Word Study #109 — Tradition, Ordinance

August 31, 2011

Here are two perfectly good and useful words/ideas whose value has been obscured, if not totally destroyed, by people or groups who have a “doctrinal” axe to grind. I treat these words together here partly due to this commonality, but also because both are also used by “traditional” translators for the same word, paradosis.
Paradosis, in classical usage, combines two very different strains of meaning, probably due to its derivation from the verb, paradidomi – literally, “to give” (didomi) with the prefix para- “along, beside, toward”, but also “against”. It is used both positively, as of a bequest or the delivery of a message, and negatively, of betrayal or examination by torture! Both senses are also represented by the noun, which most frequently refers to the transmission of history, legend, or doctrine, but also to surrender for legal prosecution.

Paradosis appears only 13 times in the New Testament, 12 of which are rendered “tradition” and one (I Cor.11:2) “ordinance.” There is no obvious reason for the single deviation. Of those usages, eight are in accounts of Jesus’ discussions with Pharisees regarding “the traditions of the elders” (Mt.15:2-6 and Mk.7:3-13). In both of the instances referenced, Jesus and his disciples are criticized for failure to observe a requirement of “tradition”, to which Jesus responds by pointing out quite bluntly that nit-picking about details of “tradition” actually amounts to outright violation of the explicit commands of God (Mt.15:3,6; Mk.7:8,13).

These traditions were initially designed, with the very best of intentions, to guide people into faithfulness to their God. It was only when the observance of traditions obscured the need for obedience to God’s overtly stated directives, that they lost any positive value. Please note, it’s not the “tradition” itself that Jesus criticizes. Washing one’s hands before eating, for example, is a good idea, simply from a health perspective. But elevating even a good idea to a level that takes precedence over God’s instructions, creates problems. Jesus’ frequent conflicts with the religious authorities over Sabbath observance provide additional insight, which we will examine in a later study.

Paul sings a similar tune in Gal.1:14, regarding his zeal for the Law before he met Jesus, and also regarding the details of pagan ritual (Col.2:8) formerly observed and still being advocated by some individuals among the Colossian brethren.

Actually, there are only three places where paradosis is used in a positive light: I Cor.11:2 (where it is translated “ordinance”), and II Thess.2:15 and 3:6. In each of these, Paul refers to the teaching that he himself has given to each group. ( I used “principles” in the PNT. I considered that choice more accurate, since the lexical meaning of the word refers to “anything handed down.”)

Tradition” is not inherently wrong, but it must be constantly judged/ evaluated in the light of the Lord’s specific instructions. It is NOT, as some groups insist, equal in authority to the scriptures themselves. In fact, it was failure to distinguish “the traditions of men” (Mt.15:6, Mk.7:13) from the instructions of God, that caused problems for Jesus and his associates, and has continued to do so through all the centuries since the first!

“Ordinance”, on the other hand, in addition to the I Cor. reference above, represents seven other Greek words, of which four – diatage (Rom.13:2), ktisis (I Pet.2:13), dogmatizomai (Col.2:20), and diatagma (Heb.11:23) – refer exclusively to civil law or royal decree. One, dogma, refers to both civil and religious law (Lk.2:1, Ac.16:4, 17:7; Eph.2:15); one, dikaioma (Lk.1:6, Heb.9:1, Heb.9:10) exclusively to the Jewish Law; and only one, paradosis (I Cor.11:2) to the instructions of a Christian teacher.

The verb, diatasso, which refers to the giving of any sort of instructions – (Lk.8:55) Jesus telling the little girl’s family to give her some food, (Lk.3:13) the terms of the license given to tax collectors, (Tit.1:5, I Cor.7:17, 16:1) various instructions for arranging local leadership in new congregations, and (Ac.18:2) Claudius’ decree that expelled all Jews from Rome – certainly does not carry any normative weight with respect to faithfulness!
Nowhere is diatasso applied either to the establishment of a hierarchy (see W.S#48) or to the observance of any ceremony, as has been advocated by groups who (correctly) reject the concept of “sacrament” (W.S.#76) but still want to cling to some of its “magic.”

In classical usage, all of these words have primarily civil rather than “religious” connotations.
Diatasso lists “to appoint, to distribute, to classify; to make arrangements, to pledge oneself, to set an army in array, to make testamentary distribution, to bequeath”.
Diatage – “command, ordinance; testamentary disposition, or a medical regimen”
Diatagma – “ordinance or edict”
Dogmatizo – “to decree by ordinance, to lay down a judicial opinion”
Ktisis – “(most commonly) creation; founding or settling, creation of authority”
Dogma – “notion, decision, judgment; a public decree or ordinance, opinion or belief”
Dikaioma –“ judicial amendment of a wrong; pleadings in a suit, credentials”
Only the latter two are used of the Old Testament Law – see references above.

So where do we come out?
A “tradition” (paradosis) has value, IF it involves, enables, or enhances faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and his Kingdom – but ONLY as long as those who observe or adhere to it constantly judge (test) its effect on their obedience to his directives. Like any symbols (see chapter 9 of Citizens of the Kingdom) traditions can be a valuable teaching tool, as long as they are not invested with magical powers, used to abuse or exclude other disciples, or otherwise to distort the message of Jesus and his Kingdom.

Likewise, “ordinances” – which, please bear in mind, both lexically and in New Testament usage, are primarily civil pronouncements – are to be respected, insofar as they are properly ordered and observed UNDER the ultimate authority of the only true King (I Pet.2:13).

Carefully shared discernment by a faithful brotherhood is essential in determining whether the observance or the violation of any specific tradition or ordinance best expresses our faithfulness to the King and his Kingdom.
May we help each other to find the Way.

