Seeing Christ in the Dark: Contemplating Evil in Its Context

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

--Romans 8:28-29

Hierapolis, photographer Burak Kinacilar

Hierapolis, photographer Burak Kinacilar

I have had a lot of time to reflect on evil over the years and from an early age. What comes to mind for me are the years of violence and abuse with all the personal and systemic helplessness that came with being a child, as well as periodic encounters with people over the years whether it involved bullying, sexism, gossip or other forms of control. 

Of course, everyone's experience is different, and yet most of us are drawn to ask some version of "How we can live in such an evil world if a good God exists?" My goal here is to offer some brief theological and personal reflections on how to put evil in its proper context as a Christian and to see evil in the world not as necessary for good, but understanding that even in its ability to negate and twist, there is an occasion for us all to live out our vocation to become like Christ. That is, to become the person of the resurrection. This means contemplatively and prayerfully walking through evil in the world rather than ignoring it, pretending it is tame or simply trying to banish it from one's mind to delude oneself with happy thoughts. I will also consider practically the ethics of how we should perceive and treat those who do evil things in our daily lives. 

In The Moment

In the moment when something violent is happening or perhaps one is merely threatened socially (which can be devastating), often a flight or fight response kicks in. You either freeze or try and fight it off in some way. There is, of course, much that can be said about calling the police or protecting yourself via other channels, but when it comes to the formation aspect of it, it helps to begin by being mindful of God's presence and knowing that all ultimate authority belongs to God who sees the other person's wrong doing. This is important as often these lines can become blurred depending on the abusive person, your own inclination to find fault with yourself or a societal tendency to blame the victim (ex: she was dressed that way that is why she was raped or you should have been more careful walking home alone at night).

Also, being mindful of Christ's presence in those moments is in my experience more a matter of years of formation than manifesting in a moment of recollection. If you practice remembering God in all that you do, you may very well remember him in the moment when your body is flooded with that fight or flight response. For some, it has even helped them collect themselves and deal with the situation in the moment, for others it is a matter of being comforted. I watched one documentary where a woman who was abducted who ended up plotting and fighting against the man who said he would rape and kill her remembered to simply ask God for help. In a moment of extreme danger, she knew God was not only present but that he might help her. Yet we all know that God does not always intervene and it can be hurtful to have horrible things happen with no help in sight. For another woman who was nearly beaten to death by her husband, it helped her stay conscious for long enough to be rescued. But not everyone is rescued and how to escape danger is not the reason for this post. Rather, it is about understanding your world as it truly is: both under the dominion of evil but also belonging to the ever present God who holds all the universe together and sustains it.

When it is difficult to pray because your anxiety is so high and your head is swimming, it is helpful knowing that God knows where you are and is present with you. A simple "help" sometimes suffices. God is not a God that requires many words and I think sometimes we feel pressured by others to practice our articulation skills at the wrong time. I believe that what God loves is a person whose heart is directed towards and open to him no matter what is happening to them, good or bad. An open heart will also constantly be asking and searching for what God desires from them in the situation: A kind word when harassed? A reassertion of one's own God-given value? A prayer for oneself and one's enemy? Silence? Reframing from striking back? Maybe only baby steps...

How to act concretely: my advice is also not to feel like you have to make yourself chipper or act happy unless you need to in order to survive. It also does not mean giving in to them or enabling their sin further. When you have something done to you, remember THEY are the sinner. You can take this as an opportunity for character formation, but perspective is important so that you as their victim are not burdened with making sure you are nice. It does mean, however, 1) showing the respect due to another also loved by God, 2) showing basic kindness (does not mean being their friend or playing their game). 3) This also may involve protecting yourself when you need to and cutting losses when you need to while recognizing that sometimes the ultimate loss is in doing the evil (being turned away from God) not in concrete loss. If you can make baby steps in these things in difficult times then you grow that much more for the future.

Inhabiting God's World

A big part of how one responds in the moment or the aftermath is seeing that we inhabit God's world. We all inhabit sacred space, even if God is not fully manifest in the moment. Our hope is ultimately in God's future and believing what we do in the here and now matters in an eschatological sense even when we do not always see God in the moment. For example, Job's suffering had significance beyond his life under the sun and even though the adversary set up situations to test him, he remained true to God. Yes, God corrected him by adding to his understanding what he did not know about God, but yes God also vindicated him and recognized Job as his own.

We are able to see Jesus in our fear and understand the evil that is threatening us with an additional context. It is not a denial of reality, but seeing more in it. It is understanding that one is clothed with Christ and engaged in a battle that is not against flesh and blood (i.e. it's not all about the person doing the evil), but instead looking ahead toward the telos (end goal) of our faith: glorification as we are transformed into the image of Christ, even through fire.

We can see ourselves being called out to Jesus who is walking on the waves and even though perhaps afraid, step out and walk towards him marveling that we can step out on the water because he works in us and marveling that our inner person cannot be touched by the danger around us. Again though, this is not a denial of reality. The waves are dangerous and you could drown. However, God is more powerful than the waves and so ultimately you are kept with Christ.

With regards to people who do evil things (aka the waves), I often find some well-wishers are inclined to give bad advice and ask us to try and take their perspective (FYI sociopaths have very interesting rationalizations for why so and so had it coming), or to assume the best. That is, do not whitewash their faults. See the ill intentions, distortions or ignorance for what they are as much as humanly possible. If someone is showing signs of instability or ill intentions, take notes quietly, but do not judge them and don't jump to conclusions about their character until you know enough (leave it to God to decide if they are redeemable or will not be). Further, if they do something to you physically or otherwise, protect yourself. Love does not delude. If you only love someone because you have convinced yourself you should excuse their behavior or that it really is not so bad, then you love a figment. It is better to go in with your eyes open morally and practically. Basically, do not bow to evil people--stand up like Mordecai and do not become a Haman in the process.

Allow God to enter into that space in your mind that can otherwise be turned to bitterness and think: one day thy kingdom come thy will be done. Take this moment to dedicate yourself anew to God's promises and recall the transient nature of this life. At times when you are feeling hopeless remember, this is just a moment, a breath and that everything that is not of God in your self and others will be burned away and what is pure will be left. Even if true destruction is happening (psychological or physical), let it also be a time of personal purification and transformation. If your reputation has been damaged, remember Christ is your inheritance, he sees all and will make everything known one day. In John 11:25 Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life and the one who believes in him will live, even if they die. I think you can apply this mentality to the reality of having to live with the aftermath of evil as well. Your body may be twisted and you may suffer psychological damage, but that need not be all you are left with.

The Aftermath

Then there is that lovely aftermath. The initial event has happened and now you are left with its effects, or maybe it is still happening? I had to live with PTSD and damage to my body for quite some time all while constantly being told to stand up straight by the person that more than likely injured my back in the first place! Something that has helped me in the past (and present!) is to take spiritual and mental resources with me and insert them in those dark places in my mind. For example, when I would be in the middle of a PTSD attack it would be like I was there. I would see the attacker's angry face, feel their hand around my neck or gripping my arm tightly, slamming me against the wall or smacking me in the face. I would also see the walls of the area I would hide in sometimes to get away from them. There would also be the familiar terror in the moment and feeling emotionally everything I felt then: the anxiety, the threat, the dread, and hope of not being found. As an adult (I didn't get any help until college), it helped when I started imaging something else into the moment that perhaps physically was not there, but on another level was. For me there was a painting I did while worshipping and praying to God: it is a crucifixion scene, but with vibrant colors and directionally uplifting towards God. I had named it "Resurrection." I would image that painting into that mental space integrating God's narrative of future hope into the situation. It helped me to walk through the trauma and not be caught in repeating cycles of a one-sided ugly reality. Today I remember what happened to me clearly but they are memories and not ever present realities. If you are recovering from trauma or trying to process a bad day it might help you to find your own way of recognizing God in the moment, perhaps with a personal symbolic object of your own whether real or invented.

If you are facing hostility or exclusion at work or church (overt or covert) for your beliefs, gender/ethnicity, someone's insecurity or desire to get ahead...etc know that in the gospels you are one of the people Jesus sat and ate with and called a child of Abraham (everyone else called them sinners). Further, the evil you are experiencing is not senseless. It is not senseless because there is another layer of reality that gives the evil a meaning it does not and cannot otherwise have on its own.

Evil is not necessary for good or glorification (even if hardship is). We were not meant for an evil warped world. At the same time, we can see God at work in us and through us when times are at their worst. Sometimes it means just being open to God's call and works when in the middle of the storm and being willing to step out of the boat keeping your eyes fixed on Christ so that you do not see the waves that are trying to kill you. It is also realizing that even with evil in the world this is but a moment in time, a breath, compared to what is ahead. Evil is part of a forward at the beginning of a book with God's beginning, chapter 1 yet to unfold. We are all part of God's story and the story of one another. We are inexplicably connected and placed in positions to be sources of strength, encouragement and untold goodness to those around us. Sadly, we do not always live out our calling and do these great things.

Evil has meaning as part of God's narrative of love. It is in Corrie ten Boom forgiving her Nazi captor and in her resisting the evil system by hiding Jews or running church services for the other Jews and Christians in the concentration camp. If imaging Christ is our vocation and goal in life, then all else is not erased or rationalized (maybe God allowed my baby daughter to die a horrific death to teach me a lesson/maybe evil is a blessing in disguise), but it is reframed.

Since evil is reframed in the reality of Christ and we have power in his resurrection life that affects the here and now, we can certainly love, forgive and pray for those who hurt us! These are not always immediate. Too often in the Christian community, we attack those who are being crushed or are recovering from trauma with an added moral requirement of forgiveness. Sadly, empathy, compassion, and safety (mental health included!) come after a knee jerk reaction to ask if they have forgiven X person! It says that we value the aggressor over the person hurt by them. Jesus opposed the powerful and sat with and healed the suffering.

When one is ready (it may be sooner rather than later depending on the level of trauma and/or sanctification), forgive and pray for your adversary. Pray for their healing and the renewing of their heart and mind alongside your prayers for vindication and salvation. Be kind where it will not put you in harm's way (though there are those extraordinary circumstances where you will put yourself in harm's way for the Gospel) and do not seek revenge. Tactically, we are at a disadvantage here in not responding in kind (fewer maneuver options), but ultimately we gain more by refraining and instead, praying.

The Bible does not answer our questions for why the wicked prosper, but it does pose the question and it does tell us how to both mourn and be hopeful as well as live within this question. And best of all, it does tell us that the first chapter is only one more page over from the forward.

-AQ

On Homer Simpson Hermeneutics: Egalitarian Marriage, Last Names, and a Response to Andrew Klavan

I have been listening to Andrew Klavan's podcast since Episode 1—I've enjoyed his books, his lectures, and much of his work on the podcast. I find him culturally interesting and quite likable. This opening is not a bit of honey to butter up Andrew (should he read this); rather it is a serious and truthful comment about a podcast I am subscribed to, even though I have not paid my $8 a month: my life is pretty good all things considered, so I do not need my life changed, even if it might be for the better. I recall a brief back-and-forth I had with Andrew on twitter about what I perceived to be a lack of nuance regarding the use of language concerning 'feminism.' But, I enjoyed the exchange and moved on. However, I was quite troubled by the rather shallow theological commentary Andrew offered today. Let me give the full context.

In episode 340, Andrew took the time to answer one final question and the person (Richard?) asked the following (time stamp: 35:00-36:50):

Dear Supreme Leader Klavan…my long-time girlfriend and I are planning on getting married next year after deciding it is time to have children. However, she is undecided on whether or not she wants to take my last name. What are your thoughts on this topic, perhaps you could help me [Richard] to convince her?

Now, to provide some context before I respond to Andrew's words; when my wife and I got married, I decided fairly early on that I would take her last name. I wrote a bit about that entire journey in Mutuality magazine so I won't rehash all of it here. Needless to say, I was fairly confident where Andrew would go with his answer, but I've been surprised before.

This time I was not surprised.

I won't quote the entirety of Andrew's comments, as I would be here all night and, frankly, I worked a 10-hour day and I am exhausted.

Andrew said:

I strongly believe in taking your husband's name for a number of reasons, the most politically incorrect one of which—which has never stopped me from saying anything before—is I do believe in a leadership role for husbands and fathers, I do believe that you are taking over the leadership from a father…

Become a family, become a new family. That's what you are doing, you are becoming a new family, a new family has a name—I think it should be the name of the husband. If you got to make one up then make one up, but become a family…do not dwell in the past, become one flesh, have a new family.

Much could be written in response, but the first item worth noting is that Andrew does not actually offer justification for his view. I am assuming, if he has a Bible verse in mind, that he is thinking about Ephesians 5.

However, if one looks to Ephesians 5:18-33 for the language of "leading," one is hard-pressed to actually find such language. The grammatical dependency of v.22 on v.21 means the entire household code is governed by mutual submission—husbands and wives. Whatever follows in vv.22-33 must be subordinated to v.21. That is how exegesis works.

As someone who took his wife's last name, I find Andrew's comment about my 'leadership' somewhat odd. I do not suddenly gain authority in a marriage relationship the instant I place a ring on Allison's finger. Rather, the idea of taking Allison's last name reflected for me a principle drawn in Gen 2:24, where I leave and go to her (not that everyone must take their wife's last name). The New Testament vision is not "who is your father," but "God is your father."

Andrew's caveat about making up a new name is a respectable concession, and simultaneously an easy one. My wife and I knew above all that we wanted to have the same last name. However, is the husband too good for his wife's name? Is he above her history, her story, her desires to remain true to her culture? As long as the husband does not accept his wife's last name, then everything is fine.

I'm sorry, but I find this very difficult to swallow theologically and biblically.

I've noticed a very similar trend in other conservative shows like Louder with Crowder (I have criticized Stephen Crowder here). There is a largely unsophisticated and, shall we say, uncritical edge to this sort of thinking. For instance, the assumption of male leadership in the home is entirely assumed, not argued for. Like I mentioned with Stephen Crowder, Jared, and Gerald, the hidden figure behind this sort of flawed reasoning is not Jesus, Paul, or Moses—it is Homer Simpson. What I mean is this: a culturally inert reading of Scripture that prioritizes the man over and above the woman, reflecting the attitudes and characteristics of one Homer Simpson.

It is also an amusing image, of Homer trying to read the Bible, but I digress.

There is no Scripture actually offered (the proof text Andrew offers does not support his reading; indeed it undermines it as I've briefly shown) to substantiate his brief claim. What makes this deeply troubling is the cultural supposition of male headship (Andrew never uses this terminology, but the language he uses is standard) within conservative political circles. Male headship, simply put, is the cultural air they breathe.

Which makes Paul's words about women so shocking. If the Corinthians, the Ephesians, or any other ancient group were alive today, they would be at home with Andrew and Stephen and much of my political sub-group regarding women—which says a lot about how regressive much of modern political conservatism actually is.

Thankfully, Paul is far more culturally inclusive of women and wives.

•    Who else in the New Testament advocates for mutual submission between spouses (Eph 5:21 & 1 Cor 7) in a time where the idea of a husband submitting to his wife was unheard of?

•    Who else in the New Testament names a woman as an apostle (Rom 16:7), a position of unique apostolic authority?

•    Who else in the New Testament calls a woman a deacon, a woman patron (προστάτις) of some high status who supported him (Rom 16:1-2)? A woman who read and explained Romans to the church in Rome, even?

•    Who else proclaimed that women and men were "one in Christ," affirming their blessedness as equal participants in the church and as full recipients of the promise (Gal 3:28)?

•    Who else names a wife before her husband, illustrating a cultural disregard for social hierarchy (Rom 16:3)?

•    Who else affirmed women's right and authority to prophesy in church (1 Cor 11:5) and their mutual interdependency with men 1 Cor 11:11-12)?

•    Who else affirms that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for all people, given by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:12-29)?

•    Who else calls women "co-workers" (Phil 4:2-3), especially given the likelihood they are church leaders?

•    Who else says wives have authority over their husband's bodies, and likewise (1 Cor 7:3-4)? Where is 'leadership' in this scheme?

•    Who else says that both wives and husbands have a sanctifying role in marriage, and have spiritual authority over their husband's spiritual lives (1 Cor 7:10-16)?

•    Who else calls women "sisters" instead of making stereotypical jokes about their personhood (Philemon 1:2)?

•    Who says women and men are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27)? Well, this one is probably someone other than Paul, but your get my point.

As I mentioned to Stephen, and I mention now to Andrew, the New Testament vision is a vision worth pursuing. As it unfortunately stands, the New Testament is more liberating toward women than either Stephen or Andrew, and I am disappointed in my conservative sub-culture. They may believe they are just being 'politically incorrect,' but in reality, they are being 'politically correct' to their base.

Real courage is going against the grain. Political conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have an enormous chance here to embrace the moral vision of the New Testament. By including women as equal participants, equal leaders, equal image bearers in Christ, you are saying far more about the dignity and worth of women than those who willing denigrate women for capital gain.

I do not know about all of you, but I will take the witness of Paul over Homer Simpson any day.

Nick

Make God Great Again

"And to you're off spring I will give this land [that is, America]," Genesis 12:7. All translations are from the Trump English Tariff Translation (TETT).

Proof texting is not for everyone, but only for those who truly know their Bibles. Thankfully, we have the definitive revelation from God, the book of Revelations. Because we know that "land" always means "America," we are free to understand, via the inspired TETT, that "for all the America that you see I [that's the Big Guy Upstairs] will give to you [that is, us Americans] and to your offspring [Dreamers need not apply] forever [and forever ever]." Genesis 13:15 (TETT).

We see this all throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament—which does not have Jesus, who was a bit of a loser for that whole crucifixion thing. I mean, Rome had walls! They built roads! Not sad!

Genesis 15:7: "Then [GAWD] said to him, "I am the LORD [that's GAWD] who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this America to possess" (TETT). Now, nobody remembers who Ur was, or why his momma named him Chaldeans when Deans would have sufficed. From a purely perfect standpoint, Ur must have been the biggest loser of all time for God to take America away from him. What, was Ur all about NAFTA? Totally wrong.

I could totally go on.

So I will.

Wisdom 12:7: "so that the America most precious of all to you might receive a worthy colony of the servants of God." (TETT). Now, I know what you are thinking, Wisdom belongs to some other part of the Bible and not our Old Testament. But these people are smart, they love me! They called us precious! We are!

Sirach 37:3: "O inclination to evil, why were you formed to cover the America with deceit?" (TETT). Emails, ya'll.

This was fun. Hopefully you had a lark. Sorry for acting like a TETT.

NQ

Power Games: The Cross, 48 Laws and The Justification of Power

 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." -Romans 8:28

I've been reflecting a lot lately on how one navigates the complicated world of political intrigue, personal relationships, power dynamics and the way of Christ. In the world of the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, we are all playing a power game in life whether we know it or not and the smart people merely play it well.

What follows from this idea that we are all playing a giant power game? At work and in our quest to accumulate resources, prestige, and security in this world we shouldn't be bothered by the "petty feelings of others," we should intimidate others, use flattery when it suits us, wear many faces, and manipulate, manipulate, manipulate! Basically, this book adopts a Nietzche worldview assuming that in the quest for power one must go "beyond good and evil." The will to power is fundamental to human existence and in this book it is all encompassing of the person. 

