A “Christian Nation?”

May 6, 2016

Recently, I heard the question raised, “Doesn’t living in a ‘Christian nation’ change the context of the various New Testament statements about behavior and attitudes, especially with respect to ‘enemies’?”
Although that might be a quite valid concern in a context that assumes, contrary to the previous study of the concept of “institutional church”, that such a situation is even possible, it is troubling for people committed to a New Testament understanding of faithfulness. From a perspective of total commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus, one’s life can no longer be compartmentalized!

Although I am quite certain that it is not what Rodgers and Hammerstein intended in “Oklahoma”, they have described a distinct parallel between Jesus and (of all unlikely people!) Will Parker, when he sings, “With me, it’s all or nothin’! Is it all or nothin’ with you? It cain’t be in-between – it cain’t be now-and-then! No half-and-half romance will do!”
In a drastically different context, that is exactly the choice faced – not only in the first century under threat of execution, but in every age – by those contemplating citizenship in the Kingdom.

Although “This is a Christian nation!” has become a popular battle-cry for encoding some people’s version of “morality” into legal requirements or prohibitions, the fact is that from the very beginning, there has never been such a thing as a “Christian nation”. No such entity exists today – or has ever existed (even in areas that boast of “state” churches) – or ever will exist – until the final consummation of the King’s arrival.
There is only one way to be “Christian”: and that is by making – and living by – a personal commitment of loyalty to Jesus Christ. Those who have done so are gradually and deliberately incorporated into a Body – but that Body is made up of people who have deliberately chosen his sovereignty.

No political structure on earth is so composed. Like it or not, virtually every “nation” on earth is composed of people of varied – or no – faith commitments, some of whom lead exemplary lives.

People may join an earthly nation by their personal choice. But most are merely “citizens” wherever they were born. “State churches”, being institutional, have tried to enforce a similar pattern, but as we saw in the essay about the “institutional church”, the result is a far cry from the interactive, voluntary New Testament brotherhood described in Scripture. Please refer to the first chapter of Citizens of the Kingdom.

No one who has deliberately ceded absolute loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom can thereafter offer that total loyalty to a mere human institution, whether political or ecclesiastical.
And no one who has not so ceded his loyalty can – or should – be expected to be capable of Kingdom behavior! This is not to say that there are not many good people who have no such commitment. There are. However, making laws for other people, and legislating what we have failed to teach, is not part of our job description.

Please refer to word study #62 for the New Testament treatment of the word “nations”. It is clear that the concept of “nation” as defined in the 21st century did not exist in the first. The Roman Empire had dominated many “nations”, allowing most of them a considerable degree of autonomy, as long as both the puppet leaders and the common citizenry overtly acknowledged that “Caesar is Lord”. (See Word Study #4.) “Nation” defined ethnicity, more than political allegiance.

Notice that in Paul’s testimony in the trials recorded in Acts 24 and 26, and in his interview with the Jewish leaders in Rome, he speaks of “my nation”, obviously referring to Israel, although he also on occasion referred to his Roman citizenship. Citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom does not expect one to renounce nor to reject his earthly allegiances and responsibilities. It simply subjects them to his ultimate, primary loyalty to the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, this is seldom acceptable to the people in power – in any institution, political or ecclesiastical – and consequently may incur the wrath of one or the other – or both.

Peter is the only one of the New Testament writers to refer to the committed as a “nation” (I Pet.2:9). We are not only a “nation” (of common birth and cause), but a “holy nation” – one set-apart for God’s deliberate purposes. The rest of his description makes abundantly clear that this is a very different sort of a “nation” – one designed to demonstrate, by its faithful living in the face of extreme persecution by the “official” nations with which it co-exists, the excellence of the Lord who has called its people “out of darkness into his amazing light”!

Notice, please, that Peter does not call for his readers to oppose the structures under which they suffer, but “by doing good” to counteract the wrong that surrounds (and even abuses) them. It is an exercise in futility to expect the uncommitted to exhibit behavior that is enabled only by the Lord we serve.
Obeying when we can, and refusing only when we must in order to remain faithful to our prior commitment, bears testimony to the true justice of our King.

