Redemption: “Get-out-of-jail free”, or “Under New Management”?

April 8, 2018

The following was prepared for our small fellowship.  After its presentation, I was severely taken to task for failing to parrot some “doctrines” of a “statement of faith” advocated by a member.  I welcome any New Testament based comments.

Redemption:“Get out of Jail Free” or “Under New Management”?

In spite of the fact that the Easter season, and indeed, every Sunday!, is supposed to celebrate Jesus’ glorious triumph over death by his resurrection, and, as I have pointed out previously, his complete superiority over everything that once separated earnest worshipers from God, demonstrated by the destruction of the temple veil, far too many people still choose to focus most of their attention on self-flagellation for having supposedly “caused” his suffering and death –  often mistakenly calling it “redemption” – despite the fact that JESUS NEVER SAID THAT!  I would challenge anyone to find one single place where he did!  These are entirely separate concepts. The former (the definitive defeat of death and the opening of access to God) are well documented in the gospels and the epistles; and the latter (assuming personal, individual responsibility for causing Jesus’ suffering and death) is completely absent from both gospels and epistles.  I am not quite ready to join the “red-letter Christians” who accept only direct quotations of Jesus, but I do consider those to be of greater authority than anything else.

People exacerbate this problem by continually lamenting what they represent as the dreadful “cost” or “price” of their “redemption”, which they interpret to require yet another mournful excursion into their own “unworthiness” or “sinfulness”, for which the slightest infraction is assumed to “deserve” capital punishment!  I have yet to be shown a single culture in the whole world that imposes a death penalty for every misstep!

This was certainly NEVER the focus of either Jesus or any of the New Testament writers. I think, choosing the most charitable option, that its prevalence probably grows, at least in part, out of at the very least a gross misunderstanding, if not deliberate ignorance, of the original words connected with the concept of “redemption.”  It is my hope that, by considering this topic, we may recover (or discover) some of both the beautiful wonder and the serious responsibility that is implicit in the concept of “redemption”.

In order to do this, it is necessary to correct our understanding of several terms that have been seriously distorted by what passes for “Christian teaching”.
Let’s start with a common phrase that is frequently used of a person who exerts tremendous effort toward a goal – any goal.  When you hear that someone has “given his life” to the pursuit of a cure for a particular disease, do you assume that he died in the course of his work?
Or when an investigator lectures about the scientific, historical or archaeological discoveries to which he has “given his life” – Is he dead?
Then when Jesus clearly states (in Mt.20:28) that his own purpose “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom” is supposed to be a model for the service to one another that he expects of his followers (who at the time of that conversation were jockeying for positions of power and honor), why do you assume that he is referring to his death, instead of to his selfless life?  Context, as usual, is critical to the understanding of any statement.

Similar misunderstandings surround the word translated “redemption” and “ransom” (both of which are used by English translators, to represent the SAME Greek word). Although another word – the one commonly used for the ordinary commerce of buying and selling – occurs in a few places, the principal one is represented by both English translations. Classically, it refers primarily to the ransom of prisoners of war, who had been enslaved by a conquering nation (in this case, Rome), which was common practice in many ancient cultures.

Nobody in the first century had to ask the meaning of the word “slavery” or “slave”.  The concept was painfully familiar.  The word “doulos”, although often translated “servant”, almost always referred to slavery, regardless of whether it described one born into bondage, a person captured as a prisoner of war,  or a child sold by indigent parents.  Slaves were wholly owned possessions of their masters, even though some held positions of great responsibility, or were even officially adopted into the master’s family.  It was also not uncommon for a faithful slave to be set free, either by his master’s generosity, by having earned and purchased his freedom, or by having been “redeemed” or purchased by someone else.

Insight into the varied status and responsibilities of slaves is available throughout the New Testament: for example, notably,
Mt.8:9 – they do what they are told
Mt. 13:27 – they refer problems or uncertainty to the master, and receive instructions, which they are then expected to follow.

There are many others.  I highly recommend to you the exercise of scanning the gospels for other examples.  In doing so, remember that “servant” and “slave” represent the same original word.
Paul makes an eloquent case in Romans 6:16-20 that a person is a servant/slave to whomever or whatever he chooses to obey.  Autonomy is not an option: never was, never will be.

Under Roman law, a redeemed slave could not only gain his freedom, but could even acquire Roman citizenship, which gave him many legal rights and privileges not available to others.
People “redeemed” by Jesus are also eligible for citizenship in his Kingdom!  But sadly, not all accept that generous offer.

Please notice (and confirm by searching the New Testament) that neither slavery nor ransom from that condition has anything whatever to do with “offenses”! People convicted of wrongdoing were beaten, imprisoned, and sometimes executed, but not enslaved. Likewise, it has nothing to do with “sacrifice” – another word, incidentally, which JESUS NEVER USED in reference to himself or to anything he did.  Check it out – using a genuine translation, not a paraphrased version, of the New Testament.  The six uses of the word “sacrifice” in the gospels are never applied to Jesus, and the majority of the uses in the epistles refer to idol worship, or the formerly required Jewish temple rituals.

Notice also that “redemption”, also occasionally represented by the word for simple purchase, does NOT confer total autonomy!  Far from the much-trumpeted concept of escape from the consequences of bad behavior (the “Get out of Jail Free” card in your Monopoly game), “redemption” represents simply a change of ownership: no more and no less.

