Thursday, May 30, 2019

Church Write-Up: Luke 24-Acts 1

Wednesday this week marked the last Bible study at church for the summer. We will reconvene in late August or early September. This Wednesday, we studied Luke 24 and Acts 1. Here are some items:

A. Scholars debate whether Luke was a Hellenized Jew or a God-fearing Gentile. A God-fearer was a Gentile who accepted the authority of the Old Testament but had not been circumcised or washed away his Gentile self through Jewish baptism. An argument in favor of Luke being a God-fearer is that, in Colossians 4, Paul mentions names of people who are of the circumcision (vv. 10-11), then he mentions Luke later, in v. 14. The implication is that Luke is distinct from those who are of the circumcision, the Jewish Christians. That would make him a Gentile, and his intimate knowledge of the Old Testament may point to him being a God-fearer.

B. On the topic of Hellenized Jews, the pastor said that the Sadducees (the priestly party) were Hellenized Jews, so they believed in the immortality of the soul but not the resurrection of the dead. The pastor seemed to be treating the Sadducees’ belief on the afterlife as an importation from Hellenism, which held to the immortality of the soul while dismissing bodily resurrection because it saw the body as corrupt. I wondered about this, though, because I have read scholars who suggest that the Sadducees were actually the conservative party on the afterlife, for they reflected the Hebrew Bible, which largely lacks a rigorous concept of the afterlife. Indeed, Ben Sira, a priest, talks as if there is no afterlife at all. Josephus in Antiquities 18:16 and Jewish Wars 2:165, it turns out, denies that the Sadducees believed in the immortality of the soul. The pastor is not getting his depiction of the Sadducees from nowhere, for there are secondary sources that say that they were Hellenized. The question would be how, and to what extent.

C. The pastor said that eating is prominent throughout Luke and Acts. Meals are times of fellowship and of hearing Christian teaching, but they are also places to meet Christ, as when the risen Christ in Luke 24 breaks bread and eats fish before disciples. Some scholars argue that the emphasis on eating points to the Eucharist. That is not to suggest that those meals are all communion ceremonies, but the meals are harbingers of, or comment on, the Eucharist, where Christ meets his people.

D. To quote from the handout: “For Luke, the out-pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is through the exalted/ascended Christ—-as opposed to John, who has a version of the Spirit being given in John 20 after His resurrection.” Christians have tried to reconcile these things. One explanation that I have heard is that Christians in John 20 are receiving the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of them, whereas they are being empowered for mission in Acts 2. Does this entirely work? Well, John 14-16 does portray the Spirit as one who continues Jesus’s presence among the disciples and brings to their remembrance the things that Jesus taught them; the Spirit is there for the benefit of the disciples. The Book of Acts, however, depicts the Spirit moving the church and empowering the apostles to preach the Gospel to outsiders. But there are arguably similarities between John and Acts. In John 16, the Spirit convicts the world of the sin of not believing in Christ; in Acts, as the pastor noted, the Spirit testifies to Jesus and the truth of the Gospel before the world. In John 20:23, Jesus, after breathing on his disciples and instructing them to receive the Holy Spirit, tells them that they can forgive and retain sins; this may refer to their Gospel proclamation, which carries with it forgiveness for those who acceptance and unforgiveness for those who reject it. The disciples in Acts, empowered by the Holy Spirit, proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ (Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18).

E. The pastor noted examples of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke beginning and ending with common themes. The Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus being called Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), and it ends with Jesus promising to be with his disciples always (Matthew 28:20). Luke’s Gospel begins in the Temple, with Zechariah the priest, and it ends with the disciples praising God in the Temple. In Luke 2, angels bring tidings of peace before shepherds; in Luke 24, the risen Christ greets his disciples with “peace.” In Luke 1:35, Gabriel promises Mary that the Holy Spirit will come on Mary and the power of the Most High shall overshadow her; in Luke 24, Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will come upon them and they will be clothed with power from on high. In Luke 1, Zechariah and Mary respond to God’s promise with worship and joy and bear witness in song; in Luke 24, the disciples also respond with worship and joy, but they will bear their witness in the Book of Acts.

F. In Acts 1, the disciples ask the risen Jesus if he at that time will restore the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus responds that it is not for them to know the times or the seasons. The pastor said that this was probably included in Acts because people in Luke’s day were discouraged that Jesus had not yet returned, since Jesus had promised to return in “this generation” (Luke 21:32). I asked the pastor how he interpreted “this generation.” The pastor interprets it, not as forty years, but in reference to the time between Jesus’s birth and second coming. When Jesus speaks against the faithless generation, he is not just talking about his contemporaries but is saying that many will be trapped in unbelief until the second coming.

G. At the end of Acts, in Acts 28, Paul is preaching in Rome, the capital of paganism, to which and from which all roads go. Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, applying it to Jews who will hear and shall not listen or understand, and Paul proceeds to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, saying they will listen. The pastor seemed to be trying to interpret the holy seed of Isaiah 6:13 as Christ: through Christ, the curse of Isaiah, and later of Christ when he preached in Luke 8, would be lifted, for the seed would be planted among the Gentiles; the Gospel would find a receptive audience. I am not sure if that works, since Isaiah 6 seems to imply that the Israelites will begin to hear after they are desolate and there is a holy seed. It does not mention the Gentiles. Perhaps more needs to be unpacked here. After all, Romans 11 ties the Israelites’ receptivity to the Gospel to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Write-Up: Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands from the Lord to His People. Moody, 2018. See here to buy the book.

In Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, pastor John MacArthur goes through Christ’s instruction to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, while issuing a jeremiad against the impurity, shallowness, and “seeker sensitivity” of contemporary churches. Here are some items:

A. MacArthur attempts to reconcile aspects of Christ’s instruction in Revelation 2-3 with his own belief in eternal security, the doctrine that Christians cannot and will not lose their salvation. When Christ promises to remove the Ephesian church’s candlestick if she fails to repent (Revelation 2:5), therefore, that does not mean she will lose her salvation, but rather that the church will be destroyed in a temporal, historical sense. Indeed, as MacArthur observes, some churches were destroyed in the first century, while others survived for centuries thereafter. This is an impressive attempt to resolve the problem, but does it work? Christ declares in Revelation 2-3 that the overcomers will be the ones who shall rule with Christ and escape the second death, which are aspects of salvation. MacArthur argues that the overcomers are simply those who believe in Christ, for I John 5:4 affirms that believers overcome the world through their faith; Christ in Revelation 2-3, in short, is merely asserting that people are justified by faith. Would Christ need to exhort the seven churches to do what they are already doing as believers, however, namely, believing? Could not overcoming mean following Christ’s exhortations, notwithstanding opposition from the world? As a TULIP-committed Calvinist, MacArthur holds that “Christians” who do not persevere in the faith or produce spiritual fruit are not true believers; MacArthur thinks that this actually is the case with the church of Laodicea, for Christ essentially exhorts her to get saved, to be clothed in white and to get her eyes opened. The implication is that those things were not true of the Laodicean church before, meaning they were unsaved. MacArthur is aware that he cannot say that about the other churches in Revelation 2-3, for Christ affirms that, initially, they were on the right track, meaning they were truly saved. MacArthur, therefore, seeks a way to explain how Christ’s threats of judgment against them do not entail a loss of salvation, for, according to his doctrine, they as saved people cannot lose their salvation.

B. This is one of those books that does not give me a “feel-good” sentiment about my religion and spirituality. What exactly pleases God, according to MacArthur? MacArthur says “purity” and holds that Christ demands that his church be pure and discipline sin. But how far does that extend? Should Christians be disciplined if, say, they lack a positive attitude, since I am sure that some could string together Bible verses and declare that this is a sin. The Reformed are especially sensitive to the innate sinfulness of people: many have said that humans, even Christians, cannot go even a moment without sinning, for sinfulness is their state. Is it practical or even possible, then, to effect formal church discipline against “impurity,” wherever it may exist in the church? On the Laodicean church, MacArthur interprets Christ to be saying that it would be preferable for that church to be unsaved and spiritually dead (“cold”) than to be where she is: somewhat Christian (“lukewarm”). The reason is that, if she is cold, there is at least the possibility that she can realize that she is totally on the wrong path and can repent; if she is nominally Christian, however, she thinks she is on the right path when she is not. How, then, can Christians know that they are on the right path? According to MacArthur, good deeds of service to the community is not enough, for Sardis was dead, even though she had a reputation for being living. Attending church services is not enough, for all of the instructed in Revelation 2-3, even the bad ones, attended church. Finding assurance and comfort in MacArthur’s scenario may be a challenge, though I am aware that he has written a book that addresses this topic (Saved without a Doubt). My struggle may be not only with MacArthur, but also with Revelation 2-3.

C. Related to (C.), I think an appeal to Lordship Salvation is that is presents the Christian faith as something that has substance. Pop evangelical sermons about the latest movies and “God loves you just as you are” messages can sound good, but after a while listening to them can feel like eating air. Many are drawn to a God who is tough, one with standards who challenges people and gives them a significant mission. But taking that to an extreme can present its own set of problems: beating oneself up for being imperfect, beating up others for being imperfect, or serving God out of guilt or fear rather than love.

D. MacArthur says that the church that he pastors goes extensively through the Gospels to learn and to highlight the character of Christ. The character of Christ, after all, can inspire Christians to worship him and provide content to their worship. I like this insight. One can easily get the impression from a book like this that MacArthur wants churches to preach messages that chew people out: that call for repentance, stress God’s justice, and speak of the reality of hell. MacArthur may very well believe that churches should do this more than they are, but he also wants churches to offer something edifying: the character of Christ.

E. In Revelation 3:10, Christ states to the Philadelphian church: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (KJV). MacArthur ultimately interprets that in reference to the pre-tribulational rapture, as he analyzes different Christian views on this topic. At the same time, MacArthur acknowledges the possibility that there was a first century fulfillment of this verse that affected the historical church of Philadelphia: “It’s entirely possible that there was a wave of persecution or natural disaster that occurred in the area, or some other catastrophe during which the Lord protected and preserved the church” (page 151). That is a helpful insight, especially if one wonders how Revelation 3:10 may pertain to the first century church in Philadelphia, without wanting to say that Revelation inaccurately posited that the eschaton would occur in the first century. But does such an insight undermine the idea that Revelation 3:10 grammatically speaks of a pretribulational rapture, which is what MacArthur argues? It presents God, after all, preserving a group of Christians on earth, even as God permits other Christians to be persecuted.

F. MacArthur offers interesting historical details. The story about the city of Philadelphia’s loyalty to Rome because Rome helped her rebuild after an earthquake is beautiful. MacArthur also says that Luther wrote his ninety-five theses before he became aware that justification was by grace through faith alone. That would make sense, for the ninety-five theses stress repentance and proper spirituality, which Luther believed the sale of indulgences undermined; as far as I can recall, they lack the emphasis on God’s loving grace that is characteristic of so many of Luther’s writings.
Notwithstanding my questions and possible areas of disagreement, I still give this book five stars because it is vintage MacArthur: well-written, informative, and meaty.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Church Write-Up: Discerning God’s Call

At church last Sunday morning, the pastor preached about Paul’s call to go to Macedonia instead of Bithynia in Acts 16.

