Monday, June 29, 2009

The Adulterous Woman (John 8)

At some point last semester, I mentioned in class that the story of the adulterous woman does not belong in John. This deeply troubled one of my students, but I did not find out about it until a few weeks ago. So this post is designed to help that student as well as others wrestle with the difficulties of this passage.

Most people are familiar with the story found in John 7:53-8:11. Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask for his judgment. It is a trap: if Jesus calls for the death penalty, they can accuse him of bypassing Roman law. If Jesus excuses her, then they can accuse Jesus of bypassing OT law, which called for the death penalty. Jesus asked for "one without sin" to cast the first stone. In the OT, the command was for the witnesses to the crime to cast the first stone (Deut 17:7). Jesus may have been suggesting that the supposed witnesses were guilty, because they did nothing to stop the crime before it started, and their very observation was shameful. Whatever Jesus meant, it worked: "Does no one condemn you? ... Then I do not condemn you either. Go and sin no more."

Here's the problem with the passage: almost all English Bibles have a note attached to the passage warning that it is not found in the earliest manuscripts. Our Bibles are based on the best available ancient manuscripts. One of the differences between modern Bibles and the King James Version is that the King James was based on manuscripts from the twelth century and later, but modern Bibles are based on manuscripts dating back to the second century.

It turns out that not a single manuscript of John before the fifth century has the story of the adulterous woman. The story first begins to show up in some fifth century manuscripts, but even then, scribes marked the text with obeli, special symbols indicating that they doubted that the story was originally in the text. Some later manuscripts placed the story in a different part of John, or even in Luke. If that evidence were not enough, the vocabulary and style of the passage are quite different from the rest of John. The evidence is strong enough that the majority of NT scholars do not believe that John wrote it.

So that's the bad news. Here's the good news: the same vast majority of NT scholars who don't believe that John wrote it, also believe that the story is true. That is, it is a true story about Jesus that circulated independently and then was eventually inserted into John by a later scribe. There are three major reasons for believing this. First, some church fathers discussed the story, although they did not say it was from John. Papias, who probably died in AD 135, refers to the story. Second, it is very unlikely that the story would have been invented by later generations of Christians. From the second century on, Christians took a very hard line against adultery (especially in women), and sometimes would not allow official forgiveness of adulterers at all. Finally, the story just sounds like Jesus. If you read through the various apocryphal gospels (such as the Gospels of Thomas, Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, etc), you begin to develop a nose for what is likely true and what was made up by later generations. This story has the ring of truth.

What's the bottom line? This story does not belong to John, but it belongs in our Bibles. It is a true story about Jesus that shows his compassion for sinners as well as his anger towards hypocrisy. It does not teach that sin is acceptable: Jesus still calls the woman to repentance.

The picture: "The Unfaithful Wife" from Jesus Mafa, 1970s. The Jesus Mafa paintings are produced by French artists and Mafa villagers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Difference Between Grace and Mercy

Question: What is the difference between grace and mercy?

When I was growing up in church, I used to hear the saying, "Mercy is when you don't get what you deserve, and grace is when you get what you don't deserve." The idea was that mercy is withholding deserved punishment, and grace is an undeserved gift. In recent years, I have heard people say that when you first fail, you need grace, but if you continue to fail, then you need mercy.

Both ideas roughly represent what modern people mean when they say mercy or grace in English. But the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and so those definitions are not adequate when we read the Bible, although they aren't completely wrong, either.

So before we get simple, we'll have to get a little complicated. Words in all languages change their meaning depending on their context. For example, in English, the word head can refer to a leader, a bathroom on a ship, the froth on beer, a high peninsula, or many other things depending on the context. Grace and mercy in the biblical languages are no different - they have different meanings depending on the context.

Grace in the Old Testament: Grace is the translation of the Hebrew cheyn, meaning favor. Two good examples are "But Noah found grace / favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8) and "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace / favor to the humble" (Prov 3:34). In these sorts of passages, cheyn refers to God (or people) being favorably disposed to do good things for someone.

Grace in the New Testament: Grace is the translation of the Greek charis. The basic sense of charis is a gift, or the generosity that inspires that gift. So when Paul says, "For by grace you are saved through faith..." (Eph 2:8), we can say that it is by God's sheer generosity that we receive the gift of salvation (for more on charis, see this post).

Mercy in the OT and in the Gospels: Mercy translates the Hebrew chesed (in the OT) and the Greek eleos and oiktirmos (in the NT). Mercy, like compassion, is when we see someone in need and respond with both pity and action. The blind man of Jericho cried out to Jesus for mercy, because he was in great need (Luke 18:38-39). The Samaritan is described as merciful because he helped the injured traveller (Luke 10:37). Giving to the poor is an act of mercy (eleemosune, Matt 6:2-4). When Jesus blessed the merciful (Matt 5:7), he was talking about people who respond with pity and action to those in need.