Here is the beginning of an impressive list of oppressors from which our Lord has “bought” or “redeemed” his people:
Gal.3:13 and 4:5 – the curse and bondage of the Law
Titus 2:14 – ALL lawlessness
1 Peter 1:18 – the empty /futile ways of our ancestors  (the only reference to “blood” – and that is connected to the Passover, the feast of freedom from bondage, and nothing else).
Ephesians 1:7 – our transgressions
Colossians 1:14 – our failures
and you can find many more.  Please note that the latter two, “transgressions” and “failures”, which many people prefer to lump together and label “sins”, (although the New Testament does not), are literally “taken away”, not simply overlooked, and certainly not “forgotten”.

Using slightly different vocabulary, Paul reminds the folks in Colossae, “He (God) has delivered (rescued) us from the power of darkness, and has transplanted us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son!” (1:13)

Those whom Jesus has “redeemed” have been graciously offered citizenship in his Kingdom!  But please remember that citizenship entails BOTH privilege and responsibility.
Paul’s reminder to the Romans, mentioned earlier, is still very much in effect:  we are servants/slaves to whatever power we choose to obey!!

Do not forget that redemption is much more than mere escape from negative things and circumstances! The deliverance described in Col. 1:13 is into the Kingdom of the Son of God!
It includes (Rom.3:24) being made (not merely “considered”) just (which is the same word that some folks call “righteous”), (Rom.8:24) being adopted as sons of God, and having been set apart as the possession of the Lord Jesus (I Cor.1:30 and Eph.1:14),by his seal of ownership, the Holy Spirit, who alone is able to make kingdom living possible for us mere mortals!  It’s about life – not “after you die”!

On a practical level, having been “bought” by our Master, it is reasonable to expect (I Cor.6:30) that we become eager to reflect honor upon him; (I Cor. 7:23) that we refuse to allow ourselves to become enslaved to anything or anyone else; and (II Peter 2:1) that we make every effort not to deny or discredit him in any way.  For all the “redeemed” there is one single assignment:  reflecting, however imperfectly, the whole personality of the One who has redeemed us.  Such an assignment assumes that our lives will be radically altered, in order to represent him correctly and faithfully!

This is a concept that is often ignored in groups today that label themselves “welcoming”.  It is perfectly true that all are indeed welcome, regardless of their previous situation or condition – but all must also be changed! Not a single aspect of our life is exempt!  We are under new management!
The question “Can you be a Christian if you –-?”
(fill in the blank with your currently preferred no-no) is totally irrelevant.

There exists no check-list of qualifications or requirements, after which we can relax. The re-direction of our lives is an assignment that lasts for our entire lifetime! If we choose to accept citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom, as ransomed, redeemed people, we will NEVER outgrow our need for course-corrections!  Our whole life needs a total overhaul to conform to his ways.  It must be obviously and always “under new management”!

Even if this were “all there is”, the condition of those so “redeemed” would be glorious! But there is more! In Eph.1:4, the Holy Spirit is described as simply the “down-payment” on the inheritance of the folks redeemed from every nation and tongue, to enable our faithfulness until, with those gathered around his throne, we celebrate the final triumph of the King!  What a day that will be!

You may have noticed that there is one question that we have not addressed:  “To whom was the ransom owed or paid?”  This is neither oversight nor deliberate avoidance.  The reason for its lack is simple:  Although centuries of “theologians”, preachers, and teachers of many persuasions have adamantly (and often arrogantly) proclaimed the accuracy of their theories, The New Testament itself does not speak to that issue.  Since this is a New Testament study, I will not presume to do so, either.

Our attention can much more profitably be focused upon faithfully seeking to fulfill the purpose of the One who has redeemed us for himself!

He has graciously provided us with very clear instructions for that effort, the resource of the power of his Holy Spirit to teach and enable us, and the supportive companionship of each other, with whom to learn to demonstrate his style of living, “under new management!”

Thanks be to God!

 


Word Study #206 — “Religion”

March 20, 2018

This study was precipitated by a conversation with a dear friend who was summarily excluded from a forum on “Science and Religion”. He had not attacked either “side”, but simply pointed out that the two purported opposites are concerned with different questions, and therefore use different approaches, and come up with different answers.

Another brother pointed out that various “religions”, also, address different questions and therefore come up with different answers: Buddhism, he suggested, seeks the path that leads to the cessation of human suffering; Taoism seeks to know how man can live in harmony with nature; Confucianism seeks how to create an orderly society. All of these may well be legitimate questions, the answers to which will understandably produce different results, both theoretical and practical. Some view Christianity as attempting to describe the fundamental nature of God, or man’s relationship to him. This has been the “playing field” for all sorts of theological speculation, often producing more heat than light.

It occurred to me that I could not recall that the New Testament spoke to the subject of “religious questions” at all, so I decided to investigate. You may be as surprised as I was, to find that the term “religion” appears, even in the traditional KJV, only three times as a noun, and once as an adjective. The only other use of the original term is once translated “worshiping”. Even more interesting is the observation that all but one of these (Ac.26:5, Jas.1:26 – 2x; and Col.2:18) have a distinctly negative flavor. Only in Jas.1:27 is there any hint of commendation!

Do we perhaps need to recognize that for those who choose to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, “religion” has very little if anything to offer?

