Languages in Jesus’ Time

New Testament scholar Darrell Bock gives us his usual scholarship by bringing attention to an article in a scholarly journal about the languages spoken in Israel during the ministry of Jesus. [Unfortunately, the link had to be omitted due to a malware report from the site.]

Summary: Jesus and his disciples probably spoke both Aramaic and Greek, though the former was most common. Hebrew was used less.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

New Testament Manuscripts: Craig Blomberg evaluates variants

Craig Blomberg has addressed an issue that worries a lot of Christians: the claims by some people (e.g., Bart Ehrman) that the New Testament cannot be trusted because hundreds of thousands of variant readings exist among the manuscripts we have.

Blomberg, a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, gives a brief and compelling summary of why this issue should not worry you. In fact, we have every reason to rejoice over the wealth of material we have to ensure we have an accurate text for the Greek New Testament used to translate our English Bibles.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Politics 2012: Will Rick Perry run for (Christian) President?

Yes.

There has not been any real doubt about this question for months. Consider Perry’s book, cleverly titled Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America from Washington (released November 15, 2010). Ever since Barack Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope (July, 2008) and Dreams from My Father (January, 2007) before the 2008 election, it has become fashionable for presidential candidates to write a book to spell out their vision for America before running for the highest office in America. That’s also why we have Sarah Palin’s books Going Rogue (November, 2009) and America by Heart (November, 2010).

Perry has known for a long time that he planned to run for the presidency. That’s why he moved from Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin — which he and his wife, like George and Laura Bush, had attended since the 1990s —  to Lake Hills Church in Austin. The Dallas Morning News ( 8/7/2011, page 2A) describes Lake Hills Church as “an evangelical megachurch.” Any political advisor who knows evangelicals can tell you that you do not reach evangelicals from Tarrytown Methodist Church. You do reach them from Lake Hills Church in affluent west Austin.

After courting pro-life voters, Perry’s next step in religious terms was the prayer rally which involved 30,000 Christians in his plans. He initiated a prayer gathering called “The Response” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday (8/6/2011). That event was an important step for Perry, who has not formally announced his candidacy, because religious conservatives have a major influence on the Republican primary races in Iowa and South Carolina. Some Christians ate it up and immediately took Perry as their candidate!

It is my assessment that evangelicals are not going to flock to Mitch Romney, a Mormon, when the purported evangelical Rick Perry is running. Michele Bachmann also claims the evangelical mantle, so Perry is trying to gain support at her expense. Of course, spiritual theater is not the only thing evangelical voters think about — consider that my prayer — and a deeper look will have to play out over time. I hope evangelicals see Perry’s maneuvers with a clear vision.

Rick Perry’s performance in Texas will come under careful scrutiny. He is already claiming credit for the relative economic resilience Texas has shown, though his decisions have had little to do with what has happened. For historical reasons, the governorship is not a powerful position in relation to the Texas legislature, but it makes a nice pulpit. (The lieutenant governor actually has more power within the Texas state machinery.)

In my opinion, Perry is not primarily concerned about the cause of Christ; he is mostly concerned about his own prospects. Rick Perry’s election would result in further reaction against Christian faith in America. George W. Bush brought credibility problems — consider the easy access to power by certain Christian leaders in a distinctly Christian White House — and Perry would further harm the way non-Christians look on Christian faith. Non-Christians want a theocratic government about as much as they want rule under Islamic law.

Perry argued passionately that Texas had to cut its spending to avoid the moral taint of putting a debt on our children. He also signed into law cuts of four billion dollars from education funding aimed at preparing those same children for the future. In net terms, Perry took from the children to help the children! That is a mean-spirited and contradictory policy. I see plenty of Tea Party politics in that policy, but no sign of the concern for the poor and the weak that is strongly asserted in the teachings of Christ. Yet these types of decisions are never discussed in relation to the candidate’s asserted Christian faith. It is as if policy decisions are totally isolated from their alleged Christian faith.

Careful readers of this blog already know that I consider the marriage of evangelical faith with the Republican Party to be a grave error by the Christian community. For now, I will cite only two reasons: (1) our primary loyalty must be to Jesus Christ, not to a secular political cause; and (2) the Republican Party cares nothing for major social values expressed clearly by Christ in the New Testament.

