Books: Love Wins by Rob Bell is reviewed by Darrell Bock

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is getting lots of attention out in the evangelical blogosphere. I have not read the book, and I don’t intend to do so after reading the extended reviews by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty. Bock has posted seven long blog entries so far, and they are available [link deleted due to malware report at site]. If Hell and judgment are issues that trouble you, make sure to read Bock’s analysis.

The title Love Wins probably gives you the big idea. Bell emphasizes God’s love and mercy in Christ and generally presents a minimal picture of Hell or divine judgment. That is certainly what a lot of people would prefer to believe. Of course, the only problem is that God’s Word says otherwise!

While I don’t always agree with Bock on progressive dispensationalism or on philosophy of Bible translation — it’s like a gnat bothering a bull elephant — I really admire his ability to do biblical and theological analysis of a book like Bell’s.  Bock skillfully expresses his ideas in a way that reaches a non-seminary audience and does so using the Bible as his basis for disagreement or agreement.

In short, read Darrell Bock (both blog and books) but not Rob Bell.

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

NIV 2011 and Perfection

The new NIV 2011 shows its value in the insightful translation of Philippians 3:12, but it shows no improvement in Matthew 5:48.  In Philippians 3:12, the Greek verb in question, teleio?, is frequently — and wrongly — translated as if it involved some form of perfection. It is my contention that the concept of perfection presented in other translations of Philippians 3:12 came not from the Bible or from Greek and Hebrew but from philosophy. Christian theology has a long history of saying that God is perfect, and that has led to the contention that those who become mature in Christ are being made “perfect.”

The original basis in the Bible for this idea of “perfection” seems to come from Matthew 5:48. Next I will analyze that verse.

Matthew 5:48

For Matt. 5:48, NIV 2011 offers, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In Matthew 5:48, the English word perfect simply does not fit either the underlying Greek adjective (teleios) or this context. So, how did we wind up with a misleading English word in so many translations?

Perfect (Matt. 5:48) was the English word chosen by William Tyndale in the very first English translation of the New Testament (1526) based on the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale did not have a Greek New Testament to guide his work because they were not published in Europe until 1534.[1] About 85 percent of Tyndale’s popular English translation became part of the Authorized Version, which we call the King James Bible, and the translation perfect in Matt. 5:48 was part of that incorporated material.

Bible translator William Mounce explains the second factor that often prevents English translation improvements: “The argument [in the translation committee] was, ‘This is such a well-known verse that we can’t change it.’”[2] [Mounts was not speaking here about Matt. 5:48 in particular or about NIV 2011.] Such forces against change are strong in the Sermon on the Mount!

New Testament scholar Craig L. Blomberg puts us onto the right plan for Matt. 5:48 when he says, “‘Perfect’ here is better translated as ‘mature, whole,’ i.e., loving without limits . . . . Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will — to become more like him.”[3] The key idea here is completeness, or loving without limits. God’s willingness to love even his enemies sets the example for the disciples of Jesus. Just as the Father is whole and undivided in his love, so must Jesus’ disciples be!

The interpretation just given makes sense out of the word therefore (Matt. 5:48a). Verse 48 is a conclusion based on what has been taught previously. The Gentiles and tax collectors love their own kind (Matt. 5:46-47), but we must look to God for our model of love, not our peers.

In spite of the fact that virtually all modern commentators agree on what has been said above about the correct interpretation of Matt. 5:48, it is not hard to find someone who teaches sinless perfection as the command of Christ. But that idea is very hard to reconcile with the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in which they pray for the forgiveness of the debt (of sin) between themselves and God (Matt. 6:12). Why would a perfect disciple need to ask forgiveness? Even stronger are John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, ESV).

I need to address a potential criticism. Someone might claim that I am teaching that God is not perfect. Far from it! The Bible amply demonstrates that God needs no improvement or development. What I do say is that the concept of God’s perfection or our own perfection as disciples is not what Jesus was saying here. Instead, he was holding up God’s character as the example of love for his disciples to follow. God loves the just and the unjust, and so must we.

Philippians 3:12

BNT Philippians 3:12 ??? ??? ??? ?????? ? ??? ???????????, ????? ?? ?? ??? ????????, ??? ? ??? ??????????? ??? ??????? [?????].