Word Study #108 — Full,Fulfillment, Fullness

August 25, 2011

Treatment of plerophoria in the previous post, relating to “full” assurance, trust, or understanding, leads us to the family from which that compound word is derived. Although some of the uses of the adjective, pleres “full”, refer simply to the capacity of a container (Mt.14:20, 15:37, Mk.6:43, 8:19), or a fully developed (mature) head of grain (Mk.4:28), and most of the rest describe dominant features of someone’s personality, whether positive (Lk.4:1, Jn.1:14, Ac.6:3,5,8; 7:55, 9:36, 11:24) or negative (Ac.13:10, 19:28); and 35 of the 91 appearances of the verb pleroo mention the fulfilling or accomplishment of prophecy or obedience to the Law, 7 simply the passage of time, 7 the completion of an assignment, and 10 parallel to the uses of the adjective, there remains a considerable contingent that deserves more specific attention.

Classical uses of the words related to pleroo are as varied as the English associations with “filling” or “being full”. They include complete payment (“in full”), accomplishing / completing an assignment, duty, or task; the “fulfilling” of prophecy or purpose, the “full” phase of the moon, maturity, to gorge or to satiate one’s appetite, to consecrate, or even to impregnate!

As is the case with other words, however, New Testament usages also can deviate markedly from classical patterns. For example, although the many references to “fulfilling” the law and the prophets would have been readily understandable to first century audiences, I have been unable to find any classical parallel to Jesus’ expressed legacy to his confused and troubled disciples (Jn.15:11, 16:24) and his prayer to the Father on their behalf (17:13) that his (Jesus’) joy might “be fulfilled” in / among them. This legacy is referenced later as well (Ac.13:52, Rom.15:13, I Jn.1:4, II Jn.12), and also evident in interactions in the brotherhood (Phil.2:2, II Tim.1:4). In this regard please see also #92, “Rejoice”, and look for “joy” in a later study.

In this case, Jesus seems concerned that this aspect of his own life and personality – his joy – be transferred and/or reproduced in the lives of his disciples, and only so would it be “fulfilled” [made complete]! Try to get your head around THAT!

Paul writes of “being filled” with (Rom.15:14) all knowledge; (II Cor7:4)comfort / encouragement; (10:6) obedience; (Eph.3:19) the fullness of God; (5:18) the Spirit; (Phil.1:11) the fruits [harvest] of righteousness [justice]; (4:19) the supply of needs to enable generosity; (Col.1:19) certain knowledge of God’s will – all of which evidence one’s development toward maturity in Kingdom living. On the surface, all these ideas seem to parallel those treated in #13 – teleios, “mature”, [perfect] – but the reach of pleroo is much farther than that vision of maturity.

The idea of “completeness” becomes quite central to the understanding of the New Testament uses of these words, and particularly of the noun form , pleroma, almost exclusively rendered “fullness”.
Especially in Ephesians and Colossians, Paul has borrowed the vocabulary of incipient Gnosticism to highlight the unique completeness of Jesus. Please note that he has borrowed the VOCABULARY, NOT the ideology, as some critics would like to assume. In fact, he has re-defined virtually all of the terms that he uses.

Scholars differ on the dates they ascribe to this Eastern philosophy / mythology. Some see its beginnings in the first century BC, and others not until the second or third centuries AD. Like any philosophical system, it probably did not emerge full-blown or the scene in the eastern Mediterranean. We have noted before the syncretistic nature of many cultures there. Many and varied ideas had arrived, both with ardent proponents and with casual business people, along the trade routes that intersected in the region, where they merged and diverged in dizzying profusion. The idea was to keep one’s bases covered: a new idea, a new deity, could easily be added to the mix, (“just for good measure”), as in the Athenian altar “to an unknown god.” Across several centuries and cultures, Alexandrian, Persian, Jewish and other adaptations had emerged, with syncretistic manifestations appropriate to each. What follows is a grossly over-simplified summary.

The Gnostic system had strong intellectual appeal, being based on gnosis – “knowledge”. (#29). Adherents posited a remote supreme being, designated pleroma – much too “divine” to be able to interact with matter, which was viewed as “evil”. The creation and administration of the material universe was delegated to various levels of “emanations” known as “aeons” (yes, the same word as aion, noted in #55). These were thought to have “emerged” from the pleroma, in a sequence becoming gradually less “divine” until some of them eventually could interact with matter. Jesus was assigned a place, by these philosophers, somewhere among these lesser beings, or sometimes among the arche (called “principalities and powers” in the NT), who were thought to supervise earthly affairs. Also in the hierarchy of “emanations” were sophia “wisdom” and gnosis “knowledge” – sometimes personified, sometimes not – which were expected, by their skilled deployment, to “rescue” the “enlightened” from the evil bonds of the material universe. All these intermediaries had to be courted or placated by intricate systems of asceticism and legalism, in order for the requisite “wisdom and knowledge” to be revealed.
“Salvation” was defined as liberation from both matter and ignorance.
“Faith” (pistis) was acceptance of the concomitant dogma.
The “soul” (psuche) was a disembodied entity (which had been “rescued” from matter by this esoteric knowledge), rather than simple human life (#55).
Some of this bears a sobering resemblance to the ideas of people and groups today that focus on escaping from the “evil world” instead of following Jesus’ example of redeeming it! It is not difficult to see gnostic-inspired teaching as a possible source of the corruption of “pistis” (#1), either, and the increasing focus upon debates about fine points of “doctrine” rather than Kingdom living.

With this brief background, it is easy to appreciate Paul’s strategy in Eph.1:23, 3:19, 4:10,13; and Col.1:11-17 and 2:2-10. Holding up the Lord Jesus as himself the agent of creation (Col.1:16), as well as the chosen bodily dwelling (Col.2:9) of “all the fullness (pleroma) of deity”, the only way “everything holds together” (Col.1:17), and the repository of “ALL the treasures of wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnosis)” (Col.2:3), Paul neatly disposes of pretty much the entirety of the Gnostic or proto-gnostic hierarchy. “And you all,” he concludes, have been made complete (the perfect passive participle of pleroo) in him – who is the head of all arche and authorities.” (Col.2:10).