Being against abortion and homosexual rights is only half of a loaf. While the Republican Party has a vision for the national debt, it has none for the poor or the elderly. The Bible is clearly immigrant friendly, but the Republican Party wants all undocumented aliens deported as criminals.

To be clear, the Democratic Party is also unworthy of Christian loyalty, but at this writing there is little sign within evangelical circles of that specific misplaced loyalty.

As Christians, we should weigh all issues in making political decisions. To carry out our role as life-managers for Christ, it makes more sense to be political independents than it does to support extremist political parties. They often want to use us to get elected.

It would be far better to spare the cause of Christ in America another detour into vicious, heartless politics.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:15–16

Genesis 4:15–16
15 But the LORD said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
 (NET Bible)

Cain Finds Mercy

Those who play with fire suffer burns. Cain failed to deal with the sin that threatened to devour his life (Gen. 4:7), and the eventual result was banishment from God’s presence. Why was Cain unable to turn from his sin? John tells us, “Cain . . . was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Victor Hamilton says, “His murder of Abel was an external manifestation of the grip that Satan had on his life.”[1]

How do we underestimate the power of sin? What keeps us from repenting of our sin? What can be done to end the separation of the sinner from God?

“All right then” — the NET Bible’s translation of the opening word from God (Gen. 4:15) — is a bit trendy for a divine statement. God acknowledges the rightness of Cain’s fear of retaliatory death. The meaning of the original word is important in showing God’s attitude toward Cain’s request for relief from his punishment. This request from Cain is the very first cry for rescue from sin’s consequences in human history. If God is willing to listen to the requests of a murderer, then he will listen to ours as well!

God is willing only to give Cain special protection from the very kind of violence that Cain inflicted on Abel. Anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven times as much as Abel. Wenham is probably right in saying, “Most probably it is a poetic turn of speech meaning full divine retribution.”[2] But there is no protection for Cain from anything short of killing him.

Cain is the original “marked man,” but we do not know the manner of the sign that set him apart from others. Gordon Wenham cleverly observes, “As the clothing given to Adam and Eve after the fall (3:21) served to remind them of their sin and God’s mercy, so does the mark placed on Cain.”[3] You might say that no one who encounters God comes away unchanged. Further, living around God is not safe if you live a life of disobedience.

Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain suffers exclusion from fellowship with the Lord (Gen. 4:16). Cain demonstrates the theme of degradation in his exclusion from humanity. Recall that Cain has been condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). The land of Nod is a place whose name is a variant of the word for “wanderer.” Hamilton says, “The wanderer ends up in the land of wandering.”[4] Perhaps the naming of Nod after the punishment of Cain gives us a clue as to how widely people knew that God condemned Cain’s sin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 244.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 109.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 110.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 235.

Theology: The Word and the Spirit

Since the Word of God and the Spirit of God have both been given to us to lead us to Christ and then on toward maturity, there should never be any conflict between the two. Yet the history of the church shows that some Christians gravitate toward the Bible and its analysis while others cultivate the life of the Spirit. (No such split is justified!)

Each group stresses its own advantages and tends to reject the other emphasis. Spirit-led Christians think of Bible-led believers as spiritually lifeless and lacking in intensity of devotion. Bible-led believers often consider Spirit-led Christians to be shallow in understanding and subject to gross distortions of ideas such as prosperity and healing. It seems that some Christians are all heart and the other believers are all head.

One man who bucked the trend is Gordon Fee, who Charisma magazine says is the “first Bible scholar of the modern Pentecostal movement.” Fee is a New Testament scholar who has made strong contributions in the areas of Christology, commentaries (1 Corinthians, Revelation), and Bible translation.

In relation to the Pentecostal movement, Fee has proven both an inspiration and an irritant. I recommend you read this article from Charisma to see how a home-grown biblical scholar has shaken up a Christian movement that is wary of such critters. Interesting!

Several of Gordon Fee’s most important works are the following:

How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth (with Douglas Stuart)

Pauline Christology

The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Books: Forged by Bart Ehrman is reviewed by Darrell Bock

In my previous post about Bart Ehrman’s book Forged, available here, I directed attention to Ben Witherington’s extensive review of Ehrman’s latest book. I should also have mentioned Darrell Bock’s serial posts on the same topic, available [link deleted due to malware report]. Bock is a well-known New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary and has authored commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, along with many other fine books.

