The Sin of "Grace"

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But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The evangelical world, broadly speaking, is in turmoil. At least, it should be over the rampant sexual abuse, exploitation and systematic dis-empowerment of women in their churches. In the words of Al Mohler regarding the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), “judgment has come.”[1] But this is not just a “Southern Baptist” problem. True, the SBC became what it is today through well documented conspiratorial power grabs, eliminating moderate dissent and promoting a male-only view of leadership (what could go wrong?), but they are not alone in the promulgation of their theology and misconduct.   

Maybe as a whole, we evangelicals are a mix of those who are horrified by the exposures (most recently out of the Southern Baptist denomination), those who are dismissive and those who are hopeful either because we have faced horrendous obstacles by abuse from our own or openly advocate for those who have. I tend to think we are finally at a point, comparatively, where our problems are more difficult to ignore, more difficult to further pile on those exploited. And yet, in the midst of this a haunting dichotomy lingers: judgment vs. grace. Didn’t Jesus die for the sins of the worst sinners? Didn’t he eat with the sinners? Wasn’t he the one that said, “go and sin no more” and desires us to have the same response towards the fallen?

I believe we fundamentally misunderstand grace and judgment if we see them as polar opposites or dichotomous. They are not.

There is actually a consistency between what God says he likes and dislikes and how he responds to others. The God of the Bible repeatedly makes it clear that he detests those who prey upon the vulnerable and promote injustice. He says that he is sick of the outward religiosity and that really didn’t change between the Old and New Testament. All of Amos 5 stands as God’s scathing critique of evil:

21 I hate, I reject your festivals;
    I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
        I won’t be pleased;
    I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
23 Take away the noise of your songs;
        I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
        and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 Then enters Jesus. The God, the Word, who “tabernacled” (ἐσκήνωσεν) among us (John 1:14). To put it mildly, he was not thrilled with what was happening in the temple of his day and he was not thrilled with the sins of the religious leaders. So often, the picture painted of the religious leaders vs. the people of Jesus’ day by evangelicals is one of stringent rules vs. people who are unable to follow them. However, this is not quite right.

Sometimes, those who are the most judgmental are the most willfully evil.

The Holy Elites vs. “The Sinners?”

Let’s take a look at how the biblical text describes these religious elites. Certainly they lacked grace for those “outside the circle,” but was their crime really their attempts to be holy? Was their problem really that they just had such high standards and no grace for those who couldn’t be as holy as they were? Not so much.

Luke 20:47 says they “devour widows houses.” They are identified as “children of snakes,” “evil,” “guilty” and will have to answer for themselves on Judgment Day in Matt 12:34-37. In Matthew 23 Jesus points out that they do not in fact “practice what they teach.” Instead, they crush others. They love the show of holiness, but they are really “hypocrites” and “children of hell,” “greedy,” “self-indulgent,” “lawless.” Sure, they love to do lots of outward signs for show—as do many of our “men” of God today—but they ignore “other aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.”

Then lets look and see how they treated Jesus. Sure they claimed they were just concerned about the law, but most of their actions expose an underlying power hungry jealously to the extent that they are well known to have broken the law to get an innocent man, in this case Jesus, killed. And this was not the first time. In Matthew Jesus points out that God sent them prophets and teachers of the law but they killed some by crucifixion, flogged others in the synagogues, and displaced others. They “will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people.”

What about the so-called sinners Jesus ate with? True, often the crowd or religious leaders called them sinners but seldom does the text (with some exceptions such as the woman at the well or the later addition to John of the woman about to be stoned). However, these people are often extremely marginalized and made out to be the evil ones. And the ones who did have sin and were marginalized are invited into grace—to live on without sin—and change their life.

The Sin of “Grace” i.e. Injustice

The consistent voice of the Bible is that God desires the protection and value of those individuals society and even the religious community wrongly devalues. AND there is a consistent call for the exposure and displacement of those who prey on other people. But we have it all backwards, we heap rhetoric of “grace” without restitution on serial abusers enabling them to continue their activity and by extension forcing their victims to march on with the weight of their burden strapped to their backs. We enable abusive behavior and use perverse interpretations of Scripture to do it. We take the Lord’s name in vain. And those who have suffered? We decide what they really need is to “forgive.” That is the go-to. And by forgive we mean “moving on” i.e. not being hurt, angry or insisting on justice and even maintaining messed up relationships with abusers. We do not wish to hear of their anguish. It’s tiresome. And we feel good about ourselves because we have extended “grace.” But not for them.

The God of the Bible has consistently called for grace towards those who stumble and repent and doubly those who are exploited and marginalized. The God of the Bible has consistently hated serial evil aka abuse and injustice. Hate may be an understatement. The God of the Bible has consistently loved those who try and live a holy, righteous life in their interactions with others. He is a God of love and wants us to be people of love. Grace and judgment flow from the common fountain of divine love. And in the context of this discussion love means propagating justice in the every day. Jesus called out the powerful regardless of rank and attempted to shame them in public for clear, willful exploitive behavior and he physically sat with and ate with those who were not in the “in crowd.” He identified himself with them and identified them as the people of God (i.e. Sons or daughters of Abraham).

Church, go and sin no more.

 

[1] "Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over."

 

 

He is Risen! Living a Colorful Life in a World of Black & White

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One of the aspects of pop evangelicalism that has haunted me the most these days has been a lack of understanding of the resurrection, what it means, its power and significance. Still, I will never forget that day at Calvary Kids Club when a little boy I had been mentoring was shocked to hear that Jesus was returning to earth and that our ultimate destiny was to rule with him on earth. No, we were not destined for heaven, but a new creation. He ran frantically around the classroom telling everyone he could think of that Jesus was coming back and so were we! If only we could all catch that same spark. 

And yet something sinks within me when I get blank, perhaps disbelieving stares from adult evangelicals when I tell them the hope of the Christian faith is not going to heaven, but being resurrected and that Jesus’ resurrection was also meant to be the first of many. It would seem that “We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come…” does not ring a bell. Rather hope is framed in terms of a past event that enabled a future one: going to heaven or hell. Worse yet, I have come to see that many of us really do not realize that what we do today, in the here and now has any cosmological significance nor connection with the resurrection.

No! What we do today and tomorrow matters infinitely. Jesus came to give us abundant life. He embodied human life and human destiny so that we could live as we were meant to live as image bearers of God, God's representatives on earth. We are meant to represent a new kingdom and a new society, now. God’s reality appears like colors breaking into a world that sees in black and white. He is all around us if we would only have eyes to see him. Evil in many ways is a failure and refusal to see. It blinds itself in spirals of hopelessness and futility. If we have sworn our allegiance to Christ and pledge to live towards different goals--love out of our faith--then how on earth can we think what we do now does not matter? How can we continue doing evil in the name of survival, fear, greed, status or out of selfishness? We can't.

We worship a God of self-sacrifice and humility. We worship a God who was betrayed, slandered, attributed to be in league with the devil, used as a demented slur against an ethnic minority (King of the Jews), and killed for becoming like us so that we could become like him in character and in his resurrected body. And this Jesus did all of this for his enemies. He has told us to follow the same path so that in dying we can ironically, live.

It may be that there is a lot of moral "grey" when it comes to many "what if" situations. But really, many of us do know what it means not to live selfishly, give preference to one another and to love enemies the way the Good Samaritan did (note that the example of goodness Jesus used was an offensive enemy/outcast). And what we do now is a sign pointing towards and part of a process of physical resurrection. New creation means the transformation of character and the body of God's representatives on earth and with them, those around them and all of creation. We get to participate in this process now as we look towards our formational completion climaxing in our resurrection and the full arrival of a new political reality premised on love in Christ. We get to be little lights in a world of night beckoning others to wake up and also live as though it were day.

This Easter season, rekindle or begin an epic journey to live as an agent of God's resurrection at work, church, with family, friends & enemies. Make friends with those who are alone, hated or sick, those who cannot return favors whether socially or otherwise. Be kind when slandered not returning evil with evil. Seek justice for yourself and others (justice and forgiveness are not opposed!). Risk. Remember the elderly. Resist evil within and from without. Love in multifaceted, individual and unique ways the way Jesus loved bringing a little color to a world trapped in either/or.

Don't be slaves of self-love, masks, and idols. Throw it all out and be ambassadors, warriors, and family of God.

"But you aren’t self-centered. Instead, you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.

So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. 17 But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him." -Romans 8:9-17

-AQ

The "Ifs" of the Resurrection: Particles and Hope in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

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My friend Graham Ware posted something on Facebook about 1 Corinthians 15 and the language of the "ifs." So this post is inspired by his comment and I wanted to give him that shout out.

Almost every verse in vv.12-19 begins with the particle εἰ (ei, "if"): only v.15 and v.18 are excluded from this. The significance of these particles is that they are rhetorically conditional. Paul is offering the idea of a possible counter fact: "what if" X happened or did not happen?

12 Εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς κηρύσσεται ὅτι ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται…

"But if Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from the dead…"

13 εἰ δὲ ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔστιν, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised."

14 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, κενὸν⸀ἄρα τὸ κήρυγμα ἡμῶν, κενὴ καὶ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν,

"But if Christ is not raised, then our preaching is empty and our faith is empty."

15 εὑρισκόμεθα δὲ καὶ ψευδομάρτυρες τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐμαρτυρήσαμεν κατὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ὅτι ἤγειρεν τὸν Χριστόν, ὃν οὐκ ἤγειρεν εἴπερ ἄρα νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται.

"And we are even found to be bearing false witness against God, for we testified concerning God that he raised the Messiah, whom he did not raise, if indeed the dead are not raised"

16 εἰ γὰρ νεκροὶ οὐκ ἐγείρονται, οὐδὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται·

"For if the dead are not raised, nor has Christ not been raised."

17 εἰ δὲ Χριστὸς οὐκ ἐγήγερται, ματαία ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν, ἔτι ἐστὲ ἐν ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν.

"And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins."

18 ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have utterly perished."

19 εἰ ἐν τῇ ζωῇ ταύτῃ ἐν Χριστῷ ἠλπικότες ἐσμὲν μόνον, ἐλεεινότεροι πάντων ἀνθρώπων ἐσμέν.

"If in Christ we have hope this life only, we are people to be utterly pitied."

The Christian faith is predicated upon the historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul's use of these six conditional particles should cause us to stop and tremble at these thoughts. "If Christ is not raised…" should force us to reflect upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, and his subsequent vindication as Lord and Messiah.

Now, in the days before Easter, we live in these "ifs," hoping in the blessed hope of the resurrection. If indeed Christ was not raised on that one day, then those of us who are "in Christ" will perish utterly, dust back to dust, life into darkness.

May it never be.

But let it sit and linger with us, that Christ himself sat where we sit, and took upon himself the full enfleshment of the human race, for our future glory, for our life itself.

As Paul says in Colossians, our lives are hidden "in Christ" (Col 3:1-4), and he is our treasure chest, the one who locks us away with him for the hope of glory.

But now, as the early Christian men and women did, we wait. And we sit in the dust of the earth, awaiting the God of the Living to beckon us home.

There are no more "ifs," only "whens." So we wait. And we hope.

Nick

Nick's Presentation at the Rethinking Hell Conference

It has been a wild few weeks. In between a car accident and other insane little life events, I traveled to Dallas-Fort Worth with some friends to help out and to deliver a paper presentation Graham Ware (a great friend of mine) and I co-wrote on "atonement in Romans."

Here is the youtube video to view on Youtube if you prefer.

I hope you enjoy this! Thank you for all of your prayers during this rather turbulent time!

NQ

Are you a Christian? Love, Worship & the Unforgivable Sin

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If someone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. -1 John 4:20

One of the greatest tragedies propagated by pop evangelicalism is the the notion that one can agree with a set of statements or perform a magical incantation (the sinner's prayer) without actually pledging allegiance to, or even worshiping the Christian God. One can regularly put themselves first, treat others harshly,and lie to get ahead entirely rejecting the life Jesus came to bring us in his death and resurrection--and yet be a Christian? Jesus gave us new priorities & a new way of seeing others and our world, but if we do not actually subscribe to them other than to say we do, in what way are we Christians? 

Is a practicing atheist, Buddhist or Hindu a Christian? I think most would say they aren't since they either do not worship the same god or a god. And yet, a Christian can reject all that Christ stands for and cease worshiping him and yet still be a Christian? In the Bible your life and what you do with your body is worship. 

When your behavior is challenged, what are your defenses? "What I do is between me and God!" "Don't judge!" Do you project the fault onto others? Hide? 

1 John is fundamentally about who one worships. What does it mean to worship something or someone? The object of worship receives one’s love, attention and elevation. It is a life orientation that is all encompassing to the extent that it rules out other behaviors or objects of worship. One can always say, I “believe” in Jesus, said the sinners prayer and have accepted him into my heart, but the question of who one worships gets at more essential questions. Has one actively pledged their life and being to the Lord? Despite words, ultimately our heart’s desire is exposed by our object of worship. It becomes transparent before God in how we treat sisters and brothers, neighbors, enemies, the mighty and lowly, when others are watching or when no one else will know. 

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From reading 1 John one could deduce that hating a brother or sister exposes the reality that one loves and worships an idol, not the living God who is worshiped through love of those around us (5:21). Many of us that are not accustomed to those around us bowing before images miss that we too have to resist idolatry. 1 John tells us that if we truly love God we will follow his example. Jesus conquered the evil one by not being selfish, but committing himself to humiliation and ultimate sacrifice for his enemies. If we want life in him we must do the same. When we do the opposite, we show our love, worship and allegiance to darkness. There is no image of the Christian God for us to bow to an adore and bring gifts to. Rather, the unseen God is worshiped by loving those who are seen.

If someone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20

The sinner's prayer is meant to used as a gateway or set prayer one can say to acknowledge key realities and invite the Spirit to transform us from the inside out. Admitting we are sinners and in need of a savior and inviting God into the control center of our lives. And yet somehow, it has become reduced to a magical incantation and not a pledge of allegiance, willingness to die and rejection of Satan and all his works. It is no longer the mark or beginning of a new life orientation because the Spirit convicts and helps us in life to do right by God and those around us. 

 The Christian God conquered the world the way his followers do, by the power of self-sacrifice and love (1 John 2:9, 12, 29, 3:3, 8, 16, 4:11, 5:4). The one who takes up the cross forsaking all else is responding to the Spirit. Their new life in Christ will be visible. This does not mean they will never mess up, but it does mean their life orientation will be one of worship. Put another way: If one claims to have pledged their life to service in the Armed Forces of the United States and yet is sabotaging their unit, going AWOL or acting in the service of the enemy--yet wearing the uniform--are they really committed? Whose side are they really on? 

Do you feel conflicted? Maybe caught between self preservation and doing what is right? Respond to the Spirit not to the self. Your choice will shed light on who you worship or where your loyalty leans. 

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Do you delight in or recount your sin with glee? Do you feel superior to other Christians because you are or were engaged in sexual sin, used others, or put others in their place? Well, maybe you feel more edgy or better than other believers because you are not one. Maybe you have a different object of worship. 

One of the tests of a believer in 1 John is treating a brother or sister with love. If you do not treat a brother or sister in Christ as one because you hate them and are opposed to what they stand for, maybe its because they are not your brother or sister because you are not in Christ? Or just became a Christian and are still learning? If this characterizes your life regularly then according to 1 John you are a liar and blinded by the dark. You do not know the way forward because you are not in the light. Those who recognize others as their brothers or as part of a sisterhood sacrifice for one another and act as a unit. Those that don't treat them as enemies, rivals or with neutrality. 

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The good news is that God is one who forgives every insult and every wrong against him, hence Jesus' work on the cross covers sin and "not only ours but the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). However, interestingly there is what is considered the "unforgiveable sin." How is this possible with  the God who desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2) and has basically accomplished reconciliation for all and readily forgives all evil, even his own crucifixion? I believe the unforgivable sin is resisting the Holy Spirit. 

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:28-30

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32

Denying the works of the Spirit which point to the identity of Jesus (not the identity of Jesus in the moment) cut a person off from the life God offers in Christ. In these passages (around these verses) how one acts is closely connected to this. One knows if someone is responding to the work of the Spirit and worshiping the Christian God in Christ by what they do. The ultimate heresy is not so much refusing or distorting a set of propositions (though it is all related), but in rebelling against the Spirit so that one is in opposition to Jesus and all he stands for, rather than "in" him. 

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The connection between responding to the Spirit and being in Christ is why elsewhere in the Bible the signs of the Spirit in the life of a Christian are called "fruits." They are born out of a deep abiding love and life orientation. They are gifts and a process of transformation. In 1 Timothy 1 this love is our goal in life and if it is our goal in life our priorities will revolve around it rather than chasing social standing, elevation of self and riches (though none are bad in and of themselves unless we prioritize/worship them). In Romans 5:3-5 this love poured out in our hearts is also the evidence we have that we belong to Christ as we go through difficult times. We can measure our progress in the Lord by how we respond to evil. 

So what is the unforgivable sin? In my words: It is resisting the Spirit and refusing to worship and love God. This means one ends up rejecting the fundamental identity of Jesus and refuses to love those around them the way he did.   

"We are in the one who is true by being in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols!" 1 John 5:20-21

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Comforted By Hope: A Brief Reflection

 "Starry Night," a personal favorite.

"Starry Night," a personal favorite.

In my sorrow, Lord walk with me
In my sorrows, Lord walk with me
When my heart is aching
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

Many of you know the feeling of grueling fatigue after tragedy after tragedy strikes and yet one continues to be run down and bruised by an enemy (material or immaterial) again, and again using any and every means at their disposal to tear down and destroy. And yet they are called to more. I've been struck this past year by the sheer potential if everyone simply did what Jesus told us to do. If we loved our neighbor as ourselves and loved our enemies! There would be no enemies if we all just loved one another and gave the other preference and the benefit of the doubt. And yet, we may live out of sync with a warped world.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of love as something vibrant and creative whereas hate seeks to ruin and destroy in the end destroying the very personality of the hater. If our life purpose and goal should be a tangible love from a sincere heart and faith and that this is a hope that testifies before God and to ourselves that we belong to God, then nothing is ever truly lost or fully hidden. If I can come out loving those who distort my image, project their evil and insecurities onto me, abuse, harass, slander, misinterpret, launch distortion campaigns, marginalize, isolate or seek to physically harm then maybe that is enough? If I can see the good in one who mistreats me, where there is actual good, then maybe I've learned something more about myself than if the wrong never occurred? If I am approaching evil with the question of how can I love and build up today, maybe there is something in being the person to continually ask the question? 

In abusive contexts, one is often made responsible for others feelings and required to validate them as gospel truth at the expense of one's own and if you don't, they will find some way to make you. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and feelings, but it is what we do with them that ultimately matters. Unfortunately, in distorted contexts, one is constantly pressured to be subservient and silent either through group pressure, physical violence, totalitarian approaches or other forms of harassment. One feels the pressure constantly like a crushing weight and the constant fear anytime one comes out of hiding for just a moment--though I have learned in life that hiding is not always safe either. And yet, sometimes it is enough to know Jesus walks with me in times of sorrow and trouble. He did all of this and more already and has not left me alone today.