Mercy in Paul's letters: Paul usually uses mercy in the same way as the Gospels and the OT. But sometimes, Paul uses the word mercy to describe God's forgiveness of our sins (Rom 11:30-32, 1 Tim 1:13). This is closely related to the meaning of mercy in the rest of the Bible. If we see the hungry, showing mercy means feeding them; when God sees sinners, showing mercy means providing forgiveness.

So, what's the simple answer to the question? Grace and mercy are not totally different; both attributes are at work when God saves us. It is mercy because God sees our desperate need and acts out of pity. It is grace because God gives salvation generously. But we need to be careful not to see mercy and grace as only gifts from God. God expects us to give mercy by helping those in need, and to be gracious by being generous with all that we have.

The picture: Noah's Ark, by Peter Spier. One of my sons loved this book. The first page begins "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord," and the last page shows Noah planting a vineyard. One day he asked me if God liked grapes. I said I was sure he did, but why did he ask? He answered, "Because Noah found grapes in the eyes of the Lord."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Grace to Naaman (2 Kings 5)

Question: Hey Gary, what's this about? it appears the Lord is forgiving Naaman in advance for bowing to another god.

But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this. 2 Kings 5:18.

This is an interesting passage, because the rest of the Bible is sharply opposed to any acts of worship towards other gods, especially the second commandment (Exod 20:4-5). Daniel's three friends, for example, are honored because they risk their lives by refusing to bow down to the king's idol (Dan 3). A good look at the whole story of Naaman will help us understand, but there will still be some unresolved tensions.

This section of 2 Kings contains a series of miracle stories about Elisha. Each story shows Elisha as an enforcer and executor of God's covenant with Israel. Most prophets call God's people back to the terms of the covenant (the Torah), and warn them about the consequences of continued disobedience. Elijah and Elisha are different from most other prophets in that they themselves carry out the blessings and curses of the covenant. In this story, Elisha brings a blessing of the covenant to a Gentile convert - and not just any Gentile, but an army captain from Aram, Israel's enemy. (Aram is also called Syria, which is not the same as Assyria.)

Naaman decides to trust Yahweh, the God of Israel, by going to Yahweh's prophet for healing. Elisha heals Naaman through a ritual cleansing in the Jordan (an image that may influence John the Baptist's later baptisms in the Jordan). After the healing, Naaman does three things that illustrate his new devotion to Yahweh.

  • He asks for two mule-loads of dirt from Israel. Naaman will probably use this to make an altar to Yahweh in his own country.
  • He promises to make no sacrifices to any other god. Monotheism was unique to Israelites, so Naaman has a genuine conversion. He will not just add Yahweh to his list of gods.
  • He asks for forgiveness: his official duties require him to lend an arm when his elderly master bows down in the temple of Rimmon, so Naaman will naturally kneel down with him.

Elisha gives his blessing (v. 19) to all three. We can understand that Elisha welcomes the first two, but why permit the third? The key prohibition in the OT is against sacrifices to other gods (Exod 22:20). Sacrifice was the most important act of worship in the ancient world. Naaman has shown his loyalty to Yahweh by vowing not to sacrifice to other gods - a vow that will get him in trouble back in Aram, since sacrifice to national deities was often a mark of national loyalty. Naaman may physically kneel as he supports his master, but he will not worship. The story reveals the principle that God cares about the heart more than the actions.

This story also reveals God's grace to Naaman. (btw, "Grace to Naaman" would be a good name for a band, or maybe "Naaman's Grace.") God brings healing to this Gentile outsider, he welcomes him as a convert, and he even allows Naaman freedom to do something that an Israelite would not be allowed. Naaman recognizes Yahweh's grace: he begins and ends his request with "May the LORD forgive your servant."

Most importantly, Naaman will point Arameans to the glory of Yahweh. An army captain who refuses to sacrifice to Rimmon, but is nonetheless healed of an incurable disease - such a thing would be a shock to Aramean society, and would cause them to ask about Israel's God. They might not even notice Naaman's hesitant kneeling in the courts of Rimmon.

Paul does something similar. He allows believers to eat meat sacrificed to idols, claiming that is not inherently an act of worship (1 Cor 8, 10:23-11:1). But he forbids participation in meals devoted to idols, since it is inherently an act of worship (1 Cor 10:14-22).

