Word Study #51 — Disciples

May 29, 2010

Are there still disciples?”
The plaintive-sounding question grabbed my attention when it appeared on my blog’s list of “search terms.” I wish I could have located the writer, for I have not infrequently asked the same question. Fellow-disciples can be terribly hard to find!

By definition, a “disciple” is a student – a learner – an apprentice – to a Master teacher (see W.S. #46). But sadly, most of the folks that many of us encounter, who claim the Lord Jesus as their Master, seem to feel called-upon to provide neatly proof-texted “answers” to every sort of theoretical question, rather than to embark together upon a limitless quest to learn and emulate the Master’s ways.
I must believe there are still disciples – but how I wish I knew how to find them! Such creatures are enthusiastically un-welcomed in so many “churches”!

The word mathetes, “disciple”, was common in the Greco-Roman world, ever since the 6th – 4th centuries BC, when it was applied to the pupils of classical philosophers and rhetoricians, or of those who explored mathematical, scientific, or astrological studies. Interestingly, it appears only twice in the LXX (Jer.13:21 and 20:11), revealing a vastly different understanding of faithfulness from the one we discover in the New Testament, where the word appears 269 times. All of these occur in the gospels and Acts.
It is not uniformly obvious to whom the term refers. There are references to “the disciples of John (the Baptist)” ( Mt.9:14, 11:12, 14:12; Jn.1:35, 37) ; “the disciples of the Pharisees” (Mt.9:14, 22:16); and a group of Pharisees on one occasion described themselves as “disciples of Moses” (Jn.9:27-28). And when the reference is to “Jesus’ disciples”, the term is alternately applied to the twelve, who are also called “apostles”, to the crowds eager to hear his teaching, and to a few individuals who were very quiet about their support “for fear of the Jews” (Jn.19:38).
Although “the disciples” occasionally seems to have referred to an inner circle, larger than the 12, but smaller than the crowds, who received more careful explanations and explicit teaching than the general public (Mk.4:34), and on occasion served as assistants (in all the crowd-feeding scenes), even that seems to have been a somewhat fluid group (Jn.6:66).

Jesus’ own teaching about “being” his disciple appears much more restrictive and deliberate, requiring one’s giving that task priority over all other loyalties (Lk.14:26-27). The parallel passages in Mt.10:37 and Mk.10:29 carry the same flavor, although they do not use the word “disciple.”
The goal that Jesus sets for disciples is clear: (Lk.6:40, Mt.10:24) – “to become like one’s Teacher.”
Jesus also specifies (Jn.8:31) that it is necessary to “continue [live, persist] in my word” in order to be a disciple; (Jn.13:35) to be readily identifiable by outsiders, by the mutual love of disciples; and (Jn.15:8) to be a fruitful branch of his Vine. Whatever else may be implied here, it certainly includes mutual, continuous effort that results in a reflection of the Lord Jesus’ own life!

As the disciple group expanded – Luke records 120 present in the prayer meeting of Ac.1:15 – so did the vocabulary, and the terms “disciples”, “brethren”, and “the church” seem to be used almost interchangeably. I wonder if the shift to “brethren” or “churches” in the epistles may not have been deliberate, in obedience to Jesus’ instructions forbidding the elevation of any individual (Mt.23:10-11) – see also chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom. Paul’s corrective in I Cor.1:11-13 would make a lot of sense in such a context.
Calling a person a “disciple” was used in a manner similar to the way some folks today would characterize each other as “a believer” – except that a much deeper level of commitment was assumed, both to the Lord and to the group. Whether Ananias of Damascus accepting the frightening assignment of ministering to Saul, the blinded persecutor (Ac.9:10), Dorcas in Joppa caring in practical ways for the needy in her congregation (Ac.9:36-40), young Timothy in Lystra (Ac.16:1) recommended by his home congregation to travel and study with Paul, or the thousands whose names we may not know until we meet around the Throne, we may find in each – and each other – challenge and encouragement to faithfulness in our own situations.
The entire group of disciples was involved in mutual care: (Ac.9:19-25) looking after the newly converted Saul in Damascus, (Ac.11:29) deciding to send famine relief to Judea; and (Ac.19:30) first keeping Paul out of the arena when the mob demanded his hide, and then being encouraged by him before he left town! The term was applied to whole congregations in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Ac.14), and specifically included Gentile converts (Ac.15:10). Travelers were frequently recommended to one group of disciples by another (Ac.18:27, 21:4, 16).
It is instructive – or should be – to note Paul’s discovery of a group in Ephesus (Ac.19:1) who, though imperfectly taught, he clearly recognized as “disciples”. They responded warmly to his corrective teaching – but notice also that he had not summarily read them out of the kingdom upon first encounter! Would that such graciousness – on both sides – were more prevalent today!

