Suffering: How God's Kingdom Advances on Earth

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (Philippians 1:12–13, ESV)
In my own life I have found that times of intense suffering for the gospel have led to a greater harvest of souls and more severe damage to the strongholds of Satan.

There are many ways the Lord may lead a Christian during his or her life, but I'm convinced that the path of every believer will sooner or later include suffering.  The Lord gives us these trials to keep us humble and dependent on Him for our daily sustenance.

Don't be afraid of suffering, for it is how God's kingdom advances on earth!  The Bible instructs us in 1 Peter 4:1 that "since Christ suffered in the body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin."

How we mature as a Christian largely depends on the attitude we have when we're faced with suffering.  Some try to avoid it or imagine it doesn't exist, but that only makes the situation worse.  Others try to endure it grimly, hoping for relief.  This is better but falls short of the full victory God wants to give each of His children.

The Lord wants us to embrace suffering as a friend.  We need a deep realization that when we're persecuted for Jesus' sake, it is an act of God's blessing to us.  This is why Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:11-12).

I have found over the years that many of the most fruitful times of ministry for the Lord have come at the same time as great opposition and persecution.  There seems to be a direct correlation between effective work for God and intense opposition.  The apostle Paul experienced this too.  He wrote, "A great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me" (1 Cor. 16:9).

We can grow to such a place in Christ where we laugh and rejoice when people slander us, because we know we are not of this world, and our security is in heaven.  The more we are persecuted for His sake, the more reward we will receive in heaven.

When people malign you, rejoice and be glad.  When they curse you, bless in return.  When you walk through a painful experience, embrace it and you will be free!  When you learn these lessons, there is nothing left that the world can do to you.

God is my witness that through all the tortures and beatings I've received, I have never hated my persecutors.  Rather, I saw them as God's instruments of blessing and the vessels He chose to purify me and make me more like Jesus.

When a child of God suffers, you need to understand it is only because the Lord has allowed it.  He has not forgotten you!

When I hear a house church Christian has been imprisoned for Christ in China, I don't advise people to pray for his or her release unless the Lord clearly reveals we should pray this way.  Before a chicken is hatched, it is vital that it is kept in the warm protection of the shell for twenty-one days.  If you take the chick out of that environment one day too early, it will die.  Similarly, ducks need to remain confined in their shell for twenty-eight days before they are hatched.  If you take a duck out on the twenty-seventh day, it will die.

There is always a purpose to why God allows His children to go to prison.  Perhaps it's so they can witness to the other prisoners, or perhaps God wants to develop more character in their lives.  But if we use our own efforts to get people out of prison earlier than God intended, we can thwart His plans, and the believer may come out not as fully formed as God wanted them to be.

The Lord told the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).  This led Paul to declare, "Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

The kingdom of God advances through suffering.

--Brother Yun, Living Water, p.204-206

Monday, February 25, 2019

Leeman and Dever on Paying Pastors: A Brotherly Rejoinder

Last week, Jonathan Leeman and Mark Dever published a podcast in which they discuss the biblical validity of paying pastors in the local church:

I consider these men not only sincere brothers; I look up to them as men who have taught me much and whom I greatly admire.

But, having listened to this recording twice and re-listened to a couple of segments in particular, I don't believe the biblical texts they mentioned can validly be used as a basis for paying local pastors/elders in the church. So in this post I want to offer a brotherly/friendly rejoinder by briefly looking at each passage Leeman and Dever mentioned and pushing back on its applicability to paying local pastors/elders in the church.  I do so in the spirit of Acts 17:11 and my prayerful desire is that we all who bow to Jesus Christ as Lord would do the same.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Acts 17:11
Luke 10:7 - In the context, Jesus is sending out *traveling* apostles. We know their stay in any particular town is temporary because they return to where they began in v.11. Furthermore, Jesus is saying they should have food/drink and housing provided for them, not wages literally. The phrase "the laborer is worthy of his wages" is a metaphor that we aren't meant to apply literally. In the same way that a worker should receive wages, a traveling apostle should receive housing and food/drink. How do we get from this to local pastors/elders who are permanently based in a location receiving literal wages?

1 Corinthians 9:13 - In the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is talking about apostles. He mentions apostles/apostleship explicitly 4 times in the first five verses and once implicitly in v.5 when he speaks of "taking along" or "being accompanied by" a believing wife, which implies traveling.  This is what the apostles did as "sent ones"(apostle literally means "sent one" as it comes from the verb apostéllein which means to send off). In the wider context of Matthew 10/Luke 10 where Paul quotes Jesus from, Jesus is speaking to apostles who are traveling. Nowhere in chapter 9 (or all of 1 Corinthians for that matter) are local pastors/elders mentioned. And when Paul says that "those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (v. 14) the word translated as "proclaim" is katangello, which in the New Testament is never specifically applied to pastors/elders. It either applies to apostles (e.g. Acts 4:2) or all Christians (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:26).