Paul was somehow prevented by the Spirit to go to Bithynia. The pastor speculated that Paul may have been praying and seeking God, and the Spirit guided him away from Bithynia. In the case of Macedonia, Paul had a vision to go there. The pastor said that we as humans like to be in charge, and Paul himself may have wanted to be in charge of where to preach the Gospel. But Paul ended up submitting to God.

How can we know God’s will? Many Christians do not have visions. The pastor said that, whether we become a veterinarian or a truck driver, we should glorify God in what we do. But other ways to discern God’s will may be to consult others, which the pastor admitted had limitations. We may want to join what God already is blessing rather than starting something new. Or, if we see a need that is not being met, we can start something ourselves. As examples, the pastor mentioned moms gathering together to pray for the preschool, or people volunteering to play cards with Intel employees who are far away from home.

Another helpful measure is our passions: what do we like doing? But passion needs to be supplemented with skills. Maybe the skills can catch up with the passions.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Double Church Write-Up: God’s Wife; Acts 16

I have been moving this week, so I lacked access to the Internet until now. Consequently, I did not write my customary Church Write-Ups for Sunday and Wednesday. That one post that appeared on Monday was scheduled several weeks in advance. A lot of my book reviews will be like that over the next several months.

In any case, I am back online now, so here is a double Church Write-Up! The following items largely convey the pastor’s thoughts, with some of my own added.

A. The youth pastor was saying that, even when he is bored in reading the Bible because he has heard the stories numerous times before, the word of God still has its effects on him. That is an interesting, even a comforting, thought: that the word is working its healthy, cleansing effects in me, even when my reading of it is lacking in quality. But is such an idea consistent with the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3f.): the word of God only produces fruit for a person with a good heart, while it seems to be nullified in the hearts of those with materialistic or hardened hearts?

B. The Sunday service celebrated the church’s preschools. Incidentally, the pastor said that the LCMS denomination has the second largest church school system, after the Catholics. Speakers shared stories about the schools. The principal of one of them told about a boy with extreme social anxiety. The boy would throw things out of his room when his family had company, hoping to encourage the visitors to leave. As he attended the preschool, however, he came out of his shell and started giving visitors tours of the house. Another speaker shared that many families who have their children in the preschools are not Lutheran themselves but want their kids to receive a Christian education; some of the parents have become Christians as a result of their children’s influence.

C. In the Sunday school class, the pastor talked more about Hosea. His focus was on the marriage imagery in the Book of Hosea: the idea that God and Israel were married to each other. The pastor said that such imagery was prominent in the eighth century, for it is present in Hosea and in Isaiah 61-62. Prior to that, the primary image of Israel’s relationship with God was that of a legal covenant, modeled on ancient Near Eastern covenants between kings and their subordinates. The pastor was assuming a certain chronology of biblical sources, even though he conveyed awareness of alternative perspectives. He assumed that the Pentateuch came first and dated to the time of Moses, that the Song of Solomon was composed by Solomon in the tenth century, and that Isaiah 61-62 was by Isaiah of Jerusalem in the eighth century. Many biblical scholars advance different dates for these sources. Still, the pastor made an intriguing observation: God’s relationship with Israel is likened to a legal covenant in some sources, but as a marriage in others. Both themes carry over into the New Testament, he noted, with Hebrews emphasizing covenant and Revelation and the Gospels depicting a marriage between Christ and his bride. I recall that rabbinic literature likens the Sinaitic covenant with a marriage.

D. Hosea 2:15 states that the Valley of Achor will be a door of hope. The Valley of Achor occurs in Joshua 7. Achan, the Israelite, is stoned to death for taking a Babylonian garment, in violation of the cherem. God in Hosea is reminding Israel of her faithlessness from the beginning, even as God promises to rewrite Israel’s history, changing the negative to a sign of hope. God will also take the name of the Baals from Israel’s mouth, such that Israel will remember them no more; neither will they conflate the LORD with Baal, ascribing to God aspects of Baal (i.e., “Yahweh and his Asherah,” as occurs in Israelite inscriptions). The LORD is married, not to Asherah, but to Israel, and God is Israel’s husband, not merely her lord (Baal). God gives Israel a new beginning.

E. Related to (C.) and (D.), biblical scholarship, as I understand it, largely tends to contrast Hosea’s wilderness traditions with those of the Pentateuch. Hosea 2:14 depicts the wilderness as a place where God will woo and speak tenderly to Israel, as part of her spiritual restoration. The Pentateuch traditions, by contrast, present Israel in the wilderness as rebellious against God and Moses, and God as continually ticked off at her. The pastor said that, even in the Pentateuchal traditions, Israel becomes closer to God in the wilderness, notwithstanding the bad times. In the wilderness, they depended on God day by day for guidance and provision.

F. The pastor speculated that the mountain from which John beheld the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, in Revelation 21:9-10 was Mount Hermon, which overlooks Jezreel. In that case, there would be further overlap between Revelation and Hosea: a marriage between God and God’s people, and the prominence of Jezreel as a place of restoration (Hosea 1:11; 2:22).

G. Hosea in Hosea 3 purchases back his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer-and-a-half of barley. The pastor said that chomer is the Hebrew word for donkey and is used as a unit of measurement to convey the amount of barley that a donkey can carry; actually, the word for donkey is “chamor,” but I do not know if “chamor” is related to “chomer.” In the ancient Near East, grooms paid a price to the bride’s father. Similarly, Christ bought Christians with his blood.