Knowledge that Jesus walks beside me and that I have life in the Spirit even in suffering only encourages me to step out again and again. To live, speak and be even while I know doing so will have consequences. And life experience has told me that indeed horrible, destructive things might happen with lasting consequences and no happy ending in this life, but also wonderful if not miraculous things happen. Suffering for those who are responding to the Spirit acts like fertilizer and the tree bears more fruit. And not only that, the Gospel of peace is contagious and just might spread. I have known enemies to become even more bitter enemies but also enemies to become friends or at least brothers and sisters in the Lord. God works and ultimately it is up to them to think in terms of creation over destruction, but there is always hope when God is involved.

 

Let There Be Light

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Stalking projections, anxious, you've begun—

Implement your “grand schemes,” ready the knife

Speak deceptively into the void—

What you meant to destroy he breathes his life.

 

“Let there be light,” Redemption parts your sea

Scattering the darkness before my path

The Man of Sorrows walks alongside me

His narrative renaming Satan’s wrath.

 

The eyes of the Lord see your violent heart

But darkness illuminated turns bright

Painted into him, recreated art

Hope manifested in the darkest night.

 

Grace dawns, encompassing all in its light

Sin’s spiral fading, collapsing figments

Hope born of Eve out of Satan’s blight

Transfiguration of life contingent.

 

Don’t you know, our lives are fleeting?

A breath—

A moment in time—

After all, our ‘end’ in him redeeming

His breath—

His love poured, sublime—

 

Oh, that veiled face, history’s dawn!

Joy emanating, He runs. For “It is done!”

 

--AQ©

Freely Drawn by the Father: Human Faith and the Power of God in John 6

For many, there are specific texts in scripture that are gateway drugs to specific doctrines. For me, Romans 16 and Judges 4 were both a gateway to adopting an egalitarian reading of scripture. For others who are interested in the Reformed/Calvinist and Arminian/Wesleyan debate (a debate between brothers and sisters of good will), John 6, Hebrews 6, 2 Peter 3, and Romans 9 are often considered the central prooftexts in this debate, although there are many other considerations. For some of my Reformed brothers and sisters, however, John 6:44 is considered the mainstay text. Jonathan Dorst at The Chorus in the Chaos blog on Patheos writes[1]

As I began to study Calvinism, this was the thread that wove throughout: that salvation is a work of God from first to last. I saw that, though we are responsible for our actions and sin, and though the outward call is universal (“whoever comes to me I will never cast out”), God is the prime mover in saving His people. God is not up in heaven wringing His hands over who will choose Him, and He is not casting a vote that gets equal influence with the devil’s vote hoping to win our patronage- God is actively drawing people to Himself. Here in John 6:44 was a hint of the effect of total depravity, the implication of unconditional election, the inescapable conclusion of limited atonement, the stark reality of irresistible grace, and a building block for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (which, of course, is about God persevering to perfect His people and to raise them up on the last day, not us working to stay in God’s good graces)…. We all believe the Bible, but we interpret it differently, and we need the help of godly men and women who have gone before us to understand the Bible. And while John Calvin and his disciples were gifted, but flawed, theologians, and Calvinism is just a tradition and is not perfect, it is the tradition that I believe represents Scripture most accurately. And John 6:44 was my gateway drug to becoming a Calvinist.

Personally, I find this sort of theological method and journey fascinating. In many respects, when a person reads a particular text or book is almost more important then what they read. This is not to make light of Dorst's comments or look down upon people who have aligned themselves to a specific theological group with a clear conscience. Rather, the time of much of our reading and research is almost as important as what we are researching. Just a thought on that. I also cite Dorst not to refute him (although I do not think John 6:44 is helpful to Calvinism in context at all), but to simply illustrate the interpretive power at work for many people within a specific Christian tradition: who we read—whether Calvin or Wesley or Beza or Spurgeon or Arminius or Oden—often determines which specific texts gain our hermeneutical imagination. The seeds of a specific worldview are often planted before we ever turn to Holy Scripture.

Audience in John 6

John uses two specific terms for the audience surrounding Jesus. He first uses the phrase "a great crowd" (πολὺς ὄχλος) throughout the beginning pericopes. In John 6:2 and 6:5, throughout the feeding of the five thousand, the "great crowd" does not leave Jesus but "follows him" (ἠκολούθει: imperfect verb). The pericopes in John 6 may be divided into the "feeding of the give thousand" discourse (vv.1-15), the "walking on water" discourse (vv.16-25) and the "bread of life" discourse that occurs for the rest of the chapter (vv.26-71). John seems to single out what could be called Jewish opposition (οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι) in 6:4 and 6:41 as well, which suggests that Jesus' comments in the Gospel of John are concerned with his Jewish interlocutors.

The Heavenly Son, Grumbling, and John 6:41-43

The imperfect verb ἐγόγγυζον ("grumbling": v.41, 61; see also ἐμάχοντο in v.52) is our first indication of the mood of Jesus' interlocutors (οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι). These Jewish leaders, hardly representative of all Jewish people in the crowds, are concerned with Jesus' claims to "descend from heaven" (ὁ καταβὰς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), implying preexistence in some form. The context, therefore, does not appear to be about Calvinism or Arminianism, but on the origin of the Son (c.f. 1:1-18). A heavenly figure descending from heaven is not a foreign concept necessarily in Judaism (Dan 4:13, 23 LXX), but given the apocalyptic imagery of Daniel, one cannot necessarily fault the Jewish leaders for not seeing the obvious.

God's Sovereignty and Human Faith in John 6:44-51

How a non-Calvinist will understand vv.44-51 (and vv.61-66 by implication) can be largely reduced to how we exegete certain words. Those words include the negated participle δύναται ("able"), the verb πιστεύω ("to believe, have faith") throughout John 6, and the aorist ἑλκύσῃ ("draw"). I will address these in order.

On the first verbal phrase οὐδεὶς δύναται, we must be clear about what the phrase does not say. The phrase does not specify exactly for what reason one is "not able" to come to the Son. Dorst (and many of my Reformed brothers and sisters) have to supply a reason for this inability (i.e. total depravity, which I affirm but do not see as the reason) but the text itself seems to provide a specific reason. Specifically, v.45 uses the adjectival phrase διδακτοὶ θεοῦ ("learners of God," or "God's learners" depending on how one interprets the genitive θεοῦ) to speak about those who "hear/ understand" (ἀκούσας), which is based upon the knowledge received from God. As a consequence of this learning and understanding, a person can then come to the Son. But, as with much of the New Testament and Jewish thought, the concept of learning requires participation in what one has learned. I have written on this elsewhere.[2] That is, having learned and understood, one is then required to "come" (ἔρχεται: middle voice, suggesting personal agency) to the Son as a consequence of adopting and participating. One is unable to come to God without learning about what God requires. The universal witness of God is for all people (πάντες) and is predicated upon active participation in God's call. The cognitive element of this learning and understanding cannot be stressed enough.

Thus, a person's inability to come to God may be conditioned on total depravity, but God's universal prevenient grace draws us to him regardless.

This flows nicely into John's use of the verb πιστεύω (6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64 [2x], 69). The verb refers to "believe something to be true and, hence, worthy of being trusted - 'to believe, to think to be true, to regard as trustworthy (Louw-Nida). Faithfulness is a precondition that demands a person's awareness of the Son and the Father, and an active sense of participation in the mission of the Spirit. As Jesus says in 6:47, "Amen, amen, I say to you, the one who believes (i.e. exercises faithfulness) has eternal life" (ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὁ πιστεύων ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον). John Wesley in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, says this concerning John 6:44:

No [person] can believe in Christ, unless God gives him power; he draws us first, by good desires. Not by compulsion, not by laying the will under any necessity; but by the strong and sweet, yet still resistible, motions of his heavenly grace.

The final consideration concerns the verb ἑλκύω. In the New Testament, this verb does not appear to be used primarily in a soteriological or eschatological context (John 18:10; 21:6, 11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; James 2:6), save for John 12:32. If John 12:32 is interpreted in the way of "to drag" or "compel," then one ends up with universalism in some form. While some may insist on distinctions in how they understand "all" in that verse, I do not find such arguments compelling—but that is another debate for another time. Suffice to say, the power of the Son to resurrection (ἀναστήσω: 6:44b) is predicated upon the exercise of human faithfulness: resurrection to eternal life (as opposed to destruction per 3:16) is conditioned on human participation in the life of the Spirit. Marianne Meye Thompson argues that the verb ἑλκύω most likely means, "to attract." She writes

In John the emphasis on God's love for the world argues strongly for [the aforementioned meaning of "to attract"]. According to Jer 31:3 (38:3 LXX), because God loves Israel with an eternal love, God has drawn them…with compassion; later Jeremiah promises that God himself will write the law on the hearts of his people so that they no longer need teachers…that prophetic vision comes to fruition in God's drawing people to Jesus.[3]

In summation, I respect the different positions many take in interpreting John 6:44. Personally, I believe the reasons I have provided above offer non-Calvinists a more consistent way to understand this wonderful text:

God's glory is manifested in the eternal Son, and all are called to learn and faithfully participate in the mission of God for the reconciliation of the world.

To God be the glory.

NQ

[1] Jonathan Dorst, "John 6:44—The Verse that Made me a Calvinist," http://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/john-644-the-verse-that-made-me-a-calvinist/.

[2] See here: http://www.splitframeofreference.com/blog-1/2017/12/15/learning-in-the-pastoral-epistles-deception-verbs-and-wives-in-1-timothy-2

[3] Marianne Meye Thompson, John: A Commentary (New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Known, 2015), 152-153.

My Top Theology Podcasts of 2017

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In my final third year of my masters degree at Fuller, I discovered many new podcasts during my one hour commute to work (usually starting at 330am). When you have around 3 or more hours of time by yourself in the car and you don't want to get caught talking on the phone (I never did this), then you have to find something to do.

For me, that something to do was centered on finding good theological content to enjoy. Thankfully, in addition to finding out about some epic listening material, I got to meet some new people and have become friends with many of them.

Real quick, Overcast is the best podcast app. Just fyi.

These are in no specific order, except the first one.

Split Frame of Reference Podcast

This one naturally had to be here. If you aren't listening to Allison's and my podcast, you really should be. We're looking to wrap up our section on gender probably in 2018 sometime, as we still have to explore various Old Testament texts and themes, and then it is onto different trains of thought.

OnScript Podcast

Having grabbed a copy of Matt Bates book on "faith" in the New Testament, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he also had a podcast. Now that OnScript has added Dr. Erin Heim of Denver Seminary, I am anticipating an epic added dimension to an already killer podcast. If you like theology books on serious theological topics (ranging from adoptionism with Michael Bird to violence in the Old Testament with Greg Boyd), OnScript is seriously among the best.

The Libertarian Christian Podcast

If you are politically inclined (if so, my apologies—it is a curse I tell you) and if you are serious about your faith, then this podcast will challenge you to think deeply about the "statist quo." With topics ranging from non-violence to "just war" theory to Romans 13 and the State, you cannot get any better than this informed and delightful podcast.

Full disclosure, as someone who is largely aligned with the political philosophy of this podcast, I can tell you the material is top notch.

Doctrine and Devotion

One of several reformed podcasts that (usually) warm my heart whenever they appear in my feed—Jimmy and Joe are a delight to listen to (don't stop, guys -- #banterforever). While I am not reformed (and most likely not to become reformed), Jimmy and Joe's constant theological reflections are helpful, insightful and wise.

#JoFo4ever

Greg Boyd: Apologies & Explanations

I've never understood the controversy around Greg Boyd—the dude asks hard questions and eschews easy answers. Sure, Open Theism might rub some people the wrong way but even then, one is at a severe loss by ignoring Boyd's insights and wisdom. Packed into small bite-sized chunks, Greg answers questions ranging from Old Testament violence to whether or not God makes people delusional. His answers are always perceptive, even when I find myself reaching closer to my bag of classical Wesleyan answers.

Soteriology 101

Let me be clear: Leighton and I do not entirely agree. There. I said it. This places Leighton with the rest of the known universe of people who disagree with me. That said, I find Leighton's humble candor refreshing, and I suspect his winsome attitude toward his interlocutors will contribute to a more irenic debate concerning soteriology. 

Bible Brodown

I think I learned about Matt and Billy's podcast after listening to the White/ Flowers debate (#teamflowers), and since then it has been refreshing to listen to their work on various soteriological topics. Plus, they are really nice dudes and even if you end up disagreeing, why not disagree with agreeable folk?

Trinity Radio

As many of you know, I am not big on apologetics, especially debates that are apologetically themed. However, after listening to Braxton and Johnathan do their thing, I've become far more appreciative of the entire enterprise of apologetics. Johnathan has begun his own series on 1 Peter on youtube and it is a treat for those of you who care about Peter (or whoever wrote 1 Peter). After all, Saint Peter is pretty cool for being a guy who wouldn't eat with gentiles.

#PritchettPrime

PazNaz Weekly Sermons

I've loved Pastor Tara Beth's sermons for a while, but it is only recently that I began to go back and listen to the entire catalogue. Pastor Tara Beth's winsome and passionate preaching has ministered to me for my final 9 months in seminary as she worked through the Epistle to the Romans, and I commend her preaching and her sermons to you.

Remonstrance

My heart goes from dark and cold to mildly bright and warm whenever I see a new episode of this podcast in my feed. These guys go deep, talking about John Wesley and Jacob Arminius, giving new insights and clarifications for Wesleyan theology. Never dry or boring, these guys are insightful and scholarly in their pursuit of making Wesleyan theology clear and accessible to those who are interested. Highly recommended. 

The Teaching Pastor

As with all of these, I am biased when I place this podcast here. However. Dr. Craig Hill taught me Greek during my first two quarters at Fuller Theological Seminary and so hearing his voice is a welcome callback to that epic first 6 months. The podcast centers on Craig interviewing teaching pastors throughout the southern Cali area, and he goes through the process of researching and applying critical tools for sermon prep. As someone attempting to be more engaged in pastor/teaching ministry, this podcast is incredibly helpful, especially given the diverse cast.

The Productive Pastor

When one of my favorite podcasts (The Threshing Floor) went under, my warmed Wesleyan/Baptist (Waptist?) heart had no place to go. Thankfully, one of the dudes started his own podcast about the various issues centered on being a pastor: time management, social media, notes, and the epic struggle of being a pastor in a "hectic world." I love listening to Pastor Chad and I commend this podcast to you. 

So that is it! All of the major theology podcasts I enjoyed during 2017. What about yourself? Cheers to 2018!

Now where did I stick that mic?

NQ

"Being Born in Human Likeness:" Incarnation, Rectification and Apocalyptic Hope

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After a long year of struggle and personal difficulty (including the loss of two family members; an uncle and an aunt), I have begun to think a lot about the human body. Seeing death up close is an odd experience, especially in the sense of being near to someone who is dear to you. The smell of skin becoming cold, the hiss of oxygen entering lungs, the tang of cold sweat in the air. Whether a funeral or a deathbed, I have come to see again the cold and cruel pattern of the world. Life is fleeting, distant, and calculated in its finitude.

"For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin."

While the incarnation of the Son is not fundamentally about death, death itself is concerned with the incarnation. For those among us who are pastors, or indeed human, we see such things in our daily lives – whether on the news or on the road. Death and violence are staples of the human diet and there is something fundamentally enslaving about this notion. It is a crippling fear, something the author of the Hebrews asserts:

 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

The incarnation, even in all of its glory, is a punctiliar act that recognizes the obvious thing among us: death and life are antinomies that propel and cripple us, pushing and pressing us onto the deathbed alongside our families and friends and even our enemies. The incarnation forces us to consider the ugly realities of this present evil age, and then we are forced to ask—along with a multitude of the dead—"how long, O Lord?"

The Psalmist writes, " My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long?" (6:3). It is as if the Psalmist recognizes the lack of God's action, demanding to know what the Sovereign creator of the universe is on about.

The incarnation, therefore, is concerned with the realities of our present word, and speaks power into every instance of our existence.

God has not been silent in his world, nor has he ignored the plight of his people. As God remembered the faithful prayers of Hannah (1 Samuel 1) and his covenant to Abraham (Exodus 2:24; 6:5), so too has he remembered the images and instances of injustice and death in our world.

The incarnation is not an event divorced from history, nor is the incarnation a severance of God's dealings with history. Rather the incarnation is the apocalyptic and punctiliar event that illustrates God's action in a world that has not been abandoned

But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).

In reflecting upon the incarnation, we return to this idea of the crippling power of the terror of death. In becoming human (ἄνθρωπος), the Son has not excluded anyone from his witness nor excluded anyone from his love. In becoming human, the Son has included all people within the reality he imbibed. We look to the glory of the Son and see the fullness of God in bodily form, inviting us into reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5).

"We have seen his glory."

Thus, while we grieve and struggle, we also remember in this dark time that God has not hid himself from our sins or our trials. God-in-Christ has entered our world as King and liberator, dedicated to our bodies by becoming like us in every way. The Son did not hide himself from our presence and seeks our liberation as embodied beings, he himself just like us.

"What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people."

And thus we pray, and hope, that all shall be well. Until then, we live in the immanent shadow of anticipation, living our lives with faith and hope, serving one another in love and joy, awaiting the coming of our great God and Savior.

Until then, we hope.

NQ

Resisting Evil Part 3: Masks, Disillusionment & The Light

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12
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If we are being formed into the image of Christ, darkness within and directed at us is transfigured in light of the work of Christ and his promise of resurrection. At our core identity, we are also people of hope for those with spiteful disillusionment and even iconoclastic tendencies. We may, with the help of the Spirit, lift the mask and see the face of another under the grip of evil (personal evil or otherwise) and yet love the person in all their pain, misplaced hope, and even disillusionment. We can also have joy recalling our own dark past (perhaps present?) and yet perceive ourselves as belonging to God, understanding that this same hope, although painful, can also transform the iconoclast.

To finish my short meditations on resisting evil I will now zero in on directly battling against the powers of darkness with weapons of light and even placing oneself at risk for the sake of God's kingdom. Please note, this post is not about personal survival (I have other work in that direction), but of risk. Even still, I do not advocate for self-dehumanization or codependency as these ultimately benefit no one and do not reflect God's future. However, at the end of the day, prayer and formation are not meant to be private nor separate from our vocational calling to love the Lord in our everyday actions. We love and sacrifice for those around us even those bent on destroying us because we are people of hope.

Ultimately, risking oneself and standing against evil in the world are not added Christian bonuses to a life of prayer and Bible study, but are integral to our life purpose. Otherwise, why pray and why read? To think we are called to pray and not get involved misses one of the key purposes for prayer in the first place: formed obedience to God whereas the Spirit fills every crevice of our will and sense of self thus enabling us to act as agents of God's world yet to come. Our place in time requires risk by virtue of the world currently being under the control of the evil one, since we are under the power of the Spirit (hopefully!) and thus opposed to dark purposes. We must see this and recognize that we must fight our enemy as God places us in positions to do good whether it is forgiving or blessing an enemy, standing our ground, exposing evil behavior or putting even our own bodies at risk for another.