Such warmth contrasts sharply with the late 1st/ early 2nd century writing of Ignatius. The earliest writer to advocate strongly for hierarchical structure in the nascent church (he demanded submission to a single “bishop” rather than to plural “elders”), Ignatius wrote in a condescending-sounding tone in a letter to a Roman congregation (thought to have been written enroute to his expected martyrdom), “As long as a Christian’s blood has not been shed, he is only a beginner in discipleship.”

With the advent of the extreme veneration of martyrs, and the dominance of the hierarchy, devoted followers of Jesus were even that early, denied the designation applied by the Lord Jesus to ALL HIS LOYAL FOLLOWERS/STUDENTS!

I guess it all boils down to the same old question: whose word do you accept?
What did Jesus say?

I choose to cast my lot with my gracious Lord, whose invitation , “If you all remain in [continue to live by] my word, you are truly my disciples” (Jn.8:31), has never been rescinded.

“Are there still disciples?”
Yes, thank God – and there always will be, as long as some of us continue to seek for faithfulness.
May we help each other to do so!

Word Study #50 — Worship

May 22, 2010

I don’t know how many printed cards or form-letters we have received, over the years, from all varieties of “churches” that we have visited, bearing some variation of this standard message:
“We were delighted to have you worship with us today. We hope you enjoyed the service, and that your needs were met. Our church offers many exciting programs for all ages. Please do not hesitate to call on us for your pastoral needs. We hope to see you again.”
Such drivel is immediately consigned to the recycle bin: yet another group has vividly demonstrated its total ignorance of (1)what worship is about, (2) what church is about, and (3)how easy it is to spot phony “hospitality.” Whether they loudly thump their Bibles, quoting chapter and verse, or scarcely open the pages at all, does not seem to make a difference. Although their stated agendas may label themselves “liberal” [“accepting/welcoming”]–translation: “Anything goes here!”– or “conservative” [“faithful”]–translation:  “You gotta do it MY way!”–,  their attitudes are identical.
Jesus, not surprisingly, said it best: (Mt.15:9, Mk.7:7) “Your worship of me is empty: you are teaching as ‘doctrines’ the commandments of (mere) men.”

We may be forgiven for imperfectly understanding the concept of “worship.” This English word has, after all, been used to represent no less than a dozen different Greek words – none of which, however, makes any reference to sitting in the audience of a lecture (scholarly or otherwise), a political speech, or a professional concert (classical, country, rock or rap, or anything in between!) Nor do any of them provide a clue as to what sort of “needs” are supposedly to be addressed. “Enjoyment”, likewise, is totally absent.
Because, to put it most simply, worship is not about you or me and our “needs”! It is about the object of our devotion!
When the Magi spent weeks, months, or perhaps years making their way across hostile deserts to “worship” before the King they had sought, do you think it was to acquire some sort of “warm fuzzy feeling?” I doubt it. Their tenacity, and subsequent openness to guidance, reveals rather a deliberate expression of fealty to an acknowledged superior! That “pledge of obedience [allegiance]” is also precisely what Satan later asked of Jesus (Mt.4:9-10, Lk.4:7-8), and what Jesus flatly refused to give, with his unequivocal statement that one’s allegiance is due only to God! (See W.S.#4).

Of the multiplicity of words used in the new Testament, the majority only occur once or twice, and are usually traditionally translated in other ways, as in Lk.14:10 (doxa much more often is rendered “glory” or “honor”) or Ac.17:25 (therapeuo is usually used of healing). Although some overlap exists, it is helpful to look at the lexical meanings of the most common words.
Latreuo (16x rendered “serve”, and only 3x “worship”) classically (L/S) referred to human servitude – either as a slave or a hired worker – as well as to “serving the gods with prayers and sacrifice”. Bauer adds “the carrying out of religious duties, usually of a cultic nature”, and Thayer also focuses on the performance of prescribed rites. Not surprisingly, many of the New Testament occurrences of latreuo are descriptions of the old ways that were left behind by both Jews and Gentile converts (Ac.7:42, Heb.10:2, Ac.26:7, Rom.1:35, Heb.13:10), although there is also occasional mention of “serving God”(Ac.27:33, Rom.1:9, Rev.7:15) in a more enlightened way.
Proskuneo, by far the most common (59x), carries the greatest implication of acknowledging a sovereign by bowing to the ground, or falling at his feet, although the word was also used in common courtesy as a formal greeting. This word referred to the gesture of submission required by political conquerors, the refusal of which resulted, not uncommonly, in peremptory execution. It was, however, also used of supplication, as when someone begged for Jesus’ attention (Mt.8:2, 9:18, 18:26; Mk.5:6). It’s going on all the time, in the joyful scenes around the throne (Rv.4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 11:1, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4) Interestingly, although in pagan culture, physical obeisance was often an effort to avert the wrath of the gods (L/S), in the N.T. it is a scene of joyful celebration of the triumph of the Lamb!  Interestingly, proskuneo is always an active verb — never a noun or an adjective.
Various forms of sebo, sebaomai, and sebazomai ar)e sprinkled throughout the narratives, L/S notes that these refer to “the reverential awe that prevents one from doing something disgraceful”, and is used to describe “religious” people like Jewish proselytes (Ac.18:7, 16:14) who were open to the Christian message, as well as the varied objects of pagan worship (II Thes.2:4, Ac.17:23). This term became more politicized when the emperor adopted the title “Augustus” (sebastos) and demanded to be worshiped as a god (by the burning of incense). Our first century brethren would have surely been shocked at the ease with which so many today who call themselves “Christian” remain so ambivalent about the priority of their Kingdom loyalty!

