Saturday, August 19, 2017

Another Look at the Antioch Incident

The traditional interpretation of Paul’s public denunciation of Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile Christ believers in Galatia centers on the Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). This reading argues that when Paul, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christ believers shared common meals with the Gentiles in the Galatian church, this action was a clear witness to Paul’s rejection of the ongoing validity of Torah observance for Gentiles and Jews alike and his promotion of a “law-free” gospel. Peter — a Jewish Christian visitor to the missionary church — initially joined Paul in these mixed meals. But under pressure from “those of the circumcision” — who apparently argued that Gentiles could only be included in the Christ community if they first submitted to Jewish proselyte conversion with the ultimate act of commitment in physical circumcision — Peter and other Jewish Christ believers ultimately withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile believers, thus reaffirming the dietary demands of Torah observance and rejecting Paul’s” law-free” stance.

A major problem with this interpretation is that the issue in the Galatian confrontation is not what one eats, but who one eats with. The Jewish dietary law is not the main concern here. Table fellowship is. And this must be understood against the central role that table fellowship – the invitation to all regardless of rank, social acceptability, or even moral uprightness to dine together – played in the ministry of Jesus.

The practice of table fellowship with all was the most offensive element to his contemporaries in Jesus’ ministry prior to his cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple. His opponents regularly attacked this practice over all others. This open table fellowship was also the clearest “object lesson” of Jesus’ teachings of the nearness and even presence of the kingdom of God. For Jesus, in the “age to come,” the kingdom of God that was already dawning in the present, “many would come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – a great and final act of table fellowship.

This ultimate symbol of inclusion of all in God’s kingdom is not a new idea, but rather is a clear fulfillment of the Hebrew prophets’ expectation that at the end of the age God would restore Israel and “the law would flow forth from Zion” to all nations and peoples. In the age to come, Gentiles would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem bringing with them gifts and be accepted as part of the people of God. This is nothing short of the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham that through him and his family (Israel) “all the nations of the world would be blessed.”

Inclusive table fellowship in the ministry of Jesus was the clearest indication that the “age to come” was dawning, Israel was being restored, and the ingathering of the Gentiles had begun. It is precisely this eschatological framework that Paul — the apostle to the Gentiles — used to explain how “Jews as Jews” and “Gentiles as Gentiles” are brought together into the people of God. The “middle wall of partition” has been torn down, Paul argued. God’s people — who had been separated and divided – are now, at the end of time, one body, one building, one loaf.

When looking at the Antioch incident, it is important to remember that this eschatological “re-visioning” of Jews and Gentiles together was not just Paul’s way of thinking. The verses that directly precede Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2 speak specifically of how James and the Jerusalem church shared this understanding of Gentile inclusion in God’s end time action. These words clearly parallel — and may actually referred to — the decision of the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 where Paul and Barnabas tell of their ministry among the Gentiles who clearly experienced the same outpouring of the Spirit enjoyed by the Jewish Christian believers, yet without submitting to Jewish proselyte conversion.

This testimony of God’s actions among the Gentiles is followed by the affirmation of God’s end time inclusion of the Gentiles by the two strongest voices in the Jerusalem church — and in a sense, the representatives of all Jewish Christ believers – Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. The Apostolic Council concluded with the wise saying of James that “no greater obligation” –that is, Jewish proselyte conversion and full Torah observance – should be demanded of the Gentiles who God had now so clearly included in the people of God by the actions of the Holy Spirit among them.

Let me say this again. Paul was not the only one who embraced the eschatological vision of the Hebrew prophets and the teachings and practices of Jesus of Nazareth. The church at Jerusalem, the “mother church” of Jewish Christ believers, and its two most prominent representatives — Peter and James — also shared this view of the end time inclusion of the Gentiles.

This brings us back to the incident at Antioch. Paul places a “date stamp” on the timing of this confrontation – at the arrival of certain “men from James.” The traditional reading identifies these men with “those of the circumcision,” later referred to by Paul as demanding Jewish proselyte conversion, culminating in the physical act of circumcision as prerequisite for Gentile Christ belief. But this directly contradicts the preceding verses which make it clear that James and the Jerusalem church recognized — even endorsed — Paul’s ministry to the “Gentiles as Gentiles”, making no demands of full Torah observance of these non-Jews.

Here I would propose that the “men from James” and “those of the circumcision” in Galatians 2 may not be the same people at all. Rather “those of the circumcision” are better identified with those “false brothers” that “have infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom that we had in Christ Jesus and to make the slaves” (Galatians 2:4). Clearly, this group is demanding full Torah observance of Gentile believers — that is, full Jewish proselyte conversion including circumcision – as a requirement for entering the Christ community.

It is the pressure of this group – and not necessarily the “men from James” — that led Peter and the other Jewish Christian leaders to withdraw from table fellowship with Gentile believers. In turn, it is this action – withdrawal from ongoing table fellowship of Jewish and Gentile Christ believers — that launches Paul’s ire against Peter. Paul is not attacking “those of the circumcision” here in Galatians 2 (although he certainly has many choice words for them elsewhere). Rather he is attacking the “hypocrisy” of Peter and the other Jewish believers who had openly shared table fellowship with Gentile believers, but now withdrew.

