Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Why did you?" or "Why didn't you?"

When I was an elder in a church I naturally dealt with questions of baptism, membership, and communion.

Consider baptism, although the same discussion applies to membership and communion.

You know how there are two types of people in the world, those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't? Well there are also two types when it comes to these sorts of questions:

Type 1: Those who act as if, when they meet God, they fear the question: Why did you baptize X? more than the question Why didn't you baptize X?

Type 2: Those who act as if, when they meet God, they fear the question: Why didn't you baptize X? more than the question Why did you baptize X?

I don't know what's right here, but I was definitely Type 2. I would rather have erred on the side of baptizing by mistake rather than, though my very fallible discernment, refusing to baptize a believer.

I would base that on the following:

  1. Baptisms in the New Testament appear to be almost immediate. There was no time allotted to probe the authenticity of a testimony or question the person on any finer points of theology. It was believe and be baptized. As in, right now, or maybe, at most, we wait to the morning.
  2. When it was a mistake, as in Simon the magician, there was no weeping and gnashing of teeth. That was a perfect teachable moment to explain why we need to be very careful whom we baptize. Instead it was like, "meh--toss the bum out and let's move on."
  3. My reading of scriptures pertaining to the sacraments and membership leads me to believe the onus is on the person, not the or pastor, to partake in a worthy manner. Except for case where I know the person to be in unrepentant sin, I am not concerned about giving communion to someone who shouldn't have it--they should be concerned about that.

Having said all that I am sympathetic to those Type 1 folk who take a more cautious approach. I don't agree, but it's entirely possibly that they are right and I am wrong.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Parables of Jesus Part 7 (The Rich Fool PART I)

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3
Parables of Jesus, Part 4
Parables of Jesus, Part 5
Parables of Jesus, Part 6

I don't covet; there are just things I want desperately that I can't have.
Therefore, you preachers, out with your swords and strike at the root. Speak against covetousness, and cry out upon it. Stand not ticking and toying at the branches nor at the boughs, for then there will new boughs and branches spring again of them; but strike at the root, and fear not these giants of England, these great men and men of power, these men that are oppressors of the poor; fear them not, but strike at the root of all evil, which is mischievous covetousness – Hugh Latimer  (c. 1487 –1555)

The Rich Fool (PART I)

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ( Luke 12:13-21)

Unlike most wisdom parables that contrast wisdom and foolishness, this parable is all about the latter.

The Introduction

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge over you?”
Was this man wronged by his brother (and appealing to the law in Deuteronomy that allowed for a rabbi to serve as judge/attorney in a dispute) or was he trying to get Jesus to rewrite the law (judicial activism)—perhaps objecting to the older brother obtaining two portions of the inheritance?

The text doesn’t say, but the subsequent teaching favors the latter (or something like it) interpretation. For it is not wrong to ask for what is yours—but it is sinful to ask for more.

The dude's cluelessness

Jesus was put off by this request. He had just finished teaching amazing truths including (just three verses prior), this juicy nugget:

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
(Luke 12:10)

and it was if this man had not heard. He just wants to retain Jesus as his attorney. Jesus refused.

Why did Jesus refuse?

Calvin (Commentaries) gives three reasons why Jesus refused.
  1. The Jews imagined that Jesus would establish an Earthly kingdom. He did not want to do anything to perpetuate this error. His kingdom is not carnal (of this world), but spiritual.
  2. Jesus was drawing a distinction that he was to work for the “division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12). Secular jurisdiction and asset division is not his mission.
  3. Jesus saw that the man was selfishly attempting to use him as a judge for purely monetary reasons
Before getting to the actual parable, Jesus seizes the opportunity to teach about covetousness. The man sort of riled Jesus up.  So Jesus gives a weighty warning before the parable: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Coveting is the “wink and nod” sin of Christianity. It is a sin that we all can readily (and gravely) admit to without much guilt involved. However the narrative reminds us how seriously Jesus views covetousness. Not to mention that it is the 10th Commandment.

Coveting is no laughing matter

And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

Coveting is placed on a par with sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, etc. It is entirely possible that we take this sin way too lightly.

Et tu Paul?

Paul agrees.

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. (Rom 1:29)

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. (Rom 7:7-8)

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints
. (Eph 5:3)

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

For you may
be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Eph 5:5)

OK, OK, OK, I grasp the concept!

(To be continued)


Thursday, October 20, 2016

What did Jesus know, and when did he know it? (REPOST)

This was posted back in 2005. It is linked by theopedia under kenosis, which is kind of cool.