Jesus’ most detailed discussion of “worship” (proskuneo), interestingly, was with the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria (Jn.4:20-24). He quickly steered the conversation away from details of placewhich no longer matters – (4:21) – to the object and attitude (22-24) which does matter. The Father is seeking (present tense) for those who will worship him “in spirit and truth.” “God (is) spirit” – there is no verb: but both nouns are nominative. The latter pneumati and aletheia are both dative objects of the preposition en.
There is no easy resolution to the arguments between trinitarian and non-trinitarian positions here; but both “sides” frequently obscure or ignore the connection to Jesus’ own definition of “truth” (Jn.14:6) – see W.S.#26 – and that the “true [genuine] worshipers” are designated by the same word. Their identification with Jesus, therefore, is most obvious.

One more word that needs attention, although it, too, is only traditionally rendered “worship” once, (against 3 x “religious/religion”): threskia, sometimes classically used of formal cult worship, but succinctly and deliberately re-defined by James (1:26-27) when he points out quite bluntly that “religion” which does not extend help to the needy is useless! – and the “real thing” consists of caring for widows and orphans, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. This is presented, not as the cause, but as the inevitable effect/evidence of genuine worship.

A cursory survey like this cannot possibly produce a neat “definition” of as far-reaching a term as “worship.” One can, nevertheless, glean an assortment of elements that must be included in any such definition:
– Worship may involve a single individual (Mt.8:2, 9:18) or a group assembled for the purpose (Rv.4:10, 5:14)
– The focus is upon the one who is worshiped, not the worshiper. (Jn.4:23, Heb.1:6, Rv.15:4)
– Location is irrelevant (Jn.4:21)
– It is the appropriate response of gratitude for being included in the Kingdom (Heb.12-28)
– No faithful messenger of God will accept any hint of worship personally directed toward him (Rv.19:10)
“Enjoyment?” “Exciting programs?” “Needs?” I don’t think so.

The beginning of an understanding of genuine Christian worship might be simply:

–to declare our admiration and absolute allegiance to our King
– and to report for duty in his service.

What observations can you add?

Word Study #49 — The Church

May 13, 2010

Here is another place where the process of word study presents a surprise. In all the Gospels, the word “church” – ekklesia – occurs only three times: once in Matthew’s account of Peter’s recognition of Jesus’ true identity (16:18), and twice in Jesus’ instructions for reconciliation among brethren (Mt.18:17). It is plentiful in the later writings, appearing 112 times, but to our usual question, “What did Jesus say?”, we must answer, “not much,” although I think that many of his references to his Kingdom (see W.S.#19, 20,21) apply equally to the church.

Ekklesia was not uncommon in classical usage. As early as Homer, it referred to any assembly legally summoned for a particular purpose: legal, civil, or military. It is even used this way three times in the account of the riot in Ephesus (Ac.19:32,39,41), of both the angry mob and the legal jurisdiction to which the town clerk referred them. The concept was taken over into the Latin comitia, from which our ubiquitous “committee” is derived, and the LXX translators used it of the Jewish congregation. L/S notes that “in the New Testament, it refers to the church as a body of Christians. The word was not applied to a building until the Codex Justinianus,” dated from the 4th to the 6th century AD – well after Constantine had re-structured the “church” as a civil institution.