These Jewish leaders had clearly affirmed the new eschatological understanding of the inclusion of “Gentiles as Gentiles” as part of the people of God in the dawning age to come. They had acted on this belief by regularly partaking in a mixed table fellowship, following the example of Jesus himself. But now, under outside pressure, Peter had “caved in” to the complaints and withdrew from the symbolic meal of unity.

For Paul, this is nothing short of an open denial of the entire inclusion of the Gentiles that Paul knew Peter and the “men from James” shared with him. Paul did not charge them with “heresy,” but with “hypocrisy” — that is, acting in a way inconsistent with what you know and believe.

The damage done by Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile believers had nothing to do with the Jewish dietary laws. Rather, it undermined the entire theoretical framework upon which the mission to the Gentiles was built, the entire inclusion of “Gentiles as Gentiles” in the people of God — a belief commonly affirmed by Paul, James, Peter, and the Jerusalem church. Even worse, Peter’s actions lent credibility to those who demanded Jewish proselyte conversion for Gentile Christ believers.

Paul was therefore compelled to react so strongly against such “hypocrisy” and the credence it allowed his opponents in the Galatian church who were demanded full Torah observance for Gentile Christ believers. In short, Paul was defending the validity of his Gentile mission and the theoretical framework on which it stands.

[Having said all this, several questions are left unanswered. Was the shared meal in the Galatian church one that a Torah observant Jew could eat without violating the Jewish dietary laws? Did Paul, Peter, James, and the members of the Jerusalem church continue to be Torah observant? The witness of the book of Acts certainly implies that Jewish Christians remained Torah observant even though the full weight of Torah obligation was never placed on Gentile converts. When Paul tells his hearers to “remain in the calling in which you were called” (I Corinthians 7:17-24), does this mean that Gentile Christians should live "as Gentiles" (not under Torah obligations) and that Jewish Christians as natural and ethnic Jews are to continue Torah observance which is part of their original “calling”?]

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Principles of Literary Interdependence

Recently, I have been studying I and II Peter with a group at North Metro Church in Atlanta. When it came time to look closely at II Peter, I insisted that we also look at the short book of Jude.

There is a definite LITERARY relationship between these books. Clearly, one author had a copy of the written text of the other and frequently quoted and reshaped the source text. This is much more than simply an appeal to the same oral tradition. The vocabulary, syntax, and even sentence structure betray a literary dependence of one document on the other.

While I will not attempt to argue "who quoted who" in the II Peter-Jude interdependence, I would like to take a moment and offer several observations about the phenomena of literary dependence in New Testament texts that apply beyond the II Peter-Jude context--especially in the literary interdependence of the synoptic Gospels.

When one biblical writer uses the written text of another biblical writer, there is a tendency to (1) soften, (2) shorten, and (3) embellish the text of the source document.

Shorten - The quoting writer will often reshape the original text to make it more pithy--that is, easier to tell and remember by the removal and/or replacement of (a) technical language and (b) local detail.

Soften - The quoting author will often remove or smooth out controversial ideas or words, especially if they conflict with the agenda of the new writer. This is most clear when the quoting author takes special care to remove embarrassing and/or easily misunderstood content from the original text.

- The quoting author will often add detail and/or language to the original text that will further his own theological message. (While this may seem to contradict the principle of "shortening" the original text, this is an entirely different matter. In "shortening" the text, the new author removes content that is superfluous to his theological agenda. In "embellishing" the text, the new author adds new content not present in the original text for the express purpose of furthering his own theological agenda.)

These three tendencies are everywhere apparent in Matthew's and Luke's handling of the Markan (triple tradition) material.  Such tendencies are not as clear in their supposed "manipulation" of the so-called "Q' (double tradition) materials.

This speaks loudly for Markan priority and much less for the possible existence of the theoretical "Q."


Anyone who has bought a house or a piece of property is familiar with a title deed. Properly executed, a deed establishes legal ownership. In fact, the modern term “Title Company” commonly refers to commercial businesses that make it their specialty to research, secure and officially record ownership titles. What is true in the modern world was equally true in the ancient world. Property laws in ancient law codes, like the Code of Hammurapi, describe accounts of sales, receipts and deeds—even to the point of authenticating the document through a notary. Even an ancient buyer had to be sure of the seller’s title!

In the Bible, we encounter such a title deed in the career of Jeremiah, when God instructed the prophet to purchase a piece of property from his cousin Hanamel ben Shallum (Jer. 32:6-16). Here, the deed of sale was signed, sealed and witnessed. It is of special interest to note that the title deed is described as being sealed, but that alongside it there also was an unsealed document. The unsealed document served as an abstract—a description of the property and terms accessible to anyone who wanted to read it. The sealed title, on the other hand, had to be preserved from any changes, which is why it was sealed in order to remain sacrosanct. Both documents were deposited by Jeremiah in a clay jar for safe keeping, much as hundreds of years later the people at Qumran deposited their precious scrolls in clay jars.