One of the more interesting sayings of Jesus is found at the end of the Olivet discourse. In Mark’s account, we read, in chapter 13:
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13: 24-33)
This passage concerns what many describe as the great tribulation, and it parallels the account in Matthew 24. Some might say that this passage contains two difficult phrases. The first is found in verse 30. Here Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Since many view the tribulation described here as a future event, this passage, it is fair to say, presents a problem for that viewpoint. You have to figure out how to deal with the two words “this generation.” However, since my own view is that the events described in the verses leading up to verse 30 have already happened, within forty years of Jesus’ prophesy, I don’t view verse 30 as a problem at all.

However, verse 32 presents a whopper of a problem regardless of your position on the end-times. For we all must deal with the fact that concerning this “coming of the Son of Man in the clouds,” regardless of what it refers to, we read that Jesus does not know the hour. This is a serious problem indeed, although we tend to smile at this verse and say things like “even Jesus doesn’t know” which, while apparently true, glosses over a very profound theological issue.

The fact that Jesus lacked this knowledge has not prevented the emergence of a cottage industry devoted to using the newspapers to predict the Second Coming. (And that would be among those who believe that this passage does in fact refer to the Second Coming.) After many embarrassments where predictions made to the very day and hour were proved false, the modern form for those who claim to know something Jesus didn’t know is more subtle. It’ll be soon, I’m sure—probably in my lifetime or at least in the lifetime of my children.

As an aside, if you (quite reasonably) view generation in verse 30 as referring to a period of approximately 40 years, then Jesus is not contradicting himself by on the one hand limiting these events to occur in that time span but on the other hand saying he does not know precisely when the terminus of his prophecy, his coming in the clouds with great power and glory, will occur in this generation-length interval. (And of course, in this view this event, Jesus’ coming in the clouds with great power and glory, does not mean The Second Coming that will mark the end of history, but the destruction of temple worship and the wholesale slaughter of Jews in AD 70.) Jesus’ time frame references can be paraphrased as saying “this will happen in the next 40 years, exactly when, I don’t know.”

But as I said, it’s verse 32 that is the problem, regardless of the details of the prophecy. Futurist or preterist, you still have to deal with the fact that Jesus didn’t know. For Jesus, we all believe, is God, and one of the attributes of God is omniscience. So how do we deal with the fact that Jesus is omniscient and yet there is something that He doesn’t know?

In solving this conundrum we have to avoid the heresy known as Nestorianism, named after Nestorius, who became bishop of Constantinople in 428.

As with many heresies, we find Nestorianism was rooted in good intentions “run amok.” Others before Nestorius erred by denying Christ’s human nature. Nestorius went to the opposite extreme, stressing Christ’s humanity to the extent that there were two distinct personalities—one divine and one human—within the same living consciousness. In arguing his position that the divine and human natures of Christ were separate, he stated that “God was never a two month old baby.” The litmus test of Nestorianism was an interesting one: whether or not you were willing to grant Mary the title theotokos, or “she who gave birth to the child who is God,” or more informally, “Mary, Mother of God.” Nestorius and his followers were unwilling to grant Mary that title, arguing that she bore only the human half of the duality. They would only refer to her as “Mary, mother of Jesus.” Now of course (and for no real good reason) many Protestants are loath to use the phrase “Mary mother of God,” because of its association with Roman Catholicism. We Protestants should fear not, the honorific “Mary mother of God” is self evident.

So an (unacceptable) solution to the problem of Jesus not knowing something is to resort to Nestorianism. That would entail arguing that Jesus the man is completely separate from Jesus the God; that Jesus the man is merely a human who is more or less possessed by the second person of the trinity, and Jesus the man and only the man is speaking in Mark 13:32.

We will find the solution to this puzzle in that direction—but without going so far as totally separating Jesus’ divine and human natures.

The problem before us is a weighty one indeed: it really amounts to seeking an understanding of the mystery of the incarnation. Here it is useful to turn to the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. There we find this teaching regarding the incarnation:
So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.
What this teaches is summarized by four negatives. The incarnation is without confusion, without change (or mixture), without division, and without separation.

Nestorianism, be contrast, would teach: with total separation.

The orthodox view is that Jesus the person is omniscient. Jesus the person has two natures, not separate, but distinct. Jesus the person has divine nature that is spiritual, immutable, preexistent, etc. And he has a human nature that is physical, mutable, and was born of a woman. The divine nature retains the attributes of deity including omniscience. The human nature retains the attributes of humanity, including limited knowledge, pain and suffering, fatigue, sickness (probably) and aging. With one important exception: sinfulness.

