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1 Corinthians 6:12-20

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to address issues related to sexual immorality in the church debunking some false conceptions that they seem to have that Paul expresses in a series of quotations in the first couple of verses. Now the starting and stopping point of the quotations is tricky to determine and I will go with Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner and re-punctuate the NRSV as follows:

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other.” The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 

Apparently the Corinthians believed that a) the body was transitory and b) their freedom from the Law meant they had no moral obligations in terms of bodily behaviors which extended as far as sexual behavior. In fact, the stomach is for food! Why bother having the…

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

You can read the text here.

Paul's continues to express his dismay at behavior exhibited in the Corinthian church. Apparently members of the church were suing other members in secular courts. In all likelihood, higher status members were taking advantage of lower status members this way. Succeeding in court in the Roman world required having the right contacts and bribery was not uncommon.[1] Paul clearly wants to shame the Corinthians, though it's hard to know exactly what he is driving at in verse 2 or 3. Thiselton thinks that he may be citing a Corinthian catchphrase about their role in judgment while Ciampa and Rosner take his statements about the role of the church in judging the world and even angels at face value. Another possibility Thiselton suggests is that their status as judges is derivative from their status in Christ. They judge 'in him.' Whichever way, the effect is the same. The Corinthians should have someone in the congregation capable of judging thes…

Books of the Year: 2017

Continuing on last year's trend, I did not read a lot of exegetical works, but was much more focused on historical theology, this time from the Reformation period and on. While the quantity of books that I read was low, I felt that the overall quality was very high. Anyways, on to the list!

5. Transformation: The Heart of Paul's Gospel by David deSilva


I recommended this book to our pastoral staff. It's a very nice, short, accessible book that's grounded in solid scholarship that argues that transformation is at the heart of the gospel. deSilva finishes the book with a strong challenge that forces us to think hard about whether or not our view of money has been transformed by the gospel.

4. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


Steinbeck is the greatest American author. While I enjoyed East of Eden more, I understand why many consider the Grapes of Wrath to be his best work. It is chilling and every bit as relevant now as it was when first penned. The closing scene still hau…

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

You can read the text here.

Paul now moves on to other issues that he has to address, starting with the shock and outrage he has over the situation where a man in the congregation was having a sexual relationship with his step-mother.[1] This was just not permissible, not in secular society and certainly not in the church. The only appropriate response by the Corinthians would have been public mourning either to shame the man into leaving voluntarily (if he was not willing to repent) or as a precursor to his removal.[2] In spite of all of this the Corinthians were still proud.

Not willing to waste any more time, empowered and present by the shared Spirit, Paul issues the verdict in the name of the Lord Jesus - guilty! The Corinthians just need to ratify his decision and turn the man over to Satan by excluding him from the church so that he might learn from his mistakes and change his life resulting in his salvation.

It is not just for the man's sake that this must happen. His sinf…

Judgment is Coming

James 2:1-13

My brothers and sisters,[a] do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?[b]2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”[c]4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.[d] Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neigh…

1 Corinthians 4:6-21

You can read the text here.

Paul's opening volley concerning status seeking comes to a close in this section, focusing on the issue of judgment again. He knows that Paul and Apollos will be judged by God for the quality of their ministry, as will the Corinthian leaders. That is why Paul will not go on beyond "what has been written," the foolish message of God's wisdom promised in the Old Testament and revealed in the cross.[1] Human judgment is meaningless in the grand scheme of things and Paul is trying to lead by example so the Corinthians will stop posturing. After all, the status that really matters they possess as a gift from God, by his grace.[2]

Now, in biting irony, Paul accuses the Corinthians of inflated self-worth and posturing. If only they were as great as they projected themselves as, for then Paul and Apollos would certainly be great along with them! In fact the opposite is true in the eyes of the world. Paul and Apollos are as lowly as the worst crimi…

Barth on the Mystery of the Word of God

It is for this reason and in this sense that we finally speak of the Word of God as the mystery of God. The issue is not an ultimate "assuring" but always a penultimate "de-assuring" of theology, or, as one might put it, a theological warning against theology, a warning against the idea that its propositions or principles are certain in themselves like the supposed axioms of the mathematicians and the physicists, and are not rather related to their theme and content, which alone are certain, which they cannot master, by which they must be mastered if they are not to be mere soap bubbles.

CD 1.1 Section 5.4

1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5

You can read the text here.

