“Institutional Church” — an Oxymoron?

March 24, 2016

This is intended to be a companion piece to my previous essay which posed the question, “Would Jesus be allowed to join/represent/preach in your church?” Here, I intend to explore a parallel question, just as crucial, but from the opposite perspective: “Can a church become an institution of its surrounding society, and still faithfully represent Jesus?” Like its predecessor, this question needs to be raised very deliberately and carefully by any group that intends to take faithfulness seriously and responsibly.

Also like its predecessor, this question would not have been an issue at all in the first century church, where “Jesus is Lord” was the only “statement of faith”, and where adherence to that statement alone frequently resulted in a death sentence. “Institutionalization” is not an option for a persecuted minority. It can only emerge from a position of power.
Jesus did not come to start – or to reform – a “religion”, or to establish an institution.
Consequently, he never addressed the subject, except in his rebuke to James and John for their jockeying for positions of honor in his “cabinet.” “You know as well as I do, that is how the rulers of this world operate,” he explained. “BUT IT SHALL NOT BE THAT WAY AMONG YOU ALL!” (Please see Lk.22:24-27 and Mt.20:24-28) He was going to do something different.

What constitutes the establishment of an institution? It assumes at least four things, each of which is diametrically opposed to Jesus’ positions and principles.
An institution assumes:
1. power in or over (at least a segment of) society at large
2. making rules or demands of people who have NOT deliberately chosen to be subject to it.
3. some external and easily defined means of judging who is “in” and who is “out.”
4. somebody (person or group) “in charge” to keep things running smoothly and under control.

This necessitates the creation of a hierarchy, or chain of command:
1. to keep people in line, and to be sure that authority is properly delegated and exercised
2. to define and defend the status quo, and impose it on all
3. to exclude or penalize offenders
4. to direct both defensive and offensive activity.

A primary concern of any institutional structure is its own survival and dominance. This is the polar opposite of Jesus’ concern. There is no record anywhere of his being concerned about survival! The primary concern of his followers, likewise, was not survival, but faithfully to represent him. Most of them did not survive very long.

The success/survival of an institution depends heavily upon the manipulative skills of its masters, in squashing the opposition, regulating the membership, and maintaining their own position of dominance. Only from a majority position – a stance at the top of the “food chain” – is an institution capable of forcibly imposing its standards, not only upon its own adherents, but upon society at large. Only from a place of power can an institution enforce by legislation what it may have simply failed to teach.
There is no place for any of this in the Kingdom of Jesus!!!

Institutional attempts to define, analyze, and housebreak some sort of “Supreme Being”, created in the image – or the imagination – of the hierarchy whose power depends upon it, are an exercise in futility, for one simple reason, (besides the nonsensical assumption that such a “being” would be “supreme” at all, if it were so subject to the whims of its “creators”).
That reason is simply that JESUS IS ALIVE!!!!
He cannot be reduced to categories, activities, or principles invented by his own creatures! He himself is superior to everyone and everything! It is in him that “all things exist / hold together!” (Col.1:16-17)

The most cursory perusal of the New Testament gospel accounts makes it obvious that Jesus had not the remotest intention of creating an institution. He rather chose to create a Body, which is designed to continue the purpose of his own Incarnation – to reveal God’s true being and purpose to/for the world by corporately and deliberately demonstrating his attitude and practice of life-giving, selfless service. The subsequent functioning of the whole brotherhood, together, as the Body of Christ, is a major theme throughout the rest of the New Testament writings.

Please refer to Word Studies 84 and 150 for some of the specifics, as well as studies 40 through 49 which deal with some of the functions that need to be included if a Body is to mature and to fulfill its intended purpose. You may also find Part II, chapters 5-8, of Citizens of the Kingdom helpful in this regard.

Most germane to the present consideration is Jesus’ explicit prohibition (see the Lk. 22 and Mt.24 passages cited previously) of any attempt to pattern the operation of the Kingdom after the methods and structures of “the world” and its obsession with being “in charge,” or needing to regulate the opinions, behavior, or loyalty of its subjects, even though those methods may sometimes appear to be “successful.” Paul understood that difference, writing in Romans 12 an eloquent description of the function of the Body, to folks who, living in the seat of the Empire, would have been well (and often painfully) acquainted with the vagaries of the “system” under which they suffered. A Kingdom – a Body – whose only Head was the Lord in whose loving care they had learned to trust, was a thought to be embraced with great delight and hope!