This question is enhanced when one turns to the classical dictionaries.

Liddell /Scott (Oxford) lists, regarding the noun threskeia: “religious cult, worship as ritual, religious formalism, superstition”, and for the adjective, “religious or superstitious.”

Bauer (Arndt and Gingerich) concurs, with “religious service or cult”.

Thayer points out a connection with the verb treo, “to tremble with fear”, and includes the observation that the rituals referenced constitute efforts to appease the anger of the gods!

Do you recall any instance of Jesus himself advocating such a need? Interestingly, the word “religion” does not appear a single time in any of the four gospels!
Jesus did have a lot to say about the reasons for his coming. Please refer to Word Study #23 for a summary of these. He said absolutely nothing about either “answering questions” or “appeasing an angry god”!

Instead, he graciously invited people to enlist in the Kingdom that he had come to establish! Please see Word Study #172, and the little book, Citizens of the Kingdom for more on this subject.

Regarding the word threskeia, traditionally translated “religion”:

In Ac.26:5, Paul describes his former life as having carefully followed the Jewish “religion”

In Col.2:18, he remarks upon the futility of the pagan “worshiping of angels”

James (1:26) speaks of the folly of arrogantly considering oneself “religious” while ignoring the needs of others.

Only in Jas.1:27 is the term “religion” redefined as involving one’s response to the needs of those in distress, and avoiding the uncaring ways of the “world” – the uncommitted.

In the light of this study, I am about ready to conclude that although “Christianity” (another term that does not appear in the New Testament — although “Christian” is used once to describe the folks at Antioch) as it is commonly represented, might indeed fit the classical definitions of “religion”, genuinely following Jesus in one’s life assuredly does NOT.

I submit that Jesus did NOT come to “start a new religion,” or to appease an angry God. (Just ask him! See his own statements in W.S.#23, or even better, dig them out for yourself!)

He came rather to inaugurate his welcoming Kingdom, where all sorts and conditions of people are invited to come and have their lives transformed (See Word Study #97) to serve his purposes in the world!


Word Study #205 — Restore, Restoration

January 5, 2017

A recent reference at church to the concept of “restoring what was lost”, quoting a number of Old Testament prophetic messages (but ignoring the accompanying conditionsthe requirement that God’s people deliberately return to following his instructions) sent me on a quest to discover exactly what the New Testament had to say about “restoration.” This subject has been a source of curiosity ever since a college friend – whom I still consider a faithful brother – announced his decision to identify with “Restoration Theology”, which he described as a return to the principles and practice of the early church. This is a goal with which I readily identify – but his description of the group he had chosen bore little resemblance to anything I could find in the New Testament.

This was not an easy quest, since a careful search yielded only eleven uses of either the noun or verb, most of which simply referenced physical healing or the payment of what was owed.

We are dealing here with three quite different words in the original text, each of which is rendered with a wide assortment of English translations.

Apodidomi, the most versatile of these words, usually referred to a payment of some kind. Lk.19:8 quotes Zacchaeus’ intention to “restore” (give back) his ill-gotten gains from his tax business – the only time that traditional translators rendered it “restore”. Other uses include the payment of wages (Mt.20:8), a debt (Mt.18:25-34), or a bill (Lk.10:25.); giving an account of behavior (Ac.19:40, Mt.12:26, Lk.16:2); paying rent (Mt.21:41), the sale of people or goods (Ac.5:8, 7:9); the yield of a harvest (Heb.16:11, Rv.22:2), or some sort of reward (Mt.6:4,6,18; 16:21; II Tim 4:14).
All of these and more are included in the L/S treatment of the term: “to render what is due: debts, penalties, or honor; the yield of land; to concede or allow; to bring to a conclusion; to give an account, explanation, or interpretation;” and even “to accept a bribe”!

Apokathistemi, in contrast, is rendered “restore” in all 8 occurrences. Classically, this word is more specific also: L/S lists “to reestablish, restore, reinstate; to pay what is due, to hand over or deliver; to settle affairs; and (of planets) to return to their place.”

Four of the eight references simply describe healing: Mt.12:13 and parallels in Mk.3:5 and Lk.3:10, and Mk.9:25. One (Heb.13:19) simply requests prayer that the writer be “restored” to the recipients of the letter – presumably referring to a hoped-for visit.

The other three are the only ones that could possibly have any connection to any of the prophetic messages. There are two references to Jesus’ explanatory statement to his startled disciples on the occasion of his transfiguration (Mt.17:11 and Mk.9:12), where he relates the ministry of John the Baptist to Elijah’s “restoring all things” or “setting all things right.” Jesus makes the point that John did indeed come to “prepare the way”, as he had said. But both Gospel writers record John’s own description (Mt.3:3, Mk.1:3) of his task as “hetoimazo” (“prepare or make ready”) – a different word entirely. Jesus goes on to describe John’s fate as foreshadowing his own. No blaze of glory here!

The only other appearance of this word is the disciples’ query, just before Jesus’ ascension, “Is this when you’re going to restore the kingdom (sovereignty) to Israel?” (Ac.1:6). Jesus’ response here is most significant. It might well be paraphrased, “You guys are asking the wrong question! Get busy at your real assignment: you are supposed to BE the kingdom, not just speculate about it! And it’s not just about Israel any more: it’s ‘to the ends of the earth’!”

