Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (3)

This is the third of the series which started with Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (1) and continued with Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2). Again, I am not at all trying to make an anti-Semitic point, as should be clear in what follows here.

CrossIn parts 1 and 2 of this series I have shown that in the four Gospels the Greek word Ioudaios, generally translated “Jew”, is in fact used mainly of Judeans, inhabitants of the southern part of the land of Israel around Jerusalem. It is only when the word is used by Gentiles and Samaritans, or in conversation with them, that it has the wider meaning of “Israelite”.

Before making some concluding observations, I want to look briefly at how this word is used in the rest of the New Testament.

In the Gospels the focus of the story is on the land of Israel, but in Acts it is suddenly opened up to include the whole world, or at least those parts where Israelites live. So immediately we see the word Ioudaios used, in 2:5,11,14, as it would have been by Greek speakers right across that world, as a synonym for “Israelite”. Oddly enough, this does not last. In 2:14 Peter calls his audience Ioudaioi, but by verse 22 the same people have become Israelitai, as also in 3:12; in 5:35 Gamaliel uses the same word, as do Paul in 13:16 and some Asian Jews in 21:28. Meanwhile Ioudaios is not used again in Acts until the action moves into the Gentile world in chapter 9. From then on the word is very common, and mostly used as Gentiles used it, of all Israelites.

The word Ioudaios is not common in the letters of Paul, but is again used mainly in the Gentile sense, indeed often in contrast with “Gentile” or “Greek”. A probable exception here is 1 Thessalonians 2:14, recently discussed by Daniel Kirk (no relation), where “Judean” fits the context better.

Ioudaios is not found in any of the other New Testament letters. It occurs twice in Revelation (2:9, 3:9), in both cases of enigmatic groups of people who claim to be Jews but, according to the author, are not; these are most likely Diaspora Israelites who were considered religiously apostate.

So, it seems to me, in translation we need two different renderings of Ioudaios, “Judean” for most of the Gospel references but excluding the ones on the lips of Gentiles and Samaritans, and “Jew” for almost all occurrences outside the Gospels.

A clear consequence of this choice of renderings, but by no means the motivation for it, is that it removes any biblical justification for blaming the Jewish people as a whole for the death of Jesus. If anyone is to be blamed, it is a small group of Judean Israelites, stirred up against Jesus by their leaders, and the Roman authorities under the weak Pilate.

Another clear consequence is that the Jesus of the Gospels was not considered to be a Ioudaios, at least by his fellow Israelites. This explains why, especially in John, he is often portrayed as being opposed to the Ioudaioi. But what may have been a secret to Jesus’ contemporaries is revealed in Matthew and Luke, and is perhaps implied by Mark’s use of the title “Son of David” (10:47,48, 12:35) and by John’s reference to the Messiah being from Bethlehem (7:42). This mystery is that Jesus was in fact a Judean, born in Bethlehem in Judea, a member of the tribe of Judah, and indeed a descendant of King David and of the whole royal line of Judah (Matthew 1:6-11). The New Testament record seems to imply that he was the rightful heir of the Davidic line, the true king of the Ioudaioi in both senses. And, as he told the Samaritan woman who called him a Ioudaios (John 4:9,22), in both senses “salvation is from the Ioudaioi” because it came through him.

So perhaps we should conclude that Jesus was not a Jew among others, he was the one true Jew, the forefather of a new Israel constituted not by physical descent but by faith in him. This was never intended to replace the old Israel, but it was intended to broaden that family to include Gentiles. But this is a controversial issue which I do not want to get into here.

So, as I conclude this series, have I rejected the claim in its title, “Jesus was not a Jew”? No, because I added “according to the Gospels”, and within those narratives Jesus is not one of the Judean people referred to as Ioudaioi. But within the wider narrative of the New Testament we recognise that Jesus is in fact a Jew par excellence, fulfilling in himself all the requirements and prophecies of the Old Testament as well as all the promises of the New.

This Man, who died for our sins, and rose again from the dead to show that he is more than just a man, is the great King we should follow, not only the King of the Ioudaioi but also the one which we Gentiles, grafted into the true Israel, acknowledge and serve as King.

Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2)

This is follow-up to part 1 of this series. Please read there how I dissociate myself from anti-Semitic writers who deny that Jesus was an Israelite. I will repeat that this series is not really about Jesus, but about the New Testament use of the word Ioudaios, usually translated “Jew”.

CrossIn the first post I looked at the Old Testament background and at the use of Ioudaios in the first three Gospels. I now want to move on to the much more extensive use of the word in the Gospel of John, where it is in fact used about 70 times.

In this discussion I gloss over difficult issues of whether the author is recording actual words spoken, originally in Greek or translated, or putting his own words into his characters’ mouths. I will simply surmise that he might have used Greek Ioudaios to translate Hebrew Yehudi or Aramaic Yehuday.

In the largest group of these uses (1:19, 2:18,20, 3:25, 5:10,15,16,18, 7:1,11,13,15,35, 8:22,31,48,52,57, 9:18,22, 10:19,24,31,33, 11:8,19,31,33,36,45,54, 12:9,11, 13:33, 18:12,14,20,31,35,36,38, 19:7,12,14,21,31,38, 20:19; probably also 3:1) the reference appears to be to Israelites in Judea, who are interacting in some way with people such as Jesus and Pilate who are not from Judea. It seems clear that at least the majority of these people would have lived in Judea. Indeed in 7:25 “people of Jerusalem” is used of apparently the same group. This suggests that in these cases “Judean” might be a more accurate translation than “Jew”. It is impossible to be sure that there were no Galilean or diaspora Israelites among these groups; nevertheless they were in general groups of Judeans.

In quite a number of these cases NIV 2011 renders Ioudaioi as “Jewish leaders”. Indeed this seems justified as many of the references seem to be to people with some kind of religious or political authority. But they were also Judeans.

In 6:41,52 the situation is a little more nuanced, as the action takes place in Galilee, in the synagogue at Capernaum, and most of the congregation would have been local Israelites. However, in Mark 7:1 (cf Matthew 15:1), from the same period in Jesus’ ministry after the feeding of the five thousand, we read of “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem” (NIV) and challenged Jesus in or near Capernaum. So it is at least possible that the Ioudaioi referred to in John 6:41,52 are not the local Israelites but these visitors from Judea.

By contrast, Jesus, according to John, calls the presumed Galilean Nathanael not a Ioudaios but an Israelite (1:47), a point which he then elaborates by comparing him with Jacob = Israel seeing a ladder into heaven (1:51).

In 3:22 Ioudaios is used as an adjective “Judean”.

Most of the other references (2:6,13, 5:1, 6:4, 7:2, 11:55, 19:40,42) are to Jewish religious customs and festivals, described as of the Ioudaioi. From the author’s probably Galilean perspective, even these may have been considered “of the Judeans”, in that at the time Judeans seem to have been active in imposing their standardised religious practices in Galilee. But these mentions of Jewish practices can also be understood as explanations for Gentile readers, which would imply that here Ioudaios is used of Israelites in general to distinguish them from Gentiles.

Then we have the title “King of the Ioudaioi” (18:33,39, 19:3,19,21,21, cf. 19:14; also Matthew 2:2, 27:11,29,37, Mark 15:2,9,12,18,26, Luke 23:3,37,38). The interesting thing about this title is that it was used, whether seriously or in mockery, only by Gentiles – the Magi, Pilate, Roman soldiers – and by Israelites quoting them. It seems to have been Pilate’s error to refer to “the one you call the king of the Jews” (Mark 15:12). When Israelites wanted to express the same sentiment, seriously or in mockery, they called Jesus “King of Israel” (Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:32, John 1:49, 12:13).

So, to summarise, in John’s Gospel Ioudaios most often means “Judean”, but is used by and to Gentiles in the sense “Israelite”.