In my initial estimation, I thought this book offered some insights, but in order for it to work one would have to be 1) a sociopath 2) a brilliant sociopath and 3) the most brilliant sociopath. However, in the end, I reject his view of the world entirely. Yes, many of us are susceptible to the will for power and yes there may be a dark side. Yet, so much more is hardwired into us that is not easily reduced to mere power games and allows the functional of us to have meaningful and transformative relationships. Forgetting this is at the least a tactical error and at worst separates one from joining in the life of God. Also, a word of caution, the author seems to have cycled through at least 80 jobs (not surprising in the least) before catching a great book deal. Perhaps, the book that is more his style is The Art of Seduction than a book on climbing the ladder to power.

My brief advice: Better to choose another leadership or strategy book to read unless you want to understand a large swath of people who think they are both brutal and brilliant if not bordering on emotionally damaged.

With all of the above in mind, most of us are not sociopaths and yet, power games are a reality that creates stress in a variety of social environments whether at work, church, home or other gatherings. And we are all faced with little choices whether it is to join into gossiping, speaking in unflattering ways about others, forming tight clicks, using position or privilege to get rid of someone or wedge them out of a job we want, failing to see the value in others, wearing different masks to fit in, lying, manipulating...etc. Or on the other side, we often fail to recognize good deeds God has prepared for us in advance such as giving of our time, providing a kind word, welcoming a new person, esteeming the gifts of others, or putting talented people in positions of influence who may have otherwise not been considered (race? gender? personality?).

Can we recognize that we may have sinned against God "by what we have done, and by what we have left undone"? Do we even know what we have missed out on?

Some of us navigate a tightrope in the game of power because of our ethnicity, gender or, other signifiers. On the one hand, passivity may mean lack of survival and on the other, playing the game seems to be the destruction of what matters to our fundamental identity as believers and the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us when he emptied himself and took on flesh. It seems in this complicated world many even find it to be a moral imperative that I as a feminist more than demand equal treatment. Supposedly, I ought to go out of my way to demean and snuff out the so-called privileged other. But God is not a God who sees privilege, but fellow brothers and sisters. This does not mean I deny concrete problems happening around me and recognize when the cards are stacked against me or another person, but it does mean that I must not, in turn, reduce others to systems, group identities or other negative or positive signifiers.

There is also the reality that at times people can be cruel out of insecurity and as Christians we walk a tight rope balancing survival in some instances (sometimes better to not survive!) and not sinning ourselves! Does a lie made up about me warrant a lie made up about him or her? Does an ever so subtle manipulation or sabotage directed at me warrant me trying to take the person in turn down a peg to ensure my place? I think not.

My basic thoughts are that if we must play the game of power, we must re-conceptualize power.

God is our life blood, our present, and future. He colors the way I see myself and evil in the world so that a transfiguration takes place. The reality of a crucified Christ brings the color of the resurrection into the now so that circumstances are not always as they seem. A woman being brutalized and exploited in public as a lesson for those who would challenge the masculine authority of a mighty empire is also a representative of the eternal God who gave his life for our salvation. She is not a victim but a warrior (CF. Perpetua and Blandina). Even Eve in her failure, and in her the people of Ephesus, can be "pregnant" with Christ's salvation (1 Tim 2:15-3:1a) despite being given over to false teaching.

I also believe that a person who loses in the so-called game of power because they could not respond in kind is beautiful in the sight of God and it is comforting to know that he is the one who sees us in the wilderness just as he saw the slave Hagar. And all the better when we can successfully "play the game" in such a way as to avoid harming others.

I believe our defiance against the powers that be great and small is simply in being who we are in Christ and letting our actions be shaped from it. I know people have found me offensive when I speak my mind, preach or teach theology, not because of content (though no one is perfect) but because of my God-given female body. I have found myself at concrete and implicit disadvantages because of it. Resistance is in being who I am and not being ashamed of it and knowing that God chooses the little ones to do great things with. Power finds those who will not be bent to their will or molded into their form offensive by virtue of their existence and so my thought is that even if I will be snuffed out, I might as well make it difficult for them! Besides, this entire lifetime is just the beginning of a larger story. 

Then there is the dark side to seeing one's self through the lens of God. It is not uncommon to find individuals and empires claiming divine authority (taking the Lord's name in vain) for doing evil. They rationalize that their success is God-approved or God-ordained. We are winning/doing well/succeeding/making lots of money because God is for us. They appeal to God in order to rationalize their choices (usually in the form of fragmentary ideas or texts placed into a framework of power). Where the Bible often asks "How long O Lord?" and "Why do the wicked prosper?" they see behind their system, institution, and success in life the might of God's Sovereignty so that they can do no wrong. You must simply adapt yourself to their godly will.

And yet God's Shekinah glory is ever present with us (even if not yet realized) making our interactions with others visible to God and taking place in holy space. How can we not live out our calling as representatives (image bearers) of God in Christ? We can delight not in that God has given us worldly power but that he uses the little ones, us. The ones who could not fail in their mission were those who were alone and cast off with no hope.

Many of us also know that things do not always work out for the good for those who love God at least not in the sense of how those in power perceive it. Those who love God get killed, their sense of self-twisted, their children die, they lose jobs, they get publicly humiliated and yet in another sense, everything does turn out for their good because they love God and he is their life now and in the future. We worship a powerful figure, a crucified Christ, one who rose on the third day and promises our resurrection as well.

At the end of my day, I know very well that I am small and haven't grown to where God wants me in my character. But I have hope because God is patient, infinitely loving and full of contagious joy and so I find it helpful to pray with others:

Most merciful God,

We confess that we have sinned against you

In thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,

And by what we have left undone,.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

Have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name. Amen.

 

"Useless" or "Helpless?" Rethinking Paul's Perspective of Onesimus in Philemon 1:11

I took a course on Philippians and Philemon this summer, and I decided to write my final exegetical paper on Philemon—my favorite epistle in the entire New Testament. This little epistle offers a lot of complexity, considering its overall size, and one is left asking a multitude of questions that lack any sort of discernible answer. I still do not have all the answers!

However, something that many commentators agree upon is that Paul is using a pun in 1:11. Ὀνήσιμον (Onēsimos) was a very common slave name in the ancient world, and it meant something like "useful." So in Paul's advocating for Onesimus freedom (another disputable area), he uses the adjective ἄχρηστον, which commonly means "useless" and many translations render the term as such. "At one time, he was 'useless' to you" is the pun.

The Greek text reads like this:

τόν ποτέ σοι ἄχρηστον νυνὶ δὲ σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστον

At one time [Onesimus] was useless to you, but he is useful to you and especially to me (my translation)

However, I think there is another dimension to ἄχρηστον that has not been explored and so I offer this idea as a modest proposal. Perspectivally, Onesimus was likely sent to Paul because he was "useless" to Philemon: so in the eyes of his master, Onesimus is "useless" to him, perhaps able to function in some sort of helpful way to a (likely) imprisoned Paul. Paul, I will suggest, may have his own perspective on his use of ἄχρηστον, but that will come out later.

However, the adjective is a hapax legomena in the New Testament, as in it appears only once. The same can be said of the cognate verb ἀχρειόω (c.f. Rom 3:12). It appears elsewhere in Second Temple Jewish literature and in the LXX.

Something else worthy of note is the difference between an adjective modifying a human agent and an adjective modifying a non-human object: for instance, a stone is different than a human being. Just wanted to note this.

The Second Book of Maccabees is about the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire. In 2 Maccabees 7:5 a Jewish family (a mother and her seven sons) are captured and they refuse to capitulate to the king. In 7:5, we have the following text:

ἄχρηστον δὲ αὐτὸν τοῖς ὅλοις γενόμενον: "but he became entirely helpless..."

In the previous verses, the person is said to be scalped and mutilated in the presence of the King and many others. It is safe to say that this person is not "useless," but "helpless" before his torturers before he is burned alive. The context is clear that the man is not "useless;" He is an oppressed person, trapped and tortured and ultimately killed. The language of oppression and power is key to understanding this passage, so this use is a vital citation.

The Book of Wisdom (Apocrypha) contains three uses of the adjective. 2:11 is written, seemingly, from the perspective of the 'UnGodly' who speaks of 'oppressing the righteous poor man' in v.10. I am using the NRSV translation.

Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the gray hairs of the aged.

But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.

The voice speaks of "might" (ἰσχυρός) being their "law" (νόμος), and "what is weak proves itself to be useless (ἄχρηστον). In Wisdom literature, this is clearly a poetic way of contrasting "power" and "weak," which may sway our reading from "useless" to "helpless," as the context of v.10 and v.12 speaks of "oppressing" and "waiting" for the "righteous man." Given the language of power and hierarchy, "helpless" seems like a more contextually sensitive rendering of the adjective—especially in light of 2 Maccabees 7:5.

Wisdom 13:11 speaks in the context of idolatry, with descriptions of "gold and silver" cluing us into the difference between the God of Israel (living, powerful, dynamic) versus a "useless stone" (λίθον ἄχρηστον).

But miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those
who give the name “gods” to the works of human hands,
gold and silver fashioned with skill,
and likenesses of animals,
or a useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.

The contrast between the God of power and might and glory and the created corporeal nature of idols makes for a stark relationship. A stone, of course, is not comparable to the previous subjects (a person being tortured, and a poetic description of a wicked person oppressing a righteous person), but the idea of a non-living stone being of no use in terms of worship is a helpful reminder of the differences between creation and Creator.

Wisdom 16:29 is within a context of praise, where Israel speaks to God: " you gave your people food of angels" (v.20). The entire pericope concerns the goodness of God and the strength of God, preserving his people from a multitude of violence and peril (vv.22-23).

For the hope of an ungrateful person will melt like wintry frost, and flow away like waste water.

The conclusion focuses on the "hope of an ungrateful person," and the final dishonoring of the hope of that figurative person. The final phrase that is particularly relevant is the closing statement about their hope, which "flow[s] away like waste water" (ὕδωρ ἄχρηστον). Since water is, of course, not comparable to a living person, one can safely say that the context refers to "useless" water, wasted hope by the person who does not love God (c.f. v.26). It speaks to the misused or even exploited nature of something given by God, which seems to result in judgment (17:1 passim).

Hosea 8:8 (LXX) is somewhat complex. It uses similar language as Wisdom 13:11 ("vessel"), but it deploys it in a different fashion. In speaking of Israel's unfaithfulness, we see:

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal; if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it.

Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations as a useless vessel.

Both meanings are likely in use here. "Useless" makes good contextual sense, as Israel is unable (or unwilling) to fulfill her vocation as a light to the Nations. Her compromise and failure thus render her vocation "useless" in the eyes of Hosea. However, the other element is also embedded within the text. Israel is "helpless amongst the Nations" (ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). Given the powerful presence of other nations, it seems likely that Israel is seen as helpless before the mighty foreign powers. The use of the preposition ἐν could have a dual meaning here: "in the nations" as in Hosea has already assumed their apostasy has resulted in their being 'within' the various foreign powers. Or, as more likely, "among" is the more acceptable rendering as she is located as "helpless" amongst the nations. Israel, being a small assortment of people, has a little political power within the various kingdoms.

The final relevant New Testament citation comes in Romans 3:12, where the verb ἠχρεώθησαν (aorist middle-passive) is used:

All have turned away, together they have become helpless, there is not one who makes kindness, there is not one (my translation).  

Romans 3:9-20 is a deeply complicated passage, but the main thrust—in my opinion—is on the utter helplessness of the human person, the one's who do not know peace (v.17) and who do not fear God (v.18).

The important—the most important!—point is this, however: Νυνὶ δὲ in v.21: "but now!" The human person, the corporate body of humanity who is subject to Sin and Death, these cosmic and person powers who dominate our lives, are confronted by the apocalyptic Christ in vv.21-26. V.22 states this eloquently:

But the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, into all of the one's being faithful: for there is not difference.

V.24 is the focal point of my modest proposal:

Being declared righteous freely by his gift, through liberation in Christ Jesus.

The declaration of God for us is this: while we were still helpless, mired in Sin, subject to Death and the Powers of this world, we were given the gift of liberation in Christ Jesus. Therefore, 3:12 seems fairly decisive in proving my point: the helplessness of the human person, who is in need of the liberation of Christ, is the focal point of the passage.

This same liberation cannot be denied to Onesimus, if one holds to a coherent element of Pauline theology - what applies in Romans cannot be excluded from Philemon.

All of this data helps us reconsider the use of the adjective in Philemon.

This is my point: Paul could be using the adjective in two different ways here: he could be speaking of Philemon's own perspective ("useless"), but also of his own ("helpless"). Paul does in fact say "useless to you," which indicates that Paul does not and perhaps never shared this perspective.

Imagine this.

Onesimus: the one whom Paul 'birthed' in his bonds (v.10), the one who represents him bodily (v.12), the one whom Paul advocates (v.9-10), is to Paul "helpless." We do not know of the mental of physical state of Onesimus, but slavery in the ancient world was a deeply brutal practice. Imagine the years of abuse inflicted upon Onesimus, even at the hands of his Christian master, Philemon.

Imagine Paul receiving him, this "helpless" slave, he himself a prisoner.

Imagine Paul converting him to the Lord Jesus, speaking to him, nourishing him, seeking his well-being.

Paul had every authority "to order/command" (v. ἐπιτάσσειν) Philemon to release Onesimus, but that is too easy. Perhaps, perhaps, Paul believed reconciliation must occur before the vocation to which Onesimus was called. Whatever, the case, aspectivally, Paul cared about the body of Onesimus to the point where he identified with him, called him his own child (v.10), and said that Onesimus was "no longer a slave, but far beyond a slave, a beloved brother" (v.16).

A revolutionary idea, likely birthed by Gal 3:28 and 4:7.

3:28 - There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

4:7 - So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The linguistic parallels between Philemon and Galatians 4:7 cannot be denied, and it appears Paul acted upon them in a consistent manner.

In any case, the idea of Paul receiving a "helpless" slave, a person subjected to brutality and oppression cannot be dismissed. Indeed, given Paul's own theology, the Gospel was immediately necessary to the bodies of slaves, as even the Messiah - the savior of the world - became one of them (Phil 2:6-7).

Just a modest proposal. Nothing more.

NQ

Calvinist and Egalitarian?: Theological Resources for the Young, Restless, and Reformed

In my discussions with many Reformed people, particularly as I listen to certain podcasts like Reformed Pubcast and others, I am struck by their adherence to complementarianism. Of course, this is not to say that one cannot be both Reformed and complementarian. Rather, it is to say that I find it odd that the default position among the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) is complementarianism. That is, women and men are equal in dignity and worth before God, but have separate and distinct roles in the church and in the home. In my context at Fuller, where I've studied under Oliver Crisp and other Reformed theologians, this sort of default complementarianism seemed odd.

The purpose of this brief post is two-fold. First, I want to offer resources to challenge this seemingly common trend of interpretation, as many Reformed theologians are egalitarian and it seems John Piper (among others) has been given a bigger megaphone than others. Second, in a brief discussion with some YRR brothers on social media, I was struck by the lack of accumulated resources that could benefit people who were sincerely interested in exploring this debated issue. Many of my YRR friends, and I say this with love, seem content to go along with their favorite Pastor (Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, etc) and not actually go to the word of God, as least in terms of primacy. This can also, of course, be flipped around if one comes from an egalitarian background (i most certainly don't). So the challenge is not in of itself exclusive to the YRR, but in this post it is directed to them. In love.

Second, I want to offer some resources to challenge my YRR brothers and sisters. The purpose is not necessarily to change your mind (although that is certainly deeply desired). Rather, it is to in essence break down the walls of miscommunication and to promote additional resources one is not likely to get from the footnotes of the latest Gospel Coalition blog post. 

Dr. Roger Nicole was a founding member of the major egalitarian organization, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). He also taught at evangelical seminaries such as Gordon-Conwell and Reformed Theological Seminary. The man was as Reformed and as Evangelical as one could be, even being a staunch biblical inerrantist. He wrote this in his article for Priscilla Papers (the academic journal of CBE, which has published one of my own articles, I am humbled to say!)

It is very instructive to consider what we may know about the women who are mentioned in connection with St. Paul’s ministry. There are eighty-nine individuals listed, some of them by name, in Acts and St. Paul’s thirteen epistles, as his companions. Out of these eighty-nine, twenty are women! In Romans 16:1-15, there is a mention of Phoebe, and salutation to twenty-eight persons, not counting mentions of church, household, brothers, and saints with others. Out of twenty-eight individuals, eight are assuredly women: Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother (who was also a mother to Paul), Nereus’ sister, and Julia. The name of Junia must be added to these. Furthermore, some women must be assumed to be included in “the church that meets in Prisca and Aquila’s house” (v. 5), the “household of Aristobulus” (v. 10), of Narcissus (v. 11), and “all the saints with Nereus and Olympus” (v. 15). The names of Patroba[s], Herma[s] and Olympa[s], with their accusative form, –an, could possibly be those of women, although being masculine is not ruled out. We know nothing whatsoever about these except that St. Paul greeted them. Apart from those three, there are sixteen masculine names, and, of these, only Urbanus is identified as a coworker of Paul…

… Surely St. Paul would not, in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, condemn on the basis of Genesis 1-3 what he had so freely commended in Romans 16. Some claim that the solution is to posit that 1 Timothy is not authentically written by Paul, a desperate expedient that is wholly unacceptable to evangelicals and that would raise serious questions about Timothy’s place in the canon and even as to its inspiration…

Inasmuch as the view outlined here has not achieved an almost universal recognition among evangelicals, as the inappropriateness of slavery has achieved since the nineteenth century, it is paramount that all evangelicals should strive to provide, particularly in the church, opportunities for our sisters to exercise the gifts of the Spirit that they have received, even where it is not thought permissible by Scripture for them to exercise the office of pastor or teacher. Thus, the church would not lose the benefits that God’s gifts were intended to provide, nor would our sisters be compelled to hide their light under a bowl (Matt. 5:15).

 For Dr. Nicole's article, see here. Lest one deny Dr. Nicole's credentials, he wrote a seminal article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 25.4 (1982) on John Calvin and Inerrancy. You do not get more Reformed or Evangelical than that! He also contributed a chapter in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (2005), one of the standard egalitarian academic textbooks,  called "Biblical Hermeneutics: Basic Principles and Questions of Gender." A very worthwhile essay from a master theologian, who was known to be both humble and irenic. He also wrote, "Biblical Authority & Feminist Aspirations," in Women, Authority & the Bible (IVP, 1986), 42-50.

James K.A. Smith is a Christian Philosopher who teaches at Calvin College. He has taught at Fuller, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent. He writes he embraced egalitarianism because of a "Reformed Hermeneutic" (p.94). In essence, his theology is not dictated by the Fall and the Curse (Gen 3:16), but by redemption in Christ (c.f. Col 1:20). Creation, therefore, trumps the Fall. 

You can find the quote in his Letters to a Young Calvinist p.93-95.

Dr. Jamin Hübner is a Reformed New Testament scholar and systematic theologian who has been on our podcast (episode here) and we discussed John Piper. It was a good romp and Jamin has written some rather definitive pieces of literature, and he operates from a Reformed perspective. He wrote a short book called A Case for Female Deacons while at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has also written several articles including

  • "Revisiting αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What Do the Extant Data Really Show?," Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5.1 (2015): 41-70. In this article, Jamin shows that the rare Greek verb in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not support a hierarchicalistic interpretation.
  • "Revisiting the Clarity of Scripture in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 59.1 (2016): 99-117.
  • "Translating αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Priscilla Papers 29.2 (2015): 16-26.