H. The Wednesday Bible study focused on Acts 16:1-15. The Spirit, in some manner, prevents Paul from going to Bithynia in Asia Minor, and Paul was called instead to go to Macedonia, a rugged territory; this, according to the pastor, is the first recorded incident of the Gospel going to Europe. The Gospel still arrived at Bithynia, however, as I Peter 1:1 indicates. Perhaps Christians in Acts 2, who were from different countries, carried the Gospel there. The pastor likened that to a situation in the LCMS: the pastor thought that two candidates would be excellent pastors for nearby LCMS churches, but these pastors decided instead to remain with their own churches. He also compared it to how his message is sometimes different in the second service from in the first, because someone in the second service needs to hear a particular message. God knows who needs what, when, and from whom.

I. Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother. He was uncircumcised, perhaps for the sake of peace in the family, but Paul had him circumcised because they were visiting Jewish-Christians. The church council in Acts 15 decided that people did not have to become Jews before becoming Christians, and that decision was spread throughout the churches. The pastor said this goes against the scholarly view that the church lacked doctrinal unity in the first century, for here Paul is, spreading a decision to the churches he visits. At the same time, the pastor said that the Jewish-Christians in Acts 16 were not entirely comfortable with the Acts 15 decision, so Paul at the very least was meeting them where they were. I do not think that, in Acts at least, Paul in Acts 16 is contradicting the Acts 15 decision. Acts 15 affirmed that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to become Christians, but Acts 21:20ff. seems to deny that this entailed that Jews were expected to abandon their own customs when they became Christians. Jewish Christians may have seen Timothy as Jewish, or as somewhat Jewish, and thus they thought that he should be circumcised.

J. Acts 15:20 forbids Gentile Christians from things strangled and from blood, which probably means eating blood. The pastor said this may relate to the importance of consuming Jesus’s blood at the Eucharist. I am unsure what he thought the precise connection is: maybe that Christians are not to eat animal blood, and that reminds them that Christ shed his own blood for them.

K. Lydia in Acts 16 was a seller of purple, a lucrative business because purple was worn by royalty. She led a prayer meeting by the river because the group was not a synagogue, which required ten men to be official; this group was predominantly women. Lydia became a Christian as she heard the word of God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Creature from Jekyll Island, by G. Edward Griffin

G. Edward Griffin. The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve. 5th edition. American Media, 2010. See here to purchase the book.

G. Edward Griffin enrolled in the College of Financial Planning in Denver and received a Certified Public Planner (CFP) designation in 1989. He is affiliated with the conservative John Birch Society and has served as the Contributing Editor of its New American magazine. This book criticizes the Federal Reserve System.

Here are some items:

A. As Griffin notes, bankers make money from interest, and this occurs when they lend money out. Interest accumulates on the debt and is paid to the bankers. But there are problems with banks loaning out a lot of money. For one, the money that they are lending out is other people’s savings. If there is ever a run on the bank and depositors are demanding their money right then and there, the bank will not be able to give it to them. As George Bailey said in It’s a Wonderful Life, the money is not stored in a safe but has been loaned out to other people. Second, banks take a risk when they loan out money, namely, that it will not be paid back. According to Griffin, one motive behind the creation of the Federal Reserve was to enable banks to loan out money with more impunity, thereby allowing bankers to make more money from interest. More reckless banks can be bailed out by the Federal Reserve, which receives money from all of the member banks. The government can also bail the reckless banks out. Or, if the debtors fail to pay off their debts, the Federal Reserve can print out more money and lend that out to the debtors.

B. The problem that occurs when the Federal Reserve prints more money or releases more money into the system is inflation: the already existing dollars become debased. Griffin acknowledges that, as he writes, the United States is not experiencing hyperinflation. He believes that is due to foreigners taking American dollars out of the system when Americans buy their products, and foreigners buying up American debt. If this were to cease, hyperinflation would occur.

C. Historically, Griffin argues, bankers have profited from war because they get to loan out money to both sides in the conflict. Ultimately, Griffin contends, their desire is for a one-world government. Griffin refers to documents that appear to promote a one-world government. Griffin prominently features an enigmatic 1966 document entitled the “Report from Iron Mountain.” This document rhapsodizes about how war has historically consolidated nations, and the author is looking for a different way to control people. As Griffin acknowledges, nobody knows who wrote this or if the author was being serious. Griffin believes it comes from within the government establishment. Griffin also refers to environmentalist documents that lament the existence of humanity and promote a worldwide redistribution of wealth. Griffin doubts that the rich and powerful promoters of environmentalism seriously care about the environment. They invest in industries that pollute the environment; in the case of Gorbachev, he presided over the Soviet Union’s horrible environmental policy. For Griffin, they are merely using the environment as an excuse for moving towards a one-world government: if people fear environmental disaster, they will support a global government to redress the problem.

D. Griffin responds to standard historical scenarios. Against the charge that the Federal Reserve was created to add stability and to prevent the sorts of panics that preceded its creation, Griffin contends that many banks prior to the Federal Reserve were behaving irresponsibly by printing out money and further detaching its value from metals. They were moving in the opposite direction from the sound money system that Griffin supports, in short. Moreover, financial disasters have continued to exist even after the creation of the Federal Reserve. Against the charge that prominent Wall Streeters feared and opposed the creation of the Federal Reserve, Griffin contends that this was all for show, for prominent financiers helped to create the Federal Reserve. According to Griffin, Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan shared more common ground than people think! Griffin challenges conventional explanations for why financiers financed the Bolshevik Revolution—-e.g., to help one country over another in World War I—-showing that the financiers were inconsistent in that case. Griffin seems to think that financiers supported the Bolsheviks to create a formidable international enemy, which would result in wars and higher defense budgets; bankers would provide the money for that. (The Communists, meanwhile, accept capitalist money for the sake of their own survival, but they hope to hang the capitalists with the rope that the capitalists provide; Griffin provides quotes to that effect.) Against the charge that easy credit was necessary to finance the early economic development and expansion of the U.S., Griffin speculates that this could have occurred through economically responsible means, had they been tried. Griffin also offers some Civil War revisionism. Some of that resembled contemporary defenses of the Confederacy: that, through tariffs, the North was trying to reduce the South to economic servitude and dependence on the North, that the South invested a lot of capital in slavery, and that the South did not really want slavery, anyway, since people who are paid to work are more motivated. Griffin is far from being pro-Confederacy, however, for he states that bankers were also financing the Confederate cause: some of them supported the creation of a southern empire that would unite with Latin American nations. Napolean also gets a cameo as a rebel against the financial establishment, albeit for self-serving reasons.