The standard Greek lexicon, BDAG-3, offers this definition for the bold-face Greek verb teleio?:  ”to overcome or supplant an imperfect state of things by one that is free fr. objection, bring to an end, bring to its goal/accomplishment.” Happily, this is the definition used by NIV 2011 in Phil. 3:12. Compare the following translations (“2011” is NIV 2011, and NIV is the 1984 version):

ESV Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

2011 Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

NIV Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

NLT Philippians 3:12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

I congratulate NIV 2011 for making this improvement in Philippians 3:12 and hope that they will eventually fix Matthew 5:48, though I’m not holding my breath!

[1] The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 3, S.L. Greenslade, Ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963) 61.

[2] William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 38.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 115.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. Material on Matthew 5:48 presented with permission of Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas, which originally commissioned the work.

NIV 2011 — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

—Before describing some issues I have with NIV 2011, I want to say that NIV 2011 is one of the top three English translations now available. It may even become my favorite, though currently I am using it in conjunction with the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New English Translation (NET). Time will tell as I translate more passages and compare NIV 2011 to the others in many types of biblical texts.

Before I begin, here is what The Committee on Bible Translation humbly says in the preface of NIV 2011:

The committee has again been reminded that every human effort is flawed — including this revision of the NIV. We trust however, that many will find in it an improved representation of the Word of God, through which they hear his call to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to service in his kingdom.

I have found both flaws and improvements in NIV 2011, but more improvements! Critiques, such as this one, may also be flawed!

The Good

Corrections to NIV 1984

I am ecstatic with the decision to replace “sinful nature” (NIV 1984) with “flesh” (NIV 2011) as the translation of the Greek noun sarx in most places. Primarily this affects Romans (e.g., Rom. 8:5) and Galatians and greatly influences our understanding of sin’s influence within both believers and unbelievers. Concerning the old translation “sinful nature,” The Committee on Bible Translation says: “This expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx.”[1]

Since I have been warning against that compartment-model for years while watching people look down to see “sinful nature” right there in their NIV Bible, I am delighted with this change.

Another favorable trend is the decision to make NIV 2011 a translation that puts fewer interpretations into the biblical text and leaves the burden of interpretation on the reader where it belongs. The sarx decision falls into this category, but another sad case within NIV 1984 is the one I will use to illustrate a positive correction made by NIV 2011.

In John 18:36–37, Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate, or so Pilate believes. The crucial point comes when Pilate, the Roman governor, exclaims, “You are a king, then!” (John 18:37a). When Jesus answers we see two different translations:

“You are right in saying I am a king.” (NIV 1984, John 18:37b)

“You say that I am a king.” (NIV 2011, John 18:37b)

There is simply no possible way to get the NIV 1984 translation from this Greek:

σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι. (John 18:37b)

First, I congratulate the NIV 2011 team for fixing this error, which not only failed to represent the Greek but was also blind to the political situation in which Jesus spoke to Pilate. For Jesus to explicitly admit that he is a king of any sort would be to agree with the charges brought by the Jewish leaders that he was setting himself us as a king in opposition to Caesar (Luke 23:2).

How did this mistake occur? Obviously, I was not there, but I suspect that it involves the translation theory employed by the NIV — an approach known as Dynamic Equivalence (“DE” from here on), sometimes also called functional equivalence. The Committee on Bible Translation says, “The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience[.]”[2] Clearly, the key word is “experience.” The big problem is that we have no way of knowing exactly how the original audience experienced the Word; we have to guess.

In another post I have criticized the assumption by The Committee on Bible Translation that the original hearers experienced instant clarity when they heard God’s Word for the first time in their own language. To give us the same alleged experience in 2011 (or 1984), as the principles of DE require, means that strong measures must be taken to remove ambiguity and make everything crystal clear. When Jesus made his ambiguous response to Pilate about kingship, that simply would not fit the DE mold, so Jesus was edited to make a more definite statement about kingship. This is a kind of “clarity” we do not need in Bible translation!

All this was done in good faith with the best intentions, and I am not saying anything negative about the motivation or spiritual integrity of those involved in the process. But when good-hearted people employ a flawed approach, this is the result. NIV 2011 fixed the error.

