Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God's Love in Jude 1

Jude 1 reads, 'Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:' (TNIV). The big debate in this verse is over the phrase ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ ἠγαπημένοις which the TNIV translates 'who are loved in God the Father' (the NASB, ESV, RSV, and NRSV are similar). The NIV translates the phrase 'who are loved by God the Father' (as does the HCSB). The question is on how to best translate 'ἐν in this case, is it 'in' or 'by?' Commentators are split, with Bauckham and Davids following the TNIV and translating it 'in.' Reese and Green go with 'by.'

If you're interested in the argument based on Greek, it follows in the rest of this paragraph. Green claims that the translation 'by' because in this case ἐν plus a dative expresses personal agent. Bauckham and Davids suggest that if Jude wanted to say 'loved by God', there was a much more natural way to do so in this instance. He could have used ὑπὸ instead of ἐν.

There are a couple of other texts that point in the direction of using 'in.' In verse 21 Jude exhorts his readers to , 'keep yourselves in God's love.' 1 John expresses similar ideas of being 'in God' (c.f., 1 Jn 2:24; 3:24; 4:13, 15, 16) as does John 15. Thus there is precedent for the concept of being loved in God.

The difference between the two is significant. If the majority of translations are right (which I think they probably are), then Jude is stressing that we experience God's love through the intimate relationship we have with him as our father. Everything about the verse is stressing this relational aspect, and the preposition serves to intensify it. Before Jude warns the beloved of the judgment awaiting the infiltrators and those who follow them he wants to give them the strongest assurance he can of God's love for them and that the relationship they have with God is still in tact.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Giving Thanks to the Glory of God

While commenting on Jonah 2:2-9, a psalm of thanksgiving, Elizabeth Achtemeier says, "The basic meaning of 'to give thanks' in Hebrew thought was 'to confess,' and so God was not properly thanked until the deliverance was recounted in the congregation and it was inspired to praise God's name" (Achtemeier p. 271). I think that this is an excellent reminder of how thanksgiving is supposed to function. So often when we see God move on our behalf our thanksgiving is only uttered to him. But the ancient Israelites thought, I believe rightly, that we haven't properly thanked God until we have shared how God has wondrously worked with the rest of our believing (and unbelieving!) community and shared in a way which compels others to worship and praise God. God does not work in our lives for our benefit alone. He works that he may be glorified, and part of how he is glorified is through the praises of those who hear of his marvelous deeds.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Future of Missions?

This past week in formation group we had a special guest for 'Global Christian Week.' Tim Taylor, founder and director of Coffee Ambassadors came to present a new model for doing missions that he considers the future of missions, that is business as missions.

What is business as missions? Business as missions is starting for profit businesses that are not first and foremost concerned about making money. They aim to reflect Christ in the way they do business, specifically they do business ethically and with the goal of having a positive impact on the lives of all who they come in contact with and ultimately building relationships through which they can share the gospel. Perhaps it would be easiest to explain through the example of what Tim is doing in Coffee Ambassadors.

Coffee is the number two traded commodity in the world. Typically, coffee is bought from farmers in the developing world for a low price, traded several times along the way, and then purchased by coffee roasters. Each individual along the way takes some profit. What Coffee Ambassadors does is to go in and work directly with the farmers (called 'direct trade' which is different than fair trade, but for the sake of space I won't get into that here) and pays them much higher prices for their coffee. They can do this since the middle man is out of the way. They also work with the farmers on ways to improve their coffee so that they can charge a higher price for it. Through this, they help local farmers by paying them more, which in turn helps local economies. At the same time, they are building relationships with these farmers through which they can share the gospel. As an aside, 73% of unreached people groups reside in areas that grow coffee.

