Friday, May 26, 2017

on Leave a Comment


          Almost everyone these days knows that the Aramaic term Abba, by which Jesus addressed God in prayer (Mk. 14:36), means “Father”, though according to the German Aramaic scholar Joachim Jeremias, the word is more akin to a child’s term for Father, roughly equivalent to our endearing term “Papa” or “Daddy”. Indeed, it is almost certain that Jesus’ own use of this term to address God underlies its extended use in the New Testament Greco-Roman churches as an address to God, even though their language was Greek and not Aramaic (cf. Ro. 8:5; Ga. 4:6). Such an address for God was not typical within the Jewish community, but if this was the way Jesus prayed, then it became the way Christians prayed.

A brief word, therefore, should be said about Jesus' insistence that prayer be offered to the Father in his name (Jn. 16:23-28). On the night of his betrayal, when Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from the world and his return to the Father, he instructed them to pray to the Father in his name. So far, they had heard Jesus’ teachings about prayer in the form of what we call “the Lord’s prayer”, in several parables on prayer, in the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth, but there had been nothing in any of those teachings suggesting that they should come to the Father “in the name of the Son”. Now, however, they were to ask in just this way. In that day, you will ask in my name, that is, in the soon-to-come day when Jesus would no longer be physically accessible, since he was leaving the world and going back to the Father. What Jesus seemed to be saying was that their requests to the Father “in his name” could now be made directly, since by his return to the Father, Jesus had made such intimate access possible (Jn. 16:26-27; cf. He. 4:14-16; 10:19-22).  Because of their love and loyalty to Jesus, the Father was only too ready to hear their requests!  Now, the incarnational mission was almost complete.  Jesus had come from the Father into the world, and now he was returning from the world back to the Father where he was before (16:28; cf. 6:62).

Because of this language, Christians sometimes ask who should be addressed in prayer, whether the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, or whether equal time should be given to all. This was apparently a problem that the primitive Christian community did not address. In the first place, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three separated Beings but one God, as say all the ancient creeds. Each interpenetrates the other so that prayer to one is sufficient (cf. 1 Jn. 2:23; 2 Jn. 9).  However, one should not forget that the common form of praying in the New Testament demonstrates a priority, that is, prayer is invariably to the Father rather than to the Son or the Holy Spirit. Prayer may be “in the name of the Son”, and it may be “by the Spirit”, but it is “to the Father”. Indeed, prayer in general in the New Testament is never addressed directly to the Son or the Holy Spirit. Rather, Jesus taught his followers to pray to the Father (Mt. 6:9; Jn. 4:23), and further, that they do so in the name of the Son (Jn. 16:23-24). It is significant that the nature of Christ's mediatorship is not so much that he goes to the Father instead of us (as though he goes where we cannot go), but because of his resurrection life and ascension he goes to the Father with us. He has made the way open to us. To be sure, on occasion Jesus was addressed directly in visionary experiences (cf. Ac. 7:59; 9:13-17), but while this is true, one must concede that these occasions are not the ordinary form of prayer, and they must be regarded as the exception and not the norm. The standard form is for prayer to be directly addressed to the Father in the name of the Son (Ro. 8:15; 15:6; 2 Co. 11:31; Gal. 4:6; Ep. 1:17; 2:18; 3:14; 5:20; Col. 1:3, 12; 3:17; 1 Th. 3:11; Ja. 3:9).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

on Leave a Comment

A Question for Good Friday: Did Jesus Speak Aramaic or Hebrew from the Cross?

As is generally well-known to the careful reader of the New Testament, Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross, recorded in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, reads slightly differently. The spelling of “my God” is “Eli” in Matthew (which represents Hebrew) and “Eloi” in Mark (which represents Aramaic). Both sayings are transliterated, which is to say, they are presented in our English versions following the phonetic articulation of the saying in the ancient languages, and indeed, what one sees in English follows the actual Greek text itself, where the saying, though it is not Greek, is transliterated into Greek letters phonetically but with these different spellings respectively. The question, then, is this: did Jesus speak these words in Hebrew (as in Matthew) or in Aramaic (as in Mark)?

It has usually been suggested that Mark is the more accurate, since he has several other sayings of Jesus in his gospel that are Aramaic transliterations into Greek letters (e.g., Mk. 5:41, 7:34). In fact, this feature of Mark’s Gospel becomes part of the case for asserting that Jesus was probably a native Aramaic speaker. The earliest tradition from Papias (early 2nd century) is that Mark’s gospel preserves the memories of Jesus from Simon Peter, and as such, is the one most likely to preserve Jesus’ verbatim words. We see this also in Jesus’ familial address to God as Abba (Mk. 14:36), where Jesus uses the Aramaic word for Father, a tradition that eventually carried over even into the early Greek-speaking congregations of St. Paul (cf. Ro. 8:15; Ga. 4:6). In any case, it is common for commentators to suggest that Mark preserves the actual words of Jesus in Aramaic, while Matthew provides the voice of Jesus, but has recast the words into Hebrew. Here, I’ll offer an alternative suggestion that goes against this scholarly flow.

While I have no doubt that Jesus spoke Aramaic, there are two points in this scene of the cross that make me think that perhaps on this occasion it is Mark who has recast Jesus’ saying into Aramaic and Matthew who records the actual words of Jesus in Hebrew. The first concerns the confusion on the part of the listeners that Jesus' words "my God" may have been the name Elijah. The Hebrew “Eli”, meaning “my God”, is virtually identical with the short form of the name Elijah, the one easily mistaken for the other. However, this is NOT the case between the Aramaic “Eloi”, where the long “o” sound in the possessive form is easily distinguished from the name Elijah. The second point concerns Jesus’ familiarity with the Hebrew text of Psalm 22:1, which is the ancient prayer from which his words were drawn. If Jesus were in the habit of "praying" phrases from the Psalms, which on this occasion is clear enough, it seems to me more likely that he would have done so from the Hebrew text of the Psalm rather than from an Aramaic translation or a Targum. While Targums were used in the synagogue service readings, they were not read in isolation. Rather, they were read alongside the Hebrew text, usually alternating sections at a time, first Hebrew, then Aramaic, for the benefit of those who might have had trouble understanding Hebrew. Hence, Jesus, who was a regular synagogue attender from his youth (Lk. 4:16), would certainly have been familiar with the Hebrew text of Psalm 22:1, even if he was a native speaker of Aramaic. In my opinion, it seems more likely that he would have used phrases in his prayers from the original Hebrew text rather than a translated one.