Notice also, please, that IN NO INSTANCE are the faithful called upon to force their own principles upon any other individual or group – legally or by any other form of coercion. It is not only impossible, but not even permissible, to expect Kingdom behavior of the uncommitted. We are not called to reform the society around us, but to DEMONSTRATE AN ALTERNATIVE to the futility, the oppression, even the evil that prevails there – whether or not such a demonstration project is acceptable to that society.
To what extent it is ever appropriate for Kingdom citizens to participate in any sort of prescriptive action beyond their own brotherhood, is a question best settled on a situational basis by a consensus of folks personally and corporately committed to their acknowledged King and to Kingdom principles.

For the most part, our energy would be far more productively spent in working together to become the Body – the brotherhood – the “holy nation” – in which onlookers can see “the excellence of the one who called you /us”. That is the only truly “Christian nation”.

Making Everything New

April 24, 2016

This was prepared for our local fellowship in April 2016.
Everyone was asked to  prepare by looking for everything they could find in the New Testament that was characterized as “new”. The response was excellent.  This was an attempt to pull several streams together.

Making Everything New

Jesus’ triumphant statement, “Behold, I am making everything new!”, has been variously interpreted ever since the first time it was recorded, as have so many of the things he talked about.

It is certainly true that commitment to the Lord, especially for someone like me, who at that time had only recently been introduced to the life that Jesus advocated and enabled, often results in what some have called a “honeymoon phase”, where the whole world takes on a surreal sort of beauty. But all too soon, it is time to get down to the business of learning a new way of life.
There are still people and groups who insist on proclaiming a hyped-up “victory” over all problems and situations, which they attribute to their narrow definition of “faith” (auto suggestion?).
There are others who get around the difficulty of when the “magic” doesn’t work, (as well as ignoring any personal responsibility) by postponing all evidence of the “victory” until the Lord comes.
And there are all sorts of variations in between.
One major deviation of the Anabaptist movement from the “mainstream” was its determined effort to bridge the gap between the “already” and the “not yet” in their efforts at Kingdom living. This is especially true of attitudes regarding the contemporary phase of the Kingdom. They made an earnest effort to contradict the little ditty “To live above with the saints in love, Oh that will be glory!
But to live below, with the saints we know,Well, that’s a different story!”
It is precisely among the “saints below”, with all our oddities, stumblings, bruises and warts, where the “newness” of life in Christ most needs to be seen!

The writer to the Hebrews (8:13) observes, “In saying “new”, he has made the first “old”. And what is old and has been superseded, is near to disappearing!”
Even so, to examine the new situation, we have to start somewhere, and the logical place is at the “new creation” that happens whenever a person commits his life to the Lord.
I Cor.5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (or, “creation is new!”) Old things are gone, and something new has happened!”
In other places (notably the first paragraph of Romans 6), Paul uses the figure of baptism to represent death, burial and resurrection, to emphasize the same point, and in Ephesians 2:15, he expands it to include the bringing together of Jew and Gentile – formerly bitter enemies – into what he calls “one new person” – the Body of Christ!
In that Body, LIFE IS EXPECTED TO BE DIFFERENT!!! There has been a New Creation!

For many – perhaps most – of us, this doesn’t happen instantaneously. One is neither “born” nor “re-born” as a fully mature adult! We don’t expect adult behavior of our two-year-olds. That’s the perfectly reasonable impetus for all the admonitions to “grow up” into the image of Christ that appear like a refrain in so many of the New Testament letters. We’re not there yet. The direction has been set, but it will take the rest of our lives to learn to conform them to the “image of Christ”!

Unfortunately, in many groups that represent themselves as “Christian”, no change, radical or not, is expected. If a group represents itself as “welcoming” (the new codeword for “liberal”), people’s “lifestyle choices” – of whatever variety – are considered their own business, and are not to be questioned, let alone challenged or critiqued. “I won’ t mess with your choices, and you better not mess with mine”!
If, on the other hand, a group congratulates itself on its careful “faithfulness” (read, “conservative”), a simple but rigid list of rules is imposed, with very specific (and non-negotiable) requirements and prohibitions regarding both thought and behavior.

Neither of these bears the remotest resemblance to a New Creation!
Jesus’ creation of a Body, growing together into his image, stands in equally sharp contrast to both of these positions.