There is no need either to adopt or to refute as “evil” any or all of the intermediaries invented by proponents of these – or any other – complicated systems. You already have all that there is, in your identification with Jesus! This is the Lord Jesus whom we serve, and who has called us not only to populate his Kingdom, but even to function as members of his very own Body! The earthly, physical body could not possibly be evil, if Jesus chose to inhabit one! The definitive answer to the advocates of any sort of syncretism is simply Jesus. Don’t bother to waste time and energy defining or discrediting any system’s individual elements. As Creator, Sustainer, and reigning Lord of all that exists, Jesus is clearly superior to it ALL. His people need no supplements!

“In him, all God’s completeness [fullness] was pleased to make its permanent residence” (Col.1:19) … “and you all have been fulfilled [made complete] in him!” (Col.2:10)

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #107 — Assurance

August 19, 2011

From observing the “noise level” about the terms “Christian assurance” and “assurance of salvation” in some circles, one would expect to find the New Testament liberally salted with references to this word. Its appearance on the “search” lists indicates the likelihood that some folks are looking for ammunition to use in these battles. Well, people, you’re not going to find it in a careful word study.
The English word “assurance” only appears nine times, in any form, even in traditional translations. Once each, it is a (mis)translation of pistis (see W.S.#1) Ac.17:31 – against 239 renditions as “faith”, which isn’t much better – and pistoomai , II Tim.3:14, a verb form which has only a single New Testament appearance. Once – I Jn.3:19 – it is used for peitho (against 22x “persuade”, 8x “trust”, and 7x “obey”– W.S.#88) ; once – Ac.2:36 – for asphalos (against 2x for an arrest!); and once for sumbibazo –Ac.16:10 – where it does not parallel any of the four other uses of the word.
Four times it was the choice for plerophoria, the only word for which “assurance” is the only — or even the primary – traditional translation: Col.2:2, I Thes.1:15, Heb.6:11, and 10:22, in each of which “confidence” or “conviction” would suit just as well.
Not a single reference contains either a threat that some inadvertent misstep will cause one to “lose”, or a guarantee that, having once been sufficiently frightened to “raise his hand” in a “revival”, one will be permanently protected from ever “losing” his “salvation” (W.S.#5). Both caution (Heb.3:13-14) and reassurance (I Jn.3:19-21), are present, however.
So since responsible word study simply doesn’t have a dog in that fight, and since the concept of assurance, also labeled certainty, confidence, and “being sure”, is abundant, I invite you to lay down your weapons, and feast instead on the veritable banquet of encouragement that the Lord has provided for us. You can find additional studies on this subject in W.S.#1, pistis, and #36, elpis.

Plerophoria, mentioned above as the only word consistently rendered “assurance” by traditional translators, is classically defined as “certainty, fullness of assurance, complete satisfaction”. In the Colossians passage, Paul connects it to “an accurate understanding of God’s mystery, Christ”, which is developed as a result of “your hearts (being) encouraged and knit together in love” – the interaction of a congregation of Kingdom citizens. In I Thessalonians, he adds “miraculous power, and the Holy Spirit” as grounds for this “firm conviction”. His concern is the same as that expressed by Luke in his introduction, (using the verb form in 1:1, and asphaleian in 1:4), to convey the absolute certainty and veracity of the message of Jesus.

A similar idea is approached from a different angle by the use of peitho, only once rendered “assurance”, but 26x connected to “persuasion”. These are about evenly divided between attempts to convince someone (Mt.27:20, 28:14, Lk.16:31, 20:6;Ac.13:43, 14:19, 18:4, 19:8,26; 21:14, 26:28, 28:23, Rom.5:11), and expressions of confidence (Ac.26:26, Rom.8:38, 14:14, 15:14; II Cor.2:3, 5:10; Gal.1:10; Phil.1:25, 3:3; II Thes.3:4, I Tim.1:5, 12; Phm.21, Heb.6:9,11:13). The same word is used in other contexts regarding obedience (#88) and trust (#1).

Asphaleia, asphales, and asphalos, referring about equally to physical security (including arrest – Mk.14:44, jail – Ac.16:24, and the sealing of Jesus’ tomb – Mt.27:64,65,66) and certainty about facts (Ac.2:36, 21:34, 22:30, 25:26; Phil.3:1), are similarly divided in their classical usage: “safety, caution, legal security, steadfastness, soundness, (opp. risk)”.

Turning to the traditional word “sure”, we encounter a variety of terms, also.
Bebaios, classically “firm, steadfast, steady, durable, guaranteed, confirmed”, is used in reference to the promise of God (Rom.4:16, Heb.2:2, 9:17), the words of prophecy (II Pet.1:19), our hope/expectation of the fulfillment of both (Heb.3:6, 3:14, 6:19), and our own calling (II Pet.1:10) which latter is not automatic, but requires effort/ “diligence”!

Stereos, “firm, solid, solidified, settled”, is applied to God’s foundation (II Tim.2:19), constancy in faithfulness/loyalty (I Pet.5:9), and the “solid food” (Heb.5:12,14) intended for mature disciples.

Both ginosko (Lk.10:11, Jn.6:69) and oida (Rom.2:2, 15:29, Jn.16:30)usually rendered “know” (W.S.#29) – are rarely rendered “be sure”.


“Confidence” represents tharrheo, “to be of good courage, to be unafraid, to be confident” (II Cor.5:6, 5:8, 7:16); pepoithesis, “trust, confidence, boldness” (II Cor.1:15, 8:22, 10:2; Eph.3:12, Phil.3:4), hupostasis , “origin, foundation, substructure, confidence, courage, resolution” (II Cor.11:17, 9:4, Heb.1:3, 11:1, 3:14), and parrhesia, “outspokenness, freedom of speech, liberality, lavishness, freedom of action, without fear”.
A treasured element of citizenship in the Athenian democracy, parrhesia appears in the New Testament with two traditional translations – another case where it is important to remember that “confidence” and “boldness” are the same word.

Boldness is not arrogance or self-promotion, but simply the confidence that is born of identification with the Kingdom! “Confidence” in the Lord to whom we belong (Ac.28:31, Heb.3:6, 10:35; I Jn.2:28, 3:21, 5:14) is the source of the “boldness” with which we may approach both the Lord of Glory himself (Eph.3:12, Phil.1:20, I Tim.3:13, Heb.4:16,10:19; I Jn.4:17), and others in his name (Ac.4:13,29; 9:29, 14:3, 18:26, 19:8).

