Copy of Dealing with Loss (Great and Small): A Theological Reflection on Faith

Honestly, I despise words of “comfort” that many suffering Christians receive. The kind that interprets horrific events as lessons from God or “blessings in disguise” or, perhaps on the positive side, the promise of the American Dream: If I trust God I will get a great and/or fulfilling job, and be successful. Maybe on a good day someone will simply say, “all things will turn out for good.” If by the latter one means the resurrection, consummation of the kingdom and transformation of humanity and the world—then yes, I agree!

A relationship with God is more complicated than a reliance on someone who rewards good behavior with earthly blessings or on one who requires you to have a positive cheerful attitude at all times (just read Job or the Prophets!). The God of the Bible became a human being. He was not a Jesus who laughed next to the cross, but who lived in poverty, was often rejected, betrayed by friends and died at a young age. The God of the Bible is also the one who was continually betrayed and denied by the people he blessed over the years throughout the Old Testament.

So lets cut to the chase. What happened recently? Nick and I recently discovered that nearly all of our funding for school has been suddenly cut off starting in 2017. Why? The answer is complicated. It is enough to say that the church that was helping us (and others) were afraid and made a decision in haste. They do not owe us anything and I am immensely thankful for the help they have provided us over the years. Still, this leaves Nick and I in a bind because this announcement came after other scholarship and loan applications ended. This threatens what I have worked much of my life towards and the dream Nick and I have for teaching Bible and theology at a university or seminary one day for a living.

But I’ve got faith in God. I believe if he wants us to fulfill these dreams he will make a way. He may not. I know what it is like to trust God through child abuse and back injuries that left me constantly exhausted through a good portion of life. God did not make the adult who abused me over many years stop. What he did do was come alongside me in my suffering and fought the lies about my personhood, taught me how to live, that I was loved and to love others. He taught me from another unusual event (that I may speak about in the future) that his wondrous and good presence is everywhere despite appearances. 

To sum everything up, I believe Jesus has indeed lived, died and rose again for the sins and glorification of humanity and that his kingdom is breaking into the present. I trust in God, not in the American dream. Evil and difficulties may persist for a time, but God’s kingdom has already been inaugurated and will soon be consummated.

"Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won."


Trusting in Divine Providence While Experiencing Evil Part 1

Deliberation  by Mario Sanchez Nevado

Deliberation by Mario Sanchez Nevado


How does a person trust God? How should someone trust God? The question is a difficult one to answer if thinking in terms of only one answer or when trying to distill trust in God down to an easy formula or saying. How can one capture trusting God down in one or two verses, abstractions or rules of thumb detached from the variety of narratives of God's people struggling to survive, failing and actually trusting in God? It is all the more difficult if one is not prepared to empathetically enter into the experiences of those suffering and trusting in God or to allow the diverse circumstances conveyed in the Bible to speak to diverse people and realities today. I hate platitudes because they are mismatched. They assume a reality (often times false) and enforce it onto a foreign circumstance (i.e. the woman raped or father who lost a child is experiencing a "blessing in disguise"). They are non-empathetic and yet proport to teach or comfort, neither of which they do not. With all of this said, how does one trust God? 

The best way for me to explain trust in God is to explain my life's story and how God's world and life flowed into mine. I used to hate it when asked to give my "testimony"--still do in some ways. I find the beginning of my story personally embarrassing if taken in a way that is supposed to make me special or is taken in a grandiose way. The way I see it, God even visited me and this says more about God. Then there was the difficulty in the reality that the most dear parts of my story were for a very long time traumatic throwing me into depression at best or a PTSD fit at worst. I would have to find some way to bury myself just to stay on the surface of my testimony and not relive it. Then there is the difficulty of how to explain having your personhood crushed and marred as a child by abuse causing physical and psychological harm extending on into adulthood--and yet, while being damaged also being overtaken by divine love to such a degree that one would do it all again. I am not saying the first was necessary for the other or was part of some divine plan--that is just morbid. However, I am saying the latter gives meaning and light to the former. 

Alright, no more stalling but here is what I will not be covering: I will not be covering many of the particulars since they involve revealing identities. I also have no stories with shock value or dazzling insights. All I have is my life in brief and how God has entered into my struggles and how I have come to trust him and how I have perceive trust in God in a multifaceted and ever growing way. It is from the angle of how I have balanced knowledge that God is a God of love who provides for his people (and those who are not his!), is sometimes hidden, allows evil but who is love, and is everywhere present--in, among and around us. This is a story about God and who he is in part, through my eyes and out of this how and why I trust Him. 


Like I said, I find myself horribly embarrassed about this part of the story and yet compelled to tell people about it because it shows that God does care about the smallest of us and interacts with us in interesting and unique ways (most of which goes unnoticed).

I first met God when I was nearly six years old. I calculate it by the absence of my two adopted sisters and the church that we attended: The Marina Cathedra (probably "Cathedral" folks just pronounced it that way). I had just listened to a fire-and-brimestone sermon and, recalling I had pinched my little sister, was certain I was a great sinner. I had a choice: choose Jesus and go to heaven or say no and go to hell. My child-brain thought the former sounded better. I informed the Lord that I already had a dad and didn't need another one, but conceded I would be his friend and do whatever he told me. I then told my mom that I had to see Pastor Turner so I could get baptized to make it "official." However, immediately after saying "Pastor, I want to be baptized!" I fell to the ground praying something I do not remember and was immersed in pure light.

What I experienced is difficult to explain to people. I can't say much. I am in the strange predicament of having experienced something/someone of a different quality, more real than what I experience every day. Instead of having a hazy experience it is best thought of as ultra clear but by analogy it is like a person seeing another basic color and then returning and trying to explain what it is and what it was like without their brain being able to retain that color. I used to just say this light was "whiter than white, lighter than light and more real that reality." I was just immersed and existed in this personal light. Nothing was said to me, I just knew who it was and communed.

In another instant I realized I was on the ground praying and sat up. The Pastor was praying over me and then asked: "Allison! Did you accept Jesus into your heart?" and a series of other questions to see if I understood my decision. He then agreed that I could be baptized and my parents took me away. I noticed something sticky on my head and my parents said that while I was praying he anointed my head with oil. I didn't tell them about my experience because I assumed this happened to everyone when they say yes to Jesus. However, before I left I felt as though God told me (that quiet inner voice) to remember what happened because when lots of people get older they forget this kind of thing. I reminded myself whenever I thought to and took great pains not to change much. 

I didn't know it at the time, but I was going to reflect on this experience for years to come and it would give me hope in dark times. When I experienced extreme isolation it would remind me that God visited me and that even though I was alone and unloved by others, he loved me even if I could not feel his presence.









Through the years this experience has also made me lonely since I didn't know anyone else who experienced something similar. In later years I would read others that had similar experiences such as the dessert fathers,  W. Pannenberg or a traveling preacher who escaped slavery. At Fuller I finally met someone! Then discovered someone related to me who was not a Christian had this happen to him when he was a young man--this was the person I had been strangely compelled to talk about God with all the time since a child and the same was true for him--and then there was a good friend of mine who I would never have guessed! When I called her she was completely changed into her best self and had a similar experience only two days before we spoke! She has been struggling in many ways but I can see God working in her beautifully and I am amazed.






Human Beings, Not Tokens

Tokenism: the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly. -Merriam Webster

When I first wrote this post I was struggling to find a non-tokenizing picture to capture tokenism. Then I found this gem 10/17/16. I am the blurred out diverse person appearing twice in this photo which was taken a while back. Only one of these people are from another country and this same person is the only one from the "School of Intercultural Studies." Some random person probably in marketing found our ethnically mixed faces and decided to use them to portray a vibrant & diverse program. *My below post was not written specifically with this school in mind and I signed a waiver allowing the school to advertise themselves with the images they took.

When I first wrote this post I was struggling to find a non-tokenizing picture to capture tokenism. Then I found this gem 10/17/16. I am the blurred out diverse person appearing twice in this photo which was taken a while back. Only one of these people are from another country and this same person is the only one from the "School of Intercultural Studies." Some random person probably in marketing found our ethnically mixed faces and decided to use them to portray a vibrant & diverse program. *My below post was not written specifically with this school in mind and I signed a waiver allowing the school to advertise themselves with the images they took.

 One of the greatest difficulties I have had as a woman pursuing leadership and higher education in the Christian world has been navigating the tightrope between survival and compromise. What I want in essence is to be treated like a human being. I don't want to be invisible or voiceless, but I don't want to be paraded on stage as a mere empty symbol of the inclusiveness of [fill in the blank]. The constant struggle is to survive, to not let your voice be wiped off the map by naysayers and lack of resources, but also to escape being crushed into an empty mask or symbol serving the interests of others. It is fighting to have a place at the table without becoming an empty tool for the voices of those in power. The latter is perhaps worse because one's voice is snuffed out while being given the illusion of its value.

What is Tokenism

What is tokenism? Tokenism is when a group or person in power uses human beings from an underrepresented or minority group in order to appear diverse and benevolent or to avoid looking bad when in actuality the inclusion is extremely minimal and the token(s) lacks any real authority or value beyond perceived distinctive characteristics. Translation: people are used as part of a mask creating a portrait that in reality does not exist.

A token's value is generic. "We need a black person. We need a woman. We need an Asian woman....ect." Note value does not extend far beyond a limited set of qualities. A friend of mine applied for a leadership position. She was highly qualified and was frankly good at her job. She was flat out told she probably would not get the job because they needed an "Asian female" not just a "female." This is unusual as it is just asking for a lawsuit. Lucky (or unlucky?) for her, they could not find an "Asian female" so she would do. The token is interchangeable. "We need to fill our black woman slot." In this latter case, any woman who meets the "black woman" criteria is acceptable. Once they have a "black woman" they don't need "another one." Qualifications either have no, little or incidental value.

I was once told "I don't need another one" when I had initially turned down an offer to be on a podcast (ironically because I thought he wanted a token) but was talked into it by a friend. "Another what?" "We already found a woman." He needed a woman with any theology degree whatsoever so that his podcast could be diverse. He was also happy that this one was a "complementarian" (she wasn't). I awkwardly told him I was glad he found "one of those" realizing he would not get that I was pointing out his objectification of women. Unfortunately, my replacement was met with a barrage of stupid "go make me a sandwich" jokes and asked to represent all women constantly. As it turns out, tokenism worked so well she left the podcast.

Often, the token is asked to comment only or predominantly as the ethnic, gender or other role they are representing--since this is their primary value. I was once asked about the "snuggery" since I was a woman. Oh, what opinions I must have had...on the snuggery? I had none and threw a private fit once I found out what it was.

Tokenism is all about appearances. It is to make the organization look good and affords the token (whether group or individual) a false or shallow voice or representation. This is common on t.v. series or movies. It is easily found in the form of the generic "gay friend" whose only function is to be the best friend ever, but is otherwise a hollow as a character not interesting developed character in his or her own right. His or her only value is being "gay." Generally the gay friend speaks or acts in a stereotypical way or a character is awkwardly made "gay" just because it signals the virtues of the producers. In pictures, it is found in "that one black guy" appearing in every frame. Not because he is a stellar student, employee, head of department or leader but because he is the only person with that skin color and the organization wants to appear more diverse than it is. In my experience when it comes to schools, the students on campus see through the guise quickly when reality does not cohere against the picture. The place wants to look good, but has not expended the finances or resources to be good and thus have more representation.

Tokenism also appears in the form of "centers," "projects" and "initiatives" within organizations. A school, church or organization might create something like "Center for African American Studies" yet not give it sufficient influence, funding or resources afforded to others. It represents diversity and inclusion in name only and exists almost entirely to make the foundation or school look good. Sometimes these start out with the best intentions, maybe a vision with limited funding, but often times funding comes down to priorities. Rhetoric is one thing and action is another. Where do the money and resources go? This will tell you what an organization's real priorities are.

Scholarships can function as a "token" of support rather than real support for a minority group. I have suspected that even I had a token grant or scholarship from a school at one time zeroing in on my Mexican heritage ("Hispanic" in their words). This can be tricky depending on how funding for the program functions. For example, many schools offer a large variety of scholarships where one gets funding piecemeal. I once had a scholarship like this from TEDS for being a female leader. It was not a huge amount but significant and functioned within their broader system to be a source of real financial support in combination with other offerings. On the other hand, in some contexts one or two is all you get and if the goal on paper is to support X underrepresented group it becomes a mere token of support if it does not help them in any meaningful way. 