Self deception is a serious issues, so Paul continues to address the issues of factions and status seeking head on, reminding them that God's values are the opposite of the world's. Worldly wisdom isn't anything to boast about, if anything it's something to be ashamed of.[1] God is the one who bestows status upon them, and the status they possess is co-heirs with Christ, which means that everything belongs to them, since Jesus is Lord of all. That includes teachers whom they have allied themselves with. In this step Paul has relativized the importance of leaders in the grand scheme of things.[2] It also includes things not commonly under human control, like life and death, and the age to come. The status of the Corinthians is actually much greater than they realized, if only they could get their focus off of their petty squabbles.

Paul continues his re-orientation of their perceptions by telling them how to view him and Apollos; like servant…

1 Corinthians 3:5-17

You can read the text here.

Paul circles back to drive the point home regarding factionalism that he sprung up as different groups pledged allegiance to different leaders. Paul and Apollos aren't anything special that will help the Corinthians raise their status. They're in fact mere servants and following them should bring disrepute in the world's eyes.[1] While Paul and Apollos played an important role, it's secondary to the role played by God who is the one they should be solely focused on. God will give Paul and Apollos their due, who, after all, are on the same team!

Paul and Apollos are trying to build a temple worthy of the living God. The foundation was laid by Paul; the message of the cross preached in a fashion that the focus was on Jesus and not on Paul. Apollos and others built on it. Some, like Paul, built well. Some didn't. God can tell the difference. Those who built in a fashion in line with human wisdom and status seeking built with poor materials …

Tradition Preserves Orthodoxy

As I've grown older I've come to see that not all of the fruit of the Reformation is positive. The emphasis on sola scriptura, particularly has had serious effects. In 1994 Wayne Grudem published his systematic theology text book. It has been a standard text used in Bible colleges and seminaries across the US for decades. In this text he promotes a doctrine of the Trinity that is essentially Arian. Why did this not become a big deal until 2016? How could heresy have been taught in countless Bible colleges, seminaries, and churches with almost no one noticing? You can find isolated cases of push back earlier (like my teacher, Graham Cole back in 2010 - note while Evangelical he is also an Anglican) but no widespread outcry came until last year! It's easy to see how this can happen in the Evangelical movement because the sola scriptura principle has developed in such a way that the tradition has been ignored almost across the board. Over the past few years I've read a lo…

1 Corinthians 3:1-4

You can read the text here.

This is one of the more challenging passages in the letter. Thiselton, as usual was extremely helpful, and what I write hear is roughly in line with his comments.

The Corinthians had a problem.  The church had factions supporting different teachers. These factions were competing for status and claiming superiority. Paul's speech, in opposition to Apollos' (presumably) was rather unimpressive by the rhetorical standards of the day. He certainly wasn't the type of teacher who would help the Corinthian Christians get ahead in the eyes of the world.

Paul dubs this way of thinking as infantile and opposed to the ways of the Spirit. He wants them to grow up and act their age so he can build on the good foundation that he and other teachers had laid. Until the Corinthians were ready to give up their status seeking (one thinks here of Jesus' words, 'the first shall be last') they were never going to grow into all that God desired for them.

O…

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

You can read the text here.

Paul continues his discussion of the nature of the message of the cross and its relationship with the world. The Corinthians need their world view to be reshaped by the message via the agency of the Holy Spirit.

God's wisdom is of a different sort than the wisdom that they knew before following Jesus. It's insight into the way things really are and who is really the king in opposition to what the powers pursue and believe to be true.[1] If the powers had understood that self-sacrifice was the way to true glory, and that God was truly working through Jesus to bring peace and glory they would never would have crucified him. While they may think they have the glory, it's the ones who follow Jesus who actually will be glorified in the end![2]

We know the truth, but only because we, as the church, have the Spirit who reveals it to us. It is only through God's Spirit that God can be known. Once we have his Spirit we evaluate everything differently…

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You can read the text here. Throughout I am deeply indebted to Thiselton's marvelous treatment of this section.

As we had seen earlier, the Corinthians were having trouble with factionalism. The antidote, in Paul's mind, is a reminder about the gospel they had received. Paul preached a powerful message, but only to those who saw it that way, to those who were transformed by it. Most did not see it that way. The message of a crucified Messiah seemed like the message of a failed Messiah to the Jews. To the Gentiles it sounded like a sure way to humiliation, not to an elevated status. But that wasn't God's way of seeing things, and that's all that matters is how God sees things. For the Corinthians, Paul's proclamation was a transformative event, one that should change the way they see and evaluate things. God subverts the ways of the world because he does not value what they value. The power of his love overcomes the folly of worldly pride.