Jamin's doctoral thesis was also centered on arguing for a Reformed Egalitarian view, which includes exegesis of the relevant texts and the broader New Testament. He writes in the conclusion of his doctoral thesis

Finally...the power of tradition must never be underestimated. There are many “closet-egalitarians” who believe that women can be elders. But, due to their faculty positions at (for example) Southern Baptist seminaries or pastoral positions at PCA churches, they do not voice what they believe is true. Jobs would be lost and relationships would be broken. It would be easier to fall in line with the local/historical traditions than to earnestly contend for the truth. One can only pray that more brave men and women will see themselves as historical persons that have a story—one that their children and grandchildren will remember and tell, and that their story will speak of a person who did not compromise when it came to proclaiming the gospel in every area of life, including the area of gender equality and the role of church eldership.

Dr. Robert A.J. Gagnon is a New Testament scholar teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a PCUSA school. He has written the definitive traditionalist book on homosexuality called The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Many complementarians are willing to cite the book positively (c.f. God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines - the contributors to the volume are, of course, deeply complementarian), but are strikingly quiet about Gagnon's support for the ordination of women.

Michael F. Bird is a Reformed Anglican New Testament scholar in Ridley College in Australia. He wrote a short book, with a lovely title, called Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry. He writes

Yet I have changed my view on women in ministry, and some of my friends have shaken their head in disappointment, thinking that I have sold out to the cultural tide of feminism by adopting a fashionably left-leaning version of evangelicalism...in my early theological education I took to a patriarchal view very naturally. I was greatly influenced by complementarians such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and Wayne Grudem - men I still admire and respect even if I must now depart company from them on this issue.

N.T. Wright is Reformed. He writes

I have shown where I think the evidence points. I believe we have seriously misread the New Testament passages addressed in this essay. These misreadings are undoubtedly due to a combination of assumptions, traditions, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. We need to change our understanding of what the Bible says about how men and women are to relate to one another within the church. I do wonder sometimes if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to sieze upon misreadings of what the Bible says about women as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Unfortunately, plenty of Christians have given outsiders plenty of chances to draw those sorts of conclusions. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction. I hope and pray that the work of Christians for Biblical Equality may be used by God in exactly that way.

See his article "The Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church," Priscilla Papers 20.4 (2006): 5-10.

Dr. Aida Besançon Spencer is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is an ordained PCUSA minister. You can see some of her presentations here and here. The first presentation concerns "Women, Silence, and the Church" and the second one is on the differences between Biblical Equality and Radical Feminism. Both are stellar and I commend them to you.

T.F. Torrance, a deeply influential Reformed theologian from Scotland, wrote a stimulating article about Christology and gender, and it is worth your time. He wrote

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We conclude that in spite of long-held ecclesiastical convention, there are no intrinsic theological reasons why women should not be ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament; rather, there are genuine theological reasons why they may be ordained and consecrated in the service of the gospel. The idea that only a man, or a male, can represent Christ or be an ikon of Christ at the Eucharist, conflicts with basic elements of the doctrines of: the incarnation and the new order of creation; the virgin birth, which sets aside male sovereignty and judges it as sinful; the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in the one Person of Jesus Christ who is of the same uncreated genderless Being as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; the redemptive and healing assumption of complete human nature in Christ; and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which he has offered once for all on our behalf, in our place, in our stead.

You can read his entire essay here.

As one can clearly see, one need not be both Reformed and Complementarian by default. Rather, the presence of Reformed Egalitarians ought to be a primer for the YRR movement to reconsider the cultural link between Reformed theology and patriarchy, and exhibit the spirit of the Reformation.

Beer!

Sorry.

Reformed and always Reforming.

NQ

"Christ Became Poor:" Preexistence, Poverty, and the Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

"The question concerning the identity and divinity of Christ is one born and raised in controversy."[1] Much of this ancient and modern debate centers on the variants of 'low' and 'high' Christology and subsequently most modern commentators have centered their attention on Pauline texts such as Phil 2:5-11, 1 Cor 8:4-6, 15:20-28 and Col 1:15-20[2]—among others.[3] Although modern New Testament scholars have also pursued understanding ancient economics and poverty in relation to Paul's thought,[4] the terrain is ripe for integrative theological reflection on reception history in light of both his Christology and ancient conceptions of poverty. The goal of this essay is simple: to assess the patristic reception of an often-overlooked Pauline text (2 Cor 8:9) with intent to synthesize a modern reading informed by earliest Christianity.[5] To accomplish this, I will begin by briefly surveying modern scholarly opinion on 2 Cor 8:9, and then I will provide an additional survey of the economic topography that modern scholarship has unearthed in relation to Paul's own theology before evaluating the reception history of Paul. As I will show, the patristic consensus of 2 Cor 8:9 is fertile ground for modern interests in merging ancient poverty and Pauline Christology into a coherent theological worldview.[6]

1. Incarnation or Not?: Modern Scholarship on 2 Cor 8:9

In recent New Testament scholarship, a debate has emerged concerning this specific text, and whether or not Paul is alluding to the incarnation of the Son. A well-known representative of a 'non-incarnation' reading of 2 Cor 8:9 is James Dunn. He believes that "the most obvious way to take 2 Cor. 8:9 is as a vivid allusion to the tremendous personal cost of Jesus' ministry and particularly the willing sacrifice of his death."[7] Hence, for Dunn, Paul is about the historical life of Jesus as opposed to Jesus' forsaking divine rights in a preexistent state of equality with God the Father. Calvin J. Roetzel also seems reticent to affirm a form of preexistence in 2 Cor 8:9, as he thinks the relationship between Phil 2:6-11 and 2 Cor 8:9 are "faint."[8] He does affirm preexistence in the Philippians text but seems to object to a similar reading in the text under discussion. He offers several reasons why, including a lack of commentary on the exaltation of Christ to the Father, and also a lack of Christ becoming 'poor' in Phil 2:5-11.[9] Similarly, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states, "such a meaning [incarnation of 2 Cor 8:9], however, has no basis either in Paul's theological perspective or in the immediate context."[10] For Murphy-O'Connor, the text under question refers to "the radical impoverishment" of Christ as human.[11] Christ, in essence, is the ideal human being for this view, and thus the incarnation is placed outside the scope of interpretive options. There are objections to these arguments. For instance, the phrasing of Phil 2:7a (ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών) appears to contradict Roetzel's claim, as slaves in the ancient world were not known for being wealthy. Indeed, wealth itself was restricted to the elites.[12] Also, Paul's referring to Christ as becoming a δούλου emphasizes in a holistic way the poverty he was "born" (2:8a: γενόμενος) into. The exchange of status symbols thus makes Roetzal's claim highly unlikely.[13] Also, Murphy-O'Connor relies too much on equating "image of God" and "form of God," an exegetical fallacy that has been persuasively challenged.[14] Despite their well-constructed arguments, Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor appear to be within the minority of New Testament exegetes. Most modern commentators[15] on the Greek New Testament have pushed back against this thesis, and Margaret Thrall is the best representative. She states that the "traditional interpretation [i.e. the preexistence son becoming poor through the incarnation] of the verse is preferable to the other possibilities suggested,"[16] and Dunn's 'non-incarnational' option is indeed excluded by her critique. Thrall concludes:

[Christ's] self-impoverishment in the whole event of incarnation was for the spiritual enrichment of believers. We have the same principle of interchange as in [2 Cor] 5:21. The riches are not further defined, and are probably to be understood in a comprehensive sense as all the blessings of eschatological salvation.[17]

In summation, the incarnational reading of 2 Cor 8:9 appears to be the preferable option amongst modern exegetes, illustrating continuity with the history of interpretation, especially as we now consider the socio-economic context of the ancient world.

2. The Economic Landscape of the Ancient World

The economic terrain of the Greco-Roman world was largely contingent upon who controlled what. Walter Scheidel and Steven Friesen have demonstrated "that the vast majority of the population lived close to subsistence but cumulatively generated more than half of overall output [of wheat]."[18] As the Roman Empire was the largest force in the ancient during the time of the New Testament, it stands to reason that this economy affected the majority of early patristic sources, at least implicitly if not explicitly as we shall see. Juvenal writes, "most people who lived in Rome could not afford to own a house and therefore lived in rooms or apartments that they might own or rent" (Satires 3.193-202).[19] An economic elitism seems to lie at the heart of the ancient Roman economy,[20] with a majority of the population living at or beneath the level of subsistence:[21] this also includes Paul and a vast majority of first-century Christians.[22] When we talk about poverty, then, we are not talking about merely symbols of status, but of actual life and death.[23] The issue of poverty as a self-imposed state in "Late Antiquity and early Byzantium" is also reflected in the literature, [24] which is a concept that will be explored later. For instance, Schachner writes concerning this period, "Chosen poverty was an ideal to follow one's quest for spirituality and eternal salvation."[25] Thus, when patristic writers interpret Paul's epistles, they are indebted to their socio-economic context, and this comes out quite clearly in their reception of 2 Cor 8:9. The scope of poverty is nearly universal and concentrated. The self-impoverishment of the Son of God will now be examined through the lens of Paul's earliest recorded interpreters.[26]

3. Impoverishment and the Son of God: The Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

The majority of allusions or direct citations of 2 Cor 8:9 come from a later period, as the literature from the Apostolic Fathers does not appear to contain any direct reference to the text in question.[27] The records of the early Apostolic Fathers are silent regarding any citing or alluding to this text as far as can been seen, although there are deep echoes of the Trinity therein.[28] The majority of references recorded are in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. We begin with Gregory Thaumaturgus.

For the rest of my paper, enjoy it here.

NQ

[1] Chris Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 1.

[2] For a reframing of several of these texts, see Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

[3] For a fascinating exploration of Paul's divine Christology that does not focus on the standard biblical texts, see Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology.

[4] C.f. Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998) and David J. Downs, The Offering of the Gentiles: Paul's Collection for Jerusalem in its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Contexts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

[5] For an excellent and expansive treatment of Pauline soteriology through a patristic lens, see Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). The scope of my proposal is far more modest, although my intent is similar. 

[6] The totality of Patristic evidence on this verse cannot be displayed. I have limited myself to key representatives and interpretations that appear to be consistent, revealing an interpretive thread that links all of these sources together.

[7] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 292. It must be said that this 'non-incarnational' view may not represent Dunn's personal view, only his view on what Paul said and believed.

[8] Calvin J. Roetzel, 2 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 46.

[9] Roetzel, 2 Corinthians, 46.

[10] Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Theology of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 83.

[11] Murphy-O'Connor, Theology, 83.

[12] C.f. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 99

[13] It also may be said that the human life of utter impoverishment of Christ (the emphasis pressed by both Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor) does not necessarily rule out his incarnation. Indeed, contra Murphy-O'Connor (pp.83-84), it highlights the 'emptying' of the Son, who forgoes his divine status on behalf of those who are indeed impoverished. Murphy-O'Connor has missed the entire point of ancient theories of economics and status, and how this plays in Christ's self-abandonment of his status.

[14] See D. Steenburg, "The Case against the Synonymity of Morphē and Eikōn," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 (1998): 77-86; Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 121-122.

[15] C.f. Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), 215-217; Raymond C. Collins, Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 171-172; George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 406; Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 578-579; Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Vol. 40: Waco: Word Books, 1986), 263-264; Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 330.

[16] Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 534.

[17] Thrall, 2 Corinthians, 534.

[18] Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen, "The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 99 (2009): 61-91, 62-63.

[19] Reference found in Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 63.

[20] This appears to be the case in Corinth during Paul's time. The social context of the Corinthians should be contrasted by their "pride in their economic status," per Hans Deiter Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 63.

[21] Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 45.

[22] See specifically Steven J. Friesen's table (1.3) in his article "Injustice or God's Will?:" Early Christian Explanations of Poverty" in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (ed. Susan R. Holman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 17-36, 29. Paul's placement in Friesen's "poverty scale" (PS) in section 6 appears to best explain the data in the New Testament.

[23] See the documentation in Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 53-57.

[24] Lukas Amadeus Schachner, "Social Life in Late Antiquity: A Bibliographic Essay" in Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity (Edited by William Bowden, Adam Gutteridge and Carlos Machado. Volume 3.1. Boston: Leiden. 2006), 48-50, 48.

[25] Schachner, "Social Life," 48.

[26] All of the sources I cite occur, most probably, before the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. The relevance of these sources is they are by prominent members of the early Christian community.   

[27] The text consulted was Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English. Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

[28] C.f. Stephen M. Hildebrand, "The Trinity in the Ante-Nicene Fathers" in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (ed. Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 95-107.

A Woman's "Role" as a First-Born Son: Full Justification in Christ Translates Into Full Participation

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

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Many Evangelical Christians have found themselves convinced of a more egalitarian understanding of the relationship between men and women after reading Galatians 3:28 in context. While this verse does not say: “Women ought to be allowed to be senior pastors,” it lays out a crucial framework for church participation. Since we are in Christ, and no longer under the law, partiality must not be shown on the basis of ethnicity, social standing or gender because these barriers do not exist in Christ. Full justification translates into full participation of these groups as heirs (first-born sons) within the church (2:6-13; 3:5-9,18-29).  

Women Have the Status of First-Born Sons in The Life of the Church

If the status of women (slaves and gentiles) is that of first-born sons, then women may not be barred from a pastoral or elder ministry on these grounds.  Paul says, that in Christ, there is no male or female. If such divisions do not exist because both are to be considered sons, then one needs a compelling argument for exclusion, not inclusion. On what grounds may women be barred from leadership? In the absence of passages to the contrary, we are left with a general principle that tells us gender is not a barrier when it comes to the practical life of the church (and naturally this would extend to leadership). But why take this principle to be practical for the life of the church?

Consider our passage in light of the Jew and Gentile conflict mentioned earlier. Paul was opposed to the Judaizers’ insistence on upholding the ceremonial law in the church. He even stood up to Peter, who had reflected the exclusionary nature of the Judaizers, by not eating with the Gentiles.  In order to fully participate in the church, it was thought that Gentiles had to be circumcised and adhere to the dietary laws (Acts 15). Paul saw this as a return to slavery, which was at odds with the spirit of the gospel (Gal 4:8-11; 5). Paul was opposed to the favored status of the Jews over the Gentiles. This went beyond merely repeating that Gentiles could also be saved (there was already a court for the Gentiles in the temple). It had radically practical implications. Gentiles could now fully participate in the life of the church and this was symbolized by their ability to share a meal with the other members. The dividing wall of separation had been torn down (Eph 2:14). This shows that Paul had the practical outworking of justification in mind as well and extended the discussion to slaves and women. They too were fellow heirs—sons in Christ.

Philip Payne in his book Man and Woman One in Christ brings Ephesians 2 into focus for the sort of practical implication Galatians implies: “Ephesians 2:14 asserts that Christ...’has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ between Jew and Gentile. The court of the women with its own dividing wall lay between the court of the Gentiles and the temple. Galatians 3:28 implies the spiritual fellowship status to women as well as Gentiles. Similarly, the abolition of the necessity of circumcision (e.g., Eph 2:11-13) opens the door to full participation by women as well as Gentiles in Christian worship…the barrier metaphor Paul chose implies not just equal spiritual standing but equal access and privileges within the church” (93). The pairs Paul presents in Galatians 3 are social divisions. The negation of these divisions indicates that discrimination based on these divisions is to be rejected as heartily as Paul rejected the discrimination of the Gentiles throughout the Galatians.

Besides, the earthly implications of being a son or heir and the use of common social divisions, what other reason is there to think Gal 3:28 is practically minded and not limited to a justification that is mainly in spirit? It is also evident in parallel passages. The other similar passages are Colossians 3:11 and the baptismal statement 1 Cor 12:13. Both are applied to practical issues within the church and take on some familiar themes.

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:9-11).

 “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor 12:12-14).  Clearly, unity in Christ is tied to practice.

Another big reason to take this passage to be practically-minded and not repeating the already understood truth that gentiles, slaves, and women could also be saved, is the affirmation that all who were baptized into Christ "have clothed" themselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). This concept is used by Paul throughout his writings to "urge the community of God's people in Christ to cultivate virtues that will foster that community in practice" (The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Moo p276). You can see the idea of clothing oneself with Christ referring to Christian practice based in salvation in verses such as Col 3:9-12 and Romans 13:14. Interestingly, Colossians 3 is also one of the parallel verses that give a similar listing of social divisions with a practical application in mind.

Lastly, it is important to note the well-known Jewish prayer of Paul's day that has the same order Paul uses with quite a different message: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a heathen…a bondman…a woman.” Jews already believed gentiles, slaves, and women could be "saved" and to this day I don't know that the Jewish people doubt Gentiles can go to be with God after death. The question was of participation in the community life of the people of God and in the case of the prayer, practical exclusion.

The purity laws that kept women from being priests and the requirement of being Jewish Levites that kept most from entering the holy of holies, was superseded when the veil was torn, the barrier of the dividing wall crumbled, and we were baptized into Christ. Now we live with this knowledge and reality. We the church, live in the “already but not yet.” The kingdom of God that will one day be consummated is breaking into the present. Our status as fully justified and free in Christ will one day be completely made known. For now, our world does not quite look like the kingdom to come and that is why we pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.” Miraculous signs, exorcisms, deeds of mercy and the outpouring of the love of God on our fellow man are signs we might participate in. They are evidence of the kingdom’s work. May God’s work be visible in the life of the Church.

 

AQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix

At the end of the day, what some folks want is a single verse stating: Women as a class in and of themselves are permitted to be the equivalent to our modern conceptions of church leadership: A Senior Pastor. The Bible has no such statement. It tells you how to live your life as a person and community "in Christ" in a variety of circumstances and gives narrative frameworks in which to understand various claims or assertions.

From Gal 3:28 (in context) we can gather: Since we are in Christ (includes heirship, sonship…ect) and no longer under the law, partiality may not be shown in church practice on the basis of ethnicity, social standing or gender.

What follows from this principle or statement in our present context: Women may not be barred from a pastoral, elder, teaching or leadership ministry on the grounds of gender or other cultural-social class. Why does it follow? A universal argument was made against partiality towards 3 specific categories in the church. If there is no partiality based off of these 3 distinct groups can be made, then this applies to a specific instance of partiality as well: namely, leadership.

What else is needed to support this principle?

1. Church practice is in view here.

2. Church practice is tied to Paul’s view of justification (since justification is in view in the passage).

3. These barriers no longer exist in Christ and that this is universal (the verse in question says as much, and so the question turns to “in what sense?”).

4. In view of the Gender Debate and Complementarian claims that would seem to be defeaters to this principle or make us reconsider it, other verses such as 1 Tim…ect would have to be considered (We woudl of course also have to ignore the rest of Scripture and rip these verses out of context!...but we have already written and spoken on 1 Timothy and other passages).

 

 

 

When the New Testament Undermines your Values: A Response to #LouderwithCrowder and Complementarianism

"Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children, and live your life in love, just as also Christ has loved us and handed himself over for us, an offering and sacrifice to God, as a fragrant aroma" (My Translation)
-Ephesians 5:1-2-

In the conservative side of the Christian church, the debate rages over the ordination and equality of women. Many good women and men oppose the ordination of women to the pastorate on the basis of certain biblical texts and their various translations, and some do believe submission in marriage is uni-directional and is based entirely on the gender of the person submitting and the person leading. So when I pressed play on one of Steven Crowder's latest videos (released 18 hours ago according to Facebook at the time of writing this paragraph), I was suspicious that I would find myself in some sort of disagreement, which is normal and healthy in this day and age, provided respect and careful listening rule the day. Then I read the fine print.