Tokenism appears in assigning authoritative roles within a church or organization. Sometimes identifying it can be muddy, especially when other factors are involved. A good way to identify the possibility of tokenism is if qualifications are not top considerations, are low considerations in practice, or are selectively applied depending on who is being promoted and to what level of authority. For example, although promotion criteria for higher authority positions may be more strict against the token while less strictly applied for those who aren't (maybe one criteria is deemed not to matter so much), lesser or token roles may have concrete requirements waived. It's all about what exactly is being valued by those in charge. This all gets more tricky when it is unintentional.

I was once part of an organization whose leadership was dominated primarily by white males. They knew this was a problem, knew it made them look bad and yet could not figure out why the small circle of white men who formed a tight click were the only types of people who seemed to be in leadership positions (I had been processing this instance among many when writing 10 Ways Men Can Fight Sexism).

Not surprising to those on the outside looking in, when it came time for promoting someone to the top it was decided that the top performer, a woman with more experience would not get promoted to the desired position and instead get a lesser one with little pay. This is even after it was clearly stated she was not interested in a mid-level position and had voiced from the very beginning that desired to lead and in what capacity. The one from the inner circle with far less experience, little time commitment and less than ideal performance would automatically advance to the highest position even when all criteria were not technically met--namely, a stellar performance for a certain amount of time. Thankfully for them, they found another female to take the less desired position after the first one quit. The position required an individual who demonstrated excellent performance for a certain amount of time and involved training new people. The replacement was brand new, inexperienced and I am told was in need of training.

I can at least vouch that there were indeed many excuses, rationales and perceived technicalities in this case along with "miscommunications."

Moving Foward

Tokenism is an ugly thing. Why? Because human beings have inherent value as made in the image of God. God does not show partiality or favoritism (C.F. Col 3, Rom 2, James 2:9). He likes to use those others see little value in (i.e. David, Deborah, Moses...etc), sees individuals for who they are and what they are going through (Gen 6:13), identifies with oppressed people groups (C.F. The EXODUS!) and became one of them. He does not see societal roles or stations as limits on participation (Gal 3:28). We are called to be like God and not have different standards depending on social standing (C.F. James & Paul on how not to show partiality towards rich vs poor).

Jesus was the ultimate icon, not mask, of God. In Him, we see the Father's face. He modeled self-emptying to the greatest degree and if we are in power sometimes we are called to give some of it up for the sake of our brothers and sisters and especially the Lord. Of course to give it up we must acknowledge and see the power differences. At the very least we are called to love others as much as we love ourselves. Many "love" those in their group. That is very human. Jesus came and showed us that our "neighbor" is also the "other." The Good Samaritan is subversive because we are called not simply to love him as our neighbor, but model him.

For those without power, it is a fine balance one has to walk. I have not done so perfectly, have not had it as bad as others, and possibly contributed to objectification without realizing it. My only advice is to not hate yourself if you must play the token, but if you can afford not to, give up the slight or perceived benefit and refuse! Say no and walk away. They may replace you, but at least you will be you.













Why Read the Bible?

What follows are my thoughts on why Christians should read the Bible as Scripture. Maybe the question "why read the Bible?" seems like an odd question to address in a post directed towards Christians, but I believe it is highly relevant because it strikes at our priorities, trust and relationship with God. We do not read the Bible as a historical novelty or with an eye towards criticism (even if we dabble in the latter). Rather ideally, we read it to know God, our hope and to know how to live. We believe in a living God who speaks to us today in the Holy Spirit through Scripture. At times we can't help but hear the Holy Spirit's voice communicating and transforming the way we see the world around us.

So many today want to worship a God who is silent, one who does not have thoughts of his own or ask anything of us, ever approving, ever "loving" we have a god of projection--an idol. Do we really believe in a God who is personal, who listens and responds? Do we believe in a God who is intimately involved in our lives, in human history and who speaks to us? Or is our god ambiguous and nameless, whatever we feel it is? Is this god at all? Is this the God who sacrificed and asks us to sacrifice?

The God of the Bible is one who didn't just create and leave us behind but holds everything together (c.f. Col 1:17). He is continually creating, bringing about and sustaining life.

God is Yahweh.

Yahweh is the three-person God who is inherently social interacting with those who created. He likes to pick people who are overlooked by others to talk to. He took a wandering dessert people and blessed the world through them. He seems to like natural analogies. He prefers to speak to people face to face, but they separated and separate themselves from him. Still, he did the impossible and became one of them and showed them who he was (c.f. John 1). He is also one who notices injustice and evil and gives warnings and calls human beings out of this and into a committed relationship with him. No idols or projections in this marriage. As he sacrificed himself he calls us to sacrifice ourselves every day.

With the above in mind, why read Scripture? And why call the Bible Scripture?

1. God is Not Nameless and He Speaks

As Christians, we reject the idea that God does not have a name. He is a particular God and does not like being confused with others. We believe he actually speaks to us and this is why the Bible has authority. It represents God's interaction in human history and with us. We believe in a "living Word" (C.F. Heb 4:12). Specifically, we think God is speaking to us today by the Holy Spirit as we read or listen to him through the voices of countless individuals who were alive throughout history (ex: Moses, John, Paul and countless people who do not know the names of).

We read the Bible because we believe God speaks to us and we want to know what he desires of us and how to become more like Him. Since this is the case, it is not ok to dismiss Him when he tells us not to do something or to do something. This is not a god of projection but one who actually exists, is involved, and is morally perfect in love, justice and relationship.

In some churches or social circles, we think we can slander other people and get ahead by telling lies in the name of "correct doctrine" or self-interest. Maybe we just talk behind someone's back and ignore our highest calling to love God and love others. We cannot love God while not loving those he loves who are inside the church, outside the church, at home or around the world, gay or straight, male or female...etc. This love is not merely a feeling though it comes from the heart, it is manifested in action by giving preference to one another and in commitment. God's Word condemns this.

In the Millenial generation, we struggle with sex. Many of us were not in unseparated families and do not necessarily have parents we can trust. Many of them thought they could sleep around without consequences. We think we can be good with God while sleeping with someone we are not committed to of the opposite sex by a vow of marriage (as defined by Jesus and Genesis). We think we can do whatever we want as long as we feel strongly and our projected god says nothing. How can a god of projection ever dare to challenge us? We can invoke him at will without complaint.

No, we read the Bible because we believe in a God of history with expressed ideas on how to live life to the fullest with Him and how to treat other people. This God communicates with us through the Scriptures.

2. God is a Social Being Who Desires Relationship

God is not a monad with no sufficient reason to desire relationships with others or to create relational beings. He is necessarily diverse within himself, a Trinity, each member different from the other yet fully God. He is revealed in the Bible as the One God, but triune. Though there are hints earlier in the Old Testament, we only know of the Trinity because of Jesus who revealed himself to be the One God but not the Father and who promised to send us the Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God (no one knows the mind of God except God).

God is loving in Himself already and so is able and eager to draw us into loving relationship with Himself and each other. How will we know who this God is if He does not tell us? How will we enter into the loving relationship He enjoys in Himself if He did not reveal Himself as one of us (the ultimate expression of love to the "other") and be the glue that binds us (Holy Spirit)? How do we know there ever was such an incarnation or encounter Him today if not through the Word in the Spirit?

3. God is the Creator and Sustainer of Our Life

The One who brought all there is into being, holds all life, matter, and energy together. He gives us our life now and is the One who brings us into His eternal life in relationship with Him. If we are cut off from the source of life we will die. When we are in relationship with Him, we are distraught over our sin and any relational distance caused by our action. The Spirit will bug us! We are never alone because the Spirit in us compels us to stop what we are doing. We may live in habitual opposition or run away from Him for a while, but if we have the Spirit we will return. Where our treasure is, there our heart is (Matt 6:21). If we are devoted to God our actions will follow and when we are empty or in need will look to Him.

God is our light in dark times. He is our hope. He gives meaning to the present in anticipation of the future (thank you Moltmann). 

God gives us our new life, forms our character in Him. We want to know His thoughts because we know we are small and want to grow. We want to manifest His face as He manifests Himself as the God of this world. Our destiny is to live out our calling as image bearers (Genesis) after Christ the ultimate image bearer whose resurrected body points the way towards ours.


Now, time to read and be transformed!












Then there are those times where you are not listening and wham! God finds you in sermons, through random strangers and by a variety of methods. At TEDS I got a reoccurring Bible verse and lesson he was trying to teach me randomly pinned to my front door! Neadless to say I stopped, prayed and let God communicate to me so that I could change.


How to be an Egalitarian AND a Good Christian

My roommate Tiffany and I used to play Judo together in college. Good times. My husband did not appreciate choke holds and I am banned from using Judo, Jujitsu or Tae Kwon Do :( *Downside of egalitarianism. 

My roommate Tiffany and I used to play Judo together in college. Good times. My husband did not appreciate choke holds and I am banned from using Judo, Jujitsu or Tae Kwon Do :( *Downside of egalitarianism. 

 I have been noticing that certain key egalitarian figures on the internet--this is not about shaming and so I will not name names yet--have been using their new-found power not to simply compel others with the power of Scripture, but to shut conscientious objectors up! One is not allowed to disagree with them on a scriptural level nor are they allowed to have other disagreements such as who to vote for in a highly polarized context where both candidates are grossly immoral (FYI I am not voting for Trump or Hilary).  Worse yet, many strong, central claims are put out there but are not fact-checked.

In the name of giving women a "voice" certain individuals try and shame men and women who challenge them. This is not egalitarianism which stresses mutual submission. Hence my title. It is not that I think egalitarianism is incompatible with Scripture, far from it! Rather, when people get a little bit of power whether it is financial or social they like to use it and do not always even realize what they are doing. This is a dangerous, toxic trend I have been witnesses in the egalitarian camp as of late (not from Christians for Biblical Equality). This may sound extreme, but in terms of New Testament ethics it is not (thank you 1 John).

From my vantage point, egalitarianism is finally on the rise. It does not have as much power yet in terms of funding and support, but the tide is turning fast. Tragically, in the past (and present) the voices of women and egalitarianism has been systematically shut out (email me for specifics). This has been true in the evangelical publishing world, the takeover of the Southern Baptist denomination, and abounds in local churches. It also happens on social levels without individuals realizing it.

But now that the tide is turning what will we be like in the new majority position? Will we try and silence other voices in thename of equality? Will we try and publically shame honest individuals with objections or questions? Will we blame our own failings on institutions that do not praise us at every turn? Will we be people who believe all truth is God's truth? Will we gain followers through polarization rather than following the example of Christ?

And for heaven's sake have some humility and check your sources before making it one of your main talking points!





To be with Christ: the Intermediate State and Phil. 1:21-24

In many theological circles, the doctrine of the intermediate state is often a key theological locus. For many or most evangelical Christians, the intermediate state is a comfort, drawn upon inferences from key Scriptural texts. It is not my interest to dissuade Christians from affirming this doctrine, or taking solace in it. Rather, my twofold goal is to challenge Christians to stay true to the text, and to show why I think Philippians 1:21-24 is insufficient as support for the doctrine of the intermediate state.

To lay my cards out on the table, I do not presently believe in such an intermediate state. My view of the human person does not require an intermediate state, and my view of the resurrection of the body does not either. There is of course debate about this doctrine, and I will not solve it at all in one blog post. But allow me to address a specific text in Paul that is often utilized to support the idea.

The text reads as follows:

Phil. 1:21-24: ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος. 22 εἰ δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἐν σαρκί, τοῦτό μοι καρπὸς ἔργου— καὶ τί αἱρήσομαι οὐ γνωρίζω· 23 συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ γὰρ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον, 24 τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν ⸀ ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον δι᾽ ὑμᾶς.

My translation: “For me, to live—Christ; and to die—profit. But if to live in the body, this to me is fruitful work, and what I choose to take up I do not know. I am confined by the two, having the desire to die and be with Christ, for rather this is nobler. And to stay in the body is more important for you.”

I tried to be a bit wooden with my translation, but that is never entirely doable. But I hope the passage makes sense the way I rendered it.

As representative of the dualist perspective, I will engage with John Piper’s website, as I am too tired to grab Wayne Grudem off the shelf. The article on Desiring God was written by Matt Perman and may be accessed here ( John Piper is a prominent neo-fundamentalist pastor, and I suspect his website is influential for those interested in this topic. However, since Matt Perman is the actual author of this piece, I will be referring to him in my response.

Perman writes:

First, Paul spoke of having the desire "to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (Philippians 1:23). Notice first of all that Paul speaks of death as a departure (from the body) not into temporary nothingness or unconsciousness but to be with Christ. If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing.