Paul goes on to remind…

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

You can read the text here.

In the next section Paul addresses one of his major concerns in the letter, one which he has already hinted at, namely, unity. The issue here isn't theological, so when Paul says he wants them all to be in agreement, he isn't talking about some doctrinal issue. The word has more political overtones. He wants them to all take the same side, or be on the same team, working towards a common goal.[1]

The Corinthians had been at odds with one another. They had split into factions that magnified one spiritual leader or another.[2] No matter how great the teacher, s/he is not to replace Jesus as the one to follow. Schism elevates the teacher over Jesus.[3] Our unity is in Jesus, not in a teacher or person. Same with our status. It is God who confers our status as co-heirs with Christ. It is a status that is given freely and makes relative all other statuses that we possess.

Paul's role was to preach the gospel of Jesus, and not in a way that sought to …

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

You can read the text here. For those following along at home, for this series I'll be leaning on the commentaries of Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner. I'd love to be wrapped up by the end of June, but no promises.

Paul opens the first extant letter we have between him and the Corinthians by mentioning his calling by God to his apostleship.[1] Paul has been called, just like them, for a purpose. Paul's calling is to be an authoritative representative of Jesus, theirs is holiness. The Corinthian call is the same call that goes out to all Christians everywhere: to be holy in Christ. After all they and we are God's church, not the church of any particular personality. Jesus was their Lord. These are the two foundations of unity, belonging to God and holiness. As Thiselton notes, this picture minimizes notions of autonomy of the local church. All churches are part of a whole.

Paul is grateful for the work that he has seen carried out in the Corinthians. They have been given…

Another Personal Update

About 2 weeks back I finished up my Masters of Applied Statistics, so that means that I will have a lot more time on my hands. This will mean a significant increase in posting to this blog. I am going to start a series on 1 Corinthians much the series I had done on Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. I would expect a post most weeks, even if not quite weekly. I'll also do occasional book reviews. These won't be at quite the same regularity as they used to be for two reasons. First, my wife is no longer a professor, so I don't have library access anymore and have to buy anything I want to read. Second, most of my reading will still be focused on the Exploring the Christian Way of Life series.

The timing of finishing school is good for me in that regard. By early next year I'll be up to Karl Barth who will be followed by Balthasar. Reading those two will take an inordinate amount of time. If I am able to complete a review of their Christology by the end of 2018 and f…

Penal Substitution (at least Calvin's version) Contradicts the Trinity?

I have been working on my next paper on Christology. Calvin's doctrine of penal substitution is central to his Christology. This has got me thinking. Does it implicitly deny the Trinity (at least an Orthodox version like Aquinas's)? Consider the following argument. It seems sound to me:

1.The only distinctions between persons in the Trinity is the way they relate to each other. 2.Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution affirms a debt payment made from Son to Father. 3.Debt payment is a financial metaphor that necessarily depends on the concept of accounts or stores of a commodity that can be used for payment. 4.For the payment to be real (i.e., not fictive) the Son and Father must have separate accounts.
5.Conclusion: Points 1 and 4 are in contradiction to each other since separate accounts go beyond relations.
I'd love to hear rebuttals.

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Calvin on Loving Your Neighbor

I ran across this paragraph yesterday when reading Calvin's Institutes. This is from book 2, chapter 6, section 55. It needs to be heard today as much as at any other time. Emphasis mine.

But I say: we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves. When we turn aside from such contemplation, it is no wonder we become entangled in many errors. Therefore, if we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God, who bids us to extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must yet love him because we love God.

Calvin nailed the interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It's amazing how it still speaks today and rebuke…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Peter Lombard

From here we will fast forward to Peter Lombard. I realize I am skipping over several Christological controversies. I don’t view them as relevant for our purposes because they were either overly technical and seeking precision over matters I don’t view as important, or the views under discussion will come under discussion at some point in this or a future paper when discussing some of our key theologians, so I will leave them until then.[1]

The Lombard may seem like a bit of an odd choice. He’s certainly not one to be charged with originality. However, no work was more influential in shaping medieval theology than his Sentences. He also serves as a prime example of traditional orthodoxy and is particularly clear and consistent with his terminology.[2] Additionally, I believe the depth of his thought has been underappreciated.

Peter’s key source was Augustine, so there’s a high level of agreement between the two. Particularly noticeable is their unwavering commitment to divine unity, w…