Consequently, having followed brother Luke’s example and gotten our facts straight, and realized the resources cited by brother Paul of the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of fellow Kingdom citizens, we may live confidently in genuine “Christian assurance.”

“Let’s approach him (Jesus, our high priest), with a true heart, in abundant confidence, [or, complete faithfulness]” (Heb.10:23)
“Let’s hang on to our commitment to [acknowledgment of] our hope [expectation] without hesitation – for the one who made the promise is faithful!” (v.23)

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #106 — Compassion

August 16, 2011

“Compassion” was one of the words that appeared several times on the “search” lists. This topic was addressed in Word Studies #59 – “mercy”, and #60 – “grace”, and the present study should be viewed as a supplement to those, to which I would encourage you to refer. There, you may recall, we (tentatively) concluded that “mercy” generally assumed some sort of merciful act or behavior, whereas “grace” appears more as a description of the character trait or motivation that results in generous action, although there is overlap in their use. “Compassion” probably falls somewhere between these two, bearing some of the “flavor” of each. All have their utmost manifestation in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, and all are expected to be replicated in the lives of his followers.

Splanchnizomai, the primary word translated “compassion”, seems at first glance a rather odd choice. Its primary classical use was in reference to the entrails of a sacrificed animal, or the powers of those individuals who were thought to be able to “read” future events by examining or consuming them! I suppose that its later reference to all of one’s inner organs as the seat of one’s emotions is no more repulsive than the modern English usage of “heart” or “guts” in a similar way. That might seem just as strange to folks unacquainted with our culture.

In the New Testament, splanchnizomai, which appears only a dozen times, is traditionally rendered “moved with compassion” 5 times, and “have compassion” 7 times. It is used only in the synoptic gospels, preceding accounts of Jesus’ healing (Mt.14:14, 20:34; Mk.1:41, 9:22), the raising of a young dead man (Lk.7:13), feeding people (Mt.15:32, Mk.8:2), and teaching crowds (Mt.9:36, Mk.6:34). It describes the attitude on the part of the protagonist in three parables: the master’s release of a debtor (Mt.18:27), the “good Samaritan” (Lk.10:33), and the prodigal son (Lk.15:20). Every occurrence of the word is immediately followed by an act expressing the compassion felt by the individual in question.

A few other words are also translated “compassion”.
Eleeo, treated in detail in #59, usually translated “mercy”, was rendered “compassion” three times: in Mt.18:33 regarding the debt noted above, Mk.5:19 – Jesus’ instructions to a healed man to tell the folks at home of God’s “compassion”/mercy to him, and Jude 22 regarding a disciple’s responsibility to rescue an errant fellow-disciple from self-destruction.
Oikteiro, of which the only New Testament use is Rom.9:15, is related to the noun and adjective forms universally translated “mercy” (also see #59).
Metriopatheo also used only once (Heb.5:2), refers to Jesus’ sympathetic understanding of our plight as a result of having shared our humanity. In this, it closely parallels
sumpatheo, also used only in Hebrews – 4:15 where it also refers to Jesus’ being able, in his function as high priest, to “sympathize” with our “infirmities”, and 10:34, where the readers are commended for their sharing in the sufferings of those imprisoned or otherwise persecuted for their faithfulness.
L/S defines sumpatheo, and its adjective form, sumpathes, as “a feeling of sympathy” (our English cognate is “sympathy”). Its etymological make-up, however, is more specific, combining sum- (a form of the preposition “with”), and pathe (“suffering,or misfortune”). This parallels the Latin “com-” (also “with, or together”), and passio, (suffering), which is the etymological source of “compassion”.
These seem to lean heavily toward a deeper involvement that simply “feeling sorry” for someone. They require sharing his distress to the point of strong motivation toward action to alleviate his suffering.

Only Peter uses the adjective form, sumpatheis – and he piles on four other descriptive terms to make sure we get the point. Addressing attitudes and behavior in the brotherhood (I Pet.3:8), he admonishes his readers: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded (homophrones), sympathetic (sumpatheis), loving the brethren (philadelphoi), compassionate (eusplanchnai), unassuming (tapeinophrones).

Peter is talking about a deep level of involvement here, far more than a pleasant Sunday morning handshake! Of the descriptive words he chooses, not only sumpatheis, but also homophrones – “of the same mind” (see #96), philadelphoi “familial love”(#12, #87), and tapeinophrones “humble-minded” (#14), are used only here in the New Testament, although related words are referenced in the word studies noted. Please refer to these for more detailed discussion, as all are important, if a “colony of the Kingdom” is to function as intended.
Only eusplanchnai appears anywhere else. You can easily see its relation to our primary word, splanchnizomai. The prefix, eu- denotes “good” or “well”. L/S says “good-hearted”. The single other use is in Eph.4:32, where Paul combines it with chrestoi (kind) and charizomai (gracious -#60, forgiving-#7) in describing interactions in the brotherhood.

So perhaps we should characterize “sympathy / compassion” as “grace / mercy” with shoe-leather under it. They appear to be coming at the same general idea from slightly different directions: a gracious character trait, of which the Lord Jesus provides the prime example, that motivates both sharing a deep understanding and concern for another’s condition, and action – doing whatever is possible to alleviate his difficulty, disability, or distress.
The aggregate represents an essential element of the brotherhood shared by Kingdom citizens – and an assignment guaranteed to keep us VERY busy!

Word Study #105 — To Plant – “Church Planting”; To Grow – “Church Growth”

August 13, 2011

While we are talking about buzz-words, let’s look at a couple more – “church planting” and “church growth”. It is no surprise that neither of these phrases can be found in the New Testament. However, there are a few references to the verbs, phuteuo, to plant, as well as speiro, to sow; and auxano, to grow. The words themselves are not at all ambiguous. An examination of their subjects and objects, however, can be instructive. (One “plants” cuttings or immature seedlings, but “sows” seed.)