Updated Pronouns

Another positive development in NIV 2011 — and this one is subtle when you read the biblical text — is the use of a careful linguistic analysis to update the use of English pronouns to match current English usage. For example, Mark 4:25 now says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (NIV 2011). Older grammatical style, such as used in NIV 1984, says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4:25).

Another example of the pronoun changes may be seen in James 2:15–16, which NIV 2011 presents like this: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” See how the italicized pronouns have changed by looking at NIV 1984: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15–16).

Those of us who have seen a few more revolutions of the earth around the sun may wince at this grammar, but it is futile to fight linguistic shifts.

The Bad

The following remarks are based on Matthew 28:1–10, describing the miraculous events surrounding the discovery of the empty tomb and a climactic meeting with the resurrected Jesus. Read the NIV 2011 translation here.

The Greek particle idou occurs 62 times in Matthew’s Gospel and is generally untranslated by both NIV and NET. NIV gives no explanation of this practice, but NET says, “The Greek word ἰδοὺ (idou) has not been translated because it has no exact English equivalent here but adds interest and emphasis.” Perhaps one of my readers can explain how idou can “add interest and emphasis” when it is not translated into English!

The Greek particle idou is difficult to translate, but that is mainly true when the translator is trying to make everyone talk in a suburban-America-in-2011 dialect. No one in my hometown will say “behold” or “see!” this week. Of course, these biblical events did not occur in my hometown this week! So, why should they sound as if they did?

BDAG-3, the standard Greek lexicon, defines idou by saying: “prompter of attention, behold, look, see. Like (Hebrew hinneh) it sometimes serves to enliven a narrative . . . . with emphasis on the size or importance of something (frequently omitted in translation, but with some loss of meaning).” You can guess that I really like that “loss of meaning” phrase! That neatly summarizes my whole point.

Here are two things to consider:

  • The events being described are the most exceptional in all human history.
  • DE promises us that it will deliver the same impact that the original listeners would have felt; that is its alleged genius. How can they possibly punt on conveying the enlivened feeling of emphasis that idou is designed to create? I thought this was exactly where we might expect some help by the paraphrasing nature of DE principles.

That is the case for dialing up the temperature of the text in Matthew 28:1–10; idou is used four times in this brief span, which is an exceptional frequency. The amazing events taking place are exactly the point of the passage. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Soldiers keel over in a dead faint, earthquakes pop, and an angel descends from heaven and takes dramatic action. The angel uses idou twice in emphasizing his words to the women, and then the resurrected Jesus appears! We cannot ho-hum our way through this scene. Our familiarity with what happened has dulled our senses!

The Ugly

Adding or Subtracting Words

It is pleasing to say that NIV 2011 has very little to put into this category. Generally, a problem I have with English translations based on the dynamic equivalence (DE) philosophy is that they unnecessarily add words that are not in the Greek text of the New Testament or they covertly fail to translate words that are in the Greek text. The NET Bible does a marvelous job giving notes about the instances in which they have done one of these two things, but NIV 2011 leaves the reader in blissful ignorance.

Consider Romans 8:34, which NIV 2011 presents this way: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Where did the italicized words come from? Certainly not from the Greek text of the New Testament! This is the kind of perverse result that DE can produce.

It can be argued that the above addition is harmless. I do not think that is the case. Is “no one” theologically true? Consider the trial and crucifixion of Jesus: God was certainly for him, but that did not prevent his legal condemnation by Pilate and his religious condemnation by his enemies. It is difficult to see how “no one” is an accurate description for that situation. What Paul is saying in Romans 8:34 is not that “no one” will condemn the Christian; he is saying that their condemnation will fall away or be refuted by the divine mercy we enjoy through union with Christ. Adding words creates a problem.

Foreclosing Possible Interpretations by Making Interpretive Choices

Remember that DE translations seek to make everything really clear, even things that are murky. Consider Genesis 6:3, which says, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” As an alternative to “mortal,” NIV 2011 offers “corrupt” in a marginal note.