The final three occurrences of Ioudaios in John are in chapter 4. And it is J.K. Gayle’s discussion of these at BLT that got me interested in this subject. In verse 9 we have the note that “Ioudaioi do not associate with Samaritans”, which can probably be listed as another explanation for Gentiles of Israelite religious customs. But it is immediately preceded by the Samaritan woman calling Jesus a Ioudaios. What did she mean by that? It is unlikely that she thought Jesus was a Judean, as very likely he spoke with a similar Galilean accent to Peter’s (Matthew 26:73). More likely, as a Samaritan not accepted as truly Jewish, she used Ioudaios in the same way as Gentiles did, to refer to all Israelites.

This leads to perhaps the most interesting of the references, in John 4:22, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Ioudaioi“. What does he mean here? Is he accommodating his language to what the Samaritan woman would understand, and so referring to all Israelites? Maybe. Or is he hinting at something which he would have known, but which is not otherwise mentioned in John’s Gospel, that he is in fact by birth not a Galilean but Judean, from Bethlehem in Judea, and indeed from the tribe of Judah itself?

I would like to discuss this further, but this post is already too long, so I continue in part 3.

Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (1)

Now I have got your attention with this title, I must start by dissociating myself completely from the anti-Semitic rubbish which you can easily find by googling “Jesus was not a Jew”. My point here is not at all negative about the Jewish people. It is abundantly clear from all of the accounts that we have of his life that Jesus of Nazareth was in every way a member of the people of Israel: biologically, racially, culturally and by religious upbringing.

My point is in fact not really about Jesus. Rather I am asking this question: Who are the people referred to in the New Testament, and especially in the four Gospels, as the Jews? Are they the same people as we now refer to as Jews? Does the group include Jesus?

CrossPerhaps more to the point on this Good Friday, are the people responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus in any way to be identified with today’s Jews?

Thanks to J.K.Gayle for a post at BLT Odd Gospel Greek: Jesus as a Jew – ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, which prompted me to study this issue.

In most Bible translations the Greek word Ioudaios is translated consistently as “Jew”. Some more recent translations, such as TNIV and the NIV 2011 update, render the term in other ways, such as “Jewish leader”, in some places especially in the gospel of John. On this point, see Joel Hoffmann’s post Which Jews Opposed Jesus? – although I don’t agree with all of Hoffmann’s conclusions.

The Greek Ioudaios corresponds to the Hebrew Yehudi, used in the Hebrew Bible but almost exclusively in the post-exilic books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Zechariah. This Hebrew word refers to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, Yehuda, to people exiled from that kingdom, or to the people of the restored post-exilic state of Judah. People from the northern parts of Israel, i.e. from Samaria or Galilee, are never referred to as Yehudi.

By New Testament times this southern part of the land of Israel, the area surrounding Jerusalem and to the south, was known in Greek as Ioudaia, “Judea” or “Judaea”. Ioudaios is, at least in its form, the adjective derived from Ioudaia, and so can be expected to mean “Judean”. It is indeed used as an adjective in this way in, for example John 3:22, “Judean land” = “Judea”. But the word is used more commonly as a noun, referring to people, and it is these references which are generally translated “Jew”.

In fact the word Ioudaios is rather rare in the first three Gospels. Matthew (27:11,29,37), Mark (15:2,9,12,18,26) and Luke (23:3,37,38) use it mainly concerning the title “King of the Ioudaioi“, given to Jesus at his trial before Pilate – this title will be discussed again in the next part of this series. Matthew also refers to Jesus as “King of the Ioudaioi” in his infancy narrative (2:2). In Luke 23:51 Arimathaea, in Judea, is described as a city of the Ioudaioi.

Only in Matthew 28:15, Mark 7:3 and Luke 7:3 do we meet characters in the story called Ioudaioi. The first two of these references may well be to people from Judea (compare Mark 7:1) rather than to Jewish people in general. In Luke 7:3, however, we have the only example in the synoptic Gospels where Ioudaios is most likely used in a religious sense, to distinguish these religious Jewish elders from the Gentile centurion who sent them.

However, it is in the Gospel of John that the great majority of the Gospel references to Ioudaios are found. I look at these references in part 2 of this series., and then conclude my discussion in part 3.