Why, then, would Mark have recast Jesus’ use of these Hebrew words into Aramaic? That is a question about which one can only speculate, but one possible answer is that inasmuch as Aramaic was perceived to be a mystical language, particularly by Greek-speakers, Mark may have opted for the drama of recasting Jesus’ prayer into a language with overtones of mystery. Alternatively, perhaps Mark may have changed the saying from Hebrew to Aramaic purely for stylistic purposes to match the other Aramaic sayings in his gospel. What seems abundantly clear, however, is that Jesus said these words in either Hebrew or Aramaic, but hardly in both. My suggestion is that he did so from the ancient Hebrew text of Psalm 22:1, using the actual Hebrew words of this ancient prayer of a man abandoned by God. And, of course, the more important theological point is that in doing so, he identified himself in his condescension with the lowest despair any human could ever experience—the sense that God had forsaken him.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

on Leave a Comment


Growing up as I did within the movement of Oneness Pentecostalism, the experience of speaking in tongues was highly valued as a constituent part of conversion-initiation. Indeed, it was often and emphatically stressed that until one had spoken in tongues, one was not fully saved. This theology of speaking in tongues as a crowning sign of salvation was almost entirely taken from the narratives in Acts 2:1-4, 10:44-46 and 19:5-6. On the basis of these passages, it was urged that the gift of the Spirit was accompanied by the gift of tongues, and the one without the other was not possible. I can clearly remember, though it has been over half a century ago, one preacher taking off his shoe during his sermon and pointing out that the “tongue” in the shoe was an essential part of the shoe—you couldn’t have the shoe without the tongue.

While Luke offers more than twenty descriptions of conversion-initiation in the Book of Acts, only three unambiguously describe the phenomenon of speaking in tongues with perhaps one other occasion where it might be implied (Ac. 8:17-19). Of course, the Pentecostal group to which I belonged largely ignored all the other occasions of conversion except the three mentioned earlier. Still, on these three occasions Luke does, indeed, describe converts receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues. I should clearly say, at this point, that Luke seems to envision these experiences as genuine miracles of speaking in known human languages (Ac. 2:6-11). This is the normal meaning of the Greek terms Luke uses, glossa and dialektos. More importantly, however, is how Luke understands the meaning of this experience in the larger context of his work.

Luke’s larger purpose in the Book of Acts is to show how the gospel, which began within the context of Judaism, spread outwardly so that it eventually included the nations. The paradigm from Jesus’ words in Ac. 1:8, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, forecasts the progress of the book. The crossing of ethnic barriers came neither immediately nor smoothly, however. Luke shows how this happened in a series of “steps”, beginning with the choosing of the Seven, one of whom was a Greek proselyte (Ac. 6:1-6), to the conversion of some Samaritans (Ac. 8:4-5, 25), to the conversion of an African (Ac. 8:26ff.), to the conversion of Saul, who was divinely commissioned as a missionary to the gentiles (Ac. 9:15), to the conversion of a Gentile military officer (Ac. 10:1ff.), to the preaching of the gospel to Greeks in Antioch, Syria (Ac. 11:19-21), and finally, to the great missionary journeys of Paul to Asia Minor and Greece (Ac. 13:1-3). Each of these ethnic expansions was a serious theological challenge to the earliest Jewish Christians. The Book of Acts climaxes with the description of Paul “…proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness—unhindered” (my translation). The final word in the Greek text of Acts is the word “unhindered”. That this is Luke’s final word is often obscured in the English Versions, which tend to place it earlier in the sentence, but it is certainly important as the crowning word of Luke’s treatise, given his emphasis on the progress of the gospel as it crossed the various ethnic boundaries of the Greco-Roman world. If we are to understand Luke’s theological intent in those passages that describe tongues-speaking, we should do so within this larger context.

The initial occasion, the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost (Ac. 2:1-4), is essentially a reversal of what happened in Genesis 10-11, the story of the scattering of the nations from Babel, all speaking different languages. In this ancient account, humans had refused to obey God’s command to “fill the earth” (Ge. 9:1), preferring instead to stay together in order to build a great ziggurat into the heavens as the “gate of God” (Ge. 11:3-4). It was a rebellion for which God confused their languages and scattered them over the earth (Ge. 11:9). By contrast, at Pentecost, Jewish representatives from the nations of the world came together at the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem, where they were amazed to see the Spirit descend upon Jesus’ disciples, all of them speaking the languages of the Greco-Roman world and prompting the question, “What does this mean?” What, indeed? Was there sign value to this occasion of tongues-speaking? Certainly, there was! The fact that the languages spoken were from Rome, Asia Minor, North Africa, Mesopotamia, Crete and Arabia—Luke’s hyperbole indicated they were from “every nation under heaven” (2:5)—pointed toward the international scope of the gospel. The sign value of the tongues was hardly a sign of personal salvation for the apostles and disciples, however. After all, of the disciples who received the Spirit, Jesus already had indicated their names were “written in heaven” long before Pentecost (Lk. 10:20). Tongues, then, held a sign value, not to point out that these disciples were now “saved”, but to point out the larger context of Luke’s literary goal, to describe the gospel as it would cross ethnic barriers and be carried to all the world.

 Much progress toward internationalism was made over the next several months. In Jerusalem, the apostles appointed the Seven to rectify the problem between the Aramaic-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews, and the fact that all the appointees had Greek names suggests they may have been drawn from the Hellenistic side of the Christian community (6:3-6). At least one of them was a non-Jew, the proselyte called Nicolas of Antioch, probably a Greek. Then, after Stephen’s martyrdom, Philip’s preaching of Christ in Samaria became the next bold initiative (8:4-5). Here, the Holy Spirit was withheld from those believing Philip’s message, and indeed, the Samaritans would not receive the Spirit until the coming of apostolic representatives from the Jerusalem Church. Hearing of what happened, the Jerusalem church had felt it necessary to send Peter and John to investigate this new venture (8:14), and it was only after Peter and John were there that the Samaritans were blessed with the gift of the Spirit (8:15-17). There is no mention of tongues-speaking in this narrative, though it might be inferred from Simon Magi’s plea to buy this wonderful new power (8:18-19). Still, even if there was an experience of tongues-speaking, the sign value would have been primarily for the sake of the apostolic representatives from the Jerusalem church, a clear indication from heaven that these Samaritans were now to be included in God’s people. So convinced were Peter and John that this new outlet for the gospel was acceptable, they also continued to preach in other Samaritan towns before returning to Jerusalem (8:25).