Galatians 6:6 - This verse seems to be a poorly translated one in all modern English translations. A better translation to suit the context would be: "Let the one who is taught participate in all good with the one who teaches." The "things" that comes after "good" in all modern English translations isn't in the original Greek, but has to be inferred based on the context. To talk about paying a teacher seems to be oddly placed in the context. In the first 10 verses of chapter 6, Paul is telling the Galatians to watch over and minister to one another and to persist in doing this kind of good to all people, especially to the household of faith. In this context, the "good" that Paul is telling the Galatians to give themselves to is good *works* rather than giving good *things* to a teacher. The point is: don't expect the teacher to do all the watching over and ministering to the saints but you all should be participating in those good works *together with* the teacher. To see paying local pastors in this text makes little sense of the larger context.  James Beaty unpacks this helpfully.

2 Timothy 4:3 - In multiple places in the New Testament, the apostles imply that there are people who are greedy to use the Word of God as a means of gain. For example, Paul tells Titus that elders shouldn't be greedy for gain (Titus 1:7). Peter tells the elders that they shouldn't do their work for shameful gain (1 Peter 5:2). Paul tells the Corinthians that there are *so many* who are wrongfully peddling the Word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17), which at the very least applies to the "super"/false apostles in the context of 2 Corinthians. To point to the fact that the New Testament indicates that there are people who are wrongfully making money from teaching the Word of God in no way proves that paying teachers is what God intended and that the church should rightfully be doing. One could argue that it actually proves that paying teachers is precisely what the church shouldn't be doing because of the dangers that are associated with it.

2 Corinthians 11:8 - Paul speaks of "robbing" one church (he specifically mentions the church in Macedonia here) in order to serve a church in a different location (specifically the church in Corinth here). First of all, Paul is applying this to himself as an apostle who is traveling, and not to a local pastor/elder who is permanently in one place. Second, he is speaking of church A funding the ministry of an apostle at church B. This has nothing to do with our modern way of paying pastors which happens by church A funding the ministry of a pastor/elder at church A.

Philippians 4:16-19 - This is similar to 2 Corinthians 11:8. Here Paul speaks of how the Philippians (Macedonians) funded his ministry while he was serving in Thessalonica. Again, he's speaking as a traveling apostle and church A (Philippians) funding the ministry of an apostle at church B (Thessalonica). Not related to pastors/elders permanently located in one place.

Hebrews 13:7,17 - Dever argues that to respect leaders and to let them do their work with joy and not groaning not only implies paying pastors but has "direct implications" on how you pay pastors. With all due respect, I don't believe this is exegesis. I think this is reading something into the text (eisegesis) that simply isn't there.

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 - These verses clearly indicate that apostles have a right to food and drink. But, first, notice that it's talking about apostles, as developed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 when talking about the same right apostles have. Second, he isn't talking about apostles being given money. He's talking about apostles being given food (bread) without paying money for it (v. 8). As traveling apostles, what they needed was food/drink and housing/lodging for the temporary stay that they would have in any given town, not wages/a salary. This is why places in the New Testament like 2 John 10 speak of not receiving into your house or offering a greeting one who brings false doctrine.

Acts 6 - In this chapter, deacons are appointed to distribute food so that apostles can devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Dever acknowledges that it's not stated in the text but that the way they were able to give themselves wholly to prayer and the ministry of the Word is by being financially supported. I agree, as mentioned in the above passages, that apostles were provided with food/drink and housing. But I don't think this means a salary and this isn't talking about local pastors/elders.

1 Timothy 5:17-18 - Essentially all interpreters conclude that the honor Paul mentions is money in large part because of Paul saying that "the laborer deserves his wages." I think there's another way to read these verses. I've never heard anyone say that we should give pastors/elders grain. And rightly so. Because we understand that Paul is using a metaphor when mentioning not muzzling an ox. I think he does the exact same thing with the use of a laborer and his wages. The logic would go like this: in the same way that an ox should be free to eat grain as it treads and in the same way that one who is hired as a laborer should receive his agreed upon wage, so the elder should receive honor/respect for the kind of work he does. In the immediate context, one form of this honor is that we shouldn't admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses (v. 19). Further supporting this way of understanding honor as only literal honor/respect in the immediate context is just a couple of verses later Paul says that slaves are to regard masters as worthy of all honor (6:1). I don't think anyone argues that slaves should give their master money/wages since a slave wouldn't have any. So if this honor doesn't mean money/wages in 6:1, then is it too far-fetched to suggest it doesn't mean money/wages in 5:17? I think Paul means literal honor/respect, not money, in 1 Timothy 5:17 and that he makes the exact same point with different words in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.

One text Dever and Leeman didn't mention that has bearing on this conversation is Acts 20. Beginning in verse 17, Paul is addressing elders/pastors from Ephesus specifically. As he wraps up this address in verses 33-35, Paul reminds the elders how he ministered not only to his own necessities but to those who were with him. And then he instructs the elders that by working hard *we* must help the weak and, as Jesus taught, be those who seek to give rather than to receive. This is an address to elders only. Paul appears to be telling them that, just like him, they should work hard and seek to give *materially* to the needs of others rather than expecting others to *materially* meet their needs.

Many of the passages mentioned above by Leeman and Dever to support paying pastors/elders are directly talking about apostles and are indirectly applied to pastors/elders.

This final passage in Acts 20 which seems to speak against paying pastors is directly making reference to local pastors/elders.

How did we end up creating a system/tradition of paying pastors that seems to ignore the latter and focus on the former?