God Has Called You To Fight

We are called to resist darkness from within and without. The powers of darkness try and sell all of us a pile of lies that we must preserve ourselves at any cost. Lies that hope and loving-kindness are weak. And darkness deceives us into believing one is enlightened in disillusionment! But it builds us up just to tear us down and take us away from the God who knows our dark world intimately--who entered into despair & powerlessness--and became the light that the darkness could not overcome (John 1). Christ subverted the dark world in the form of being crucified thus giving suffering and unspeakable, horrifying evil new meaning turning our gaze towards resurrection. The amount of power we as little ones have to fight against the powers of darkness depends on how much we are dependent on the all-powerful God of love. Hope is vulnerable yet necessary to defeat evil. The key, however, is hope in God, on God's terms.

We Fight the Iconoclast

The iconoclast and others are not directly our enemies (even if they are in terms of position), but the dark powers that have ensnared them are. Often those trying to destroy us have themselves been destroyed by evil and continue to be used by their false gods even as they try and gain mastery over others.

In resisting the iconoclast we fight for both ourselves and ironically, for the iconoclast! The iconoclast thinks in zero-sum. In order for this false image of myself to persist, I must destroy you. The iconoclast both hates and admires the image they smash because the image of God is a threat to their god--themselves whether in the form of an idol or directly, ego. The existence of the divine image is beautiful and powerful and thus a threat to the iconoclasts' power. The divine image may be evident in one's personality, gifting, character or other abilities. In contrast to the iconoclasts vision of power, God's economy is one of interdependence and the diffusion of power. We resist the iconoclast by, with kindness, seeing through their mask and loving him or her as we worship the living God. We do not pretend the iconoclast has beauty he or she does not have, but we do recognize the light of the divine image whenever we do see it in them and if we fall short and are not able, then at least the potential of Christ within them.

Because we worship God and love him with all our hearts and out of this love the iconoclast, we do not make ourselves easy for the iconoclast to destroy. We say, "No, I will not let you destroy me because I bear the image of our Savior!" This further threatens the iconoclast's false image as one further represents Christ. The iconoclast is then in a bind. The more they mar the image of Christ in you the more you may resemble Christ exposing their behavior for what it is, evil in opposition to the good. Please note, the key here is not you uncovering faults with the iconoclast, but allowing the power of God manifested in your love and formation of character to do it, and allowing the Spirit to convict their hearts. The goal is to point towards the one you represent and in the process surrender one's own desire for revenge and ego thus becoming more animated with divine life and beckoning the iconoclast into this life. However, this will not be easy. False images masquerading as persons and objects of worship must be painfully torn down and surrendered by individuals entrapped by them and this is often a horrifying and threatening--even if necessary--prospect for the iconoclast.

How does one love an iconoclast? Romans 12 gives some excellent insight as do other parts of Scripture. Put simply, when they harass us we refuse to take revenge and instead try and bless them (vv. 13-21). We desire their good. I once had someone constantly trying to sabotage me at one of my jobs. I not only refrained from doing the same, I defended her when she was unfairly accused and praised her when she did good work. When she was sick I gave her medicine. I did this while refusing to let her walk all over me. This person would actually grind their teeth when I would show empathy towards her and once cried when her attempts to destroy me failed. She wanted me to wither away and be revealed as evil and after ultimately accomplishing neither of those things (though at first successful), all she was left with were her own actions and heart.

In terms of identity, we match the iconoclast's ego with our humility. We delight in the gifts of others even when similar or superior to our own and we joyfully lift up the strengths of others truly believing we are part of one another (vv.3-5). We utilize our gifts as best as we can even though it stirs the iconoclast's jealousy because we see them as gifts from God and use them worshipfully since this was why we were given them in the first place (vv.6-8). The world gives and "loves" with strings attached, we must do so out of the abundance of our hearts from the Spirit (vv.9-11 cf. 5:5). Welcome those around you who do not have social capital and provide for those in need without thinking you are better (vv.13-16). We do not give because we are "the bigger person" but because God is.

Lastly, stand your ground and pray (v12). Pray for the iconoclast. Ultimately we go where and do what God tells us to. Prayer is the way we connect ourselves consciously to the Spirit as agents in God's world. God often wants us to be consciously involved in his process and wants us to come to him with self-emptying obedience with our hearts directed towards him. Sometimes he even tells us or gives us clues for what is to come, but often not. The key is to act with God and not against or independent of him. Really, none of us can save anyone! To think so would be to retain a false image or idol doomed to fail and be exposed. All of us are saved by the power of God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. At best we are the child given a small package by a parent and told "see that person over there?" go give this to them!

We Fight For Others Enslaved to Darkness

A friend of mine was in the process of earning his doctorate in addition to full-time ministry when he noticed a younger disabled man in his community being harassed by a violent man. The man would stalk or hunt him and then beat him up. The poor guy had no family and was especially vulnerable. My friend decided to call him his "son" and protect him. He helped him through the court system and when asked by the judge why he was involving himself the minister answered, "I am a minister of the gospel and this man was harming my son." Although he was busy, he could not avoid getting involved even though the harasser was now confronting him too. The minister battled the violent stalker for years and would not back down. You are also ministers of the Gospel.

If you are in a situation where you can stand up for another, give aid or give of yourself in some way then probably God has called you to the task. Don't wait to "pray" on whether to do good or manifest a slice of God's kingdom. God tells us in Ephesians that he has gone ahead of us and prepared good works for us to do ahead of time (Eph 2:10). Sometimes he matches us with peculiar situations suited to our own special abilities.

I test high on the empathy, forgiveness and patience scale, but also tend to have a highly strategic mind. Most of the time this manifests in my ability to come alongside others in more of a counselor role or make their day in little ways which I love to do, but sometimes God is sneaky. I do not especially like it when he does this, but he will sometimes interrupt my own flow of life and place me in very strange, even psychologically dangerous situations. Sometimes it has been to help liberate someone, but really, it could be anything he wants to do at the moment and most of the time I am in the dark. However, I can usually recognize God is using me for something specific when: 1) God has prepared me ahead of time emotionally and spiritually in some way, 2) often there is some sort of sign/knowledge of what is to come that I otherwise do not have access to, 3) God gives me the tools I need, and 4) After the event I can look and see that God accomplished a particular thing by giving me X knowledge and Y tool. 

For example, he had shown me a particular person in a dream before I met them the next day so that I would notice them and dig deeper. On the surface, they seemed rather nice and unassuming and I am already prone to liking everyone, but was bothered for months about the dream (I am not in the habit of seeing people I have never met clearly in a dream a day before I meet them). Long story short:  she had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other weird stuff all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit, you will gradually believe anything. She would also pretend to know extended network connections to get close to people. I ended up exposing her. God had seen the mess my friend was in and used extraordinary means to free him. I got to be part of it.

Sometimes we also need to pray directly against demonic spirits. We are not alone. Tied to and entangled with an entire host of familiar problems whether of character, systems or illness are also dark forces that love to feed off of the inflated and vulnerable. Once when I realized four individuals were doing everything in their power to destroy me, I immediately started praying against evil spirits, in this case spirits of deception and lies, asking the Holy Spirit to be manifest in that place. Immediately all sorts of truths began to surface that were otherwise hidden. Also, those who give themselves over to evil thinking they will have mastery over themselves and others, are not only ruled by it, they often have some not so welcome "friends" hanging around them that they are unaware of. Pray for God's peace and that you will be a good agent of his peace.

Why Do We Resist Darkness?

We resist darkness because we can't not! The more we surrender ourselves to Christ the less possible it seems to hand over anything to darkness. We are horrified when we find darkness within ourselves not out of dread, but out of love for the one who did so much for us. When we see evil in others we do not feel better or superior but have a deep desire for their good, God's destined shalom. When we see others being mistreated or harmed and are in a position to help (even if it involves risk), we hear the call of God on our lives. To resist doing good would be to dim the transforming image of God and miss an opportunity to become more like Christ. Basically, our end goal or telos is entirely different from the world's and its focus on survival and amassing good objects, status and perceptions for itself. Our goal is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). God is our inheritance and if we have him, that is enough even if we die in obscurity or a pool of character slander.

An ugly symbol of dominance, gore and humiliation signifies our hope and something to strive towards. And this is just as absurd to the world as our willingness to risk and sacrifice for the kingdom of God, our future. The cross is an ugly symbol and one that Christ appropriated in order (among other things) to explain to us how we gain new life in him. He does not ask us to do what he did not do in his every day life struggles or death. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus attempts to explain this. We try so hard to preserve what we call "life" trying to gain the world, but to what end? To follow Christ and be under his power is the reverse: to say no to oneself (because we go, do and move towards new ends) and instead exchange our selfish ambition for a symbol used of totalizing gruesome subjugating power at a victim's expense. But in embracing the cross we show ourselves to be agents of the kingdom of God and belonging to God, we realize we have gained life from the source of life who will resurrect even our mutilated bodies from the dead.

Embracing the cross and with it, the resurrection means that we look at others who harass and try and destroy us with love. And we fight--we stand our ground--refusing to die because of who we represent, but not despairing if we must die. However, our weapons are of the Spirit--prayer and formation--not returning evil with evil. After all, we see in our self appointed enemy possibility in the Spirit. Just as Eve was pregnant with hope, so also God's kingdom reality is just around the corner for those deceived and being used as tools by the enemy whether they identify as "Christian" or not. 

At the end of the day, we can be filled with delight (or at least not despair), during persecution, suffering, and trials because we see the Spirit's work in our hearts and we desire the good for our enemy (Rom 5:3-5). We revel in our belonging to Christ, realizing we are truly under his power and influence. The seed of the kingdom has grown into a tree and we may almost be distracted with this underlying reality, though perhaps only in moments.

God's kingdom in, with and through us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception, Verbs and Wives in 1 Timothy 2

Paul & Thecla

No debate in evangelicalism has produced as much strife and heat as the debate on the ordination of women.[1] In the broad debate, much has been written concerning the infinitive αὐθεντέω,[2] the conjunction οὐδὲ in relation of "to teach" and "to control/assume authority,"[3] and the context of the Ephesian heresy.[4] What has not been sufficiently explored is Paul's only imperative in the pericope (μανθανέτω: 2:11) in relation to the broader materials in the Pastoral Epistles, in Paul's wider corpus, and even the LXX. This study will present evidence for Paul's inclusion of women as those worthy of being taught in the Pastoral Epistles, the wider Pauline corpus, and Paul's own Bible, the LXX in order to show that μανθανέτω is a contextually positive verb that illustrates Paul's inclusion of women in the learning of correct church doctrine.[5] This evidence, in turn, can best be explained as Paul's corrective to false teaching and vv.12-15 are to be understood in light of the imperative—wives[6] are to learn so that they may be included as the one's who will then be permitted to teach (διδασκαλία). More importantly, the Pastoral Epistles include the largest cluster of the verb; hence, this is an important term and deserves careful analysis.[7] Before that, I want to stress the limited nature of this study: entire dissertations have been written on specific phrases and even words within 1 Timothy 2:9-15, so I cannot possibly cover every angle or nuance within the passage. Secondly, I am assuming several disputable points of debate: I believe Paul is most likely the author of the Pastoral Epistles, and I believe the context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 concerns a household rather than a church service, so this section mostly likely refers to husbands and wives (per Cynthia Westfall of McMaster Divinity College in her book Paul and Gender), and not men and women generally.

1. μανθάνω: A Lexical Survey

Before we can determine the nuances of the verb under question, we must survey the lexical data. Given the abundance of occurrences of the verb in the relevant literature we are in a good place to determine the nuances and nature of the imperative verb as opposed to a hapax legomena (c.f. αὐθεντέω; 1 Tim 2:12). If we are able to determine an appropriate understanding of the verb under exploration, the rest of the passage may indeed fall in line:

·      Friberg 17746: from a basic meaning learn, i.e. of directing one's mind to something and producing an external effect

·      Louw & Nida: 27.12 μανθάνω: to acquire information as the result of instruction, whether in an informal or formal context - 'to learn, to be instructed, to be taught

·      Liddel-Scott: 27160  μανθάνω:-to learn, esp. by inquiry; and in aor. to have learnt, i.e. to understand, know.

·      Danker: 4080  μανθάνω ‘acquire knowledge’, learn – a. through instruction or receipt of information– b. through example or experience

The wide range of sources from these lexicons strongly suggest that the verb is often used with a context of a learner and a teacher, with the additional elements of expanding the cognitive aspect of the learner with the intent on 'understanding.' The purpose being, then, for the human person to grow in understanding of the knowledge she is being given. Knowledge, then, leads to righteous living or a reorientation of the self. Stanley Porter, in his Idioms of the Greek New Testament, states that "the imperative form is normally used to direct someone's action…[and] any permissive sense [of the second and third person singular and plural] is a phenomenon of English translation, not Greek."[8] Paul's use of the singular in 1 Tim 2:11 fits with Porter's helpful description. In summation, the issue of women learning in the Pastoral Epistles can help us discover the expectation of Paul in the church in Ephesus, and determine the character of the prohibition, with implications for the modern debate over the ordination of women to Christian ministry.

2. Μανθάνω in the LXX[9]

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, we have a sufficient supply of the verb μανθάνω to determine the semantic range of 1 Timothy 2:11. In Exodus 2:4, Moses' mother, after putting her baby in the basket, stood "far off" (μακρόθεν) in order "to learn" or "discover" (μαθεῖν) what would happen to Moses. The infinitive here refers to the anticipation of witnessing an indefinite event, waiting to know what would happen to her baby in the tumultuous current of the river. God in Deuteronomy 4:10 orders an assembly to brought before him and he says, "and let them [Israel] all listen to my words, so that they may learn (μάθωσιν) to respect me all of the days that they live upon the land, and also their sons whom they should have taught (διδάξωσιν)." The use of υἱοὺς ("sons") should be taken in a gender-inclusive manner, as all are "sons of God" in Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 8:14. The purpose of learning is so that the children may be instructed in the right things of God. One expects the living tradition of Israel's stories to be perpetuated by those who were being taught (διδάξωσιν). The language of learning and teaching follows logically, as the ones who learn can then, consequently, teach the others in the ways of the Lord. The gender distinctions of "teaching" and "learning" are not in view in Deuteronomy. Deut 5:1 also speaks of Moses calling "all Israel" (πάντα Ισραηλ) together and telling them that "they will learn" (μαθήσεσθε) the "ordinances of God," which implies subsequent obedience: at least, one would hope. The people of Israel are to "learn to respect the Lord" (μαθης φοβεισθαι κυριον) in Deut 14:23, 17:19, 31:12-13: the conceptual framework of "learning" in these four canonical verses confirms the idea of a person—or group of people—growing to understand a foreign concept, and with this learning comes the expectation of participating with a renewed understanding of said concept. Thus, the people of Israel—without reference to gender—are called to learn and participate in God's commandments. Israel is forbidden "to learn" or "understand" (οὐ μαθήσῃ) the "abominations" of other "nations" (ἐθνῶν) in Deut 18:9—which suggests that Israel is not to participate in the community of heresy and false teaching, which leads to utter destruction.

In 1 Chron 25:8, there is a direct contrast between the "perfected" or "learned one" (τελείων) and the "one learning" (μανθανόντων), offering a distinction between two people who are educated and uneducated, which suggests a necessary imputing of wisdom or experience to the other with the hope of increasing knowledge and therefore ethical praxis. The use of the infinitive μαθεῖν in Ester 4:5 is directly relevant: Ester (who is reported to be a woman!) orders Hathach to go and "to learn" what he can about Mordecai: as it turns out, women can tell men to learn as well![10] Ps 106:35 references Israel "learning" (ἔμαθον) amongst the nations, and living as they do, committing idolatry (v.36). The verb here refers to active participation and cognitive awareness of the people of God by partaking in a great evil, learning what it is to serve mammon over God. "Learning" (μεμαθηκέναι) the "judgments of God's righteousness"(τὰ κρίματα τῆς δικαιοσύνης) is not a reference to subjection, but of a person "worshipping God" (ἐξομολογήσομαί) when he or she grows to "learn" what God commands and desires (Ps 119:7, 71, 73). "Learning" in Ps 119 is always in reference to active participation, of knowing and praising God rightly. Prov 17:16, in reference to fools, speaks of them "learning to fall into evil" (μαθειν). Evil in this verse is a deadly force, and the people are excluded from "learning" the mind of God, excluded from wisdom. The LXX rendering of Prov 22:25 speaks of avoiding the angry ones (v.24), and not "learning" (μάθῃς) the lifestyle of the wicked. In each use, the gender of the person is not in view, and all people are encouraged to pursue God, or not encouraged if they are pursuing evil!