The second occasion where tongues-speaking is described by Luke is at the house of the Roman centurion at Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital on the seacoast. This incident featured Peter, the big fisherman, who was staying at the home of a tanner at Joppa. Already, he had come some distance in his appreciation that God was rearranging his cultural priorities. The fact that Peter was staying at the home of a tanner—a despised trade which rendered him and everyone in his home unclean because of the constant contact with blood—meant that Peter was already traveling in new social territory. Here, in a vision of non-kosher animals, God made it vividly clear that Peter was not to call anyone unclean whom God had made clean (10:9-16), and Peter was directed to accompany some men to Caesarea (10:17-23). At God’s instruction, Peter went with them, though fortuitously he also took with him six Jewish brothers (10:23; 11:12), Christian Jews who would later serve to corroborate Peter’s experience. Peter’s opening words to Cornelius immediately indicated the discomfort he felt at entering a Gentile home (10:27-29). Still, he frankly told them that that he now understood more completely that God did not show favoritism (10:34). In the end, Peter told them the story of Jesus, and at the climax, the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, an outcome which none of them had expected (10:44). Indeed, the Jews accompanying Peter were absolutely astounded that God had given the gift of the Spirit to these uncircumcised non-Jews, but they could hardly deny it, for they heard them speaking in tongues (10:45-46)! Later, Peter would face an inquisition back in Jerusalem for this foray into Gentile territory (11:1-3). However, after he had explained what had happened—a story corroborated by the six Jews who accompanied him—they had no further objections (11:18). The salient point is this: the phenomenon of tongues-speaking in this incident was the clinching point to convince the Jerusalem church that Gentiles now could be included in the people of God. Peter phrased it like this, “…the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us in the beginning” (11:15), and later, “God gave them the same gift he gave us” (11:17). Peter’s language that the Spirit came on these Gentiles like it had come on the apostles “in the beginning”, almost certainly was a reference to the phenomenon of tongues-speaking at Pentecost, and it immediately suggests that tongues-speaking was extraordinary—something not usually to be expected in conversion-initiation. Was there a sign value in this tongues-speaking? Certainly! However, it’s sign value was for Peter and the six Jews who accompanied him, and later, the Jerusalem church. It was convincing evidence that God had led Peter into this crossing of the final ethnic boundary.

Shortly, more Gentiles would hear the gospel even farther afield, this time in Antioch, Syria (11:19-21). Here, conversion-initiation follows the more common pattern in the Book of Acts in that they “believed and turned to the Lord” (11:21b). There was no need for tongues-speaking in this case, since the Gentile barrier already had been breached and approved. To be sure, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate, just as Peter and John had been sent to Samaria, but all was well in Antioch (11:22-23). Indeed, Antioch became the sending church for Paul’s outreach to Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece, and on all these occasions, conversion-initiation is described simply in terms of faith, not in terms of tongues-speaking.

The only remaining incident of tongues-speaking in Acts came when Paul encountered some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. Here, also, those who were converted spoke in tongues (19:6). The sign value of tongues-speaking is less clear in this narrative. Were these twelve disciples Jews? Luke does not say, though presumably they were. Clearly, by their own admission, they were not aware that John the Baptist’s prediction of the messianic gift of the Spirit had been fulfilled (19:2). We know, for instance, of John the Baptist sects as late as the 3rd century who claimed that John, not Jesus, was the messiah (cf. Recognitions of Clement I.liv). Perhaps Luke saw this as yet another boundary crossed, not so much an ethnic one as a theological one. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that the tongues-speaking here held a sign value substantially different than the other two occasions when it had happened.

Hence, the inherited theology of my childhood, the belief that tongues-speaking was salvific and that the gift of the Spirit was always accompanied by this phenomenon, was promoted by doubtlessly sincere people who were doubtlessly wrong. Their reading of the Book of Acts, sincere though it may have been, was tendentious and flew in the face of the larger context of the Luke’s work. The repeating pattern for conversion-initiation in the Book of Acts is simply faith in the gospel of Christ. This was true at Pentecost, where converts “accepted the message” (2:41), in Jerusalem where they “believed” (4:4; 5:14) and were “obedient to the faith” (6:7), in Samaria where they “believed” and “accepted the Word of God” (8:12, 14), on the Gaza road where the Ethiopian “believed” (8:37, Western Text), at Lydda and Sharon where they “turned to the Lord” (9:35), in Joppa where they “believed in the Lord” (9:42), at Caesarea where they “believed” and “received the Word of God” (10:43, 11:1), in Antioch where they “believed” and “turned to the Lord” (11:21), in Paphos where Sergius Paulus “believed” (13:12), in Pisidian Antioch where they “believed”, “continued in the grace of God” and “honored the word of the Lord” (13:39, 43, 48), at Iconium where they “believed” (14:1), at Derbe where they “put their trust in the Lord” (14:21-23), in Asia Minor where God “opened the door of faith” so that the people were “converted”, “believed the message of the gospel”, “were purified by faith” and “turned to God”  (14:27; 15:3, 7, 9, 11, 19),  at Thyatira where Lydia “opened her heart” along with her household (16:14-15), at Philippi where a Roman jailor “believed” along with his whole household (16:30-34), in Thessalonica where both Jews and Gentiles “were persuaded” (17:4), at Berea where they “believed” (17:12), in Athens where a few “believed” (17:34), at Corinth where “many…believed” (18:8), in Achaia where Apollos was a great help to “those who by grace had believed” (18:27), in Ephesus where they “heard the word of the Lord” and “believed” (19:10, 18), to the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who “believed” (21:20), to the Gentiles whose “eyes were opened” (26:18), to those in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond who “turned to God” (26:20), and finally, to some of the Jewish leaders in Rome who were “convinced” (28:23-24). The three occasions of tongues-speaking in Acts notwithstanding, the normal experience of salvation clearly is expressed in faith—and to borrow Luther’s extension—faith alone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

on Leave a Comment

Did Paul forbid women to teach, that they are morally inferior to men, and that their obligation is to be silent?

1 Timothy 2:11-15 is by far the most controversial in the New Testament with respect to the role of women in the church. In the first place, there are significant translation difficulties.

