Thursday, April 29, 2010

A little break from Romans: Who was the short one?

Sing with me!
"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he..."

Or was he?

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the beginning of Luke 19:
"[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature" (vs. 1-3; ESV)

It's that last phrase "... he was small of stature" that is so interesting.

Because neither the wording nor the grammar of Luke give a clear indicator which "he" is being referred to. Is "he" Zacchaeus; or is "he" Jesus?

For all we know, maybe Zacchaeus was 6 ft tall and it was Jesus who was the short one! Maybe the of-average-height Zacchaeus couldn't see Jesus through the crowd because Jesus was short!

Of course, the traditional view is equally as plausible, we just don't know 100%.

So, next time you run across this story remember that it might (might, maybe, possibly, etc...) actually be more accurate to sing:
"Jesus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When in Rome... 1:18-32

We all stand condemned before God and there is no excuse.

That's the gist of this final section of Romans chapter one: Romans 1:18-32.

As we leave behind Paul's introductory comments and finally begin to interact with his main thoughts we see that he starts off by stating the problem: the righteous shall live by faith (vs. 17) but no one is righteous and there's no real excuse (18-32).

Paul is laying the foundations for what is to come. Before we can understand what it is that Christ has accomplished we need to understand why He did what He did. Paul lays it out for us in strong, vivid language.

The Breakdown:
vs. 18-23: God's judgement and wrath are coming on humanity because we have ignored the revelation of God (evident even through nature) and chosen to go our own way.
vs. 24-25: idolatry; worshiping the created rather than the Creator
vs. 26-27: sexual immorality; specifically homosexuality
vs. 28-32: in some sense, God gives them what they want and they reap the consequences of that lifestyle.

I don't know that I can think of another passage in the NT that so starkly states the human condition. Paul's analysis of the state of the world is striking and, unfortunately, fits with our world today just as well as it fit his world nearly 2000 years ago.

However, I also think that it's a bit unfortunate how I've seen this passage used. Often this passage is used in a "fire & brimstone" kind of way. Christians go around and use this to judge and condemn the world around them. However, I'm not sure that is the way that Paul intended this passage to be used. Like I said before, Paul is setting the foundations for his argument, he is stating our common condition.

That common condition is that all of us are under God's condemnation... and it's just that: God's judgement. Notice in vs. 18 that it is God's wrath which is revealed from heaven. It is God who is going to judge the world, not us.

In fact, in 2:1 he warns the Romans not to go around judging others because we are all guilty of these kinds of sins. After all, isn't that what chapter 3 is all about (3:10-12, 22-23)?

I think we should contrast this with the mission that has been given to us from God: the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-21). God has entrusted us with the Good News (after all, that is quite literally what euangelion means: "good message"... but we've already talked about that in past posts). In other words, He's got the whole judgement thing taken care of, our task is to spread the positive aspect of this message which is that, even though we are under God's judgement, we can be reconciled to God.

Those are just some of my thoughts coming out of this passage.
What does Romans 1:18-32 bring to your mind?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

When in Rome... 1:16-17

OK, so I promise that I'll try to do more than just two verses at a time, otherwise it'll take forever to get through this book, but Romans 1:16-17 sort of stand on their own as the real starting point of Paul's letter.

Because it's only two verses, I'll provide them here: (ESV)
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith." [if you want to read this in another version click: here.]

I think most of us are pretty familiar with these verses, so I'll leave it to you to comment on them however you feel led, but it was a phrase from vs. 17 that stood out to me: "...from faith for faith..."

The way the ESV phrased this had me confused for a bit.
Here's some translation samples:
"...from faith for faith..." ESV
"...from faith to faith..." NASB, KJV, NKJV
"...through faith for faith..." NRSV
" faith from first to last..." NIV
"...from start to finish by faith..." NLT

Without a doubt it is the first two options that are the most literal (the only difference being how to translate the preposition, "eis" which can mean, depending on the context, "into, unto, to, towards, for, among").

However, based on the phrasing in Greek it is quite possible that this phrase may be idiomatic, as the NIV & NLT seem to lean towards (the ESV has a footnote on this phrase which states: "Or beginning and ending in faith" which agrees somewhat with the interpretive translation of the NIV & NLT).