I think Perman makes several leaps in logic here. First of all, the infinitive ἀναλῦσαι (“to depart”) here just means, “to die.” It’s a metaphor meaning ‘death.’ Paul is likely writing from prison here, and the threat of death immanent. He has death on the mind, so to speak. For Perman to assert, “If we are with Christ once we have died, then we continue existing” seems to go beyond the text. There are questions Paul does not answer that Perman seems to presume an answer for. For instance:

  • Does Paul believe in an immortal soul that can survive bodily death? Unlikely.
  • Does Paul believe in the resurrection of the body? Yes. Cf. 1 Cor. 15. Why then the need for an intermediate state?

To be with Christ is a relational term, and Christ is already raised in Paul’s mind. In other texts, Paul talks about the immediacy of the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-52), but this begs a question: perspectivally, did Paul believe he would be literally raised in an instant? Unlikely. More likely, he would remain dead until resurrection (that’s why it is called resurrection), but for him, time is but a “twinkling of an eye.” To die with Christ, then is both relational and soteriological.

The preposition σύν (“with”) occurs in conjunction with Christ elsewhere in Paul (Rom. 6:8 and in Col. 2:20 and 3:3-4). In Rom. 6:8, it refers to the death of the person with Christ (soteriology) and her resurrection. The death of the believer means she has participated in Christ’s life, and her resurrection is secured because of his resurrection. In Col. 2:20, ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ (“dying with Christ”) is also a relational term, as in being bound to Christ in death as opposed to the “elements of the world.” In 3:3-4, the life of the believer is “hidden” (κέκρυπται) with Christ and in God (σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ). Col. 3:4 sums this up quite powerfully:

Col. 3:4: ὅταν ὁ Χριστὸς φανερωθῇ, ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν, τότε καὶ ὑμεῖς σὺν αὐτῷ φανερωθήσεσθε ἐν δόξῃ.

My translation: “whenever Christ [the Messiah] may be manifest in our lives, then also you will be manifested in glory with him.”

Paul’s basic premise is sound: to die with Christ is to participate in his life and example, in imitating the dying Messiah so that we may have eternal life in his name. For Perman to make it about continuing to exist seems to contradict the witness of Paul elsewhere, and here especially.

He writes:

Second, notice that Paul speaks of this state as "very much better" than the present state. It would be hard to say such a thing of a state of complete unconsciousness.”

This seems tenuous. Eternal life, in resurrection, is surely preferable to death. The intimacy of Christ, the fullness of his life, and the vindication of Paul’s witness remain forlorn and forsaken without resurrection. To remain dead in light of his own life and sufferings, Paul undoubtedly thought resurrection with Christ was better! To be raised is vindication (cf. Dan. 12:2-3), not abandonment.

Particularly when we consider that Paul's passion was to know Christ, it would seem that the reason the state beyond death is better than this present life is because we are with Christ and know it. If we were suddenly unconscious at death until the resurrection, wouldn't it be better to remain in this life because at least then we would have conscious fellowship with Christ?

He writes:

…notice again that [Paul] speaks of this state as his preference, which indicates (as in Philippians 1:23) that we not only continue existing between death and the resurrection, but that we are aware of our existence.

Nowhere in Paul do we have any language about “existing” between death and resurrection. As has been shown already, this looks to be a fallacious line of argumentation. Of course, resurrection is Paul’s preference! He lived and suffering and ultimately died for Christ. “Awareness” seems more like a modernistic ideal than a New Testament reality.

In essence, Paul in Philippians 1:21-24 is speaking relationally, with an eye toward future resurrection (c.f. 3:10-11). The language about being “in the body” is likely an idiomatic phrase about being alive. For instance, Rom. 8:3 uses a similar syntactical phrase κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί (“condemned sin in the body”), that is, Jesus’ living mortal body being crucified and killed, and thus condemning sin. Elsewhere, 2 Cor. 4:11b reads as follows:

2 Cor. 4:11: ἵνα καὶ ἡ ζωὴ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ φανερωθῇ ἐν τῇ θνητῇ σαρκὶ ἡμῶν

My translation: “so that also the life of Jesus should be manifested in our mortal bodies.”

The idea of “in the flesh/body” is not to promote a dualistic and tripartite view of the human person (that we are composed of body, soul and/or spirit). Rather, the relational idiom denotes the idea of being alive (or formerly alive). “In the body” is an idiomatic way of simply stating the obvious: you are alive, in the most basic sense of the phrase.

Paul’s language here is about participation in God’s mission in the world, not about a conscious intermediate state. If one desires to argue for such a concept, one is on far better ground in the realm of philosophy and theology rather than this text. I am mildly open to the concept of an intermediate state on philosophical grounds (although I do find it to be unnecessary and not in harmony with the witness of the New Testament), but I cannot endorse such an idea from this chief proof text.


Do You Really Love Me? Sex, Lies, and Sacrifice

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." --Mark 12:30

This is the expression on my face when my husband is doing something adorably funny and I am trying to contain myself!

This is the expression on my face when my husband is doing something adorably funny and I am trying to contain myself!

It's the generic story we have all heard at some point: Boy tells girl he loves her. She sleeps with him, and he's gone (you can even add women to the mix of objectifying others for personal gain). What I would like to point out in the story, however, is that none of us really think the boy loved the girl because he said so. In this simplistic story, he has shown otherwise. However, in this complex world things are not so straightforward or obvious--at least when it is happening to us at the time or when perhaps we are the ones with less than pure motives.

In the United States these days I suspect few really know what "love" is. It's a term often thrown around ambiguously to indicate "strong feelings," the existence of which supposedly indicates this thing called "love" which is something you catch like a wanted disease and is without cure. Maybe it is a strong pull to be around someone all the time? This feeling is so fundamentally human that to deny any person (including oneself) its ultimate expression: sex, is a supreme evil.

The idea of waiting for sex before marriage appears ungenuine or simply a cultural relic of the days of yore (or recent days...or current days for most cultures around the world). Perhaps many of us only know of it from Sunday school or youth group pledges we took to adhere to another rule, one of many rejected by the discovery of our "true selves" on our long painful journey from those hypocrites over there.

Sadly, our reality of love is also one of isolation, breakups and a plethora of interpretations as we try to redefine "family" to include friends or whatever we make of it to escape what we don't have. It is not atypical to have had fractured families either emotionally or physically, and a swirl of messages about love and beauty prioritizing sensation and the self. Worse yet, many of us are reliving what we experience within our homes with our children and significant other(s).

In truth, if we live and breath in a different reality shaped by what is known as the living Word of God we will have a different paradigm entirely. In the biblical reality, love is something dynamic, passionate, consuming and an action--not fundamnetally a sexual expression of a mere subjective state.

At the basic level love to all human beings is shown in the golden rule: love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) and is often expressed in the Bible as giving preference to one another--meaning your enemies and people not in your "tribe."

Then there is romantic love which is analogous to the all-consuming love of God. Both love for God and love for your husband or wife is a radical and singular commitment that demands the whole person. There is only one God and we either love him or we do not. We should have only one spouse and ultimately we love them or not.

Love is a concrete commitment.

If you love someone romantically, if they are a human being (in a way we love God romantically or we don't) it means your sexuality is an expression of a concrete commitment--not mere rhetoric or a passing (but ever strong) feeling. It means: You and Only YOU. It means you will not have sex before you are married out of love for that person and hopefully God because it naturally follows a special singular commitment. It means you will not have anyone else besides them until after death. Love is something declared in front of a community of accountability and continued on after. The commitment is the part many lack. Well, wishes are not enough. We will have sex now and commit later is not love. It is sacrifice is the real world, not something fun that we do in the moment to someone we have feelings for.

Yes, we sacrifice our sexual selves for the God we love and the man or woman we love. But in radical commitment, and consuming zeal are we truly abstinent? In all truth, God has to be the life-blood of us all. If we want to be our true selves and to be truly loving we have to be connected to the source of love. This is not a distant creator, but one who fills the world with himself and is intimately involved with us and who likens our turning away from him as a spouse sleeping around. He is one who speaks to us today, became the "other"--us, felt abandoned by God (God feeling abandoned by God is possible with a Trinity!), and died in the most cruel way at the hands of those he loved and wanted to bring into a joyful and loving relationship powerful enough to raise the dead.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

The heart of this is caring for someone else so much that you are willing to die for them and this is exactly what God asks husbands and wives to do for each other in Ephesians 5. It is what he has done for us as an expression of his love. We show that we know God and love him (and truly love others) when we are also willing to sacrifice ourselves (this includes a life pattern of living this sacrifice--at the very least not having sex in some situations).

In God's reality, love makes ultimate sacrifices and commitments even when it means dying because paradoxically ultimately giving up ourselves means gaining ourselves. 

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." Matthew 16:24-25

"Saving sex before marriage" only covers what one is not doing at a given time. In God's world it is being caught up in an exclusive divine love that is all-encompassing, all loving, and all consuming. It is saying to God You and YOU ONLY and meaning it.













"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:13-14





Prodigals, Famine and the Point of the Story

We are all familiar with this story.

In Luke 15:11-32, we have the familiar story of the prodigal son, who demanded his inheritance and went off into a different land.

We know this story, where the son demands, takes, and squanders.

I thought I knew this story too.

In my third quarter in seminary, I wrote a paper on this parable, and glossed over an important part, an important part that other writers had noticed. These writers were from Africa, and these commentators put their finger on something I had glossed over.

The word λιμὸς (“famine”) is used in 15:14. This word refers to famine, or hunger, or starvation. It speaks of deprivation, of rumbling stomachs, of a society that is known as barren and lost.

Paul uses the term in that famous “golden chain” in Romans 8, where he speaks about τίς ἡμᾶς χωρίσει ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ; θλῖψις ἢ στενοχωρία ἢ διωγμὸς ἢ λιμὸς ἢ γυμνότης ἢ κίνδυνος ἢ μάχαιρα – “what will separate us from the love of Christ? Oppression or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

These are not distant realities in the ancient world. If there were a Palestinian Times or a Roman York Post, these realities would be front and center. Reports at 11.

Paul’s intent is to assert the base obviousness of the world of destitution, that is, a world oppressed by Sin and Death, utterly unmoored from God and God’s love.

Of course, Jesus does not tell us where this country is, or what it symbolizes. We can all imagine what kind of country he is using.

In ancient mythology, one could speculate that the famine is because of God’s judgment. Or because of bad luck, or blind determinism or fate. In any sense, λιμὸς signifies those who are destitute, or hungry, or trapped in a situation that signifies the inevitability of death.

Luke tells us that after he had squandered everything, he was the first to be destitute (ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι). A foreigner, presumably, is the first person amongst the naturalized citizens to be without something.

To put it colloquially, the son “pissed away” his wealth, and then the entire country began to enter a famine.

In other texts in the New Testament, λιμὸς is often connected with the word for “nakedness” (γυμνότης), which drives home the image of being entirely without protection, care, or community (cf. 2 Cor. 11:27; Rev. 3:18). The adjective γυμνὸς occurs more often.

I don’t make much, and Allison does not either. We make enough to eat, sleep and turn on the AC once in a while. But we have never been without something.

So this text is pushing the image of destitution, of communal despondency. As in, they did not give him anything (15:16). They had nothing to spare themselves.

Part of me really hates this prodigal son, particularly because of his wealth and seeming disinterest in his community. He looks like the type of rich kid who has everything he or she has ever wanted, and has never seen pain or sorrow.

Part of me is grateful they never have.

But the point of this story is not the son.

The point is the generosity of the father. The use of the aorist middle verb ἤρξαντο occurs both in vv.14 and 24, first on the lips of Jesus (the narrator) and once on the lips of the father.

This story is not about the prodigal who was first to be destitute in a strange and oppressed land, himself likely a figure of high status and caliber; rather it is about the father who describes his prodigal as ἤρξαντο εὐφραίνεσθαι (“first to be found”). 

This parable displays the character of the father toward the prodigal, who even though he squandered the life’s wealth of the father, is still considered family.

He brings his son in, and clothes him, feeds him, honors him.

On the one hand, it feels simple, even trite.

But to those who have sinned in a catastrophic manner, it may mean the world.

To those who are hungry, a loving father is willing to still give, even after being taken advantage of.

It is not an act of grace; it is an act of Christ.

For those who are prodigals, in the midst of famine, sometimes Christ shows up even in the midst of parables written thousands of years ago.

Sometimes stories about pain, oppression and suffering are what is needed to paint a picture of a reality that is missed or forgotten.

The point of this story is not the son.