  • How should one translate the term gyne (either “woman” or “wife”).
  • How should one translate the expression hesychia manthaneto? Does it mean she is to “learn in silence” (i.e., don’t speak out publicly, so KJV) or she is to “learn quietly” (i.e., she is not to disrupt worship, so NASB)?
  • To whom or what is she to be in “full submission” (pase hypotage)? The object of this submission is unstated. Does Paul mean she is to be in submission to the church, in submission to men generally, or in submission to her husband?
  • How should one render the phrase ouk epitrepo? If one translates it absolutely, “I do not permit”, it indicates habitual practice (so NIV). If one translates it periphrastically, “I am not permitting”, it indicates a temporary restriction for the present time, e.g., “I am not [i.e., at this time] giving permission for a woman to teach…” (so JB).
  • What is the meaning of the infinitive authentein, a rare word that appears only here in the New Testament? It certainly is not the usual Greek word that Paul uses to describe authority. Does it mean “to have authority over”, implying a prohibition of female leadership altogether (so NASB)? Does it mean “to dominate”, implying an abuse of leadership power by women who are already leaders (so Berkeley Version)?
    In addition to translation issues, there are significant interpretive issues, particularly in the latter part of the passage.
  • Why does Paul say Adam was created first? Does he intend this as a statement about rank (i.e., Adam was superior to Eve) or a statement correcting a popular Ephesian myth (i.e., a myth advocating that the woman was the first created being)?
  • Is Paul’s statement that the woman was deceived intended as a derogation toward all women (i.e., women are not to be trusted) or the refutation of an Ephesian myth (i.e., a myth advocating that the woman was the source of all wisdom)?
  • How is the woman “saved” through child bearing? The Greek grammar is complex, and virtually all English versions “play with” the grammar, for literally the passage reads, “She shall be saved….if they remain in faith…” Who is the “she” and who are the “they”?
    The most restrictive approach to this passage (sometimes labeled “hard patriarchalism”) sees it as a categorical prohibition. Here, women are to be silent in a congregational setting. They can listen, but they cannot say anything. They must be in total submission to men. Under no circumstance may they teach men. They can have no leadership role in the church, at least if such a role would require them to be directive to men, for they were divinely created to be in submission to men. To do otherwise would usurp the woman’s God-ordained role to be under male authority. The order of creation is hierarchical. Adam was created first; therefore, males are superior. Eve, not Adam, was deceived in Eden. Women are by disposition inclined to be fooled, and therefore, they are more apt to be tricked into transgression.
    A less restrictive approach (sometimes labeled “soft patriarchalism” or “complementarianism”) reads the passage as allowing women to learn quietly so long as they do not disrupt the worship service. They should be in submission to their husbands, and they cannot be a teacher of men, though they may teach other women and also young children. They cannot serve as overseers or elders, since such a role would be a usurpation of the God-ordained pattern that men are to be the primary leaders in the church, but they can serve in lesser roles (e.g., administrative, supportive, secretarial, etc.). The creation sets the hierarchical order. Men were created first; therefore, men should be the primary leaders. Eve was the first to fall into disobedience; therefore, women should not be the primary leaders. However, women may serve in subordinate roles in the church so long as they serve under the jurisdiction of a male leader. They may speak publicly, so long as they do so in submission to their husbands or fathers or male congregational leaders.
    An “egalitarian” approach reads the passage in quite a different way--as a temporary restriction upon women in the Ephesian church due to the rise of a matriarchal heresy with roots in Ephesian paganism and the beginnings of Gnosticism.  This position emphasizes the cultural context of Ephesus (1 Ti. 1:3), a Roman city with an extensive history in mother goddess worship and whose patron deity, Artemis, was famous throughout the Roman world. When Gnostic ideas began to infiltrate Ephesus via Jewish mysticism, the notion of feminine mediators was advanced so that men could only learn the esoteric knowledge of the Gnostics from women, several of whom are known by name. To be sure, what we known of Asian Gnosticism comes from documents somewhat later than the writing of the pastoral letters (2nd century AD), but at the same, many scholars have suggested that incipient Gnosticism (i.e., an early developing form of Gnostic thought) probably underlies not only the Pastoral Letters, but also Paul’s Colossian letter and perhaps the letters of John. The female was perceived to be the primal source of spiritual knowledge, an idea present in Ephesian myths but transferred over into formative Gnostic teachings. Such mysticism held that Eve pre-existed before Adam, and in fact, was responsible for infusing him with life. Sophia Zoe (= Wisdom-Life), an alias for Eve, created Adam before the fleshly Eve was removed from his side. She breathed life into him, and she is the one who holds the power of enlightenment. Adam was ignorant of the true state of affairs, tricked into believing that he was created first. His enlightenment—the Gnostic secret knowledge that his source of life was the feminine-divine—could only be revealed by the woman, and the Gnostics’ claim was that they held the key to this enlightenment.
    If the foregoing culture of Ephesus lies behind Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy, which I think it probably does, then the reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 takes on quite a different cast. Certainly, there could hardly be a more pointed disagreement between St. Paul and the Gnostic mythologies:
    GNOSTICISM: The Hypostasis of the Archons, 2.89
    The spirit-filled woman came to him and spoke with him, saying, “Arise, Adam.” And when he saw her, he said, “You are the one who has given me life.”
    ST. PAUL
    1 Timothy 2:13
    For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
    GNOSTICISM: On the Origin of the World, 2.5.116
    But let us not tell Adam because he is not from among us, but let us bring a sleep upon him, and let us teach him in his sleep as if she [Eve] came into being from his rib…
    ST. PAUL
    1 Timothy 2:14
    And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
    That some sort of feminine aggression was prominent among Ephesus’ false teachers seems apparent, for Paul rebukes the ostentatious dress of such women who flaunted themselves in public worship (1 Ti. 2:9-10). He calls to silence any women leaders who were given to malicious talk (1 Ti. 3:11; 5:13) and rebukes those spreading “godless myths and old wives’ tales” (1 Ti. 4:7). Near the end of the letter, he warns against “godless chatter” and “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Ti. 6:20-21). His language about “what is falsely called knowledge” is an admirable description of what we know of Gnostic thought a few decades later. How far developed Gnostic ideas were at this early stage is difficult to ascertain, but the similarities are striking. In any case, Paul was blunt: such female-perpetrated heresies already had induced some to turn away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ to follow Satan (1 Ti. 5:17).

If this is the correct context, then Paul’s restrictions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are to be read in their local setting. He is not issuing universal demands that women never speak in church, never occupy positions of leadership, or never are allowed to teach. Rather, he is emphatically shutting down a virulent heresy in Ephesus, demonstrating by his citations from the Book of Genesis how distorted was this false teaching. The feminists were wrong: Adam, not Eve, was created first. Eve, not Adam, was deceived by the snake.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

on 2 comments

The Oneness Community and the Social World

[In this post, I share a chapter from my dissertation, The People of the Name: Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Florida State University, 1985) regarding the social functions of the Oneness Pentecostal community and its relations with the larger social world. Several of the examples used in these posts reflect American evangelicalism in the 1980s when the dissertation was written.]