Finally, katartizo , usually translated with some form of “perfect” (see study #13) or “complete” – L/S “adjust, put in order, mend, restore, furnish, equip, prepare, or make ready” – is only once rendered “restore” in the New Testament (Gal.6:1) where it refers to the reinstatement of a brother who had fallen away from his commitment.

So – where does this leave us?
“Restoration” is indeed truly integral to the message of the Gospel, whether it refers to physical healing, honest payment of debts, wages, or other obligations; the reinstatement and welcome of those who have stumbled, or the reward of the faithful.

In no case, however, does it imply, advocate, or justify any form of nationalism – anywhere.

The single reference to the political ascendancy of Israel was explicitly rejected by the Lord Jesus himself, who instructed his followers to become, and to spread, HIS Kingdom “to the ends of the earth!” Restoration is a work assignment – not a trophy!

May we all be faithfully occupied in that effort!


Word Study #204 — Strangers, foreigners, refugees

October 4, 2016

When I first received the suggestion to work on this subject, I was not sure how fruitful that could be. After all, in the early, often persecuted church, one was much more likely to be a refugee, than to be in a position to assist them! However, like so many initial impressions, that one turned out to be seriously mistaken. Not only is the subject amply addressed in the New Testament, but the treatment of strangers is held up as evidence of one’s standing in the Kingdom of Jesus! As such, it is well worth our attention. Please also refer to word study #145, “Neighbors and Enemies,” in this regard.

Paroikeo (verb), paroikos (noun), and the similar parepidemos, refer simply to anyone living in a foreign context, for whatever reason. L/S offers “a resident in a foreign city, a sojourner in a strange place”, and Bauer adds “a visitor or resident alien.” This is the word used of the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt (Ac.7:29 and 13:17), the traveling disciples’ query of the resurrected Jesus (Lk.24:18), and both Peter’s (I Pet.2:11) and Paul’s (Eph.2:19) characterization of the faithful with respect to the rest of the world, for which Peter and the writer to the Hebrews also use parepidemos (I Pet..1:1 and Heb.11:13). As an eloquent song from the ’80’s put it, “We are foreigners who don’t belong.” Notice, however, that these terms do not carry any assumption of overt hostility; only strangeness.

Allotrios, allotrioo, on the other hand, originally included overtones of hostility or estrangement (L/S), and were used of enemy groups as well as those who were simply foreign; whose loyalty was definitely elsewhere. These terms appear in Jesus’ observation that sheep will not follow a “stranger” (Jn.10:5), and that governments impose taxes (tribute) on “others”, and not their own people (Mt.17:25-26) as well as situations of overt hostility (Heb.11:34) or alienation (Eph.2:12 4:18; Col.1:21). The idea of “belonging to someone else” appears in Lk.16:12, Rom.14:4, 15:20; II Cor.10:15-16, I Tim.5:22, and Heb.9:25.

More common than any of these is the much less specific xenos, xenizo, xenodokeo. This latter iteration appears only once (I Tim. 5:10), where having “welcomed / hosted strangers” is among the qualifications of a faithful woman, along with “having relieved those who were suffering.”

The verb form is used primarily of simple hospitality, and is applied to both guests and hosts (Heb.13:12, Ac.10:6, 18, 23, 32; Ac.21:16 and 28:7). Most of these involve fellow-believers, but the latter describes the hospitality of Publius, the Roman governor, to Paul and his shipwrecked companions.

Xenos , which may be used as either a noun or an adjective, is much more flexible. It may refer to anyone or anything that seems “strange” to the speaker (Ac.17:18,21; Heb.13:9, I Pet.4:12), or to any people outside one’s own circle (Mt.27:7), and is also used in a manner similar to parepidemos, of those who are deemed “outsiders” for any reason (Eph.2:!2, 19; Heb.11:13, III Jn 5).

L/S also gives xenos quite wide latitude: “a guest or friend; a stranger, wanderer, or refugee; a giver or receiver of hospitality”, or, as an adjective, “strange, foreign, or unusual; to be surprised, astonished, or puzzled.” As you may have noticed, virtually all these references are simply descriptive, except for the admonition mentioned in I Tim.5.

There is one account, however, which not only reaches far beyond that pattern, but carries much greater weight with respect to our understanding of faithfulness. That is to be found in Jesus’ exposition regarding “judgment” in Matthew 25, where a careful analysis of both the vocabulary and the grammar reveals seldom-noticed aspects of that scene. Please do not attempt either to accept or to reject this as any sort of “theological” treatise. These are simply observations of usually-overlooked features of the text.

1. The “cast of characters”. The interview is between the glorified “Son of Man”, finally enthroned, and a gathering of panta ta ethne – literally, “all the nations”. Please see Word study #62 for an exposition of “ethnos”, and remember that this term was usually used in Jewish settings of “Gentiles” and among Greeks of lesser-valued “foreigners” or “barbarians.”
The King (presumably Jesus) represents himself as personified in the person/people in any kind of need. (Do we all perhaps need some sort of “cataract surgery” in order to see him clearly?)

2. Both the commendations and the accusations are uniformly addressed in the plural. They are NOT targeted toward individuals. Please review study #142 on the use of the plural “you”, whose individual, collective, and selective aspects are combined so carelessly in English translations. Might this imply that a group could/should have clearer vision than an individual?