Sometimes, the “sealed” and “unsealed” documents were combined into a single document. To understand this, one must appreciate the fact that typically scrolls were inscribed on only a single side.  (Imagine, for instance, trying to read a scroll on both sides as it is being unrolled.) After a scroll was sealed, however, one could write the abstract that originally was on a separate document on the outside of the sealed scroll (which would be the backside). As such, the contents of the sealed scroll remained intact, but the abstract, which now appeared on the outside of the sealed scroll, did not require a second document. This type of text gains the technical name of a “double-deed”, and such a text, written on both sides, is called an opisthrograph.  Good examples are known from ancient Mesopotamia. You also can find one briefly referenced in Ezekiel, when in his commission the prophet was shown a scroll written on both sides. Two excellent ancient examples of such double-deeds can be found in the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York and the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, Jerusalem. The latter was discovered at Elephantine, a Jewish community in the 5th century BC in Egypt. Both deeds are secured with a cord, and over the knots in the cord is a clay bulla, a lump of clay which has been impressed with a seal to secure the document. Printed in Hebrew characters on the outside of the sealed document is the Hebrew word for “Deed”.

This brings us to just such a double-deed in the New Testament. In the Apocalypse of John, the elder John is shown a scroll “written on both sides and sealed with seven seals.” Almost certainly, this scroll represents an ancient title deed. Indeed, archaeologists have discovered a very similar deed—one tied with seven cords, no less, each cord sealed with its own bulla—at Wadi Daliyeh near Jericho. (This one also is preserved in Jerusalem by the Israel Department of Antiquities.) John seems to know the meaning of the sealed scroll, but he is distressed that no one is able to open the seals. Whatever this vision means, the seven-sealed scroll seems to represent a title deed to something, and the only one able to open the scrolls—the only one who is entitled to do so—is the Lamb. This factor, in turn, likely reflects on the Lamb’s qualifications to be a redeemer or buyer, for such a title under Israelite redemption laws could only be “bought back” by someone who was in the family. I would suggest that the seven-sealed scroll represents the title deed of the world. God intends to reclaim the world as the final act in his redemptive purpose, and this includes not only the final redemption of his own people but also the judgment and overthrow of evil.

The redemptive ability of Jesus Christ to open the scroll, as in ancient times, rested on his qualifications. He was both willing and able, and he was a close relative who was descended from Judah and David. Most important, he was the Redeemer of the people of God. The seven seals clearly signify events to occur on the earth (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1).  If the seven-sealed scroll is such a double-deed, it suggests that God intends to reclaim a world which has been infiltrated by evil, and the final stage of this reclamation will come in the climactic events described in the Revelation.  The Lamb who was slain, who already has procured salvation for all humans through the cross and resurrection, is worthy to open the seals, heralding the consummation.  In the end, the foremost plea in the Lord's Prayer will be answered.  His kingdom will come--his will shall be done (Mt. 6:10; Rv. 11:15)!

If this interpretation that the seven-sealed scroll represents the title deed to the world is allowed to stand, then the opening of the seven seals represents precursors to the end.  The idea that judgments would be poured out upon the world before the end is strongly rooted in the Hebrew prophets.  Some of the passages in Revelation describing the opening of the seals directly allude to such Old Testament texts, such as, people hiding in the caves of the earth for fear (Is. 2:19//Rv. 6:15), the darkening of the sun and the moon turning to blood (Is. 13:10; 24:23; Eze. 32:7; Jl. 2:10, 30-31; 3:15//Rv. 6:12), the rolling up of the sky like a scroll and the falling of the stars like figs (Is. 34:4//Rv. 6:13-14), and the giving of the nations over to slaughter (Is. 13:15-18; 34:2-3; Eze. 32:3-6; Jl. 2:1-9//Rv. 6:4).  The Book of Daniel, while not listing such stereotypical woes, generalizes that prior to the end there would occur "a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of the nations until then" (Da. 12:1), and Jesus reiterated this statement (Mt. 24:21//Mk. 13:19).  Such trauma, sometimes referred to as the "woes of messiah," was a characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic in the intertestamental period and later.  Lists of disasters and cosmic disruptions describe the darkening of the sun, the turning of the moon to blood, the shaking of the mountains (Testament of Moses, 10), plagues of pestilence, famine, earthquakes, war, and hail (Apocalypse of Abraham, 30; 2 Baruch, 70).

Admittedly, this interpretation takes the Book of Revelation in a futuristic sense (and for whoever wants to know, I follow historic premillennialism as an interpretive model). Those who adopt a preterist or historicist model for interpreting the book will doubtless find other explanations for the opening of the seven seals. Nonetheless, however, one interprets the final meaning of the Apocalypse of John, the imagery of a title deed embodied in the seven-sealed scroll should remain a constituent part of the interpretive process.

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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

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.