The Oneness community/congregation serves not only as the arena for the defining events of ritual worship and the theoretical framework these events engender, but also as the central social institution in the believer's world. The worshipping community acts as a primary grouping which provides a sense of identity, belonging, and order for the individual and, in turn, bridges the gap between the individual and the larger society. On the one hand, the Oneness community functions as a social world unto itself which displays an "objective existence" apart from the existing relationships of its members, provides obvious standards for membership which define and exclude, and raises clear boundaries which regulate the flow of members into and out of the community. But on the other hand, individual believers continue to function in the economic, political, and vocational life of the greater society. The boundaries between the two worlds—the Oneness community and the larger society—remain permeable, but this permeability is closely monitored by the framework of belief which orders the worshipping community.

The maintenance of a given social order, according to Peter Berger, rests in the continuing function of the society as that which is "most real" for its individual participants. In other words, the social base must retain its "plausibility," its believability and functionality, among its individual adherents. Any framework of religious belief must be undergirded by constructive social communities to maintain this plausibility.

The reality of the Christian world depends upon the presence of social structures within which this reality is taken for granted and within which successive generations of individuals are socialized in such a way that this world will be real to them. When this plausibility structure loses its intactness or continuity, the Christian world begins to totter and its reality ceases to impose itself as a self-evident truth.1

The firmer the sense of community is, the firmer will be the theoretical framework upon which it is built. Accordingly, social bonds within the Oneness community both maintain and legitimate the worship forms and distinct beliefs as the truth of Christianity and the way of salvation.

Berger sees that the "plausibility structure" of a religious tradition is maintained in one of two ways in the contemporary world: the religious community relates the larger society as "church" or "sect".2 In the religious community as "church," the entire society serves as a "plausibility structure" for the religious world—all social processes within the larger society confirm or reconfirm the reality of the religious community. But such situations of religious monopoly in the American scene have recently given way to an explosion of pluralistic competition. In this context, the religious community as "sect" acts as a sub-society, seeking to organize a "cognitive minority" against a hostile or at least non-believing environment.3 The growing secularism of contemporary society and the innumerable religious options appearing in the 1960's have created a milieu of pluralistic competition in American religious life and forced this redefinition of the terms "church" and "sect." Pentecostalism, especially its Oneness expression, has engaged and even flourished in this time of religious pluralism and competition.

In the present, Oneness Pentecostalism continues to take advantage of the instability and discontinuity in the contemporary religious world, offering an alternative "vision" from the major Christian traditions which have grown tenuous and even unacceptable to many. The ability to convert and maintain the allegiance of the converted signals Oneness Pentecostal successes. But such successes are not easily perpetuated: sectarian groups like Oneness Pentecostalism must find ways to motivate individuals to remain sectarian in light of the "attractiveness" and ease of life in the greater society. Oneness Pentecostals have, thus, developed certain strategies to prevent such lapses in commitment, including complex theological apologetics, defensive attitudes in childhood training and higher education, and restrictions on associations with those deemed "dangerous" to the maintenance of the religious "worldview." Such defensiveness has often limited, even replaced, the vitality of the Oneness movement, further gelling notions of exclusivism. At this point—the "openness" and "closedness" of the worshipping community—the central dilemma of Oneness social life appears: in what way is the congregation to maintain its identity and purity while also evangelizing and participating in the larger society?

The Oneness community provides the essential bridge between the believing individual and secular society and, in so doing, colors the believer's perceptions of the external social world and defines, even delimits, the believer's active participation in it. Oneness believers demonstrate a high degree of "consciousness of oneness" with the religious group. This intense "in group" identification appears most clearly in the distancing of Oneness life from the practices and values of the "outside" society.4 While "Holiness" condemnation and restrictions on certain behaviors and associations have faded in general Pentecostal circles, Oneness practice has institutionalized this late nineteenth century value system, changing it only through reapplication to modern technology (note especially the United Pentecostal Church's restriction on television viewing).5

Social roles within the Oneness community are fixed and real. Oneness believers fully and joyfully embrace the community demands of worship and daily ethics. These believers resist any role detachment or "front stage/back stage" manipulation of impressions by bringing together the ideal of the "overcoming" Christian and the reality of this ideal's performance. Such "true believers" demonstrate a pervading authenticity (albeit out of step with greater cultural values) in their social and ethical lives. Those perceiving the "ought" of the Oneness Christian life, but failing to fulfill it, are deemed outsiders, regardless of any close connection to the congregation. This ethical clarity and exclusivism, as much as any specific behavior pattern or restriction, sets Oneness Pentecostals apart from the dominant society.6

The Oneness community encourages strong feelings of loyalty, solidarity, and cooperation, all of which function to draw members in and prevent them from flowing back into the larger society. Theoretically, the Oneness community understands itself in conflict with the values of secular society or, perhaps better, as a participant in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil, God and Satan—a conflict which is waged at the most practical level in daily ethical decisions. But seldom does this rather apocalyptic rejection of secular society work itself out in true attitudes of world-denying. Although Oneness believers do feel themselves separated from and incompatible with the greater society, most do not understand their restrictive behavioral norms as a total rejection of human society (cf. the true world-denying attitudes of the radically adventist Jehovah's Witnesses), but rather of the evil that plagues that society. The real arenas of antagonism are specific clashing values—the traditional Holiness norms to which Oneness believers are emotionally committed and by which they judge behavior. The evil in society is often projected upon the "demonic system" as a whole or upon its leaders or specific institutions (educational centers and corrupt governments) rather than upon individuals who are deemed, not incessantly or irredeemably evil, but pitiable, deluded, and in need of the readily available salvation provided by Christ.

Relationships within the Oneness community, especially in smaller congregations, are understood as primary—intimate, invaluable, ends-in-themselves—in contrast to the secondary and instrumental quality of the community's relation with secular society. In Oneness circles, religious activity serves as the basis for broader communal associations and the congregation provides a pool of human resources from which closest associates and friends are drawn. In larger congregations, the physical proximity of believers in regular face-to-face contact during worship services and their frequent inter-visitation tightly knits the community together. Accordingly, even the largest Oneness congregation preserves the intimacy of the primary group and acts as the arena of direct, personal contact, the haven of values, and the agent of socialization and social control.

In light of the intimacy of Oneness congregations, it is not surprising that the community often perceives itself in the biblical image of the "new family," the superlative family that supplants the functions and allegiances of all other primary groupings. The initiatory experiences of the Acts 2:38 "plan of salvation" are constantly cast in the language of "new birth," transitions to "new life," and rites of passage within this "new life." The notion of the non-human leader in ritual worship blends with portraits of God as "loving Father" to reinforce the images of birth and family which pervade Oneness self- perception. In the salvation process, the believer embraces not only Christ experienced in the community as "new parent," but the worshipping community itself as "new family." References to fellow believers as "Brothers" and "Sisters" are commonplace; while references to pastors or elder believers as "Mother" or "Dad" are not unusual.