Us vs. God: Reflections on Faith

Yep. That weird one in the picture above is me. And yes, I am trying to make a "Borg" eye from Star Trek (you probably weren't thinking that in the first place but there it is). 

Yep. That weird one in the picture above is me. And yes, I am trying to make a "Borg" eye from Star Trek (you probably weren't thinking that in the first place but there it is). 

I used to hate part of the meaning of my name "Allison" which is "Little truthful one." I didn't like the "little" part so much growing up. Ironically as I have gotten older I have come to cherish it in the context of my relationship with God. I am God's little one, sometimes taking myself too seriously and being worried when in the end I am so small and it has been a delight to reflect on what it means to be less or small in relation to God and His life.

More specifically, recently I have been reflecting lately on my relationship with God over the years in light of a culture that has become increasingly more hostile towards God and what He stands for. Honestly, it is not so simply a detached culture out there, but those we love. For those of us millennials who are left, we recall friends from youth group who have long left the faith. I am blessed to know many who still love the Lord and are connected to His people.

There are many long complicated reasons for why people leave the faith and yet others don't amidst those same reasons. Sometimes it takes various tragedies some that leave you crippled or mangled physically and/or emotionally and seeing others trying to fill voids with gods of their own making to realize that beyond everything "yes, beyond my failings and imperfections I love the Lord with everything that I am and that His love will carry me into eternity." I never doubted my salvation or feared giving it up, but sometimes it takes the bad things in life to bring out how you really feel (it's nice when it is a good thing).  

I've always admired God and His character. Someone who had also had an unusual encounter with God's light (literally) still found something was missing in his life, something those who trust God have and he didn't. I told him it was a relationship with God. It truly is a relationship one where the love of God transforms our character to be like His and we become more truly ourselves. In my dad's words "our best selves." We become truly human when we reflect the love we were created from and with. It is painful to think about those parts that are not yet complete because we want so fervently to return the precious gift we cannot truly repay with our lives, but are comforted to think the sun of God's kingdom is rising and changing all it touches. In Ephesians darkness cannot exist when it is exposed to light and to me this is either a comfort or dread for people.

Maybe initially people turn to God--even all of us in little ways--because life is so painful or empty or as a last resort, but after a while, something changes and you realize you could lose everything because you don't love God for what He gives you and You are in love with Him. You could spend eternity in a hell (a contradiction) if only He would be there. There are St. John of the Cross' dark nights of the soul when you search and search for Him and His presence and cannot find Him and are devasted because you know who He is and that He is right there. Then you see those around you leave Him one by one and you are one of a few left.

There is no understanding the world without culture or paradigms but God flips our perspective and we see the world and ourselves through Him. Questions surrounding sexual ethics, how we should treat those who hurt us, and whether we are centered around ourselves come out of a personal experience and interaction with God over a lifetime as he walks with us. If we really are our best selves--our true selves--when we are connected to the life-giving God, what does it mean when we choose ourselves over God or worship a mute god that is a mere projection of ourselves? What is lost? The insidiousness of what is called "idolatry" is that we lose ourselves in worshipping projections when we could gain ourselves by surrendering to God.

Preaching Stuff you Learn in Seminary

Seminary is a place where the more troublesome aspects of Scripture and history lay, waiting for exposition and exploration. Issues such as pseudepigraphy, tensions in the gospels, and the various problems of inheriting tradition come to mind right off the bat.

However, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with friends of mine (they know who they are): how do you preach technical issues in Scripture? If a pericope or sentence is disputed, do you preach it like 1 Cor. 14:34-35? If Paul didn’t write the Pastoral Epistles, can you preach on it, based on your view of pseudepigraphy? How does pseudepigraphy relate to inspiration? If Jesus didn’t say anything in the Gospel of John, can you say with sincerity that “Jesus said…”? Its one of the many questions I have, mostly because I’ve not gone through two years of seminary and have preached on most of these issues.

I won’t pretend to solve all of this in a single post, and I invite my preacher friends—gals and guys—to comment on social media with their own perspectives on these issues. For me, I will only offer some insights I have based on my experiences.

Regarding debated portions of Scripture, last year I gave a whirlwind summary of the entirety of 1 Corinthians at my home church. I quite literally went from chapter one to chapter 16. There is a lot of complex and debated material in 1 Corinthians to cover, everything from sexual immorality in ch5-6, gender in ch11 and 14, and so on. I tackled these issues based on my own exegesis of the relevant texts and contexts, and when I came to 14:34-35 I had a bit of a dilemma:

Do I even mention there is a debate about these two verses?

So, without any real hesitation, I delved into the textual issues regarding these two verses and explained to the congregation that these verses were most likely later additions—i.e. an interpolation to the original text, and thus carried no apostolic weight. To my surprise, nobody raised a fuss, and even some people said it made sense to them, based on the rest of the Biblical witness to women in ministry (he specifically cited Junia in Rom. 16:7 as an example).

So, in this one instance, introducing disputed historical debates worked well. It even seemed to encourage the congregation, as it affirmed a basic commitment to Scripture’s integrity. A woman did come up later and ask, but I had my Greek New Testament and was able to show her some critical marks in there, and she was impressed at the veracity of the text.

This is but one situation, and not every situation is comparable. It depends on one’s community, and not every community is open or interested in such debates. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain a pastor should be preaching these issues from her pulpit, unless it is vital to her sermon.

Another instance I recall is when I preached on 1 Cor. 15 and advent. I preached on the nature of destruction, and included my view that human beings are physical creatures that are not souls. In essence, I preached a physicalist or monistic view of anthropology. This seemed to cause some discomfort, but only until I got to the portions of Scripture that talk about SOMA, and I tied this directly to the doctrine of resurrection and the goodness of creation and the body. Then, I could see that the dualistic assumptions on the part of some people washed away and they “got” it. I concluded my teaching sermon on 1 Cor. 15:26 and the destruction of death, which signifies the utter annihilation of the final enemy.

While I did not explicitly teach my view of hell, I was able to use biblical language to describe how Paul viewed the end of evil and wickedness. I then had them verbally read Psalm 110 and when I reread 1 Cor. 15:20-26, their eyes lit up.

I was moved to see their own realization of their own humanness, and some people came up to me later to ask about what “hell” it. It was a teaching moment, and I was challenged, and mentioned that the dominant language in the New Testament signifies destruction. Some of them nodded politely and moved on, and one woman asked me if this meant that nobody would be in hell ever.

I paused, and said, “evil cannot exist in God’s new creation.” That seemed to satisfy her, and the sermon, I’m told, was very well received after that.

So it depends on the context in which you preach. For me, I was able to tackle multiple issues within a very short time, and I fielded questions afterward. Sometimes it wouldn’t help people to know about ancient manuscripts. Sometimes, a Greek word could mean an entire paradigm shift on the part of your community.

Scripture is alive after all, waiting to be taught with the full authority is bears. Be sensitive to the text, and especially be sensitive to your community. When Allison and I taught through the Epistle to the Ephesians, our eyes were opened to the needs of our church, and the critical issues dropped by the side of the proverbial road. We mentioned them, but they did not entirely help our particular conclusions. Sometimes these issues don't help. Sometimes they do.

In any sense, honesty is necessary to good preaching. I was the one kid in church would, upon learning that "hell" existed, pestered my poor youth pastor with questions until he could not longer think straight. While I still harbor some resentment over being ignored and dismissed, I suspect it too was a teaching moment: sometimes the critical issues could save a person's faith. Sometimes, you could be surprised by the complexities of Scripture.


The ESV: The New Inspired Version

Once upon a time there were 70 translators (or was it 72?) who met in Alexandria. Although they were placed in separate rooms, these translators all arrived at the exact same translation of the Old Testament into Greek. Little did they know that their translation (er--translations, recensions, editions, versions, and interpretive glosses) would become the only Bible for the Christian church.

Long ago in an era far far away (but not that far!), God created the King James Bible in order to guarantee conformity to the governmental structure of the Church of England. 47 scholars--all from the Church of England--to ensure orthodoxy, became the sole mouthpiece of God. Unperturbed by pesky threats like updated manuscripts, it is the only version for the true believers of today. 

In the beginning of the 1990s, the light shined in the darkness bringing forth a literal--"word-for-word" except when it comes to gender passage--ESV Bible version. But the feminism did not "understand," or was it did not "receive"? it. With the looming threat of the ever changing tides of a more gender inclusive church and additional scholarship beginning to lead scholars of various traditions astray, one "can have full confidence in the ESV, knowing that it will continue to be published as is, without being changed, for the rest of their lives, and for generations to come." Most translations wish to give you the best that biblical scholarship has to offer. Even The King James version of lore underwent many revisions over many years, before being solidified, but the unanimous(?) consensus of the modern ESV committee say, "Ni!"

Why? Fear not dear readers. The ESV represents the very Word of God entrusted to such sages as Wayne Grudem and so will be given back into the hands of God to live on forever as his sacred word. Published by LifeWay.

In making these final changes, the Crossway Board of Directors and the Translation Oversight Committee thus affirm that their highest responsibility is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20)—to guard and preserve the very words of God as translated in the ESV Bible; to do so in full awareness of the fearful responsibility that this sacred trust entails; to understand that this can be accomplished only in complete dependence on the Lord’s grace, mercy, strength, providence, and wisdom; for the glory alone of our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, with the work of translating the ESV Bible now completed, we would give our work back into the hands of the Lord; for him to use and to bless and to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 55:11); for the sake of his church and the gospel, to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47)—knowing that “the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

It is within the framework of this commitment, then, that we are pleased to provide the following list of the final changes to the ESV Bible text, thereby establishing the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible, unchanged forever, in perpetuity:

Of course, some might say the powers that be have succeeded in making a very biased translation widely thought to be close to the original text and want to freeze it in time so that their version will not be changed to reflect updated scholarship and changing scholarly opinion on gender among other things that certain members are preoccupied with.

But that sounds shady and less grandiose.










This post will never ever ever change to reflect any corrections to my holy, perfect and objective assessment.

“Not Many of You are of Noble Birth: Wealth, Status and 1 Cor. 1:26”

I find ancient economics and social-science fascinating, especially regarding the potential for Pauline theology. Here is a short post on how God's economy works with Paul's brief statement regarding the status of his church in Corinth. Thanks, and forgive my future indulgences in this topics. I'm sure there will be many of them, provided I can further study this subject on the doctoral level.

God willing, at least.

Now onto the short show!

26 Βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα, οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί, οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς·

“For you see your situation, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many of high or noble status or birth.” (NRQT).

Other translations of 1 Cor. 1:26—

“Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class.” (CEB)

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (NRSV)

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (NIV).

The Common English Bible (CEB) translates the noun κλῆσιν as “situation.” While interpretive in some sense, I think this actually reflects the original intent of the noun, rather than “calling.”

Paul uses the various tense of the verb καλέω later in 1 Cor. 7:20-23 to describe a situation a slave is born into, or partakes in. So, “situation” makes good sense and I changed my translation accordingly. Just a note on that.

The adjective εὐγενεῖς ("noble birth," "high-class") in other tense appears two other times in the New Testament, one in Luke 19:12 and another in Acts 17:11. In Luke 19, the adjective is used to describe someone born and going to take a βασιλείαν (“Kingdom”). This person is of clearly noble birth, of high rank, and of wealth in order to go to χώραν μακρὰν (“a far off place”). In Acts 17:11 the adjective describes Jewish noblemen (and women, in v.12). Thus, the term likely denotes social status of a high caliber. Most of us in the United States would be considered "εὐγενεῖς."

So Paul is likely writing to people who are not like the man in Luke 19 or the Jewish men and women in Acts 17. This is confirmed by Paul’s own comment on their status as seen by others: they are μωρὰ (“foolish”), as seen from people of a higher social-class (v.25). God sets the one’s lacking in social status aside for himself in the following verses in order to be καταισχύνῃ  (“dishonored”), which suggests social shaming, among other things.

The poor being uplifted or shown preference instead of the obvious wealthy is indeed a slander to the ancient mind. That likely makes up most of the people within the small house church in Corinth.

People of ignoble birth, of low status, likely slaves as well (1 Cor. 7:20-23). The letter addresses both sides of an apparent conflict, as some are taking the other’s to court (ch6), engaging in egregious sexual immorality without remorse or recourse (ch5), dividing over the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), and fighting over who has the gifts of tongues (ch12-14).

The entire letter seems to presuppose this tension or conflict between classes, genders (11:2-16: 14:34-35, though I believe the latter is an interpolation), and even slaves in the aforementioned 7:20-23.