3. The criteria of judgment. “How did you-all (your group) respond to folks in need?” Note that neither group had correctly recognized that the King was represented by those needy. Both responded “when did we see you –?” The difference in this case was not one of discernment, but of caring response.

4. The “destiny” aspect. The kingdom which the faithful are invited to “inherit” was “prepared for you all from the foundation of the world!” Remember, these folks being addressed are ethnoi – outsiders!
In contrast, the “fire” to which the uncaring are consigned was NOT prepared for people, but “for the devil and his messengers”! (v.41) Might a bit of common rhetoric need to be adjusted in that regard?

Now, read the whole account again, very slowly and carefully. Do you find, even in the most carefully edited versions, any query about what anyone said they “believed”? Or, for that matter, any individual analysis at all? Please note, I am not denying individual responsibility, but suggesting that it is definitely not the entire story. This stance is supported by another very interesting word, not usually associated with either the “in-group” or the “out-group” – one to which we would all do well to take heed.

Most commonly translated “to gather, to come together, to assemble”, sunago appears in this passage four times: once of the “gathering” of the nations before the King, and three times of the inclusion of the stranger (xenos). The noun form of this word is quite familiar as “synagogue” – the gathering place of post-exile Judaism. Only in James (2:2) did traditional translators use “assembly”, and chose “congregation” (from a Latin equivalent) for Ac.13:43. Perhaps the “inclusion” of strangers is an assignment for the Body as a whole, rather than instruction for individual charity? This observation should precipitate very serious discussion among groups of the Lord’s people. Together, we could make a much bigger dent in the plethora of folks in need of the Master’s care, than could even the best and most skillful of us in our independent efforts.
As “strangers” ourselves in the world, we (should) know how it feels, and move to mitigate alienation wherever we find it. That effort will – and should – take many different forms, as varied needs are perceived and addressed.

Perhaps what we really need to study is the implication of “inclusion” — how, and to what extent “strangers” are/should be helped to become a functioning part of a faithful group? How does one “welcome” those who may not share the group’s objectives and commitment?

This study makes no effort at a coherent conclusion. It is offered rather as a “jumping-off place” for careful consideration and discussion by many “colonies of the Kingdom”, as we seek to be faithful to our King.


Adoption and Inheritance

September 18, 2016

Much of this information is available under the word studies of similar titles.  I am posting it here to give you an idea of how messages can be prepared from the topics treated in particular studies.  This one was prepared for our small fellowship on September 18, 2016.

“Adoption and Inheritance”

It is interesting that with all the noise in self-styled “evangelical” contexts about the concept of being “born”, or “born again” (which latter term appears only three times in the entire New Testament!), another rarely-appearing idea, the related topic of “adoption”, to which Ben referred in his message some weeks ago, in spite of its appearing more times – but still only 5 – seems to have escaped the fertile imaginations of the 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 of Jesus.

Very interesting light is cast on this subject when one researches first century cultural patterns. Since inheritance is legally connected, and central in all of these cultures, it seems appropriate to examine together the two ideas, “adoption”, and “inheritance.” One could also include the references to one’s “birth family” and a “resurrection life” (more commonly mentioned than either “birth” or “adoption” in the New Testament) symbolized in baptism, and I have included those in other word studies, but in order not to become too ponderous, we will look primarily today at the much-misunderstood concepts of “adoption” and “inheritance”.

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 it is unique to Paul’s epistles. It does not appear at all in the LXX. Accurate understanding of the cultural implications of huiothesia – etymologically a combination of huios (son) and a noun iteration of the verb 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 the decedent’s wife and children filled the need for both the responsibility and the privilege of inheritance. In the other cultures, however, “adoption”, or, rather, huiothesia, the word which has been translated that way, was an integral part of the legal technicalities of inheritance. It had little or nothing to do with our modern concept of providing for the care of young children. Now please understand, I am in no way intending to disparage the modern procedure of “adoption” to fill this need. It is a commendable institution: but it is NOT what the New Testament is talking about.

In all three cultures, an heir acquired not only the property, but also the debts and obligations of the deceased, as well as responsibility for the care and protection of the rest of his family. 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 in their various city-states were often more lenient and less highly defined than Roman law in many respects, it was important to both that a male heir be established to comply with legal requirements. Hence the advent of formal, legal adoption – especially when royal succession was involved. (The emperor Augustus, formerly known as Octavian, had been adopted by the family of Julius Caesar for that very reason.)

This version of adoption necessarily involved an older child, not a baby, as both the survivability and the competence of the adoptee were a serious issue, since the administration of an estate was involved.

Adoption was also a common way of cementing an alliance between families, in a way similar to the function of marriage in medieval Europe, and the son in question often maintained ties to both families.

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.

Interestingly, under Roman law, a formally 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 substantial dowry for a daughter; whereas a son would be expected to add to the family’s wealth by marriage.

But there was another aspect of these cultural expectations that sheds important light upon the New Testament translations of the word huiothesia.
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 age of legal responsibility – the father was required to make a formal legal and binding 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 requirement may have been culturally connected to the “voice from heaven” mentioned at Jesus’ baptism and again at the time of his Transfiguration. Although the word does not appear there, the statement “This is my Son” would have been readily recognized as the format of the standard legal acknowledgment. This is the reason for my choice of “acknowledgment” rather than “adoption” as a more accurate translation of the word.