He spoke very deliberately of a people brought together under a New Covenant.
Probably this is picked up in the most careful detail in the letter to the Hebrews because the concept of “covenant” was such an integral part of their history and culture. But notice how this idea is treated, especially in chapter 8:6-13. Repeatedly, they are reminded that this New Covenant is “NOT LIKE the old one”, which is characterized as a total failure!

To make sense out of this concept, we first need to clarify our understanding of the idea of “covenant”. Most significantly, we need to recognize the error of the assumption that a “covenant” is or was somehow an unconditionally permanent thing! A covenant was and is a legal contract – seriously binding, after ratification, but (as is clear even in many Old Testament accounts) a breach by either party renders a contract or covenant of no effect! Subject to litigation, perhaps, but no longer binding!
There is nothing mysterious about a covenant. Employers have them. Neighborhood associations have them. Real estate or other financial deals require them. They impose responsibilities upon both parties.
A covenant is cast, historically, legally, theologically, and linguistically, in a series of “if x…then y” statements, which, grammatically, are classified as “conditional” constructions. A covenant is neither a threat nor a promise. It is a legal contract – no more and no less.

The writer of Hebrews then goes on to explain the actual historical meaning of the word translated “covenant”. In the larger society, it referred to one’s legal will, and seldom to contracts or covenants at all. (I have devoted two word studies on the web site to this subject, if you are interested). The “doctrinally” over-emphasized, ancient pagan requirement of “blood sacrifice” to seal a covenant is corrected by the simple statement that a will only takes effect after the death of the testator is certified! That topic deserves an entire study of its own, for which we don’t have time this morning. Chapters 8-10 of Hebrews elaborate on the connections between the concepts of covenant, inheritance, and the Body of Christ, which could be very helpful to our understanding. Remember that the letter to the Hebrews is pointing out differences from the old system, not ideas to be copied!

Additionally, as Paul points out in II Cor.3:6, we, the people of God, are the administrators – the executors – of that will! Executors are responsible to see that a will is carried out according to the wishes of the one who wrote it! They don’t make their own rules. They simply follow instructions. And that is our job, people! We have been appointed the executors of our Lord’s will! That is a huge – and perhaps somewhat intimidating – assignment, also calling for deeper study.

Finally, just as the Old Covenant was based upon instructions (“commandments”) relayed to the people for whom it was instituted, so is the New Covenant/ inheritance predicated upon Jesus’ New Commandment.
It would have been so much easier if he had just given us a check-list! Although that obviously had not worked under the old system.
But Jesus must have really meant what he said, since he repeated it so many times (Jn.13:34, 35; 15:12, 17). Love of – and among – the brethren is our passport – our Kingdom ID.
“If you love me, you will follow my instructions!” (Jn.14:15,21) is not a demand, but a simple statement of “cause and effect.”

Interestingly, it is right after this repeated statement that we find the inclusion of his analogy of the Vine (15:1-8). A branch MUST be connected to the vine in order to fulfill its intended purpose – bearing fruit. However, the most elementary observation reveals that branches are connected to a vine only by other branches!!! Connectedness is essential!
Actually, this is the beginning of the formation of Jesus’ people into the Body of Christ! That Body is integral to the New Creation!
Only together can such a disparate collection of people become the “demonstration project” in which the world can see Jesus’ Kingdom. A recent example of this is Shirley’s report of her neighbors’ reaction to the roofing job. Kingdom behavior was demonstrated.

Details of the composition and function of that Body are most specifically outlined in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12-14, and supplemented in Ephesians and Colossians. The lists are not identical. They address different needs, different situations. We could – and should – spend a good chunk of time exploring this aspect of Kingdom life. The common thread, which is absolutely essential, is that each membereveryone! – has a very necessary contribution to make for the formation, growth, and fruitfulness of the Body, and to enable the recognition “by all people” that we are our King’s citizens.