E. Griffin also responds to what is considered to be conventional knowledge. For example, the conventional view is that the IMF and World Bank pressure countries to embrace free market capitalism and austerity in government spending. Griffin observes, however, that they have lent to communist countries, and he notes that these lenders give to governments; such a policy contributes to statism, not a free market.

F. Griffin is critical of various proposals to redress the problems that he discusses. One proposal is to eliminate the Federal Reserve and to have the federal government itself print the money. There are also the proposals of Milton Friedman and supply-side economists, which try to limit the money supply but still presume that the government should print out money. The Balanced Budget Amendment will not work because the Congress can circumvent it in case of an “emergency,” whatever it defines that to be. What Griffin seems to advocate is a privatized money system, as people trade in the money that they choose. He thinks people should trade in metals, however, as that provides more stability. Griffin also offers a solution as to how banks can store up money while also lending some out for business development. Griffin is not overly optimistic that his plans will be effected, for the establishment fiercely guards its power, but he thinks that reform can come, sometime down the road. People can throw out the big spenders from Congress, and they can store up metal coins in case of an emergency.

G. There were parts of this book that were difficult for me to understand, since I can improve my knowledge of economics. One point that Griffin reiterates is that debt backs up today’s money and, if that debt were repaid, the money supply would vanish; therefore, bankers do not really want the debt to be repaid. I did not entirely follow that.

H. There are some indications in Griffin’s book that things are more complex than his overall scenario indicates. He acknowledges that the Federal Reserve wants to limit inflation, since bankers do well when the economy does well. He states that a significant amount of the federal debt is owed, not to the Federal Reserve, but to Americans who have bought bonds; to default on that would hurt their savings. That differs, somewhat, from his scenario in which the Fed prints out a bunch of money for the government and would rather that money not be paid back.

I. I have been watching Robert Shiller’s Yale class on financial markets, the 2011 one. Shiller states that, prior to the FDIC, there really was no insurance of banks. Griffin argues, however, that people will naturally gravitate towards banks that are insured, without the government stepping in. Griffin is highly optimistic about the ability of laissez-faire capitalism to resolve problems.

J. This is the fifth edition. It has new sections on the 2008 financial crisis. Much of the book focuses on the 1980’s, however, plus there is one part of the book in which Saddam Hussein is presumed to be in power in Iraq, and Griffin doubts that will end anytime soon! Some may have a problem with this format, as it is chronologically disjointed. I had no problem with it, but I cite it as something to remember in reading this book.

In conclusion, this book is interesting and well-documented. Griffin does well to argue that there are people who act for their self-interest and influence policy to do so; he did not successfully explain, however, how a one-world government would serve these financial interests. The book has a lot of the typical John Bircher tropes but goes deeper and provides more nuance. Each chapter ends with a lucid summary, which is helpful.

I checked out this book from the library. My review is honest.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Church Write-Up: I Corinthians 15:1-11

At Bible study this week, the text was I Corinthians 15:1-11. Here are some items. This is what the pastor said, but I will make clear where I am adding my own thoughts.

A. Paul cites what appears to have been an early Christian creed, a declaration of what Christians believe that is affirmed in the churches. The creed states that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day, and that he then appeared to people. Paul cited this creed for at least three reasons. First, Paul was responding to the incorporation of Hellenistic ideas into Christianity. These ideas embraced the spiritual over the material, so Paul stressed that Christ was crucified and resurrected bodily, then appeared physically to people. Second, the Corinthian Christians were engaging in spiritual one-upsmanship, with some of them acting as if they were superior on account of their visions, ecstatic experiences, and deeper level of knowledge. Some may even have held that these spiritual experiences marked them off as saved. Paul, however, draws their attention to the Gospel: people are forgiven on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Third, Paul is defending his own apostleship. People questioned that Paul was a true apostle because he had not followed the earthly Jesus. Paul responds, however, that the same Jesus who appeared to the apostles also appeared to him.

B. This item reflects my meandering thoughts. On that first reason in (A.)—-Paul responding to Hellenistic ideas—-why, if Paul were refuting anti-materialism, did he stress that Jesus rose with a spiritual body? Even if the spiritual body is a physical body, why would Paul muddy the waters by calling Jesus’s resurrection body a spiritual body? What is more, why would Paul deny that flesh and blood shall enter the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 15:50)? And, in contrast with the Gospel accounts that scholars cite as a refutation of Docetism (i.e., the belief that Jesus lacked a material body), Paul in I Corinthians 15 does not emphasize Jesus’s physicality at all. Paul does not present Jesus eating fish (Luke 24:42), showing people his nail-scarred hands (John 20:27), or denying that he is a spirit while pointing to his flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). One could argue, of course, that even the Gospel accounts muddy the waters, a bit. Christian apologists have pointed out that, if the Gospel authors were inventing those resurrection stories to combat Docetism, they had an odd way of going about it. Why, if their goal was to present the risen Jesus as physical and human, would they depict him vanishing into thin air (Luke 24:31), or suddenly appearing in his disciples’ midst in a locked room (John 20:26). Regular humans do not do that! If the Gospel accounts and I Corinthians 15 have Docetism in mind, they are not going to the opposite extreme from Docetism by saying that the risen Jesus was physical in the ordinary sense. They are responding to Docetism, not by going to the opposite extreme, but by citing the truth, which transcends both extremes. Was the risen Jesus physical or spiritual? Paul’s answer, I think, is “yes!”