Most of the synoptic uses of phuteuo are in parables referring to the planting of a vineyard. Paul uses it in a similar way in I Cor.9:7. The concept of “vineyard” is interesting, and could be explored later. For our purpose here, we will merely observe that the person who did the planting did so in the expectation that the vines would grow to maturity and bear fruit (in that order!)
Two other occurrences are found in Jesus’ matter-of-fact response to the Pharisees’ taking offense at his teaching (Mt.15:13), one (Lk.17:28) to the “business as usual” going on in Sodom before its destruction, one (Lk.13:6) to the unfruitful fig tree, and one (Lk.17:6) to Jesus’ enigmatic statement about the power of faithfulness. In his letter to Corinth, Paul uses the figure of “planting” and “watering” (I Cor.3:6,7,8) to describe his and Apollos’ work among the people there. He does not specify what he “planted.”

The references to “sowing”, on the other hand, both in synoptic accounts (Mt.13:3-19, 13:24-30, 13:31-32; Lk.8:5), and in John’s (Jn.4:36-37), focus understandably on the seeds rather than plants. And Jesus very kindly illuminates the details for us. In Mt.13:37, “The one who sows the seed is the Son of Man, and the good seeds are the sons of the Kingdom” (in contrast to the weeds); and in Mk.4:14, “The sower sows the Word,” or (Lk.8:11) “The seed is the Word of God.”

The epistles are less specific. Paul speaks (I Cor.9:11) of his having “sowed spiritual things” for them; of planting seeds as an illustration of the difference between one’s “natural” and “resurrection” body (I Cor.15:36-44); of “reaping” what one “sows” (Gal.6:7-8) in terms of one’s chosen manner of life; and with respect (II Cor.9:6-10) to generosity in sharing one’s resources. James concludes a treatise about consistent living (3:18) with “a crop of justice [righteousness] is sown in peace, by those who make peace.”

And that, folks, is all that is said about “planting”!
When anything is planted, of course, it is with the expectation of a harvest. But there are only three specific identifications of what is “planted” with respect to the Christian message: “the word / word of God”, “the sons of the Kingdom”, and “justice.” Paul adds, “What you sow is not the body that will be, but you sow a bare seed …But God gives it a body, as he wishes!” (I Cor.15:37,38).
“The church” is NOT what is planted! It is profoundly to be hoped that these plantings will result in the formation of “colonies of the Kingdom”, but that remains to be seen.

The intermediate step, naturally or supernaturally, is growth. But here too, both physical and spiritual expectation differs sharply from common rhetoric. You don’t pick grapes the first year you plant cuttings, nor harvest wheat immediately after grain is sown. What is planted must first grow to maturity, before bearing fruit. Creatures, or people, must also be nurtured to maturity (at least, they should!) before they are expected to reproduce! (Please see W.S.#13 and #64)

Some of the seeds will sprout, and some won’t (Mt.13, Mk.4, Lk.8). The same word, auxano, is used of the growth of a child (Lk.1:80, 2:40), of lilies (Mt.6:28), of seeds (Mt.13:32), of the brotherhood (Eph.2:21), and even of the word of God (Ac.12:24, 19:20)! Peter (I Pet.2:2) admonishes his readers to “grow up!”, and in II Pet.3:18, to “Grow in grace, and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul advocates “increase / growth” (same word) in “the fruits of justice” (II Cor.9:10), “your faithfulness” (II Cor.10:!5), “the knowledge of God” (Col.1:10), “the increase / growth of God” (Col.2:19), and “to grow up into him (Jesus)” (Eph.4:15).
The only place in the New Testament where “growth” refers to an increase in population is Stephen’s sermon in Ac.7:17, where he refers to the Israelites in Egypt.

“The church” is what happens while all this “growth” is taking place! As Paul reminded the folks at Corinth, “You all are God’s farm!” (I Cor.3:9). It is the atmosphere in which growth happens. But there is not a single reference to “grow” with “church”as its subject – or its object.

I will conclude with a look at the description of a time when the “population” of the church did increase dramatically, but none of the “planting” or “growing” words appear. This is the scene described in Ac.2:42-47.

A huge group had joined their fellowship at Pentecost, but nobody seems to have immediately organized a lecture tour for Peter, whose sermon had precipitated such a large response. Instead of launching a splashy media campaign (yes, there were “media” in the first century – that was the function of a “herald” kerux) , the group simply continued (Ac.2:42) “paying eager attention to the apostles’ teaching, to sharing, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.” Luke goes onto describe their sharing of resources, and notes (but does not detail) the experience of “wonders and signs”. Meeting “in the temple and from house to house” (v.46) daily, they were simply praising God, enjoying each other, and being gracious toward all the people!
Luke’s concluding statement is the kicker: “And the Lord added those who were being rescued [“saved”]to their community, every day!”

The church grew – simply by BEING the church!
They were not trying to “sell” a theology or philosophy, or to start “a new religion”.
There was no need to mount an “outreach campaign”.

They only needed to become God’s “demonstration farm”, so that folks could see the Kingdom in action.
If people today could see a demonstration of “the real thing”, that just might happen again.

I would love to be a part of a group of folks willing to try it!

Word Study #104 — Building: on “Building Churches”

August 13, 2011

Some years ago, I tried to comfort and encourage a very earnest young man, who was deeply distressed at having been sharply criticized by the “superiors” in the corporate structure of his denomination (a problem addressed in chapter 6 of Citizens of the Kingdom) for failing to succeed at their stated goal of “building churches.” Neither he nor those “superiors” had ever noticed that Jesus said that was his job (Mt.16:18), or that he had never subsequently delegated it to anyone else. I don’t think that observation helped him much; he had been pretty thoroughly indoctrinated into a “corporate” model of “church”, a model that exalts a few and discourages most, and bears no resemblance whatever to the New Testament church.

Because, of course, to Jesus, the “building” process had absolutely nothing to do with either impressive-looking real estate, or the weekly entertainment of an audience of thousands of admirers.