This is a totally new way of operating. It had never been tried before! and therefore extreme caution is required. Creation is new, but not everything represented as “new” is necessarily better. Discernment, one of the Spirit’s essential gifts to the Body through its members, is desperately needed, to distinguish between the actual leading of God and the half-baked theories of “new” ideas (Colossians 2:4-10 is an example) where some were suggesting that Jesus alone was not sufficient, and needed to be understood as just one element of an elaborate, mythological hierarchy invented by some pagan Eastern cultures; or the revisionists referenced in Galatians 1:8-9 whose legalistic, abusive and oppressive teaching threatened the faithful message of freedom in Christ. Both of these are parallel to some contemporary threats as well. Only careful discernment by a faithful Body committed to a reliable standard can evaluate whether what is represented as “new wine” that needs “new wineskins” is really from the Lord. Maybe it is – or maybe not.

This has to be why, after a long discussion of the futility and failures of the old system, the writer to the Hebrews urges (10:24-25) “Let’s concentrate on prodding each other, with love, and good deeds! Let’s don’t neglect getting together, as some have made a habit, but keep on coaching each other more and more, as you all see the Day getting nearer!”

Functioning as his New Creation – under the New Covenant – obedient to the King’s New Commandment – may we learn together to keep coaching each other into greater faithfulness!

April 24, 2016, GMF

An offer for those interested

April 13, 2016

Good morning, friends.
Recently, a friend of mine inquired about getting copies of Citizens of the Kingdom for a study class to use.  I was glad to send her what she needed.

As I hope I have made clear, any of you are free to make (or to have made) copies of any of my work on this site for your personal use, as long as you do not sell them for any reason.  I try to live by my conviction that anything that is truly a gift from the Lord should NEVER be used for anyone’s profit.

However, I do have a good-sized box of print copies of Citizens, which were made before my son Dan put the work on the internet for you.  They are just sitting in a closet.  It occurred to me that some of you might also like to have a few for group use.  THEY ARE NOT FOR SALE.  I would, however, be glad to send any of you what you might want to use, simply for the cost of the shipping.  Please respect the trust I have in you, that you will not offer them for sale.  UPS charged me about $15 to mail a box of ten to Pennsylvania from North Carolina,  so I do not feel able to foot the bill for shipping a quantity multiple times.
But I would rather have you using them, than just have them taking up space.

You can reply here on the site if you wish.

In the service of the King —


“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.

New resources

January 3, 2016

Hello, folks.

As I’m sure you have noticed, there have been no new postings for the last couple months.  We have been working on the problem with the Translation Notes.  Seems that the Greek font I had been using, no longer is compatible with PDF’s, and so when anyone tried to print that off, Greek words came up with a crazy jumble of English letters that were completely meaningless.  After trying a bunch of alternatives, Dan and I decided that the best solution was to simply use the transliteration we have been using in the regular studies. So I re-did the whole thing.  Sorry about that, to those of you who would prefer”real” Greek — but although the technology is out there somewhere, my computer skills are not up to learning a whole new system at this point.

So Dan has now posted the Notes in a printable (transliterated) form, which you can access from the “download” section of the homepage.  In case any of you want the Greek version, it is still there, and you can get to it if you download “SLGreek” to your computer.

We apologize for the inconvenience and nuisance, but it is the best we can do.

Wishing a blessing-filled New Year to you all — Now I will get back to a few waiting requests for studies.  Keep your suggestions for new work coming.


2015 in review

December 31, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Brief Introduction to Anabaptist History

September 15, 2015

This piece was developed for a small group that traces its roots to the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation in 1525.  Like so many groups with a unique and troubled history of attempted faithfulness, the modern progeny of those devout New Testament students sometimes lose sight of the vision of New Testament living that drove their antecedents to risk, and often to sacrifice, their very lives in their search for New Testament Christianity.

Perhaps many of you are also unaware of the serious devotion to Scriptural principles of the folks whom the formal “Reformers” tagged with the label, “Anabaptist heretics.”  It is for this reason that I am including it among my postings of New Testament studies, in the  hope that it may contribute to the “Recovery of the Anabaptist vision” among people who, although they may or many not share that heritage, find the New Testament descriptions of the early church to be attractive, and worth the effort to emulate.

May we all become better acquainted with the Lord Jesus, as we seek together to “follow him in life”!