The value – indeed, the necessity – of the contribution of every faithful member of the Body (even more specifically outlined in I Corinthians 12-14) was as unfamiliar to the first century as it is to the twenty-first! This is a culture that does not exist among “the nations of the world” – then or now! The Kingdom of Jesus involves a radical difference!

But which culture is being advocated and cultivated, when so-called “church leadership” is carefully trained to function as CEO’s, CFO’s, psychological counselors, script-writers, choreographers, and “dynamic” speakers, whose purpose is to maintain, enhance and regulate the activity of their assigned institution, rather than as enablers whose responsibility is to encourage and facilitate the unique and necessary contribution of every faithful person? The average “church service” bears little resemblance to Paul’s description in I Corinthians 14:26 of each one‘s participation when “coming together.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand. This is not a call for a situation where everyone is blithely “doing his own thing”, and “anything goes.” That would be just as destructive to a true Body as is the dominance of a single individual (or group) who is “in charge”. Notice the plethora of functions which Paul lists as “gifts” to the church in Ephesians 4:11-16. Notice also that this is NOT intended to define a controlling hierarchy. It is simply the sequence in which these various functions are needed. Apostles were usually the ones who introduced the Kingdom in a new location. The rest were then tasked with facilitating the growth and continuation of the work. Notice also that every one of these listed functions is PLURAL! Not one is entrusted to a single individual. It is only as “we (all) interact truthfully, in love” (v.15) that we “grow up” to perform our intended function in/as the Body of Christ.

Just as the “institutional” model is dependent upon assumptions, so is the model of the Body.
A few of these must include:
1. a voluntary association. The Body consists only of those who have freely chosen to participate.
2. a deliberate commitment, not to a list of propositions, but to a common purpose: faithfully to represent the presence of the Lord Jesus in the world.
3. a common standard against which to measure both personal and corporate goals, behavior, and attitudes: those described and advocated by Jesus and his followers and recorded in the New Testament.
4. a deliberately and overtly acknowledged willingness to be taught, corrected, and guided by the rest of the Body.

The life of the Lord Jesus will not flow through a Body whose fragments are all rushing off in different directions, taking their cues from some outstanding “leader” other than its rightful Head.
Neither will his life flow through a Body most of whose parts are atrophied from disuse.
Until our fellowships are living examples of even former enemies being reconciled together by the resurrection power of God, into a loving family,
until every brother and sister is enriched and encouraged by the ministry of every other brother and sister,
until we allow ourselves to be joined together, built together, grow together, into one Body, enhanced by the contribution of every one of its diverse parts,
we will not – and cannot – manifest the life of our Lord to the world that so desperately needs his presence.

The operation of a Body is not efficient. In fact, it can be downright messy. Just look at a few of the things that had to be dealt with in I Corinthians 6, I Thessalonians 4, II Thessalonians 2, Hebrews 6, and many other situations, whether moral, cultural, or any other kind, in which either groups or individuals needed to be corrected.

An institution could cope with that sort of thing much more efficiently. Just eliminate the offending or inconvenient parties. “My way or the highway.”

But a Body does not amputate a member that is injured, or even one that causes an injury. Only as a very last resort, after all else fails, must the person who refuses correction be excluded. The Head of the Body distributes gracious gifts of healing, or whatever else is needed for restoration, although it sometimes takes a while for the members to learn to cooperate.

No institution can do that. Its dominion and “success” (not to mention the prestige of its masters) are at stake!
Institutions depend on clever human ingenuity and persuasiveness, or on brute force and power.

The Body of Christ depends on nothing but the faithfulness of its members – and the power of God.

Word Study #201 — Adoption in the First Century

January 16, 2016

The subject of adoption, mentioned only five times in the entire New Testament, and not at all in the LXX (Greek Old Testament), was treated briefly in the studies of “Inheritance” (W.S. 79 and 80). It is also referenced with the applicable passages in the Translation Notes. However, for those who prefer, here is a more coherent summary.

It is interesting that with all the noise in self-styled “evangelical” contexts about the concept of being “born”, or “born again” (see W.S.185), another rarely-appearing idea, the related topic of “adoption” seems to have escaped the fertile imaginations of their commentators, who so delight in establishing and defending long lists of regulations for including or excluding their fellows and narrowing their definitions of the Kingdom.