So what is the central message of the Bible?

Yesterday, in my post No, Mr C, that’s not the central message of the Bible, I wrote that Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t seem to know what that central message is. But I made no attempt to state what I think it is. So it is with good reason that Archdruid Eileen, in her own post The Central Message of the Bible, asks:

But if some nice words about being good aren’t the central message of the Bible, what is? Is there a central message at all?

A family Bible from 1859Now those are very good questions, especially the second one. Does the Bible have a central message? Or is it just a collection of different documents each with their own central message? It certainly is such a collection. But it is not a random collection: the books were chosen, under God’s providence, to convey an overall message, the story of God’s dealings with humanity from the beginning to the coming end. And this message, as it is a coherent one, can be summarised and its central point can be found.

So what is this central message? The Bible does include the words which Cameron chose to write out, and also some rather different sentiments which the Archdruid notes. How can we say which, if any, of these are central? I suppose that is a matter for literary analysis, a subject in which I would not consider myself an expert. But I can still offer my tentative opinion. And this is based on the idea that the focal point of a narrative is usually not at the centre but towards the end, after an extended build-up, but also not at the very end because there is usually some kind of epilogue.

On that basis, the focus of the Bible is not on the Old Testament, which is an extended build-up, but also not in the latter parts of the New Testament. That tends to suggest that it can be found in the four gospels. Then within each of these gospels we can look for the central message. Each of them (at least if we include the longer ending of Mark) consists of a long build-up and a short epilogue, and in the focal position there are two climactic events, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Is one of these two more central than the other? Well, that is the point of the series which I recently started, and intend to continue, Cross or Resurrection. So here I will only give a sneak preview of the conclusions I expect to reach in that series, that these two are equal in importance, in the Bible as well as in the Christian life.

I note also what the Apostle Paul considered too be “of first importance”, with the cross and the resurrection given equal place:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)

So, I would conclude that the central message of the Bible is very simple: Jesus was put to death on the cross and rose again from the dead.

No, Mr C, that's not the central message of the Bible

As the Guardian reports, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has contributed to the People’s Bible project, a copy of the King James Version handwritten by celebrities and ordinary people. Thanks for the link to David Keen on Twitter.

David Cameron at his home in OxfordshireApparently the PM ignored his office’s suggestions and chose his own verses to write. And this was his choice:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (KJV)

Now these are good sentiments for a top politician, who should hopefully not just “think on these things” but also put them into practice. But I am concerned by the following words, a spokesman’s explanation of Cameron’s choices:

The reason he chose those verses is because he’s always liked them.

They contain the central message of the Bible about leading good lives and helping each other as best we can. There is no hidden meaning and I wouldn’t read between the lines.

No, Mr Cameron, that is not the central message of the Bible. So if this is really the whole reason why you chose these verses, then you clearly don’t have much understanding of the Scriptures.

This morning I read this on Google+:

To most Christians, the bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click “I agree.”

It seems as if, apart from a few favourite verses, that is what the Bible is to David Cameron. Without a firm scriptural foundation it is no wonder that his Christian faith, in his own words, “sort of comes and goes”.

But if Bible believing Christians keep out of politics, from fear of “dominionism” or compromise, then of course we can’t expect any better of those do who find their way into high office.

"In The Beginning": a section heading?

John H. WaltonIn his book Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology John H. Walton, as quoted by James Spinti, offers an interesting interpretation of the very first word of the Hebrew Bible, bereshit, generally translated “In the beginning”. Walton links this with the word toledot, usually rendered “generations” but perhaps meaning more like “story”:

bĕrēʾšît is a strikingly appropriate term to introduce a sequence that will be carried on by the tôlĕdôt transitions. It marks the very first period, with the tôlĕdôt phrases introducing each of the successive periods. If this be the case, the book would now have 12 formally marked sections (a number that is much more logical than 11). If the bĕrēʾšît clause is a marker comparable to the tôlĕdôt clauses, it could easily be seen as functioning in an independent clause, just like the tôlĕdôt clauses. The conclusion then is that it is an independent clause that functions as a literary marker to introduce the seven-day account, just as the tôlĕdôt phrase is a literary marker that introduces the passage that follows.