A Brief Look at Early Anabaptist History

I usually prefer to use the opportunities I am given to share, to examine some specific aspect of the New Testament. But Tim Wyse’s testimony a couple weeks ago was such an excellent summary of what a gathering of folks of Anabaptist persuasion should be, that I feel compelled, for the benefit of those who, like me, did not grow up acquainted with the reasoning behind much of our history, to highlight some significant parts of Anabaptist beginnings, in the hope that perhaps at some point we may all engage together in a more in-depth look at “where we came from” as a guide to “where we are going.” This is an attempt, neither to idealize, nor much less to idolize, the past, but to learn from it.

Tim, as you may recall, attributed much of the attractiveness of our little group to “a focus on discipleship rather than doctrine.” This matches the statement on our bulletin very well.
There could be no distinction more appropriate for a group of Anabaptist origin.
That is not at all to discredit the importance of “what one believes”, but rather to push beyond the theoretical, to ask “OK, now, what are we going to DO about it?”, a question which most other groups answer, if at all, in very different ways.

Of primary importance to this question is a proper linguistic understanding of the word usually translated “faith”, which actually would be better understood if rendered “faithfulness” or “loyalty”. It was classically a very practical word, not at all theoretical. If you are curious, please check out the very first word study in my online collection. Or try substituting “loyalty to Jesus” in places where you are accustomed to reading “faith”, and you will begin to see the difference it makes.
It is precisely that difference for which our forefathers (spiritual, if not genealogical) gave their lives.

There is an old saying, most frequently applied to social or political issues, “Those who choose not to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This is readily observed on the world scene, where formerly oppressed individuals or groups who become “liberated” waste no time in becoming the oppressors of their former masters, or even of former fellow-victims, and the cycle repeats endlessly, just with a different “alpha dog” on top of the pile. Examples abound around the world, whether of national, ethnic, religious, racial, gender, or any other origin.
Sadly, the self-proclaimed followers of the Prince of Peace have evidenced little deviation from this pattern.

When the emperor Constantine, in the early 4th century, declared that “Christianity”, the formerly persecuted minority, was to be the officially recognized “religion” of his empire, “conversion” and baptism became a legal requirement rather than a daring departure from convention. Only political loyalty and submission to ceremonial duties, were required, after the pattern of the earlier “worship” of the Caesars. It had little, if anything, to do with anyone’s way of life. Officials of the already-growing church hierarchy hailed as a victory,what was in actuality an ignominious defeat for a true NT church.

The problem with that is, commitment to Jesus was never intended to be a “religion” – simply one of many ways for people to attempt to understand and manipulate powers that are beyond common human control. JESUS DID NOT COME TO ‘START A RELIGION’, NOR TO REFORM AN EXISTING ONE! By his own testimony, he came that his people might have LIFE (Jn.10:10), and have it abundantly!

I have often previously quoted Solomon’s excellent summary: “He did not come to tell us what to think but to SHOW us how to live.” The “inaugural address” of Jesus’ Kingdom (Lk.4) detailed “good news to the poor, healing broken hearts, release for captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed!” I have never seen any of those items in the “doctrinal statement” of any group, have you? If that was Jesus’ agenda, why is it not the agenda of those who claim to follow him?

It certainly did not describe Constantine’s agenda, or that of the burgeoning church hierarchy! As the clerical and political hierarchies merged and their wealth and power increased, the true King’s “Inaugural” lay pretty much forgotten. When an occasional brave soul advocated any of its principles, such an advocate was either peremptorily disposed-of, or elevated to “sainthood”– either one of which conveniently marginalized their influence on the average person.

The powerful church-state alliance established, and canonized, very carefully crafted statements of “doctrine”/ “belief” to which all were required to subscribe, on pain of exile, or even death. What the religious rulers had been unable to achieve by persuasion, they demanded by legislation – a very 21st century “solution” which really belongs to the middle ages!   (NOT the editorial pages!)
Compulsory assent to official pronouncements or accepted “doctrines” forcibly replaced the loving, mutually sharing brotherhood which had been the lifeblood of the early, persecuted church.

It was into this atmosphere that a tiny spark of light exploded, and became a conflagration that had to be reckoned with, in the early 16th century. “Reformers” had already tried to tackle some of the most egregious abuses by the powerful, but they all allowed their “reforms” to be vetted, approved (or not), and regulated by the political rulers, and tried to fix things by simply creating new hierarchical structures to replace the old: the power of the state was still invoked to enforce the submission of everyone in a given territory.