On a purely civil level, responsibility would normally pass to the eldest son – the “firstborn” (prototokos)– which term, 8 of the 9 times it appears in the New Testament, uniformly applies to Jesus. Only in Heb.11:28, when the reference is to the death of firstborn sons in Egypt, is mention made of anyone other than Jesus. Twice the designation “firstborn” is in relation to Mary’s first child (Mt.1:25 and Lk.2:7), and it appears three times in Paul’s letters, twice in Hebrews, and once in the Revelation. Two of these reference Jesus’ resurrection: “the firstborn from the dead” (Col.1:18 and Rv1:5), his ultimate triumph. In Romans 8:29 he is called “the firstborn of many brethren”, in Col.1:15 “the firstborn of every creature” (or “of all creation”), in Heb.1:6 of the Father “bringing his firstborn into the world”, and Heb.12:23 speaks of “the church of the firstborn.” In assuming this title, Jesus has accepted responsibility for the welfare of ALL the other children! This realization also may help to shed light on the response of the eldest son in the parable read last week, of a younger son squandering his share of the father’s property: Now the eldest would need to provide his profligate brother’s total support! No wonder he was annoyed!

Huiothesia is the word used in all five New Testament occurrences of the English word “adoption” – Romans 8:15, 8:23, and 9:4, Gal.4:5, and Eph:1:5. All but the Rom. 9 passage refer to all the faithful. In Rom.9:4, Paul laments that the Hebrew nation, for whom the assignment was intended, refused the responsibility. Remember – huiothesia is a designation not only of privilege, but of responsibility faithfully to administer the assets and to care for the people and the property of the father! They were only interested in the privilege part! And unfortunately, privilege is the orientation of most of the modern rhetoric about “inheritance.”

That is why a correct understanding of the word huiothesia is so critical to the interpretation of the Galatians passage read this morning! Begin with 3:26:

“For you are all God’s sons, in Christ Jesus, through faithfulness. For whoever was baptized into Christ, has been clothed with Christ. There isn’t any Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise.” …. then follows an explanation that inheritance does not take effect until maturity, and then (4:5-7) “God sent out his son … in order that we might receive acknowledgment as his sons! …So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son also an heir, through God!”

Now before anyone starts getting bent-out-of-shape over all these references to “sons”, please consider the implication of this usage of the word “sons” in the cultural context we have just examined! Embedded in Paul’s explanation is the very clear, unambiguous statement that Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, are all one in Christ! The key is in the last clause: “if a son, also an heir!” We are ALL considered “sons”, because legally, only sons can be heirs! That statement is NOT exclusive, but gloriously INCLUSIVE!!! Like nothing the world had ever seen before – or since! Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, are, by the decree of God and the life given by the Lord Jesus, equally gifted and equally responsible for the administration of the gift of his inheritance! He has made us ALL his sons” – his specifically designated heirs – in order that we ALL may become faithful executors of his will!

The idea of inheritance deserves its own study – and maybe that can happen at another time. But there are a few points that it is necessary to address here:

1. An inheritance does NOT take effect after you die! There is no “pie in the sky bye and bye” in this equation. The distribution of an inheritance requires the certification of the death of the testator – the one who wrote the will – the one from whom the inheritance is received! But the heir, who receives both the inheritance and the responsibility for its administration, is very much alive! There is a careful explanation of this process in Hebrews 8 and 9. The references to “inheritance” in Eph.1:11, Rom.8:17, and Gal.4:7 are present tense – not future. You/we ARE heirs. NOW. The Hebrews passage carefully explains that such certification is/was a major reason for the death of Jesus! Where have you ever heard that celebrated in song or sermon?

2. “Will” and “covenant” are used in most English versions as translations of the same word. And as explained in Hebrews, the new one instituted by Jesus is “not like the old,” which it labels a failure. A will has no connection with any sort of “sacrifice”, ceremony, or shedding of blood. It is a legal document. Period. No more and no less. A “covenant”, likewise, is a legal, business agreement, with carefully stated requirements assigned to both parties, and includes the stipulation that a breach by either party renders the agreement of no effect.

3. Nevertheless, the inheritance we presently are called upon to administer faithfully as executors of the Lord’s will, is not “all there is.” We have received a down-payment on our inheritance, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph.1:14), whose job is to enable the proper administration of the will – but there is much more to come – Heb.1:14 and Rv. 21:7 – participation in which is dependent upon the faithful handling of what has already been received. Jesus’ future tense statement, “The victor will inherit these things, and I will be God for him, and he will be a son for me,” again, the formal statement of a father concerning his designated heir, immediately precedes the arrival of the Bride of the Lamb, and the joyful final consummation of history.

Perhaps this historical overview will shed some light on the confusion of folks who wonder, “Why the interest in adoption, when we have already been born into the Lord’s family?”
Life does indeed begin with birth, the result of the expression of love.
But the acknowledgment / adoption of sons is an expression of earned trust – and that is for grown-ups!
Inheritance is the exercise of responsibility, not the popular but shallower concept of a personal, private “reward”.

Might it be, then, that Paul’s frequent admonitions to “grow up” into the life to which we have been called, have in view the faithful administration of our inheritance?

May we faithfully “grow up” together into the Kingdom of our Lord.


Word Study #203 — “Constrained” – “Straitened” – stressed-out?