The slug line for the video reads: "We lay out the case for exactly why modern feminism is inherently anti-God and incompatible with a biblical prescription for marriage..."

So, yeah, my suspicions were pretty correct. But, being curious and also a bit of a fan (Steven and Jared follow me on twitter), I wanted to hear what they had to say. So this is a sequential response to the latter half of their statement "a biblical prescription for marriage..." Since I am not as politically engaged as I ought to be I think it would be far more beneficial to respond to them on the basis of my knowledge of the biblical texts they allude to and cite. In what follows, I will type out the commentary I will be interacting with, and time stamp the scene so you can follow along. But in order to best interact with their comments, I will offer some hermeneutical ideas for reading Scripture.

The first point is that the New Testament does not assume Western values. The New Testament assumes the reality of slavery (although Paul, in essence, destroys the institution of slavery with the Epistle to Philemon, Galatians 3:26-29, and the call for slaves to seek freedom in 1 Cor 7:21), whereas we who are born into Western values do not assume the reality of slavery—thank God![1] Western values may have some basis in the teachings of the Bible, but this surely puts the cart before the horse. If you want to understand the New Testament, assuming a 21st-century Western/Eastern/ Modernistic/Progressive/Fundamentalist mindset is the wrong way to begin your argument. Many (most?) Western people have not had to suffer through oppression in the same way as the writer's of the New Testament have. Women back then did not have the same rights or luxuries; for instance, many Western women do not live in fear of dying at age 15 because of a childbirth that has gone wrong or childbirth period.[2] As N.T. Wright has wisely noted

We must all recognize that the question of women in ministry takes place within the wider cultural context of overlapping and interlocking issues. The many varieties of feminism on the one hand and the ongoing modern/postmodern culture wars on the other provide two of many signposts. Part of the problem, particularly in the United States, is that cultures become so polarized that if you tick one box many assume you must tick a dozen other boxes down the same side of the page—without realizing that the page itself is highly arbitrary and culture-bound.[3]

And we begin.

2:18 passim—Steven: "A lot of Christians, for a while, they've been sort of run through the dirt for believing in something called complementarianism. I'm sure you've heard of this, this believes that men and women have complementary roles to each other and that this is foundational to a society. By the way…[4]that's the basis of Western society; it's actually the basis of constitutionalism, the idea of limited government can only function…which is why they encourage the proliferation in the United States of the Nuclear family, before federal government, before state government, before municipal government they wanted mommy, daddy, and kids because they believed that that was the best foundation the bedrock for a society. Not saying that it is necessarily right or wrong…

There are multiple issues with Steven's comments, but I will begin with a positive assertion of my own view: egalitarianism or "Christian Feminism" is the belief that male are female equally bear God's divine and holy image, where husbands and wives submit to one another in holy marriage, and women and men may equally pursue their gifts and calling in Christian ministry with no restriction. Thus, any subordination of one race or gender to another is based on the Fall, a catastrophic event God is working to overcome.[5]

So, back to Steven et al. First, what Steven has said is not complementarianism, because complementarianism as a belief system (men and women are fully equal in dignity and worth before God, but have different roles in the church and home and perhaps even the society) did not come about really until the 1970s. As Dr. Mimi Haddad has conclusively demonstrated, egalitarian theology was an early (much earlier) development in evangelicalism. Many of the early authoritative teachers (Frank Gaebelein, J. Barton Payne, Fredrik Franson, Katherine Bushnell, amongst others) were egalitarian, favoring women as equal participants in the home and in the church and society.[6] So it seems that Steven's recent view is not 'the basis for Western society.' Far from it.

However, the classical sexist view of women can be amply demonstrated: Augustine in his Literal Commentary on Genesis writes, "I cannot think of any reason for woman's being made as man's helper, if we dismiss the reason of procreation."[7] Kinda gross. Tertullian said in his On the Dress of Women that "God's judgment on this sex lives on in our age; the guilt necessarily lives on as well.[8] You are the Devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him[9] whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach[10]; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam;[11] because of your punishment, that is, death,[12] even the Son of God had to die." Since the Constitution of the United States preexists modern complementarianism by nearly two hundred years, one cannot accurately say "complementarianism" is or was the basis of Western society.

Also, as an egalitarian, I believe that my wife is a complement to myself. I cannot, for instance, bear children. That’s a major complementary difference exemplified in Genesis, but it does not mention patriarchy or matriarchy. This issue of inserting a gender-based hierarchy based upon the biology of an individual needs to actually be defended by Steven, as he simply states his view as if it is fact. "Complementary" does not necessarily include additional biological authority over another person; that's a hidden premise. In fact, this gender-based hierarchy seems to run counter to the idea of Western society as a whole.

For instance, based on the arguments of Dr. Jamin Hübner, there is a libertarian impulse in Christian theology (ancient and modern), and while Hübner does not make this explicit, I suspect that the autonomy of the individual would include an avid exclusion of a gender-based hierarchy.[13] I would encourage Steven, Jared and Gerald to give Hübner's work a fair listen, especially if you can get ahold of his scholarly articles on Christian Theology and Women.[14] 

3:30 passim—Steven: "Jesus, for example, was one of the first radical feminists, by the way, classical feminist. If you look at teachings from the Bible it talks about husbands being gentle and kind to your wives, loving, providing, and it tells wives to be submissive to your husbands, now the word 'submit' means 'to respect the authority of your husband.' … but again, that submission meaning respecting the authority, in other words, a man receives love not by 'sweetie I love you honey honey,' but when he slaps his kill on the table, having a woman who will help him to put his feet up and recharge for the next day because his wife loves him enough to take care of him. That is what is occurring in the Bible, its saying, 'this is clearly how men receive love, which we now know to be true, this is how women receive love…feminists absolutely despise it because they want you to believe that men and women are interchangeable, and men can do anything women can do and women can do anything men can do and it's a general rule there's no difference they can do it with equal or greater efficiency, and its just not true."

This description of Ephesians 5:21-28 sounds like Homer Simpson hermeneutics: where the satisfaction of the man is supreme and the wife is to make sure he is able to relax. This sort of "feet up" mentality may be more conducive to the Stone Age, but it is foreign to the New Testament—as I will demonstrate.

First, it must be said that if the moral vision of the New Testament for marriage is egalitarian and not complementarian—as it is—then Steven's entire argument collapses. This is a point worth noting up front before I begin my response.

First, Steven actually does not offer any of Jesus' words in support of his claim about Jesus being a "radical." There is nothing from the Synoptic Gospels or the Gospel of John. I was surprised by this, as Steven leads off by talking about how radical Jesus was. Of course, I affirm this premise in Jesus having female patrons like Mary, Joanna (likely the Junia of Rom 16:7),[15] and Susanna among "many others" (Luke 8:1-3), women disciples (Luke 24:10), including women who sat at the feet of Jesus; meaning, Jesus was the first recorded Jewish rabbi to have female disciples! Quite radical! This affirms the principle that Jesus believed women were not bound to the household, nor that they were incapable of virtue, and were eminently worthy to be taught the good news of the Kingdom of God. Women are the heart and soul of the Gospel accounts, and without their testimony, we do not have Gospels. Period. Without apostles and missionaries like Junia, we may not have churches of God at all. Period.

Second, all Scripture has a context. Eph 5:1-2 sets a sort of thematic stage and that is why I began this post by offering my translation of it above. All people—men and women—are to be imitators of God. We imitate God by self-sacrifice, by yielding to one another in love. This sort of mutual ethic continues on throughout chapter 5, although it begins in 2:1-22 with a brand new humanity. Vv.3-5 exhorts all Christians—men and women—to not participate in sexual immorality and sin. Vv.6-12 continues on and includes a plural neuter address to the Ephesians as "children" (τέκνα), which includes a multitude of both men and women as children of 'light' (v.9). So far, all people are in view, without discrimination regarding gender.

V.15 with the "therefore" conjunction indicates a continuance of thought but not at the expense of the previous material. The use of the verb περιπατεῖτε ("walk" or "conduct your life": see also 5:2, 5:8) is central here to living as "wise people." "Being filled with the Spirit" (v.18) is thus the beginning of the so-called "household code." Vv.18-20 describe community activities of worship. No issue of gender is noted in the sense of a hierarchically ordered relationship.

V.21 is the most important verse of the chapter, and I am glad Steven included it on the slide in the video—although I wish he included it in his comments. I will include v.21 with v.22 to give full context:

21: ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ ("submitting to one another in reverence of Christ")

22: Αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ ("wives, to your own husbands as to the Lord").

Notice anything? The verb in v.22 is not there. V.21 supplies the verb "submit," and thus the injunction to submission begins with mutual submission. This is unheard of in the ancient world simply because wives were not addressed as active moral agents. Most "household codes" were directly entirely to the man of the house, and the wives, children, and slaves were not directly addressed. Here, the wife is not only addressed first (which suggests a type of honor) but both husband and wife are told to "submit themselves to one another." The reciprocal pronoun here denotes mutuality. The participle ὑποτασσόμενοι is in the middle voice, suggesting an action done by the person being addressed (i.e. "submit yourself"). This is directed to husbands too. So the entire thrust of the passage is on the mutuality of the new people of God, and this includes a restoration of the marriage relationship that was ruptured in Eden so long ago. Everything that follows must, in order to be consistent and coherent, flow from the idea of mutual submission. The language of authority will be dealt with below.

Steven says:

"If you look at teachings from the Bible it talks about husbands being gentle and kind to your wives, loving, providing, and it tells wives to be submissive to your husbands…"

That is what the Bible says in some sense, but as has been shown that is not the whole story. 1 Cor 7:4 speaks directly to authority relationships: "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" (NRSV). This is the most explicit language about authority ever used between husband and wife relationships in the entire Bible, and it concerns the totality of the human person as "body." Steven misses this entirely, as uni-directional submission is not talked about at all in 1 Cor 7:3-4, but the authority of both husband and wife over the other person. Both male and female have equal conjugal rights (v.3), equal spiritual insight into each other's most intimate areas of theology and prayer (v.5), equal divorce rights (vv.10-13), and equal soteriological input in the other (vv.14-16), as both parties may sanctify the other unbelieving spouse. That is a very narrow way to interpret Scripture, and Steven does this sort of hermeneutical move later on in the video. In reality, " The mutuality in the household codes subtly challenged the pervasive cultural values, especially those regarding women’s social status."[16] When Steven's interpretation looks like the 1950s, and not like Paul's liberating rhetoric in 60 CE, we have a problem of perspective. 

Steven says:

"…now the word 'submit' means 'to respect the authority of your husband.'"

No, it does not. Here, submission is classified in the context of imitation of Christ and God (vv.1-2) and being filled with the Spirit (vv.18-20). The use of "head" is not a one to one correspondence between Greek and English. The husband is called "head," not "authority." The use of "head" in v.23 reveals that Paul is playing with an organic metaphor. Here, "head" is a metaphor for source of provision, as ancient physiology has shown: the head takes in food for the body, the head being the source therefore of the body's life. The use of "savior" reveals a continued idea of 'sustainment' and deliverer. Hence, "head" is grammatically parallel with "savior." If a husband in the ancient world did not provide, very likely the wife and children and slaves would die. So, no, Steven is simply incorrect. Submit here refers to a voluntary act of self-giving in a context of mutual submission—wives are reinforced, but vv.25 passim is where Steven's argument really collapses.

To recap, Steven says: But again, that submission meaning respecting the authority, in other words, a man receives love not by 'sweetie I love you honey honey,' but when he slaps his kill on the table, having a woman who will help him to put his feet up and recharge for the next day because his wife loves him enough to take care of him.

I challenge Steven to actually show this from the text. This sort of machismo is directly at odds with the rest of the passage, as will be demonstrated. V.25 harkens back to v.2 (as does most of this passage) with the use of παρέδωκεν ("handed over"). This is the first example of mutual submission on the part of the husband: he gives himself entirely over for his wife, a radical in the ancient world. Cynthia Long Westfall notes:

Then the husband is instructed to love his wife as Christ loved his church (5:25). Christ's love is illustrated by the sanctification of the church, which is described in terms of domestic chores normally performed by women: giving a bath, providing clothing, and doing laundry (including spot removal and ironing) (5:26-27). Through the use of analogy and metaphor, Paul has told the husband to follow Christ by serving [i.e. submitting, my emphasis] his wife's needs; this is a brilliant description of servanthood…the Greco-Roman distinctions between males working and providing in the high-status public sphere (rural, forensic, and political) and females working and providing in the low-status domestic sphere are broken down, as Paul unmistakably assigns intimate domestic service to the husband.[17]

The idea of a man propping up his feet is a foreign concept on the text, although it oddly enough matches Greco-Roman culture and the culture of complementarianism. How does a husband, by propping up his feet and ignoring his responsibility to continually serve his wife, show mutual submission? This looks like a theology of self. This places actual pagan servanthood on the woman and permits the husband to ignore treating his wife as his own flesh. How do women receive love by putting her husband's feet up? This seems remarkably shallow. Women, from the beginning, have been involved deeply in Christian mission and theology, and Steven does them a disservice by this sort of lazy rhetoric. There is nothing inherent to Christian theology that demands the subordination of women, wives, or daughters to men. Period. In fact, the language of adoption and freedom to the oppressed seems to disrupt any sense of hierarchy within the Biblical narrative (c.f. Rom 8:22-23; Luke 4:18; Gal 3:23-29; 5:1). All of this evidence renders Steven's commentary deeply problematic.

6:44—Gerald: "yeah men and women are created equal in value, but not equal in ability and role and you see that play out throughout society but you're supposed to serve one another, you're supposed to be subject to one another. I love that part in Ephesians was like, 'men be ready to die for your wives just FYI…(some verbal overlap made it difficult for me to understand exactly what was said: just noting this) are you ready to lay down your life for them just like Christ laid down his life for the church?"

Riffing off this, ability for what? Weightlifting? Picking up a rock? True. But brute strength is not a successful indicator of much of anything, especially since Scripture does not make physical 'strength' a reason of biological superiority or service in the church. Far from it: "[God] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless" (Isaiah 40:29). Indeed, for the eternal Son of God to become human was to adopt the very assumption of slavery and weakness (Phil 2:5-11).

What Steven says next is quite shocking, and I think his words are the absolute low point of the show, insofar as Steven contradicts himself and reveals his ignorance of Scripture.

7:02—Steven: "By the way, that's never prescribed for women…[i.e. giving their lives for their husbands]"

Earlier I mentioned a contradiction. Here it is. Steven believes the passage is about how a man/husband and a woman/wife[18] "receives love." This applies to both in the passage. Yet, here, without any evidence or reason given, "dying for your wife" is prescribed only to men." This is hermeneutical gymnastics. Steven does not get to claim "love" as a prescription for both, even though wives are not explicitly told here to love their husbands, and yet withhold a prescription of "self-sacrificial dying" from women. This is a contradiction, and Steven will need to do some serious exegetical work to get out of it. I look forward to his answer on this point, should he be willing to try.

First, reread Eph 5:1-2 and consider the "gifts of the Spirit" in 1 Cor 12:1-31, Rom 12:1-8, and Eph 4:1-16. None of the gifts of ministry (prophecy, apostleship, pastors, teachers etc.) are gender-exclusive or sectioned off only for men or for women. The complementarian interpretation of v.25 offered in this video is in contradiction with Paul's entire theology of the Holy Spirit and of the gifts the Spirit freely gives to his church. So some serious harmonizing must happened in order to the offered interpretation to be valid or even preferable.

Second, Deuteronomy 20:17 is about coveting: since it is not prescribed to wives, is it appropriate for a woman to covet her neighbor's husband since she is not mentioned? Hardly, I would think.

Third, see above the women who served in the church (and are serving in the church now), placing their lives on the line and were likely in prison (Rom 16:7). Being in prison in the ancient world is a bad thing, and I suspect Paul put many Christian men and women in prison, where they suffered and may have even died (c.f. Acts 8:3; 9:2; 22:4). So the active presence of women in the Pauline churches and in the ministry of Jesus really ruptures Steven's point, in the dangerous mission of proclaiming a counter-imperial Gospel certainly put them in danger for a cause greater than worrying about not 'giving up themselves' for their husbands.

Fourth, sexual ethics and vice lists in Paul clearly include women by implication. See the injunction in Rom 1:26-27, where women are directly accountable for sexual sin. Are women excluded from the repercussions of sexual sin in Eph 5:4-5? Just because a woman is not named does not automatically mean she is permitted to act like a sinner. Steven has really missed the boat on this one, unless he believes women are permitted to sin without fear of reprisal if they are not named directly in a Pauline vice list.

7:19—Jared: "Feminists…don't view it through the biblical definition of lovingly affirming your husband's leadership and lovingly seeking to carry that out with whatever talent…I think John Piper talks about that a lot of affirming your husband's leadership in way that is honoring to him, its not an oppressive…It doesn't mean you always agree with him or anything but it is a loving affirmation of his leadership."

I think Jared actually has some salient points here,[19] but like Steven and Gerald, he has really missed the mark of Eph 5:21-33. Again, where does the text under question mention the husband's "leadership?" "Savior," when paired appositionally with "body" does not equate to "leadership." I've already demonstrated a more probable reading of "head" as 'source of provision' and other scholars have amply and convincingly argued for this broad understanding of "head" in Paul.[20] So the question remains, where is the biologically determined leadership manifesting itself in this passage?

However, when Jared said "submission means like submitting to authority" and describes the [secular] feminist aversion to the word…I am left wondering why they wouldn't be offended by this. Steven has described "submission" in this exact way! He explicitly said, " now the word 'submit' means 'to respect the authority of your husband." When you describe authority in the way of 'respecting your husbands' authority,' then you are simply putting forth the exact model they are rejecting. The husband definitionally—as male—has authority! If authority is defined as being an exclusively male trait (or husbandly trait, seeing as how Steven has used both interchangeably), then we have every right to cry foul because Scripture does not make this point. In fact, Scripture points against lording authority over others (c.f. Mark 10:42, par. Luke 22:25 and Matt 20:25). It is not to be so with Christian men and women, and with husbands and wives.

Much of what can be said has already been said, especially regarding Eph 5 in context regarding mutual submission. So the comments about it being oppressive are simply irrelevant. Biology does not dictate authority. Period. We should affirm what Scripture affirms, and Scripture explicitly affirms mutual submission and self-sacrifice in place of a rigid biologically determined hierarchy that looks more like paganism than Christian theology. As Cynthia Westfall has said so well, "male domination is part of a biblical doctrine. It is called 'total depravity.'"[21]

In summation, I applaud Steven (and Gerald and Jared also) for being willing to offer their thoughts on all things theological. As a regular listener to the show (although I do not have the money for mug club, nor the time to keep up with their daily show sadly), I greatly enjoy theological banter and political analysis.

But Scripture is our paradigm for how we live and treat one another, and I think Scripture is far more radical and counter-cultural than Steven, Gerald, and Jared seem to say. 

If you three are ever near Pasadena, beers, theology conversations, and bad jokes are on me. God bless, Steven, Jared and Gerald. I hope my words are more constructive than snarky—although admittedly I kept some of the original snark.

As an aside, only Big Squirrel affirms uni-directional biologically determined submission.