God is speaking about his disgust over  the violence and sin rampant in the world before the flood of Noah. The issue is the meaning chosen for the Hebrew word translated “mortal” by NIV 2011. The Hebrew noun here is bashar, and you may look high and low in the standard Hebrew lexicon, but you will not find “mortal” as one of the lexical choices in its field of meaning. So, how did we get “mortal”? By interpretation! In picking that one, the translators rejected others that may be preferable.

From the array of possible meanings for this verse, the translators selected one and then created a novel meaning for bashar to match. That is allowable, even necessary, in cases where a Hebrew word is rarely used and its meaning is less certain. But bashar occurs 294 times in the Old Testament and 33 times in Genesis alone, so its range of lexical meaning is well established.

The safest path is to put a basic meaning for bashar into the biblical text and put the various possible interpretations into a marginal note or footnote. The safe choice for bashar in Gen. 6:3 is “flesh,” a meaning firmly established in the standard Hebrew lexicon and the one chosen by the ESV for this verse.

Of course, the safe choice “flesh” leaves the reader wondering what sense of that word is meant. Some possibilities are “mortal,” “corrupt” or “ruined.” Which one is right? [I personally prefer “ruined” because of Gen. 6:12.] To answer that question is hard work and may leave you wondering if you have taken the word correctly — that is, you may wonder whether you have selected the right sense. But here is the difference: at least you know there is a question here and some uncertainty in meaning.

But I have already said that DE translations of the Bible abhor uncertainty and ambiguity. They are eager to confront each of these interpretive questions and resolve them with a clear, scholarly choice and to put that choice directly into the translation rather than in an explanatory footnote. Now the reader does not have to wonder or work. The reader doesn’t know!

It amazes me that Christians are so laid back about this practice. If I told the Christians here in Texas that the state government had made these interpretive choices for them in preparing their English Bible translation, they would surround the capital in short order!

What is the solution to this problem? Use a more literal translation like the ESV alongside NIV 2011. Consult both in doing your Bible study. If you can do so, add the NET Bible into the mix. Be willing to think and pray in moving closer to God through study of his Word.

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


[1] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 8.

[2] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 1.

 

Overselling the NIV for 2011

In about one week the New International Version (NIV) for 2011 will be available in print form in bookstores and by online order. On balance, this is a favorable development for all English-speaking Christians.

However, NIV-2011 is a commercial product as well as a Holy Bible, so it will get some overheated marketing hype during the rollout. Take, for example, the opening paragraphs of the “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation” available here.

This is the first paragraph:

When the original Bible documents first emerged, they captured exactly what God wanted to say in the language and idiom of ordinary people. There was no friction between hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant. The original audience experienced a unique fusion of these two ingredients.

The first sentence is solid. In order to believe the second sentence, we have to believe that the original listeners had immediate and total comprehension of what God meant. That is a big exaggeration! Certainly they understood the vocabulary without having to use a reference book, but that is only the first step in the journey toward “understanding it the way it was meant.”

The apostle Peter seems to have a different idea when he says: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15–16).

To similar effect, Jesus explained to his disciples that some of the people would never understand his parables: “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’” (Matt. 13:13). Jesus continued by quoting Isaiah 6:9–10 to demonstrate how this failure to understand was predicted before by the prophets.

Consider your own experience in reading English poetry in high school or college. Did you immediately understand it all? I sure didn’t! Poetic language is often subtle, and a large part of the Bible is poetic (e.g. Psalms and large parts of the prophets).

So, it would appear that the complexity of biblical thought and dullness of heart are two reasons to believe that instant understanding of God’s Word has never been the general situation. I could add the distortion in thinking brought about by suppressing the truth revealed by God (Rom. 1:21 and 1:28). NIV for 2011 will not change any of that.

Here is the second paragraph from the “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation”:

Readers of the Bible today, however, can no longer experience this fusion. The passage of two thousand years has turned the Greek and Hebrew of Bible times from living languages into historical artifacts. If we had the original documents in our hands today, they would still represent exactly what God wanted to say. But the vast majority of people would no longer be able to understand them.

In some respects, this states the obvious. There may be a small number of people today who can sight-read the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek New Testament, but there is a very high probability that you don’t know any of those people and will not meet one in your lifetime!