August 25, 2016

Here’s another one that started at church, folks.
(Incidentally, I give thanks for – and wish for all of you – the delight and challenge of an interactive group of the Lord’s people! It’s priceless!)

Our brother Jim was recently brave enough to suggest that, contrary to the stereotypical image of Jesus floating through life on some sort of ethereal cloud, untroubled by the vicissitudes to which we mere mortals are subject, the encounter described toward the end of Luke 12 reveals very real stress – perhaps even frustration – when the people he was training to carry on his ministry just plain didn’t “get it”.
Maybe there’s still hope for the rest of us after all? He didn’t give up on them!

The image in question springs from the use of the seldom-appearing verb, sunecho, and its middle and passive form, sunechomai. The etymology is not much help here: a combination of the preposition “sun” – “with, or together”, and the very common verb “echo” – “to have, or to hold”. Likewise, its translations, in most standard works, are many and varied.
It appears in the New Testament only 13 times, only three of which (those referring to illness) are uniformly treated. Active forms of the verb refer to a city under siege (Lk.19:43), a crowd jostling together (Lk.8:45), Paul being overworked (Ac.18:5), Stephen’s accusers “stopping up” their ears (Ac.7:57), the guards “holding” Jesus after his arrest (Lk.22:63), and (the only positive use) I Cor.5:14, where Paul explains that it is the love of Christ that “constrains” (requires?) his people to replicate his attitudes and behavior. These are the only uses of the active form of the verb.
Passive voice usage refers three times to illness (Mt.4:24 and its parallel Lk.4:38 referring to Peter’s mother in law, and Ac.28:8 to Publius’ father), once (Phil. 1:23) of a difficult decision, once of great fear (Lk.8:37), and the reference with which we began, Lk.12:50, which doesn’t really match any of the others.

Classical writers were no more consistent in their usage. L/S lists for active forms: “to hold or secure, enclose or compass, to close one’s ears or mouth, to prevent a group from dispersing, to preserve or maintain, to keep on (as a storm or flood)”; and passive forms “the conduct of government, to keep together in friendship, to engage in close combat, to keep a state from falling apart, to detain or sequester”, and at least that many more!

There is another term, stenochoreomai, (middle voice), even less frequently used in the New Testament, which, along with its noun and active verb forms, appears only seven times, and is usually translated in a manner indicating extreme distress or anguish, most often connected with persecution. These are found in Rom.2:9 and 8:35; I Cor. 4:8, 6:12 (twice), and 12:10. Notice that no use of this term occurs in the gospel accounts. It is mentioned here only to illustrate that had such an implication been intended, these different and unambiguous words would surely have been chosen.

No, if Jesus is frustrated, it is not the frustration of a helpless victim. He clearly knows what is coming, and is committed to its fulfillment. It’s the “in between” that causes stress – as is so often the case for us.

We are not told whether all of the discourses in Luke 12 are part of a single encounter, or if, as Luke suggests in his introductory passage (1:1-4), they have been simply compiled as a collection of memories gleaned from the reports of disciples who were there. This might be likely, as the individual accounts do not seem to be very connected.
The reference in 12:50 is unique among all the other New Testament references to baptism. Since Jesus had already submitted to baptism at the hands of his cousin John, it has usually been assumed that in this instance, he was referring to his imminent death (and consequent defeat of death). This is a plausible, although not proven, assumption. The immediately following discussion of the divisions caused by commitment to him would seem to point in that direction, although its connection to the end of the chapter is somewhat obscure.

So where does this leave us?

Is the inclusion of this statement intended to reassure us that, as the writer to the Hebrews put it (4:15), “he (Jesus) was tested in every way just as we are”, even to the point of frustration when things weren’t moving along as they “should” – or as he wished they would?
Is it a challenge to his listeners to “get off the fence” and make a firm commitment to the Kingdom and its Sovereign, fully aware of its divisive consequences?

Or do you see something else in this encounter?
Your insight (as long as it is derived from the New Testament), is most welcome!


Word Study #202 — Your/Our Master

August 4, 2016

“Master” is a word which, in English, carries a great variety of freight, both positive and negative.
One may said to have “mastered” a task, or a field of study, and even be granted a “master’s degree.”
A “master carpenter”, plumber, or other tradesman, is admired and rewarded for his expertise.
British English uses the word “master” as a synonym for “teacher”.
The owner of an animal pet is called its “master”, and is responsible for its welfare, and its behavior!
A “master” may be the captain of a ship, the supervisor of a task, or, in a less admirable situation, the owner of slaves or the director of their labor.

It is the height of irresponsibility, therefore, for a translator not to distinguish among these ideas!
Small wonder, therefore, that confusion arises when references to Jesus as “Master”, as he was frequently addressed or described, are interpreted as either dire threats or glowing promises, depending upon the theological perspective of the speaker, preacher, or other expositor, without regard to the actual reference of the word!

English translators have compounded this confusion by using this single, ambiguous word to represent no less than six very different Greek words!
Although some of these have appeared in earlier studies, kurios, usually rendered “Lord”, in #4, and “rabbi”, the Hebrew term which John translated as didaskalos, “teacher”, in his gospel narrative (1:38), in #46, we will revisit them briefly to make clear the contrast in their usage. All six represent quite sharp distinctions which should have been differentiated by responsible translators.

