Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Face of God

As the covenant God, Yahweh is one who reveals himself to his people. This capacity of God to reveal himself is fundamental to the possibility of covenant. As Moses says, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way Yahweh our God is near us...?” (Dt. 4:7).

God takes the initiative to reveal himself early in the patriarchal narratives. He is not known because men and women seek him; he is known because he graciously condescends to them. At the same time, the pure essence of God is not immediately accessible to humans, and the divine self-revelation is always to some degree veiled, for as God explains to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see my face and live” (Ex. 33:20). Hence, the descriptions of God’s self-revelation are invariably anthropomorphic, which is to say, God is described in human terms, even though he is beyond humanness. Hence, God “walks in the garden” (Ge. 3:8) and “lifts his hand” in oath (Ex. 6:8). Furthermore, he expresses a wide range of human emotions. He “snorts” in anger (Ex. 15:8), for instance. The standard Hebrew expression for anger, ‘aph (= snorting, anger) is derived from the Hebrew word for nose, and the English translation, “My anger will be aroused” (NIV), may quite literally be rendered, “My nose will become hot” (cf. Ex. 22:24; 32:10-11, 22). Similarly, God “regrets” actions (Ge. 6:6a), experiences “jealousy” (Ex. 20:5), feels “heart-pain” (Ge. 6:6b), appreciates “goodness” (Ge. 1:31) and “hates” (Dt. 16:22) and “abhors” detestable things (Lv. 20:23). Such anthropomorphisms should probably be understood as poetic metaphors, particularly in light of the fact that God, in his pure essence, was considered to be invisible and transcendent. They express the fact that God is personal as opposed to impersonal; he is a divine Someone, not merely a divine Something. By speaking of God anthropomorphically, the Torah describes God as coming to humans on their level. At the same time, it must be remembered that such metaphors are limited and carry with them the inherent danger that God might come to be understood as made in the image of humans with their vices and failures—which was pretty much the way the rest of the ancient Near East understood the deities. Anthropomorphisms of God in the Torah are carefully balanced by the affirmations of God’s invisibility, his hiddenness and mystery, and the prohibition of carving any likeness to him.

The primary recurring anthropomorphism in the Old Testament is the panim (= face) of Yahweh. The English translation of panim with respect to the face of Yahweh is usually “presence”, and the reader of the English Bible may not be aware that this is most often the word for the “face of God”. The entire personality of Yahweh, his love as well as his anger, is concentrated in his face. The displeasure of God is expressed when his face is against someone (Ge. 3:8; 4:14, 16; Lv. 10:2; 22:3). The approval of God is expressed when his face is turned toward someone (Ge. 27:7; Nu. 6:25; Dt. 12:7, 18; 14:23, 26; 15:20, etc.).

In a special sense, the panim represents the presence of God without reservation. At Sinai, Yahweh instructed Moses to depart with the people for Canaan, but he said that he himself would not accompany them because of their stubbornness (Ex. 33:1-6). Moses, however, pleaded with God so that God promised to send his panim, that is, his “face”, with the Israelites (Ex. 33:12-17). Later, Moses could say that God brought the entire company out of Egypt by his panim (Dt. 4:37; cf. Is. 63:9). Because God was so powerfully present in the Tent of Meeting, the sacred bread, which was to be displayed at all times, was quite literally the “bread of the face”, or more familiarly, the “bread of the presence” (Ex. 25:30; 39:36). Similarly, the table upon which the sacred bread was placed was called the “table of the face” (Nu.4:7).

In a Christian sense, this “face of God” reaches its climax in the face of Jesus:

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  (2 Co. 4:6)

While on the mountain of God Moses was prevented from seeing God’s face, and indeed, the invisibility of God is upheld by the writers in the New Testament as they speak of God living in “unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Ti. 6:16). Still, the promise for the future is that in the end believers shall see him “face to face” (1 Co. 13:12). “They shall look upon his face,” John says (Rv. 22:4). Roman Catholics and the Orthodox call this theosis, though the broader term is the “beatific vision”. However one describes it, this ancient anthropomorphism of God—the face of God—takes on special meaning, for as Fanny Crosby’s old hymn puts it:

                                                And I shall see him, face to face,

                                              And tell the story saved by grace;

                                                And I shall see him, face to face,

                                              And tell the story saved by grace.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


No less than three accounts are provided by biblical authors regarding the unusual sign that God gave Hezekiah to assure him that his life would be extended. Isaiah had first announced to the king that his life was near its end, but when Hezekiah pleaded for a reprieve, Isaiah returned and told him that God had heard his prayer and would add another 15 years to his life. As a sign confirming this prediction, Yahweh invited Hezekiah to decide whether the shadow on the time-marker would move forward or backward, and Hezekiah chose backward. The details of the story are recounted both by Isaiah and the compiler of the Kings record (Isa. 38:1-8; 2 Kgs. 20:1-11), while the account in the Chroniclers’ History is very abbreviated (2 Chr. 32:24). That the accounts in Isaiah and 2 Kings are for the most part verbatim in the Hebrew text has convinced most scholars that one account is dependent on the other (Isaiah is likely the earlier one).