For Paul, the poor are given something in Christ:

ἐξ αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑμεῖς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐγενήθη σοφία ἡμῖν ⸃ ἀπὸ θεοῦ, δικαιοσύνη τε καὶ ἁγιασμὸς καὶ ἀπολύτρωσις

“But from [God], you are in Messiah Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God, both righteousness and sanctification and liberation.” (NRQT)

The Messiah is spoken of as θεοῦ δύναμιν καὶ θεοῦ σοφίαν (“God’s power and God’s wisdom”).

Christ is the wisdom of God, on behalf of those of ignoble birth, of low social status, and especially for those who are dishonored, marginal, and forgotten. In this Messiah, there is liberation, as this Messiah is not just for the rich and the powerful, but for those without power.

Those are identified as τὸ ἀσθενὲς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the weakness of God”) is seen in the same grammatical pattern as τὸ μωρὸν τοῦ θεοῦ in v.25: article + nominative adjective + article + genitive (divine) noun. The weakness of God is manifest in the community, suggesting identification and participation. God, it seems, is powerful enough to identify with the poor, the destitute, and not of high or noble status or birth.

Just some thoughts on the economy of God.


All that Glitters: A Brief Reflection on Wealth in 1 Tim. 6:17

Τοῖς πλουσίοις ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι παράγγελλε μὴ ὑψηλοφρονεῖν μηδὲ ἠλπικέναι ἐπὶ πλούτου ἀδηλότητι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ θεῷ τῷ παρέχοντι ἡμῖν πάντα πλουσίως εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν

“To the rich ones in the present age, command them to not be prideful nor to hope upon the uncertainty of riches, but upon God who is presenting to us all things richly for enjoyment.” 1 Tim. 6:17.

I’ve been attempting to write a future Ph.D dissertation proposal, and came across this text in 1 Timothy and it stuck with me. My wife and I are having some financial turbulence and living paycheck to paycheck is always a rough ride. However, in thinking about this text within the pericope in chapter 6, it seems that a disparity between rich and poor is percolating behind the scenes.

See for example:

·      (V.9) “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

·      (V.10) “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Paul’s concern for the poor has been well documented, especially in recent works by David Downs and Bruce Longenecker. As the articular dative adjective πλουσίοις suggests, the author is directly addressing members of the congregation, this being the wealthy ones. While the poor could indeed own slaves, the context seems to suggest that these rich ones are slave owners (c.f. 6:1-2). Leaving aside the thorny issue of slavery in Paul, the direct address, followed by the imperative παράγγελλε, suggests a possible counter to the brief commentary on slaves in vv.1-2.

The interplay between the adjective and the nouns for “riches” is curious, as the materiality of wealthy is devalued by the author—serving as a “temporal” reality (ἀδηλότητι). Material possession, it is suggested, is limited to this world.

For those of us in turbulent times (as I suspect most of us are), this text bothers me. Not in a negative way per se, but it got under my skin pretty good. What about those who do not have wealth or sustainment?

Well, the answer seemingly lies in v.18, where the rich are enjoined to be “generous” (εὐμεταδότους) with the poor. The futurism mentality of the author shines through here, as this is a rhetorical maneuver to make it ‘appropriate’ for the wealthy to be generous. They give now, so that their futures are bound to eternal life. The poor are thus dependent upon the mandated generosity of the wealthy, which may have interesting implications. Something to chew on, perhaps.

The church, early on, was marked by generosity and the sharing of possessions; here, it seems, it took a little longer for them to get the hang of it. This brings me great comfort that many women and men in the early church were not unlike many of us today (just read the news, hint hint). The statement "into ruin and destruction" (v.9) is surprising. The use of εἰς ὄλεθρον καὶ ἀπώλειαν suggests both a present actuality (poverty resulting in material destruction and even death) and also perhaps eschatological destruction (due to disregard of the body or exploitation therein). In the times I've wondered what it would be like to be rich and have millions of dollars, this text now makes me reconsider those fantasies.

Plus my chances of winning the lotto are like 1 in 2,048,086,421 or something.

While that may not put a comma in my bank account, it does remind me that the poor will always be among us, and that even in our current state, generosity is the name of the game.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there. Just some brief thoughts, nothing more.


I'm An Evangelical! What Does that Even Mean?

It's been interesting talking to various people inside and outside of evangelicalism and getting so many different ideas about what I am "supposed" to be. One person from Princeton (as well as a family member) informed me that I was a "fundamentalist." Another person made sure I knew I was a "liberal"--whatever any of this means.

Given current stereo-types many if they know I am an evangelical already are not shocked to hear I am a Republican (at least for now), unless they learn I care deeply about social justice. Still, there is no place for most of my fellow church members or mentors through the years who were democrats. They apparently do not exist. Supposedly, I am supposed to be supporting Trump as are most of my evangelical friends and acquaintances (I only know one or two who see him as a lesser evil politically).

In truth, in the many circles I have traveled in there was not much of an emphasis on politics. No gate-keeping to make sure everyone was of a particular persuasion or sermons from the pulpit with any clear leaning. This is not the case for everyone I am assuming, but it was for me. Although, I do recall that close to election day my dad had given a sermon and several church members of different affiliations gave him a wink knowing who he was voting for--their guy!

I am also supposed to be a young-earth creationist, have a flat understanding of inerrancy and a Left Behind version of the "End Times."

Oh well.

What is Evangelicalism?

Evangelicalism is an extremely broad category spanning many denominations, para-church organizations, ethnicities, and countries who have undergone many internal changes over the years and will experience more in the future. Some basics that seem to be held in common (though some in different ways) are:

1.     The Bible is the supreme authority for faith and practice and is the inspired word of God.

2.     Basic Christian Orthodoxy held to by all Christians (i.e. we are Trinitarians).

3.     Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.

4.     Jesus died on the cross to free us from our sins and only he could do so.

5.     One must have a personal relationship with God.

This is an extremely basic list. If you hold to these and are active in your local church, chances are you are an evangelical. Historically, evangelicals have been revivalists calling everyone to have a personal relationship with God acknowledging their own wrongdoing (Billy Graham, Finney). They have also (for better or worse) tended to be highly concerned about social issues from social justice to being anti this or that.

In actuality, we are a diverse bunch held together by broad brush beliefs and some cultural quirks.

Unfortunately, we evangelicals have also had our fundamentalist era in the U.S. and at some point were extremely anti-Catholic, preoccupied with the end times, preoccupied with a narrow definition of biblical inerrancy and thought the theory of evolution was the latest ploy of the devil. None of these latter views define evangelicalism, but some of the thought patterns are still present in extreme and moderate forms for some individuals and churches in the U.S. and yet are also baffling to many other evangelicals in the U.S. and especially abroad.

Consider the contributions and beliefs of the following prominent evangelical preachers in the U.S. and notice some huge differences and similarities especially in this sample where many (but not all) have a Southern Baptist heritage. Note many evangelicals are prominent in limited circles but I have tried to choose those others are likely to have at least heard of or if not at least know of some of their concrete influences. Also, note that when I say “preoccupation” I am not taking a position as much as critiquing a matter of emphasis.

Frances Willard (1839-1898)- President of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and was known for her preaching, labor reform (8 hour work day, no child labor), women’s rights (first-wave feminist), helping to raise the age of consent, started what is known as kindergarten, anti-liquor, and was a Christian socialist. Methodist church affiliation.

Billy Graham (1918-present)- Very famous evangelist, very concerned with global Christianity and inter-faith relations, known for work helping race relations and tearing down barriers (literally) separating blacks and whites at his talks, early Southern Baptist, has more recently taken an “inclusivist” theological position regarding salvation.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)- Prominent preacher and anti-violence civil rights activist who changed the trajectory of the United States for the better regarding race relations, famous for his “I Have A Dream” address, received a doctorate in 1955, was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and gave the money from the prize to further civil rights. Martyred 1968.

Pat Robertson (1930-present)- extremely controversial figure, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Netword, founder of ABC Family, and several other organizations, host of the 700 club, “charismatic” Southern Baptist (rare), tried to be the Republican nominee of 1988, anti-feminist, often thinks natural disasters are God’s punishments, preoccupied with negative views of homosexuality.

Joyce Meyer (1943-present)- Lutheran background but currently “Charismatic” (spiritual gifts have a prominent role in the church today), one of the world’s leading Bible teachers, NY Times best-selling author who has written over 70 books, conference speaker, outspoken against sexual and emotional abuse, believes Jesus descended into hell before his resurrection (a very Christian belief but not as popular among many evangelicals).  

Rick Warren (1954-present)- Prominent pastor of Saddleback church (quietly affiliated with Southern Baptist denomination), best-selling author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” pro abstinence-only education, women serving in leadership roles are called “directors” rather than pastors, attended Fuller Seminary, lots of international work promoting reconciliation and helping the poor.

Yes, Martin Luther King Jr and Pat Robertson are/were evangelicals.

In sum, we are an all over the map, odd bunch that share what is considered a very important common core. Politically we are all over the map and have different denominational distinctives--though there is diversity even within. We have done some good things and bad things. We have held some great beliefs and influenced the world for the better and held to some silly and/or damaging things. What we will look like in the future is anyone's guess, but I would love to see a return of our revivalist DNA and deep concern for human rights inherent to our faith in Jesus Christ and personal relationship with God.













The point: Stop stereotyping!


“Eternal Punishment” and the LXX: A Brief Note on Matthew 25:46

Matt. 25:46 – καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“And these ones shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (NRQT).

A sizeable debate exists within certain sections of the evangelical world, and this concerns the doctrine of eternal punishment. While I am slowly growing weary of this debate, I have been translating large parts of the LXX for a potential article and came across the noun κόλασιν in multiple places, and figured: why not write a small article on it?

Because I have a Sunday off and might as well do some more exegesis: why not.

The noun κόλασιν can simply be translated as “punishment.” Of course what this means is up for interpretation, as ‘punishment’ is a largely broad category, but by and large this is what it means. Paul, John and Jude never use the term, and neither do any of the Synoptic writers except Matthew (25:46) and the author of 1 John in 4:18. Luke uses the verb in Acts 4:21 and so does the author of 2 Peter in 2:9.

Κόλασιν in the Old Testament

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible (called the LXX or Septuagint), it carries the same broad connotation. In Jer. 18:20 κόλασιν is used in terms of punishment in a pretty broad and non-specific category. The most concentrated uses of κόλασιν occurs in Ez. 14 (3, 4, 7). These three uses are also extremely broad and there is a pattern of “punishment of the unjust/unrighteous” (κόλασιν τῆς ἀδικίας in both singular and plural genitive), but the punishment itself is never actually specified as torment, pain, or death.

However, later on in Ez. 14 we have uses of violent battle imagery that may be connected to this punishment, though it is fairly far removed—though the context remains the same (the judgment of the elders of Israel as spoken by Jeremiah, 14:1-2). You also have the use of ἀφανισμὸν (destruction, disappearance) in 14:8 and 14:15, and in the context of God’s wrath, the use of ῥομφαίαν (“sword”) suggests that these various uses of κόλασιν means something like “punishment by death” rather than a conscious, painful existence.

The final three uses of κόλασιν in the LXX appear in Ez. 18:30, 43:11 and 44:12. In 18:30, we have a similar phrase used in previous texts: κόλασιν ἀδικίας (“punishment of the unrighteous”), and this context shows us that God desires Israel to “turn” (ἀποστρέψατε) from their “ungodliness” (ἀσεβειῶν), and not suffer this κόλασιν. This κόλασιν is specified specifically as “death” or “dying,” (v.31, 32) as the term ἀποθνήσκω dictates. This term refers to the death of mortals, and its additional use in 18:28 specifies that there are two outcomes of God’s injunction: turn to life (ζωῇ) or die (ἀποθάνῃ). Thus, Ez. 18:30 and the surrounding verses shows that κόλασιν is indeed compatible with the annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 25:46 as an “eternal punishment” that results in death.”

In Ez. 43:11, Israel is said to “cease from” (κοπάσουσιν) their sins, and they will “receive [in an active manner]” (λήμψονται) their ποιήσωσιν. The punishment is not specified. In Ez. 44:12, the punishment is specified as being unable to “approach” (ἐγγιοῦσι) in terms of Jewish offices and priests. They are to work in the temple, but God is merciful and keeps them in Israel. In the Apocrypha, κόλασιν is explained in terms of “death” in Wisdom 19:4-5 and 2 Maccabees 4:38.

So the LXX uses of κόλασιν are generally specific, but the one instance where it is specific, the context shows that the term refers to “death.” The other instances seem to be too broad to offer any specific conclusions.