It is also interesting, that although the English translation “adoption” historically represented eleven different classical Greek words, related to at least three different roots, only a single form, huiothesia, appears in the New Testament writings, and is unique to Paul’s epistles.

Accurate understanding of the cultural implications of huiothesia – etymologically a combination of huios (son) and a noun iteration of tithemi (to put or to place) – is complicated by the fact that in the first century middle east, one is confronted with three major cultural streams: Greek, Roman, and Hebrew. These are augmented with a smattering of other customs introduced by traders who frequented the area from farther afield. Roman law prevailed, of course, since the legions of Rome had subjugated the whole area. I found the old classic, Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, most helpful in this research. As pointed out in the Jewish Encyclopedia (online), the subject was not really addressed in the Hebrew context, because their system of requiring the brother (or another “near kinsman”) of a deceased man to provide for his wife and children filled the need for both the responsibility and the privilege of inheritance.

In all three cultures, however, an heir acquired not only the property, but also the debts and obligations of the deceased. Under Roman law, there was even a provision for a debt-ridden father to arrange for his son/heir to be formally adopted by someone else, in order that the overwhelming debt might “die” with the father.

Although Greek customs were often more lenient and less highly defined than Roman in many respects, it was important to both that a male heir be established. Hence the advent of formal, legal adoption – especially if royal succession was involved. (The emperor Augustus, formerly known as Octavian, had been adopted by the family of Julius Caesar for that reason.)

Adoption was also a common way of cementing an alliance between families, and the son in question often maintained ties to both. Such adoption usually involved an older child, not a baby, as both the survivability and the competence of the adoptee were a serious issue. Interestingly, under Roman law, an adopted son could not be disowned, as could a natural son.

Adopted sons shared all the rights and responsibilities of natural children.

Daughters were not adopted, for a very simple economic reason: a father would be expected to provide a dowry for a daughter; whereas a son would be expected to add to the family’s wealth at marriage.

The long-term welfare of a family without male progeny required the adoption of a son to whom responsibility for their care could be passed on. This could be the son of a friend or relative who had more sons than he needed, or even a trusted servant or slave. A formal court procedure sealed the agreement, and the adopted son assumed the name of the adoptive father.

In the case of any family, but especially one with multiple sons, another legal provision came into play. When the designated heir attained majority, the father was required to make a formal statement to that effect. This was necessary whether the son in question was naturally born or adopted. This too was described as huiothesia – the same word.

It has been suggested that this custom may also have been one reason for the affirmative “voice from heaven” mentioned at Jesus’ baptism and again at the Transfiguration. Although the word does not appear there, the statement “This is my Son” would have been recognized as the standard legal acknowledgment.

Huiothesia is, however, the word used in all five New Testament occurrences: Romans 8:15, 8:23, and 9:4; Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5. It is a designation, not only of privilege, but of responsibility faithfully to administer the assets and care for the people and property of the father.

Might it be, that Paul’s use of the term is another of his many admonitions to the Lord’s people to “grow up” into the inheritance for which we have been chosen?

For insight into the inclusiveness of that term, please also see the treatment of “sons” (W.S. 100) and the explanation in the essay “The Task of a Translator”.

Perhaps this historical information will help , if not to answer, at least to shed a bit of light on the confusion of folks who wonder, “Why the talk about adoption, if we are born into the Lord’s family?”

BOTH are significant, when viewed in their cultural context. This is why, in the PNT translation, I have substituted “acknowledgment” for “adoption”. The terms are supplementary, not contradictory, both derived from the same original word, but simply applied to two phases of the same process.

Life indeed begins with “birth”, but huiothesia is for “grown-ups.”

May we all be found faithful.

Would Jesus be allowed in your church?

July 9, 2015

Would Jesus be allowed to join – or to represent – your church?

The previous posting dealt in some detail with only one of the favorite “bandwagon issues” to which individuals and groups demand that their adherents, in order to be considered “faithful” or “orthodox”, must unequivocally subscribe. The discovery that there was no such idea included in the New Testament text provoked a broader investigation, and raised the question with which we begin.