In other words, the suggestion is that Genesis can be divided into twelve sections, a symbolically significant number. And if bereshit is “an independent clause that functions as a literary marker”, it is not a part of the sentence “God created the heavens and the earth” but more like a section heading.

If this is true, Genesis should be divided not into the fifty chapters in our regular Bibles but into twelve chapters of uneven length, with the following titles (regular English chapter and verse references in parentheses):

  1. In the beginning (1:1-2:3)
  2. The story of the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26)
  3. The story of Adam (5:1-6:8)
  4. The story of Noah (6:9-9:29)
  5. The story of the sons of Noah (10:1-11:9)
  6. The story of Shem (11:10-26)
  7. The story of Terah (11:27-25:11)
  8. The story of Ishmael (25:12-18)
  9. The story of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
  10. The story of Esau (36:1-8)
  11. The story of Esau (36:9-37:1)
  12. The story of Jacob (37:2-50:26)

In each case, it should be noted, the story of an individual (male in every case) includes the stories of his family during his lifetime, while he was head of the clan. In many cases the story concludes with the man’s death. But it is unclear why there is no separate story of Abraham, starting after the account of his father’s death 11:32 – nor why there are two separate stories of Esau. Nevertheless this kind of analysis of the book should be helpful for readers.

The more profound implication of this analysis is that it offers a third interpretation of the first verse of the Bible, to put alongside “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NIV etc) and “When God began to create the heavens and the earth” (CEB etc). We could almost translate as follows:

Chapter One

God created the heavens and the earth.

N.T. Wright: Paul doesn't direct women to teach

N.T. WrightAt the new BLT blog Theophrastus has posted about Deduction and Tom Wright’s Translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and Suzanne McCarthy has responded. Yesterday I also responded to Theo, but only to one thing which he wrote, the UK publication and title of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone. Now, as I promised yesterday, I want to discuss the main substance of Theo’s post, Wright’s take on 1 Timothy 2.

This, according to Theophrastus, is Wright’s rendering of verses 11 and 12:

They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God.  I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.

Compare this with NIV 2011:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

ESV differs mainly by reading “exercise authority” rather than “assume authority”, for the Greek authentein. And it is that one word difference which has been the focus of huge controversy over the last few years, and indeed has provided the main grounds on which Denny Burk has rejected and condemned NIV 2011.

The innovative part of Wright’s translation is something different, in his rendering of the Greek ouk epitrepo not as “I do not permit” but as “I’m not saying that … should”. In other words, he understands epitrepo not as “permit” but as something like “direct”. But is this a plausible translation of the Greek? Theophrastus quotes Wright’s “rather extensive discussion of his reasoning in translating the passage this way”, but at least in the rather extensive quotation Wright offers no justification for his rendering of the Greek. Well, this is a commentary “for everyone”. But he does offer an interesting alternative paraphrase of verse 12:

I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.

So perhaps here Wright is suggesting that epitrepo means something like “appoint”.

But what does this Greek word mean? The gloss in Barclay Newman’s Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament is simple: “let, allow, permit”, and that seems to fit with the 18 New Testament occurrences of the word. But the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon of classical Greek gives a rather different picture of the meaning of this word, within the Greek language as a whole. Here is a summary of its definitions:

A 1. to turn to or towards; to overturn upon.
2. turn over to, transfer, bequeath.
3. commit, entrust to another as trustee, guardian, or vicegerent; also a son for education; refer a legal issue to any one.
4. c. dat. only, rely upon, leave to ; refer the matter to a person, leave it to his arbitration.
5. Med., entrust oneself, leave one’s case to; also, to entrust what is one’s own to another.
6. Pass., to be entrusted.
B 1. give up, yield; later c. inf., permit, suffer: abs., give way.
2. intr., give way.
C. command.