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The beginning of Isaiah 1:17 is a prophetic injunction "to learn" (μάθετε) "to do what is good" (καλὸν ποιεῖν). In the midst of Isaiah's prophetic discourse on the "days to come" (2:2), the people of Israel will "not learn to wage war" (2:4: μὴ μάθωσιν ἔτι πολεμεῖν). The eschatological prophecy is focused on the concept of utter peace as a future reality of God's kingdom, and this requires Israel to forsake the wages of death and war. In the midst of the Assyrian invasion, Israel is "not learning" (μὴ μαθεῖν) the Law, and many have been taken away already (8:15). Isaiah 26:9-10 includes two dual uses of the verb in relation to "righteousness" (v.9: δικαιοσύνην μάθετε; v.10: μὴ μάθῃ δικαιοσύνην), and the first pairing includes "learning righteousness," and the "wicked ones not learning righteousness." In this pairing, the righteous ones are consciously aware of God's judgments, but the wicked ones have not learned righteousness, and "do not see the glory of the Lord." The prophet speaks in Isaiah 28:19 for the recipients to "learn to understand!" (μάθετε ἀκούειν). The infinitive "to hear" or "to understanding" complements the imperative "learn," and the interplay between the concepts of "understanding" and "learning" suggest a continuity between these cognates: "learn so that you will understand" or "comprehend." Isaiah 29:24 contains two uses of the future verb "will learn" (μαθήσονται), though both are used in different ways. First, the "grumbling ones will learn to obey"  (ὑπακούειν) and the "murmuring ones will learn to speak peace" (μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην).[11]

Isaiah 47:12 is focused upon the humiliation of Babylon. In mocking the great city, Isaiah speaks about "sorcery, which you learned from youth" (ἐμάνθανες). Far from being a positive force, Isaiah sees this "learning" as a great and humiliating evil, a force that corrupts and enslaves. Similarly in Jer 9:5 the prophet cries out about "no one is speaking the truth" (ἀλήθειαν οὐ μὴ λαλήσωσιν) and as a result the people "have taught their tongues to speak lies" (μεμάθηκεν ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτῶν λαλεῖν ψευδῆ). The 'teaching' of the self to engage in falsehoods reveals a mind clouded by the Spirit of lies, and not the Spirit of God, who demands that the people "not learn" (μὴ μανθάνετε) the "ways of the nations." The imperative here follows Stanley Porter's description: this is not a Divine permissive, but a Divine command for Israel to remain separate from the nations. In a prophetic proclamation, God speaks of having mercy if the people "learn" the ways of His people (μαθόντες μάθωσιν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ λαοῦ μου). Jer 13:23 speaks of a person changing their ways, even those who have been taught to do evil (μεμαθηκότες). Both uses of μανθάνω in Ezekiel 19:3 and 19:6 refer to a lion "learning" to catch his victims. The final usage in the LXX centers on Micah 4:3 where the prophet asserts "no longer will they learn to wage war" (καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ μάθωσιν πολεμεῖν). Violence is a pastime that must be unlearned, especially as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount, which suggests non-violence is a major hermeneutical continuum in Scripture.[12]

In summation, "learning" is a deeply malleable concept in the Greek Old Testament. Sometimes the verb under consideration is paired with "teach" (Deut 4:10) and "speaking" (perhaps Ps 119; Isaiah 29:24; Jer 9:5). In almost every instance the verb is used in a pietistic context: "learning" is a causal action that has an intended result. In the instances where it is not, it refers to a lion hunting, or a negative injunction for a person to not "learn" something evil (i.e. a prohibition of negative behavior), likely with the knowledge that the person will then fall into sin. In no explicit instance is a woman prohibited from learning something positive or ethically necessary, and all of Israel is enjoined to "learn" and pursue holiness in light of God's commands. Because of this, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, views women as agents of genuine cognitive virtue, capable of learning and freely acting in response to God's commands, with no condemnation of their gender or prohibition of their ability to teach and influence others in the ways of godliness.[13]

3. Μανθάνω in Second Temple Judaism

2 Maccabees 7:2 centers on the brutal torture and eventual butchering of Jewish martyrs. One of the brothers cries out: "what do you all expect to learn (μανθάνειν) by questioning us? For we are prepared to die instead of transgressing the laws of the fathers!" The author's use of the infinitive here is rhetorical, suggesting that the king now knew exactly what the Jewish men were prepared to endure. Similarly in 4 Macc 1:17 the author writes "This, in turn, is discipline by the law, by which we learn (μανθάνομεν) divine matters in a holy manner and human affairs to our advantage." Contextually the use of the verb with παιδεία ("discipline, education") strongly suggests that this learning has a practical outcome: the ignorant or the unlearned or the child even has the moral necessity to grow in knowledge in relation to "divine matters." Finally, perhaps the most relevant passage in relation to 1 Tim 2:11 is Sirach 18:19:

πρὶν ἢ λαλῆσαι μάνθανε καὶ πρὸ ἀρρωστίας θεραπεύου

"Before you speak, you must learn and before you become ill, take care of yourself."

Sirach 18:19 appears axiomatic for any understanding of 1 Tim 2:11, given the close proximity of composition and the nature of 'learning' that appears consistent with the overall thrust of the LXX. The author of Sirach appears to be addressing a situation that has strong parallels, especially since Sirach is a work all about ethical conduct and was written some time before the Pastoral Epistles, an issue that many modern commentators on the Pastoral Epistles have missed.[14] The parallels between these two verses will be explored below in some detail.

Finally, a major purveyor of this term is Philo of Alexandria, who appears to use the verbal form over 140 times, according to Bibleworks.[15] Since an entire survey of Philo would require multiple dissertations, I am forced to limit myself to some key examples. In Legum allegoriarum 1:94 we have Philo writing, "just as the perfect grammarian or perfect musician has need of no instruction in the matters which belong to his art, but the man whose theories on such subjects are imperfect stands in need of certain rules, as it were, which contain in themselves commands and prohibitions, and he who is only learning the art requires instruction [i.e. "teaching"]" (τῷ δὲ ἄρτι μανθάνοντι διδασκαλίας). The person who is exercising a gift of "teaching" is excluded from the realm of learning, by implication of their being a teacher.[16] The use of μανθάνον in Legum allegoriarum 3:135 concerns the gifting of "knowledge" and how a person endures hardships: Philo writes, "Also, what is imperfect is inferior to that which is perfect (τοῦ τελείου), and that which learns (τὸ μανθάνον) anything to that which has knowledge spontaneously and naturally." Perfection in relation to knowledge is something that must be learned. In De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini 1:7 we have a dual use of "learning," which is seen in terms of "perfection" (ἐτελειώθησαν), the full maturation of an individual's mind: "As many, therefore, as through instruction and learning (μαθήσει καὶ διδασκαλίᾳ)..." and this is followed by Philo's use of the language of "comprehension" (ἀκοῆς) and in regards to Moses' people who have [or 'are'] "learned/ing" (μανθανόντων) guidance. Similarly to the stories in the Old Testament, the entire group of people are in the process of gaining knowledge and experience. The necessity of learning in Quod deterius potiori insidiari 1:12 centers on the stability of the person as the recipient of knowledge: "for the opinions of those who have only lately begun to learn (τῶν ἄρτι μανθάνειν) are unstable and without any firm foundation." This correlates nicely with Sirach's ethical admonition to "learn" before one speaks,[17] revealing a potential Jewish axiomatic tradition.[18] Having briefly surveyed the wide swath of ancient literature, we are now in a place to determine how Paul uses this verb.[19]

4. Paul's use of Μανθάνω outside of the Pastoral Epistles

Rom 16:17 speaks of Paul's urging the church to follow the "teaching" (διδαχὴν) that they previously "learned" (ἐμάθετε). While the context is not as dire at the heretical situation in 1 Timothy one can see a potential allusion to the Protevangelium in Gen 3:16 in Rom 16:20 and 1 Tim 2:15, if one adopts the "Childbirth" reading on v.15 (which I do).[20] Second, the use of the verb "fully deceived" (ἐξαπατῶσι; Rom 16:18) directly lines up with the deception of Eve in 1 Tim 2:14 and Adam in Rom 7:11. If you want to know more on Eve and 1 Timothy, head over to Allison Quient's paper presentation later! So Rom 16:17-20 suggests a similar heretical situation to that of the Pastoral Epistles, and given the close proximity to the numerous women mentioned earlier in chapter 16 (Phoebe, Junia, Priscilla, passim), it is not difficult to imagine that they would be included in the "learning" and participation of important church "teachings," especially as recipients of Romans. Paul uses the subjunctive to admonish the Corinthians to "learn" (μάθητε) not to go beyond the Scriptures in 1 Cor 4:6, suggesting a coordinate meaning with the Prophets in the Old Testament (see above: Deut 18:9). Likewise, in 14:31[21] the entire church is told that prophecy is for the mutual benefit of all people, "so that all would learn" (ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν).[22] The use of the verb here refers to teleological understanding by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gives forth the "teaching" (διδαχὴν: v.26) that "each" has received. 

Paul's remaining five uses of the verb are used in a wide array of contexts. The first use of the infinitive (μαθεῖν) in Gal 3:2 is clearly sarcastic, referring to Paul's interrogation of the Galatian church into telling him about the source of their knowledge of Christ. The aorist in Eph 4:20 (ἐμάθετε) is clarified as "hearing" (ἠκούσατε: v.21) which most probably refers to orthopraxic understanding and cognitive participation. Equally, the dual use in Phil 4:9 (ἐμάθετε) and 4:11 (ἔμαθον) are in a context of "obtaining and understanding" (παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε)[23] what is good and righteous (4:8). As we have seen, "understanding" is often used by Paul to clarify his intent: this is not a mere acquisition of knowledge, but an entire lifestyle[24] oriented towards God and holiness.[25] Paul's final use is found in Col 1:7, where he addresses the church concerning what they "learned" (ἐμάθετε) from a fellow co-worker of Paul. As has been seen above, Paul uses "understanding" (ἠκούσατε) in v.6 to preempt what he means by "learning" in v.7: this suggests a deep emotional, lexical and intellectual reservoir in Paul's mind, which we will now explore in the Pastoral Epistles. Learning of the things of God always leads to active participation in God's church. Learning is not static.

5a. Compare & Contrast, Learning & Teaching: The Necessity of 1 Tim 1:20

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In considering the context of the ancient heresy in Ephesus, we know that the main perpetrators of this were most likely two men named in 1 Tim 1:20: Hymenaeus and Alexander. These two men (although perhaps there were more)[26] "have been fully handed over" (παρέδωκα) to Satan: a fate born out of "blasphemy" (βλασφημεῖν).[27] Their rather harsh expulsion from the church greatly contrasts with Paul's imperatival address to women in 2:11, suggesting deference to the deceived versus the deceivers; the victims versus the charlatans. The purpose clause in 1:20 also confirms the disciplinary nature of their exclusion, and elucidates a potential connection to the "teaching," as it uses the subjunctive παιδευθῶσι ("to provide instruction, with the intent of forming proper habits of behavior - 'to teach, to instruct, to train, teaching, instruction.'")[28] as per Louw-Nida and other Lexicons.[29] This forms a symmetrical relationship between a prohibition or expulsion and the resultant learning of the person. Scholarly attempts to overly-reconstruct or downplay the role of women in leading the heresy are unnecessary when we consider that Paul has likely already ousted his two main opponents, and is now dealing with the aftermath: the wives of Ephesus—whom he has not kicked out of the church or handed over to Satan, by the way. That's slightly important. You don't see much on that. Thus, we are now in a place to determine the nature of the "learning" in the Pastoral Epistles with new focus.

5b. Learning in the Pastoral Epistles: Deception and the Solution

In 1 Tim 5:4, we have another imperative: μανθανέτωσαν πρῶτον, and this time it is used in reference to the authority of a widowed mother over her children. The children must "learn first" what it means to be respectable in God's household. Similarly, in 5:13, we have a negative view of younger widows "learning idleness" (μανθάνουσιν ἀργαὶ) and other traits that are not respectable in the household—a use that is confirmed by our survey of the LXX. 2 Tim 3:7 seems to describe the women who are "always learning" or being "taught" by the false teachers, although this seems somewhat unclear[30] and 3:14 reminds Timothy to remain conscious of what he has previously "learned" (ἔμαθες) and who he obtained (λαβὼν) it from: perhaps Paul, or perhaps Timothy's grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in 2 Tim 1:5. This assumes that learned women were teaching with authority in households: after all, there is no one more authoritative than one's mother and especially one's grandmother, as I will testify.[31] Finally, Titus 3:14 is similar to the Old Testament injunctions for people to "learn" (μανθανέτωσαν) "good works," suggesting perhaps an economic sphere where poverty is met and charity is learned.

Therefore, we arrive at 1 Tim 2:11. If we begin with previous material, the axiomatic exhortation in Sirach 18:19 becomes quite relevant here. The purpose of the wives learning before they speak is confirmed by Paul's use of the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ ("in quietness") with "all obedience." Cynthia Westfall has provided us with a major hermeneutical clue in her book Paul and Gender. She writes: "a command to submit does not constitute a reversed mandate for the other to subjugate."[32] Paul's command for the women to learn directly follows the path set by Sirach 18:19: before the women are to speak and teach, they are to learn in quietness. Teaching is not a masculine virtue, as the entire body has the potential for the gift of teaching in Rom 12:1-8,[33] especially as it relates to being "wise" (σωφρονεῖν: Rom 12:3; 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2). Wisdom and a teaching ability require a desire to learn the things of God, given to us by God. In essence, Paul's injunction here is entirely in line with the language of the gifts of God elsewhere in his discourses on the Spirit (1 Cor 12; Rom 12; Eph 4). The positive injunction helps clarify the nature of the Creation narrative in 1 Tim 2:13-14 as a historical situation where a deceived person acted in a manner that had incredibly destructive consequences.

In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, complementarian William Mounce—who I will be using as representative—writes the following:

"the text [1 Tim 2:11] does not say that women should learn so that they can teach. Spencer asserts, 'if anyone is taught, eventually they will teach,' but this contradicts chap. 3, which sees authoritative instruction…as the prerogatives of the elders." He cites Deuteronomy 31:12, cites Craig Keener concerning the "learning leading to obedience" and concludes, "the authoritative act of teaching, the proclamation of the gospel truth and the refutation of error, is the responsibility not of any person who has learned but of the leadership (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2)."[34]

There is many critical responses one could make this line of argumentation,[35] but Mounce's favorable citation of Douglas Moo deserves the most attention. He writes, citing Moo: "All Jewish men were encouraged to study the law: did they all become rabbis?"[36] This is asking the wrong question: an injunction for all people to learn and to grow, but an injunction that simultaneously restricts a group of people from teaching because of their gender is absent in the LXX, and in the citation that Mounce cites. Ester tells a man to go and learn in Ester 4:5, and Deut 4:10 uses the verb in relation to people teaching their children, and even speaking (Is 29:24). One would expect more precision from the biblical writers on this point, if Mounce were correct: for instance, we might expect Paul or Moses or the Prophets to say, "everyone should learn in quietness, but only men are to learn with intent to teach." Scripture never says such things. Finally, Mounce's assertion about male leadership in 1 Tim 3:2 as negating the inference of "learning so that they may teach" is unsubstantiated.[37] An indefinite pronoun is different from a masculine pronoun.[38] The indefinite pronoun τις ("anyone, whoever;" 1 Tim 3:2) is unexplained by Mounce, and he assumes that an elder is to be a man. The lack of a masculine pronoun remains, and Mounce offers no reason for us to assume his interpretation with him. Thus, the best explanation of the women being told to learn in 1 Tim 2:11 is so that they will become educated, and will not fall into deception like Eve (1 Tim 2:13-14).[39] Learning has a causal outcome in any instance, and the force of "learning" before "speaking" or "teaching" is a basic axiomatic component of human life. Paul's command for the women to learn removes their present deception, and emphasizes their "mental soundness" (σωφροσύνης: v.15) in opposition to their (Eve's) deception.[40] The present tense of ἐπιτρέπω ("I am not permitting") in v.12 fits well with the imperative μανθανέτω in v.11. Rather than v.12 restricting the meaning of v.11, ἐπιτρέπω is functioning as a present reality of the deceived women—hence the present tense: while they learn, they are not permitted to be a controlling authoritarian with their husbands.[41]

Since Alexander and Hymenaeus were excluded from the church, and their return is conditioned on their own "instruction," one can safely assume that if Alexander and Hymenaeus repent and return with humbleness and a sound mind that they would perhaps be admitted back into the church, and in time, given positions of teaching power. Perhaps. However, if the wives learn humbly and participate in the attributes of faithfulness, love, and holiness with the soundness of mind that should characterize all people, they will be saved and, perhaps, find themselves among the "faithful one's who are able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2: διδακτικόν). Indeed, in 2 Tim 2:2—a text Mounce cited earlier as excluding women from eldership—perhaps some of the women were already at work there, teaching with learned authority (πιστοῖς ἀνθρώποις οἵτινες ἱκανοὶ ἔσονται καὶ ἑτέρους διδάξαι). The NRSV captures the Greek well: "and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people [not exclusively men] who will be able to teach others as well." Given that Paul is quite capable of using specific gendered terms to refer to men (as he does in 1 Tim 2:8, for instance), one is forced to ask why he uses a more generic anthropological term in 2 Tim 2:2. It seems best to conclude that Paul does not have men exclusively in mind as teachers in every capacity, and that women must be included in this sphere of teaching as a result of their learning. Thus, the best reason for their "learning" is for their positive influence in the community, whether through teaching or preaching, and not their subservience or ontological exclusion from exercising the gifts God has given them. Discipleship in a community of mutual deference and love is principal to Paul's ethics, and the Pastoral Epistles are no exception to this principle.

6. Conclusion

In summation, I offer three preliminary observations that, I hope, will help us solve this debate in evangelicalism. First, in demanding that the wives learn in 2:11, Paul is affirming their cognitive capacity to receive Christian tradition, as he did with Timothy and Eunice and Lois. We see Paul's same assumption of virtue in 1 Cor 7. In that entire chapter, neither husband nor wife has preeminence over the other nor are they to "deprive one another" sexually, and we see mutual submission being the guiding principle in Ephesians 5:21 for what follows there. By stating these things, Paul is affirming both the sexual agency of wives, and the necessity of women as agents of virtue. Thus, Paul is consistent in how he treats husbands and wives. Second, Paul's treatment of men and women regarding deception reveals that neither gender carries with it an ontology that renders them more easily deceived: indeed Paul tells the entire church in Corinth to not be deceived (1 Cor 3:18; c.f. 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Thess 2:3).

Deception is an unfortunate human trait, but fortunately it does not affect one gender more than the other—according to Paul. Third and finally, Paul assumes the participatory necessity of women in the body of Christ. Whether a Junia, a Phoebe, a Deborah, a Lydia, a Euodia, or the unnamed woman in the Gospels who anointed Jesus, God has anointed gifted women with the distinct capacity to learn, to grow, to mature, and to teach with authority. Indeed, I would not be here if I had not studied under learned women. Our greatest challenge in evangelicalism is to provide places where the gifts of God manifest themselves in our sisters, for the glory of all people for the purpose of teaching and instructing us all in righteousness. Places where they can learn, and teach, and participate fully in Christ's mission of reconciliation.

We evangelicals cannot say to women, we have no need of you, because Paul certainly didn't.

NQ

A form of this article was read at the Canadian-American Theological Association conference in New York, 2017. If you notice certain colloquialisms or misspellings, please forgive them.

[1] For a survey of the relevant literature see Jamin Hübner, "A New Case for Female Elders: A Reformed-Evangelical Approach" (Th.D. dtss., The University of South Africa, 2013), 22-105.

[2] C.f. Westfall, Paul and Gender, 290-293 and her "The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12," Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 10 (2014): 138-173; Jamin Hübner, "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), 41-71; Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 361-397.

[3] Payne, Man and Woman, 337-361; Andreas Köstenberger, "A Complex Sentence: The Syntax of 1 Timothy 2:12," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 117-162.

[4] S.M. Baugh, "A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century," in Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Third edition: ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner: Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 25-64.

[5] The similar use of the verb in 1 Cor 14:34-35 may be set aside for the purposes of this paper, given it's textual instability. Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267 and "Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35," New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625—my thanks to Dr. Payne for sending me his important article. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 699-709 and Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 245-249.

[6] For the argument that Paul is addressing a husband and wife relationship, see Westfall. It can be argued that the majority of Paul's uses of γυνή refer to a husband/wife relationship (1 Cor 7:1-40; 1 Cor 5:1; 9:5; 14:34-35, if original, which I doubt; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19) or to a woman in a generic fashion (Gal 4:4; perhaps 1 Cor 11:2-16). It seems more likely that Paul is being specific rather than exclusive in 1 Tim 2:9-15, but one cannot be dogmatic on this point.

[7] The noun μαθητής does not occur in the Pastoral Epistles, and so it will be excluded from our study. The noun also does not seem to occur in the LXX either, although there is a wealth of uses in the Synoptic Gospels.