But we are concerned with the faithful, New Testament pattern. Very likely, the lack of Gospel references is due to the more common use of sunago and its related words (note the English cognate, “synagogue”) which was the usual gathering-place of the Jewish faithful. If this is the case, then Jesus’ deliberate choice to use a different word takes on sharp significance. When he says “I will build my church” (Mt.16:18), he is clearly about to “do a new thing”, as Isaiah had prophesied long ago (43:18-21). Please notice that Jesus says that HE intends to do the building! Later, (Ac.2:47), Luke notes that as the group of believers grew, “THE LORD added to their number.” In recent years, it has become “in vogue” for individuals – mere people – to set out to “build” or “plant” churches. With all due respect to these folks, some of whom, I’m sure, are quite sincere, THAT IS NOT OUR JOB!!! Peter casts it properly in the passive voice (I Pet.2:5), “You yourselves, also, as living stones, be continually built into a spiritual household…” We need to be available, as building materials – but leave the building to the Master Builder! He knows what he is doing!

There’s plenty of work that is assigned to us. It is “through the church” that “rulers and authorities”, whether in heaven or earth, are to see a demonstration of the “many-faceted wisdom of God” (Eph.3:10)! For this purpose, Jesus has been provided to us as “head over everything with respect to the church, which is his Body” (Eph.1:22, Col.1:18). Paul has furnished us with an “instruction manual” (I Cor.12) for learning to function as members of that Body – each actively contributing to the interdependent unit. See a more detailed discussion of this matter in Chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom – “Discerning the Body”.

The closest we come to a “recipe” in the New Testament for a gathering of the church is found in I Cor.14:23-25. I have never seen a group try that, have you? It would be a truly wonderful meeting! Although, admittedly, it would probably be upsetting to anyone who has a need to be in control. The description in Ac.2:42-47 is similarly attractive, and just as rare. This is also discussed in Citizens of the Kingdom, chapter 7.

Being composed of very human people, of course, “the church” was not all glorious sweetness and light. Jesus himself (Mt.18:17) had given instructions for dealing with conflict, with the help of the church. An excellent practical example is described in the conference at Jerusalem (Ac.15, and Citizens of the Kingdom, chapter 8 ) concerning the inclusion of Gentiles. Paul emphasizes in I Cor.6:4 that the church, and not civil courts, should be called upon when mediation is needed.

So, what is “the work of the church”?
The church at Antioch sent out and supported Paul, Barnabas, and Silas (and possibly others) to carry the message into unreached areas. Other congregations also supported their work (Phil.4:15, II Cor.11:8, 12-13), and a sizable group cooperated to send relief to needy brethren (II Cor.8).
“The church” was also charged with the care of widows who had no family – which would have been a serious concern in groups under persecution.
The section in Ac 2:42-47 lists some of their activities.

Most of the church groups seem to have met in people’s homes. Ac2:46 speaks of “breaking bread from house to house”, and Paul mentions groups meeting in the homes of Aquila and Priscilla (I Cor.16 and Rom.16), and Titus Justus (Ac.18:7) in Corinth; Nympha (Col.4:15) and Philemon (Phm.2) in Colossae; Lydia (Ac.16) in Philippi; John Mark’s mother in Jerusalem (Ac.12:12); and probably Gaius (Rom.16) wherever Romans was written from. Occasionally, as in Ephesus (Ac.19:9) at the beginning, a rented hall was used – perhaps to accommodate a larger group, or before a host was available. It was natural, then, for Paul to refer to the church (I Tim.3:15) as “the household of God.” About half of the references are plural, which probably indicates more than one congregation in a location. In any event, real estate does not seem to have been a concern.
Neither is there any reference to the church as “a place to go on Sunday” to sit and listen to a learned lecture (or less-learned diatribe) and professionally performed music or other entertainment. There is no prescribed agenda or “liturgy.”

It is important to note that, except for his instructions to Timothy and Titus, who seem to have been serving as his “deputies”, Paul addresses his letters to “all God’s people [the “saints”] at ….” [a location], and not to officials of any kind. In Phil.1:1, leaders are included in the address, but are not primary. This makes one wonder about the addressing of the “mail” in Rev.2 and 3 to “the messenger” (aggelos)— traditionally rendered “angel” (see discussion in chapter 13 of Citizens of the Kingdom. ) Might this person have been some sort of corresponding secretary? But even in this case, everyone is called upon to heed “what the Spirit says to the churches.”

So what is this New Creation called “the church”?
I like the suggestion of a student years ago, “a combination of a colony of the Kingdom and a support group!”
These are people gathered, as in Ac.2:42-47, to celebrate and share the resurrection life of their King.
As in Ac.11:26, they gather to learn his ways, in order to represent him faithfully to those outside, and
as in Ac.12:15, for mutual support and prayer in the face of persecution.
They deliberately avoid (Heb.10:25) neglecting to get together, since they need to keep coaching and encouraging one another,
(I Cor.14:12) each seeking to excel in what will edify the church, as they
(Heb.10:24) concentrate on prodding each other with love and good deeds.
They serve as a “demonstration project” of the wisdom and glory of God (Eph.3:10)
being “built together into a permanent dwelling place for God, in the Spirit.”(Eph.2:22).