NQ

*edited for clarity and to correct some grammar mistakes*

[1] This could be a point of initial critique since Steven does not engage with the issue of slavery in his comments. This is relevant because of the household code—which he cites in support of complementarianism—also includes slaves in the pericope. This also ignores the issue that Christians, for a very long time, supported the institution of slavery. So hermeneutical care is a must for interpreting Scripture, and I am not certain Steven has fully appreciated this notion.

[2] For a sobering and detailed survey of the ancient data regarding childbirth in the ancient world, see Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 135-140, although the entire work is outstanding. Dr. Cohick is a Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

[3] N.T. Wright, "The Biblical Basis for Women's Service in the Church," Priscilla Papers 20.4 (2006): 5-10, 5

[4] There is a little stumbling here, so I replaced it with an ellipsis. It is nothing against Steven; I am particularly awful at speaking off the top of my head about topics I am passionate about! 

[5] The Christians for Biblical Equality statement is one to which I fully subscribe: https://www.cbeinternational.org/sites/default/files/english_3.pdf . In this statement, the totality of biblical theology is included, particular the co-sharing of redemption in God's eschatological movement toward final universal peace.

[6] Mimi Haddad, "Egalitarians: A New Path to Liberalism? Or Integral to Evangelical DNA?," Priscilla Papers 29.1 (2015): 14-20.

[7] Elizabeth A. Clark, Women in the Early Church (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1983), 28-29.

[8] This absolutely contradicts the message of the New Testament about the nature of redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. C.f. 2 Cor 5:16-21 and the language of "new creation." 

[9] Genesis 1-3 never mentions Eve "persuading" Adam. In Gen 3:6 it just says, "and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. " Nothing about persuasion or coercion: Adam is fully culpable in forsaking the Divine Law, and in 'unsealing the tree' along with Eve.

[10] Again, one looks in vain for the Genesis account in providing this reason for the Serpent approaching Eve instead of Adam. Supplying motive where none is provided is often a very shaky hermeneutic, as we can see perfectly exhibited by Tertullian.

[11] In Gen 1:26-27, both are created in the image of God, both have authority over the land, and both are told to multiply, indicating interdependence rather than a hierarchy of gender roles. The land and all of its goodness was given to both male and female. It is funny how Genesis is far more egalitarian and complementary than many modern Christians.

[12] Both are removed from the garden, and the tree of life, indicating that death is the consequence of their sin. Though immortal, whether through nature or through subsistence of the tree, they became mortal and subject to death.

[13] For instance, you can read Dr. Hübner's articles on https://independent.academia.edu/JaminH%C3%BCbner/Papers.

[14] Dr. Hübner can be accessed via his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaminhubner/

[15] See the detailed argument by Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 181-203. For a definitive case that Junia is a woman and an apostle (contra the ESV), see Eldon J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), Linda L. Belleville, "Ἰουνιαν… ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς  ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16:7 in Light of Primary Source Materials," New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 231-259, and Richard Cervin, "The Name 'Junia(s)' in Romans 16:7," New Testament Studies 40 (1994): 464-470. Contrary to some sections of modern evangelical scholarship that try to assert otherwise, we have strong evidence of a female apostle who preexisted Paul's own apostleship (i.e. being "in Christ" before him).

[16] Shi-Min Lu, "Woman's Role in New Testament Household Codes: Transforming First-Century Roman Culture," Priscilla Papers 30.1 (2016): 9-15, 13. See also Gordon D. Fee, "The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-6:9: Is there a Divinely Ordained Hierarchy in the life of the Church and Home that is based on Gender Alone?," Priscilla Papers 16.1 (2002): 3-8.

[17] Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 94.

[18] I do not distinguish between either husband/male or wife/female because you have incoherently collapsed the two into a gender-based hierarchy.

[19] In the sense that Jared is far closer to the actual intent of the passage under discussion, and sees the obvious language Paul is using. So I have to give props.

[20] C.f. Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), esp. 113-139 and 271-290. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Revised edition: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015) and Westfall, "This is a Great Metaphor," and Paul and Gender, 38-43, 79-96.

[21] Westfall, Paul and Gender, 88 n.74.

The Cost of Being An Egalitarian

A friend of mine at Fuller has really challenged me recently regarding personal responsibility and sexism. As I reflect on my recent ugly encounter with sexism, I find myself wanting to believe those I considered friends, allegedly egalitarian, had no idea what they were doing and yet several people (several minorities) I have told the story to have a very different perspective and first impulse. They see motive and guilt where I see a mix of shades of gray shifting between personal responsibility and the hurt that results from ignorance over intent.

In the end, after processing this wise woman's perspective, I have shifted. After all is said and done, what a person does is what matters. Egalitarianism is not about believing men and women are equal, based on a set up theological convictions that disappear when we close our Bibles at night. It is not something you declare to your friends or print in magazines. It is practicing God's love, justice, and holiness in how you live your life, valuing others the way God values them. God demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son and the Bible calls us out of hypocrisy when it comes to the full participation of Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free-persons, men and women (Gal 1-3).

Here is where it gets tough. One has to sacrifice and risk. I've now heard several stories about women (some specifically women of color) who were extremely qualified for a position and the powers that be did not want them in power either overtly because they were female or for cryptic or petty reasons (women and minorities get dismissed for reasons "normal" people wouldn't). The reality is that as a woman, especially a black woman, one just does not "look" qualified or is ruled out because of a divine pronouncement that somehow favors those in power. This scenario that I have heard about in many forms these past months, has two endings: In the first (and the more dominant outcome) a white male who was egalitarian got the position and took it gladly or the second, the woman's coworkers stood up for her and she got the job. If you are in a position of authority and you see gender discrimination happening you must RISK your standing and reputation and fight against it. If you are the one being given the job and you are not qualified or as qualified, are you the type of person who will step aside? In the end, it is easy to say you support gender equality and quite another to--actually support it.

If you are an organization, it means putting your money and hiring where your mouth is. At the end of the day who is in charge? If only men operate in the highest levels of authority, it is very possible you just happen to have not found any qualified women, but highly improbable since there is a market surplus of educated women who do excellent work in their current mid-level positions. Mentor women with the aim of promoting them. HIRE women. Put women in charge. There are ample studies indicating your organization will bring in more money and be more successful in its mission, so no more excuses.

God did not design our world to run on patriarchy. That is a myth those who want to believe in male-only authority be it "servant" leadership or otherwise want to believe. If only men were more benevolent in their rule... The reality is that we all thrive when men and women are both in charge living out the creation mandate to rule the world. 

Let's try God's economy for a change?

-AQ

 

Sex, Sin, and Inheritance in Paul: Personal Reflections

Initially, I was going to limit this blog post exclusively to the New Testament. But, at the risk of sounding like a one-string banjo, I decided to include only Paul. Sorry to those who really want my thoughts on Hebrews!

Onward and onward.

In the Modern world, sex can largely be described as a type of currency, or even as a type of reality. Pornography is rampant and one needn't search too hard to find it. Personally, having struggled with that for most of my life (including now), it is never hard to find. So sex and sin are often linked together. Of course, this does not begin to describe the New Testament's positive view of sex (c.f. 1 Cor 7:1-16), but it does suggest that a good and holy thing can be corrupted and marred by external influences and forces. Just a note.

So, in Paul (I have to start with my boy Paul!) we have the Greek word πόρνος (pornos). This word is largely defined and understood to concern sexual sinners, regardless of gender or age. One could say this noun describes a "sexually immoral person."

We do not have this word used as often in the New Testament as we would think, but it does occur in some interesting contexts. A large concentration of the noun occurs in 1 Corinthians 5-6 where Paul is discussing the issue of the man who is "having" (ἔχειν) his father's wife. This sort of sexual sin (πορνεία) is not even known amongst the Gentiles (5:1), which suggests that this sort of sexual deviancy was being applauded by the Corinthian church and was particularly debaucherous. Richard Hays states that, "here in 1 Corinthians 5…Paul simply assumes the reality of corporate responsibility."[1] In other words, everyone in the fledgling Corinthian church is responsible for this man's sin.

Continuing on in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (the train of thought is not broken from the sexual issues in 1 Corinthians 5), Paul speaks of the following people "not inheriting" (οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν: negated future verb) the "Kingdom of God." The list itself is disputed regarding exactly the 'types' of people therein, but suffice to say, sexual sin as a rampant aspect of the early church and the broader first century society makes this sort of language quite appropriate today. The language includes an element of exploitation in 1 Corinthians 5, as the woman likely did not have authority over her own body – an aspect Paul quickly remedies in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 (ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ὁ ἀνήρ· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ἡ γυνή—neither spouse has a claim of supremacy over the flesh and mind of the other). This sort of radical egalitarianism includes the negation of sexual privilege and of rape and of a husband demanding or "having" the body of his wife. Rather, Paul's vision of marital egalitarianism shines through despite the sexual sin in Corinth.

Paul's other use of "inheritance" language is in Ephesians 5:4-5. Personally, I am now persuaded that Paul wrote Ephesians so I shall carry on as if there is not debate about this subject (there is). The text reads as follows:

5:5 – τοῦτο γὰρ ἴστε γινώσκοντες ὅτι πᾶς πόρνος ἢ ἀκάθαρτος ἢ πλεονέκτης, ὅ ἐστιν εἰδωλολάτρης, οὐκ ἔχει κληρονομίαν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ

My translation –  "for I want you to be aware of this, that every sexually immoral person, [every] unclean person, [every] greedy person,[2] who is an idolater: he or she does not possess an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."

An issue of fascination for me is the genitive use of τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ. It seems that, if one adopts a Granville Sharp's rule, then Paul is rather explicit in calling Jesus 'God' here. But, that aside, the ethical issues remain. In Ephesians, sexual sin is not particularly highlighted, although inheritance is (c.f. Eph 1:14, 18). In both instances, it most likely refers to the present down payment of God's gift of Christ to the "saints." So the language is not quite about soteriology, but it concerns the inclusion of the people of God as the transitory nature of "liberation" (ἀπολύτρωσιν: 1:14) implies. That is, God has a storehouse of wealth for his people that he desires to bestow upon them, and to live in a righteous manner means that one is and will continue to be a recipient of such a gift.

Paul's final word on this subject occurs in the Pastoral Epistles, where πόρνοις in the plural occurs alongside "slave-traders" and other vices. In other words, acting in a sexually immoral manner puts one on the same category as a slave-trader and as a person who exploits others. If one wants to consider a modern example, the slave trade and human trafficking provide a particularly vivid example of how we exploit and pervert one another. A vice list is not intended to be exhausted, but illustrative of the intricate power of exploitation that occurs when people have forsaken God and one another.

In short, Paul's condemnation of sexual immorality does not prioritize the individual, but also the victim. His stark rebuttal of sexual exploitation in Cor 7:1-16 is a strong condemnation of sexual exploitation and rape between spouses, and forces us to consider the implications of sexual sin in our own lives.

So I will go first.

Beginning when I was around 6 or 7, I had my first experience with pornography as a neighbor's house. My parents were unaware and I was quite good and hiding this sort of sin. It was not until I was 22(ish) and met a really pretty and intelligent woman who I would later marry did I actually stop and consider my sexual sin. Until that point, it had become a daily if not hourly event.

It still haunts me to this day, and affects how I interact with women. I still struggle daily and will likely struggle for the rest of my life because of how I chose to act throughout that decade. This sort of unrepentant sin does not affect just me: it affects how I relate to my wife and could cause a lot of problems within my relationship with her. In order to maintain a sense of accountability, I have forced myself to confess each failure to her. Thankfully, she is always forgiving and always encouraging. Personally, I've had to really forsake certain elements of what I have seen and grow up with in order to have a healthy and God-glorifying relationship with her. For the better!

So sexual sin, for those of us who are πόρνοις (myself included), salvation and redemption are never far from our grasp. God has offered his love to all of us and has provided a way out of our sinful desires (c.f. 1 John 2:2). God's love, a love that demands so much, calls us out of exploitation and depravity, and into a world that is not guided by the 'Self,' but by the Spirit.

So, condemn Sin. Condemn it for what it is. Never stop doing so. But never equate the Sin with the Person. A person, once they are made aware like I was, wants nothing to do with Sin and must be reminded daily to forsake his desires and pursue the Cross of Christ.

It will take a lifetime, or perhaps an eternity, but it is worth it. The inheritance of God is a down payment for our failures, our history, and our desires, and nothing short of the gift of God in Christ can help us forsake such sins. God did not come only for those who were perfect, he came for those who are sick (Mark 2:17; parallel Matthew 9:12-13 and Luke 5:31-32).

Pray for me, yourself, and all of us πόρνοις. God has not forsaken us, even when we fall, and we must be firmly gracious to those who do fall. That's the lame thing about the gift of Christ: He is more than being just for you, and for me.

While we were still sinners…

NQ

[1] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 82.

[2] The "all" (πᾶς) is implied by the initial use, carrying over to the next personal categories.

The "Apocalypse" of Christ: Meager Thoughts on Scripture and the Revelation of History

In the beleaguered debates concerning the inerrancy and authority of Scripture in the Christian world, one can sense how tiring this debate has become. Personally, I find debates over the so-called orthodoxy of another Christian to be as helpful as a light beer: empty calories and little if any nutritional value. I came into Fuller Theological Seminary as a Masters student with a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the doctrine of inerrancy, mostly due to my disillusionment with much of the evangelical world. This was when members of the SBC were trashing Michael Licona over a page in his wonderful work on the resurrection.

In watching some scholars attempt to destroy Dr. Licona's work and career because of his interpretation of (an interpretation I agree with) certain events in Matthew's Gospel, I became immediately dissatisfied with this debate and was content to sling arrows from a distance.

Now, as someone whose Masters program is winding down and now has (a little!) time to reflect upon his own thinking regarding this doctrine, I feel like now is as good a time as any to, well, reflect upon my views of Scripture.

 For me, studying the New Testament is about studying history; events that shaped our world, and an event that was shaped by thousands of years of history. I was never particularly troubled by discrepancies or textual variants in the Bible because I made a promise with God on my first day in seminary before I sat in Dr. Oliver Crisp's class on Christology and Soteriology. I said, "God, I don't want to believe in anything that is not true. I will do my best to believe whatever you reveal in Scripture." Looking back, that was a bit hasty, as I haven't changed my mind on any specific point of theology, at least in a major way as far as I can tell. But, the point remains that changing my mind did not bother me, but I was hopeful that I would at least be willing to change my mind.

Rom 8:9: ἡ γὰρ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται ("For the expectation of creation is awaiting the revelation of the Son of God").

In reflecting back, I've begun to consider the nature of the New Testament's use of "revelation" (Grk: ἀποκάλυψις). Often this ἀποκάλυψις is in reference to Christ or the mystery of Christ (c.f. Luke 2:32; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Cor 12:1; Gal 1:12; 2 Thess 1:7) sort of 'breaking into' the world. There is, of course, a large debate among Pauline scholars about the 'apocalyptic' (or Barthian) nature of this 'revelation,' but I'm not entirely persuaded by this notion so I only mention it here for the sake of…revelation.

Revelation is about history and how God acted in history. We now live in the 'revelation' of Jesus Christ, the one revealed to us by his life, death, and resurrection. The writers of Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Isaiah—inspired by this revelation, wrote these Epistles and Gospels and Prophetic works for us, for those who would believe and need to believe.

The chief architect is Paul who talks all about this 'apocalypse.' For Paul, the resurrected Messiah revealed this 'apocalypse' to him and hence, he wrote epistles to churches, and went into the Gentile world to tell people about this 'Gospel' about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. That is the guiding impetus for writing the New Testament: the resurrection is the fountainhead of how we conceive and talk about Scripture and history.

Christ who is the Revelation of God points us back to a time when humanity was forsaken and broken. Most doctrinal statements that I have seen begin with assertions about Scripture (as in the Old and New Testaments), and not about the nature of history and revelation. Scripture was written so that the people of Israel would remember the past, that they would remember how God acted for them.

Scripture, then, is for our remembrance of how God has acted for us and our expectation (ἀπεκδέχομαι; Rom 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7) is the reconciliation of creation. Referring to Scripture as a 'narrative' or as a 'story,' while helpful does not demand enough imagination. Scripture should be seen as an inspired collection of writings that truthfully attest to the phenomena of history, and the chief event is the resurrection of Jesus, Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man. If Jesus is not raised, then I am writing about the wrong book.

For those wondering, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I believe the initial text of Scripture, for example, as dictated by Paul to Tertius, is the inspired and authoritative word of God. And because of the vindication of Christ at his resurrection, I am now to live my life in accordance with the record of his life and the reception of his life (especially in the Pauline literature). History and Revelation are inextricably linked together, and thus form a central network for understanding and respecting the text. But debating issues of 'error' seems to miss the point and gets one lost in the 'weeds,' so to speak. I am also not entirely confident with how we've defined 'error,' a point Michael Bird made in his contribution to Five Views on Inerrancy.

In any sense, I prefer the term 'fully authoritative in my life," as it explains the orthopraxicality of how I actually read the Bible. I can claim Scripture is inerrant and not obey it in any meaningful way. To claim Scripture lays authority on my life through its attestation of history (specifically one event in history above others) is to say that history matters, has a deep impact on my life, and calls me to worship the Triune God witnessed in the revelation of Christ in our world.

Part of this post is brought on by a guy who tried to 'deconvert' me at Starbucks. I was minding my own business reading a commentary on Philippians (as you would), and a guy handed me a business card and asked for three minutes of my time. I paused, but said 'sure' and he tried to deconvert me for three minutes by talking about various contradictions in the Bible. I listened, nodding, and at the end, he asked if I was not longer a Christian. I said "No," and he went on his way. I looked at his card after a moment and he listed a dozen 'contradictions' in the Bible (most of which I had learned about at Biola in undergrad), and to paraphrase it concluded with: "this is a book of lies." I cannot word-for-word recount it here as I lost the card.

So, what of this? Is this a challenge for me?

Aspectivally, the issue of 'differences' in the Synoptic Gospel (leaving John aside for a while) has never bothered me. When you have three different people telling one story, they find certain elements to be more important or necessary to convey the point. So the issue of "Gospel Contradictions" does not bother me because of aspect. The issue of the so-called Deutero-Pauline corpus does not bother me because I believe Paul wrote everything that has his name attached to it, though I happily confess my mild doubts with the Pastoral Epistles (but not enough to say they are not Pauline). The issue of textual variants does not bother me, as I affirm the authority of the original text and not later interpolations such as John 7:52/53-8:11, Mark 16:8-20 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 among others. Personally, I'd at least put them in brackets at the very least.

So that is how I view Scripture, at least in a very streamlined and terse way. I am committed to the authority of Scripture because of how God is revealed in history, and in one major instance, changed everything I know about history – for the better indeed. Most contradictions I've seen are not particularly compelling if accounts for genre and authorial aspect. Just like if three people were to recount my life and each would emphasize certain events, I would not say they were each wrong (assuming I was alive in the intermediate state, which is unlikely).

The revelation of Christ gives flesh to the bones of history and renders my life in submission to the one who became flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1:1-18). Authority in a practical and pastoral sense means being committed to history because God is committed to history.

Mind you, this is the first time I've actually sat down and tried to really formulate my thoughts on the doctrine of Scripture. I'm not much for Systematics (mostly because I've had my face in the Greek New Testament for too long, I suspect).

Just some thoughts. More could be said, but I'm content with this for now.