Senses A5 and A6 don’t apply here as the verb is active. Sense A4 “rely on”, which might fit Wright’s interpretation, is attested only from several centuries before the New Testament. The “later” version of sense B1 corresponds to Newman’s “let, allow, permit”. But this was not the only sense of the word in Hellenistic Greek, as LSJ cites two second century AD papyrus examples as evidence for its sense C “command”. I note that in many, but not all, of the other New Testament occurrences “command” fits just as well as “allow”; in Mark 10:4 epitrepo is used where the parallel in Matthew 19:7 is entellomai “command”.

So can the controversy about 1 Timothy 2:12 be resolved by understanding epitrepo as “command” or “direct”? Wright seems to think so. But if he is to convince people of this, he needs to offer an explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context, and not rely on what people might infer from his renderings of the verse. And there is bound to be strong resistance in certain quarters to even the strongest of arguments which might undermine deeply entrenched patriarchal understandings of the church.

Jesus didn't mean 'nation-state' – nor does Wagner

When I was working as one of a Bible translation team in a former Soviet republic, one of the local team members questioned the use in an Old Testament draft of a word meaning “nation”, referring to Egypt. She told me that she had learned, no doubt in her Soviet era political classes, that the concept of “nation” was a modern one. I asked her what she thought were the characteristics of a “nation”. She mentioned such things as a single ethnic group and language and secure and stable borders. I could truthfully point out to her that ancient Egypt had all of these characteristics for thousands of years (in fact for longer than any modern nation state except possibly Japan). She withdrew her objection.

The first part of the title of this post, “Jesus didn’t mean ‘nation-state'”, comes from a comment by Joel Watts on one of his own posts, and refers to these famous parting words of Jesus:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV 2011)

The United NationsIndeed the “all nations” of which we are called to make disciples are not to be identified with nation-states in the modern sense, or with the currently 193 member states of the United Nations. This is clear when we note that the modern “Westphalian system” in which land areas are divided into nation-states dates back only to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – and so after the word “nations” was used in the 1611 King James version (and probably in earlier versions) of Matthew 28:19. In the ancient world there had been some nation-states, even more or less according to modern definitions, such as Egypt and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but well before the time of Jesus these had been swallowed up by larger empires. So Jesus certainly didn’t mean “make disciples of all nation-states”.

But Joel, in the same comment, referred to

the urinating-poor translation of that section of Matthew.

He didn’t specify exactly what his objection is to the translation, nor for that matter which translation he was objecting to. But clearly at least part of his issue is with the word “nations” in verse 19, used in 22 of the 27 English versions at Bible Gateway. He seems to suggest that Bible readers will understand “nations” in this verse as a reference to modern nation-states. Well, perhaps some might. But the Google definition of “nation” does not imply the political organisation or single government characteristic of a modern nation-state:

  1. A large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory
    – leading industrialized nations
  2. A North American Indian people or confederation of peoples

Joel’s problem with the word “nations” seems to stem from a quote in his post from Peter Wagner:

Formerly, I thought my task was to go to as many nations of the world as possible and save as many souls as possible and plant as many churches as possible. Now I take the Great Commission more literally when it tells us not to make as many individual disciples as we can but to disciple whole social groups—such as entire nations. This is kingdom theology.

Joel’s fellow-blogger RODOFA (aka “Rod of Alexandria”) commented on the latter part of this quote:

See, this is exactly the problem with reading our views of the nation-state into scripture; its just not there.

C. Peter WagnerBut who exactly is “reading our views of the nation-state into scripture”? Certainly not Wagner, who is not at all referring to states or governments, but explicitly to “social groups”. The problem here seems to be that Rod and Joel are reading their views of the nation-state into Wagner’s words, whereas Wagner, a Bible scholar with an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary, was using the word “nations” in the same sense that Jesus was using it. And he surely knows very well that Jesus didn’t mean ‘nation-state’.

Joel blames bad translations for Wagner’s supposed misunderstanding of “nations” in the Bible. I blame Joel’s and Rod’s misunderstanding of the English word “nations”, as always meaning “nation-states”, for their misunderstanding of Peter Wagner’s theology, and their culpable misrepresentation of him as a “dominionist” with an interest in taking over governments of nation-states.