Quite enough to keep us all busy!

Word Study #48 — Ordain

May 7, 2010

It would be difficult to find a word that provides a clearer example of how hard “official” translators will beat the bushes to try to find (or create) justification for an idea that arose completely apart from the New Testament text, than the English word “ordain.” It entered the English language around 1250AD, from the Latin, via French. This, please note, was after more than a thousand years of “evolution” which, tragically, had transformed a loving, mutually participatory brotherhood into a huge, hierarchical institution, in which a comparatively few individuals (“ordained clergy” * of many ranks) held frightening power over a “laity”* who were kept compliant by their enforced ignorance of the New Testament message, due primarily to their lack of access to it.
*Please note that neither of these terms exists anywhere in the New Testament.
How else can one explain the use of “ordain” to represent no less that thirteen different Greek words in the text, with no more than three such representations (in some cases an extremely tiny minority) in the case of any single original word?
And even the English word, according to the Oxford dictionary, expressed multiple meanings: “to enact by law or edict, to decree or to give orders, to destine, to order or command, to appoint to office,” as well as “to invest with ministerial/sacerdotal function in a church.”

Only in Heb.5:1 and 8:3 is there any hint, in the New Testament, of a “sacramental”* ceremony, conveying ecclesiastical responsibilities, privilege, and status – and that deals with the commissioning of the Jewish high priests, under the old system!
* another word that is not found in the New Testament
We will briefly examine each of the Greek words involved, and note their more common uses, as well as their lexical meanings.

Diatasso, which primarily concerns the giving of instructions, occurs thirteen times in the New Testament. It was translated “ordain” only three times: I Cor.7:17 (referring to whether one was “called” to be married or single); I Cor.9:14 (the provision for itinerant preachers to be supported); and Gal.3:19 (regarding the giving of the Law.) Other uses are as varied as the lexical meanings listed by Liddell/Scott (L/S): “to appoint or assign” (Lk.3:13, Ac.20:13, Tit.1:5); “to give orders” (Lk.8:55, Ac.18:2, 23:31); “to arrange, undertake, or pledge” (I Cor.16:1, 11:34), among others.

Kathistemi, a somewhat stronger word, used nineteen times, was also translated “ordain” only three times: Titus 1:5 regarding the choosing of elders, and the Hebrews references already cited. L/S lists “to cause, place, or station” (Mt.24:45, 47); “to bring to a destination” (Ac.17:15), “to bring before a judge or magistrate” (Lk.12:4), “to set a battle array, to institute laws, to be set as a guard,” or occasionally “to stand against or oppose” (Jas.4:4). Most common is “to make” (as, to give someone a job) (Mt.25:21, Ac.7:10, Ac.6:3). Interestingly, the Titus reference contains both diatasso and kathistemi: Paul is reminding Titus that he was instructed to put in place elders (plural) in every city, to provide the necessary oversight for each group.

Kataskeuazo, primarily (L/S) “to equip or furnish, to build or construct”, is used six times (out of 11) as “to prepare” – Mt.11:10, Mk.1:2, Lk1:17 and 7:27 – of John the Baptist “preparing” the way for Jesus; and Heb.11:7 and I Pet3:20 of Noah “preparing” the ark. It is used three times in Heb.3:3 and 4 of building a house; and only once as “ordain” (probably referring to instructions), in the preparation of the tabernacle objects.

Krino, used 110 times, usually in reference to judgment (see Word Study #9), either legal or intellectual, is only once rendered “ordain”, in reference to the verdict at the Jerusalem Conference (Ac.16:4).

Horizo (8 uses total) twice refers to Jesus as “ordained” by God to judge the world (Ac.10:42, 17:31). The classical “to divide or separate with a border or boundary, to determine or define” would fit just as well, as it does in Lk.22:22, Ac.11:29 17:26, Heb.4:7.

Poieo – usually “to do” or “to make”, is found in the New Testament 538 times, only one of which was translated “ordain” – Mk.3:14 – referring to Jesus’ choice of the 12 disciples. Did someone just decide that a more “official sounding” word was needed for that event? The writer apparently did not think so.
The same question could be asked about the single case where ginomai (“to be, to become” – 557 times) has been rendered “ordain” – the choice of Matthias (Ac.1:22). Both of these choices are clearly editorial, as are many of the other 47 cases where a variant rendering was chosen only once.