[8] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1994), 53, 55.

[9] All translations of the LXX are my own unless noted otherwise.

[10] One wonders if this one example is decisive in determining the 'gender' of certain prohibitions or admonitions in Scripture. Was Hathach forgoing his 'male headship' in obeying Ester? Was Ester subverting Hathach's 'male headship' by ordering him to do something?

[11] Similarly, Isaiah 32:4 uses the exact same phrase: μαθήσονται λαλεῖν εἰρήνην.

[12] C.f. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (New York: Harper One, 1996), 317-347.

[13] One is forced to ask, if Paul believed that women were more easily deceived than men, then why women were included in these injunctions throughout the Old Testament. A more easily deceived person, if such a person exists in an ontological sense at all, requires an entire different code of ethics, and we find no such code in Holy Scripture.

[14] In order: Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 68-70; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 139-140; Jerome D. Quinn and William C. Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 199. The others include Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 226; Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 212-216; Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 47; Aida Besançon Spencer, 1 Timothy (Eugene: Cascade, 2013), 58-59; I. Howard Marshall, The Pastoral Epistles (London: T&T Clark, 1999), 452-454. Similarly, the major complementarian works noted above (edited by Köstenberger and Schreiner) and the egalitarian works (Payne, Keener) do not mention or cite this text.

[15] Given the complexities of Philo's Greek, I happily concede that I am indebted to Yonge's translation, even if I correct him or continue to be mystified by his translation.

[16] Similarly in Legum allegoriarum 3:122, Philo continues: "no doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking [i.e. learning: μανθάνοντι] information…" The fundamental nature of this argument is bound up with the assumption that the pursuit of the logos (τὸν λόγον) is to be desired and that it is attainable.

[17] The Reverend Graham Ware pointed this out to me in an earlier draft of this work, so I credit him here with this insight. De posteritate Caini 1:131, 138, 140, 150; Quis rerum divinarum heres sit 1:102; 121; De congressu eruditionis gratia 1:69-70, 122, 126.

[18] Finally, De posteritate Caini 1:140 speaks of a woman being a potential teacher, even serving her student: " For "she made haste," he says, "and took down the pitcher on her arm." Her alacrity to serve the man was displayed by her making haste, and such alacrity is seated in the mind, beyond which envy is cast away. But by the expression, "taking down the pitcher on her arm," we see intimated the prompt and eager attention [lit. "The one learning by the teacher:" τὸν μανθάνοντα τοῦ διδάσκοντος] of the teacher to the pupil." This text may reveal Philo's ease with women (as a human being or as a typological referent) exercising some sort of "teaching" (διδάσκω) role, although this is not entirely clear. Judith Gundry-Volf has shown that Philo exhibits what is clearly the ancient patriarchal standard. C.f. Judith Gundry-Volf, "Paul on Women and Gender: A Comparison with Early Jewish Views," in The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on his Life, Thought, and Ministry (ed. Richard N. Longenecker: Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1997), 184-212, 195-200.

[19] The Synoptic Gospels include four uses of this verb, and all of them are in the imperative form. In Matt 9:13, after Jesus has characteristically eaten with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees challenge him on his ethical conduct. He responds with the imperative μάθετε,[19] which illustrates a demand (not a permission) to go inform themselves about God's desire for mercy and not sacrifice. Similarly, in Matt 11:29, in Christ's prayer to the Father includes the use of the imperative μάθετε in reference to the "taking" of Christ's yoke upon themselves: this is something that the cities must learn from Jesus. The nuances of this imperative likely refer to an offering of rest as well as a command for them to respond and take what is freely offered to them. It also may indicate Jesus' identification of himself with Torah.[19] In the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13:28 (par. Matt 24:32), Jesus commands his listeners to "learn from the parable of the fig tree" (Ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν), reinforcing the idea of Isa 1:17, where Israel is commanded to "learn to do good!" The two uses of the verb in the Gospel of John refer first to instruction by God (6:45a) by his prophets and the subsequent learning (μαθὼν) that results in a person "coming to Jesus" (6:45b).[19] Similarly, the Jewish people remark with amazement at Jesus' learnedness (μεμαθηκώς) and teaching ability (7:15). The Book of Acts records a saying of a centurion who observes that he rescued Paul on the basis of "learning" (μαθὼν) of his Greco-Roman citizenry. Each of the Gospel uses of this verb refers to a person obtaining revelation or information they previously lacked, and in correlation to this is the notion of "understanding." In one of the most important Christological texts in the New Testament, Jesus is said to have "learned" (ἔμαθεν) "obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8). The Eternal Son experienced the depths of the human experience, defined subsequently as "suffering"—a previously unknown state or condition.

[20] C.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 417-442.

[21] As mentioned above, 14:34-35 has been tabled due to its textual indeterminism.

[22] I believe the use of ἵνα confirms the purpose of the admonition: so that all would be able to grasp, comprehend, and subsequently participate.

[23] The full force of the verbs should be felt: the recipients are not passive about what they received, but they accepted it, lived it out, and are currently living it as Paul writes to them. Thus, they are active agents, active recipients of the gift of Christ.

[24] Or as Paul calls it in 4:11, "self-sufficiency:" αὐτάρκης.

[25] The use of "thinking" in Philippians confirms this: c.f. the consistent use of φρονέω: 1:7, 2:2, 5; 3:15, 4:2, 10. I am indebted to Dr. Love Sechrest at Fuller Theological Seminary for pointing this out to me.

[26] The continued presence of heresy in the Pastoral Epistles may attest to this, but it is an unknown. Perhaps Paul has to deal with the lingering effects of heresy as well as the victims of the heretical teaching.

[27] The large cluster of this word group in the Pastoral Epistles strongly confirms the lingering impact made by these two men (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1, which uses "teaching;" Titus 2:5; 3:2.

[28] While one can safely say that being handed over to Satan is indeed a harsh act, the positive injunction that they learn mitigates the harshness.

[29] Johannes E. Louw and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989. BibleWorks, v.10. See Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick W. Danker. 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). BibleWorks. v.10.

[30] Given Paul's positive emphasis on women learning elsewhere, one is forced to ask if there is a contextual reason for this displacement, or if the verb refers to the false teachers. Also, the reference to two named men as example of dissent against Moses in v.8 may suggest that the referent is the deceptive men, not the deceived women. Perhaps it refers to both the deceived and the deceivers (3:13: πλανῶντες καὶ πλανώμενοι). However, this is a subsidiary point and I raise it only as such.

[31] The active emphasis of the verb stresses something Timothy "obtained" from his grandmother and mother, that is, "genuine faithfulness" (ἀνυποκρίτου πίστεως).

[32] Westfall, Paul and Gender, 76.

[33] Rom 12:7 uses διδάσκων in reference to a person (or people) who have been given the gift—gender is not mentioned as a prerequisite of a person's call to teach or preach. See Westfall's incisive analysis in Paul and Gender, 208-219.

[34] William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 118.

[35] First, the issue of "obedience" is irrelevant, as v.11 makes clear that the women are to learn in a quiet spirit, but this does not tell us what or why they are to learn. Mounce has not asked the correct question at this point. Spencer, while she may or may not be correct, offers a reasonable inference, while Mounce offers a negation that still leaves the question unanswered. What and why are the women to learn? Second, Mounce's interpretation of this verse is fundamentally unpersuasive regarding apologetics, theological discourse, teaching (c.f. Rom 12 above) and the gifts of the Spirit. In writing that the proclamation of the gospel is for men, one is forced to ask if Paul should have removed the women entirely from the equation as Apostles and Deacons (Rom 16), and fellow co-workers (Phil 4:2-3), and if Jesus made an error in appearing to women who "announced" (ἀπαγγέλλω) the good news of Christ's resurrection (Luke 24:10). One is also forced to wonder, based on Mounce's interpretation, if there is a place for women in any aspect of church life or academia.

[36] Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, 118.

[37] One is also forced to ask if this list if intended to be an eternal case for us, given that women—perspectivally at that time—were unable to be elders because of their lack of learning. Thus, the questions are not answered and we are left wondering if the presupposition of male headship is still in play.

[38] See Payne, Man and Woman, 445-449.

[39] Paul's imperative of v.11 demands that any eternal prohibition of women exercising what they are told to learn be immediately suspect; hence, he cannot be logically consistent in demanding that the women actively exercise their cognitive virtue in learning proper church doctrine and then eternal prohibit them from the implications of their doing so.

[40] Paul's application of this noun to himself in Acts 26:25 removes the possibility that women were mentally deficient, unless one is will to place Paul himself in such a category.

[41] While I am not entirely sold on the translation "assuming authority over" (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 361-399), the negative connotations of the word αὐθεντέω are to be taken with the utmost seriousness. For instance, why would Paul prohibit a positive exercise of learned teaching? It seems quite clear that one only prohibits a person from doing something if that person believes it to be a negative event. Hence, the issue of "controlling" a husband seems more preferable as a contextual gloss, but the matter is difficult to settle—but the point is clear: control over another person is antithetical to the Gospel, and that is what Paul appears to be prohibiting.

The "Headship" of the Apocalyptic Son: Exploring Paul's use of κεφαλή in Col 2:8-23

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"It is widely understood by linguists, lexicographers, and philosophers that words do not have one and only one meaning; they have several meanings, some of them quite distinct. Words have a variety of denotations (things they represent) as well as connotations (implied or associated meanings)."[1] This is demonstrably true given the vast ocean of literature surrounding the Greek word κεφαλή, especially as it relates to the evangelical debate about women's ordination. I will argue that Paul's primary emphasis in his use of the term κεφαλή is best understood in terms of "source" or "originating power." In order to illustrate this point, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the noun κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23.[2]

1. Paul's Prepositional Christology: A Brief Analysis of Col 1:13-20

Col 1:15-20 is considered the highlight of Paul's epistle, especially as it relates to any analysis of Paul's prepositional Christology. Chief among my analysis is Paul's use of the preposition ἐν[3] ("in, on, among")[4] throughout Colossians 1:13-20. Paul's use of the preposition often corresponds to a spatial or participatory element: brothers and sisters are ἐν Χριστῷ (1:2), that is, within the sphere or locale of Christ, who represents a positional nexus in a way similar to those who live within a city (c.f. ἐν Κολοσσαῖς 1:2a). Similar to this is Christ being described as the 'object' of faith (ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ: 1:4), where it is the realm of Christ that is emphasized.[5] However, in 1:14 we have a potential shift of usage (ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν), where the preposition does not emphasize the locality of Christ, but the activity of God in Christ. The verb ἔχομεν[6] (1:14) speaks of something achieved or gained in terms of active agency, as God is the one who "liberates"[7] (1:13a) us from bondage and transfers us into Christ's Kingdom.

This does not exclude the locative nature of Christ, but liberation is enacted by the action of God in Christ, so there is potentially a dual meaning at play in Paul's rhetoric here.[8] Redemption, whether from Egypt or Rome is a God-in-Christ act. As Porter has already noted, "temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)."[9]

Crucial to a notion of Christ's self-agency is how one understands the preposition ἐν in 1.16; whatever conclusions one derives from this verse will have an impact on one's exegetical conceptualization of how Paul uses κεφαλή in 2:10 and 2:19. The text reads as follows: First, I will survey Paul's "prepositional" Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 as an interpretive lynchpin for the rest of the passage, as it is directly related to Paul's discourse in 2:8-23. Then, once this has all been established, I will build upon this foundation by exploring Paul's use of the term κεφαλή within Col 2:8-23

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι[10]· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται·

"For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, seen and unseen, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or sovereignties: all things have been created through him and for him" (AT).

Paul uses the preposition ἐν twice in this verse, with one clear case of it being used in a spatial manner, i.e. "in" or "among the heavens" (ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) and "over" (ἐπὶ) the "earth." That much is clear. However, whether ἐν αὐτῷ is exclusively instrumental or locative is debated. The reticence of the instrumentality argument concerns Paul's concluding use of διά, which could be seen as redundant,[11] and for some the "locative…is preferable."[12] Two points may be said in response to this. First, in the dominant usage of Paul's "in Christ" language, the Son is seen as the direct object of the person's faith/fullness (c.f. 1:2 and elsewhere);[13] however, in 1:16a, there is no such referent. Christ is πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (1:15b), the "firstborn." God is not the one who is active; rather it is Christ in 1:15b, suggesting a continual agency on the part of Christ, and cannot be limited to locality—without the action of the preexistent Son, creation is not created (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ: 1:16b). Agency is required for creation, a point that is bookended in 1:16b. Robert Wilson, following Peake, concurs: "it is probably safest to say that the act of creation depended causally on the Son."[14]

Thus, it seems best to see Christ as the Son who "creates" whatever is in heaven and on the earth: this would include thrones, dominions, rulers, and sovereignties—human and demonic.[15] Christ—as King, Creator, and Lord[16]—is best seen in 1:16 as a principal actor on the stage of creation, and this includes his role in creating the Powers and his own locative presence as being directly involved in God's plan. Christ, therefore, is the locative agent by which the Powers come into being as "created" beings.[17] The question now turns to the relationship between Christ, the Powers and the Church in 2:8-23 and how we are to interpret Paul's language of "headship."

2a. Lexical Perspectives on Kephalē

Despite the fact that a majority of the evangelical gender debate has centered on what has been called the "battle of the lexicons,"[18] one can quickly notice that all of the major English lexicons offer the primary gloss in terms of physiology and not primarily on authority relationships. For instance:

BDAG 3675:

head – a. as anatomical term Mt 5:36; 10:30; 27:39; Mk 6:24f, 27f; Lk 7:38; J 13:9; Ac 21:24; Ro 12:20; 1 Cor 11:4f; 12:21; Rv 1:14 and oft. in Rv. – b. in transf. sense of a, as architectural extremity Mt 21:42 and par. – c. in transf. sense of a, as directing agent within a ranking system 1 Cor 11:3; Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18. – d. in ref. to political significance Ac 16:12 v.l. 

Friberg 15975:

κεφαλή, ῆς, ἡ head; (1) literally, of a human or animal head (MT 6.17); (2) figuratively; (a) metaphorically, of Christ as the head of which the church is the body (EP 1.22); (b) of persons, designating first or superior rank[19] head (1C 11.3); (c) of things uppermost part, extremity, end point; of buildings keystone, capstone (MT 21.42); (d) leading city, capital (AC 16.12)

Liddel-Scott-Jones 24124 Abridged:

the head of man or beast, Hom., etc.; κατὰ κεφαλῆς, Ep. κὰκ κεφαλῆς, over the head, Id.; κὰκκεφαλήν on the head, Il.:- ἐς πόδας ἐκ κεφαλῆς from head to foot, Ib.:- ἐπὶ κεφαλήν head foremost, head downwards, headlong, Hdt., Plat., etc.

2. the head, put for the whole person, Hom.; ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ like myself, Il.; φίλη κ., Lat. carum caput, Ib.: in bad sense, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί Hdt.; ὦ μιαρὰ κ. Ar.

3. the head, i.e. the life, παρθέμενοι κεφαλάς setting their heads on the cast, Od.:-in imprecations, ἐς κεφαλὴν τρέποιτ᾽ ἐμοί on my head be it! Ar., etc.

II. generally, κ. σκορόδου a head of garlic, Id.: the top or brim of a vessel, Theocr.: the coping of a wall, Xen.:-in pl. the head or source of a river, Hdt.

III. metaph., like κεφάλαιον, the crown, completion of a thing, Plat.

Louw-Nida 8.10:

κεφαλή, ῆς f - 'head.' θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῳσ μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ 'I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a plate' Mk 6.25. In some languages it may be necessary to distinguish clearly between the head which is still a part of a body and a severed head. It is this latter meaning which is obviously involved in Mk 6.25 .In rendering 1 Cor 11.4, πᾶς ἀνὴρ προσευχόμενος ἢ προφητεύων κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων 'any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered,' it may be important to indicate that the covering is not one which is designed to cover the entire head including the face, but only the top of the head. The same applies, of course, to 1 Cor 11.5 and 7.

In each instance, the lexicon is prone to interpreting the various occurrences of κεφαλή, with little justification as to the various interpretive placements. While one cannot dismiss glosses out of hand, a proper methodology ought to focus on the individual occurrences within a specific corpus before turning to the various lexicons.[20] Lexicons are summaries of data that cannot replace commentaries or monographs on specific subjects.[21] Context decides the meaning of a particular lexeme, and now we turn to that specific and vexatious word: κεφαλή.