I think it will be most helpful to look at these terms in two groups: those concerned with authority and power over others: despotes, epistrates, and kurios, and those more concerned with teaching: didaskalos, kathegetes, and rabbi.
It is interesting to note that Jesus himself never used either despotes or epistrates. But then, he never was one to throw his weight around.

Although despotes was also used classically of the master of a household, both classical and New Testament writers used it primarily to refer to political rulers, and there, it implies absolute ownership and uncontrolled power (L/S) over persons or property. It appears only 10x in the New Testament, and was arbitrarily translated “master” 5x : I Tim.6:1,2; II Tim.2:21; Titus 2:9, and I Pet.2:18, all in the context of slavery except the II Tim. passage, which refers to the master of a household.
The same word was translated “Lord” 5x: Lk.2:29, Ac.4:24, II Pet.2:1, Jude 4, Rv.6:10, usually in the submissive address of a prayer, although Jude and Peter use it to level charges against deviants who “deny” Jesus, their rightful sovereign.

Epistates, appearing only in Luke’s gospel (5:5, 8:24, 45; 9:33, 9:41, 17:13), is uniformly addressed directly to Jesus, although it appears classically (L/S) referring to a military chief or commander, a magistrate, emperor, or governor. It is clearly a title of deep respect.

The inclusion in this group of the most common word, kurios, which appears more than 700 times in the New Testament, is highly significant. Trench’s work on Greek synonyms distinguishes only between despotes, which he characterizes as the required submission of slaves, and kurios, as denoting the protection and care of a family (this, despite its use as the required oath of allegiance to Caesar!). He sees no room for tyrannical oversight in the term kurios.
Paul, in Eph.6:5-9 and Col.3:22-4:1, uses kurios exclusively, although he chooses despotes in I Tim.6:1,2 and II Tim 2:21, and Titus 2:9. Bear in mind, however, that slavery per se would soon cease to exist if the instructions in those passages were followed!!!
Classically, kurios referred to any person exercising authority over others. The reference is to legitimate authority: that of a guardian of a household or the trustee of an estate: there is no reference to anything coercive.
Elsewhere, the word was simply a form of polite address: in both masculine and feminine forms, it was used when speaking to any person of social standing, from their mid-teens, as speakers of English would use “sir” or “madam”. Only by the context can one determine whether reverence or simple politeness is intended. Perhaps even the speaker was not always sure!

The other group of words, in which didaskalos predominates (57x), most often occurs as direct address to Jesus. I was surprised to find that only once (!) does the combination didaskalos kai kurios – literally translated “teacher and lord”, but more often quoted as “Lord and Master” – appear! I suspect that the phrasing “Lord and master” is due to the British understanding of “master” as “teacher”. The word evokes the image of Socrates, Plato, and their cohorts from the 5th and 6th centuries BC, walking or sitting around with their “disciples”, disputing all sorts of philosophical ideas. This was not rare in the first century, either. The didaskalos was a learned man, the proprietor of a school, a teacher or trainer of “disciples” (students). In most contexts, the polite address of “teacher” would be the best translation. Do not forget, however, Jesus’ admonition (Mt.10:24-25) that the goal of a genuine disciple is to become “like his teacher” (didaskalos) and a servant (slave?) to become “like his Lord (kurios)! The use of these terms together has significance that serious “disciples” should explore together!

Kathetes, a guide, teacher, or professor (L/S), was frequently used of Aristotle. It only appears in Mt.23:8,10, which has similarities, if not strict parallels, to Mt.20:24-28, Mk.10:41-45, and Lk.22:24-27, all of which flatly forbid positions or titles of honor to all faithful disciples. These also forbid the honorific title “Rabbi”, although it is used in direct reference to Jesus, 9x rendered as “master” and 8x as “teacher”. Please refer to study #46 for more detail on teaching in the New Testament church.

So where does this leave us?

In the former group, the predominance of the most benign term, kurios, would seem to reflect Jesus’ rejection of the despotic aspects of “mastery” (note that the English word “despot” is a direct transliteration of the political term), although the fact of the occasional inclusion of those terms probably bears testimony to his rightful position of authority.
Kurios was also the most frequent choice for address to God in the LXX, being used to translate adonai, El, eloh, elohim, jah, jehovah, and shaddai – whether used singly or in combinations.
Despotes , on the other hand, occurs only 12x in the LXX, out of which 3 refer to human masters, 8 are paired with kurios, and one stands alone in Jeremiah’s prayer.

Of the latter group, neither kathetes nor rabbi appears at all in the LXX, and didaskalos only once, although there are admonitions to “teach” (the verb form). Some historians suggest that the office of “rabbi” was an artifact of the exile, when there was limited or no access to other priestly hierarchy. Much more significantly, in the New Testament, Jesus’ own teaching and that of faithful disciples is integral to the dissemination of his Kingdom!

But this is NOT the province of a hierarchical structure! Jesus flatly forbade the assumption of titles such as “teacher”, “Rabbi”, “leader”, “father”, (see Mt.23 cited above), even though in his final instructions (Mt.28:20), teaching is central! The difference is, his people, as brother Paul points out (Col.3:16 and elsewhere) are now charged to teach each other. Teachers are among the Master Teacher’s gracious gifts to his Body (Eph.4:11-12), but remember always, “You have (only) one Master/Teacher, and you are all brethren!”

Thanks be to God!