Prographo – Jude 4 – “to write beforehand”, and proetoimazo – Eph.2:10 – “to prepare beforehand”, each used only once in the entire New Testament, may well have been rendered “ordain” to convey a sense of destiny, which does not exist etymologically in either of those words.
Proorizo, on the other hand, “to determine beforehand,” does carry that flavor. It only appears five times – and only once translated “ordain” (I Cor.2:7), referring to God’s plan for redemption. This subject deserves more attention, which we may give it at another time.

Tasso, (9 appearances, 2 as “ordain”), classically referred primarily to orders or instructions – military or civil – or appointments to any kind of service. This is seen in Ac.15:2, Mt.28:16, Ac.22:10, 28:23: the change to “ordain” in Rom.13:1, again, seems capricious. Ac.13:48 speaks of “those ordained for eternal life” in traditional versions, conveying a determinate sense which is absent in the grammatical structure. “Whoever became faithful was appointed [enrolled] for eternal life” would more closely approximate the grammar of the sentence.

Tithemi, basically referring to putting or laying something somewhere, whether a person, a vote, a bank deposit, a burial, an offering, a will …. has 75 New Testament uses, only two of which were translated “ordain” again, rather obviously because the translators (not the writers) thought a more specific term was needed in Jn.15:16 and I Tim.2:7. They were fine with using “appoint” six times, and “lay” or “lay down” fourteen times with reference to burial, four times to a sickbed, and five to laying a foundation.

Cheirotoneo, only used twice, was rendered “ordain” when applied to elders (Ac.14:23), and “choose” when applied to the folks sent to accompany Paul’s relief mission (II Cor.8:19). Please see the discussion of “elders” in W.S.#42. A discrepancy like this, like those previously mentioned, cannot be other than editorial – which is not “the task of a translator” (please refer to the essay of that title.).

Conspicuously absent from all of these references is any indication of a ceremony elevating an individual to a lifetime position of status, with power over the welfare – physical or spiritual – of his fellows, or the monumental task of standing as a necessary link or mediator between any person and the grace of God! It’s not there, folks!
The Body of Christ is neither a many-headed monster, an efficiently structured corporation, nor a layered pyramid scheme! It is a living, breathing organism under its one Head , the Lord Jesus himself. All its members – loyal citizens of his Kingdom – “ordained” since before the beginning (Eph.1:4-6) to belong to him – share the task of “the measured working of each individual part, building itself up in love, for the praise of his glory!”
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #47 — Teaching/Doctrine

May 3, 2010

There are two nouns that have been translated “teaching” or, more traditionally, “doctrine”, in the New Testament. Didache, used 29 times, appears usually to be used of the act of teaching, and didaskalia, used 19 times, of the content of what is taught, although these are not clearly divided categories. If any of you can come up with a better distinction, I will gladly add it to this post.
More important than that, however, is the realization that neither word bears any resemblance whatever to the neatly sorted and proof-texted lists of theological propositions commonly promoted as “doctrines”, to which individuals are required to subscribe in order to be considered acceptably “orthodox.” (Remember James’ statement (see w.s. #1) that the devil himself could readily subscribe to those lists of “beliefs.”) In 17th century England (Shakespeare and King James were contemporaries), the word “doctrine” simply meant “teaching.” In early American history, it referred to a political pronouncement (“the Monroe Doctrine”).

When Jesus warned his followers to “beware of the didache (teaching, doctrine) of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mt.16:12), it was their behavior that he had been challenging. More frequently, he critiqued their “teaching (didaskontes) as “doctrines” (didaskalias) the commandments of people” (Mt.15:9, Mk.7:7), which sounds suspiciously like the folks today who harangue their hearers about their carefully contrived and footnoted “statements of doctrine.” This may seem to you like a tired refrain, but I will ask you once again, What did JESUS say?” And if you can find any instance of the Lord Jesus arguing any kind of systematic theology, please let me know.

Jesus’ teaching [doctrine] that amazed his hearers was his ability (Mk.1:27 and Lk.4:32) to command the departure of unclean spirits, (Mk.11:18) to drive the opportunistic merchants out of the temple, and (Mt.22:33) to make the scholarly scribes and Pharisees look silly!
Jesus advocated one single test of “orthodoxy”: (Jn.7:16, 17) “My teaching is not mine, but (has its source in) the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do his will, he will know about the teaching [doctrine], whether it comes from God.” Folks, it’s all about following instructions!

When Peter and John were arrested for “teaching in the Name (see W.S. #24) of Jesus” (Ac.3 and 4), they replied simply, (4:19) “If it is just [right] before God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge!” and proceeded to continue to teach as before (5:28-29) the message of Jesus’ resurrection, as evidence of his vindication and supremacy! In Athens, Paul’s “preaching about Jesus and the resurrection” (Ac.17:18-19) precipitated the Areopagus discussion about “what new thing this teaching [doctrine] is”. As noted in W.S. #35, Jesus’ resurrection is the central theme of the whole New Testament: both the definitive proof of his identity, and his credential as the rightful Sovereign of his Kingdom!