Κόλασιν in the New Testament

The two verb uses of κολάζω occur in Acts and 2 Peter. Luke uses the aorist subjunctive (κολάσωνται) to refer to the council being unable to punish Peter and John. The contextual use of the verb suggests imprisonment or death, though it is more likely referring to imprisonment. The second use is in 2 Peter 2:9 suggests that “death” or “annihilation” is in view, as God keeps them unrighteous in punishment until “the day of judgment,” which is clarified in 2:12-14 some of the most vivid and violent imagery we have in the New Testament. The use of ὑπόδειγμα (“sample,” “example”) in 2:6 shows that being “reduced to ash” is a cataclysmic judgment resulting in utter and total extinction. In 2:12-14, we have language of “destruction” and “dissolvement” (φθοράν) being applied to the wicked who are utterly destroyed (φθαρήσονται; v.14).

The contextual use of 2 Peter reveals that κολάζω is compatible with “annihilation,” and the use in Acts is ambiguous and unspecified.

The first noun use of κόλασιν is in 1 John 4:18, and refers to the ambiguous nature of the noun. The near-constant use of ἀγάπῃ (“love”) is meant to show a contrast between “fear” and “punishment” and the goodness of God, for Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (“God is love”). The punishment is not eschatological, but metaphorical, and all but dissipates within the glory of God’s love and light.

That leaves the final use of κόλασιν in the New Testament, and it stands at the center of a phrase most often proof-texted. As we have seen, the ambiguity of the term makes it difficult to determine the exact nature of κόλασιν, but it is fair to say that it never explicitly occurs in a context of torment or pain. As death is the singular and final offense for sin in the Old Testament, Matthew’s use of κόλασιν αἰώνιον most likely refers to the “eternal punishment” which results in a death from which there is no reversal. In short, “eternal death” makes the most sense of the evidence and works quite nicely in terms of biblical theology.

For example, the “two-ways” of life and death is replete throughout the Old Testament, and is a near universal theme in the epistles. Paul certainly believed in this (c.f. Rom. 6:22-23), and the contrastive nature of ζωὴν and κόλασιν reveal that Matthew has in mind the eternal life of the righteous and the eternal death of the wicked.[1] These are also not strict parallels as αἰώνιον is far more complex than I can explain here. Suffice to say, the quality of the results and the duration of the consequences are two sides of the same coin. The “punishment” of the “coming age” reflects the Jewish belief that the “coming age” was an “eternal age,” and thus a death in the next age would result in, essentially, the utter lifelessness of the person, body, soul, spirit, whatever anthropological combination you want to postulate.[2] Either way, a death that is never reversed is indeed eternal.

In short, Matthew 25:46, in my estimation, cannot be proof-texted as support for the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment,[3] as the term itself offers us no specific context from which to draw such a conclusion. Rather, as many things are, it is clear: life in Christ, or death apart from Christ. In this I say, “choose Christ” and participate in the life he offers because of his resurrection.


[1] Of course, this question should be unpacked, as the parabolic nature of the one herd makes one wonder about the nature of those who claim Christ and yet fail to feed and cloth “the least of these.” However, this is a question far beyond this post.

[2] For me, “body” is enough.

[3] Or for universalists who interpret the text in support of a ‘corrective’ punishment.


Glorify God with your Body

I’ve been working on a potential Ph.D dissertation proposal (don’t worry, it isn’t about hell!), and have comes across some interesting language in 1 Cor. 6:20.

ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς· δοξάσατε δὴ τὸν θεὸν ἐν τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν

“For/because you have been purchased at a price; now glorify God with your body" (NRQT).

This concluding statement comes at the finale of chapter 6, which has been concerned with infighting amongst believers. Concerned to emphasize the goodness of the human person (or “body”), Paul assertsin v.19 that the human body is a ναὸς (“temple”), which establishes a high view of the human person. This human person may give worship (that is what happens at the temple or shrine), and she is also a model for how to interact with God, and suggests further that being σῶμα is a good thing. This is why the human person is still called σῶμα in the resurrected state (c.f. 1 Cor. 25:35-57). The physicality of the body is never fully removed, but the physicality is transformed and restored.

Paul does not draw a dualistic distinction between the “matter” and the “non-matter.” Rather, he uses the natural or concrete images of ναὸς and σῶμα to illustrate God’s good creation.

Verse 20, then, stresses the necessity of holiness of bodily integrity. This verb ἠγοράσθητε is used throughout the New Testament (mostly in the Synoptic Gospels), but finds its use in three instances in Paul. The first is obvious here in 6:20. However, there is a curious use in 7:23 and also in 7:30. In 1 Cor. 7:23, Paul uses an imperative middle verb (γίνεσθε) to argue against slaves to no longer return to slavery and are likely to told to take freedom in 7:21). They were bought with the same τιμῆς or price or cost; “therefore do not become slaves of people!” The human person, in all of her physical totality, is not worthy of slavery, especially in God's eyes.

"argue against slaves to no longer return" and "likely to told to take freedom")

The use of ἀγοράζοντες in 7:30 refers to not “buying” possessions because of Paul’s view of the immanent return of Christ (that is a dissertation or ten right there).  

Thus, the human person has been purchased at a great price (likely, the resurrection of Christ that liberates us from bondage), and as a result, we glorify God with our bodies. Of course, we cannot glorify God in a spiritual manner (to utilize that adjective seems almost disconcerting in light of the economic language here), but we can worship and sing and offer thanksgiving.

We have been purchased from the slavery of Death; therefore, we participate in God’s new economy of glorifying him with all that we truly are: now and forever.


She Makes Him Holy: Participation, SOMA & Authority in 1 Cor. 7:2-16

This post largely consists of a paper I wrote here at Fuller, though with minor modifications. I submit it here because I think the overall ideas are interesting.

Because of Paul’s participation language in Galatians 3, Romans 16, and the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians, it not surprising that he continues this trend in 1 Cor. 7:1-16, especially as it relates to reciprocity and σώμα. For example, Paul says that because of “sexual immoralities” (πορνείας) each husband should have his “own” (ἴδιον) wife. The additional inclusion of the phrase “and each woman her own husband” (v.2) suggests that Paul is issuing an imperative that both genders should have[1] their own spouse.[2] The speaking of each spouse having ownership of the other forms the basis of the mutuality in v.3, where Paul asserts “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” The use of “likewise” (ὁμοίως) indicates that the wife is expected to fulfill these duties in the same manner as her husband, creating a foundation for reciprocity. Together, they participate mutually in sexual intimacy. Paul’s statement is broad and he perhaps is attempting to balance the hierarchy of the ancient model of marriage where a man could exercise sexual dominion over his wife.[3]

Furthermore, Paul’s remarkable statement in v.4 is a further explanation of mutuality:  “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” The reason Paul may be speaking to the husband first in v.3 and 4 may be rhetorical: in confidently asserting what the husband would affirm about his hierarchical relationship with his wife, Paul then absolutely undermines the husband’s expectation when he offers to the wife the same virtue and authority.[4] In short, the husband would be expecting to hear such affirming language in their patriarchal culture, and the shock of Paul’s rhetorical reversal and parallelism[5] would not have been lost on Paul’s shocked first-century readers. Paul’s reciprocal use of “exercise authority” (ἐξουσιάζει)[6] in reference to the other’s body is revolutionary: one’s own body (ἰδίου σώματος) denotes one’s whole and complete person.[7] The totality of a human being is subject to the other, grounded in mutual submission with the other. This means that sex is not merely about sex: sex is about the concern for the mind, heart, and welfare of one’s spouse as well as sexual gratification and pleasure.[8] Verses 3 and 4 are significant because there is no functional difference at play; the body of one is subject in mutual participation with the other. Paul’s phrase in v.5, “do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time” also affirms mutuality as each spouse is commanded not to withhold from the other except by “agreement” (συμφώνου). The glorifying of another person’s body is of the upmost importance to Paul, for he writes previously, “the body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (6:14). We are to glorify God with our σώματι—that is—all that we are as human beings (6:20). Husband and wife are one σώμα (Gen. 2:24). Thus, there is to be no gendered preeminence in marriage if both spouses are subjected to one another’s σώμα in Christ.[9] Paul’s mutual theology of marital participation continues in v.6-11.


Inspired by how husband and wife relate mutually, Paul goes on to state v.2-5 as a concession, and asserts his own preference for singleness (v.7-9). However, mutuality continues to thrive, as reconciliation between estranged married partners is preferred (v.10-11) and it is possible that wives and husbands shared the same legal freedom. Perkins suggests “Paul’s ‘not be separated’ reflects the Jewish law that limited divorce to husbands (Deut. 24:1), though first-century Jewish women seem to have enjoyed the same freedom to divorce as their gentile counterparts.”[10] Paul affirms the wife’s right to divorce (ἀφιέτω, using the same imperative verb for husbands) in v.13, though he urges both husbands and wives not to utilize that right.[11] The mutual interdependence of male and female is indeed unambiguous, and here “Paul empowers the woman in the relationship as she is called to exercise her will in the matter. In contrast, there is no greater responsibility or burden directed to the man.”[12]


All of Paul’s previous language of participation and mutuality now culminates in v.12-16. In this text Paul offers his own advice to the believing party in a mixed marriage by stating in v.12-13: “If any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.” The parallelism is explicit and not controversial: one ought not divorce the unbelieving other spouse, should he or she continue to live with them. What Paul says next in v.14 is extraordinary, controversial and deserves significant attention: “For the unbelieving husband is made holy [ἡγίασται] through [ἐν] his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy [ἡγίασται] through [ἐν] her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy [ἅγια].” Various translations of v.14 translate ἐν as “through” or “by.” This use of is ἐν confirmed by Stanley E. Porter who believes the preposition includes “[a] label a relationship by which (normally) a thing (and occasionally a person) brings about or enters into an action with respect to something else.”[13] The phrase “ἐν τῇ γυναικὶ” is defined by Rogers Jr. and Rogers III as “in the wife; that is, through the close tie with her.”[14] The unbelieving partner is—perhaps unwittingly—participating in the life of the believing partner, whether husband or wife. The implication of this is that mutual submission is enjoined within Paul’s own theological framework, as husband and wife together in Christ “yield” the “exercising of authority” to one another. This illustrates the powerful agency of the wife in affecting her unbelieving husband through relational commitment. In essence, the wife makes her husband “ἡγίασται,” and visa versa. Husband and wife are free to exercise authority and influence over the unbelieving other, which completely diminishes claims that “women are to honor and men are to embrace the special responsibility that God has given men in the spiritual leadership in the home and in the believing community.”[15] Not only is this language contextually unwarranted, it is theologically nonsensical when considering Paul’s language here. The agency assumed on the part of Paul regarding wives and husbands equalizes the other’s ability to make the other “holy,” thus illustrating mutuality and equality in the Christian marriage relationship.

The meaning of ἡγίασται is debated in v14. There is a fascinating chain in 1 Cor. 6:11, where a string of aorist verbs (ἀπελούσασθε, ἡγιάσθητε, ἐδικαιώθητε) describing former sinners are concluded with the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). This close use of ἡγιάσθητε may be vital for our understanding of ἡγίασται in v.14. Stanley Porter observes that ἡγίασται (“is sanctified”) likely suggests “the ethical side of ‘sanctification’ is probably to the fore, in which Paul is saying that the marital relationship in which these mixed partners are involved, perhaps even by its ongoing maintenance, is made morally pure by the believing partner being in it.”[16] The husband and the wife exercise agency over the other and this would include spiritual authority as well. Both have an equal mandate to ἡγίασται the other, and gender does not reduce the ability of the women to make her husband holy.[17] Included in this agency is the family unit, as even children are now “holy” because of the believing member. Paul uses the possessive plural pronoun (ὑμῶν) to indicate that both husband and wife are in view regarding the holiness of their children (τέκνα, a neuter that could show Paul’s mindfulness towards sons and daughters), further illustrating mutuality.