Is there a theological difference between these first two options?
Does the Gospel reveal the righteousness of God from faith "for" or "to" faith?
Is there a difference?

Based on how you interpret that, which of the other translations do you think explain it best?
What do you take this verse to mean?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When in Rome... 1:8-15

So in our second post on the book of Romans we are still finishing off Paul's introductory statements.

If you don't have a Bible with you, you can read todays section here: Romans 1:8-15.

Doesn't Paul just look insanely suave in this picture :)

Anyway, let's get to the text.

What stood out to you?

Probably what stood out to me is in verses 11 & 12. What I love is that Paul sees this "spiritual gift" that he want's to give the Roman Christians as being mutual encouragement. Isn't this a big part of the beauty of a healthy, functional church? I don't know that there is a more joyful thing in Church life than to see a church and it's leadership mutually encouraging one another.

Not only does Paul want to give encouragement to his fellow believers, but he also desires to receive encouragement from them.

Encouragement isn't just supposed to flow one-way. Paul wants this to be mutual; it's a two way street!

Of course, there are other things that I could talk about in this brief section but I'll leave the rest to you.

Until then, some thoughts: (maybe more for meditation than for comments... but I'm OK with either)
In what ways do you see mutual encouragement in your church?
In what ways are you encouraged by the leadership of your church?
In what ways do you encourage the leadership of your church?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When in Rome... 1:1-7

So yesterday I was thinking (a dangerous pastime, i know:), and realized that it has been a while since I've been through the book of Romans. And then I thought, "Hey, why not walk through Romans on the blog?"

I've seen people do these sorts of series on blogs, but I've never done it, so let's give it a try!

Will you walk through Romans with me?

I know that many of you will have studied Romans at some point and so will have lots to offer. But this doesn't need to be a strictly academic "study" of Romans. Whether your approach is more academic or more devotional doesn't matter. Leave your thoughts. I just ask that your comments be centred on the text we are talking about; with Romans we could get side-tracked with a tonne of rabbit-trails and this is going to take long enough as it is :)

My goal is to post twice a week (Tuesdays & Thursdays/Fridays?) ...but I make no promises.

Most of you know that my preferred translation is the ESV and so it is likely that most of the time I will be referring to it's text. Feel free to bring in whatever translation you like. I will post a link to the text from "" so that you can select whatever translation you like.

Not the "Rome" I was thinking of:

Here's the link: Romans 1:1-7

Romans starts off in a typical Pauline manner: a run-on sentence. Yes, these 7 verses are one single sentence in the original text! [In Koine Greek there are no grammatical rules forbidding "run-on sentences" so this often becomes a translation issue, particularly when translating Paul's writings]

Here's the English translation breakdown (in alphabetical order):
ESV = 1 sentence
KJV = 1
NASB = 1
NIV = 4
NKJV = 2
NLT = 8

Kudos to those translations that managed to keep it as a single sentence in English (although some stretched it a bit by using a few too many : and ; - KJV).

Keeping it to one sentence in English is great, but when you read it you understand why some translations chose to break it down for us; these 7 verses can be a little hard to follow. But, this is part of Paul's writing style, so we'll just have to get used to it!

As I was working through this greeting I started trying to work out what his main point is (aside from obviously functioning as a greeting/preamble to his letter). There are so many asides (ie. dependent clauses) that it's hard to figure out what the main sentence is.

Nonetheless, I think we get a little insight into the passion that drives Paul here. He can't even introduce himself without preaching the Gospel! He has barely given his name and status ("slave" & "apostle"... I think "slave" is a better translation than "servant" or even the more literal "bond-servant"... what on earth is a "bond-servant?"... it's a slave; a "servant" who is "bound"; ie. NOT FREE) before he goes off and starts preaching theology. That's Paul for you!

So, anyway, will you join me as we journey through Paul's letter to the Romans?
What insights can we glean from this first, long sentence?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Changing Orthodoxy?

So, while I have a fairly "high" view of orthodoxy, I do believe that God calls us to constantly evaluate and, if necessary, adjust our beliefs and practices in order to realign ourselves with His will.