But in a small home near Zurich, in January of 1525, a small group of students who had been introduced by the reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, to Erasmus’ compilation of the Greek text of the New Testament, had finally had enough of waiting. Having compared the findings of their New Testament study to what claimed to be “the church”, they realized that the results just didn’t match! That’s exactly what happened to me as a college student.
With no official or clerical authority or approval, they declared their intention to follow Jesus Christ in their whole life, baptized each other in testimony to that commitment, and at the same time, ordained each other to spread the word – the New Testament – that had encouraged them to do so. And all the drownings, burnings, tortures, and assorted other abuses heaped upon them by both political and religious officials could not quench that flame. It spread like wildfire.

Do you see any parallel here? The early church had thrived and spread throughout the empire, despite brutal persecution by Rome. The Swiss Brethren, likewise brutalized, spread rapidly through Switzerland, Germany, and surrounding territories: so rapidly that the more institutionally-inclined reformers were alarmed, and turned up the heat on the “heretics”.
What was their “heresy”? It was perhaps best defined by Hans Denk, who simply stated: “No man may truly know Christ, except he follows him in life.”

As summarized by historian Harold Bender, “The Anabaptists could not understand a Christianity that made regeneration, holiness, and love a matter of intellect, doctrinal belief, or subjective experience, rather than the transformation of life.” For them , the operative word was not “faith”, a theoretical concept independent of observable evidence, but “following”, for which any “theology” might perhaps be a means, but certainly not an end.
Even their enemies recognized this, and a “godly life” was frequently cited in trials as proof that someone was an Anabaptist, and the person was thereby condemned, either to drowning or the stake!

Two years after the initial meeting, a group of brethren under the leadership of Michael Sattler (who was martyred soon thereafter), met to define their points of departure from the state-church system.
The resulting “Schleitheim Confession” did not focus on any “doctrinal” deviation from the basic theology professed by the official churches. It’s seven brief articles dealt specifically with the resultant behavior to which the brethren had committed themselves. Primary was the voluntary nature of the church. The baptism of mature adults at their own request, careful discipline within the group, and the informal celebration of the breaking of bread among the committed, were all outgrowths of this principle, and “separation from the world” (a phrase later badly abused, as if it had been instituted as a new “Law”) was simply the observable result of their commitment. As part of their rejection of any and all coercion, they rejected both “the sword” (political coercion) and the oath (a follower of Jesus was committed to absolute truthfulness on every occasion.) Out of necessity, they also detailed the rapid replacement of their leaders, since martyrdom was so frequent. Notice that nothing whatever was said about “doctrinal” issues. Accused of “trying to abolish the clergy”, someone is said to have retorted, “Not at all: in obedience to Jesus Christ, we intend to abolish the laity”!

In those turbulent early years, councils, debates, and “disputations” were convened by various authorities to halt the spread of “heresy”, but to no avail. Every faithful person had become a preacher/evangelist!

In 1531, a “disputation” was arranged, in which the principals were Martin Bucer, an ally of Martin Luther, and advocate of a “Christendom” promoted and coerced by civil authority, and Pilgram Marpeck, who considered the gathered church to be an extension of the Incarnation of Christ, (detailed in word study #150), an “advance party” of his Kingdom. Marpeck maintained that in order to create a true community, one’s commitment must of necessity be voluntary. True faithfulness can never be coerced.

Bucer, on the other hand, argued that the church was a continuation of the Old Testament “people of God”, and equated baptism with circumcision, to which all children must be subjected, and by which they were obligated to eventual membership. He therefore held the OT to be of equal authority with the New – the “flat book” approach advocated even today by many denominations, self-designated “evangelicals”, and even some who claim Anabaptist roots, and therefore ought to know better!

Bucer also insisted that the civil government was “ordained” to enforce this system. Consequently, of course, since he maintained that it was the duty of the state to enforce conformity, Bucer was declared to have “won” the debate.

Marpeck did not reject the OT, but considered it merely preparatory, and saw the relation between the testaments as “preparation vs. fulfillment”. He held that where there was conflict, the New must always take precedence. Jesus made the deciding call, and served as the prime example.