Christians today facing similar issues have to make the same decision: is the act in question inherently an act of worship? or is it a morally neutral act, not necessarily worship? Christmas trees originated as part of pagan practices, but using one today is not inherently an act of pagan worship. Christians attending Shinto/Buddhist funerals today face a difficult decision: are particular rituals merely part of honoring the family, or are they inherently acts of Shinto worship?

The picture: Triptych of the Cleansing of Naaman, by Cornelius Engebrech, 1520.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Baptized with Water and Spirit

Question: What's the difference between water baptism and baptism by/ in/of/ with the Holy Spirit? If one is baptized in the Holy Spirit, does one need to be water baptized? What does it mean to be baptized by/in/of/with the Holy Spirit?

Quick answer: Baptism in the Spirit is the giving of the Spirit, and it happens at conversion. Water baptism is a meaningful ritual that symbolizes the giving of the Spirit and our conversion, and we should do it right away after conversion.

Long answer: Baptism is derived from washing images and rituals in the Old Testament. The OT prophets often promised that a new age was coming, called the new covenant or the messianic age. They eagerly awaited not only the coming of the Messiah, but also the giving of God’s Spirit on all of God’s people. The prophets often used water as a picture of the cleansing work of the Spirit. It would be a cleansing of the inner person, not just the ritual cleansing practiced under the Law (see esp. Ezek 36:25-27; also Isa 32:15-17, 44:3, Ezek 39:28-29, Joel 2:28-29, Zech 12:10, 13:1).

When John the Baptist began his ministry, he baptized with water. He described this as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His baptism also prepared the people for the “coming one,” who would baptize with the Spirit (Mk 1:4-8). That is, John’s water baptism was a picture of the giving of the Spirit from the Messiah. So “baptism with the Spirit” is a metaphor for receiving the Spirit. (By the way, there is no difference in meaning between the phrases by/in/with the Holy Spirit.)

But Jesus did not immediately give the Spirit. John tells us that the giving of the Spirit had to wait until after Jesus’ “glorification” – that is, his death, resurrection and ascension (John 7:37-39). This giving of the Spirit (= the baptism of the Spirit) happened first at the day of Pentecost (or maybe in the upper room, but I’ll save that for another post). Even the disciples had not yet received the Spirit, because they had to wait until Jesus’ atoning death.

Although most Christians no longer use the term this way, in the New Testament, “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is another picture of conversion. When we come to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit, and are therefore baptized with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; see also Rom 8:9, 14, 2 Cor 1:21-22, Gal 3:2-6, 4:6). Later in life, we may have many experiences where we sense the work of the Spirit through us. Acts describes these as “being filled with the Spirit” (Ac 4:8, 4:31, 13:9-10, and others).

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church began to practice water baptism immediately upon conversion (Ac 2:41). The water ritual served as a picture of the Spirit baptism that was taking place at conversion. Immersing in water also became a picture of the believer’s union with Christ, dying and rising with him (Col 2:12).

Do we need to get baptized with water? For a full answer, see this post. A quick answer: we don’t need baptism for salvation, but the NT commands it, and it should be a ritual of celebrating our new life in Christ. You can go simple and just sign a marriage contract to get married – but why not have a wedding to celebrate?

Another common view: Pentecostals sometimes use the phrase “baptism in the Spirit” to refer to a significant experience of the Spirit later in one’s Christian life, accompanied by speaking in tongues. They use the term this way because they think all believers should have the same experience as the first disciples: belief in Jesus, and then some time later, baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues (as at Pentecost). However, if you read through Acts, you can see that the pattern of Pentecost is never exactly repeated, and is probably a unique historical event like the resurrection of Jesus. Further, the rest of the New Testament never indicates that baptism of the Holy Spirit is a later event, or that it is accompanied by speaking in tongues, or that all believers should speak in tongues.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The One Anothers

Below are 60 (or so) verses in the New Testament that describe the way Christians ought to relate to one another. I have organized them by topic. By the way, the Bible study that meets in our home is called "Wananada Wednesdays" in honor of these passages.
(Note to mainlanders: Wananada is Hawaiian Pidgin for "one another" (sort of).)
(Note to Rich: thanks for reminding me to include Wananada.)
(Note to nerds: these are all the relevant verses that use the Greek word allelon, one another, and the verses where heautos is translated as one another.)

Love One Another
Jn 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jn 15:12 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
Jn 15:17 This I command you, that you love one another.
Ro 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
1 Th 3:12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you…
1 Th 4:9 you yourselves are taught by God to love one another
2 Th 1:3 the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater…
1 Pe 1:22 Since you have… purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart…
1 Pe 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Jn 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
1 Jn 3:23 And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another
1 Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
1 Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 Jn 4:12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
2 Jn 5 And now I ask you, lady, not as writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.