In fact, as I made clear in my previous post about him, Wagner has entirely repudiated the idea of the church running any nation-state. Rather, I’m sure he would agree, as I do, with Kay Sharpe’s words in a comment on Joel’s post:

Discipling nations starts with people getting saved, healed, delivered, set free – God lays it out there pretty nicely in Isaiah 58 and 61. In order to disciple someone, one must have their heart. In order to disciple nations, we must gain the heart of the nation. We do that by setting individuals free… who in turn set more individuals free… who in turn… until it becomes neighborhoods and people groups and states and then nations.

Is the Bible always right?

Jeremy Myers posts I am Always Right, but don’t worry, those are not his own sentiments. They are an echo of Rush Limbaugh’s words but intended more as an echo of what some people claim about the Bible. They serve as an introduction to Jeremy’s forthcoming series on the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.

The Bible is always rightImage courtesy of James McGrath

I don’t yet know what Jeremy is going to say about this doctrine. But I can guess his general line from what he has recently written about the inspiration of Scripture, in a series of posts starting with How you can know the Bible is Divine Revelation and continuing to Why the KJV is an Inspired Translation, all found in Jeremy’s category Bibliology.

I had meant to respond to some of these posts, but they kept coming so quickly that I could barely keep up with reading them. That was very much worthwhile because of Jeremy’s fresh and humorous approach to exploring what it means to say that the Bible is inspired. He finds some important weaknesses in the traditional evangelical teaching about inspiration. I am not entirely convinced by his conclusion that “inspired” means little more than “inspiring”. But perhaps his position will become more clear as the series on inerrancy proceeds.

Gay Marriage and the Wrath of God

Yesterday I posted here about Jim West, Miley Cyrus and the Wrath of God. At the end of my post I suggested that Romans 1:18 and following does not imply a clear condemnation of gay marriage, especially if the wrath of God is understood in the way that Jim West suggested.

In a comment on that post Gordon challenged me to explain the exegesis of that passage on which I based my remarks. As I stated in my comment in reply, that exegesis is “a tentative suggestion rather than a firm conclusion”. It is also offered from Jim’s viewpoint and so presupposing his view of the wrath of God. But I will offer here some further explanation.

Jim wrote, and I quoted, that

the wrath of God is God allowing people to reap what they sow.  In short, the worst thing that can happen to you is, well, you.

That implies that in Romans 1:18 (all quotations here from NIV 2011) “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” means not so much “God is exercising his wrath” as “God is showing people that he is allowing them to reap what they sow”. The following preposition epi is usually translated “against” but more literally means “on to” and can probably here be understood as “concerning”.

On this basis verse 24 can probably be taken as the content of what is being revealed, that “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” Thus God’s wrath is to be understood not as sending these people to hell, but as allowing them follow their sinful desires. In the words of Hultgren quoted by Jim,

The wrath of God consists in God’s not stopping or rescuing people in their wrongdoing.

Note that in this verse “them” refers back to the gender neutral anthropoi “people” of verse 18, men and women, and so verse 24 is not about homosexual practice but more generally about sexual immorality. In verses 26 and 27 homosexual practices are introduced, but only as examples of a broader phenomenon. The last part of verse 27, “[they] received in themselves the due penalty for their error”, very likely refers not just to the gay men of the first part of the verse but to the “them” of the first part of verse 26, in other words to all ungodly people as in verses 18 and 28.

Miley Cyrus' gay marriage finger tattooSo what does this have to say about gay marriage? Miley Cyrus has expressed her support for this with a tweet that “All LOVE is equal” and a finger tattoo. Does the Bible support this idea? Perhaps it is not quite as negative as it might at first seem. We read in verse 26 that it is God who gave people over to “shameful lusts” including homosexual ones. This suggests that homosexual orientation comes from God, although more as a curse than as a blessing.

So if God brings a gay or lesbian couple together, let them be together. To quote Jesus’ words, “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).