2b. Kephalē and the Necessity of Contextual Distinctives in Paul

The Greek word κεφαλή occurs 67 times in the New Testament, with a majority of occurrences coming in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (37 times)[22] and the Book of Revelation (16 times).[23] Paul uses the noun a mere 13 times in his surviving epistles.  Some of these instances clearly fall under the physiological category[24] (c.f. Rom 12:20: τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἄνθρακας πυρὸς σωρεύσεις ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ)[25] with no specific denotation or connotation of 'authority' or 'source.' It must be said that there are at least two separate categories for "head" in Paul when he uses the term in a metaphorical or mixed (metaphor and literal) manner. One category concerns conduct within the ekklesia (Rom 12:20; 1 Cor 11:2-16, 12:21; Col 2:19; Eph 4:15-16, 5:23), and the other category concerns Christ's relationship with the Powers (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). While there is some blurring between these categories given the household nature of the ancient church,[26] interpreters ought to exercise caution in assuming and consequently conflating the two categories together. Christ's relationship to the Church is different than his relationship to the various Sovereignties—one is reconciled to God, the other is ultimately destroyed (1 Cor 15:24-28)

2c. Kephalē and the Discourse of Col 2:8-23

The epistolary context of Col 2:8-23 shows a great deal of continued linguistic correspondence with Col 1:15-20. What defines κεφαλὴ in the pericope that follows is determined by authorial application and by the epistolary context of Colossians, and not by a narrow lexical category.[27]

Col 2:10

The use of ἐν αὐτῷ occurs significantly in both chapters (1:14, 16, 17, 19; 2:9, 10) in Paul's Christology of creation, where Christ's actions as creator are stressed, and 1:15, 18 and 2:10a have similar syntax:

1:15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ

1:18: αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ

2:10b: ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ[28]

The correspondence language between the Christ-Hymn, Christ's role as Creator, and Paul's language of the Powers in 2:10 strongly suggests a thematic and linguistic relationship.[29]

καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας: ("and you have been filled in/by him, who is the head of all rule and authority"). For Wayne Grudem, this verse "emphasizes that Christ is the authority over[30] not only the church, but over all rulers and authorities, over all powers in the universe."[31] To be the "head" is to be in authority over the powers. Cervin argues

The notion of authority may be present [in Col 2:10], but so are prominence and preeminence. Again, the question is which notion, if any, is primary? It is unlikely that "source" is applicable in this context because that would make Christ the source of "every ruler and authority" and that does not make much sense in this context.[32]

Proponents of κεφαλή as meaning generally "source" like Philip Payne suggest, "the meaning 'top or crown' fits" Col 2:10 better than 'source.'"[33] However, both Grudem, Cervin and Payne miss a crucial element: Paul specifically speaks of Christ being the "creator" (ἐκτίσθη; ἔκτισται) in Col 1:16 and Paul specifically includes the various Sovereignties and Empires as created entities:[34] indeed, 1:16a begins with the aorist ἐκτίσθη and bookends with v.16b with the perfect ἔκτισται, showing that Christ bookends the creation of the totality of the hostile powers (τὰ πάντα …εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι… τὰ πάντα), who are subsequently reconciled to God (vv.19-20).[35] "Source," seen as the preexistent Son's power to create even the hostile Powers that have enslaved humanity (1:13), shows his own preeminence over them as a subsidiary—not primary—meaning.[36]

The primary connotation for this lexeme, therefore, not "authority" or "top/crown," but "source" or "origination" in terms of Christ being the agent of creation. Christ, as Creator, is preeminent over the Sovereignties by nature of being their Creator. However, Joseph Fitzmyer claims, "those who have claimed than[37] "source" is the meaning intended by Paul have offered no other argument than their claim that kephalē would not have meant "ruler, leader, one having authority over" in Paul's day."[38] As one can see, Fitzmyer is simply mistaken: I have offered contextual and theological reasons for seeing Paul's intended use in terms of "originator" or "source" without once appealing to the paucity of evidence that kephalē might mean "authority over"[39]—it certainly might.[40] Given Christ's role as "creator" in 1:16 in relation to the Sovereignties, the best understanding of 2:10 should be seen primarily in terms of "source" or "origination" and not in terms of "rulership."[41]

Col 2:18-19

καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗ πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ: "and not holding onto the head, from which the entire body—through the ligaments and sinews being supplied and instructed together—grows in the growth of God." Wayne Grudem asserts: "the idea of allegiance to Christ instead of to angels makes the mention of Christ as “authority over” the church an appropriate one in this context. Especially when we realize that the image of head involves not just authority but leadership, direction, guidance, and control, then the following idea of the whole body being knit together and growing together is appropriate."[42] However, this interpretation is most unlikely for two reasons. First, the preposition ἐξ, which is used in both a locative and instrumental sense, suggests "source" or "movement" from τὴν κεφαλήν to the rest of the body.[43] The life of the body and the production of its faculties are derived exclusively from its head—Christ. Hence, Christ is the cause of the Body in the first place (c.f. 1:17-18), so we have a 'head-body' image here. Second, the somatic imagery used in Col 1:6 and 1:10[44] forces us to prefer the organic nature of τὴν κεφαλήν instead of the "ruling" component.[45] Given the explicit language of growth and somatic imagery at play, we have the additional language of avoiding the cosmic elements of bodily abuse (2:20-23), where Christ is not present.

Grudem writes, "whether the idea of “nourishing” carries an image of food that is transported through the mouth (a part of the head) to the rest of the body is not made clear here."[46] It is worth noting, however, that Paul does speak about the Colossian church "eating" and "drinking" in 2:16 and 2:21, where the church is not to worry about being judged for their feasting habits.[47] In summation of this point, the intra-participatory nature of Paul's somatic image is fully in line with his thought elsewhere (1 Cor 12:12-27) and suggests a united harmony between Christ and his Body; the focus in Col 2:19 is not on the authority relationship between Christ and the Body in any explicit manner, despite Grudem's claims.[48] Rather, Paul's focus is on Christ as the preeminent creator and sustainer of our lives, the one who takes a hold of our very lives (3:3), so that we in the Son who will be apocalyptically manifested (3:4), the only hope of our future glory (1:27).

            Conclusion

Paul's prepositional Christology is both locative and instrumental, revealing a complex and intricate relationship between God and the Powers. In our study, we have seen that—in Colossians—Christ is the agent of creation, the preexistent creator who has been manifested in glory for us. As a consequence, Christ's active and locative relationship with the Sovereignties reveals two facets of the Christian life. First, Christ is preeminent over creation for the benefit of the church, as our protector; in stripping the Sovereignties of their power, God in Christ has triumphed over all evil and death, nailing such tyrants to the cross. Second, Christ's relationship to his Body—the Church—is one of generosity, where God-in-Christ relates to us not as a sovereign, but as a beloved father (Col 1:2). As the source of our existence, and as the sustainer and holder of our lives, where a new humanity can grow, thrive and flourish in the Kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col 3:10-11).

NQ

[1] Richard S. Cervin, "On the Significance of Kephalē ("Head"): A Study of the Abuse of One Greek Word," Priscilla Papers 30.2 (2016): 8-20, 8.

[2] Since the noun under question does not occur in the Colossian Haustafel, my arguments are independent of the debate concerning the ordination of women—although it must be said that I am in support of the ordination of women. For the various understandings of κεφαλὴ in the literature, perhaps representative is Anthony Thisleton's First Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 812-822 ["preeminence"]. Other helpful—and diverse—works include Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 117-137 ["source"]; Joseph Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," Interpretation 47 (1993): 52-59 [mixed, leans toward "authority" or "ruler"]; Fred D. Layman, "Male Headship in Paul's Thought," Wesleyan Theological Journal 15.1 (1980): 46-76 [broadly "source"]; Wayne Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples," Trinity Journal 6.1 (1985): 38-59 ["authority over" or "ruler"] and Andrew Perriman, "The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of κεφαλὴ in 1 Cor. 11:3," Journal of Theological Studies 45.2 (1994): 602-622 ["preeminent"]. For a major survey of the literature until 2008, see Alan F. Johnson, "A Review of the Scholarly Debate on the Meaning of "Head" (κεφαλὴ) in Paul's Writings," Ashland Theological Journal (2009): 35-57, who leans toward "preeminence."

[3] BDAG 2196 states: "generally functioning as marker of position within, but used to govern numerous other categories, such as means, agency, cause, and associated aspects." Stanley E. Porter notes the following concerning agency and ἐν: "the label 'instrumental' is given to a range of metaphorical extensions of the locative sense of ἐν. Temporal location can and often does imply the idea of accompaniment, control, agency, cause and even means (price)." See Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.: Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 158. If am I understanding Porter correctly, the notion of realm/locality is not to be entirely removed from the actions of a particular agent.

[4] While there is a textual variant concerning Κολοσσαῖς, the earliest disruptive witness is Codex Claromontanus in the 6th century; Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus support the standard reading.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 16, believes this phrase refers to the "realm" of the faith exercised by the Colossians.

[6] The present tense-form ἔχω most likely refers to an achieved and enduring consequence of a previous act: the liberation and transference of a people from one state to another in v.13.

[7] Liberation is from slavery and bondage (Ex 6:6 LXX: καὶ ῥύσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐκ τῆς δουλείας καὶ λυτρώσομαι ὑμᾶς ἐν βραχίονι ὑψηλῷ καὶ κρίσει μεγάλῃ), a people group leaving an oppressive empire for the Kingdom of God. This is where my final paper for MMT at Fuller is centered.

[8] The dual activity of God and Christ here (God liberates, and Christ gives us ἀπολύτρωσιν or "redemption") suggests a high view of Christ's work and appears to assume a form of preexistence—a view that is largely evident in the Christ-Hymn to come.

[9] Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 158.

[10] A very late scribe interpolated εἴτε δυνάμεις after εἴτε ἐξουσίαι. The sole evidence for this reading comes from 14th c., "a paper ms. of Acts, General Epistles and 1 Peter-Hebrews, located at St. Catherine’s Monastery, classified as an Aland category II text." Per Bibleworks Apparatus. The significance of this variant is that a scribe sought to include a universal element of the various powers and sovereignties in the cosmos, and the lack of δυνάμεις by Paul was intended to expand upon Paul's cosmological statement.

[11] James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91 n.20. This seems to downplay the nuances of both prepositions. See Porter, Idioms, 156-159 and 148-151 for a discussion on the differences.

[12] Harris, Colossians & Philemon, 44.

[13] C.f. 2 Cor 5:17: ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις: "if anyone is in Christ, new creation." This verse and grammatical sequence suggest a clear locative element to the "in Christ" motif, in a way that is distinct from Paul's own language in Col 1:16a.

[14] Robert McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 137-138.

[15] Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), esp. ch1.

[16]  There are numerous terms and images used by Paul to describe the Cosmic Christ. The inference of 1:13 is that Jesus is God's Son and the present King over the kingdom of God (τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ); Christ is "Lord" (κύριος: 1:3, 10; 2:6; 3:13, 17-4:1, 7, 17), and Messiah (Χριστός). Jesus is also described as "the hope of glory" (ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης: 1:27b), and as "creator" (v.16; ἐκτίσθη, ἔκτισται) and "beginning" (ἀρχή:v.18), which stresses his creative causal power. Christ is also called the "head" (κεφαλὴ) of his own "body" defined epexegetically as the "church" (τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας), twice in relation to his own σῶμα (1:18; 2:19). Finally, but not exhaustively, Christ is "revealed" or "made manifest" to us (ἐφανερώθη: 1:26; 3:4; 4:4) as God's final bodily incarnational manifestation.

[17] The middle ἐκτίσθη probably stresses the actual creation of the universe, which suggests both locality and agency on the part of the preexistent Son.

[18] A phrase coined by Christianity Today, January 16, 1987. Cited by John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (4th ed: Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 357 n.45.

[19] Friberg's conflation of "first" and "superior" in relation is unhelpful, as both terms convey distinct meanings. For instance, one could say, "I hit my head first and then I fell down." A notion of "superiority" is absent from the context, and so Friberg's non-descript gloss is unhelpful for those who rely solely on lexicons to determine theology. It is also worth noting that "first" is not the same as "superior." Temporality does not equate to a value judgment, which Friberg seems to infer.

[20] For instance, Friberg's gloss "as directing agent within a ranking system" is misleading, as arguably several of the occurrences are within a political context (c.f. Eph 1:22 and the "Powers").

[21] A lexeme also does not necessarily derive a meaning simply from its philology either: rather, context is the decisive factor in determining a preferential gloss over and against others.

[22] Matt 5:36; 6:17; 8:20; 10:30; 14:8, 11: 21:42; 26:7; 27:29; 27:30, 37, 39. Mark 6:24-28; 12:10; 14:3; 15:19, 29. Luke 7:38, 46; 9:58; 12:7; 20:17; 21:18, 28. John 13:9; 19:2, 30; 20:7, 12. Acts 4:11; 18:6, 18; 21:24; 27:34. See also the language of Jesus in reference to the "cornerstone" (Matt 21:42 par Mark 12:10/ Luke 20:17 and Acts 4:11)

[23] Rev 1:14; 4:4; 9:7, 17, 19; 10:1; 12:1, 3; 13:1, 3; 14:14; 17:3, 7, 9; 18:19; 19:12. We see a mix of apocalyptic metaphorical imagery here, but no specific instance of a person being directly referred to as "authority" or "ruler."

[24] As Cervin states rather dryly: "What then does kephalē mean? The answer is easy: the literal head." "On the Significance," 18.

[25] Paul's direct citation of Prov 25:22 LXX reveals that this lexeme is not concerned with 'head' as a metaphor, but rather in a physiological sense. See also 1 Cor 12:21: ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν: Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω, where the function of the lexeme is for the physiological aspect to be given primacy as it relates to the various parts of the "body" are interdependent.

[26] C.f. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch, A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006) and Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).

[27] This is not to say that Plutarch or Philo is irrelevant to this conversation; rather it is to say Paul is permitted to use an admittedly polysemous word in any way he wants to.

[28] Specifically 1:15 and 2:10b: relative pronoun + εἰμί + object in the nominative.

[29] C.f. also the close relationship between "fullness" (πλήρωμα; πληρόω) in 1:19 and 2:9-10.

[30] Paul does not include a spatial preposition like ὑπέρ here, so the addition of "over" in Grudem's gloss is misleading. Paul's only specific uses of a spatial preposition in reference to κεφαλή is in 1 Cor 11:10 (διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς), which refers to a woman's authority to prophesy and not to her subordination (c.f. Payne, Man and Woman, 181-187; Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36), and in Eph 1:22, where Christ is exalted "over" the Powers for the sake of the church (καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ: taking the dative in terms of benefit: τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ as "to the church"). Harris makes the same mistake as Grudem. Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 100.

[31] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?," 57. It is worth noting that while Grudem emphatically states his thoughts on this verse, he does not provide any specific reason as to why we must favor his gloss within this specific verse—what may be obvious to him is not immediately obvious to other interpreters. In light of Christ's role as creator, it seems unlikely that "ruler" is a lexeme of primacy.

[32] Cervin, "On the Significance," 18.

[33] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 128 n.72.

[34] A point also noted by Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians & Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 54.

[35] Paul's similar use of bookended prepositional phrases confirms that Christ is the active agent of creation: "by him" (ἐν αὐτῷ) and "through him" (δι᾽ αὐτοῦ). Paul's theology of Christ and creation, it seems, is prepositional rather than propositional. See James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 91.

[36] This brings up a lingering question that Paul does not answer: if Christ is the creator of the Powers, what does this say about theodicy and instances of severe evil in our world that are beyond our control?

[37] This is how they original spelled the word.

[38] Fitzmyer, "Kephalē in I Corinthians 11:3," 59.

[39] Indeed, I have never asserted anything that would lead a proponent of the "authority" reading to think otherwise, nor have I seen any such scholar do so. Fitzmyer does not offer a footnote to elucidate his claim, so one is left wondering exactly who Fitzmyer has in mind.

[40] C.f. perhaps Ephesians 5:22-24, but even within the concept of marital hierarchy, one seems mutual submission in v.21 as a guiding light that illuminates the rest of the passage. C.f. Cynthia Long Westfall, "This is a Great Metaphor!" Reciprocity in the Ephesians Household Code," in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Context for the New Testament, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Andrew Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 561-598.

[41] Even if one wanted to see some sort of preeminence or prominence (per Perriman and Cervin), and I admit this is possible, 'rulership' is a highly limited word to understand Paul's contextual uses of the noun under dispute.

[42] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[43] Porter, Idioms, 154-156. Specifically, "if something is the origin or source of something, it may often be possible to say that it is the instrument, cause or agent by which something comes about." 155.

[44] καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον, 1:6; καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι, 1:10.

[45] For instance, Col 1:10 speaks of us "walking/living in a manner worthy of God" (περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου), showing a relationship where God in Christ is the source of our ethical lives, and we grow through the work of God in Christ.

[46] Grudem, "Does Κεφαλή ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature?" 58.

[47] Dunn, Colossians and Philemon, 173.

[48] The language of subordination or hierarchy is not immediately present in the relationship between Christ and the Body, so Grudem has assumed a narrow lexical range without sufficient justification. There is also a forced and selective hermeneutic at play here: Grudem accepts that Paul was not a patriarchalist—as was the standard in the ancient world, so even in Grudem's complementarian schema, Paul has changed the nature of marital hierarchy to where the headship of the husband "must be exercised in love, in gentleness, and with consideration for one's wife above one's self." P.57. This is an arbitrary hermeneutic that gives preference to an area where Paul developed his thought above the ancient world, but refuses to allow Paul to nuance his own lexical framework.

Resisting Evil Part 2: The Incarnation and the Iconoclast

“And do not participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them.” (Ephesians 5:11.)

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So often the call to stand against evil comes from a triumphalist position of power. We are asked to rise from our lofty position of comfort and offer a hand from above to the unfortunate. More often, the stand against evil is thought to be against “known” agreed upon evil. Too easy. Minority group or person X is evil and hence they must pay.

But often the need for warriors and knights require material and social risk and when knights turn their backs, the one called to fight is the one being crushed. This brief reflection on the incarnation and the iconoclast reaches up to the discussion on resisting evil from below. It is especially for those facing destructive hostility on a prolonged basis and presents the audacious call to oppose evil from the ground.

The Iconoclast is a figure representing a power whether personal, institutional or mob. Often, it is an actual person who wants to destroy you for any reason: whether to feed their own ambition, greed, ego, sense of order or because they hate what you stand for. They may hate you for your faith.

...And yet, the cross is a symbol of the victory and power of God over sin and death that radically reoriented human history. Any attempts the iconoclast made to mar the image of God was subverted and their power inverted.

Read the rest at Tim Fall's blog.

Or check out Resisting Evil: Pt. 1 “Forgiveness” Versus Stepping Out in Faith or, Resisting Evil: Pt. 3 "Masks, Disillusionment & The Light"

 

"We will all be Judged:" Politics and Evangelicals before the Seat of Christ

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In reflecting on the recent devastating news about Roy Moore, I have noticed a deep and terrifying tendency for people to make any sort of excuse in order to defend their political candidate. This is not new to any specific side of the political spectrum, as all people are deeply aware of the moral failings of most of the major political players in the United States. And yet, we elect them or hold our nose or make excuses for them.

This is normal.

And normal is not always a good thing.

What is most troubling for me, however, is the desire to excuse and ignore the perversity in our midst as evangelical Christians—as if we will not be judged for our sins.

This is a strong theme in Paul's epistles, especially in relation to Christians. In Rom 14:10, Tertius writes:

"But you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you also show contempt for your brother or sister? For we will all (πάντες) stand in front of the seat (τῷ βήματι) of God."

V.9 speaks of Christ being the Lord (κυριεύσῃ) over the "living and the dead" (νεκρῶν καὶ ζώντων), which gives us a more universalistic scope of Christ's lordship. Here, in v.10, God is seated on the throne and in v.12 Tertius writes:

"So then, each one of us will give an account of themselves to God"

Similarly in 2 Cor 5:10, we have Paul writing

"For all of us (πάντας ἡμᾶς) must appear before the judgment seat (τοῦ βήματος) of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (NRSV)

The last phrase of v.10b is the most unnerving aspect of Paul's eschatology: εἴτε ἀγαθὸν εἴτε φαῦλον. Woodenly translated, this phrase says "whether good, whether evil." Paul, presumably, includes himself in this judgment and if Paul does, we are also included. This also suggests Paul's Christology and Monotheism are far more fluid, as the Person in the "seat" can either be God or Christ given the circumstance.

Whether good, whether evil.

That should send chills down the spine of everyone making excuses and defying the moral commands in Scripture.

Christians are included in this sphere of judgment, and we will have to give an explanation for our deeds. In these days, we see some Evangelicals bending over backward to defend the indefensible. Sometimes twisting Scripture to support evil. 

God does not forget such sins, nor our attempts to cover up sins. This includes me, and this includes you, and this includes us.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but the Democrat might win" will not cut it in the Eschaton.

Standing before Christ and saying, "but that was in the past" will not cut in with your brothers and sisters standing there to witness such excuses.

Think of these things when defending people simply because of the letter after their name. God does not care about your political party because only Christ is king. Trying to establish a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian King on earth is not a Christian calling.

We will be held accountable for who we defend, who we condemn, and our conduct in our every day lives. God notices, God remembers.

We proclaim Christ's lordship, not Caesars.