C. I asked the pastor why Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to Cephas, then the Twelve, etc., whereas the Gospels depict the risen Jesus appearing first to the women. The pastor replied that he does not think that Paul was being strictly historical but started with Peter on account of the authority and respect that Peter had in the early church. Paul was establishing his own apostolic credentials by linking them with Peter. Similarly, Paul in Galatians 1 stresses his association with Peter after his conversion, whereas Acts 9 depicts Ananias as the first Christian whom Paul encountered after Christ appeared to him.

D. Paul in I Corinthians 15:8 likens himself to one who was stillborn. Saul of Tarsus was going about his merry way, trying to earn a gold star by arresting those heretics (i.e., Christians), when Christ ripped him away from that and made him an apostle.

E. Paul in I Corinthians 15:2 states that the Corinthian Christians are being saved. Why the present tense? The pastor said that Lutherans believe in two levels of salvation. There is an objective level: the person becomes legally justified before God right at the initial moment of faith. Then there is the subjective level, or sanctification: “this salvation works itself out in faith and life practice, changing our relationships and our lifestyles” (pastor’s handout). Sanctification starts at the initial moment of faith, but this aspect of salvation is progressive: it continues past the initial moment of faith. Paul in his writings treats Christians as being already saved, forgiven, and justified, and as belonging to God as God’s children. There is a completed aspect to salvation. Yet Paul also regards salvation as something that is still going on: Christians are still in the process of being saved.

F. The pastor said that one indication of sanctification is when something stands out to us in a Bible passage that did not stand out to us before. He did not say that people who do not experience this are unsaved, but rather that noticing something new in a Bible passage may indicate that the Spirit is growing your believing. Also, Christians may find themselves getting to the point where they do not do the things that they used to do, because they find that those things are unhelpful to their faith.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Psalm 23; Hosea 10:8 and Luke 23:30

Here are items from last Sunday’s church activities:

A. It was Good Shepherd’s Sunday, and the pastor was preaching about Psalm 23. One point that he made was that the valley of the shadow of death was extremely deep darkness. In the midst of the deepest darkness, God is with the Psalmist and comforts him. Another point that the pastor made was that, when v. 6 says that goodness and mercy shall follow the Psalmist, the Hebrew word translated “follow” (rdph) actually means to chase, or to pursue. God’s love not only follows us but chases us, as is evident in Jesus’s death on the cross. Later that day, I came home and read from C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, and Lewis was arguing that many like pantheism over traditional theism because the impersonal pantheistic “God” leaves people alone rather than pursuing them.

B. The Sunday school class was about Hosea 10:8 and its interpretation in the New Testament. The pastor first interpreted Hosea 10:1-8. One observation that he made was that Hosea 10:1 affirms that the Northern Israelites prospered but bore fruit for themselves. Sin, as Luther said, is turning inward. The Northern Israelites were bearing fruit solely for themselves but not for God. The pastor also observed that Hosea 10:5 refers to the Northern Israelite sanctuary at Bethel, the site of one of Jeroboam’s calves, as “Beth-Aven,” which means “house of vanity” or “house of nothingness.” The point is that God is not present at that worship site: nobody is home, so worship there is futile. Holladay actually says that “aven” can mean “wickedness,” not just vanity, but I like the concept that idolatry is a flat-out waste of time. Third, the pastor commented on Hosea 10:7, which, in the KJV, likens the king of Samaria to the foam on the water. The pastor contrasted that to God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would be like the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17; 32:12). Sand is permanent, whereas foam vanishes away. Other translations actually render that verse to say that the king of Samaria will be like a stick that God throws on the water. They translate as “stick” what the KJV renders as “foam.” Holladay goes with “twig broken off,” but the only verse that he cites for this Hebrew word is Hosea 10:7.

C. A student astutely noted that there were over a hundred years between the Assyrian destruction of Northern Israel and the fall of Jerusalem. Would not one expect the Southern Judahites to learn from the example of the Northerners and to repent rather than continuing in their refusal to worship God alone? The pastor replied that, indeed, one might expect the ruins of Samaria to serve as a lesson to the Judahites. Perhaps, deep down, that did remind them that there is a God, and they are not him. But the pastor said that the Judahites probably dismissed the Northerners and had a sense of superiority over them, seeing the Northerners as the wayward younger brother who didn’t even have the right sanctuary.

D. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 in Luke 23:30. Women are weeping for Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, and Jesus tells them to weep, not for him, but for themselves and their children, for there will come a time when they will prefer to have the mountains fall upon them than to experience God’s wrath. That part about the mountains is from Hosea 10:8. The pastor said that Jesus was likening Israel of his day to the Northern Israelites, the wicked younger brother of the Old Testament. Indeed, as far as the Gospels are concerned, there are parallels between the Jewish religious establishment of the first century and what Hosea says about the Northern Israelites. The Northern Israelites bore fruit for themselves but not for God. Similarly, there were Pharisees who loved money (Luke 16:14), and Jesus affirmed that Israel of his day was not bearing fruit for God (Luke 16:3-9). The Northern Israelites worshiped at a sanctuary of vanity, where nobody was home. Similarly, Jesus told the Pharisees that they worshiped God in vain through their human-devised commandments (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7), and he lamented that Jerusalem failed to recognize him as the visitation of God (Luke 19:44). The pastor also said that the women weeping for Jesus, whom Jesus rebuked, were not Jesus’s followers but rather were professional mourners, of the sort that appear in the story of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:38.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Write-Up: A History of the Work of Redemption, by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption. See here to download the book.