NQ

Perfecting Holiness and the Promises of God: A Brief Exegesis of 2 Cor 7:1

ταύτας οὖν ἔχοντες τὰς ἐπαγγελίας, ἀγαπητοί, καθαρίσωμεν ἑαυτοὺς ἀπὸ παντὸς μολυσμοῦ σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος, ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην ἐν φόβῳ θεοῦ

"Therefore [since] we have these promises, beloved ones, we should purify ourselves from all defilement of the body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the reverence of God"

Beginning with the particle οὖν ("therefore"), Paul indicates that he is not starting a fresh premise. Rather, he is simultaneously summing up what has been said before (i.e. the people of the living God and the Old Testament citation).

Paul's use of the plural form of ἔχοντες designates his focus upon the corporate body of believers, those who have the promises, and specifies that they already have them. The present tense illustrates the current acceptance of these Christians and acknowledges their participation in God's holy calling. The Old Testament citation in the previous chapter deserves to be quoted in full.

“I will live in them and walk among them,

    and I will be their God,

    and they shall be my people.

Therefore come out from them,

    and be separate from them, says the Lord,

and touch nothing unclean;

    then I will welcome you,

and I will be your father,

    and you shall be my sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.” (NRSV)

It seems this citation is 2 Sam 7:14, although clearly expanded. In any sense, Paul's expansion emphasizes the 'separateness' of God's people as well as the comment on "touch[ing] nothing unclean." The promise worth holding onto is God's dwelling amongst his people, and his calling them "sons and daughter." This is intensified by Paul's use of the noun ἀγαπητοί ("beloved, beloved ones"), suggesting this promise has already been fulfilled and is awaiting perfection, as he will specify later.

Because of this promise, Paul enjoins the believers in Corinth (himself included) to καθαρίσωμεν ("purify") themselves "from all defilement of the body and spirit." Almost all of the uses of the verb καθαρίζω in the New Testament occur in Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, although Paul uses it twice in his other writings. In Eph 5:26, the husband is told to "sanctify" his wife by "cleansing" her (καθαρίζω) with the washing of water. This is probably not a reference to baptism, but rather a symbolic act of submission and of loving tenderness to her, as he is one flesh with her already. Caring for her flesh is caring for himself, and providing a basic requirement of cleanliness is vital for the survival of each other, especially in a time of rampant poverty and disease. The other use in Titus 2:14 is in reference to Christ ransoming himself on behalf of a people, cleansing them from "all lawlessness."

The prepositional phrase ἀπὸ παντὸς μολυσμοῦ σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος is fascinating. The word μολυσμοῦ seems to refer to defilement or contamination, and the references to "tainting garments" in Rev 3:4 seems to suggest a stain or a blemish of some sort, although garments are different from people, so this is not an exact or entirely certain parallel image. The point is clear, however: to purify one's self is a free action of the person, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to purify themselves of the blemishes of sin, which seems to already be present in their bodies and their spirits.

Contrary to popular opinion, Paul does not think σαρκὸς ("flesh") is a catchall word referring to the vileness of the human person as if he is a gnostic who detests the body. Rather, the word simply means 'body' apart from the resurrection, at least in this context. Paul's belief in the present nature of the promise of God means that he knows σαρκὸς and the πνεύματος are tainted or stained. The human body, in bondage to sin, is in desperate need of liberation (c.f. Rom 8:23). The believers know this and are ordered to act in response to the promise of God.

The final participial phrase is where the meat is. Paul says ἐπιτελοῦντες ἁγιωσύνην ἐν φόβῳ θεοῦ. The use of the verb ἐπιτελέω is interesting. It is a compound verb (ἐπι + τελέω) that is intensified by the suffix ἐπι. Instead of being merely "to finish" or "to be mature" as τελέω suggests, Paul's use of ἐπιτελέω is like putting an exclamation point after the word and putting it in all caps: PERFECTING (!). The notion of "mature" or "completion" lies at the root of the verb as well.

The fact that ἐπιτελοῦντες is a participial makes this so much more fun. Paul speaks of everyone (himself included) in "perfecting holiness." The noun ἁγιωσύνη ("holiness," "sanctification") occurs 3 times in the New Testament. First in Rom 1:4 where Christ's resurrection is "according to the Spirit of Holiness," and also in 1 Thess 3:13 where believers are enjoined to be "blameless in sanctification before God." Here in 2 Cor 7:1, believers are to be continually active in pursuing and perfecting their sanctification, their set-apartness, as the Old Testament citation states. They live in the "reverence of God," the same God who calls them beloved children.

Sanctification is about completing one's pursuit of God's calling, living a life of tenderness and generosity, seeking purity and gentleness in the hope of God's immanent return. God does not call his people slaves: he calls them his beloved children, children he himself has called. In response to God's call, we submit ourselves and participate in the sanctifying life he has prepared for us. The Holy Spirit, our faithful advocate, and source of empowerment, never ceases in calling God's children into a right relationship with their Father.

Therefore, be constantly perfecting yourself, seeking righteousness, and participating in the promises that await their consummation.

Or, as John Wesley once said:

“By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin a restoration of the soul to its primitive health its original purity a recovery of the divine nature the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice mercy and truth.” (Found in An Introduction to World Methodism, p.104).

NQ

Piercing the Veil: Spiritual Gifts, Mystical Experiences and A Relationship With God

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” --Acts 4:12

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:7-12

Who is God? And Why We Only Contact Him

I spoke to a friend recently about some of his demonic encounters in Indonesia (I know, light conversation), and got some very good insight on the reason for the tabernacle and temple before the coming of Jesus. In this era, it is common for people to want to make God ambiguous or pluralistic in ways he has not made himself out to be, to say he can be known by many names (names attached to very different ideologies and conceptions of God and in a biblical worldview other names mean other powers). But the reality is that God has revealed himself, he has a name and to change it freely does not guarantee that when you think you are speaking to him when you address him as Allah or Baal, you will get him.

My friend's insight was to point out that the tabernacle or temple functioned as a sort of guarantee that your prayers would reach God and not someone else pretending to be him. I know from my studies that there were many similarities to what we perceive as strange rituals in the Old Testament and the surrounding peoples and yet, great pains were taken to avoid other pagan practices aimed at piercing the veil between our world and the spirit world. For instance, instructions were given to burn the entrails of sacrifices. In the pagan world, you kept those to look through and get a message about the future or other pits of inaccessible information. As Christians, we do not seek special knowledge of the future because it belongs to God and we have decided to trust him.

We also know that we are continually told in the Bible not to contact the dead or worship other gods. In the biblical world, gods were often local deities or entities you could contact, bribe and get special favors from. Yahweh in contrast, is not a local deity or spiritual entity. He is not part of the earth either. In Genesis, we learn that he is not part of the earth (the Spirit hovers over the waters, he is not the waters), but created it and even fills it. Yahweh cannot be bribed in exchange for favors. Sacrifices were not given in order to get stuff. Prayer is not about conjuring up God to get new cars or careers. We ask God for things sometimes, but prayer is not about getting those things. We are not entitled to them on this side of the escaton even though God cares about the little things and sometimes helps us.  Similarly, we may pray for spiritual gifts but must consider: to what end?

Jesus is the ultimate icon of God because he is God who became human. In John 1 we read that he "dwelt" or "tabernacled" among us. We have access into a relationship with God by HIS name through the Spirit. Jesus is the gate.

Now, I am not speaking as though the literal name of Jesus is a magical word that conjures up God! What I mean is that now one only has a guarantee that they are communing with God because of Jesus and if they are in relationship or entering into a relationship with him. The Bible seems to indicate that someone can indeed have access into what we call the spiritual world (though perhaps rare) by other means, but as Christians, we are forbidden from this. Why? Human beings were made to be in relationship with God who is inherently relational as the Triune God. God has also made us physical creatures and likes us that way! Our hope in a future salvation is not to live disembodied but to be resurrected to live an embodied life that is healed physically and in our character. 

Spiritual Gifts and Mystical Experiences in Perspective

We are so struck by abnormal events and yet the Bible seems to want us to seek the formation of our character the most. Over and over again in various ways, we are told to love one another and to love God. If we love God this will flow into our love for others concretely, in reality and if we love others rightly God seems to measure it as loving him (C.f. Matt 10:42; Matt 25:37-40...etc). Regarding spiritual gifts, what we are so dazzled by is only a small window for what is to come and really they aren't as important as love.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. … But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13).

I am not a cessationist. I believe God interacts with us in profound and multifaceted ways. I personally have had a mystical experience when I gave my life to God and he has interacted with my in unusual ways before (though not often or usually). I am not special, he does this with lots of people and not with lots of people. I don't know why he decides to do various things when he does them. I do believe he likes people and I believe he is continually drawing everyone to himself in various ways (Acts 17:26-28) and sets up opportunities for all of us to do good things for other people (this is all throughout Ephesians).

All of this to say that it is a HUGE mistake to seek after "spiritual" experiences in themselves. The way I see it, we should seek out God and be in relationship with him. Other things will follow, or not. The true mark of the person who has "pierced the veil" and is in relationship with God--talking to him, listening, and loving others--is how their character has been formed and transformed by Him. Part of this is positive i.e. they are genuinely loving people who embody the fruits of the Spirit and part of this is negative i.e. they avoid the things God forbids not because they are arbitrary rules, but because they flow out of a trusting relationship with God. If someone is living habitually in sin and not coming out of it, they are far from God no matter what other good is present.

The reality is that God is not far away. He fills all of creation (C.f. Jeremiah 23:24, Acts 17:27-28, Psalm 139:7-10), and his act of creating is continuous as he sustains our very existence (C.f. Col 1:15-17). He wants us to live in harmony with him.

Whether or not we speak to God, part of being God means he alone is capable of always being there acting and watching.

Yahweh tells us:

"Am I a God
    who is only nearby and not far off?
Can people hide themselves in secret places
    so I might not see them?
        Don’t I fill heaven and earth?

I have heard the prophets prophesying lies in my name. They claim, “I’ve had a dream; I’ve had a dream!” How long will deceitful prophecies dominate the minds of the prophets? Those prophets are treacherous. They scheme to make my people forget me by their dreams that people tell each other, just as their ancestors forgot me because of Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream declare it, but let the one who has my word proclaim it faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:23-28).

Salvation or "Enlightenment" is Not Gained by Spiritual Experiences

When we act in ways that are God-honoring by loving God (also avoiding false deities, having sexual relations that do not express unity and diversity the way God intended...etc), and when we speak to him and listen intently perhaps by reading the Bible asking "how should I live or be?" we are piercing the veil between our life and God's and are transformed in the process. Spiritual gifts in themselves do not accomplish this nor do those closer to God necessarily have more experiences. Frankly, God can contact anyone in unique ways. He picked a donkey, he chatted with a pagan prophet who did favors for money, and he prophesied through the High Priest Ciaphas who was against Jesus about Jesus (John 11).

We can only have salvation (wholistic healing, redemption, and glorification) in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit by grace through faith. It is not something we accomplish for ourselves by ourselves. Good works flow out of the Spirit's work in and around us (hence "fruits of the Spirit"), not the other way around. We do not do good works or pursue experiences to get closer to God. We have no chance. God enables us to respond back to him and others in love in the first place.

In sum:

Our goal in life is a relationship with God that begins to transform our relationships now while we look ahead to the complete healing of our bodies and characters in the resurrection. This relationship is with a Triune, relational God Yahweh, who became a human being named Jesus giving us access to God in ways we never had before.

Pursuing relationships (whether human or not) or spiritual experiences as goals in themselves detract from our relationship with God. If we try and reach the "other side" ourselves we open ourselves up to real danger and have no guarantee that who we are talking to is who we think they are. Worst yet, we are opposing the call of God on our lives.

God is near and God is here. We can talk to him and be changed by him in whatever way he decides. Salvation is not far away from any of us.

 

--AQ

 

 

The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.3

In the last two posts I spent time showing that 1) Grudem and Ware's understanding of an authoritative hierarchy that is inherent in the Trinity are NOT in the creeds or the early church fathers. Their position is not the orthodox position. 2) I went into detail on why thier position is at best incoherent. It is not ok to hold to an incoherent position. Not understanding every detail about the mystery that is the Trinity is one thing, a lack of logical cohesion fails an important standard of truth.

Now, having briefly overviewed the particular way Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware conceive of eternal differences within the Trinity, it is time to consider some of the view’s more serious problems. My basic claim is that Although Grudem and Ware intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position. Basically, if we were to assume Grudem and Ware's position was not incoherent or illogical what would we have?

A Partative God?

It is difficult for Ware and Grudem to continue consistently affirming the doctrine of divine simplicity given the way they articulate the Son’s subordination to the Father. Linked to this problem is a key obstacle alluded to earlier, which is the appearance of what seems like two essences arising from the content of what they claim. Their difficulty comes in trying to maintain only one divine essence even though they also have what are called mere personal relations but function like personal essences. How does this problem lead to difficulty maintaining divine simplicity?  Consider the following detailed definition of the Doctrine of the Divine Simplicity:

According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter-form composition, potency-act composition, and existence-essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has as Augustine puts it in The City of God, XI, 10. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS)... The simple God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings.[1]

God cannot be conceived of in parts. This means the Holy Spirit does not make up part of God nor does God hold various attributes in such a way that one member of the Trinity exemplifying something like omnipotence more fully than another.[2] God is such that what he has, he is. “Divine simplicity affirms not that God has a nature but that God is his essential nature.”[3] Augustine explains, “whatever is authentically and truly divine is said to be simple because its qualities and its substance are one and the same, and because it is not by participation that it is divine, or wise or holy.”[4]

Ware affirms there is one undivided divine nature, but undermines his statements to that effect with how he conceives of trintiarain distinction. In describing the authority-submission relationships among the members of the Trinity in the context of the future subjugation of the Son to the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:28, quoting Colin Gunton approvingly Ware explains:

[I Corinthians 15:28] has “implications for what we may say about the being of God eternally, and would seem to suggest a subordination of taxis—of ordering within the divine life—but not one of deity or regard. It is truly divine to be the obedient self-giving Son as it is to be the Father who sends and the Spirit who renews and perfects”…it is in the nature of God both to exert authority and to obey in submission. And since this is the eternal nature of God, we may know that it is beautiful and it is good, and because of this, we are prompted to marvel a bit more at the glory that is our Triune God.[5]

What is meant by the idea that distinctions within the Trinity have implications for the “being of God” or “God’s nature?” If one were to talk about the being of God—the Godhead, then one is referring to what he is—his divine essence because God is indeed identical to his nature. When Ware says that he is going to talk about the nature of God and that to submit is divine and to exercise authority is divine he is communicating this characterizes the divine essence. Unfortunately, he has also already made it clear that these are only supposed to be personal properties—because they apparently cannot be anything else. Despite intentions to the contrary, we end up with a view that is articulated in such a way that God has one essence that is composed of parts since God’s very nature is to be both submissive and authoritative when only the Father is characterized by supreme-authority otherwise he would not be the Father and only the Son is characterized by submission…etc. Or, that elusive second essence is again looming in the background. Perhaps the reason for the language of “God’s being” being used when speaking of the personal distinctions is that conceptually the category of essence is simply that difficult to avoid in the way Ware conceives of difference.

Compounding the entire difficulty with divine simplicity is again how Ware and Grudem hold to omnipotence. They want to say, “each person of the Trinity has all the attributes of God, and no one person has any attributes that are not possessed by the others,”[6] but they articulate their position on subordination using ontology language that the Father by virtue of being the Father essentially and necessarily exercises authority over the Son and that the Son could not have authority over the Father. Why could not all members of the Trinity be equally omnipotent in Grudem and Ware’s system? Lewis Ayres gives an explanation of how other words such as rule and power were used in pro-Nicene theology in order to convey God’s nature and essence:

It is fundamental to all pro‐Nicene theologies that God is one power, glory, majesty, rule, Godhead essence, and nature. In summaries of pro‐Nicene Trinitarian theology found across the Mediterranean, and in countless asides in the course of exposition and polemical argument, the assertion that God is a unity in these respects is universal. Summary accounts of pro‐Nicene theology tend to focus on identifiably philosophical terms such as ousia, φύσις, natura, and essentia. It is, however, important to note that pro‐Nicenes use many other terms for the divine unity, drawn from a variety of (often scriptural) sources, whose metaphysical senses modern readers tend to miss. Thus, for example, terms such as ‘light’, ‘power’, and ‘glory’ should not be read as ‘merely metaphorical’…we should also add the terms carrying both philosophical and legal histories of usage: Damasus of Rome and Gregory Nazianzen, for example, both use terminology expressing the one rule and authority in the Godhead.[7]

In other words, one cannot just say the Father is necessarily and always the one with supreme authority because he is distinctly the Father. That is conveying that he is the one who is all-powerful and the Son is not. This is because the Son’s authority is limited—meaning he is not able to do something because he is constrained by his authority relationship with the Father, which itself is part of his very nature.[8] The Father ends up having a divine attribute entirely or to a greater degree than all other members of the Trinity so that he has a piece of the divine essence, and the Son and Spirit another. Or they all share a nebulous divinity essence and another personal essence that makes each person a particular divine substance. This latter option will now be explored in more detail.

Arianism or Tritheism? 

Thus far it has become more than clear that Ware and Grudem’s position is at best incoherent. Unfortunately, this incoherence has allowed for a plethora of statements that entail theologies that are less than orthodox. This is a serious problem(s) and not one that can just be retracted because Ware and Grudem assert their beliefs are not heretical. They want to defend against the erosion of traditional values, but at what cost? Whether preferable or not, the eternal subordination of the Son entails a different essence between the members of the Trinity in the form of what amounts to either the Son not being homoousion with the Father or a slip into tritheism with two essences: personal and divine.

 Much of Grudem and Ware’s efforts have been to distance themselves from Arianism. However, McCall has shown they do in fact end up with a Son who is subordinate in essence rather than merely function. This means that if they decide to continue referring to only one essence, then the Son is subordinate since “if we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God.”[9] Following McCall’s argument, they end up with a version of Arianism that does not believe the Son is merely a divine creature, but still has a different divine essence and is hierarchically ordered with   

eternal functional subordination as its corollary.[10]  

On the other hand, it is perhaps more helpful to take their articulation of the authority-submission relationship as conveying two entirely different essences: one essence that gives them divinity and another personal essence. At times it seems they are confident that if they just hold to a generic divine essence then each person of the Trinity will be equally divine, but they do not believe the divine essence can only be generic. For example, Ware states: “Their equality then, is not merely an equality of kind but an equality of identity. There is no stronger basis for equality than this.”[11]  However, it is still difficult to see how they actually can avoid tritheism by implication of the other things talked about where they end up describing two essences for each member of the Trinity if not one that ends up with Arianism any way. If they each have distinct personal essences then this means there are three individuals, each with their own will and centers of consciousness. This is a difficulty even partially recognized in the new book Ware edited: One God in Three Persons. Kyle Clauch explains, “in order for the Son to submit willingly to the will of the Father, the two must possess distinct wills” something one must avoid in order to not be “counter to the pro-Nicene tradition.”[12] Given how Ware and Grudem describe personal distinctions, they are not able to have a divinity in that it only exists within the triune persons. That is, there is a universal nature they all share, but they are separate divinities by virtue of their distinct personal essences. In sum, neither Grudem nor Ware are trinitarian heretics, but the content of what they argue strongly seems to entails such.