The divine nature can communicate to the human. Jesus can prophesy. Jesus can read minds and hearts. For example, he knew Nathanael before he met him:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:43-49)
But all these amazing powers were also performed by “purely” human prophets. The divine can communicate knowledge to any human—that’s the very definition of a prophet. What distinguishes Jesus from your garden variety prophet is that he was without sin and that his person included rather than just communicated with the divine. Jesus was not just an instrument of the divine, he was (is) divine.

This view of the incarnation allows us to take Jesus at his word. When He said “I don’t know”, He really didn’t know. His divine nature was not pleased at that moment to communicate that information to his human nature. And yet, throughout Jesus’ ministry there are many examples where his divinity was manifested by his humanity. He performed miracles. He forgave sins.

It is possible that hints of the limited knowledge of Jesus’ human nature may appear elsewhere in scripture. In fact, it could very well be that much of Jesus’ prayers reflect his human nature praying to the Father in much the same manner we pray—or at least are supposed to pray. Was it Jesus’ human nature, with incomplete knowledge, who prayed for his murderers to be forgiven? Wouldn’t his divine nature already know whether they would be forgiven? I don’t know—but it is an intriguing possibility that for me helps to explain some of the mystery of our Lord’s praying as recording in sacred scripture.

There is still a problem, though. Jesus didn’t just say “I don’t know.” He said “only the Father [knows].” This leaves us with the nagging question of the Holy Spirit—who has all attributes of deity but without Jesus’ complication of a dual nature. Was Jesus saying that the Spirit is not omniscient? I don’t know. It’s a puzzle.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I sorta know what that means, but not really!

I’ve started reading F.F. Bruce’s commentary on John. It is awesome. I already appreciated and benefited from Bruce’s amazing clarity and breadth of knowledge on matters of church history. He brings that same, oh so rare, simplicity-powered-by-intellect to his analysis of John. (And presumably his other commentaries as well.)

I thought I would try to paraphrase his discussion of the word logos. I won’t do it justice, but keep in my any benefit you may derive from this discussion is entirely credited to F. F. Bruce.

We are talking about a single verse, John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

As I’m sure everyone knows, the Greek word logos is translated as Word. This has always troubled me, because the "Word" is also scripture—so I would get this weird juxtaposition in my head of Jesus and the bible morphed together. It's unsettling. Bruce clarifies this.

He starts by pointing out  that John starts out exactly the same as Genesis. In the beginning. In Genesis it refers to the old creation, and in John the new—and in both cases the creative agent is the Word of God. Then he goes into a discussion of the word logos, with the helpful admission:

No doubt the English term ‘Word’ is an inadequate rendering of the Greek logos, but it would be difficult to find one less inadequate. (Bruce, p. 29)

Helpful because I no longer feel bad that I can't wrap my head around that word (Word). Logos has a meaning that conveys more that words (a message) but also the personal aspect of a messenger. He relates but does not endorse how another scholar translated the verse as "At the beginning, God expressed himself." And he tells us what I forgot or missed in the Cliff Notes, that in Goethe's Faust, Faust himself attempts a translation and comes up with a decent one: "In the beginning was the deed, the action."

Then he says something to me the made me think of the providence of God. He writes that some philosophical schools in Greece were familiar with the term logos, where it meant ""the principle of reason or order in the universe." This is not the meaning that John intended, but Bruce writes:

Because of [the usage in Greek philosophy] logos constituted a bridge-word by which people brought up in Greek philosophy, like Justin Martyr in the second century, found their way into Johannine Christianity. (Bruce p. 29)

Providence of God.

Bruce argues, more than convincingly, that it is not to Greek Philosophy we turn to grasp logos, but to the Old Testament, where "word" is used to denote a personal creation, revelation and deliverance.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, (Ps. 33:6)

Here is a perfect example of word not meaning letters strung together, but a personal agent or messenger. Thus in Isaiah we read "The Lord said to Isaiah" (Isa. 7:3)  and also "The word of the Lord came to Isiah" (Isa 38:4). They mean the same, but the latter conveys the personal action of a messenger.

Another Old Testament example (there are many):

He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
(Ps. 107:20)

Indeed. So back to John 1:1.

So in the beginning when the universe was created, the Word , the creative and personal agent, was already present.