I know a young man, deeply committed to the Lord and his ways, who was desirous of serving his people through a health initiative of a denomination to which he had related. The leader of the project had known and appreciated his faithfulness for a period of years, and requested that he be appointed for service. That request, however, was denied by the denominational hierarchy,not because they had any problem with his excellent academic or experiential qualifications, but because of the candidate’s conscientious refusal to sign a detailed “statement of doctrine” which included a number of assertions which, although amply footnoted with carefully edited “chapter and verse” references, went far beyond any ideas that could responsibly be derived from the actual New Testament message.

Now, it is perfectly reasonable that enlistees in the service of the King be deeply committed to him personally, and to the way of life that he advocated and demonstrated. But if you have followed many of these studies, it should be clear that Jesus on no occasion raised any philosophical or theological questions with those whom he called. He asked only for personal loyalty and obedience.

Most of the issues so adamantly defended by “doctrine police” deal with subjects which Jesus either chose not to address at all, or tackled head-on to correct popular misconceptions!
Here is a small sampling of “required beliefs” which, if insisted upon, would peremptorily exclude the Lord Jesus himself from the privilege of service or fellowship in many of the groups that most loudly proclaim their faithfulness!

  1. Creation.
    Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament (except for editorial footnotes of the last couple centuries) makes any statement regarding the popularly disputed ideas of the “when”, “where”, or “how” of “creation.” Everyone assumed that “God did it” – Paul, in Eph.3:9 and Col.1:16, specifically refers to Jesus himself as the agent of creation. Jesus himself uses the word only three times: the incident in Mt.19:4 and Mk.10:6 regarding the creation of male and female, and Mark’s version of his description of the destruction of Jerusalem (13:9).
    Much more attention is given to the concept of the NEW creation, which begins with one’s identification with Christ (Eph.2:10, 4:24 and Col.3:10), and its purpose: “for good works” Eph.2:10, and “for thy (Jesus’) pleasure” (Rv.4:11)!
    Paul, in Romans 1:20, also asserts that it is IN creation that God reveals himself even to people who lack the correct “pedigree”!
  2. “Inerrancy” of both the Old and New Testaments
    Repeatedly, Jesus made serious corrections (“you have heard it said … but I say to you…”) to the “Law”, and consistently referred to it as “your law” and never once as “God’s law”. There are six such corrections in Matthew 5 alone, and many more scattered throughout the gospel accounts. For more detail on this subject, please refer to the “Flat Book” posting.
  3. “Original sin”
    This idea is mentioned only once in the entire New Testament, and that was not by Jesus, but by his Pharisee opponents (Jn.9:34)! Even Paul, the hero of the doctrine crowd, who love to cherry-pick isolated “verses” (or even just phrases in his writing) to support their theories, spends the first two chapters of his letter to the Romans – one of their favorite “cherry-picking trees” – establishing that the depraved condition of people was their deliberate choice, and not their original condition. Jesus himself never mentioned the subject at all.
  4. “Virgin birth”
    Although this is certainly clearly a fact, being asserted in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus never commented at all upon the circumstances of his birth. He repeatedly referred to God as his Father, but plainly was not overly concerned with his own genealogy.
  5. “Penal Substitutionary Atonement”
    Please see Word study #151. This subject was never mentioned by Jesus. When challenged on his right to forgive (see Word Study #7), Mt.9:6, Mk.2:7, 10; Lk.5:21-24, neither he nor his challengers said anything about his death. It was his identity with God that was the source of his authority, and also of their fury at him.
  6. The “fate” of nonbelievers: condemnation to hell-fire, etc.
    Although poor translations of “pisteuo” (Please see Word Study #1) can be twisted to support such an idea in Jn.6 and elsewhere, the word more accurately denotes faithfulness/loyalty than theoretical or philosophical “belief”. When Jesus spoke of “eternal” consequences, they were predicated upon the behavior of the people in question (Mt.25:31-45 and Jn.5:29) and not their theological opinions. (Word Study #10)
  7. Jesus’ promised return
    Two things – and only two things – are significant and certain here: (1) He IS coming, to assume his rightful role of King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and (2) by his own testimony, No one knows when that will happen (Mt.24:36 and elsewhere). Just as significant are his very plain warnings NOT to follow people who pretend to know all the details of time and place and circumstances (Mt.24, Mk.13, Lk.21) and his statement to the disciples enroute to Jerusalem for the last time that “ALL that has been written about me” would then be fulfilled. By Jesus’ own testimony, therefore, NONE of the rhetoric about “unfulfilled” Old Testament prophecy could possibly be true. Please refer to Word Studies 164-167.