NQ

The Spirit Unites Us In Prayer: Prayer As An Apocalyptic Opening

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I've had an interesting relationship with God over the years. He is ever-present though not always felt, will speak up on occasion, be silent much of the time but also orchestrate elaborate webs of spiritual formation along with God knows what else. He has a sense of humor, loves natural imagery and though he is so other and perfect is the kind of God you can sense will just sit with you. More interesting still is when God starts to tell you things that make concrete differences you can see.

The Little Things

Much of the time I do not suspect God speaks to me, but the times I treasure most besides the vision of light, have been those quiet times when he has whispered gems of wisdom at just the right time. For example, when during the day I was passing the grass field at Biola that I used to like to pray in the middle of late at night, he stopped me and had me go out and look up. I was not sure why, but it is not often when I suspect I hear something (and even then one can often just suspect) and so I looked. There was a brilliant view of the mountains from that spot! "Why didn't I notice these before!? I've looked out this way during the day too!" And then, they were always there even when covered by the smog and clouds just as I am always here even when you do not see me.  And yet, then there was that time when I was meditating on Matthew 11:28-30 with the camp kids and was pierced. I am not like your abuser. I was hurt and in denial at first, but he was right that at a level I felt that way and so I worked through it. And worse, there was that time when I wanted to hear from him and hadn't for quite some time so I prayed and waited for a month and then when crossing the street: How would you feel if you thought you could not study at Fuller anymore? And soon after I lost funding (but now resolved). All of these even though painful at the time helped me grow and trust him. Still, if I am honest, the times I learned to trust him the most were those days in my past when he felt absent (more on this another time).

God Cares About Our Messed Up Relationships

And then there are those very odd times where God orchestrates something and involves you out of the blue. It never ceases to amaze me how much God cares about our interpersonal lives even while he holds the entire universe together and is intimately involved in a highly complex way with how all of the pieces move together. But that is who he is. He cares to such an infinite degree.

A long while ago, I had a dream where I saw a friend's girlfriend named Jenn very clearly the day before I met her. The next day I was so freaked out I even got into a denial argument with her: "No, your name can't be Jenn!" "My name is Jenn..." Puzzled I interacted with her, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary about her and we got along just fine. She was quite pleasant to be around. I was bothered for months. She kept interacting with me and frankly my radar would not have gone off if it were not for that dream. In time, she seemed to know several old friends I was no longer in contact with too. Well, long story short: She had my friend trapped in a morbid web of lies! She had made him think he was personally responsible for her being raped by someone 3 times, having a stillborn baby she supposedly named after him (she was never pregnant) and a whole lot of other things including an evil twin 'Jenna' who was really" to blame for everything--all aimed at keeping him with her. It may sound ridiculous from the outside, but if you are in the middle of a manipulative person's web of deceit you will gradually believe anything. 

She would even stalk individuals in his life and pretend she knew extended network connections and use it to lodge herself in his life. I gathered this information for a while and ended up confronting her myself with another person in authority. My friend was a mess for quite some time, but at least free of her. God saw the mess he was in and by extraordinary means used someone else to step in where my friend could not. I don't think I ever told him the circumstances surrounding how I figured out all the lies, but God had it in mind to step in and I got to be a small part of it even though I was still young and had so many problems of my own. And I am sure God sent all sorts of people my way as well and still does! He uses us in powerful ways to form, rescue and walk alongside those around us.

And then I am reminded of some recent events where I was told to pray out of the blue for someone and then act in faith at a certain time when I saw the image of Jesus out on the water. I was so confused until I was there and followed the instructions! The results were huge and I was delivered from a piece of a very big ongoing problem. Without going too much into detail, I suspect the other person God used at the moment had no idea what he was doing or that God was prompting him to act since it went against his best interest and his interests may possibly be entirely opposed to God's. And there it is, one of the difficulties with being in a relationship with God, or merely being used by him for a moment: God cares about everyone else, not just you and will put you in harm's way to accomplish certain ends. And yet, in another sense what he develops in you in the process if you will let him is usually in the big picture the highest good you can receive.

The Spirit Is the Space Between Us

Something that struck me in hindsight about that time I was enveloped in light was how personal and everywhere present God was. So intimately intertwined with our reality and yet we do not see it in the every day. We do not understand the space we inhabit or the high stakes of our interactions with others. Not only does God see everything we do and think, but is intimately present in the midst of it all.

Recently, I have been involved in a highly complex and messy situation that has caused me personal harm (though just a moment in eternity). Still, in the midst of it all, I have realized just how interconnected we truly are in the Spirit. I have very recently started verbally casting out spirits of deception and distortion in a certain place along with my other prayers and have been amazed at the fog that has lifted and the things even I am beginning to recognize that I could not fully before. And yet, I and others can do so because it does not matter where we are physically if the Spirit is present since he is everywhere present. He fills that space and so no one around the world is far from another when prayer is involved. My church can pray for me and I will receive it anywhere whether at school, work or home. God fills all of the quiet spaces as well and even inhabits the space between our thoughts and intentions, though they may be hidden from others they are not hidden from him.

Prayer is not something to take lightly. It's not informational. We are not telling God anything he does not know already, it is not about that. We are entering into a dynamic relationship with him where we are orienting ourselves, our desires, thoughts and will towards him and opening ourselves up to him and his world in the Spirit. We are acknowledging the power that is his (we at best have some on lend) and trusting him with ourselves. We ask him for help, hopefully, are continually recognizing and thanking him, asking him to put us in places we can help and serve, asking him to bring us into new heights of loving those around us, asking for knowledge and wisdom, for the cleansing of our minds and hearts. Prayer with God by nature interpersonal and not meant to always just a private matter. Maybe this is also why he wants us to pray for and with one another? Part of being oriented towards God is being oriented in love towards one another and come alongside them in the Spirit. We were ultimately made for being in a loving relationship with others within a relationship with God.

Then there are those uncomfortable times when God sends us or others to us to expose aspects we want to keep hidden or are ashamed of. In my experience, those are the best times and have the most opportunities for becoming the person God intends and there is nothing better than this. I am not struggling with feeling exposed at the moment, but I am having a difficult time with something else and am not sure what the next several weeks or years will be like (though some very interesting good and positive developments as well), but I can definitely say God is at work and so I will not be overly concerned no matter what happens. Still, pray for me. ;)

 

 

 

 

Surviving Psychological Warfare From Abusive People

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"Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

-Psalm 46:10-11

It had been nearly 3 years since my last struggle with PTSD and a debilitating back injury from the years of abuse and I finally felt free from my past in concrete ways. School and professional work came easily and quickly to me and finally, I did not have to take extended periods of rest just to get through the day and could work long hours (yes, I was actually excited about this!). I was even able to reconnect with some old martial art hobbies. But the sheer joy was short lived. Suddenly I found myself shoved back into several dark themes from my childhood replete with a narcissistic projector, bullies, and isolation, except with resources.

Initially, I did not want to believe what was happening even as I sensed it. What were the chances? And yet, I felt the threat in my environment, a talent resulting from having to quickly identify and predict narcissistic rage followed by violence as a child. Once I acknowledged what was happening to myself, I quickly started running through my checklist of what to expect. I knew more than likely I would have no help, the wider group would turn on & try and punish me believing the abusive person in part or entirely. I also knew to expect to either eventually be eliminated (any reputation I had would not matter) or suffer for possibly years. Oh, and then there would be those instances that somehow it was my fault to X degree I was targeted and questions about forgiveness if I ever, ever told anyone about it. I was not so concerned with this part of it, I am frankly used to it. Still, one more thing to deal with.

I was scared. I knew what was ahead and did not want to go there, yet go there I was. Still, it helped to go in afresh already understanding some basic power dynamics and having some tools in my tool bag.

What follows are only some of my basic strategies for dealing with abusive people. More specifically, how to survive psychologically while being repeatedly targeted. "Targeting" is behavior that is ongoing (if not predatory), harmful and directed at you. The behavior can take the form of a person(s) continually projecting their insecurities onto you by continuously harassing, belittling, physically hurting, trying to humiliate, embarrass, isolate you and/or ruin your reputation. I've even had at one time someone follow me around and lie about me to everyone I tried to talk to as a new person at some point in life.

The goal of the abusive person is zero-sum: In order for me to maintain my image of myself, become greater or feel big you must be destroyed. It is a mistake to attribute this to insecurity. Rather, it is an inflated ego that must consume all in its path at whatever cost. It is about their need for power and control and they have targeted you as a threat to that. I do not have any special education in this area, only my own experience, and some informal research. Take my advice as just that and adapt according to your specific situation and seek professional counsel in cases of physical abuse. For prayer, more specific examples or strategies (including tactics) that are not included here please contact me via email: allisonquient@hotmail.com.

Before I begin, please note that I am absolutely opposed to revenge and believe you should, if you can, remove yourself from the situation or avoid these people! However, this is not always possible. Sometimes they will try and use people in power to try and yank you back into their clutches (or are the people in power). They may even try and follow and sabotage you. Apply the following as aids of resilience to help you hold out until you can escape:

  • Formation of Your Core
  • Being Still/Quiet Inside
  • Know the Board/Battle Field 

Formation of Your Core

Understand that at its core the abusive behavior is about power and control. They want to have control over your person and identity so that they can be "bigger." You must have a strong sense of self to resist their advances. In elementary school, people with weaknesses are targeted for those weaknesses, but more often among adults, it is done toward those who are in some way or another perceived as "threats." More than likely you were targeted because you represent a threat, not because you are deficient.

A narrative of "deficiency" is a tactic the abusive person employs, not the motivating factor. This might be because you have something they want. Perhaps you are liked, talented, you threaten their paradigm, you are different in some way...etc. It could also be that they have this hole in their life and need to project their faults and motives onto someone else. In the case of bullying, statistically bully targets are independent, highly skilled, have a high level of emotional intelligence, altruistic, intelligent and otherwise well liked. I even experienced a backlash at one point because, in addition to everything else, I would not go along with at least three attempts of a targeter to smear a leader who was correcting this person's errors. Sadly, the favor was not returned by this leader when it was my turn. Regrets? NOPE. All of this to say, it is not you, it's them, 100%. Don't give equal validity to the characterizations of manipulative and abusive people.

Primarily, you are engaged in psychological warfare and must be resilient and established in your sense of self. Your objective once you know you are being bullied, harassed, abused: survive and continue your right to your vocational calling to live out of God's love. Let God be manifest in your situation and form you in the process of destruction (Seeing Christ in the Dark). If you cannot leave or remove yourself from the situation, think: You may do X to me but I will pray, be formed in the light of Christ and oppose you with all the means at my disposal. However, they will wear you down with their negative messages whether you believe them or not and you must keep resisting especially when they gaslight you or make you think it is all in your head (switching between them having your best interest in mind, but then again, you are just an "incompetent piece of crap"). This can also take the form of constant subtle messages that are highly contextual and will make you sound like a crazy person if you try and tell anyone else.

Clear the next several months if possible and figure out ways to lower the inflammation in your body (low impact exercise, massages, herbal remedies...etc), buy some food that your stomach can handle under extreme stress when you do not want to eat (ex: Miso), and you will probably need Vitamin B Complex (or nutritional yeast) in a few weeks. 

Over time you will start to not be able to recognize yourself as easily. You will be constantly on edge from hypervigilance, may have internalized some of the narratives, or started to act and think in ways adapted to a dysfunctional environment. After I had gathered enough information to know what was going on, develop and implement a survival strategy, I found I was still on edge and way too aware of everything around me. After several months this was unsustainable and I was drained. I had even absorbed another person's anxiety (INFJ habit)! It was time to consciously remember who I was and separate myself from what I was absorbing from my environment while still allowing myself to perceive what I needed to (contact me for details on how to create psychological boundaries).

That said, contact several friends outside of the situation who can remind you of who you are over an extended period of time. Be proactive now so you are in a better position to put up a fight because eventually, you will not be able to think as clearly. You are a human being and humans need community and belonging. Expect pain from extended isolation and personal attacks even if going in prepared.

As believers, our sense of self comes from our identity in Christ, our God who will never leave us nor forsake us and sees within us infinite value, worth, and dignity. What will ultimately keep you going is: 1) Hope, 2) A clear understanding of who you are and 3) conviction that you are not alone. First, recognize that this will not last forever and rest assured in God's future reconciliation of the world. Take a moment to breath realizing it may not seem like it, but this will not last forever. Our hope is in God's kingdom come and his will done on earth as it is in heaven. On this basis, we can pray for our everyday sustenance and survival in the here and now. God's hope is 'why' we can keep fighting and pressing on (Resisting Evil). Find passages to meditate on (Psalms are great) in times of discouragement and find liturgical prayers and icons for when you are run down, and your mind is less articulate (there will be physiological changes over an extended period). 

Second, know yourself very well. Regarding weaknesses, DO NOT let abusive people define you. They will twist minor things into major things and even make stuff up. They will block you from social resources and barrage you with crazy messages about yourself. It's their pattern. Expect it. Don't even take the time to consider the supposed "kernel of truth." If you need outside input, depend on people who have proven themselves to be friends calling you out when you are wrong and encouraging you in what is good. In other words, internalize NOTHING from an abusive person since their thinking and habits are distorted and unreliable. Do NOT grant anything to them and do NOT use their evil behavior as opportunities for reflecting on your faults. This also means having strong psychological boundaries where the abusive person's reactions are on them and you do not take responsibility in any way shape or form. Those of us who have grown up in abusive contexts often have what I call a rigid cause and effect type thinking. I spilled the milk, therefore, I am responsible for you flying off the handle. Or, you did X horrible things, I reported it and you got in trouble, therefore I am to blame for what happened to you. You are not responsible for their mess.

To complicate matters further, those around you will most likely turn on you, try and heap guilt and responsibility on you, and if someone is actively lying about you, others will most likely believe them! Expect it. Plan on it. Move your next several months around and plan out little retreats. If they have not completely bought into the abuser's narrative, they will at least think you are responsible for not defending yourself properly, for not just "ignoring" it, or you somehow had it coming in some way. Often the abusive person has sucked others into their constructed narrative about you to rationalize their behavior and sabotage you ahead of time. At the very least, hold onto who you are and don't get lost in the narrative yourself. Listen to God's voice in prayer and in his word and let him breathe truth into your mind when everything gets chaotic and distorted. 

Lastly, know you are not alone. God is with you. You must pray, and pray often because God will help protect and form your inner self during this awful time and because sometimes he will rescue you from the situation itself. Much could be said on this point (see my other posts). That said, get outside help in the form of friends, coworkers, people from church, family...etc anyone who will support you. Avoid like the plague those who have the knee-jerk reaction to assign you blame or add moral responsibilities of forgiveness, politeness or anything really while you are in the middle of fighting for your life.

Unfortunately, you must be calm, collected, outwardly snap happy and polite, but out of necessity so that others do not attack you, not out of moral obligation or imperative. I watched in awe as a woman who was still being harassed legally by a rich physical abuser (beat her up while pregnant with racial slurs) spoke to him on the phone. Think: fake Flanders family from the Simpsons. She knew she had to be polite, cheerful and careful otherwise it would be used against her. This is not something I do well as an introvert. When I am gloomy I want to be by myself and hide! Do your best. No one is perfect. Still, count on the abusive person using your "bad attitude" against you after they run you over for months or years. 

If possible get people who will keep you grounded, will concretely protect you, will help you navigate/strategize and will stand up for you if they are in a position to. You will need the wisdom of others to counteract the trauma or fatigue from having to be fake happy or calm for extended periods while fighting off the barrage of cloaked intentions, insults, overt aggression...etc.

 Being Still/Quiet Inside

Coming out on the other side of an anxiety disorder I have been learning what it means to be still and quiet inside in the midst of chaos, but as a healthy individual whose mind will not be flooded with abnormal amounts of anxiety outside of my control. In Psalm 46 it describes having a solid trust based off of who God is, the works God has done in the past and hope for tomorrow amidst poetic catastrophe. When you are being attacked verbally or physically, are having to frantically deduce pieces of gossip/lies being spread about you, or are shocked to discover you have been manipulated by someone, breathe. Internally take a step back and try and see the situation for what it is without panic. Your heart may still be racing and your head swimming because your body perceives a threat. You are being threatened and let your body respond accordingly. It is ok. You can be calm even while your body is flooded. Focus your mind on Christ who went before you and is beside you, the Spirit who is in and around you and the Father who loves and guides you. 

Directing your attention to God,  separate yourself internally from any lies, distortions or catastrophic thinking (hopelessness). Know that God is with you and on your side. Ask him for help and direct your mind to the "fight" part of fight or flight using your body's readiness for survival to your advantage. What can you observe in the moment? Do you see any openings or useful pieces of information? Become fluid and adaptable without fixating on disturbing elements. Survival depends on you being able to see the changing landscape and being able to change accordingly. You can be adaptable because your stable core is Christ and this will free you to let go of the fear in some moments and get things done. This also means being open to the Spirit's work and voice and following what is said. It also means reading the room and your opponent if you are physically or metaphorically fighting. What are his or her eyes telegraphing of their movements? If you fixate on the hand or foot coming at you, you will get hit. Look for where the abuser is going and react accordingly and wisely. Can you move out of the way? Is there a door near by? If it is the room you are reading, what do you hear or see and when? I was able to deduce some key lies being spread about me on time simply by noting silences, pauses and an innuendo or two and figuring out the themes/common elements. I was then able to figure out I was in danger, what I could counter and what I had to let go and move around. 

If you are being manipulated or harmed covertly, do not be given over to desperate moves out of panic. Calculate, but do not hesitate. Move when there is a clear or more reasonable path (you may need to use other people's minds to help you see clearly). And for heaven's sake, do not tell the villain of the story you know all about their evil plan! Sure they may have been doing this forever, and you will feel better and dignified in the moment, but it is better to keep your cards close to your chest. You may be able to out step them since you know their game. Think of it as a game. If you know how they will attack, you can be prepared and turn their attack against you against them. If you tell them what you know, they will try something else. Also, note that if someone is exhibiting predatory behavior (habitual + targeted) you will not be able to reason with them or confront them in a healthy way. You are probably high in empathy and just want peace. They don't. Don't tell them anything. Move out of their way and protect yourself instead. 

Also, note that outwardly you are not allowed to be upset. Is this horribly dysfunctional? You bet. Unfortunately, as the victim, being upset only works against you. If you are visibly offended, hurt, angry or sad often the group will turn on you faster and the abusive person will only go further in for the kill. It's messed up, but mostly true. Be hurt and sad with people you trust outside of the situation and bring it to the Lord. For now, push it aside to process in a safe place. Seek counseling if you begin to have PTSD symptoms resulting from this drawn-out encounter. 

Eventually, you will get worn out and it will cost you some ground. It's ok. Regroup, and fight another day. Try and take control of the moment when you can, but be prepared to play the long game. Many people beat themselves up about not having snappy comebacks to give to abusive people. I had tons of snappy comebacks this last time around (these people were not difficult to outsmart even without my resorting to insults or equal meanness). It didn't matter, they just went behind my back. Still, I was regularly able to take control of the moment and buy time in the long run. My aim was not to feel better about myself, but to buy time. I played dumb (What? You are speaking "covertly" about me in front of me??? I have no idea!) and wrote down their behavior for my own analysis and in case I needed to connect it to evidence later. Your advantage over most abusive people will be your ability to plan ahead, predict behavior (because you have observed their trends/patterns of behavior) and think several steps ahead to the future.