But how is this done?

When it is simply a matter of an individual changing his/her beliefs/actions that is one thing... but what about when it is the/an entire church that needs to change their "orthodoxy?" What then?

This is where a number of passages (ie. Matt 16 & 18), but particularly Acts 15, come into play.

I would encourage you to take the time to read this chapter (here). If you have time, reading chapter 14 is also helpful for context.

The gist of what's going on in this chapter is that while Paul & Peter have been proclaiming the Gospel to everyone (including Gentiles) they clearly have not been requiring them to, upon conversion and baptism, begin adhering to the Mosaic Law (particularly after the whole Acts 10 deal: here).

Obviously this is a HUGE break in orthodoxy. Those Pharisees who have become Christians can't handle the idea that God wouldn't require Gentiles to follow the "Old" Covenant and begin debating with Paul and Barnabas on the matter.

So the Church convenes a council to address the matter.

The "orthodoxy" at issue: the practice of circumcision and adherence to the Law of Moses (15:5)

Due process is followed including:
- a gathering of the leaders of the Church (vs. 6)
- debate (vs. 7)
- reports of God's work as pertaining to the issue at hand (Peter, vs. 7-11; Paul & Barnabas, vs. 12)
- The leader of the Church (in this case, James) proclaims the judgement as reached in the council (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, vs.28).

In this case the answer is, No!, Gentile Christians do not need to be circumcised (the sign of the Old Covenant) nor do they need adhere to the Mosaic Law save on several points (vs. 29).

The precedent set by this situation is an excellent one, especially as far as changing orthodoxy goes. In my reading of this passage (and other key texts) I would say that no one person has any right or authority to change what orthodoxy is.

It is only when God's people gather together under the proper leadership that God has put in place and, led by the Spirit, they discuss, debate, and ultimately decide what orthodoxy is that orthodoxy can amended.

And, as we can see in this situation in Acts, this sort of orthodoxy making has the definite ring of authority.

Obviously, as I said above, the implications of all this are huge.
What sort of implications does this have?
What do you make of this? Why?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Weight of Orthodoxy

How much weight does orthodoxy hold for you?

With post-modernity seemingly having its way among many circles within western Christianity I generally see two approaches of "deconstructing" (and presumably reassembling) our faith:

1) disassembling our current belief structures and attempting to "start from scratch."

2) a reinvestigation of what the Apostolic Church believed.

I'm sure there are more approaches than these and you can feel free to add them to the comments below, but these are the ones I've seen most often.

Which of these do you lean toward? Why/why not?

I believe that orthodoxy has a certain amount of weight. By this I mean that the foundational, central beliefs of the church throughout the past 2,000 odd years have a certain amount of authority.

Yes, of course, different denominations have various "distinctives" or unique beliefs that set them apart from other denominations. There are a lot of these: child-baptism vs. believer's baptism; just-war vs. pacifism; hierarchical vs. congregational; etc... There are lots of different "distinctives" and they are of varying significance. All of them are "Biblical" in the sense that they are based on a certain interpretation of the scriptures.

But that's not what I'm talking about when I talk about orthodoxy. I mean catholic (small "c") orthodoxy; universal orthodoxy. There are certain beliefs that 98.2% of the church has always believed (yes, I just made up that percentage). I could list off some of the things that I think are included in this category, but in the name of participation and interaction I'll ask you instead:

What beliefs do you think fit into this category?

The reason why I have great faith in Christian orthodoxy is because I have great faith in the Spirit of God. I believe that God is guiding His church in order to accomplish His goals for His church. After all, Jesus Himself said "... I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18).

No, this doesn't mean the church is infallible. Obviously there have been mistakes made, from the mildly disappointing to the near catastrophic, but in the midst of it all God continues to move and to guide His Bride. After all, when things get too out of line events like the Reformation happen which bring us back... which bring us closer God's intention for His church.

All of this is to say that when I see people going out and trashing the church or tossing aside orthodoxy as if it has no significance I can't help but think: don't you have any faith in God's guidance of His people and His history? Can you really set yourself against or above 20 centuries worth of Spirit guided followers of Christ?

But that's just my take.
What do you think?