Notice, that here, too, the Anabaptist objections were practical, not theological. The basics of “belief” were challenged only as they impinged upon the expected behavior of the “church” and its members. It was the practical outworking of commitment to Christ that was in question.
None of these debates or arguments even touched on the “theological” issues so carefully defined, proof-texted and footnoted by modern “defenders of the faith.” That preoccupation has been copied from 19th and early 20th century Fundamentalism. It was nowhere present in historical Anabaptism.

In his essay, “The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision”, Harold Bender highlights three areas where the Anabaptist brethren departed from the prevailing norm:

  1. The essence of Christianity is discipleship: the transformation of one’s life according to teaching of Jesus. Life is expected to be observably different.
  2. An entirely new concept of church as voluntary, not automatic, and definitely NOT an adjunct to state citizenship. Church is expected to be observably different.
  3. The ethic of love and nonresistance in all human relationships, which allows no room for coercion of any kind: theological, civil, or military. Members are no longer under the Old Covenant, expected to do battle on behalf of their god, but now serve the Prince of Peace, in a lifestyle patterned after his.

Please note that they were not trying to change the prevailing social order, but to create a new one!
They neither made nor imposed any rules upon people outside of their own committed group.
They never expected to be a majority – persecution was assumed, and for over 200 years, even after the initial executions subsided, advocates of the “free” or voluntary church were hounded from their homes and property. Sheltered by the occasional compassionate local potentate, they took refuge wherever it could be found: in the Netherlands, Moravia, some German duchy areas, and even czarist Russia!

In the early 18th century, battered from centuries of abuse, with most of their original leadership executed, those who eventually found refuge in “Penn’s Colony” just wanted to be left alone. For a time, they maintained their defensive isolation– and who could blame them? It was pleasant not to be constantly running and hiding in order to survive. I could still take you to Pennsylvania churches where an opening prayer would predictably include “We thank thee that we may gather here today unmolested and undisturbed”!

But peace has its own perils. Both the descendants of the folks who had received Constantine’s decree with a sigh of relief, and the progeny of those who found refuge in Penn’s colony, eventually learned: The absence of overt opposition can quickly dull the edge of commitment.

Although it is noted by some Church of the Brethren historians, that when in 1719, Benjamin Franklin asked their elders to provide a “creed”, and a list of “officials”, in order that they might be enrolled as a legitimate “church”, they refused, saying “We have no creed but the New Testament, and acknowledge no superior but the Lord Jesus Christ”, one would be hard-pressed to find such a response today. (We have tried!)

And what a contrast is the brief but bold statement that emerged at Schleitheim, to the so-called “Mennonite Confession of Faith”, with its 20 lengthy articles, fully half of which appear to be designed to identify with evangelical protestantism rather than to describe a difference, and only one of which refers to the group’s official attitude toward the state.

Have we so completely lost sight of the central principles by which our forebears governed their lives – and for which they even gave their lives?
How did nearly five centuries of persecuted minority status become a burden instead of a badge of honor?
Is a retreat to “doctrine” always safer than an exemplary life, and therefore to be preferred?

In the last half-century, a few voices have again been raised in advocacy of a deliberate, even if costly, choice of discipleship over the comfort of a passive reliance upon “accepted doctrine”. This is a hopeful sign.

But have you noticed how many of the agenda items for “official” meetings (which are announced as being open only to “credentialed” individuals) in recent years have been issues already noisily aired in the popular press?

Or how frequently the announced “conclusions” are also those already “approved” by the general populace, or proclaimed in national legislation?

I am not saying that we were better-off being burned and drowned – not idealizing the days when faithfulness meant a peremptory death sentence. But have we really deliberately decided, with the rest of society, that it is more appropriate to “fit in” than to wrestle with the challenge of discipleship? Or have we just carelessly slouched into that stance?

What will we do, if we again find ourselves placed into a position where we must make a choice?

We need to make every effort to become fully aware of the alternatives and their implications, in order that we may choose faithfully.


Suggested resources for Anabaptist History:

The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision – ed.Guy Hershberger, 1957

Becoming Anabaptist –J.Denny Weaver – 1987

The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism – Franklin Littell, 1964

Introduction to Mennonite History – C.J.Dyck, 1974

The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder, 1972

The Priestly Kingdom – John Howard Yoder, 1984

The Believers Church– Donald Durnbaugh, 1970

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!