And those are just a few of the discrepancies. I stopped at seven of them because some of you folks seem to like that number – although that is another thing Jesus never addressed.

How about it? As the purveyor of this sort of teaching, would Jesus be allowed in your church?

It is long past time for faithful followers of the Lord Jesus to quit sniping at each other over their theological constructs, and get about the business of accurately representing him in a world so desperately in need of his touch!

Was Jesus really “Abandoned”?

June 17, 2015


As I have noted previously, both in essays and in various word studies, I consider the Lord Jesus himself to be the final and the only reliable arbiter of either “doctrine” or “destiny”, and our only reliable resource for information about his directives to be the New Testament writings.
In more than a half-century of careful study, I have found no evidence of his having made any effort to dictate what his followers should “think” or ”believe” about any topic, idea, or event, whether historical, philosophical, or theological. I see him rather inviting all manner, sorts, and conditions of people to choose and to demonstrate personal loyalty to him, and a determined commitment to “follow him in life” as mutual and faithful citizens of the Kingdom that he came to establish.
As the Author of life (whether “temporal” or “eternal”), and the Sovereign of that Kingdom, all subsequent decisions, directions, or decrees are rightfully his, and his alone.

Through the centuries, however, hierarchies, both political and ecclesiastical, have tried to usurp the power of our King and to impose their own complexities of theory and practice upon their followers (or perhaps “victims” would be a better word). It is these self-styled “authorities” and their descendants who have shamefully distilled and distorted the message of the New Testament, preferring to heap blame upon their audiences for Jesus’ suffering and death, rather than to encourage faithfulness by declaring the power of his glorious resurrection; and to flog those hapless listeners to the point of paralysis with accusations of “guilt and shame” (please see word study #128), rather than to teach and encourage their active, loyal participation in the continuing work of the Body of Christ on earth.

One of their most insidious tools in promoting their distorted views is the claim that because of that purported “guilt”, and to avoid the threatened penalty (which, for the record, Jesus neither initiated nor endorsed) of capital punishment for even the slightest infraction, God actually “turned his back” or “turned his face away” from his own Son in his hour of death. This claim is totally without support anywhere in the New Testament! Jesus never said it, and neither did ANY of the gospel writers! In fact, careful perusal of the Gospel accounts reveals its polar opposite!
The proponents of this grisly scheme base their case upon the badly misunderstood quotation by Jesus, noted only in Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34), of the introductory verse of Psalm 22. They zero in on a single word, “forsaken”. There are three major errors here: (1) the poor translation of the word, (2) the failure to consider the psalm as a whole, and (3) the failure to read all the way to the end of the witnesses’ report.

First: the word “forsake, forsaken”. It is used in conventional translations to represent five different Greek words:
apostasia – appearing only once (Ac.21:21) in the accusation that Paul had been “teaching people to forsake Moses”.
apotassomai – also only once translated “forsake” (Lk.14:33), of the need to leave behind all else for the Kingdom, and elsewhere rendered “bid farewell” (2x), “send away” (1x), and “take leave of”(2x).
aphiemi – rendered “forsake” (5x), usually about simple physical departures, but which is more frequently translated “forgive” (47x) – please see W.S.#7 — , or simply “leave” (52x), as well as 30-some ideas similar to the latter.
Likewise, kataleipo (22x as “ leave”) is only twice rendered “forsake”: of Moses’ departure from Egypt (Heb.11:24) and of a person’s departure from the right way (II Peter 2:15).
The word that appears in the psalm, egkataleipo, which bears a double prefix (emphatic), is the only one where the translation “forsake” predominates, and even so occurs only 7x, including the two Ps.22 quotations (which could, with equal fidelity to the vocabulary and grammar, be rendered “Why have you left me here?” as in “couldn’t I please come home now”?) The others are II Cor.4:9 (“NOT forsaken”), I Tim.4:10 and 16 of companions who had left Paul, Heb.10:25 in the admonition “not to forsake” fellowship, and 13:5 in the promise that the Lord will neither “leave nor forsake” his own.