Value One Another in Humility
Ro 12:10 give preference to one another in honor…
Ro 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
Eph 5:21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Php 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.
1 Pe 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.

Serve One Another
Jn 13:14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Ro 15:14 I am convinced that you are… able to admonish one another.
Ga 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Ga 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
Eph 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…
Jas 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
1 Pe 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
1 Pe 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Build One Another Up
Ro 1:1 (RSV) … that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Ro 14:19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
1 Th 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Th 5:11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
Heb 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…

Don’t Tear One Another Down
Ro 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
1 Co 6:7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
1 Co 7:5 [Husbands and wives,] stop depriving one another
Ga 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.
Ga 5:26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
Col 3:9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices…
1 Th 5:15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.
Jas 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren.
Jas 5:9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged…

Forgive and Bear with One Another
Ro 15:7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Eph 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love...
Eph 4:32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Col 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Be United with One Another
Mk 9:50 Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Ro 12:5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Ro 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another
Ro 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus…
1 Co 12:25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
Eph 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
1 Th 5:13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.
1 Jn 1:7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another

Show Affection to One Another
Ro 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…
Ro 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
1 Co 16:20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Co 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Pe 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

How many churches can you belong to?

Q: How many churches can you belong to?

I haven't seen any statistics, but people who study the church have noticed that a growing number of Christians in America are involved with two churches. I know some people who primarily serve in one church, and are fed in another church. Other people split their time between two churches because they like different programs at each church, like worship in one church and the children's program in another.

The first thing we should consider is what we mean by church and belonging to. In the first century, Christians already used the word church in several ways: individual house churches (Rom 16:1, 5); all the churches in one town (Acts 11:22, Rev 2:1), and all Christians everywhere (Acts 9:31, Col 1:18). The most important meaning is the last one: all Christians are "baptized by one Spirit into one body" (1 Cor 12:13). So all true Christians, regardless of location or denomination, belong to the one true church. In the first century, Christians were "members" of one house church, but sometimes several house churches met together, and sometimes people (especially leaders) would visit other house churches.

So there is nothing wrong in principle with attending more than one church; in fact, it may be evidence of unity between Christians. But there is a second question: what does it mean to belong to a church? If we walk through the pages of the New Testament, we see a whole list of "one anothers" that should define our churches: love one another, value one another in humility, serve one another, build up one another, forgive one another, be united with one another, and show affection to one another (see here for 60 passages describing how Christians should treat one another). And that's only a start - we could add a whole list of other things that we should be doing as members of our churches.

With that in mind, we need to ask a question about motive: am I attending so that I can be part of the "one anothers" at both churches? Or am I only church two-timing - trying to get what I want from each church? It's possible to bless and be blessed by two churches - or it's possible to just take from each church and give nothing. Whether we attend one or two churches, we need to fully participate, giving and receiving.

If your involvement at two churches blesses other Christians and blesses you, then it may be a good thing. I have a small group Bible study that has people from four churches, and it helps build up all four churches. I attend other churches when they invite me to preach. But if you are just a consumer at both churches, then you should work on engaging in the "one anothers" at just one church.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Use of NT in OT

I just finished writing an article on the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, which will be published in the Baker Handbook on the Bible in 2010. For copyright reasons, I can't post the whole article here, but here is an excerpt:

A quotation or allusion to the OT can be pictured as an hourglass. The upper chamber of the hourglass is the context of the OT reference; the neck of the hourglass is the quotation or allusion; and the lower chamber of the hourglass is the context of the NT quote. The NT’s brief reference to the OT is often a way of showing connections between the theology of an entire OT passage and the theology of the entire NT passage. In many cases, references to the OT that at first appear strained make sense when the connections between the theology of the OT and NT passages are observed. For example, the five OT references in Matthew’s birth narratives (Mt 1:23/Isa 7:14; Mt 2:6/Mic 5:1-3; Mt 2:15/Hos 11:1; Mt 2:18/Jer 38:15; Mt 2:23/Isa 11:1) are troublesome because some appear to ignore the meaning of the OT passages. However, a careful reading of the context of the OT passages reveals a common theme: the desperate plight of God’s people and their promised rescue. Matthew is showing a connection between God’s OT promises of rescue and the NT birth of the rescuer...

There are a variety of reasons for a NT author to make use of OT material. It is important to understand first what the NT author is not doing. The NT author is rarely engaging in exposition of the OT text; that is, he is not trying to merely explain what the OT author meant in the fashion of a commentary or expository sermon. The NT author has his own message, and he refers to the OT to advance that message. This is not to say that the NT author is disinterested in what the OT author meant; rather, he is interested in the theology of the OT passage and how it can be used to advance the NT author’s message.