What do you think of this form of missions? I like it because it focuses on the whole picture. It's not just about saving souls, it redeems the entire man. It helps people regain a sense of dignity that is often lost through the unethical way trade is often done, which I believe comes full circle and is a powerful testimony to the work of Christ in our lives. What do you think? What do you see as some of the advantages and drawbacks of this approach?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finding Our Way Through Genesis One

Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of The American Scientific Association's Wheaton-Naperville chapter. The ASA is an association of Christians in science who take both their faith and science seriously. The speaker for the event was Dr. John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. He spoke on his book, The Lost World Of Genesis One. I have not yet read the book (I hope to do so in the near future), but if the book substantiates the claims Walton made during the talk, it could prove to be, for evangelicals, the single most important book of the decade.

I will give a brief outline of the main points he made during his talk but first we have some matters of definition to deal with. The basic issue is whether Genesis 1 recounts material creation or functional creation. Material creation is God making stuff (e.g.., I created a chair - meaning I took pieces of wood and built a chair). Functional creation is God assigning already existing things function (e.g., 'create in me a pure heart' - purity is not a material item, it's changing the way we function, creating purity in us). Walton's contention is that the account of Genesis 1 is an account of functional creation. I'll hit just a few of his points that I thought were convincing

1. Genesis 1:3-5 describes God creating light. Verse 5 is odd. God names the light day and the darkness night. Why doesn't God name them light and dark? Why name light, 'day?' What God is naming is not light as a physicist would describe it. He's naming a period of light, namely what we call day. Thus verses 3-5 are assigning light and darkness a function; keeping time. Walton makes similar types of arguments for each day of creation.

2. The verb "bara'" - 'create' in Hebrew, never unambiguously refers to material creation. On many occasions it refers unambiguously to functional creation. There are several cases where it is ambiguous, but the lack of clear cases where "bara'" means materially create militates against understanding Genesis 1 as an account of material creation.

3. Another very helpful point Walton brought up was comparisons with Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Creation is functional in other ANE texts. For example, in the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation account, nothing is physically made. Thus not only does the verb "bara'" not suggest material creation, the ancient Israelites' cultural context points away from it. Ancient people were not very interested in material origins. They were more concerned with functions. Who made things work the way they do? The answer according to Genesis 1 is Yahweh. God gave function to the heavens and the earth so that he could reside in the cosmos, his temple (c.f., Ps. 132:13-18), but the cosmos is created in such a way that it functions that it does not serve him alone, it's set up to be functional for us as we steward his creation.

Why is this so important? If Genesis 1 is not an account of material creation, then no such account exists in the Bible. This means that Genesis 1 does not prohibit Bible believing Christians from accepting the scientific evidence in favor of evolution, for God can work through a long slow process like evolution if he wanted to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NT Quotations of the OT and Cultural Context

As a follow up to my previous post I would now like to ask the question, 'must we interpret OT texts that are referred to in the NT the same was as the NT author?' This is a difficult question, but when placed in the larger framework of the interpretation of the New Testament use of the Old Testament, it becomes easier to handle.

When the NT cites an OT passage, are we required to say that the original meaning of the OT passage includes the sense given it by the NT author? In Three Views on the NT Use of the OT both Darrell Bock and Peter Enns (in my opinion) successfully argue, 'no.' One can think of Paul's usage of Genesis 13:14-16 in Galatians 3:16, 29. There he plays on the fact that 'zera (offspring) is a collective noun in the Hebrew interpreting the word in two different senses 13 verses apart. In Paul's cultural context this type of exegesis was acceptable. In ours it typically isn't. This doesn't in any way invalidate Paul's theological point, it's just that the way Paul argues and the way we might argue if we didn't have Galatians would probably be different due to different cultural settings.

Does this help us out in Romans 5? The difference between Paul's understanding of Adam as a literal historical figure and mine, which does not see him as a specific historical figure is not a question of exegetical method per se. I would suggest that the difference in outcome is based on my worldview inherent in my cultural setting. I live in the age of science, Paul didn't. That's not to say that Paul would have agreed with me if he lived today, he may or may not have, we'll never know. However, Paul's understanding of Adam as an actual person is grounded in his cultural setting as a Jew and this is part of the incarnational aspect of Scritpure. I'm not questioning the theological point Paul makes, I'm just suggesting that we are not bound to the exact form of argument, when the argument is steeped in a 1st century Jewish worldview. Similarly we're not bound to an identical method of usage of the Old Testament. We need to use the OT in a way that makes sense in our current cultural setting.