The theme of “building” does appear, in at least four different aspects, in the New Testament narratives, but with a distinctly different flavor. Most of these occurrences employ a form of oikodomeo, of which classical uses include “to build a house, to design or fashion something, to construct on a foundation (physically or philosophically), to edify, or to be emboldened.” The other verb, kataskeuazo, “to equip or furnish, construct or build, prepare, arrange, establish”, appears only ten times, and refers primarily to physical construction, although that sense is broadened in four references to “preparing the way” of the Lord (see #102). All the rest are in Hebrews, and reference the old, obsolete ways.

Out of 24 uses of oikodomeo, 14 refer simply to physical construction, and most of those describe activity under the old covenant: Noah’s ark, the temple, a synagogue, the tombs of the prophets. The rest are in parables (Mt.7:24-26, Lk.6:48,49; Mt.21:33, Mk.12:1, Lk.12:18) except for the physical location of Nazareth (Lk.4:29). Other than Jesus’ then-enigmatic statements (Mt.26:61, Mk.14:58, Jn.2:20) and reactions to them, in which he was referring to his resurrection, the only gospel use of oikodomeo in a sense other than physical construction is his word in Mt.16:18, “I will build my church.”
But after Pentecost, everything changes. The transition is marked by the fulfillment of the event described in Ps.118:22 and quoted in Mt.21:42, Mk.12:10, Lk,20:17, Ac.4:11, I Pet.2:7, where, in each case, the participial form, “builders”, is used. The power of this figure is lost for those who are unacquainted with ancient construction, due to the mistaken use of the word “cornerstone” in most translations.
A cornerstone, today, is strictly ornamental. It is usually formally added at the dedication of a building – its space and shape carefully prepared beforehand and left vacant until its ceremonial installation. The scene described in scripture, however, is that of the construction of the ubiquitous Roman arch. Its keystone, a carefully fashioned, wedge-shaped component at the very top, holds the whole thing together. Without it, the arch would collapse, and the whole building with it. The message is, that the (self-appointed) builders were clueless – and discarded the most crucial component because of its odd shape, ignorant that it was, in fact, absolutely essential. Both the phrase “the head (kephale) of the corner”, and Isaiah’s akrogoniaion, which combines akros – high, with gonia, – knee, or corner, make it obvious that the stone in question, which is identified with the Lord Jesus, is ON TOP, and necessary to the entire structure, not a decorative “dedication” or memorial!

With Jesus himself holding everything together, as Paul asserts in Col.1:17, the figure changes completely. The construction materials, “you all”, are now “living stones” (I Pet.2:5), being built into a “spiritual house” and a “dedicated priesthood.” Paul chimes in also with plural you‘s in every case: Eph.2:20 – “you all also are being built on the foundation of apostles and prophets”, Col.2:7 – “rooted and built up in him (Jesus)”, Eph.2:22 – “in him, you all are being built together into a permanent dwelling place for God, in the Spirit.” (These latter references use prefixed forms of oikodomeo.) Notice the passive voice of the verbs. The “building materials are being acted upon, they are not the agents of the action.

Of the six uses of the noun form, oikodome, building, three refer to the temple complex, which Jesus expected to be destroyed – “not one stone left upon another.” Three refer to the new orientation: I Cor.3:9 – “You all are God’s building”, II Cor.5:1 – “a dwelling made without hands, a home from God”, Eph.2:21 – “the whole building grows into a holy temple in the Lord!” Here we see a transition to active verb forms.

It remains to consider the other lexical domain of oikodomeo and its related words, usually translated “edify”. This is an admissible choice, but only if one remembers that it is the same word as the one translated “build”. Unlike the former group of references, most of these are active. And please remember, they are all from the epistles – letters which were written to groups that are already committed to the Lord, though at varying stages of maturity. The task of “building” is intended to be shared by the brotherhood – but (I Cor.3:10) “Each one must watch out how he builds,” and later in the same letter (ch.14), Paul details both hazards and assets, emphasizing (v.12) “seek to excel in what will edify the congregation.” Whether the question involves the use of tongues and prophecy, or any of the other group activities listed in v.26-31, the mutual goal is that “all may learn and all be encouraged” (v.31).
The same concern occupies Eph.4:12 – God’s people are to be equipped, by workers with varied responsibilities, (v.11), to all be involved in “building up the Body of Christ” toward maturity (v.13). The goal is enabling the “whole Body” – v.16 – for “building itself up in love.” One’s speech (v.29) is to be focused on “building what is needed” in order to “give grace to the listeners.” Similar instructions are found in I Cor.8:1, 10:23; I Thes.5:11, Rom.15:2, II Cor.10:8, 13:10; I Tim.1:4.

Conspicuously absent is any reference to real estate, or to attracting crowds of curious spectators. The direct object of “build” is overwhelmingly focused upon “the congregation”, “yourselves”, “the Body of Christ”, and “each other”!

“Building the church” is the Lord’s job. Mt.16:18, with which we began, is the only place where “church” is the direct object of the verb, “to build.”
“Building up” each other is our job; as well as being responsible to present ourselves to the Master Builder in order to be built into the Body through which he can continue to redeem his world.

Building / edifying seems to include any activity that serves to enhance the faithfulness of a Body of disciples.

May we continually build and encourage each other to that end!

New Downloads Available!!!

August 9, 2011

Well, folks, it has finally happened!

Dan and I pulled a couple marathon sessions over the weekend, and as of tonight, if you look under “downloads”, you will find:

— the latest, corrected version of the Pioneers’ New Testament

— corrected and augmented Translation Notes

— a combined, indexed document containing the first 100 Word Studies
I still hope to do a Greek index, if I can ever figure out how to do accents, breath marks, and subscripts on the computer.

All of these are in Adobe format, which anyone can download to a memory stick and take to an instant-printer, and have bound in any way you choose.   (I had a working copy made and bound for about $25 a year or so ago.)

Please note that the copyright allows you to make copies for your personal use (or to give away);  but any sale, or other use of the material for the profit of any individual or group is expressly excluded, without written permission from us.