V.15 showcases Paul’s inclusion of both genders in the case of the unbelieving spouse not responding and in turn separating from the believing spouse: if this happens, “the brother (ἀδελφὸς) or the sister (ἀδελφὴ) is not bound.” The significance of v.15 is that the deserted partner is not bound. This assumes that women could also divorce the believing husband, thus confirming equal legal rights mentioned above and may illustrate Paul’s sensitivity to the plight of both genders in the case of abandonment. It empowers the abandoned spouse by asserting that they are not bound (οὐ δεδούλωται). Paul is saying that one is not a slave because of their abandonment. Margaret MacDonald insightfully points out, “1 Cor. 7.12-16 offers insight both into the initiative of women, and into the suffering they probably endured.”[18]

V.16 begins with a vocative γύναι, addressing the wife before the husband. This follows Paul’s standard of often addressing the so-called “subordinate party first,”[19] which seems to run counter to the various Haustafeln in the ancient world. Paul says to the wife “you might save (σώσεις) your husband.” BDAG 982-983 suggests that σῴζω in this verse refers to “persons who are mediators of divine salvation.” This runs counter to the belief that only a husband is the spiritual authority or influence in a marriage. The syntax of v.16 is symmetrical in applying this to husbands and wives: both can σώσεις the other and Garland contends that the idiom τί οἶδας ought to be taken positively, not fatalistically.[20] Paul is speaking positively about the effect the believing spouse may have upon the unbelieving other. The future active indicative verb σώσεις occurs three times in the Pauline corpus: twice here and once in 1Timothy 4:16, where it refers to those who “will be saved” (σώσεις).

Contextually, the soteriological affirmation for wives to “sanctify” their husbands is Paul’s affirmation of wives’ participation in bringing their unbelieving husbands to Christ. It seems clear that a husband and wife in a mixed marriage would influence the other to be “in Christ,” and that there would be no discrimination between genders as to who spiritually affects the other. Christ models for wives the sense by which they draw others into Christ and that there is no spiritual superiority within marriage: mixed or otherwise. In Christian marriage, spiritual influence and authority are not gendered, but mutually complementary and exceedingly beneficial for those who pursue mutual submission in Christ. I know it has worked wonders for myself, and I cannot imagine being a husband who did not submit to my wife.


[1] ἐχέτω (active imperative verb) is applied to both husbands and wives in v.2.

[2] Marion L. Soards, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 141. He writes, “this particular teaching [in v.2] about sexual relationships in marriage focuses on the rights of each partner in the marriage.”

[3] This is especially true if the ancient wife were married in her mid teens. C.f. Polaski, A Feminist Introduction to Paul, 34-35.

[4] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997), writes: “Here Paul articulates a view of marriage that stands as a challenge to views ancient and modern alike. The marriage partner are neither placed in a hierarchical relation with one over the other nor set apart as autonomous units each doing what he or she pleases.” 116.

[5] There is an articular parallelism in v.4: the affirmations of the one who has authority are exactly parallel in Greek.

[6] BDAG 353-354: “to have the right of control, to have the right/power.” This “right/power in 1 Cor. 7:4 is negated (οὐκ) by Paul as something integral to the spouse.

[7] BDAG 982: “body of a human being or animal.”

[8] To limit this text only to matters of sex is to minimize the complexities of God-ordained human intimate interactions. Sex cannot, stated candidly, be limited only to the bedroom. Sexual intimacy is about personality, character, and agency: all of which require something more than merely sexual intercourse. To limit this text in such a was is to fundamentally misunderstanding God’s gift of sex to us.

[9] Philip Payne notes the various other gendered parallelisms throughout 1 Cor. 7:1-40. Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 105-108.

[10] Pheme Perkins, First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 109.

[11] Hays, 1 Corinthians, pointed this out. 120.

[12] Ronald W. Pierce, “First Corinthians 7: Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender,” Priscilla Papers 23.3, 2009, 10.

[13] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed (Sheffield, UK; Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 98-99. He notes that ἐν includes the concepts of “instrument, agent, cause, means, or manner.”

[14] Cleon L. Rogers JR and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 362.

[15] Bruce A. Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God” in Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, ed. Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 90.

[16] Stanley E. Porter, “Holiness, Sanctification” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 401.

[17] Some could point to Eph. 5:25-29 as an example of a husband having some sort of spiritual leadership or authority. However, Paul counterbalances that notion here and does not prioritize either gender in the salvific process. The marriage relationship in Eph. 5:21-33 is counterbalanced by v.21 and the rest of the epistle's emphasis on ecclesiastical and somatic unity.

[18] Margaret MacDonald, “Virgins, Widows, and Wives: The Women of 1 Corinthians 7,” in A Feminist Companion to Paul (ed. Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff; Cleveland: T&T Clark, 2004), 153.

[19] In the New Testament household codes, the “subordinate” wives were addressed first; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19. Whether by Paul or by a Pauline school, this appears to be consistent within the Pauline corpus.

[20] David Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 294.

Why I Am Not “Convinced” By 1 Timothy 2:12-13

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way... I am not permitting a woman to teach nor authentein a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  Gar Adam was formed first, then Eve.” –1 Timothy 2:1-2, 12-13


It is still not unusual after more than ten years of study on gender theology and related biblical passages to be quoted 1 Timothy 2:12-13 as though it were a trump card to my egalitarianism. In many cases it appears as though they are thinking that maybe (just maybe) I had never considered the passage before. Perhaps the mere quotation of an isolated passage would part the waters of my dark, “liberal” mind.

 Despite the reality that the Bible consists of more than 1 Timothy 2:12 alone and that it is not good to have one or two texts control one’s entire theology, I don’t find the text itself or entire passage to be so clearly in favor of gender hierarchy. That is, I do not find that the text itself teaches that only men should be teachers or in authority. Why is this? The following is a brief overview of how I read the passage(s) along with some particulars to note in this controversial discussion.

 What is the Discussion Really About?

 The purpose or occasion for Paul’s writing is to stop the spread of false teaching. It is in his intro, throughout his letter and in his conclusion. For now consider Paul’s opening remarks for why he is writing this letter from 1Tim 1:3-7:

 "…Remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."

 So basically, there are false teachers that are going around living in ways that are contrary to the law of love and teaching false doctrines. They want to be great teaches and make lots of strong claims, but don’t know what they are talking about.

The expressed overarching idea of chapter two is for the entire church to lead a life of “quietness” and peace (2:2). A person's behavior is tied to what he or she believes about God so that if someone is thankful for all people and believes God desires all people to be saved, then they will reflect this in their own actions as believers (2:1-7). Note that Paul connects the essentials of what the church believes to how they treat others. Faith is not merely a private isolated commitment from how one acts within a community. 

Behaviors to Stop and Start

 Paul identifies particular bad behaviors perpetrated by certain groups in the church. Men are told not to angrily quarrel and women are told to be mindful of how they dress. In this context it probably has more to do with showing off social status rather than sexual immodesty like he does in 1 Cor 11. “Godliness” is to be expressed in good works (as is the case with the men doing good instead of quarreling) not in a display of wealth with one’s clothes. The people of God value one another in a way that is not status seeking or socially domineering.

The "Sexist" Parts of the Bible?

What follows can sound extremely bad for women depending on which Bible version you are reading or only a little odd. The ESV on the more negative side translates it this way:

 “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

 Immediately you may notice that the word “quiet” applied to women is the same as for everyone in the whole church in the earlier verses I shared in chapter 2. Also note that in Christian ethics those in the church give preference to one another (i.e. “love your neighbor as yourself”) and are expected to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5: 21). Women are expected to do the same and learning quietly was also expected of every good student. Women are being singled out here probably because they are the ones having particular issues with this at this church (like the men needing to lift up holy hands rather than fighting). Read the rest of the book and notice how many times women are described as the ones doing negative behaviors.

Additionally, although the women are to be allowed to learn they must do so with the same quietness and submission demanded of all students in the ancient world especially those who wish to be teachers.

Are ALL Women EVERYWHERE Not Allowed to Teach or Exercise Authority?

Here are some translation options:

 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

 I am not permitting a women to teach nor assume authority over a man; rather, she is to be quiet.”

 Again immediately, depending on your translation you will either walk away thinking Paul is making an absolute statement about all women that they cannot do two things or, that he is saying something that pertains to the present situation “I am not permitting” and/or they should not be engaging in a certain type of teaching “teach nor assume authority.” Grammatically, “I am not permitting” is correct (present, active, indicative).

 There is also a long complicated discussion over whether two things are being listed that should not be done or whether it is really one thing “teaching in an assuming way.” I go with the second (Check Out Philip Payne for More Info). I opt for "usurp/assume authority" over exercise authority because according to outside literature (we have to go outside because there is only one instance of this word in the NT) "exercise authority" is only a meaning hundreds of years after Paul and Payne makes a good case for "usurp/assume authority" over "domineer." Something else to consider, Paul and other NT writers have a common word for authority "exousia" (ἐξουσία) and don't need to use a word with negative connotations "authenteo" (αὐθεντέω) used for taking authority, power or something else that is not yours.

In sum, I believe Paul has a particular group in mind (in this case mostly women) and he is telling them to be “quiet” like everyone else and not be the kind of teachers that assume authority for themselves. Paul’s description in the intro describes them well: They are self- proclaimed teachers desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Of course, just because Paul is speaking to a particular situation does not mean it does not apply to all of us who are arrogant, false teachers or people who usurp/assume authority that is not ours.

This is true whether it be all or some of the above. 

“For Example” vs “Because”?

 Coming off of the command for the women to be quiet and not take authority for themselves, enters either a rationalization or reason why they are not allowed to each, or merely an example exemplifying their situation? Translation can make the difference here and the Greek word Gar can be translated as “for/because,” “for example” or even go untranslated. Some options for Vv.13-14:

 For (or because) Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 For example, Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

 Either of these options are reasonable if the verse is looked at in isolation. However the theological implications can be stark. Is Paul saying this particular group of women (or all women everywhere if you extend the present active indicative in “I am not permitting”) cannot be assuming teaching authority or teach and exercise authority because of a creation mandate based in who was created first? Of course, this is a pattern God himself does not seem to want to follow (i.e. Moses, Joseph, Jacob, King David…etc). I think that in context the latter fits better:

 There are false teachers going from house to house (5:13—the word sometimes translated as “gossips” is actually stronger and used for false teaching), who are mostly though not necessarily all women. Perhaps they are undermining the authority of male teachers in the churches (proto-gnosticism, mystery cult, “new woman” or Artemis cult influences?). Unfortunately, unlike Priscilla, Phoebe or Junia or other female teachers Paul encountered or was under they do not know what they are talking about because they are the one’s who are deceived—just like Eve!

Next Paul offers some hope that leaves many puzzled.

“Yet she will be saved through the childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

 Yes “saved" is correct (σῴζω). The word used for salvation, salvation that one can only have by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And yet despite all Paul’s talk about orthodoxy there is one heterodox exception when it comes to procreation for women? Missing in many Bibles is “the.” Paul does not have childbearing in general in mind, he has “the childbearing” that was promised to a particular woman in Genesis who was deceived by the serpent…the one who would crush the serpents head… guess who that is.


 Yes, these are false teachers and yes their behavior is showing that they don’t know what they are talking about and are a threat to the church, but they should be allowed to learn better and there is hope for them because even Eve who was deceived was given the promise of who we know to be Jesus. They too can be saved and brought into a new life of faith characterized by love, self-control, holiness, a quiet, peaceful tranquility not division, status seeking and taking what is not earned.

 This is a lesson for all of us, not just women!


Christ, The Totality of God

I was reflecting this morning about Paul’s Christology (which is a massive debate in Pauline studies at the moment), and I recalled a brief exposition I gave about Colossians 1-2 and two with my wife at a Bible study.

She preached on the so-called “Christ-hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20, and afterward we discussed with the church the nature of Christ’s divinity according to Colossians.

In verse 19, we have this: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι— “For in him the fullness [of God] was delighted to dwell.” (NRQT).

In a similar passage in 2:9 we have similar language being applied to Christ.

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς—“For in him dwells all of the totality of Deity bodily.” (NRQT).

In both texts we have the language of “fullness” and “dwelling,” including the hapax legomena θεότητος (a feminine noun). The noun πλήρωμα occurs in the same form in both instances, and it is lexically defined as “fullness, sum total, and completion.” It is used over a dozen times throughout the New Testament—most often in Paul’s writings. This word is applied both to God the Father (Eph. 3:19) and to the Messiah (Eph. 4:13), and it suggests that Paul is not concerned with applying the term equally to both persons.

The use of σωματικῶς in 2:9 is a frame or description of the articular τῆς θεότητος, intending to describe the indescribable. In some sense, perhaps this is an echo of Col. 1:15:

ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου—“Who [that is, Christ] is the image of the unseen God.” (NRQT).

Christ, then is both the sum total or totality of deity in bodily form, represented and enshrined as flesh—as σωματικῶς—for all to see. The beauty of σωματικῶς is that you can see it, and Christ was indeed imaged and seen. He is the εἰκὼν of God (c.f. 2 Cor. 4:4), embodying God to us and for us.

So what does this mean?