An notice, that the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

How beautifully this divine agent is expressed as being with God (and therefore distinct) and also was God (of the same essence). Less careful wording would have either left us with the Word and God being identical (bad), or the Word not possessing deity (also bad).

This one verse captures the eternity, the distinctiveness, and also the sameness of the Word.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Parables of Jesus, Part 6 -- The Unwelcome Visitor

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3
Parables of Jesus, Part 4
Parables of Jesus, Part 5

A Knock on the Door, at 12 Midnight (Luke 11:5-8)

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his [impudence (ESV)] [persistence (NASB)] he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

What’s up with that? Impudence (very rude) and persistence do not mean the same thing. And who is the antecedent of highlighted "his", is it the friend outside or the sleeper inside? Arggh I don't understand. Am I lost? I hope not!

How much more so?

The concluding contrast with God is interesting:

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus doesn’t promise “good gifts” for the asking, as in money, success, fame, fortune, super models, season tickets, etc. He promises, for the asking, the Holy Spirit. Now that's a gift. Game. Set. Match.

Those Pesky Greeks and their Tiresome, Imprecise Language!

The word translated as impudence or persistence appears only once in the bible: in this parable. From Strong’s (G335)

335: anaideia [an-ah'-ee-die-ah'] from a compound of 1 (as a negative particle (compare 427)) and 127; impudence, i.e. (by implication) importunity:--importunity.

That’s not helpful, because it says it can mean impudence (rude behavior) or importunity (persistence). Drats. No wonder their empire crumbled! (OK, just kidding. I love the Greeks, especially Gyros.)

The Standard View

Very similar to the Parable of the Unjust Judge—namely the emphasis is on persistency, and that God has ears and will (sooner or later) hear and respond.

An Alternate View

There does not seem to be persistence involved. After all, the friend only knocks once. So we resolve the translation ambiguity not with persistency but with impudence (rude behavior). But if the “friend” represents a believer coming to God—it seems odd to liken that to rude behavior.

The sleeper on the other hand—maybe he is the antecedent of the “his”. Why was he rude? After all he was the one awakened.  Well, his behavior might be impudent because he was reluctant to save his friend from the social faux pas of not being able to show hospitality to his own unexpected guest.

But still a tough sell: yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

It's, it's, it's, hard!  Perhaps we can say:
  • If you are a desperate situation and even a rude friend who would rather sleep than help you will eventually give assistance—how much more so will God give you good things? 
  • Or maybe it is the traditional interpretation—but the lesson is still that God is certain to give you good things (in a spiritual/providence sense, not in a prosperity gospel sense.)

Compare the Two Parables
  • The Unjust Judge 
    • Element of persistence (the widow, prayer) 
    • Element of a fallen man (the judge, justice) 
  • The Friend at Night 
    • Element of persistence (perhaps; it’s about praying for a need) 
    • Element of a fallen man (friend? sleeper? providence) 
Regardless, both teach that if fallen man (begrudgingly) comes through, how much more can you expect from God?

OK, I get that. Maybe I'll still sneak into heaven.


Jump to Part 7

Monday, October 17, 2016

Stand Up!

In returning to blogging, I am also catching up on blogs I used to follow. In doing so,  came across an interesting post by my friend and former neighbor (before he moved to Ohio--like that's even a real place) Tom Gilson.

Tom has a well-known site and ministry named Thinking Christian. Atheists like to say the name is an oxymoron1.  I like to think of it as redundant.

In the post in question, Tom talks about visiting a church and hearing a sermon that was bad. I mean really bad. Not just garden-variety bad, but apostate bad. Tom discusses his reaction--or rather what he wished he had done:

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, while on an out-of-state trip, I almost walked out of church.  I wish I had just stood up. 
I don’t want to explain what was wrong about the sermon, since that’s beside the point here today. Suffice it to say that it was quite wrong, I felt uncomfortable sitting there acting as if I was okay with it, but I didn’t think walking out would have done any good.
I realize now I could have just stood up. 
That’s it.
I could have stood up, moving to the side a bit if necessary so I didn’t block others’ view; not interfering noisily, but not being so discreet about it that no one noticed, either. Just standing.
The ensuing discussion and comments get into whether this or other responses would have been appropriate.

I know Tom. He is way more gracious than I am. I tend to fly off the handle and then later have to clean up the embarrassing mess I've made. If I had decided that this was just too much, for example if it were a prosperity gospel message or worse,  and I wanted to send a public message, I would have been less polite than to just stand up. I'd have been all: "Hey you people do you hear what he's saying? It's a load of crap!" 