But let’s move back to the first century and check out the situation. To the average Jew in the first century, Moses was almost as remote in time as the first century is to us! Very few people spoke Hebrew, though Aramaic and Greek were both widespread. What were the versions of the Bible (Old Testament) being used? It appears that the most commonly used was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that we call the Septuagint, and it was very uneven in quality. Since the printing press did not come until 1453, availability was a serious problem.

Perhaps when Moses came down from the mountaintop with the covenant, the people could understand all of the vocabulary in the original Hebrew. On the other hand, I doubt the Egyptians had made slave education a high priority.

So, leaving aside the difficulty of certain biblical concepts and dullness of heart, we would still be hard pressed to find a time when some magical “fusion” of hearing God’s Word and understanding it was ever the case. The only case I can think of that works is Adam and Eve in Eden before their disobedience. They heard God and understood him but did not ultimately obey him.

I welcome the NIV for 2011 and consider it a definite improvement over the NIV as updated in 1984. The research done in support of using contemporary English grammar is particularly notable. Yet the translators —or the marketing department mavens — are close to offering something they cannot deliver. Overall the “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation” is well worth reading to get a feel for the changes you should expect.

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

 

A Tragedy Disguised as Christian Witness

Today was a sad day for the cause of Christ; a Christian church was freed from five million dollars in damages by the U. S. Supreme Court. What is sad about that? Read on.

First, Chief Justice John Roberts summarizes: “Fred Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, in 1955. The church’s congregation believes that God hates and punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The church frequently communicates its views by picketing, often at military funerals.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ____ (2011), page 1.

About 20 years ago, pastor Phelps hit on a strategy to get attention for his message. Justice Samuel Alito describes this media strategy in his dissent:
“As the Court notes, church members have protested at nearly 600 military funerals. . . . They have also picketed the funerals of police officers, firefighters, and the victims of natural disasters, accidents, and shocking crimes. And in advance of these protests, they issue press releases to ensure that their protests will attract public attention.
“This strategy works because it is expected that respondents’ verbal assaults will wound the family and friends of the deceased and because the media is irresistibly drawn to the sight of persons who are visibly in grief. The more outrageous the funeral protest, the more publicity the Westboro Baptist Church is able to obtain. Thus, when the church recently announced its intention to picket the funeral of a 9-year-old girl killed in the shooting spree in Tucson — proclaiming that she was ‘better off dead’ — their announcement was national news, and the church was able to obtain free air time on the radio in exchange for canceling its protest.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ____ (2011), Allito, J. (dissenting) pages 5–6.

Using this cruel strategy, Phelps and others from his church targeted the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in the line of duty. To do so, they drove from Topeka, Kansas, to Westminster, Maryland, after issuing a press release to make sure of media coverage. At the funeral and two nearby locations these supposed Christians carried signs. Chief Justice Roberts says: “The Westboro picketers carried signs that were largely the same at all three locations. They stated, for instance: ‘God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,’ ‘America is Doomed,’ ‘Don’t Pray  for the USA,’ ‘Thank  God for IEDs,’ ‘Thank  God for Dead Soldiers,’ ‘Pope in Hell,’ ‘Priests Rape Boys,’ ‘God Hates Fags,’ ‘You’re Going to Hell,’ and ‘God Hates You.’” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ____ (2011), page 2.

A federal jury found Phelps, the church and others guilty of inflicting emotional distress upon the Snyders and assessed total damages at 10.9 million dollars. The district court reduced the damages to five million dollars. The Supreme Court reduced the damages to zero saying that Westboro Baptist Church was entitled to protection under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Certainly this case proves that the U.S. Constitution did not fall from heaven, though it has generally served us well. The fact that Christians are behaving in ways that satisfy the Constitution means nothing when they are defying the commands of Christ and causing untold damage to the cause of Christ.

There can be no doubt that homosexuality is abhorrent to God (Rom. 1:24–27). But Matthew Snyder was not homosexual. Even if the facts were otherwise, Jesus told us to love our enemies, not hate them (Matt. 5:44). Worse still, the behavior of Westboro Baptist Church members is regularly causing great anger that can only hurt the gospel. The Court stated, “Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ____ (2011), page 14. They can and they do!

Westboro Baptist Church is tragically wrong. They are just like those who shot and killed an abortion doctor in the pew of a church. When did Christians start thinking they could combat evil by doing evil? And what will happen when America no longer wants to tolerate Christians who are willing to commit sin in the name of Christ?