This means that Christ was a human person, subjected to the same foibles, pains, and oppression that all people face. It means that Christ willfully entered this sphere of Death’s dominion, illuminated by God’s deity, representing God to us.

Christ, then, is the enfleshment of God before us. If you want to know what the unseen God is like, what he does, and what he thinks, look to Christ—the one who is the εἰκὼν, the representative, the totality of God in bodily form. Without Christ, we have no way to conceive of God.

Hence, the miracle and necessity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He became σωματικῶς to show us τῆς θεότητος in order for us to participate as an εἰκὼν of God. The tangibility of Christ means that the material world is good, and that God is concerned to redeem it—not leave it to die.


Paul's Language of Destruction and the Modern Problem of Hell

This is both a difficult and an easy post to write. The reason it is difficult is because I am talking about Washington D.C., as in, a place I have never been and a place I have no desire to travel to. Joke.

The reason it is easy to write a post like this is because of the nature and use of the language used in the Pauline canon. A quick note regarding sources, only one use of the term under discussion occurs in the so-called ‘Deutero-Pauline’ canon[1] (maybe a post on that is forthcoming, now that I think about it) and that is in 2 Thessalonians (which I take to be Pauline). So the sources I draw from are almost exclusively from the widely accepted Pauline texts.

This is preliminary personal work for a Directed Study I am putting together with some colleagues under the guidance of one Dr. Tommy Givens here at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul’s chief vocabulary surrounding the ‘final fate’ of the wicked[2] can be fairly and uncontroversially summarized as follows:

·      ἀπόλλυμι (“destroy, kill, cause violence”) (Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 10:10)

·      θάνατος (“death”), which is a ἐχθρὸς (“enemy”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:26)

·      ὄλεθρος (“destruction”) (c.f. 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5)

·      ἀπώλεια (“destruction, death”) (c.f. Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9[3])

·      φθορά (“ruin, corruption, destruction”) (c.f. Gal 6:8; Col. 2:22; Rom. 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50)

·      φθείρω (“to destroy, corrupt”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:17).

I could list more words and instances of each word, especially from the Synoptic Gospels,[4] but you get the point. There is no mention in Paul of a final conscious state where they are inflicted with torment, nor where they are kept alive in a state of sadness or pain. Under our modern conception of what we popularly call “hell,” we can safely say Paul did not believe in that.

What Paul did believe in, however, is far more personal, intimate, and realistic. So let us explore the first word ἀπόλλυμι in Paul. This will be a little technical, but I hope it will also beneficial to you. I won’t translate every single use of the term or even the entire verse, but only the one’s I find most helpful.

Rom. 2:12

Ὅσοι γὰρ ἀνόμως ἥμαρτον, ἀνόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται· καὶ ὅσοι ἐν νόμῳ ἥμαρτον, διὰ νόμου κριθήσονται·                                                                                                            

“For everyone who sins apart from the law, apart from the law they will perish. And everyone who sins in the law will be judged through the law.” (NRQT).

I think an important point that must be made is that many modern Christians too quickly insert the adjective “spiritual” in front of any use of ‘death’ or ‘perishing’ (and I used to count myself amongst those who used this term). Paul is not conceiving of some sort of ‘spiritual’ judgment, for that is simply not historically viable. Here, the use of the future verb ἀπολοῦνται is a reference to a hypothetical person (in the middle tense) of both being destroyed and destroying themselves. “Perishing” is a real concept for people who believe they are bodies, and the problem of death in an ancient culture is real. To “perish” in a Hebraic sense was to go into the ground, to return to dust, to return to “Adam.”

Rom. 14:15.

εἰ γὰρ διὰ βρῶμα ὁ ἀδελφός σου λυπεῖται, οὐκέτι κατὰ ἀγάπην περιπατεῖς. μὴ τῷ βρώματί σου ἐκεῖνον ἀπόλλυε ὑπὲρ οὗ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

The imperative form of the verb is linked to Christ, who ἀποθνήσκω (“died”). This was not a spiritual death, unless one is intent on discounting Nicene Orthodoxy. Rather, Christ died in the fullest sense we can mean. Death, itself, claimed him as its own. The use of ἀπόλλυε serves to remind believers not to cause the “death” or “destruction” of the person for whom Christ died. In a real context of not causing a brother or sister to stumble, Paul has to remind people that what they do with their body (this being in the case of eating things which are ‘unclean’). Believers, in a true and tragic sense, can often be a source of destruction for one another. Ask a burnt out pastor if she feels ‘destroyed’ or ‘distraught’ if she has been the source of ‘stumbling’ or being the one who caused another to ‘stumble.’

1 Cor. 1:18-19.

Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.

"For the message/word of the cross is folly to those who are being destroyed/perishing. but to the ones being liberated [the cross] is the power of God. For it is written, 'I destroy the wisdom of the wise ones, and the understanding of the experts I reject." (NRQT).

These verses are within a larger commentary (or even assault) on the wisdom of the wise (or the elite, even, possibly because of economic stratification). The λόγος of the cross is silly to those in a state of ἀπολλυμένοις. The middle voice is often thought of as being entirely passive; however, this is not always the case and is likely too narrow. Rather, here, Paul is assuming that people without Christ are in a state of decay, ruin, destruction, and oppression. The cross, as a means of killing Christ, is also the greatest means of resurrection power: that is, life itself. To those in a state of “perishing” or “being destroyed” and “destroying themselves,” this is a meager offering and could even be seen as a cold and calloused bribe: attempting to make someone feel good before they die, or even be viewed as a “charlatan,” attempting to steal or take advantage of them.

Subsequently, the second use of the term refers to the “decimation” of the elitist wisdom offered, and God is putting that wisdom out like a cup over a candle.

 1 Cor. 8:11.

ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι᾽ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

"And the weak one shall perish because of your knowledge, [this is] for whom Christ died." (NRQT).

This verse is in reference to the perishing of “weak one, brother,” for whom Christ died. As we saw in Rom. 14:15, this is again a context of causing another to stumble. This “perishing” is a very real threat, especially regarding exclusion from the sole community of Christ in Corinth or even within this same community. This similar type of threat may be found in 1 Cor. 5:5 where the exclusion of the incestuous man is likely to lead to his destruction—i.e. his physical death. The contrast between Christ’s own atoning death for the “weak” is highlighted in contrasting the one who is perishing due to the Corinthian elitist hierarchy versus Christ’s own death on behalf of that same weak man.

Thus, this verse is stressing the imperative of Christ-likeness.

1Cor 10:9-10

μηδὲ ἐκπειράζωμεν τὸν Χριστόν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπείρασαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὄφεων ἀπώλλυντο. μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν, καὶ ἀπώλοντο ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ.

"Neither should we test Christ, just as those who tested [him], and were killed by serpents. Do not grumble, just as some of them grumbled once, and were slain by the annihilator/ destroyer."

Paul is offering a commentary (midrash, even) on the story of Israel in the desert. The Israelites who tested Christ[5] were “killed” by the serpents, rendering them – well – dead. Paul uses the imperfect tense to stress the finality of their own death as well as stressing the ancient image: testing YHWH lead to them being destroyed—killed—by serpents. The idea that this word again refers to “spiritual” death is simply not a necessary conclusion one should consider. These people died.

The second use of refers again to the perished ones, but this time they were killed by τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ. This phrase is difficult to translate, but I follow David Instone-Brewer and think “the annihilator” is sufficient. This refers to an utterly destructive force or entity that renders destruction upon a person or a people or a nation. The imagery of death, destruction, even cataclysmic judgment is at the heart of this verse. Death is the ultimate punishment for sin in the Hebrew Bible, and Paul does not seem to move beyond that notion. In the light of Christ as the source of life for those who participate in Him, this notion is stressed far more strongly by Paul.

1Cor 15:18

ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"And then those who have fallen asleep in Christ [have] perished."

This is a relatively simple verse: if Christ did not die (or was not raised!), then those who died in Christ have ultimately perished. There is nothing else for them. Paul does not extrapolate this into a modern systematic outlook of an intermediate state followed by a disembodied existence of bliss. Rather, Christ is bliss if he is raised, and if people do not have the risen Messiah—they are still dead and in the ground.

The natural order, it seems, is controlled and dominated by a foreign imperialistic power: this power is θάνατος and if Christ is not risen, θάνατος reigns. θάνατος is King.

But Christ is risen, then θάνατος is not King anymore. Death as the final destination of the totality of the human person is undone, it is finished, it is annihilated and put out of existence entirely.

2Cor 2:15

ὅτι Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις,

“Because we are the aroma of Christ to God among the ones being liberated, and among the ones being destroyed.” (NRQT).

The sacrificial imagery of our own existence as somatic creature is tinted by the middle participles σῳζομένοις and ἀπολλυμένοις: these two sides are intentionally drawn: Christ is life, all else is death. The liberation offered in Christ is the flipside of the idea of “being destroyed” or “perishing.” The offer of Christ is that of intentionally countering the imperial order of θάνατος. This verse seems to presuppose two sets of people by the direct syntactical parallels:

  • ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις
  • καὶ
  • ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις

Preposition + dative plural article + dative middle participle.

This grammatical parallelism supports the contention of two distinction groups highlighted by the order of θάνατος and the order of Χριστοῦ. To be in Christ, or part of Christ’s people, is to place oneself outside of θάνατος’ dominion and sovereignty.

2Cor 4:3, 9

εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον,

"And if our gospel is being covered, it is being covered among those who are being destroyed." (NRQT).

We have the exact middle participle being employed here as in 2 Cor. 2:15, even the same exact grammatical usage. The image is difficult to communicate in English, but it seems that a “veil” is what Paul utilizes and this applies to those who are also “perishing.” Those who cannot see this are both “veiled” and “veiling themselves” as the middle suggests.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι,

"[We are] persecuted but not forsaken; beaten down but not destroyed." (NRQT).

This is a fascinating rhetorical phrase by Paul, all of which is syntactically identical. You have very similar phrasing, suggesting a specific type of speech making. The usages are contrastive, showing dissimilarity and continuity. We are X, but not Y. We are “struck down” but not “destroyed” or “killed.” This language of ἀπολλύμενοι refers likely to external imperial forces, that is, political forces rather than θάνατος. Thus, one can sense martyrdom within Paul’s contextual usage, and it is likely he is focused on the idea of witness and testimony, especially as using their bodies for Christ.

2Th 2:10

καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς·

"And in every deception of unrighteousness [are] the ones being destroyed, because they do not receive the love of truth for their liberation." (NRQT).

The final term is used within a context of persecution, similar to 2 Cor. 4. Paul seems to use the middle participle ἀπολλυμένοις in the sense of a final and doomed assault on those in Christ by those lack the attributes of the Spirit. The final phase of eschatological destruction is the last attempt to rage against the people of God, and this includes political and imperial powers as the one’s who rage. This likely has echoes of God versus Nations in the Hebrew Bible.

In any sense, the use of the term refers to their final death, and not their ‘spiritual’ or ‘existential’ death but to their final and irrevocable destruction. The crucified God who is also the returning King amplifies the paradoxical idea of an oppressive regal force assaulting the minority of Christ-followers in the first century; in the end, this King returns for the oppressed and destroys the oppressors.


Much more could be said about this language and debate, but I think the case is pretty clear: Paul’s use of destruction language does not comport well with the modern vision of Hell we find being taught in the evangelical world. Rather, we see that Paul’s vision is the God of Life being raised from the dead and returning for an oppressed people who are under siege by the order of Death.

Much of this can revolve around how Christians treat one another, and our ability to not cause one another to stumble. In other senses, it is about treating our bodies as things that will be liberated, not escaped from.

In another sense, Paul’s vision offers us a way to view the death of loved ones. We may view death as in the process of being destroyed, and as the final enemy God is working to overthrow. We groan for the liberation of our bodies and for the salvation found in Christ, and Paul’s idea of the final fate shows that “hell” is indeed far more personal, intimate, and realistic: the conquering of Death can only be found in the one who conquered Death.

Thus, I fail to see any notion of an eternal conscious existence of pain and/or misery in Paul’s vocabulary, thought or theology.


[1] That is, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. However, there is considerable debate regarding the first two and less debate about the Pauline status of the second two. Most critical scholars do not believe Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

[2] I prefer the language of “those not in Christ” but I will use the phrase “wicked” simply to keep things simple.

[3] See footnote 1 for the comment about the status of the Pastoral Epistles. I’m withholding my own thoughts on their authorship for now.

[4] For a helpful survey of apollumi in the Synoptic Gospels, see Glenn Peoples:

[5] This may be a nod to preexistence, but not likely.