 Does one have to base eternal Trinitarian distinctions in authority-submission? Is there a better option? Perhaps we can avoid the problems that come with making subordination and hierarchy within the immanent Trinity something that is true in all possible worlds and say something like: “The Son will always submit to the Father in his role as representative of his creatures because in the order of origination he is the one generated. The one who is generated is always sent to bring about the glorification (or theosis) of creation. The glorification of creation involves creaturely submission to God.” Unlike authority-subordination relationships, origination relationships coinhere. They are an “intrinsically mutual movement of loving self-communication.”[13] Yes, there is a logical cause order or sequence, but not an order of authority and so one dos not run into the same problems with omnipotence talked about previously. If one wants to press the potential problems for degrees of deity with the monarche of the Father, one only needs to consider a more ecumenically arrived at option agreed upon even by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches:

All fourteen Orthodox patriarchs in the Pan-Orthodox Communion attended the meeting ratifying the “Joint Statement of the Official Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches,” issued on March 13, 1991. It announced that an “agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity” had been reached. They concluded that the monarchy is the divine triune being of God, not the person of the Father.[14]

In this ecumenical form of origination the Father is not the only source of the Son. Instead, “the Son is eternally begotten of the being of the Father and the Spirit proceeds ‘from the Father through the Son.’”[15] The divine nature flows from the father to the Son, but the divine nature is no longer considered exclusively the person of the Father’s passed down as the divine life meaning he is no longer the ultimate source of divinity.

Obstacles

Since the eternal subordination of the Son as articulated by Grudem and Ware has tremendous problems with coherence and entailments of various forms of heterodoxy (depending on how one interprets the actual content of what they say), why does this form of the view persist? Why not ground the submission of the Son in his origination and/or role as the incarnation? Why not ground trinitarian distinction in something else—even if one ends up deciding there are immanent distinctions but we are not yet entirely privy to what they are? I suspect there are other strong intuitions at work. It is not a great mystery that Grudem and Ware are preoccupied with defending their views on gender and that their conception of gender role relations looks suspiciously like the view of the Trinity they are championing.[16] At the same time there appears to be a certain kind of interpretation of the biblical data at work enabling their connection between the Son’s subordination in the economic and the immanent Trinity, but also a connection between the authority-submission relationships they perceive as part of gender distinctions and the authority-submission relationships in perceived in the Trinity. Seeing these connections more clearly will allow us to make more informed decisions when reading their biblical cases for hierarchy in the Trinity, the practical exercise of which is beyond the scope of this paper. At the very least, I hope to establish there is an improper connection being made between gender relations and the Trinity.

 

[1] Vallicella, William F., "Divine Simplicity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/divine-simplicity/.

[2] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 45.

[3] K. Scott Oliphint, “Simplicity, Triunity, and the Incomprehensibility of God” in One God in Three Persons eds., Bruce Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 216.

[4] Augustine, The City of God, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, (O.S.U) 11:10.

[5] Ware, Father Son and Holy Spirit, 85.

[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 253. Cf., 252.

[7] Lewis Ayres, Nicea and its Legacy; An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): 279-280.

[8] And he is not constrained in such a way that is merely by covenant agreement for the sake of salvation.

[9] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251.

[10] Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2006), 133.

[11] Bruce Ware, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead” in The New Evangelical Subordinationism?, 14.

[12] Kyle Claunch, “God is the Head of Christ” in One God in Three Persons, 88.

[13] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (NY: T&T Clark, 1996), 133.

[14] Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, 243.

[15] Ibid., 242.

[16] Wayne Grudem is the one who started the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987 in direct response to the emergence of Christians for Biblical Equality. In 1986 he had convinced members from the Evangelical Theological Society to join his efforts in creating a new organization “dedicated to upholding both equality and difference between men and women in marriage and the church.” He was also encouraged into his 37 (then 30) years of writing on gender by George Knight credited as the one who started “complementarianism” by legitimizing the equality in essence with subordination in role for women by an appeal to the Trinity. Wayne Grudem, “Personal Reflections on the History of CBMW and the State of the Gender Debate” JBMW, 14.1. Some of the many works he has contributed to include: Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy, and countless articles. Bruce Ware has contributed to Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance, One God in Three Persons both in which he connects those disagreeing with his view on gender to be generally allergic or resistant to authority period. He has done countless interviews and articles on gender, and served with JBMW

Humbleness is next to Christlikeness

In thinking about ministry (not that I want to be a pastor, but I'm keeping my options open), I've had a chance to listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, most of which I enjoy. I was there for the 'fall' of Mark Driscoll, for example. I've seen pastors fall from grace constantly, and most of these 'falls' seem to reflect a growing unease with power. As someone who was raised in the church, fell away for a few years, and then came back a time later, it is quite clear to me that humbleness is not a virtue many take seriously. I hate typing that, and I doubt it applies to you, but it is enough of a problem to warrant a short post.

My father, for instance, is quite humble. He worked in ministry and ended up being burned quite badly, and in hindsight, humbleness was not a virtue that was exercised by those who fired him. More could be said, but being an insider lets one see all of the foibles and warts and narcissistic elements of humanity featured inside church walls. A worship pastor wants to be a lead pastor, a youth group director wants to leave because he or she thinks they know better, and so on an so forth. We've all seen this, and if you haven't count yourself blessed.

So, when I was thinking about pastoral ministry and how the local church functions in a community, I came across a text in James—leave it to James to drop a truth bomb on my lap. James 4:10 reads: ταπεινώθητε ἐνώπιον κυρίου, καὶ ὑψώσει ὑμᾶς: "humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exact you." In the Synoptic Gospels, the verb appears often with the pronoun ἑαυτὸν ("himself," "herself," etc). In Matthew 18:4, Jesus tells his listeners to "humble themselves" (ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν) as this child. A child, of course, is not humble in the sense we think; rather a child is not set in his or her ways, and is open and is not concretized as a recalcitrant sinner.  Matthew 23:12 is quite similar in its parallelism: ὅστις δὲ ὑψώσει ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ὅστις ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται: "therefore whoever exalts themselves will be humbled, and whoever humbles themselves will be exalted" (see also the Lukan parallel in 14:11 and in 18:14). Luke 3:5 speaks of the mountains and hills being "brought low."

Paul may have echoed this sentiment in 2 Corinthians 11:7 when he talks about humbling himself (ἐμαυτὸν) so that the Corinthians might be exalted. Of course, Paul is being a bit of a pillock there, as is his custom. In 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul speaks of God ταπεινώσῃ him ("humbling").

In the famous so-called "Christ-Hymn" in Philippians 2, Paul speaks of the preexistent Christ "humbling" himself (ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν) by becoming obedient to death, and Paul himself knows how to be humbled (ταπεινοῦσθαι) in Philippians 4:12. Finally, the author of 1 Peter tells his readers to "humble yourselves" (Ταπεινώθητε). Throughout the New Testament, the verb ταπεινόω (tapeinoō) is used to refer to "humbleness" or "being brought low" and so on. I am reminded of several things.

First, humbleness does not come naturally to me. When I am lectured by someone who I know does not know as much as I do, I tend to puff out my chest and tilt my hat forward and attempt to put that person in his place. Usually, that only happens once in a while, but it is something I should work on.

Second, being humble requires a special move of the Holy Spirit and one's theological community. If one is acting in a self-righteous way, call them out kindly. It's for their benefit, and your community's benefit as well.

Third, you can actually humble yourself. Scripture says you can, so you should. I can humble myself, you can humble yourself, and we can all humble ourselves. Just make sure we give credit to God for the grace given to us.

I end this little post with a comment by John Wesley: "mock humility which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our willful disobedience, 'Oh, I can do nothing,' and stops there, without once naming the grace of God" (Outler, Sermons, 3:208).

NQ

The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.2

For part one of Allison's series, click here.

Earlier it became evident that although Grudem and Ware appeal to the creeds and early church fathers as though they proclaimed Ware and Grudem's view of authority relations within the Trinity, they don't in actuality. Grudem and Ware's position is far from the orthodox position. Nowhere in their citations of either Augustine or the creed is there an explicit connection made for the sending or originating relationship being an authoritative relationship based in the nature of the Trinity. This is at best an implication that Grudem and Ware arrive at on their own, though they appear not to be saying this is an implication (which is never worked out), but a direct communication of the idea in Augustine and the Creed.  However, the actual position of the early church, differing origination (the mere language of which Grudem and Ware appeal to), is not actually held by either of them. They hold to a different view.

In sum, we saw that they were lacking clear reasoning for why “sending” had to only mean differing authority relations, and the novelty of their view demands better argumentation.

Problems

 Having briefly over viewed the particular way Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware conceive of eternal differences within the Trinity, it is time to consider some of the view’s more serious problems. My basic claim is as follows: Although Grudem and Ware intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position.

Incoherence

The eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father should be rejected because, as it is currently expressed, it is incoherent. That is, there is a lack of cohesion in Grudem and Ware’s argument between the Son being eternally subordinate to the Father and trinitarian orthodoxy. I suspect they simply want to have it both ways yet are unable to provide an argument allowing for both. Worse yet, they do not seem cognizant of it. This is more than evident in the written back and forth between Ware and Thomas McCall.

In Which Trinity? Whose Montheism? McCall takes one chapter to critique eternal functional subordination.[1] Specifically, he wants to critique those who would make eternal functional subordination what God is ad intra. McCall allows for positions that teach the Son is always subordinate in his work in redemption as the incarnation in this possible world, indicating subordination itself is not what functions as the eternal distinguisher within the Trinity. McCall brings in the question of whether the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds in order to tease out the nature of the Son’s subordination. If one answers that the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds, this means it is an essential property of the Son since it is necessary to the inner life of God and not just something that happens in relation to creation. If subordination ends up being something that is an essential property then it means there is something essentially different between the Father, Son and Spirit meaning they have difference essences.

How can Grudem or Ware get distinction within the Trinity if distinction must be necessary and yet not compromise the divine essence? If McCall is right they end up with a personal essence and generic essence of “kind” (i.e. divine) so that each trinitarian person has his own personal essence but also shares a divine essence with the others.[2] Whether or not they opt for having a second essence, their options from here are to base the personal essences in “origination relationship” (also known in terms of “generation” and “spiration”) or functional personal essences (i.e. having authority over). Since the latter (they do not subscribe to the former), they have articulated a Son who is in personal essence subordinate to the Father because of the argument summarized in the last paragraph necessitates that they are indeed speaking of essence or ontology whether or not they want to say the word “essence.”[3] According to Grudem, admitting the Son is not of the same essence as the Father is not an option because “If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God.”[4] Of course, this statement of Grudem’s does not anticipate a member of the Trinity with two essences! Grudem is trying to protect his view against Arianism rather than tritheism and so the risk stemming from two essences is entirely missed. McCall ends his critique wondering, “How someone might coherently affirm both homoousios and Hard EFS is far from obvious, and to say that such a position is internally strained is to put it rather mildly.”[5] How will Grudem and Ware reveal that they actually can coherently affirm homoousios and keep the authority-submission relationship?

Ware has recently given a direct response to McCall in the last chapter of One God in Three Persons. Still thinking in terms of there being only one essence in each divine person, he immediately defends against the notion that his view entails a denial of the homoousios. His first defense is simply to claim that if he has fallen into this error, then Athanasius and the Nicene fathers have too because they believe the essential personal distinguisher is being “begotten” and the conditions for this distinguisher are the same as subordination. They are both necessary personal properties and so if Ware’s position entails a denial of homoousios then so does Nicene orthodoxy.[6] Of course, he is not escaping from McCall’s argument; he is merely attaching his position to Nicene orthodoxy as a sort of theological trump card so that he cannot fail despite what is logically entailed by each stage of acceptance.[7]

If considered from the vantage point of one shared divine essence, submission-authority relationships already have by their very makeup a key difference from origination differences. Rather than being “strongly internally-related properties,” Ware and Grudem’s position has what amounts to a difference in omnipotence. [8]   McCall refers specifically to the Father being unable to do an action that is logically and morally possible such as becoming incarnate. It should be further noted that there is a difference in power-relationships between members of the Trinity in such a way that does not merely remain functional as much as Grudem and Ware would like it to.

Ware’s next rebuttal unfortunately only amounts to asserting that he is talking about “a property of the person of the Son, not a property of the essence or nature which the Son shares fully with the Father and the Spirit” and he is not referring to an attribute.[9] He does not seem to realize that McCall is claiming Ware’s understanding entails that he is actually talking about essence or nature ending in a different essence between the Son and the Father—Ware has to argue otherwise.[10] Ware is in a position where he can decide to posit two natures for each person of the Trinity or, say there is only one divine nature demonstrating how the Son can have the necessary subordinate personal property without it being essential and without it becoming a different essence from the Father. Instead, Ware gets angry with McCall for not providing this “solution” that it is really a personal property and insinuates McCall is trying to be deceptive when instead Ware has gravely misunderstood the force of McCall’s objection.[11]

Lastly, Ware accuses McCall of getting confused between adjectives and nouns. Ware clarifies he is talking about something “essential” not “essence.”[12] Of course, earlier he had also claimed:

Clearly, the distinction of persons requires that there are distinguishing properties of each person as opposed to being merely contingent or accidental, are true of them in every possible world, are held with a de re kind of necessity, and hence are essential to the distinctive personhood of each Trinitarian person.[13]

If he had followed McCall’s argument he would have realized that by reasserting that the Son is subordinate in all possible worlds he was committing himself to subordination being necessarily and if subordination is a necessary property (de re), then he has this essentially, and if the Son has this essentially and the Father does not then he is of a difference essence than the Father. “Thus, the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.”[14] There is no confusion of terms in McCall’s work, just a progression of argument that Ware does not follow or answer for. Instead, his attempt at a defense amounts to saying other people are also guilty and crossly re-asserting his position again.

There is a final point of incoherence that is unresolved in Grudem and Ware’s trinitarian theology. Since their theology necessitates a difference that is hierarchically based, the Holy Spirit serves as a disruption to their all-encompassing categories of authority and submission. [15] In their scheme, the Father is no longer the Father if he is not in authority and the Son is not the Son if he is not subordinate to the Father and the Spirit it similarly not the Spirit if he is not subordinate to both the Father and the Son in the economy and for all eternity. Grudem explains:

So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is not surprising, for it shows that the Father and the Son relate to one another as a father and son relate to one another in a human family: the father directs and has authority over the son, and the son obeys and is responsive to the directions of the father. The Holy Spirit is obedient to the directives of both the Father and the Son...These roles could not have been reversed or the Father would have ceased to be the Father and the Son would have ceased to be the Son. And by analogy from that relationship, we may conclude that the role of the Holy Spirit is similarly one that was appropriate to the relationship he had with the Father and the Son before the world was created.[16]

Similarly, Ware states:

This view holds that God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons…the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority, and the Holy Spirit likewise serves to advance the Father’s purposes fulfilled through the Son, under the authority of the Father and also of the Son.[17]

The Holy Spirit’s distinctiveness is construed as doubly subordinate, just as a child is submissive to both her father and mother. The Spirit’s role, like the Father and Son is an eternal one perceived in the economy. The authority-submission relationship cannot be otherwise because it would mean that what makes each distinct is actually interchangeable. Curiously, Ware breaks these absolute categories he and Grudem have built up in admitting that in the biblical testimony the Son submits to the Holy Spirit. Uh oh.

Even though the Spirit is given authority over the incarnate Son, so that the Son follows the lead of the Spirit and performs his miracles in the power of the Spirit, nevertheless the Spirit knows that this authority is not permanent. And he knows that this authority is not over the eternal Son of the Father, but only over the Son incarnate.[18]

Rather than perceiving this move of the Holy Spirit as undermining his absolute authority-based understanding of trinitarian distinctions, Ware decides this is a special instance that only applies to the Spirit’s authority over Jesus’s humanity. Of course, he is not willing to allow this in the case of the Father exercising authority over Jesus, because such would undermine what makes each of the trinitarian persons distinct. This is inconsistent and instead of trying provide resolution, Ware arrives at an unusual practical lesson of not being bitter when one’s delegated authority comes to an end and for women to be happy working behind the scenes at church.[19] However, if the Holy Spirit serves as an exception to authority-submission relationships, then this is not an absolute distinction and the door is open for other possibilities. In sum, the Holy Spirit’s authority over the Son when he should be always submissive to the Son (lest he cease to be the Holy Spirit) derails their entire, mostly binary project.

Next time we will look more closely into potential entailments of Grudem and Ware's views. I say "potential" because on the whole their view appears incoherent. The point is that if it is not incoherent and thus should not be dismissed outright, depending on the direction they take we are left with some disturbing options. Do we end up with a partative God (the Holy Spirit is part of God, the Son another part...etc not the Holy Spirit is wholly God...etc) which threatens divine simplicity? Do we have a form of tritheism (one divinity composed of 3 distinct gods or individuals each with separate domains) or Arianism (Jesus is not truly "God" in the way we understand God, he is a lesser god with a different essence) entailed?

--AQ

 

[1] Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.,: Eerdmans, 2010), 175-188.

[2] Ibid., 95-97, 180, 201-202.

[3] Ibid., 181.

[4] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251.

[5]McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,188.

[6] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 241.

[7] In the backdrop is the problem of having two essences: a divine and a personal one. Does this entail heterodoxy? However, McCall and Ware are still assuming one essence is being discussed.

[8] McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,180, 182.

[9] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 243.

[10] Ware does something similar in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 79. When describing the authority-submission relationship between the Father and Son he recognizes he cannot (or rather should not) be describing essence or nature so he simply asserts, “Since this priority cannot rightly be understood in terms of essence or nature (lest one fall into Arian subordinationism), it must be understood in terms of relationship.” Rather than get upset over other theologians, philosophers and historians saying his view entails Arianism, it behoves Ware to actually demonstrate why his view does not end up describing a difference in essence and with it Arianism rather than offering complaints. 

[11] Ware, One God in Three Persons., 243-244.

[12] Ibid., 246-247.

[13] Ibid., 246.

[14] McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?,179-180.

[15] Although there is not enough evidence compiled in her short book on the destabilizing impact of the Holy Spirit on theology, Sarah Coakley’s at least provides a starting point for further research into this tendency. Cf. God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[16] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 249-250.

[17] Ware, One God in Three Persons, 237-238.

[18] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 128.

[19] Ibid., 129-130.

 

The Trinity in Our Image? Reconsidering an Evangelical Social Agenda for the Trinity Pt.1

Inspired by Oliver's class on the Trinity where he put up the Trinity from the Matrix as his course picture on Moodle.

Inspired by Oliver's class on the Trinity where he put up the Trinity from the Matrix as his course picture on Moodle.