However, I don't actually think I would have walked out, but for the wrong reason. I think I would have stayed, not out of grace (if he was speaking a false gospel, let him be anathema) but out of rubber-necking, train-wreck fascination.

I have always said that if we could get Satan to be our graduation speaker, I'd go hear what the man had to say. Who could pass up such a chance?

1 And every time one of 'em makes that joke, they are so proud to be the "first" to have come up with it!  

Parables of Jesus, Part 5 -- The Unjust Judge

Primary Sources:

1. The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2. The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3

Parables of Jesus, Part 4

The Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8)

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Well, not too much of a mystery here. It's kind of like the "example" problem in a textbook. After all, Luke explains the meaning of the parable in a preamble: They ought always to pray and not lose heart.

How hard is that?

Here is what Calvin had to say about the parable:

“We know that perseverance in prayer is a rare and difficult attainment; and it is a manifestation of our unbelief that, when our first prayers are not successful, we immediately throw away not only hope, but all the ardor of prayer. But it is an undoubted evidence of our Faith, if we are disappointed of our wish, and yet do not lose courage. Most properly, therefore, does Christ recommend to his disciples to persevere in praying.”—John Calvin, Commentary on Luke 18:1-8
This interpretation of the parable follows our hermeneutic discussion from Part 4. No silly allegorical interpretation, just a simple straightforward lesson. Still, we cal look a little under the hood.

Why A Widow?

  • Widows occupy a special place in NT teaching, with many examples such as:
    • The widow’s mite
    • The essence of true religion is caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27)
    • The first “crisis” in the church was over the care for widows
  • Widows possess a vulnerability that resonates well with the Christian ethos
  • Emphasis on the care and utilization of widows is but one way Christianity improved the lot of women.

Rabbit Trail

Christianity is often accused as being anti-women. Indeed, we must be mindful of the culture of 1st century Palestine—which was in no uncertain terms “a man’s world.” 1 However, Jesus (counter-intuitively, perhaps) created a great leap forward when he overturned the Mosaic law 2 allowing divorce. Divorced women had no alimony, no support, no source of income. A divorced woman was often a destitute woman who had to turn to begging.

In a Nut Shell

  • We have persistence, in the person of the widow
  • We have fallen man in the person of the unjust judge
  • We have a plain message: Persist in your prayer—if an unrighteous judge will eventually provide justice, how much more so will a just God?

It Might Be More Narrow

A less appealing but possible view, the parable speaks of prayer with a specific purpose:
  • The woman had an adversary.
  • She was seeking justice, not salvation, sustenance, healing, etc.
  • The woman, through prayer sought vengeance. 

Q: Is vengeance good or bad?

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19)

A: Good! Vengeance from God is good. Personal vengeance is bad. Still, especially given Luke's preamble, I think it is safe to say that this parable is applicable to all prayer, not just a persistent prayer prayer for vengeance.

Now what about that ending?

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

What’s up with that? It sounds awful!

The consensus response: The answer is yes He will, but not because our faith is strong. It is because His faith is strong, and he has promised to redeem a people.

The “scary” ending is not a gloomy anticipation of an eschatological defeat, of Christ returning to a church in ruins, but a rallying cry for all to mimic the widow’s persistent prayer.

1 If you think the NT gives the rule of life for all times and all cultures you would have to conclude that women should wear head coverings. On the other hand, if you think that the head coverings mandate is cultural, then you must  examine all passages related to the roles of men/women for possible cultural correction. (Instead, we all tend to cherry-pick, don't we?)

2 I am not sure where that falls for the classic Covenantal view that all OT laws are still in effect (except for the ones that aren’t. ) The Mosaic divorce allowance does not seem to be a ceremonial law. (The again, we all tend to cherry-pick, don't we?)


Jump to Part 6

Saturday, October 15, 2016

That Makes Me Sick

In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett,  well-known Christian Jerry Falwell Jr doubled down on his endorsement of Donald Trump, even in light of the revelations and recordings that have surfaced of Trump's repulsive behavior and attitude towards women.

Falwell's rationalization includes some apparent inside information that Trump is a reformed man. Falwell argued:

"I think [Trump has] been through a change in the last four or five years." Falwell said. "I think he's been influenced strongly by his children, by his grandchildren. And I don't think he's the man he used to be."

Yes there is compelling evidence that Trump has changed. Compelling, but secret.