Beyond the matter of self-perception, the community's responsibility to the believer and the believer's loyalty to the community parallel normal family relations. The family, therefore, provides not only an engaging image to describe the community of believers, but also an effective pattern for ordering community inter relationships. The fact that Pentecostal recruitment follows lines of existing social relationships means that families, as well as individuals, are the normal targets of evangelism. Existing family bonds within Oneness congregations only further enhance the notion of the worshipping community as the "new family."7

The dynamic, direct, on-going contact with Christ in worship demands a choice of community for the participant—identification with the Oneness community with its restrictive ethical life or identification with secular society and its relative ethical ease. The choice of Oneness life is measured by the quantity and quality of personal associations and external conformity to the behavioral norms within the worshipping community. The notion of the Oneness congregation as "new family" appears strongest and most demanding in times of community opposition and intense worship. This notion is not so overpowering in everyday life as to disrupt normal family relations. The compartmentalization of spiritual and natural families rationalizes Oneness daily practice, elevating the claims of the worshipping community, but avoiding the disruptive power of these claims. Only in times of open hostility and family opposition toward an individual's participation in Oneness life do the claims of the "new family" supersede existing family relations. In such cases, the worshipping community literally replaces the old support system as a new source of values and center of relationships for the believer.8

In addition to this family structure, Gerlach and Hine have expounded the "segmented" nature of the Pentecostal community: Pentecostals demonstrate both strong interpersonal relations within their congregations close associations with members of other congregations through personal associations, leadership exchanges, and travelling evangelists. This "infrastructure" within the movement, as well as perceived hostility from the larger society, solidifies the Oneness Pentecostal community within and beyond the local congregation. Such a social network provides a "grapevine" communication system which quickly collects and disburses information vital to the life of the community and offers a system of support—both prayer and financial support—that transcends normal denominational and organizational distinctions.9

Leadership roles in the Oneness community, especially that of pastor, have followed a pattern of development and institutionalization similar to the changes in the elements and order of worship. Whereas early Pentecostal leaders acted as "referees" to control and order the spontaneity of demonstrative worship, contemporary pastors have assumed roles more comparable to the traditional notions of ministry in evangelical churches. But in the Oneness movement, with its institutionalized restorationism and zeal to maintain Pentecostal enthusiasm and Holiness ethical rigorism, the minister has also come to function as the guardian of the orthodox message and the supervisor of the community's ethical life as well as a leader and participant in ritual worship. Ironically, this shift has often led to excessive authoritarianism among those Pentecostals who most emphasize divine, rather than human, leadership in the worshipping community. With the rush toward organizational uniformity and centralized administration, the Oneness minister has enjoyed constant elevation, in some extreme cases apotheosis, as the "voice of conscience" within the community.

This centralizing of leadership within the congregation has also accelerated a shift toward theological conservatism in the Oneness tradition. Rather than retaining the "openness" to divine insight inherent in the "end time revelation" of "Jesus" as the saving name of God and the prominence of spiritual gifts of utterance, the Oneness movement and message has developed its own "fundamentals of faith" which contain not only the rejection of modernity apparent in Fundamentalist thinking, but also Oneness distinctives as necessary ingredients in the church's orthodoxy. Also, the Oneness statements of faith act as creedal tests for those aspiring to the ministry and as points of censure for those deviating from the party line. This is equally true for the unwritten standards of behavior inherited from the movement's Holiness forebears.

Deviance in doctrinal beliefs, standards of behavior, and attitudes toward the secular world is usually limited to individuals rather than substantial subgroups within Oneness congregations. The rise of such a subgroup usually leads to community fission and the formation of a new congregation. Heterodox individuals, more often than not, keep their deviating beliefs and behaviors to themselves, outwardly conforming to group standards. Outspoken heterodoxy leads to community isolation, correction, and even expulsion.10 Whenever opposition to Oneness doctrine or practice becomes too vocal, the detractors quickly find themselves outside the movement. The Oneness pastor, therefore, acts as an agent of social control who pressures the compliant into conformity and ostracizes and even removes those deviating from orthodoxy.

Such in-group exclusiveness and strong social control raises the issue of the Oneness community's place in the larger social world. Arthur Paris correctly states that the Pentecostal "participates in the world but does not 'live' there," that their "worldly lives are of secondary importance to them."11 While this obviously overstates the case, it is essentially true. The amount of time demanded by Oneness religious devotion and the strict regimen of behavior standards limits the believer's leisure time and recreational opportunities. Beyond work support self and family, the Oneness believer lives his life in the context of church worship and activities.

The isolation and insulation from secular society underlies the prevailing attitude of social quietism in Oneness churches. The "in group/out group" conflict model defines Oneness perceptions, but offers no significant framework for understanding the believer's participation in the larger society. This Oneness framework of thought disallows any meaningful recognition or discussion of the believer's secondary relation to the secular world. Religious commitment is the sole point of reference for the believer, but this does not discredit the believer's worldly life. It is wrong to understand American Oneness Pentecostalism (except in its most apocalyptic expressions) as anti-cultural and, therefore, thoroughly sectarian and world-denying. The believer lives in an ethical paradox—a dualism of community and secular demands. The "Christ against culture" rhetoric common within the group arises from its limited framework of perceptions rather than real anti-cultural sentiment.

Marion Dearman's early 1970's sociological study, "Christ and Conformity: A Study of Pentecostal Values," clearly captures this ethical dualism. This study tests Benton Johnson's conjecture that certain features of religious groups rooted in the Holiness tradition socialize members in the key values of the dominant society. Johnson, in 1961, argued that the conversion experience in such groups leads to an "innerworldly asceticism" which emphasizes "rational, purposive, disciplined, efficient, steady, predictable activity directed toward self direction, mastery, and positive achievement in occupational tasks." In short, such religious traditions actively socialize their adherents to the dominant values of American society.12

Using Robin Williams' list of "value belief clusterings," Dearman demonstrates that Oneness Pentecostals (in this case, United Pentecostal Church members from Oregon) share these values or orientations. These "belief clusterings" include:

(1) activity and work, (2) achievement and success, (3) moral orientation, (4) humanitarianism, (5) efficiency and practicality, (6) science and secular rationality, (7) material comfort, (8) progress, (9) equality, (10) freedom, (11) democracy, (12) external conformity, (13) nationalism and patriotism, (14) individual personality, and (15) racism and related group superiority themes.13

ACTIVITY AND WORK. The Oneness Pentecostals interviewed unanimously showed a positive attitude toward activity and work. The assumption that God observed the believer while at work and that the worker represented God and his church to his non-believing fellow workers leads Oneness believers to excellence in their jobs or at least to "work to the limits of their capacity."