There are, however, some lingering questions about the incident. First, there is the nature of the time-instrument itself. The Masoretic Text of both Isaiah and 2 Kings describes it as a marker with “steps”, which suggests that the instrument was some sort of device that cast shadows on a wall as the sun moved through its daily course. The great Isaiah scroll recovered from the first cave at Qumran, however (1QIsaa), describes it as “the upper dial of Ahaz”. This description presumes that the instrument was inherited by Hezekiah and might very well have been of Assyrian origin due to Ahaz’ fascination with Assyrian devices (cf. 2 Kg. 16:10-18). Either way, Hezekiah’s remark that he wanted the shadow to move backward, since it was too simple to have the shadow move forward, seems a bit strange. From a modern point of view, whether the shadow moved forward or backward seems sufficiently miraculous by all definitions!

So how did the shadow move? We can immediately dismiss the legendary story that scientists at the Goodard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, using a sophisticated computer program, discovered a missing 40 minutes in the astronomical record. The scientists at Goddard have repeatedly disclaimed this story outright, but nonetheless, it has been floating around for decades in one form or another. A version of it was first published as far back as 1936 by Harry Rimmer, who in turn cited an otherwise unknown 1890s source. It was picked up by a gullible Harold Hill and repeated in a new and improved version in his 1974 book, How to Live Like a King’s Kid. Now, with the advent of the internet, it is still making the rounds, albeit in an updated fashion (see the debunking at A much more plausible explanation is that the moving shadow was related to a total solar eclipse (a total solar eclipse is when the moon completely blocks the sun, creating a short period of darkness). We know, for instance, that just such an eclipse occurred in 702 BC, the 16th year before Hezekiah would eventually die (you can find it online at NASA’s Five Millennium Catalog of Solar Eclipses), and unlike the story by Harold Hill, this one is not bogus.

Solar eclipses can create strange visual phenomena. If a “steps” device in Hezekiah’s court was shrouded in darkness for a short period and then restored to daylight, the shadow might very well have seemed to go backward. A solar eclipse seems a more likely explanation than some disruption of the planet’s daily revolution. Such total solar eclipses are rare (the last one in America extending coast-to-coast was in 1918, but Hawaii had one in 1991 and some of the western states saw one in 1979). Indeed, should you be interested, you’ll be able to see another on August 21, 2017, and it will be from coast to coast, its path of totality extending from Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, passing through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. Darkness will last longest at Carbondale, Illinois (a few seconds beyond 2.5 minutes).

At the end of the day (to use a rather loaded metaphor in the present context), I suppose the real question concerns the legitimacy of biblical prophecy more than celestial disruption. The moving shadow was a predicted sign to Hezekiah, and Isaiah was to be regarded as a true prophet. If you can believe in a God who knows the future, then it was not hard for him to inform Hezekiah that the steps of the shadow would move backward. Was this the result of a total solar eclipse? There is no way to know for certain, of course, but in my mind this is a satisfactory explanation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Should Pentecostals Become Orthodox Christians

I love these observations from The Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

I am . . . interested in how Pentecostals may come to find a home in Orthodoxy. In some ways, Pentecostals and Holiness believers may approach the Orthodox Church quite differently from mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals. Those more in touch with their Holiness roots will not find in Orthodoxy the moralism of their founders, but may nevertheless appreciate our ascetical emphasis on purity. Those who especially focus on healing from God may connect with our theology of salvation as a healing process. The highly interactive character of Pentecostal services may make the back-and-forth rhythms of liturgy more accessible. Some may be attracted by our sense that everyone has a "personal Pentecost" when he is chrismated, that that first Pentecost never truly ended. And Pentecostals who thrill at the stories of famous faith healers and fiery preachers will no doubt have their heads set spinning at the stories of the lives of the saints.

On a deeper level, I believe that one of the things that Pentecostals share with the Orthodox is a lack of fear of materiality when it comes to the spiritual life--something that distinguishes them from most Evangelicals and other Protestants, who tend to shun this as idolatry. The Orthodox believe that holiness can reside in physical things, including our own bodies, and so do Pentecostals. We may not engage in "grave soaking," [a practice among some Charismatic Christians in which a person will lie or kneel on a departed saint's grave in order to obtain his or her "mantle" as the prophet Elisha received from Elijah] but we certainly do like to visit the graves of saints and ask for their prayers. And we do have the sense that physical touch can be an important part of our connection with the saints. Our dedication to physical beauty and love for the mystical experience of worship with all five senses may be for a Pentecostal seeker a fulfillment of all his long hopes.

The appeal of Pentecostalism in all its forms is that it speaks directly to the real pain and suffering of people, to their need for healing and contact with God. While I do not believe that its methods and peculiar beliefs are the best way to do this (and in some cases are counterproductive), even the acknowledgement of this need in people is powerful and compelling. Orthodoxy, when truly lived, also sees the pain of mankind and offers true consolation and hope for resurrection.

While the Orthodox do not seek for God with the pursuit of ecstasy and the constant expectation of miracles, we do believe that He touches us directly in the holy sacraments. And I believe that it is this experience of the very touch of God that may appeal most to Pentecostals and bring them home into Orthodoxy.

Friday, May 26, 2017


          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

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


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

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.