Classical use of the word, according to L/S, include primarily “to leave behind” (by departure, or in a race), and only secondarily “to abandon.” They also note that it is closely related to the word usually referring to a “remnant”, whether human or material. The two references in Matthew and Mark are the only ones connected to Jesus, and this is not picked up by any other New Testament writer. Although Matthew is the writer most careful to reference all possible Old Testament parallels or prophecies, he is not the only one.

Secondly, it is important to notice that the source of that quotation, Psalm 22, also complains of the scorn of the hierarchy (v.7-8), noted in all the synoptics, and the casting of lots over clothing (v.18) noted in all four gospels, neither of which the “doctrine people” have emphasized to a similar extent.
Is it even possible that the psalmist (unwittingly) anticipated the error that would arise centuries later from his words, when he specifically included (v.24) the affirmation that God had NOT “scorned” or “hidden his face” from the complainant? And please notice that the remainder of the psalm is occupied with triumphant thanksgiving!

Finally, what, then are we to make of the rhetoric about Jesus’ having been abandoned, and his prayer being ignored, or at least unanswered?   These (well-meaning ???) folks totally ignore the rest of the very same story! John and Luke, for example, both note Jesus’ emphatically committing his spirit to the Father with his last breath, and all three synoptics describe his last “word” as a “great shout”! A “shout” is NOT characteristic of the weak expiration of an exhausted crucified victim overcome by his agony. One “shouts” in triumph!!!
John, the only one to record Jesus’ actual words, tells us that it was because he “knew that everything had been completed” (19:28-30) that Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!” as he deliberately “handed over” his spirit. (Please see W.S.#154). And if that wasn’t enough, the immediate destruction of the temple’s veil (see former post), and the opening of tombs, and the solar eclipse made the triumph unmistakable! I wonder why no one has made more of the eclipse. Such phenomena, although spectacular, are temporary. It does become very dark; but after the hours of deepening darkness, the sun does emerge, totally unscathed! A lovely figure of the resurrection on the third day!

It took Sunday’s resurrection to display the whole truth of everything being “finished” in a way that others could see the final defeat of the power of death. But the events of Friday can only have been, for Jesus, a glorious answer to his prayer.

Thanks be to God!

Why I am not a “Flat book” advocate

March 27, 2015

I listened recently to a conversation in which the dominant spokesperson vehemently asserted, “The whole Bible is based on a big lie!”

He then proceeded to present as evidence of his claim that the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel, which, he correctly stated, is found in many versions, in many diverse cultures , portrays “a god who is afraid of his own people”, and consequently takes action to separate them, from himself and from each other, lest they become more powerful than he. This thesis was so preposterous that my first inclination was to dismiss it as sheer madness.

On further reflection, however, I realized that, although seriously misguided, the speaker had stumbled upon an excellent example of one of the best reasons why folks whom I consider to be the most faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ do NOT subscribe to the “flat book” approach to the Biblical writings (which holds the Old Testament and New Testament to be of equal value and authority), but rather find both their inspiration and their instructions almost exclusively in the New.

Like ancient writings from many cultures, the Old Testament certainly bears testimony to varying degrees of people’s perception/acceptance (or not) of God’s attempts at self-revelation as described in Romans 1:19-23. But as described in Hebrews 1:1-2, 8:7-13, and 10:1-7, “if the old had been satisfactory, there would have been no need for a New!” And Jesus provided the New Way, in which we are privileged to walk with him! The rest of the letter to the Hebrews, as well as the overt corrections he detailed, as quoted in the gospel writings, make the contrasts abundantly clear. One of the sharpest of these contrasts concerns the idea of separation.

While it is certainly true that much of the Old Testament is concerned with separation – Jew from Gentile, priest from lay-person, even to the point of dividing the temple (earlier, the tabernacle) into sections reserved for God, for the High Priest, for lesser priests, for men, for women, for Gentiles, with each area forbidden to any but the designated group – Jesus, and the whole of the New Testament, is about bringing together not only all people, but “all things”! (See Ephesians 1:10 and elsewhere). I have dealt in greater detail in Citizens of the Kingdom with the observation that one of the reasons for Jesus’ coming in person was to correct people’s mistaken understanding of God and his purposes, by creating a “demonstration project” – a “show and tell” — of his actual intentions. Here, I will confine my observations to four examples of Jesus’ radical departure from the customary culture of division and exclusion.