I take very seriously the admonition that the Lord’s message is NOT to be “peddled for profit”.  I hope you will honor that choice.  If I can make the work of more than 30 years available for free, I think you should be able to share it with the click of your mouse for free.  “Freely you have received, freely give.”

The 13,400+ times that someone has made use of the material offered here, are amazing reassurance to me that the Lord has had his hand on this project from “before the beginning.”  I give thanks for each one of you, as well as for the monumental amount of work and effort that Dan has made on its behalf.

I still welcome your feedback on the “comments” option on the blog site.

Thanks for your interest.

May we continue to help each other toward faithfulness!

Love, Ruth

Word Study #103 — Free, Freedom

August 5, 2011

Despite the protestations of popular hymnody and preaching, Jesus himself never connected the idea of “freedom” with either his death or his resurrection. It was the mission announced in his “inaugural address” (Lk.4:18), and his identity as the King of Kings, that authorized him to set his people free!

Actually, Jesus referred specifically to being “free” on only three occasions: a discussion with prospective disciples (Jn.8:32-36), a conversation with Peter about the tribute-tax (Mt.17:26), and in Mt.10:8, using a different word, instructing his disciples not to make any charge for the service to which he had commissioned them.
Even Paul, who is so widely (mis-)quoted in various retributionary theories about Jesus’ accomplishments, never makes any such correlations with “freedom.”
So it is appropriate that we lay aside the baggage of song and story, and investigate, “What does the New Testament say about Jesus’ very important provision of freedom to the people of God?”

The primary words with which we are concerned are the adjective, eleutheros, “free”; the verb, eleutheroo, “to set free”; and the noun, eleutheria, “freedom, liberty”.
The noun form, classically, referred to manumission (the formal release of a slave), to political victory, or to thanksgiving for such liberation.
In addition to those ideas, the verb included the clearing of an entrance or passage, the release of a debtor or prisoner, or acquittal in court.

The adjective could apply to anyone who was not a slave, to the status of favored cities in the Roman Empire, and to anything or anyone that was unencumbered, or legally permissible.

Of the 23 New Testament uses of the adjective, 17 are simply in contrast to cultural slavery. In agreement with Jesus’ instructions, Paul does not seem to think that questions of social status matter very much. In I Cor.7:20-22, he simply advises, “Don’t let it bother you. But if the opportunity arises to be released, by all means, take it!” He repeatedly asserts (I Cor.12:13, Gal.3:28, Eph.6:8, Col.3:11) that social status must make no difference whatever in the brotherhood, in terms of either responsibility or privilege.
Of the 11 uses of the noun, four refer to the Jewish law (two in the verb form), and one to one’s “lower nature” (four in the verb), while three refer to the indulgence of one’s human nature. Both of these are also labeled “slavery” (douleia) or “bondage/imprisonment” (desmos). The verb only appears 6x.

It is important to consider, then, from what the Lord’s people are “set free”, how this is accomplished, and to what end, or for what purpose freedom is granted.

Here, Jesus’ discussion in Jn.8:30-36 is normative. Notice that he is speaking (v.30) to “the Jews who had become faithful to (trusted) him.”, but saying that in order to be his disciples (W.S.#51), they need to “continue” or “remain” (meno – W.S.#58) in his word (W.S.#66). This will result in their becoming acquainted (gnosesthe— W.S.#29) with the truth (#26), which is then represented as the agent of their being set free (v.32).The substitution of “the Son” (v.36) as that agent foreshadows Jesus’ statement in Jn.14:6, in which he asserts that he is himself the personification of “the Truth”.
To their protests that they have “never been slaves” – Come on guys! Have you forgotten Egypt? Or the present occupation by Rome? – he explains that slavery (v.34) also exists where people habitually choose their own ways above God’s instructions.

Paul picks up the same theme in Rom.6:16-22: one must simply decide whom or what he will obey. “Freedom from the law” does not mean flaunting all regulation, but rather, subjection to a much higher law, which James calls “the perfect law of freedom”! (Jas.1:25, 2:12). “Freedom/liberty” is not personal autonomy that grants a license to “do your own thing” regardless of its effect on anyone else. It is the privilege, by enlisting in Jesus’ Kingdom, to learn to “do his thing”! This is the true “land of the free and home of the brave!”

The same idea appears throughout the letter to Galatia, with regard to the Jewish Law. In both cases, the call is to freedom from oppressive slavery, whether to one’s own whims or to a detailed legal system, into what Paul terms (Rom.8:21) “the glorious liberty of the children of God!” Or, as he put it in Col.1:13, from the power of darkness, into the Kingdom! Discipline and discretion do not inhibit, but rather enhance true freedom!

It is also significant that people – as well as all creation – need to be set free from their “natural condition” – whether (Rom.8:12) simple mortality (“decay”), “natural things” (Gal.4:8) (animism?), enslaving power systems (Gal.4:9), or “the flesh” (human nature) (Gal.5:13, I Pet.2:16). One’s natural inclinations are not acceptable excuses for unacceptable behavior, but slavery, from which any genuine representation of the Good News offers release and freedom!

How is this deliverance to be accomplished? By “continuing to live in my (Jesus’) word”(Jn.8:31); by “acquaintance with (him who is) the Truth” (Jn.8:32); by “the Son setting you/us free” (Jn.8:36); by the sovereign decree of the king (Gal.5:1); by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:2); by “presenting your/our selves to him for obedience” (Rom.6:18,22); and with the help of the brotherhood into which we are “baptized into one Body” (I Cor.12:13) – the Body of Christ!

And to what end is all this directed? “The glorious liberty of the children of God!” (Rom.8:21). This liberty enables people to “become servants/slaves to each other, out of love,” (Gal.5:13); “as free people, not using freedom as a cover-up for wrong, but as God’s slaves” (I Pet.2:16); as Paul testifies, “For although I was free from all, I made myself a slave to all, in order that I may win more” (I Cor.9:19) – the only genuine “evangelism”.
Best of all, this freedom does not entail the forcible abuse or subjugation of any person or group; no compulsion, no destruction of life or livelihood. Everybody wins!
Remember that “Where the Lord’s spirit is, there is freedom!” (II Cor.3:17) may well have been written from jail! By a man who saw himself as incredibly free!
“Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ has set us free! And don’t be subjected again to the yoke of slavery!” (Gal.5:1) ANY kind of slavery!