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

Searching for Answers in Romans 8:9-17

Bruce Miller (senior pastor at Christ Fellowship), Lisa Scheffler (director of the women’s ministry at Christ Fellowship) and Barry Applewhite exchanged the following comments during an ongoing e-mail discussion about Romans 8.

Bruce, Barry and Lisa enjoy trusting friendships in which they sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron, with humor. The following dialogue involves seeking after truth among detailed interpretations over which good students of the Bible differ. All three of us share the same theology, but we differ on exactly how to understand some details in interpreting certain phrases. We respect each other and, in grace, give each other space to differ. Many statements are tongue-in-cheek as we poke at each other in fun while we strive together to understand just what Paul was saying.

We thought it might interest you to “overhear” one of these regular sessions. Due to electrical-power blackouts in Plano, it got a bit thrilling at times!

[START]

[Bruce] Struggled with meaning of S/spirit in verse 10, finally convinced of Spirit.

Struggling still with meaning of death and life in vs. 13; not convinced this is eternal life and death, but rather quality of living or dying for “brothers” who live according to the flesh or put to death the deeds of the body and then experience more death-like living or more life-like life; meaning a closer connection with the Life giver and the Living Spirit, or they quench the Spirit, reaping death in the sense of distance from the Living One.

[Barry] Oh I can see how you would think that, being a philosopher and all. What I can’t see is how Paul would have expected people he had never met to get that meaning out of his text (8:13). Should I apply similar reasoning to verse 11 and conclude that Jesus was not really dead prior to his resurrection, just feeling less lively after a hard day? Making death metaphorical has baggage.

I would not make a great deal out of “brothers” (8:12) since Paul has never met them, and any large group has its questionable members.

I agree on Spirit (8:10).

[Bruce] Nice points, and so — oh wise sage — how would you take death and life in 8:13??

Moo, Osborne and Cottrell take three different perspectives along theological lines.

I think Stott and John Owen make good sense on the point.

[Lisa]

Don’t pretend to know as much as you and Barry, but I was thinking the same thing as Barry about verse 13. To me it seems like Paul is bottom-lining it — making sure they know the ultimate outcome.

However, if he is talking about eternal life and death, I do think people will wonder if this somehow negates the security we have as believers.

Like the outline but I’d love to see a point about 8:16 — how the Spirit testifies with our spirit — since he’s the star of the chapter and all.

[Bruce]

“Brother” does not mean Christian? — Barry likes that nutty notion :)

Paul is bottom-lining it . . . [but there are] implications.

The whole chapter is about assurance, so now we are shaking that with a potential that a brother will be eternally damned?

So, this brother is not really a brother (false profession) or brothers can lose salvation [?] . . . just thinking it through.

[Barry] Uh, I believe I did say that Paul had never been to Rome upon writing the letter. He does not know these people, so I doubt he is playing spiritual fruit inspector with strangers. The chapter is big picture, not micro-focus.

“Implications” in BruceWorld is spelled T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N. Never spin a philosopher’s head!

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” [Romans 8:13]

I take the 2nd and 4th italicized words as eschatological [i.e. end times] — live or die eternally.

The 1st italicized word means to live one’s life day by day. Anyone who lives day by day with the outlook of the flesh will die eternally.

The 3rd italicized word means the same thing we see in Rom. 6:11–13. Anyone who day by day considers themselves dead to sin and refuses to allow their members to serve unrighteousness will live eternally.

Romans 6 has the commands which Romans 8 lacks. Romans 6 takes the perspective of our responsibility to live for God after trusting Christ. Romans 8 takes the perspective of what God does through his Spirit to make possible the resistance to sin and death.

Romans 8:13 is a good example of how Moo drops into theological-partisan mode when some Calvinist principle is at stake. A pity because his exegesis suffers when that happens.