Bock and Witherington agree that Ehrman is not only wrong but also less than candid in his analysis. Ehrman claims than many New Testament books are not written by those who are reputed to be the authors. So, according to Ehrman, Paul did not write the letters ascribed to him and the same is true of Peter, just to pick two authors as examples. But Ehrman is not correct, as Bock and Witherington ably show.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The Sermon on the Mount: Approach to Interpretation

This post begins an occasional series on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). After today’s introduction, you may expect Bible exposition. I sometimes use the acronym “SOM” to refer to the Sermon on the Mount.

I am indebted to R.T. France for the idea of calling Matthew chapters 5–7 “The Discourse on Discipleship” rather than the more common title “The Sermon on the Mount.”[1] R.T. France correctly points out that Jesus was speaking to those who had responded to his preaching that the kingdom of heaven had drawn near. I will generally stick to the traditional title (“The Sermon on the Mount”), but France’s title would have been better.

How the Sermon on the Mount affects you

It is one thing to title Jesus’ remarks and quite another to figure out how they fit into the lives of Christians today. How did Jesus intend for us to interpret them? To answer that question is not easy! NT scholar Craig Blomberg says, “Perhaps no other religious discourse in the history of humanity has attracted the attention which has been devoted to the Sermon on the Mount.”[2] Out of this vast consideration, at least 36 different views have emerged on the sermon’s message.

Perhaps because Stanley Toussaint is a pastor as well as a New Testament scholar, I prefer his simpler overview of six viewpoints[3]:

1. The Soteriological [Salvation] Approach: People may receive salvation by governing their lives through the principles of the SOM. This idea was once popular among theological liberals, but it had been abandoned by 1980 for the simple reason that, if it were true, no one could be saved!

2. The Sociological Approach: Society would be ideal if guided by the principles of the SOM. This idea fails in that there is no evidence that Jesus was trying to modify society. Several famous people have tried to implement parts of the SOM, though not all recognized Jesus as the Son of God.[4] However, this world-system will be destroyed and replaced by God, not freshened up.

3. The Lutheran Approach: Toussaint calls it “The Penitential Approach.” This view holds that the purpose of the SOM is to make people conscious of their sin and drive them to God. But the Lutheran Approach does not recognize that the SOM is addressed to disciples; thus, he is speaking to people who have already repented and come to God. Jesus says they are salt and light (5:13-14). Still, the SOM does heighten awareness of sin, and that part of this viewpoint has merit.

4. The Millennial or Kingdom Approach: This view says that the way of life presented is applicable to the future Millennial Kingdom, in which Jesus will rule this world (Rev. 20:4). But, to say the least, it would be odd for Jesus to tell his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom (Matt. 6:28) when it was already going on. Why would disciples be persecuted and reviled (Matt. 5:11-12) in the future kingdom? Problems abound!

5. The Church Approach: Toussaint calls it “The Ecclesiastical Approach.” The idea here is that the SOM is the rule of life for the church. However, Toussaint correctly points out that the church is not mentioned until Matthew 16:18 and does not exist until Acts 2, following the resurrection of Jesus. So, even though this view is popular and promising, it has a timing problem in NT history.

6. The Interim Approach: The idea of the Interim Approach is that the SOM presents an ethic for the time preliminary to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. This concept improves upon #5 by eliminating direct dependence on the presence of the church. That said, SOM also applies to the church throughout the period of its existence. In fairness, I must add that Toussaint would not agree with my application of the SOM to the church and would say that I have modified the Interim Approach as he originally described it.[5]

So, I have used the Interim Approach as the interpretive grid for explaining the SOM, and have taken the position that the principles Jesus gives are directly applicable to the church, even though the church did not exist when Jesus first taught these ideas.

My next post will explain the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, a section often called The Beatitudes.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 153.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 93.

[3] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980) 86-94.

[4] Four men who tried to use SOM in whole or part: Leo Tolstoy, Karl Marx, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

[5] Toussaint got the idea of an interim ethic from Albert Schweitzer and then modified it.