Basically, freedom from all other bondage or obligations enables Kingdom living, after the pattern established by the King.

“If the Son will set you free, you will actually be free!” (Jn.8:36)
Thanks be to God!

Word Study #102 — The Way

August 2, 2011

In the last study, we considered Jesus’ primary call to prospective disciples: simply to “follow” him. Once that choice is made, however, questions remain, even – perhaps especially – for folks seriously committed to faithfulness. “Following” usually assumes that one is going somewhere. Where are we going? How shall we get there?
In asking this, we are in good company. The early disciples were just as confused as we.

Perhaps the clearest understanding of the use of hodos, “the way”, among early followers of Jesus can be gained from an examination of his conversation with Thomas and Philip, recorded in John 14:1-16. Both disciples are thinking in concrete terms: “If we don’t know where we are going, how can we get there?” indicates that Thomas is focused on a destination (as are so many today, who can think of no goal but “getting into heaven”), and Philip is focused on an official “introduction” – or maybe some sort of high-powered “spiritual experience” – with the Father – “the really BIG guy”. Jesus, recognizing that both have totally missed the point, gently corrects them. “I AM the Way”, he explains. “It’s not about going anywhere, Tom – it’s about sticking with me!” And “Phil, open your eyes and look! Don’t you get it? All that I AM, and all I’ve been doing, shows you the Father!” The critical key to this whole discussion is Jesus’ use of “I AM” (See W.S.#17)

The point he is trying to make, for them and for us, is that he himself is not only the Leader and Guide, but also both the journey and the goal! And to this end, he makes use of a very ordinary word, in an extraordinary way. Although there are nine other words also translated “way”, none used more than twice in the New Testament, they add nothing of significance. “Hodos”, used 83 times in the New Testament, is the one that deserves the focus of our attention.

Classically, hodos was used in three primary ways: of place : a road or highway, or the course of a river; of action : a trip, journey, or sea voyage; and metaphorically: of one’s culture, manner of life, intent, method, or system. With prepositions, it could indicate (with pro) “on the way, forward, profitable, or useful”, (with kata) “along the road, or by the way…”, and with a prefix (parodos) – only a single NT use – “along the way.”
20 of the NT uses refer simply to a physical road or pathway, and 15 to a trip somewhere, although some of these may fall into both of those categories.

The 8 references to “preparing the way”, although describing the actual road construction that was done in honor of a conqueror or royal personage (remember that first century Roman road-building rivaled modern highway construction, and lasted longer. Some of those roads are still in use!), clearly intended more far-reaching preparations, as intimated in Lk.1:76-78 and later references to the ministry of John the Baptist. The goal is not just a smooth highway, but “a prepared people, ready for the Lord.”(Lk.1:17)

Most significant for our purpose are the “metaphoric” uses of hodos. References to a way of life, or cultural norms, may be seen in Mt.10:5, Ac.14:16, and Rom.3:16, speaking of the behavior of “the nations” (W.S.#62), or of unfaithful individuals (Ac.13:10, Jas.1:8, 5:20; II Pet.2:15, Jude 11), as well as in a more positive sense: “the way of peace” (Lk.1:79, Rom.3:17), “the way(s) of God” (Mt.22:16, Lk.20:21, Ac.18:26, Rom.11:33, Heb.3:10, Rv.15:3), “the way of righteousness/justice” – W.S.#3 – (Mt.21:32, II Pet.2:21), “the way of life” (Ac.2:28), “the way of salvation” – W.S.#5 – (Ac.16:17), “the way of truth” – W.S. #26 – (II Pet.2:2, 2:15).
But even these pale in comparison to the transformation effected by the Lord Jesus.

The crucial statement referenced above in John 14, is preceded by another: “You all know the way where I am going.” (v.4). Not only had they been watching and participating in Jesus’ “way of life” and conduct for the past three years, but he had continually been trying to prepare them for what lay ahead. Although he had warned them repeatedly of the trauma of his rejection and execution by the very people who should have welcomed him most eagerly,(with none of the modern theological jargon that accompanies such subjects today), that was not the focus of these final hours.
Rather, (Jn.16), it is the benefit that would accrue presently for faithful disciples as a result of his “going to the one who sent me” (16:5), “going to the Father” (16:9), and the enabling they would consequently receive from the Spirit, to continue following the Way he had showed them

This, I am convinced, is among the primary reasons why subsequent followers became known as “people of the Way.” This designation appears all through the Acts account of the early church– from the folks Paul pursued to Damascus (Ac.9:2, 22:4, 22:14), to Priscilla and Aquila instructing Apollos (Ac.18:25,26), and even used by their opposition in Corinth (Ac.19:9) and Ephesus (Ac.19:23). These emphasize that the new movement was a way of living, not merely a “philosophy” or a “new religion” as the Areopagos Council assumed (Ac.17:19-32).

The first century Roman Empire was a pluralistic society at least as broad as our own. “Gods” were plentiful, and frequently added (for insurance?). They only required an occasional offering to remain beneficent, so nobody minded. The “powers that be” didn’t really care much what anyone “thought” or “believed”, as long as they behaved according to the emperor’s demands – which of course included accepting him as a superior part of the pantheon, and offering incense to him as well. It was transformed lives, subject only to an authority much higher than his, that they could not handle.

And that is an accurate description of “the Way.”

So really, these two studies are simply two perspectives on the same principle. To “follow” the Lord Jesus is to continue along “the Way” – in his company, according to his instructions, and toward the unity with him, with his Father, and with one another for which he prayed (Jn.17).

His “I AM the Way” is the only answer to our puzzled queries of “where?” and “how?”

May we help each other to follow faithfully in the Way.