[Bruce] I agree that the second and fourth highlighted words appear to be eschatological – eternal death and life — however I am struggling with the referent of “you” back to word “brothers” in verse 12 (I know there is not a personal pronoun in Greek, but implied by the verb). The brothers to whom he is talking are the ones who are in Christ, in the Spirit assured of life even though they have mortal bodies. In 12–13 Paul is not making another statement of fact (although it is indicative, there is an implied imperative/exhortation) because this is now our “obligation” as those who have received the Spirit and are now in the Spirit. That’s where I am struggling. So my solution is to find a wider meaning in “die” and “live” which is possible in the field of meaning and use in other NT passages, but I grant that the more common meaning is eschatological.

So, troublesome facts in the text:

Brothers
and
Obligation

Back to you authors (whom I may contradict on Sunday! :) —

P.S. agree on Moo — so sharp and then . . . I do not see this passage addressing Calvinist/Arminian issues — I do not see the “perseverance of the saints” as the topic. And in my view, not even an implication one way or the other. What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our  putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit.

[Lisa] My postmodern education must be showing, because now I can see how you could both be right. <sigh> That’s exhausting.

So it really couldn’t be another statement of fact? Could the “you” be more proverbial – sort of a general summation of the contrast he’s been making? It just seems odd that Paul would be so literal in discussing death and resurrection in 8:11, but switch to something more philosophical in this verse.

All that being said, I like this…”What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit” precisely because you’d preach it without it being a perseverance issue. And it does seem to stay with the assurance theme that Paul has been developing.

So…what do you do for the poor Life Group leaders when you two disagree like this?

[Barry] You two are making my bald head hurt!   :)

Romans 8:9 is the key to this entire section because it can only go one way. Only those who have the Spirit are in Christ; the others do not belong to him. This isn’t quantum physics where maybe you are a Christian or maybe not, or maybe more life-like or maybe not.

Also, how can you have assurance without perseverance? Looks like a riddle to me.   :)

[Bruce] My post-modern education leans me the same way — he may be speaking proverbially or metaphorically — I don’t think it is philosophic. It is a tough issue. Barry has stated the other view well, even better than most of the commentators I’ve read. Either you explain how “therefore” and “obligation” are contingent on the fact that “brothers” means something more like attenders OR you explain that life and death are not eternal damnation but the experience of more of less of God’s life available by the Spirit today — tastes of real life — we know eternal life starts today and it is a quality of life not just duration.

[Barry] Okay … I’m laughing at the idea that post-modernism is not philosophical.

I’m waiting for you to apply your “more or less of God’s life” theory to Romans 8:9.

[Bruce] Apples and oranges, my friend.

I stand in the rich tradition of John Owen and John Stott against those modern commentators, Moo, Schreiner and Osborne! Joined by two others who shall not be named!

[Barry] Well, I do agree you are standing in something …  :)

[Bruce] a umph,

Trace the concept of life in vs 9 “The Spirit gives life” then connect to the minority view someone [i.e. Barry in the Romans 8 study guide] took of “will also give life to your mortal bodies” — just what “life” is this? Well of course the same life that is referred to in verse 13. By the Spirit we can experience life today, but the extent of our experience varies by our death-dealing to deeds of the body.

BTW — not sure about that view of 11 — weighing explicit reference to Christ’s resurrection against the word “mortal” — you have a point that makes sense (at least you are not irrational or crazy), but I’m not sure “mortal” weighs enough against resurrection reference and analogy to Christ, but I like your view because it supports my view of 13!

[Barry] Holy cow — quoting me against me!! That’s got to be cheating of some kind.
:)

In verse 11, my view says that the Spirit provides all the power necessary for the person in a mortal body to say no to an act of sin. I do not hold that the Spirit gives sometimes more power/life and sometimes less. I fully admit that I do not know how the Spirit does these things; just as John 3 says, we are in the dark about all that.

So, under your theory of sometimes more life and sometimes less … is an act done with 75% life an act done while “walking according to the Spirit,” or not? How about 85%? At what point is the person “walking according to the flesh”?

[Bruce] That’s an engineer for you — applying percentages to wonderful spiritual truth — ruining metaphors with numbers  :)

So, we get an injection of power that we can use or not?

[Barry] Yeah, it’s kind of like a total and complete salvation that we can accept or not. Odd, isn’t it?

[Bruce] So confused, once again.

Justification vs. sanctification — already and not yet — one is total the other is partial — unless you don’t sin . . .

[Barry] You didn’t leave your meds at home again, did you?

[END]

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