Jonathan Edwards was an eighteenth century Calvinist minister. He is known for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” His book, “A History of the Work of Redemption,” is a series of sermons that he delivered about the work of God throughout history. He starts with creation and goes to the new heavens and the new earth, but he also comments on events that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, such as the intertestamental period, Constantine, and the Reformation.

Here are some items:

A. The book is rather plodding when it goes through the Old Testament, but it came alive to me when Edwards got to the New Testament. It just seemed that, when he went through the Old Testament, he dutifully summarized the stories and referred to the kings of Israel and Judah and whether or not they worshiped idols, but he commented more on religious and spiritual ideas once he got to the New Testament. He also got into prophetic scenarios. His summation on the significance of the Old Testament is insightful and edifying, however, as he discusses the significance of the Old Testament within God’s larger purposes.

B. A point that Edwards made in talking about Christ is that Christ’s moral perfection is greater than that of angels. That is an intriguing thought, since one might think that Christ, the angels, and pre-Fall Adam and Eve are all in the same boat, morally-speaking: they are perfect and sinless. What more can one say? But Edwards argues that Christ’s moral perfection is above that of angels. That reminds me of John Wesley’s view that even those who are spiritually perfect can find room for growth and improvement in their love for God and neighbor.

C. There are passages in the synoptic Gospels in which Christ seems to envision an imminent end of the world, and that troubles a lot of Christians because it could possibly suggest that Christ was wrong: two thousand years later, the world goes on, and we are still not experiencing the paradise that the second coming of Christ is supposed to bring. Edwards addresses this by positing four comings of Christ. Some of them have occurred throughout history, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Some of them will occur in the future. The passages in which Christ appears to envision an imminent eschatology trouble me, as a person of faith. Yet, Edwards’s point that the Bible has produced powerful effects throughout history in converting people and revolutionizing society is compelling.

D. Edwards’s approach to prophecy is an intriguing hodgepodge of approaches. As you can see in (C.), there is a preterist dimension to Edwards’s thought: a belief that Christ envisioned a cataclysmic “coming” in the first century. But there is also a historicist dimension, as Edwards treats the papacy as the Antichrist and refers to Catholic persecution of Protestants throughout the history of Christendom. He believes in a coming millennial reign, followed by the ascension of Christians to heaven. Edwards believes that God will convert the Jewish people, but he also applies Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration, not to Israel, but to the church.

E. Edwards says what he thinks about non-Christian religions. He envisions Muslims uniting with the papacy against the truth of God. He also says that Native Americans worship the devil.

F. Edwards occasionally offers thoughts on who wrote the books of the Bible, particularly Joshua-II Chronicles. For Edwards, different biblical figures wrote those books. Edwards lived in the time of historical criticism, but the idea of a Deuteronomistic History does not appear to be on his radar. Martin Noth supposedly came up with the idea centuries later, but Noth engaged previous ideas, so I do not know what the views about the authorship of Joshua-II Kings was in Edwards’s time. The concept of a Deuteronomistic History makes sense to me, though, since there are common narrative threads that extend throughout Joshua-II Kings.

G. Daniel 11:32 states that people who know God will resist the king who sets up the abomination of desolation. Edwards, like many interpreters, holds that this passage is about the Maccabees, who revolted against Antiochus Epiphanes. That makes sense. At the same time, some scholars have held that the Book of Daniel advocates a different policy in response to Antiochus than what the Maccabees pursued: Daniel advocates waiting for God’s dramatic and supernatural intervention, as opposed to the pious Jews taking matters into their own hands. The author of Daniel may still have seen the Maccabees as well-intentioned, even if he disagreed with their strategy.

H. I read the mobi version of this book. Mobi does not always do a good job in transitioning the old print of the Puritans. There were parts of the book, therefore, that did not flow smoothly, in terms of grammar and spelling. But I could still make out what the passages were saying.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Reflections on Rachel Held Evans

Here are some random reflections about Rachel Held Evans.

A. She was the envy of a lot of bloggers and aspiring authors. Her blog got millions of views each year. She attributed her success to two factors: (1.) her blog was a source of information, and (2.) she shared her platform with others, by inviting others to do guest posts. That was the advice that she gave to other bloggers who wanted to succeed. Maybe that works, but it may not work for everyone. Her success, I think, was due to additional factors. First, she was an effective writer. Her writings had humor, pathos, and honesty. She could turn a phrase and make her point with a punch, while still coming across as down-to-earth. Second, she asked the religious questions that were troubling a lot of people. She said what she said, and she said it well.

B. Did she say anything earth-shakingly new? Others have had problems with, say, God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son. Their blogs do not necessarily attract millions of views, or generate discussions in their comments section that go on for hundreds of comments. As I said in (A.), Evans’s effectiveness as a communicator set her apart from many. But I think that, in a sense, what she was saying was earth-shakingly new to a lot of people. There were people in conservative churches who had the same questions that she did, and they actually wanted to follow Jesus rather than ditching their faith. They wondered if anyone else felt the same way, and if their only choice was between accepting a God who struck them as unfair and becoming an atheist and going to hell. Her social media presence provided a place and a forum for them, allowing them to wrestle with difficult questions and to arrive at alternatives.