Using the Trinity to promote a social agenda is nothing new and often it seems there are more than enough ideologies to go around. If only we could all see the connection and enact whatever implication being promoted, then our society, government, church or family would be better off. It is not unusual to hear of appeals to the Father and Son relationship as a template for homosexual relationships[1] nor is it unexpected to hear the doctrine of the Trinity is being used to promote a particular type of egalitarian society within the church or at large, as is the case with Jürgen Moltmann.[2] In commenting on this broader tendency to use the Trinity to promote a social agenda Keith Johnson satirically remarks:

But why not argue that the threeness of God constitutes the blueprint for governmental structures with three “equal” yet “distinct” branches of authority: an executive branch (corresponding to the Father), a legislative branch (corresponding to the Word) and a judicial branch (corresponding to the Spirit, who is described in John’s Gospel as “Counselor”)? On this basis we could claim that the American government is an image of the Trinity![3]

It is not difficult to see why one might make a connection between the Trinity and whatever social program is in vogue or happens to align with an individual or group’s existing sentiments. Doing so not only provides another layer of authority for a social agenda otherwise lacking, it can on a less sinister level simply serve to make the Trinity relevant for one’s everyday life—the sentiment behind Karl Rahner’s project.[4] Not surprisingly, some evangelicals are rightly suspicious of groups that perceive a connection between the Trinity and another agenda they are passionate about.  For example, Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker, both subordinationists in regards to the Trinity, helpfully share their concerns regarding the often-perceived link between subordination in the Trinity and gender:

We are suspicious of the fact that, generally speaking, most complementarians are functional subordinationists while, generally speaking, most egalitarians are in favor of co-equality in function…This partisan perspective leads us to infer that prior theological commitments on both sides have influenced the debate and discussion is not really about trying to describe the ineffable mystery of inter-personal relations within the Trinity as much as it is about trying to advance or obstruct a certain view of women.[5]

These sorts of tendencies to make improper connections between the Trinity and other aspects of life we wish to change should be firmly resisted. If not, at the very least such a link should inspire reservation if a precise link cannot be clearly demonstrated from Scripture or if it entails a rejection of the historic faith.

For years there has been a debate within evangelical circles concerning the nature of the Son’s obedience to the Father.[6] One perspective claims the Son’s submission to the Father is to be understood in terms of his incarnation, a role he enacts as a representative of humanity in the economic Trinity. The other position alleges the submission of the Son characterizes the Son as the Son in the immanent Trinity, meaning the Son is eternally subordinate—though merely in a functional manner. What is relatively new in this longer debate is that a movement comprised of gender “complementarians” has commandeered the latter of these positions in order to promote their own social agenda, in turn attracting responses from evangelical egalitarians.[7] As a result, it has become difficult to separate the initial discussion from various gender biases and yet such a connection is now prevalent and cannot be ignored. For this reason a multifaceted approach to the issue is needed, one that still focuses on the initial question concerning the nature of the submission of the Son, but also considers the new landscape of the discussion without reducing one position to the other.

Through several blog series adapted from a class paper it will be argued that although many evangelicals utilize the idea of an eternal functional hierarchy within the Trinity to legitimate a similar role-relationship between men and women, such a position entails an improper understanding of the Trinity. In this case, an improper understanding of the Trinity is conceived of as one that is wrongly construed to include gender, is incoherent, or at worst one that entails a heterodox understanding of the Trinity. Since it is the very connection being made between the Trinity and gender that will also be under consideration, I will be focusing primarily on the works of two main proponents of this connection: Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. The goal of the above thesis will be accomplished by first reviewing their positions on the Trinity, briefly highlighting some areas where I believe Ware and Grudem do not give a basis for their view. Second, I will be arguing against the affirmation that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father based off of four main concerns: 1) at best, the position as expressed is incoherent, 2) at worst it entails a rejection of God as simple, 3) and a different essence between the members of the Trinity in the form of what amounts to the Son not being homoousion with the Father or a slip into tritheism with two essences: personal and divine. Lastly, I will consider intuitions giving rise to an embrace of the eternal subordination of the Son, which are a version of Rahner’s rule and their position on gender.

Eternal Functional Submission: A Summary with Considerations

How do evangelicals such as Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem articulate their understanding of the eternal functional submission of the Son to the Father? Ware refers to his view as, “eternal relational authority-submission” and offers the following description:

God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons, such that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided divine nature; yet the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority, and the Holy Spirit likewise serves to advance the Father’s purposes fulfilled through the Son, under the authority of the Father and also of the Son.[8]

Ware is clear that he affirms basic Trinitarian orthodoxy. Each of the members of the Trinity shares only the one divine nature, meaning there is one God, not three. Further, this nature is undivided. He clarifies this further:

So we cannot say, for example, that the Father has the attribute of omnipotence, and that’s what distinguishes him from the Son and the Spirit. No, the Son and the Spirit each possesses fully the attribute of omnipotence by possessing fully the undivided nature.[9]

For Ware, if one of the Trinitarian persons did not fully have the attribute of omnipotence for example, then he would not fully possess the divine nature. Still, not only must there be one God, this God must exist in three distinct persons without compromising divine unity or personal difference within the Godhead. Historically, the church has understood this distinction in terms of a specific type of relation: differing origination or eternal generation.[10] Where Grudem and Ware differ from this understanding is that they choose what they perceive to be a different type of relation to establish the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity. When it comes to the Father and Son relationship, this amounts to “replacing eternal generation with obedience as the Son’s distinguishing personal property.”[11]

It is common for the different type of relationship characterized as a personal property to be articulated as a difference in “role” or function. It is crucial to note that role is not being used, to describe every day changeable jobs or functions, but rather something that is unchangeable and basic to personal identity. In the case of Grudem and Ware it is the distinguisher of the Son from the Father and women from men. Consider Grudem’s following explanation:  

Therefore the different functions that we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit performing are simply out workings of an external relationship between the three persons, one that has always existed and will exist for eternity. God has always existed as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These distinctions are essential to the very nature of God himself, and they could not be otherwise...This truth about the Trinity has sometimes been summarized in the phrase 'ontological equality but economic subordination,' where the word ontological means 'being.' Another way of expressing this more simply would be to say 'equal in being but subordinate in role.'...If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity[12].

For Grudem then, distinction is based exclusively in authority-submission relationships that are particular to each person of the Trinity. The Father could not be subordinate to the Son otherwise he would no longer be the Father and the Son could not be in authority over the Father, otherwise he would not be the Son. If this relationship were removed, then for Grudem there would be absolutely no inherent difference between the members of the Trinity and so there could be no Trinity.

Curiously, even though historically differences between the members of the Trinity have been based in differing origination, and not at least explicitly, in authority-submission relationships, Grudem and Ware strongly insist anyone who does not share their version of what distinguishes the members of the Trinity is deviating from orthodoxy. For example, under the lengthy heading “Arguments That Deviate from the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity: Denying the Trinity by Denying Any Eternal Distinctions between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Grudem singles out Kevin Giles as an example[13] because he denies the Father always has authority over the Son even though Giles bases trinitarian distinction in eternal generation.[14] For a reason unstated, Giles is strongly disqualified from believing in eternal distinctions within the Trinity even though he does—a small detail even noted by Robert Letham in his forward to The Eternal Generation of the Son.[15] They are clearly at an impasse and Giles’ frustration is evident:

The Nicene fathers insisted that differing origination was the one safe way to indelibly differentiate the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) because this alone did not call into question divine oneness and equality or allow the subordination of the Son in the eternal life of God in any way. It is because the Son is eternally begotten of the Father that he is, as the Nicene Creed says, ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,  … one in being with the Father.’  Differentiating the Father and the Son on the basis of differing authority, all the pro-Nicene fathers clearly saw, entailed the sub-ordering of the Son, the essence of the Arian error.[16]

It is indeed difficult to miss that differing origination is how the early fathers perceived distinction within the Trinity and that it served as their trump card against heresy (as evident in the Nicene creed).[17] Interestingly, Grudem and Ware see differing authority as what is actually being presented in the Nicene Creed through the sending language. Grudem asserts:

This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church's doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was 'begotten of the Father before all ages' and that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father and the Son.' Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among the members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church's doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicaea (A.D. 325).[18]

Similarly, Ware claims Augustine is actually endorsing his view after citing The Trinity, IV.27:

Notice two observations from Augustine’s statement. First, Augustine sees no disparity between affirming, on the one hand, the full equality of the Son to the Father, and on the other hand, the Son’s eternal position as from the Father, with the responsibility of carrying out the will of the Father. The claim of some egalitarians[19] that the functional subordination of the Son would entail his essential inferiority to the Father is here denied by Augustine. Second, notice that Augustine denies the egalitarian claim that all subordination of the Son to the Father rests fully in the Son’s incarnate state. To the contrary, Augustine affirms that ‘the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh.” In other words, the sending of the Son occurred in eternity past in order that the eternal Word, sent from on high from the Father, might make take on human flesh and then continue his role of carrying out the will of his Father.[20]

By appealing to the creeds and fathers as though they proclaimed their view of authority relations, Grudem and Ware give the appearance of having their specific position being the orthodox position. Oddly, nowhere in the creed nor in Augustine is the explicit connection made by them for us that the sending or originating relationship is an authoritative relationship based in the nature of the Trinity. This is an interpretation Grudem and Ware arrive at on their own, an additional step other theologians or scholars may not necessarily be willing to take.

Stranger is that the actual position of the early church—differing origination— the language of which Grudem and Ware appeal to—is not held by either of them.[21] Perhaps even though they are saying the creeds are expressing their view they mean to say that their view is entailed by the creed or Augustine’s appeal to differing origination? Or, are they merely ignoring the whole early understanding of origination and are instead entirely assuming the sending language only means the Father’s authority or priority is being demonstrated? At the very least it would seem they believe only their position is the truly orthodox position regarding distinction among members of the Trinity, but on what concrete basis? In sum, they are lacking clear reasoning on why “sending” has to only mean differing authority relations, and the novelty of their view demands better argumentation.

In the next post I will consider some of the more serious problems with Grudem and Ware's understanding of the Trinity. I will be arguing that although they intend to uphold an orthodox view of the Trinity, their view is at best incoherent and at worst entails a heterodox position. Note that this is different from saying that they are heretics. Someone can hold to a view that entails more than what they actually hold. Still, if a view entails heresy, give it up immediately!

AQ

[1] Cf: Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 201-203 and David McCarthy Matzko, “Homosexuality and the Practices of Marriage,” Modern Theology 13:3 (1997) 394-395.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 197-202.

[3] Keith E. Johnson, Rethinking the Trinity & Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 2011), 201.

[4] Kark Rahner, The Trinity (NY.: Crossroad, 1967), 10-15.

[5] Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker, “Subordination in the Trinity and Gender Roles: A Response to Recent Discussion,” in The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son eds., Dennis W. Jowers and H. Wayne House, (Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2012), 305.

[6] Documented in: M. J. Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 2009).

[7] Initially it was George Knight III who first introduced the link between gender hierarchy and the Trinity in his book New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Woman (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker, 1977), 33, 55-56. He argued that since the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father and yet still equal in essence, women can also be said to be equal in being yet functionally subordinate. A similar argument is frequently made by various complementarians (to be discussed in this paper). Although evangelical egalitarians are also known for responding to complementarian arguments, they are not on the whole basing their gender theology in the Trinity. They are not saying

that because the members of the Trinity are functionally and ontologically equal, women are too. It is not a position found in Christians for Biblical Equality’s statement http://www.cbeinternational.org/content/statement-men-women-and-biblical-equality, nor does it appear in the book Discovering Biblical Equality except though there is a response to complementarians using the Trinity towards the back of the book by Kevin Giles.

 

[8] Bruce A. Ware “Does Affirming an Eternal Authority-Submission Relationship in the Trinity Entail a Denial of Homoousios? A Response to Millard Erickson and Tom McCall” in One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce A. Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 237-238.

[9] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton IL.: Crossway, 2005), 45.

[10] Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2012).

[11] Swain and Allen, “The Obedience of Eternal Son,” in Christology Ancient and Modern eds., Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids, MI.: 2013), 75.

[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1994), 251.

[13] This is an especially deceptive characterization because Kevin Giles has a whole book dedicated to defending “the doctrine of the eternal begetting or generation of the Son, so central to the doctrine of the Trinity.” He continues, “indeed, this is what the entire book is about...This doctrine sheds light on how the One God is self-differentiated for all eternity.” Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 2012), 17.

[14] Wayne Grudem, “Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminists Arguments about the Trinity,” in One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce A. Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2015), 18-19.

[15] Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, 9-10.

[16] Kevin Giles, An extended review of One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life eds., Bruce Ware and John Starke, Pending Publication, 18.

[17] Even Wayne Grudem is at least aware that the early church had eternal generation in mind in the specific context of eternal relations and the creed. Cf: Systematic Theology, 246-245, 1233-1234. Ware also shows some knowledge that the early church thought of difference in terms of being begotten. One God in Three Persons, 241.

[18] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 251-252.

[19] A reference to “egalitarians” is yet another reminder that Ware constantly has his mind set on gender as he discusses the Trinity, revealing a bias guiding his theology.

[20] Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 80-81.

[21] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1233-34; Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 162 n. 3.

The Incorruptible God: Corruption, Mortality and the Triumph of Paul's Eschatology

Only in Paul's epistles do we have the Greek word ἀφθαρσία (aftharsia). Many believe it refers to 'immortality' and has been translated as such in numerous Bible translations. However, there is reason to expand the semantic range of this word to include concepts of "imperishability" or "incorruptibility." I will walk through several of Paul's epistles, and we will see that this word has an eschatological flavor—not because of the word itself per se, but because of how Paul uses the word.

I will translate the following Pauline texts, with some commentary on why I chose to render certain terms in the way I do, and then I will explain the significance of the word in Paul's narrative. Finally, I will attempt a synthesis on why this word is important and what it means for Christians today.

Also, Merry Christmas.

Rom 2:7 τοῖς μὲν καθ᾽ ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν ζητοῦσιν ζωὴν αἰώνιον·

"And those who persevere by good work, seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility, will gain life eternal"

The noun ὑπομονὴν refers to 'perseverance,' especially within certain Pauline contexts. For instance, 2 Thessalonians 1:4 refers to those enduring διωγμοῖς ("persecution") and θλίψεσιν ("oppression"). Paul elsewhere tells the church to "pursue" (δίωκε) good things in 1 Timothy 6:11—among these attributes is ὑπομονήν. The conjunction καὶ linking δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν suggests these attributes are a unit, or at least are meant to be taken as a single concept. Glory and honor are comparable to incorruptibility, and if one seeks after these things, there is "life eternal."

Immortality, while a likely facet of incorruptibility, is too narrow here. Rather, glory and honor suggest a kind of virtue that lacks corruptibility, especially of the human (Gentile) person not identified by the sins of Romans 1:18-32. 

1Cor 15:42 Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ·

"In this same way also the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption."

Most of the uses of our noun in question occur in the discourse of 1 Corinthians 15.

The verbal linkage is fairly obvious with the contrast: both verbs (singular third person middle) refer to an object via the preposition ἐν ("in," "by," "among"). The contrast is highlighted by the comparative noun φθορᾷ, which in other contexts refers to slavery (Romans 8:21) and general depravity and destructive tendencies (Colossians 2:22). Paul seems to imply that the human person—the body—is born into a world of depravity and subjection by foreign powers (Death and Sin being two sides of that coin: c.f. 15:26), and instead of the person in Christ being raised again into corruption and death, she is raised instead to incorruptibility. Mortality, driven by the kingship of Death, is what is sown naturally according to the known rules of the world.

However, for Paul, to be raised by Christ is to participate in his incorruptible body: where glory and honor and an inability to be subjected to Death's reign.

We will see a further Pauline contrast in 15:50 and 53.

1Cor 15:50, 53, 54 Τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται, οὐδὲ ἡ φθορὰ τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν κληρονομεῖ…δεῖ γὰρ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσασθαι ἀθανασίαν. ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ ⸃ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν, τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος· Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος.

"But this I say, my brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood is unable to inherit the Kingdom of God, not can corruption inherit incorruption…for it is necessary for this corruption to put on incorruptibility and this Mortal to put on immortality, but whenever this corruption should have put on incorruptibility, and this Mortal should have put on incorruptibility, then this word that has been written will come to pass: Death has been devoured in victory."

Whole monographs could be written on this particular section, and I believe it is a concretized exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:26, where Death is utterly annihilated. However, some exposition is needed. The contrastive nature of φθορά and ἀφθαρσία confirms Paul's distinction between a present reality (φθορά) guided by the dictatorship of Death, and Paul's hope in ἀφθαρσία, where Death cannot exercise rule over any Mortal.

Paul uses similar words that are complementary, but they are not synonymous. He uses ἀθανασίαν which does refer to immortality (literally 'not dying'), which displays an affinity with his chosen vocabulary. The corruptible Mortal must be clothed in both incorruptibility and immortality, in order that both concepts may abolish Death. One can be immortal, and still sin, at least in theory. However, to be incorruptible suggests that the future eschatological age is a place where all of those in Christ are in a state of 'not dying' and also in a state of being unable to be corrupted by Sin and Death.

No longer does Death reign, nor will Death have any presence in God's Kingdom. Rather, the mortal person, she is enveloped by Christ in the power of the Spirit, where Death has no sting.

Eph 6:24 ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἀγαπώντων τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ.

"Favor be with all of the one's who are loving our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruptibility."

Paul ends his exhortation to the church with battle imagery earlier in chapter 6. Paul, here, is capitalizing on said imagery and exhorting the believers to remain incorruptible. Instead of referring in a blanket sense to immortality, Paul desires that they live a life "loving" God and the Messiah. This is characterized by εἰρήνη ("peace") in 6:23, and suggests that warfare, spiritual or literal, should not characterize the believer's identity: for these things corrupt, but faithfulness to God is incorruptible.

2Ti 1:10 φανερωθεῖσαν δὲ νῦν διὰ τῆς ἐπιφανείας τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ⸃, καταργήσαντος μὲν τὸν θάνατον φωτίσαντος δὲ ζωὴν καὶ ἀφθαρσίαν διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,

"And made manifest now through the appearance of our Savior Jesus Christ, the one indeed annihilating Death, and having illuminated life and incorruptibility through the Gospel."

The theophany of the Messiah signals something interesting. Life and incorruptibility are connected (same case ending) and suggest, in already similar fashion, that Paul is playing these terms together in a complementary way. To have the life of Christ is to have incorruptibility. Death being utterly annihilated, removed from the cosmos, suggests that now life and incorruptibility may reign. Only once Death has been destroyed can these two things thrive. This suggests a coordinate meaning with 1 Corinthians 15, where Death/Mortality/Corruption are first destroyed, so that Life/Immortality/Incorruptibly may reign supreme in the Kingdom of God and Christ.

Tit 2:7 περὶ πάντα σεαυτὸν παρεχόμενος τύπον καλῶν ἔργων, ἐν τῇ διδασκαλίᾳ ἀφθορίαν, σεμνότητα,

"In all things making yourself a model of good works by teaching, incorruptibility, dignity."

In a short word, this pericope is concerned with how one lives as a minority within a world of oppression. By living in a manner worthy of the name of Christ, one must live by these three nouns (though one is not limited by them). I translate the preposition ἐν as "by" because I think the active agency on the part of the recipients of Titus are enjoined to live a certain way: hence, make yourself a model "by" doing these three things.

Immortality, unlike elsewhere, is not in view in most of Paul's uses of ἀφθαρσία. Rather, the noun in question refers to the conduct and character of one's witness to the world: not being guided by corruption or falsity, but rather through the incorruptibility of Christ.

In short, the term ἀφθαρσία, while it may denote a concept of immortality, is far more concerned with the character of how one lives, and what one inherits. Incorruptibility refers to something given by God eschatologically, it must be sought after (Romans 2:7), and Death and depravity are the chief opponents to this ἀφθαρσία. Death, with its reign of decay and slavery, cannot co-exist with ἀφθαρσία. Only one may win, and one might say, one already has.

Thus, ἀφθαρσία has an ethical component that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Eschatology, at least in Pauline perspective, is about ethics and the life of hope lived for future anticipation.

Merry Christmas again.

NQ