  1. During his earthly ministry, Jesus flatly ignored any convention that demeaned, denigrated, or oppressed any person. This included his habit of “hanging out” with the “wrong kind of people”, whether that classification involved their health, their race, their gender, their employment, or their social strata. This aspect of his behavior is trumpeted loudly by members of assorted “equality” movements today: however, those well-meaning folks often forget that the Lord’s parting admonition to many of those whom he had so graciously included, was, “Go in peace, and sin no more!” Please see Word Study #177 for an exploration of this perspective. Lives were transformed, not “affirmed”, by his presence.
  2. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the heavy veil of separation in the temple was ripped from top to bottom! (See chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom and Word Study #127.) Later, in addition to that dramatic destruction of separation, the writer to the Hebrews, and Paul to the Corinthian church return repeatedly to Jesus’ glorious accomplishment of the destruction of death itself, the ultimate separation! The corollary of that achievement is the concomitant destruction of bondage to fear. Jesus said nothing about the popular notions of wings, halos, and harps, but promised his presence with his followers, on either side of the “death” transition.
    It is normal to be apprehensive about the unknown.
    I found an interesting illustration of this when we were privileged to visit our oldest son in his mission assignment in Tanzania. Although I was still ignorant of the language, culture, and just about everything else, as soon as we cleared customs and caught sight of Dan waiting at the door, my apprehension melted into delighted anticipation. I expect the same thing on the other side of that ultimate door!
  3. The re-creation of Jesus’ people into the members of his own Body, as described in the Acts and the epistles, is the ultimate in bringing people together. His final recorded prayer, in John 17, focused repeatedly upon his people becoming one, with himself and with each other – in order to “do what he had been doing” – the direct opposite of the Babel concern. Please see word studies 84, 150, and 197, and chapter 7 of Citizens. Whether the focus is on the care of the members for one another, or their care and service to the hurting world, a faithful Body is probably the most effective demonstration that our Lord is alive and active, and still intent on bringing people together.
    Historically, it took some rather dramatic events to get that point across, even to Jesus’ earliest disciples. Even after Peter’s unusual vision (Acts 10), the idea of separation or exclusiveness died hard. Understanding began to emerge at the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), and gradually became clarified as scattered congregations learned to work together and care for one another.
  4. Perhaps the starkest contrast between the old pattern and the new lies in the Biblical description of two cities, both said to be “of God.”
    The first is Jerusalem, during and just after the exile. The city had been laid waste: its protective wall in ruins, and its gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1.) The returning exiles poured their energy into rebuilding the wall and restoring its gates, while being harassed by those whom they were expecting to exclude by the construction. Read that whole account, as well as the parallel in Ezra! Observe how zealously they pursued their policy of the exclusion of all foreigners, even to the cruel extreme of breaking up family units! And they considered this a triumph! For God! How very sad!Then look at John’s beautiful description of the final “City of God”! (Revelation 21). This city, too, has walls and gates, as did all cities in ancient times. But the gates of this city are never closed (v.25)! All nations are welcomed (v.24), and bring their honor into it! Its light is the glory of God (v.23), and it needs no temple (v.22), because the Lord himself is there, and is gloriously accessible! The only “exclusion” is (v.27) whatever is “not devoted to the Lord”, whoever is “committing abominations” (more specifically defined in the next chapter), and “all liars”.

Interesting, that we should end about where we started: with the idea of “lies.”
Jesus, please remember, by his own word, and by that of faithful followers, is the very personification of the truth. (please see Word Study #26)
Consequently, we must ask, “Which, then, is the bigger lie?” Is it the scornful caricature of a frightened, vindictive, self-defensive god, or the representation of that caricature as an accurate analysis of “the whole Bible”? Or does that even matter, seeing that ALL lies are excluded from the Kingdom of Truth?

While it may be necessary, sadly, to agree that much of what has been presented to the world as “Biblical” is less than an honest picture of the genuine message of Jesus, it is also necessary to challenge the folks whose perception has been colored by that misrepresentation of the message as consisting of alienation and fear, at least to consider a first-hand investigation, in the New Testament, of the Real Thing, independent of “flat book” assumptions. It is likewise necessary to challenge those who are committed to Jesus and his Kingdom, more honestly to represent his gracious and inclusive invitation to Life!