Remember that the “teaching assignment” given to his followers in Mt.28:20 was quite specific: those to whom the news of the Kingdom is carried, are to be taught to follow the King’s instructions!

Paul praised the group at Rome (6:17) for turning from the futility of their former lives, to a life of “obedience to the example of the teaching” (didache) they had received. He reminded those at Colossae “Since you were resurrected with Christ (3:1),” get about the business of incorporating that fact into your lives. Timothy and Titus both received very explicit instructions for teaching – and modeling – faithful living.

As was the case with prophecy (W.S.#45), there is also false teaching that must be discerned and corrected. It may involve (Rom.6:17) those who cause divisions in the brotherhood, (Gal) those who try to reinstitute Jewish legal requirements, or (Col.2:22) similar ascetic practices from pagan traditions. There is a rather explicit list in I Tim.1:3-11, along with the reminder (which has never gone out of date), “The goal of the commandment is love from a clean heart and a good understanding, and faithfulness without pretense (1:5)”. The warning is repeated in 4:1-4. In fact, the whole letter (I Tim) could be considered a “teacher’s manual.” Clearly, again, it is Jesus’ words that are to be taught. Subjects specifically labeled in the Gospels as “his teaching and doctrine” include his parables, the Sermon on the Mount, his warnings about the scribes and Pharisees, and his relationship with the Father.

Unlike prophecy, which, as we have seen (W.S. #45), entails a direct message from God, usually bearing upon a specific situation, faithful teaching does draw upon the knowledge, experience, and study of the teacher. II Tim.2:15 succinctly expresses the goal: “correctly handling the message of the truth.” The Scripture is the primary source – and it should be incumbent upon anyone who presumes to teach, to learn to understand it accurately – for it is indeed “useful for teaching, for reproving, for correction, and for education in justice, in order that God’s person may be mature, prepared for every good effort.” (I Tim.3:16-17). And remember that , unlike “moderns” who claim that “scripture” in the first century referred only to the Old Testament, our brother Peter begs to differ, (II Pet.3:16), including both “brother Paul” and other writers in that designation. There were many “writings”(the literal meaning of graphe or grammata,) circulating in the first century church, which required as much evaluation and discernment as the prophecy and teaching. (Note that Paul referred to letters incorrectly attributed to him – II Thes.2:2.)
It is also prudent to bear in mind James’ warning that “we who teach will receive stricter judgment.”(3:1).

Nevertheless, when our risen Lord ascended “higher than all the heavens”, he gave “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers” to his church: “for the purpose of equipping God’s people to do work of service [ministry], and to build up the Body of Christ, until we all arrive into the unity of faithfulness,and of intimate acquaintance with the Son of God: that is, into mature adulthood – into a measure of the maturity whose source is the fulness [completeness] of Christ. (The purpose is ) that we be no longer babies, agitated and carried around by every wind of teaching [doctrine], deceitfully manipulated by people who are deliberately trying to mislead us, but as we interact truthfully, in love, we may grow up in every way into him who is the Head – Christ. From him, the whole Body, joined together [harmonized] and knit together, through the proper functioning of every available ligament , according to the measured working of each individual part, makes bodily growth for building itself up in love.” (Eph.4:12-16)

That’s everybody’s job, folks! Let’s get busy!

Word Study #46 — Teachers

May 3, 2010

In a first-century setting, the word “teacher” (didaskalos) would have conjured up a very different picture from either the 20th century denizen of chalkboards or the 21st century operator of a computer and “smart-boards” in front of a class. If you were of Greek heritage, you thought of Socrates, Plato, and their cohorts, surrounded by eager “disciples” (mathetes), deeply engrossed in philosophical dialogues. Your Jewish counterpart would think of a rabbi, inculcating the intricate details of the Law into his young charges, or arguing its fine points with others of his status. So it was no surprise to either group when a new Teacher appeared on the scene, with a cadre of disciples. “Teacher” or “Master” (the British version of the same word) was one of the primary respectful titles by which Jesus was often addressed. However, very early on, people recognized that there was a difference.