Burnett asked Falwell if the allegations of Trump sexually assaulting women were true, was that something Falwell could forgive and if Falwell could continue to support Trump.
Falwell weaseled out.

"It is not up to me to forgive anybody," Falwell said. "I'm not, I'm not Jesus Christ. It is only Jesus who can forgive. And he can forgive anybody. All of us, we're all redeemable. And like I said, Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners when he was here on Earth. And it is not up to us to forgive. It is up to us to decide who would be the best president of the United States, who would take the right position on the issues to make America great again."
“I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because I believe he’s the best qualified to be president of the United States," Falwell said.

I can almost envision the Apostle Paul not being concerned about a man's character, but only whether or not the man could make Israel great again. Not.

The religious right who are supporting Trump are hypocrites, plain and simple. I am quite sure that they are not so reluctant to judge nor are they as quick to play the "it's not for me to forgive" card when when it comes to character issues in candidates from the other party. But Trump is given a "get out of jail free" card.

The argument "yes what he did was repulsive but I'm going to vote for him because he is good for America" is dreadful. What Trump did morally disqualifies him from the office of the presidency.

Only Christians can harm Christianity.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Parables of Jesus, Part 4: Parable Hermenuetics

Parables of Jesus, Part 4

Primary Sources:

1.The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2.The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2
Parables of Jesus, Part 3

Parable Hermeneutics

An unintentional bait and switch. I know I said the next part (this one) would discuss an actual parable. It won't. You have to listen to one more sales pitch before you get your free day at the resort. (That metaphor doesn't really work, but I like it.)

The early church up to the medieval church generally interpreted parables allegorically.

Allegory is a literary device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. (Source: Wikipedia1)

In Christian Literature, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) is the definitive allegorical work. Unconstrained, allegory in biblical exegesis can lead to allegorical silliness:

Not all ancient theologians advocated allegory:

“It is not right to search curiously, and word by word, into all things in a parable; but when we have learned the object for which it was composed, we are to reap this, and not to busy ourselves about anything further.” –John Chrysostom (347-407 CE), Archbishop of Constantinople

The modern view (right or wrong) is:
  • A parable consists of (one, usually) two, or at most three simple messages.
  • Do not look for hidden meanings or symbols.

When Jesus explained why he used parables he quoted the book of Isaiah: “lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”

This does not mean that parables are hard to understand and it does not mean that unbelievers cannot understand them in the usual sense of the word “understand.”

How much more so--Will not God?

Many parables teach the lesson that fits the pattern: 

If even fallen men with impure motives can do [the right thing] (though it may take persistent prodding),

How much more so will our God…, or

Will not God do even more?

That is, many use persistence in men to demonstrate how much more faith we can have in God.

Next we will move on to, well, an actual parable! No, I mean that. Really. So concludes the four-part introduction. Stay tuned.

1 And therefore is correct. Just ask my students.
2 As best demonstrated by Winston Churchill (1941): "Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never."


Jump to Part 5

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Parables of Jesus, Part 3

Parables of Jesus, Part 3

Primary Sources:

1.The Parables of Jesus, James Montgomery Boice, Moody Publishers, 1983
2.The Parables of Jesus, R. C. Sproul, video series and Study Guide, Ligonier Ministries, 2013

Parables of Jesus, Part 1
Parables of Jesus, Part 2

Heart Hardening: Tread Lightly

"Heart Hardening" refers to the process whereby one becomes inured to one's own sin. Its ultimate tragic endpoint is when the sin is no longer considered a sin, but a virtue. We see examples in both testaments:

But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses. (Ex. 9:12)

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom 1:24-25)

Q: Is God active or passive in the process?

A: Passive

The Exodus passage reads as if God actively made Pharaoh more wicked. (May it never be!)

The Romans passage is more aligned with our understanding, that hardening of the heart is not God actively making someone more wicked, but rather it is God removing a common grace of restraint so that the (oh so ugly) natural man is more revealed.

So it is with the parables—God actively helps some to understand, while others are “given over” to their blindness.


  • Jesus taught new revelation (often about the Kingdom of God) through the use of parables. 
  • Jesus came to save and to condemn. Parables fit nicely into that mission because with salvation comes understanding and condemnation comes confusion (and don’t mix up cause and effect!) 
  • God does not actively shut the eyes and ears—in judgment eyes and ears are allowed to remain in their natural, closed state 

Next we will move on to, well, an actual parable! So concludes the three-part introduction. Stay tuned.


Jump to Part 4