I was going to deal with the issue of inerrancy in relation to Romans 5 and not understanding Adam and Eve as literal people, but Jeremy Pierce has handled it wonderfully in his comment dated 9/22/2009 at 6:04pm. If you're interested in that issue I refer you there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A difficult question, but we'll take them as they come

Today there was an interesting post on Justin Taylor's blog where he posts a video where Tremper Longman suggests that the existence of a historical Adam and Eve is an open question. The question was then raised, what do we do with passages like Romans 5:12-13 which presupposes a historical reading of Genesis 1-3? As one who does not think that a literal Adam and Eve existed I find this to be a very interesting and important question.

The first thing to point out is that Paul is making an analogy, 'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man...' (Rom 5:12a - TNIV). This is made clear in verse 18 when Paul picks up this thought again (5:13-17 are a digression - see e.g., Schreiner p. 268) saying, 'Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people...' (Rom 5:18a - TNIV). The 'just as' at the start of each clause signals that Paul is making an analogy. Does the analogy break down if there was no historical Adam?

Let's take a quick aside and examine another use of analogy in the NT. What about Jesus and the sign of Jonah? Does Jesus reference to the sign of Jonah require that Jonah have been in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights in reality? Why isn't it enough that in the story Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights? The analogy still works. It still gets across Jesus point that he will rise again from the dead in three days. Similarly, while not an analogy, Jude can cite a non-canonical text like 1 Enoch that certainly is not historical (see Jude 1:14) to make a point.

Thus, analogies and comparisons in general do not need historical referrents to make a valid, true, point. Obviously, though, I have not proved that this is the case in every instance or even in Romans 5. What's Paul's point in this section of Romans 5? He's attempting to show that all human beings subsequent to Adam have entered a world alienated from God and thus we commit sin which alienates us from God; and Christ undoes all of that. Does this argument require that a literal Adam have existed? Could Genesis 3 be a metaphorical way for explaining that somehow humanity fell, it sinned, it failed to achieve it's God given purpose (a suggestion, if my memory serves me right, allowed by Henri Blocher in Original Sin - if I'm wrong let me know and I'll correct it)? Would not Paul's argument still work? His point seems to remain in tact.

I realize this post leaves many other questions left unaddressed, I hope to address some of them in the next couple of posts.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

First Things

Hello everyone. This is the first of what I hope to be many posts, Lord willing. I guess I should begin with three things, an introduction of myself, a hint at the direction of the blog, and a justification for blogging.

I am a first year mdiv student attending part time at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. I also work full time as a programmer and project manager at a marketing research firm in downtown Chicago. I've been happily married for three years to my wife Sung.

What will I post on this blog? My interests are theology (especially hermeneutics, doctrine of God, doctrine of Scripture, and ethics), sports, and rock music, but theology will probably be the main area of discussion. I love the Bible, and I love to engage in interpretation of Scripture. Expect to see a lot of that here, both in general discussion of Biblical interpretation and interpretation of specific texts. I hope that it will be enriching to all who read, and that I will benefit from your thoughts, questions, and criticisms. Scriptural interpretation is a community endeavor. Therefore, I don't see this blog as a one way street, with me relaying information to you. I hope you respond and that we both grow in faith and holiness.
This brings me to my last point.

Why am I blogging? It's not because I think I know so much or am special in my ability to interpret the Bible. At the same time, I do have a greater opportunity to study and think about God's word than some of you do. I hope that I can encourage and strengthen you through what God has taught and continues to teach me. Through that process I also hope that God uses you all to sharpen me.