ACHIEVEMENT AND SUCCESS. Despite the rhetoric of separation explicit in the Holiness life style and a negative attitude toward secular education, Oneness believers learn the importance of the "power of positive thinking" and "aggressive, self-confident action" in their church lives which prepares them for upward mobility.

MORAL ORIENTATION. Oneness believers take American moralism to its extreme with restrictions on liquor, tobacco, and almost every form of entertainment.

HUMANITARIANISM. The Oneness community is only partially committed to humanitarian values—they are forever concerned with the needs of men's souls, not their bodies, and often attribute poverty and poor health to the moral evil of those who suffer—but this limited commitment parallels that of the larger society.

EFFICIENCY AND PRACTICALITY. Oneness believers recognize the qualities of efficiency and practicality as God's standards for the Christian worker in both religious and secular vocations.

SCIENCE AND SECULAR RATIONALITY. The Oneness believer accepts the advances of technology, but vehemently opposes scientific discussions which ignore or discredit divine guidance in nature or history.

MATERIAL COMFORT. Oneness Pentecostals do not deviate from the desire for possessions and creature comforts prominent in secular society.

PROGRESS. Most Oneness Pentecostals are optimistic about the future despite their eschatological beliefs.

EQUALITY. Oneness believers qualify this notion under the divine rule: if divine authority is recognized, then human equality is advocated.

FREEDOM. These Pentecostals use the American rhetoric of freedom, although their understanding seems to lean toward freedom to conform to society's norms rather than any real recognition of dissent or non-conformity—a position shared by many in the early 1970's.

DEMOCRACY. These believers praise democracy as the "American way," but show little real understanding of the concept.

EXTERNAL CONFORMITY. Dearman found these Pentecostals extremely favorable to societal external conformity, here understood as a return to the "old fashion" middle class values upon which America was built.

NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM. Oneness Pentecostals, despite standard conscientious objection clauses in their statements of faith, demonstrate ample nationalism and patriotism. Displays of "Americanism" and respect for the nation are deemed Christian duties.

INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITY. Oneness Pentecostalism asserts the value of the individual personality, although this value is ultimately religious—the individual as the object of divine love and the recipient of Spirit baptism.

RACISM. Dearman found the least conformity to national values among Oneness Pentecostals in their rejection of racist notions and language, although she admits that this finding might more reflect the geographic arena of her study (the Pacific northwest) than the standard values of the entire American Oneness community.14

These findings led Dearman to conclude that rather than rejecting the values of the dominant society, Oneness believers fully embraced them. This embrace of the establishment is "not passive, but active." Moreover, Dearman saw that emotionally compelling conversions made it possible for new members to change from value systems which do not prize the values of activity, achievement, and success to a new way of life that more clearly reflects dominant societal values. In Oneness circles, Dearman concludes, "it should be sufficiently clear that the life God demands is remarkably similar to that which the establishment desires."15

In light of Dearman's study, the noted social quietism of the Oneness movement seems to blossom from limited social vision and theological perspective rather than any apolitical leanings. Arthur Paris comments that any discussion of the "apolitical or reactionary political position of Pentecostal religion" is flawed by its assumption that politics or political action is a concern, or much less a central concern, of the churches. Such evaluations fail to take seriously the framework within which the believer perceives himself and the community. The Oneness church's sole social action is the salvation of the lost. This goal of evangelism shapes, almost exclusively, the Oneness community's relation to the secular world. This purpose along with latent millenarianism removes serious consideration of secular society, its ills and future, from the church's corporate concern. Corporately, Pentecostals simply do not have a political role. In questions of social, political, or economic struggles, Pentecostals act as individuals, concerned citizens, rather than as community members.16

With other evangelical groups, Oneness Pentecostalism limits its understanding of Christian mission to the all-consuming aim of winning the world to Christ. Ministries of social service are secondary, even suspect, lest a "social gospel" replace the evangelistic imperative. Social ministries, when engaged, uniformly work toward evangelistic ends. Those who seek God find him within the church building or through the religious "witness" of believers. Any notion of a non-churchly worship of God has yet to appear in Oneness circles. For the Oneness believer, obedience to Christ's social demands consists of being an instrument for bringing individuals to the institutional church and the salvation it provides.17

Samuel Hill, noted scholar of southern religion, finds three "distortions of Christian responsibility" in this evangelical reductionism:

[First,] the degeneration of the valid Christian belief that the life of faith produces transforming power into the naive judgment that the conversion experience will rectify all individual and social ills, and by itself humanize life . . . [secondly,] the tendency to overlook persons and their need unless they are "prospects" for membership in the local church . . .[and thirdly,] the inflation of "one portion of the biblical message into the whole," making the "all-important moment of conversion" dynamically separate from the rest of life.18

Oneness Pentecostal life—in the worshipping community and beyond it in the secular world—internalizes the dichotomy of men as "Christian brothers" or evangelical prospects. This dichotomy underlies, even legitimates, the social and political quietism of the movement. Within the community, ethical demands are social and positive. The community as "new family" recognizes the vast array of needs in its membership and joyfully assumes for meeting these needs. But beyond the community, the believer stands alone to face the secular world. The corporate life of the community does not extend beyond the church service or the existing relationships (familial or otherwise) of community members. Outside the community, the believer's ethics become strictly personal and negative, defining his behavior and separating him from the larger culture by outward symbols such as dress and hairstyle. The paradox of the activism of the church "as a social world" and the quietism of the church "in the social world" dictates the values of Oneness social and ethical life.

1Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1969), p. 46.

2Berger's redefinition of these terms does not ignore or discredit previous church/sect analysis—whether expressed in its classical form by Troeltsch and H. Richard Niebuhr or in its contemporary forms by Yinger, Wilson, and others—but rather reapplies these studies in light of the rampant religious pluralism of the 1960's. This redefinition, therefore, updates and clarifies church/sect analysis in terms of the changing situation.

3Berger, Sacred Canopy, p. 164.

4James W.Vander Zanden, Social Psychology (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 218-34.

5United Pentecostal Church International, Manual of the United Pentecostal Church International (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1981), pp. 22-23.

6Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Mentor Books, 1951), pp. 130-33.

7Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), pp. 79-97.

8The strength of the believer's commitment to the Oneness community as surrogate family also diminishes with time as the believer develops broader social relations (i.e., employer/employee, teacher/student, and neighbor/ neighbor).

9Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, "Five Factors Crucial to the Growth and Spread of a Modern Religious Movement," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 7 (1968): 26-30.

10Arthur E. Paris, Pentecostalism: Southern Religion to an Urban World (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), p. 123.

11Ibid., p. 121.

12Marion Dearman, "Christ and Conformity: A Study of Pentecostal Values," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13 (1974): 437-38.

13Ibid., pp. 439-40.

14Ibid., pp. 442-47.

15Ibid., pp. 449-50.

16Paris, Black Pentecostalism, pp. 128-29.

17Compare the assessment of southern religion in Samuel S. Hill, Southern Churches in Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), pp. 195-98.

18Ibid., p. 198.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

on 2 comments


In light of Dr. Joe’s recent excellent posts on the little-known history of the origins of Oneness Pentecostalism, and because a good deal of this early development focused upon the wording of baptismal formulae, I wish to point out something from the early church that may be helpful. The early Pentecostal pioneers, as Joe has pointed out, were sharply divided over the issue of what words to say over the candidate at the time of his/her baptism. Mainstream Pentecostals preferred to continue their use of the longer wording found in Matthew 28:19, traditional in the long history of the Christian church. The Oneness upstarts pushed hard for the shorter wording found in Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:48 and 19:5, some even to the point of denying the validity of water baptism if the longer formula was used. Others, like Bell, seemed to be somewhere in the middle and possibly misunderstood by those at both of the more radical poles.

So, what about the fact that side-by-side in the New Testament one finds such alternative wording? Apparently, the earliest Christians in the New Testament did not seem to find this side-by-side wording objectionable (at least if they did, no writer in the New Testament ever says so). That they did not find it objectionable suggests either that there were no huge theological issues hanging on a precision of words, or else, these various passages were not intended as precisely worded formulae in the first place, only general descriptions.

This same lack of concern over precise wording continues into the post-apostolic church, where one finds the same side-by-side use of baptismal language in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers from the early years of the post-apostolic church. Observe how similar are the following two passages from the post-apostolic church to the language of both Matthew and Luke:

…baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Didache 7)

…they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord” (Didache 9)

These two passages both appear in a post-apostolic work called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or The Didache. It usually is dated by scholars to the latter part of the 1st century or the early part of the 2nd century, and it is arguably the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament itself. The point is simply that even here, just as one finds in the New Testament, the two versions of the language of baptism, whether “Father, Son and Spirit” or “the name of the Lord”, appear within a few paragraphs of each other.

One is tempted, therefore, to regard these early 20th century disputes by the Pentecostals as “much ado about nothing”, to parrot the words of the Bard. Why should anyone object to using either the longer wording of Matthew or the shorter wording of Luke in the ritual of baptism, since both types of wording are in the New Testament as well as in the language of the post-apostolic church? Isn’t the element of faith toward the death and resurrection of Jesus the primary issue? Of course, once the New Issue brethren had coupled baptismal wording with the idea of a “saving name”, and incorporated their version of baptism into a three-step process of salvation, which, of course, they did, the lines were sharply drawn. No longer could they tolerate any diversity in this regard. Still, in the end, I must say that from my perspective it still was “much ado about nothing”.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

on Leave a Comment

Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Earliest Biblical Writings (4 of 4)

Encoding the Covenant Law in the Bible (Part 4 of 4)

            The compilation of written law codes in the ancient Near East is well known. Several Hittite treaties have clauses requiring their periodic reading in public, and the same would be true of what Moses wrote (cf. 31:24). In the treaty between Suppiluliumas and Kurtiwaza, for instance, the code was to be read “at regular intervals.”[7] The precise extent of what Moses actually wrote is debated. It is unnecessary to suppose that he wrote the entirety of the Torah as we now have it (especially the account of his own death), but it is equally unnecessary to suppose that everything was recorded later from oral tradition, as some scholars have suggested (or was made up later and does not even date back to Moses). Linguistically, we have only sparse indications of the state of the Hebrew language at this early period, and whatever form Moses used, it may well have needed updating later. Indeed, the Hebrew text of Moses’ song contains more than a dozen hapax legomena as well as some complicated syntax which remain as challenges for any translator. However one wants to speculate on exactly what Moses wrote, the text clearly indicates that he wrote some form of the covenant law and delivered it to the priests and elders for safekeeping and periodic reading. There was to be a public reading every seven years during the Festival of Booths “at the place God would choose” (cf. 15:1ff.; 16:13-15).

There are even some passages describing Moses as writing, such as, Dt. 31:9, which refers to an unspecified section of law codes, Dt. 31:19, 22, (referring to chapter 32), and 31:24ff. (probably referring to the Decalogue). Such references suggest that portions were written out as smaller segments prior to the compilation of the whole. The rabbinical custom of referring to everything in the Pentateuch as the words of Moses, of course, was adopted by the writers of the New Testament, but this convenience of speech does not necessarily support the view that Moses personally penned the entire corpus. One can only speculate how long elements in Deuteronomy and other books in the Pentateuch may have been preserved as oral tradition before being codified. A generation later, Joshua is commanded to obey the “book of the law” (Jos. 1:7-8), a reference that seems to refer to the contents of Deuteronomy 5-26 or 5-30. Joshua is familiar with the law code that altars were not to be fashioned using an iron tool (Jos. 8:31; Dt. 27:5), and indeed, the whole ceremony in the Shechem Pass is based on the anticipation of this ceremony as described in Deuteronomy (Jos. 8:30-35; Dt. 27). Even later, Joshua is said to have drawn up decrees and laws which then were recorded in the “Book of the Law of God”, so apparently Joshua, also, had a hand in the composition of the Torah (cf. Jos. 24:25-26). Even later references also cite the “Book of the Law,” expressions that clearly seem to refer to at least portions of Deuteronomy (cf. 2 Kg. 14:6//2 Chr. 25:4; Dt. 24:16). Certainly some of the prophets knew of law codes that were preserved in Deuteronomy (cf. Hos. 5:10//Dt. 19:14; Am. 8:5 and Mic. 6:10ff.//Dt. 25:13ff.; Am. 4:4//Dt. 14:28; Hos. 4:4ff.//Dt. 17:12), but whether all these things were an oral memory or reference to a written code is unclear.

These, then, are some of the factors that must be considered when assessing the earliest written documents in the Bible. As Christians, we believe that God superintended this production, which is what we mean by the term inspiration. At the same time, these biblical texts bear the stamp of history so that it can be fairly said that this is the Word of God in the words of humans.

[7] ANET (1969), p. 205.