In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, (12:2),May we focus our entire attention on Jesus! HE is the beginning, goal, and end of faithfulness!



Discernment vs. Decision

September 17, 2014

A recent discussion after church reawakened a long-time concern regarding the popular interpretation of Jesus’ instructions regarding dealing with conflict, recorded in Matthew 18:15-20.
This is a glaring example of translators’ neglect (whether deliberate or inadvertent is not mine to judge) of very elementary grammar, which has resulted in both the assumption of inordinate and unwarranted power/authority on the part of people who consider themselves to be in positions of “leadership”, and abject fear and submission on the part of those deemed their “underlings” – neither of which, may I remind you, is a category instituted or approved by Jesus himself (see Mt.23:7-12).

In the vast majority of English translations of the passage familiarly labeled “binding and loosing” (v.18), Jesus’ words are interpreted as if those two terms were cast in the future tense, and therefore amounted to a “blank check” enabling “church authorities” to hand down a decision that will be confirmed unquestionably “in heaven”. In our large collection of English translations, I have found only two (Charles B. Williams -1956, and Clarence Jordan – 1970) besides my own, where any effort has been made to convey accurately that those words are NOT future, but perfect passive participles. I find it interesting that both of these, like my own work, were translated by individuals, and not by committees hired by institutional hierarchies!

This grammatical error should have been obvious to even the most elementary language student, since the words are not even irregular verb forms, but plainly display the ‘reduplication” characteristic of the perfect tense, in both instances.

The particle, ean , introducing a clause with subjunctive forms,desete and lusete, describes the condition under which the following result will occur. The aorist form of those subjunctive verbs indicates a single, decisive action. And please note that these are second person plural forms: it is action to be taken by the group, not an individual.
The future form estai in the second clause is integral to this very common structure, which grammatically is known as a “future-more-vivid condition”, and simply emphasizes the certainty of the outcome.
This does not, however, alter the tense of the participles dedemena and lelumena in the second clause (the “apodosis”). These participles in the perfect tense can only refer to something that has already occurred, the effects of which remain in the present and beyond.

Far from endowing anyone with the authority to influence (let alone dictate!) what ‘happens in heaven”, this structure clearly charges the brotherhood (the verb is second person plural, remember) with the task of carefully, prayerfully, and responsibly discerning the decision which has already been made “in heaven”, and simply articulating that information.

Jesus’ following statement, a summary of the instructions just given, therefore obviously refers to the intended result of their / our having followed those instructions. With the above understanding, these latter (also much-abused) “verses” (19-20) are likewise removed from the image of a “blank check” by the qualifying statement with which Jesus concludes.

This statement follows the exact same grammatical pattern: ean + subjunctive as a conditional statement, with a future-more-vivid conclusion. Please note that the condition here is limited to those who have come to agreement while gathered in Jesus’ Name (See Word Study #24), in his presence, and with his participation! It may be reasonable to assume, therefore, that the Lord intends for this to be simply a reassurance of his guidance as his disciples try to sort out the situations he has just been addressing – many of which require wisdom far beyond the reach of our limited human minds!
He is not abdicating his own supreme authority, but enabling his followers to access the information necessary for faithfully following his instructions!

This is not obscure, technical grammar! It is explained in a basic, first-year, elementary Greek text! And similar structures appear in the New Testament more than 200 times!
On an even more basic level, the tenses of verbs are essential to understanding the message of the simplest of sentences! (These are briefly explained in the notes on verb tenses in the Appendix to my Translation Notes).

Why, then, are such very elementary principles so universally ignored by “scholars’ and “translators” (who ought to know better!), when they are (or should be) so readily accessible even to beginning students of the language? I can only conclude that those individuals or groups have “adjusted” (read, “edited”) the text to support their already-highly-defined “doctrines”.
Please refer to my earlier essays, “Plea for Linguistic Honesty” and “The task of a Translator”.

If a person or group has any respect at all for the Biblical writings, “What does the text SAY?” must become, and remain, his primary (if not his only) question. Any other principle, policy, or position MUST be derived from, NOT prescriptive of, that understanding.

Discernment by a carefully and responsibly studying brotherhood MUST take precedence over decisions by individuals who assume their right to dictate, if we are to learn faithfully to follow our Lord’s instructions.