Know the Board/Battle Field

In any good strategy game, it is key to know the playing field and terrain. Know what areas are open for you to move to safety, what you can avoid and what you cannot. Use your flexibility to bend what you can bend and move around what you cannot. Know what areas your opponent is not prepared to fight you and try to move him or her to that place. You may even be able to bait them to move their attacks with a fake weakness you create over weeks. They will figure it out eventually, but you will have bought time and gathered more information. Sometimes you can get your opponent to move to attack a fake weakness. This can function to confirm their intentions in that in-between time when you feel you may be insane and are not sure if something is even going on. It can also allow you some breathing time if they were continually attacking a point of agitation.  

But first, you have to realize you are being targeted in the first place. This is difficult because often you find out late in their game. A recent bout I had was difficult to detect because it thrived in a culture of jokes and pranks. It was fun. To start with, those that know me know I tend to take very little personally (even when folks are directly and intentionally insulting). For a long while, I just didn't care and did not read in any malicious intent. However, sometimes the first clues are subconscious. At other times, you just think you are dealing with some other dysfunctional behavior and don't read too much into it. Either way, I still recommend not jumping to conclusions, but looking for prolonged patterns of behavior. Still, if you have grown up in abuse sometimes it is difficult to realize you are in it, even if the person is physically harming you. It may help to just look at the behavior patterns and separate your judgment from it so you can at least see that something is occurring: maybe they fly into fits of rage several times a week and blame you for a messy house that they had a hand in.

Once you have a sense of what is going on, do not try and confront them yourself. Statistically, this seldom works. If you have others who will back you, great! In most of my encounters or in those friends I helped, this was not the case. Still, do not try and just avoid them, they have targeted you and will continue to come after you. And beware of giving the metaphorical Hitler more tiny countries to appease his power lust. They will just keep after you and take more. A relative had her bully constantly trying to take her vacation slot not because she wanted/needed it, but because she didn't want her target to have it knowing it meant a lot to her. It was another means of control. Expect lots of little power plays aimed at making you feel worthless and powerless. Be careful with granting these because they will keep advancing if you give in, but if you fight overtly you will appear petty and unreasonable. 

By virtue of being targeted, you are starting out at a disadvantage. Their object is to destroy you and your object is to survive. Here is the terrain advantage you can know they have going in: 1) They have the element of surprise. If it is not physical abuse or done by a person no one likes, chances are they are good at what they do. It has probably taken a while to figure out what has been going on unless you are a paranoid disordered person yourself with a thin skin who sees threats under every rock and in every corner.  2) They are attacking you and using unethical means to do so (you are in the position of defense and must remain ethical). 3) They have probably already gotten others on their "side" through gifts, smiles, flattery...etc. Hey, they survived this long without getting the boot. They probably have some sense. And the sad reality is, people usually believe the lie.

Knowing the basics of your position, try and sniff out an outline of your situation including any particulars available. Who is the instigator? This may be several people. They may be difficult to detect since the group will often follow the leader and also try and clobber you. Sometimes you can figure out who the leader is by looking to see who people are constantly trying to please. Don't obsess too much. Know who is friends with who and see if you can win anyone to your side if you are not already too deep in and completely ostracized. Is there anyone trying to help you behind the scenes? How much? Are they friends with the people after you? Are people telegraphing information with awkward silences, pauses, intonation, avoiding eye contact? Are you being iced out? If you are iced out you know that you are now "other" and will probably not receive any basic rights, protections or human contact from them. They all probably "know" you are a horrible person. Try for resources outside of the group icing you out. Avoidance of eye contact often means they are trying not to identify with/empathize with you (but not always). Note this as well and see if you can make eye contact so as to humanize yourself in their eyes. Is anyone trying to help you indirectly? If you find someone like this try and use the tools they throw your way, but cautiously.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses early in the process (you will get disoriented later). They targeted you for a reason, consciously put your talents and abilities toward your survival. They may have the advantage, but statistically, you are probably smarter and more skilled than they are, USE IT. They also feel threatened by your strengths and sometimes you can use them to scare your opponent into exposing information or their moves. Be careful not to antagonize because it will not end well for you. Also, don't get too confident. It is more difficult to defend ethically and survive than destroy unethically.

However, the strength of your opponent's position is often secrecy. They thrive in the shadows and in distortion. Your aim as someone trapped if they will not leave you alone: expose them. Sometimes you can make them overextend their evil behavior into visibility so that you can get the attention of sympathizers (not always, be careful with this one). This one is tricky and should only be tried if you already think fast on your feet and don't mind taking some hits. An advantage of this strategy is that if no one comes after you, no one gets harmed. It also has the advantage of being more a matter of movement/arrangement of what your targeter is already doing to you and does not involve much on your part other than anticipating where they will step and constructing safety nets for yourself that will simultaneously expose anyone who tries anything.

Also, research some key features of people who do these kinds of predatory behavior (ex: check out the Workplace Bullying Institute). A big weakness your opponent has is that even if intelligent, they are arrogant. Hence the super-villain telling the hero their evil plan or the Riddler giving Batman clues in the first place! Look for mess ups and openings to expose their behavior either in the form of a log, trail (maybe you can find others or there is a record somewhere) or concrete proof. Maybe they will get too bold one day and you can point out their behavior without appearing to directly confront them. It helps to play dumb while you do this. It will only work for so long so choose your moments. Wait and collect information until you have enough so that it is difficult for leadership or others (who may not help by the way) to refute what they are doing or make you out to be crazy or "sensitive."

Try and figure out if this has happened before and what moves the abusive person made. Often they are not terribly creative (just enough) and will do the same thing again. I helped a friend navigate out of being targeted for firing by someone who wanted her job by 1) helping her identify the instigator from the group 2) separating herself from their narrative and 3) identifying his tactic so that she could be prepared the next time around. And he did make the same move again! The first time he did not succeed in getting her fired but did get 2 people to quit in her name, turn her friend against her and embarrass her in front of her leadership (she was his boss). Next time around she hired people with qualities that would not easily turn on her and got in good with them. She was also successfully able to bring up concrete things to her supervisors about this person to get them annoyed with him as well (he really was a bad worker). Basically, she took steps the next round and he ended up getting the boot.

And there you have it, a sampling of what I have gleaned over the years. Again, note that I am not a professional and my advice should be taken with a grain of salt based more from experience and a theology background. My final advice for this post is again, try and leave if you can because if you are not a glutton for punishment, it is just not worth it. Still, if you are going to leave play the game before you can get out.

AQ

[P.S. This barely scratches the surface as I have already long ago anticipated possible recon & vetted what I share here.]

The Power of The Cross: A Brief Reflection On Weakness

Antony Micallef
Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel not with wisdom & eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power -1 Cor 1:17

I am a walking contradiction: extremely confident and yet so fearful. It amazes me that I can still be scared after all these years and after all that God has done for, with and in me. Yet, at this point, I do not think it is something to repent of, but an opportunity to realign myself with God's will remembering all that he has done in the past and reorienting towards his future.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

The "solution" is not to cease being afraid as though fear (especially deeply rooted) could be turned off and on, but in meditative trust in the deeds of God in history and being formed in the process. To be specifically vague, I seem to be re-experiencing my history in an odd way except without an anxiety disorder and with the internal resources and faith of an adult who has already passed through the valley of "silent tears" and the death of "unborn hope." I've dealt with a narcissistic projector in the past. It was not fun. I knew the physical toll it would take after months on my body and I knew it would eventually start causing me to slip up in other areas of life whether professionally or getting behind in my personal life. Yet, when I started to slip up and was assumed to be X, I began to despair over it and everything I had lost. 

And then I had to pause and remember the man of sorrows who had been appropriated by the Roman Empire to be a token mockery of a defeated people walks alongside me. The adversary finds power in iconoclasm distorting the images of those who threaten self-perception. What's another offering in what I have come to realize is a lengthy trail? And yet, I worship a crucified savior and the power of the cross is manifest in my weakness. It is in the rich God who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Finally, I had to throw up my hands: "God, I am all alone, have been smashed into my adversary's ill image, and am now making stupid mistakes! (I don't like making silly errors especially when stressed)." And yet, Christ is evident in me even in my fear? And even as I descend into incompetence?

In a moment, I felt like the man approached by Jesus after his eyes had been healed and had been thrown out of the synagogue. Its that mix of heartache in isolation as well as wonder that you could finally see after a life of blindness and realization that though alone, you have been approached by Jesus.

Maybe everything is not resolved, but at least it is in perspective as I wait for scene 2...

 

 

When the Sea fades to Land: Reflections on my time at Fuller Seminary

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Well, this post is almost 5 years in the running. Indeed, I can probably trace it back to 2011 when I first began thinking deeply on the things of God (thanks to my then girlfriend). Thusly, this post will be a bit on the rambly side so I hope you'll forgive the indulgence.

Today is the first day of my last course at Fuller Theological Seminary. I'm taking Colossians & Philemon (Greek Text) with Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson. At this moment, I am sitting on my couch in our little studio surrounded by commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles, thinking about heading to the library and doing some reading. I'm also sipping pumpkin spice coffee from Trader Joe's (yea, I know).

When I first started seminary, I took Greek (Dr. Hill at Orange County) and Systematic Theology (Oliver Crisp at Pasadena). I was a part-time student, a full-time worker making (and still making) a nearly 70 mile commute to work, and most importantly a full-time husband. This happened before Fuller made the MAT degree entirely available online (I know, back in the stone age). However, when I started seminary, I had no idea of what I was doing, but I did have some goals and promises.

First, I wanted to know everything I could about Paul. Hence, every exegesis course has been on the Pauline epistles (Philippians, Philemon (2x), Ephesians, Colossians, and Galatians).

My second goal was to see what my gifts were, although this took a long time to ferment into a reality. I never thought I was particularly bright as a kid (I was more of a dreamer, so abstractions and images come more naturally than putting said concepts onto paper), as I was the kid who put on a cape and jumped off the roof to see if I could fly. The best part about that was I thought about trying it again before my younger sister Noell threatened to tell my mom.

A promise I made was with God on my first night in Greek. I do not pray as much as I ought, but I told God this: "just tell me the truth, and then help me live it." I was raised in an environment where seminary was cemetery (my parents never said this; it was more the Calvary Chapel subculture), and if I went to seminary (especially Fuller) I would turn out to be a liberal, or worse, a Democrat (I jest. Mostly). Since starting at Fuller, I've become more conservative in many ways. For instance, I came into Fuller affirming a Deutero-Pauline corpus (Ephesians and the Pastorals). Now, I do not, although I have some reservations of the Pastoral Epistles. I came in disbelieving in inerrancy, and I have shifted greatly on that, affirming something similar to Mike Bird and Kevin Vanhoozer (as I understand them).

When I taught a summer class at my friend Chad's church, we went through New Testament theology, and I was struck by the coherence of the New Testament's witness to Christ. Diverse opinions are not equivalent to divergent opinions, and I grew in my love for New Testament theology broadly conceived.

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In other ways, I have become more solidified in my views. Wesleyanism has become a major theological method that I find deeply compelling, and I affirm what is often called "Christian Perfection," albeit in a modified form. I've also become more confident in my views on the ordination of women, and have become more academically active in that debate (I hate calling it a debate, but it is what it is). A third doctrinal point that has become more strongly held is what is often called Christian Materialism; this will not surprise anyone who knows me.

There are some low points in anyone's seminary experience, but thankfully for me they are quite minor—at least as it regards seminary. During this time, I've lost an uncle and my Aunt and Uncle have been dealing with life-threatening health problems. A friend of mine is having some personal troubles, and Allison has been mistreated by a co-worker. What makes this all bearable is the hope of resurrection, and the promise of life with God.

The highpoints are what I remember most.

I remember deeply enjoying Dr. Love Sechrest's courses on Ephesians and Philippians/Philemon. As a spiritual leader and mentor, Dr. Sechrest really pushed me (and us) into the Greek text and I was challenged to reread a lot of Paul that I had previously skipped over. I also loved that I was the nerd in the class that she expected to say something. As an introvert, this helped push me from my shell a little bit.

A second highlight was reading and studying Jewish literature and Pauline theology in a directed study with Dr. Tommy Givens. Just the vast ocean of literature we read was enough for me to fall deeply in love (again) with Paul. I learned about the Apocalyptic Paul, 1 Enoch, and philosopher's Paul.

A third highlight was sipping wine with Dr. Hagner before a lecture at Chapman. That was a lot of fun.

As I walk now through Fuller's Pasadena campus, the air is cold and crisp, and Fall is coming soon. The leaves rustle, and people meander around, laughing and walking with purpose. Thoughts swirl in my mind about ancient economics, the Golden Rule, principalities and powers, prayers for friends and family, and that academic conference paper I really need to finish.

God willing, should I pass Dr. Thompson's class (hopefully with an A), I will graduate a week or two before Christmas. And then, who knows what will happen. Hopefully a Ph.D in NT in the UK?

I may update this post over the day. Just in case you see this shared multiple times.

Thank you for reading.

Nick

Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation

“But she will be saved (σωθήσεται) by the childbirth (τς τεκνογονίαςτς) [of Christ Jesus], if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. The saying is trustworthy.” --1 Timothy 2:15-3:1a

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Soon I will be giving two presentations based on a longer 35-page paper titled Eve Christology: Embodiment, Gender, and Salvation where I will argue that Eve may be viewed as a type of Christ (similar to how Adam is a type in Rom 5 & 1 Cor 15) in 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a. The conferences I will be participating in are: The Duke Graduate Conference in Theology (September 29-30, 2017) and The Interdisciplinary Theology Conference (October 20-21, 2017) arranged by CATA--like ETS--but better. :)

Below is a taste of my upcoming presentations. Enjoy~

Scholarly interaction with the position of Eve in relation to Christology has tended to relegate Eve to an absent, subordinate or implicit position from the standpoint of the typological significance of Adam.[1] For example, Benjamin Dunning describes Paul’s typology as one that tethers together two men, Adam to Christ.[2] The result is a question framed with the assumption of the presence of only a particularly male representation of salvation with an inadvertent question mark when it comes to where a female body fits in the scheme of salvation.[3] That is, the discussion is approached from the standpoint of the assumed presence of Adam and the “problem” of Eve’s placement as a representation of humanity as whole.[4] It is my contention that the difficulty of whether a male Christ can represent humanity is an artificial difficulty conceived with a lens that from the start erases “Eve” (i.e. women)[5] and then either mourns or celebrates her absence.

            It is time to approach Christology and gender from a fresh perspective yet without ignoring the historical exclusion of women on the basis of biblical, primarily Pauline, texts. For this reason, I will be delving into the discussion of how Eve figures Christologically, and may subsequently transfigure our notions of the embodiment of salvation. The question of where “Eve” figures in the theological world both reflects the inner world of worship and has the power to transfigure how one relates to the world as a whole. I will be arguing that far from her being absent—or merely present as an absence—Eve is a type[6] of Christ whose existence serves to undermine the prevailing notion of male domination in the Christological representation of embodied humanity. I will accomplish my thesis by first offering a change in lenses from an emphasis on both historical reconstruction and patriarchy as the frame for understanding Eve’s place in salvation, to the utilization of varied gendered language in the Pauline text to exemplify embodied faith, and how this undermines various gender hierarchies that may be perceived. This thesis will also involve considering the “correspondence” language of the Genesis text, to which Paul appeals, and how early Christian writers used gender language to describe the struggle of faith, embodied existence and future hope. The point here is to provide a plausibility lens or starting point from which to be able to conceive of an Eve Christology and open the doors to re-imagine the place of Eve in our theological world.

Second, I will attempt to launch a uniquely Eve Christology. Far from being absent or implicit, it will be argued that 1 Timothy 2:13-3:1a with 2 Corinthians 11:3 offer Eve as a type to Christ (comparable to Adam-Christ typology) and representation of humanity. I will work out how the text understands Christ as a representative of humanity and lastly, briefly wrestle with whether Christ ‘as male’ reinforces gendered power structures or serves to diffuse them. Does the idea that a woman is merely a deformed man who must “become male” to enter into salvation best capture the figures of Adam and Christ presented by these Pauline writings? 

Switching Lenses

How one approaches and/or experiences the larger question of gender in the Christian world will shape what is noticed or goes unnoticed in the Pauline corpus. Does one approach Paul with “a distinctly ancient logic of sexual difference, one that conceptualizes this difference, not in terms of an ontological and incommensurable binary, but rather on a single sliding scale, oriented towards maleness and deeply rooted in variables of status?”[7] Or, does one approach the question of gender and representation from the vantage point of only or primarily passages considered exclusionary making them universally applicable only to women? Does the mention of Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 suddenly indicate a logical universal such as only Adam or only a men can represent humanity?

It is not my desire to contend there is never the assumption of male priority in the background of the Pauline texts or to argue that everything fits neatly or perfectly into a modern feminist scheme. However, I would like to offer the following interpretive possibility: There exists a unity in diversity in Christ that relativizes power structures which allow for men, in a metaphorical sense, to become women in the context of these structures and women to become men in relation to gendered power structures. This lens which will be used as a starting point for approaching the position of Eve in relation to Christ comes out of the following brief points: 1) gender correspondence language in Genesis, 2) a sampling of Paul’s use of feminine and masculine language in regards to himself and spiritual growth of believer toward their telos in Christ, and 3) how some early Christians used gendered language to describe themselves in relation to Christ.

...the rest will be available at the two upcoming conferences! :)

[1]C.f. Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher's Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

[2] Benjamin H. Dunning, "Christ Without Adam: Subjectivity and Sexual Difference in the Philosopher’s Paul," n.p. [cited June 8, 2017]. Harvard Divinity School. Online: https://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/10/16/video-christ-without-adam. October 16, 2014: 10-minute mark.

[3] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (Cross Roads: New York, 1983).

[4] C.f. the influence of Mary Daly: "Exclusively masculine symbolism for God, for the notion of divine 'incarnation' in human nature, and for the human relationship to God reinforces sexual hierarchy" in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation (Boston: Deacon Press, 1973), 4. 

[5] From henceforth I will be using Eve as shorthand for women in general in the spirit of her typological significance. Gradually, I will expand this type to encompass humanity in general.

[6]In this article I will be using type in a comparative sense. For example, Eve from the Genesis narrative can be a type of Christ as a representative but not directly in terms of imitation. However, as we will see, Eve can also function as an antitype in the sense that as a representative of women in particular and humanity in general “she” can fulfill her vocation of being formed in the image of Christ connected to the divine telos of humanity. I believe this future looking sense is present in Eve being “pregnant” with the Christ child in 1 Timothy 2:15.

[7] Dunning, Christ without Adam, 18. C.f. Gaventa, Our Mother Saint Paul, loc 654.