Matthew (7:29, Mark (1:22) and Luke (4:32) all note that one thing that “amazed” the hearers was that Jesus taught “with authority, and not like the scribes” who usually needed to buttress their arguments by quoting others of their number. (Does that sound like any “theological” teaching you have heard?)
Jesus’ teaching was unique in that he undertook to correct the prevalent misunderstandings that were touted as “the Law.” In fact, this makes up a large part of his “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt.5-7), which is bookended by references to his “teaching.” Luke, referring to his first account, summarizes it as “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Ac.1:1) as he begins “Volume 2.”
It is also notable that Jesus’ “teaching” was often connected with healings (Mt.9:35), casting out demonic powers (Mk.1:27), and feeding the crowds (Mk.8), further demonstrating his identity.
Jesus’ frequent use of parables to make a point was not particularly rare in the culture, but his subject-matter certainly was. All the synoptic writers describe “teaching and preaching [proclaiming] the Kingdom”!

Most of these items are also included in his instructions to the disciples whom he sent out as his representatives (Mt.10, Lk.6:1-6 and 10:17). Their discipleship seems to have served as a kind of apprenticeship, as both Matthew (10:24-25) and Luke (6:40) record the reminder that “a disciple is not above (huper) his teacher,” but when fully trained, will be “like (hos) his master”, and Matthew adds (23:7) the blunt prohibition against assuming a title of any kind, reminding them “You all have one Teacher, and you are all brethren.”

This sets the instructions that have been called “The Great Commission” (Mt.28:19-20) in an interesting light. Faulty translation, due to poorly understood grammar, has led to many an unwarranted guilt-trip, as well as serious neglect of our responsibilities. According to most interpretations, “Go” and “preach [evangelize]” (this latter borrowed from a late manuscript of Mark’s version) are treated as if they were continuous imperatives (commands) issued to every “believer,” (which, if true, would require a present tense in the imperative), while “baptizing” and “teaching” are reserved for the “clergy” — a word, incidentally, that does not exist in the New Testament. In point of fact, there is only one imperative in the entire passage – matheteusate.— “make disciples.” It is a second person plural, aorist imperative: which indicates definitive action, by all the hearers. Interestingly, the sense of this word changes with the case of its object. (L/S). If the object is genitive or dative, it refers to being disciples of or to another person. If, as in this case, the object is accusative, (panta ta ethne), “all the nations [Gentiles – same word]”, then it becomes a transitive verb and refers to “making” the object to become disciples. It may be that the risen Lord is thereby deliberately opening the door once-and-for-all (aorist) to “all nations”! It took the disciples a while to internalize that, but the grammar is unmistakable.
All three of the other verbs are present participles, implying continuous action. They govern dependent clauses, modifying matheteusate, the main verb. Poreuthentes, is temporal or spatial: “as” or “while” you are going [or even “wherever” you are going]. Baptizontes (baptizing) and didaskontes (teaching) refer to what the “making disciples” involves. A “how-to”, if you please. Please note that the subject of the sentence has not changed. Matheteusate is second person plural. THE WHOLE THING IS EVERYBODY’S JOB! Please see chapter 10 of Citizens for more discussion.

This seems to have been well understood in the early church. The teaching job comes after the new disciples are recruited and baptized. It was a major part of their early gatherings (Ac.2:42 and 4:33), as those who had “been there” shared the resurrection message. Paul reassured the congregation at Colossae (3:16) that they are perfectly capable of “teaching and admonishing one another.” Jesus had after all, promised that the Holy Spirit would “teach and remind” his people of all that he had said and done (Jn.14:26). Timothy (II Tim.2:2) is reminded to find faithful folks to whom he can pass on the responsibility of teaching. Paul lists “teachers” (plural)among the gifts to the church in Rom.12:7, I Cor.12:28, and Eph.4:11, but also assumes that anyone (I Cor.14:26) might have a “teaching” to contribute.
Indeed, the expectation that multiple folks will be involved in teaching is obvious in the scolding by the writer to the Hebrews (5:12), “By this time , you all ought to be teachers, but you have need for someone to teach you again the very basic principles of God’s words!”
Both Timothy (I Tim.5:17) and Titus (1:9 and 2:3) are reminded that an elder must be a patient and able teacher, and warned of those who teach a mistaken, warped, or deliberately distorted version of the message (II Tim.4:3 and Tit.1:11).

Teachers (Ac.13:1) were together with prophets (see previous post) in the prayer-meeting in Antioch when two of their number were commissioned for itinerant service. I Cor.12:29 implies that (although Paul in chapter 14 directs that anyone may teach) not all are “teachers”. Probably the situation is similar to the directions for prophesying. Those who fill that function responsibly and well, acquire the label – but in obedience to Jesus’ instructions (Mt.23:7), it is deliberately to be avoided as a title or status.

So – what is the “teacher” to teach? Jesus said it quite simply in the Commission mentioned already: “teaching them to follow my instructions!” We will consider this in more detail in the next post