C. There was a prolonged season in my life when I was recovering from right-wing evangelicalism. I thought that right-wing evangelicals were on a power trip and had little if any basis for their claim to authority. Reading Rachel Held Evans, for me, was like reading Ann Coulter during the conservative seasons of my life: “That will tell ’em! Hit ’em hard!” I would post RHE blog posts to show right-wing evangelicals what I thought about them and their pretensions to power! Nowadays, I do not have the energy to do that. I read both liberals and conservatives, and I like and dislike both liberals and conservatives. That is where I am, and I respect that others are in different places, since they are especially sensitive to the injustices that RHE challenged.

D. Critics see her as divisive, and does not the Bible criticize those who cause division (i.e., Romans 16:17)? I think such verses apply, primarily, to local church bodies. I attend a conservative LCMS church, and, when I am there, I do not go out of my way to challenge the church’s teachings on the ordination of women or homosexuality. Similarly, if I were to visit RHE’s church, I would not start arguments about social justice or identity politics. I would respect the rules of the place where I am. That may work for me, though, since I am an independent person who can come and go as he pleases. People whose families attend a church with beliefs contrary to their own, on the other hand, will have their own share of struggles.

E. The first post of hers that I read concerned what she was looking for in a church. I had gone three years without attending church, and I was starting to dabble my feet in the water again. Her post was helpful. She said that she wanted to attend a church, not out of guilt, but because she sincerely believes what it teaches and can commit to its cause. She also said that she would prefer a church that does not get into politics. I have been in various places in my church journey. I dabbled in liberal mainline Protestantism for a year and did not like it that much. Nowadays, I attend a church that is more conservative than where I am personally, but I feel fed there, both spiritually and intellectually. I also appreciate that it does not get into politics: it helps the poor, but it does not pompously declare that Jesus prefers one political platform over another.

F. RHE, among other people, sensitized me to the value of reading. In her very first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, she talked about the books that she read when she was struggling with the question of whether a slain Muslim girl in another country was burning in hell for being a non-Christian. These books presented different Christian views on hell. In her latest book, Inspired, she mentioned books that she read, across the religious spectrum (conservative and liberal), that wrestle with the biblical Conquest. She remarked that she is trying to read her way out of this faith struggle, but she is not always sure if she will succeed! Reading is good because you may find answers, alternatives, a sympathetic voice, or at least something to chew on.

G. As I said in (A.) and (B.), she was a success as a blogger and an author. People may covet that kind of fame: people hanging on one’s every word. RHE stayed down to earth throughout her fame, however. I recall one post of hers, and this was when she had become famous due to her Year of Biblical Womanhood book: she said “I am sick of me!” Fame can be like eating too many sweets: you get sick of it after a while. Moreover, with fame came intense criticism from those who disagreed with her. She was willing to endure that, though, because she saw value in what she was saying.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Glory of Heaven, by John MacArthur, Jr.

John F. MacArthur, Jr. The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life. Crossway, 1996. See here to purchase the book.

I am on a bit of a John MacArthur kick, so I decided to read The Glory of Heaven, which is on my Logos Bible Software.

Some thoughts:

A. I am intrigued by the thoughts of those MacArthur critiques. He extensively critiques a Mormon woman who claims to have gone to heaven, as well as a free grace teacher who holds that unfruitful believers are merely deprived of a reward, not cast into hell. I am interested in reading what they have to say! The woman who claims to have gone to heaven offers an attractive explanation for why God allows different religions to exist, an explanation that relates to personal spiritual growth and destination. At the same time, MacArthur’s critiques are largely effective, as he notes details in Scripture. For example, the Mormon lady said that all people were present at creation, but John MacArthur refutes this with God’s question to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” The implication is that Job was not present when God created the heavens and earth, and, by extension, neither were we.

B. The book is rather light, but, every now and then, MacArthur offers an exegetical or interpretive gem. Why is the heavenly Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation shaped like a cube? According to MacArthur, this echoes the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament being a cubed-shaped room. MacArthur engages I Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter, and MacArthur there does much more than cite prooftexts. He lays out an exegesis that seeks to explain what Paul is saying, why Paul is saying it, and how that fits into the broader texture of Paul’s argument.

C. MacArthur is skeptical that authentic supernatural occurrences are commonplace today. On some level, MacArthur’s points are valid. Paul was reticent about going to the third heaven, and his implication was that this sort of thing does not occur often. Why, then, should we accept all these claims about people today going to heaven and back? Against the current obsession with angels and visions, MacArthur refers to Paul’s warnings in Colossians about people basing their theology on angels and visions rather than Christ. These points are valid, but MacArthur does somewhat put God in a box by depicting experiences with angels as rare. They occur more than once in the Bible, plus angels are servants to the saints (Hebrews 1:14), so why wouldn’t experiences with angels be more than a rarity?

D. MacArthur inveighs against soul sleep, the idea that people are unconscious until the resurrection. But he also critiques the view that Jesus or anyone else went to Hades after their death. For MacArthur, souls after death either go to heaven or to hell. For MacArthur, the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 went to be with Jesus in paradise (heaven) that very day, implying that Jesus, too, went to heaven right after his death, even before he rose from the dead. What about Jesus’s claim after his resurrection that he had not yet ascended unto heaven (John 20:17)? MacArthur does not engage this, but my guess is that MacArthur would apply that statement to Jesus’s body, not his soul. MacArthur engages some texts-to-the-contrary and not others. He says that Lazarus was in heaven eating beside Abraham, not in a region of Hades. He does not, however, address I Peter 3:19’s statement that Jesus after his death preached to the spirits in prison, or Ephesians 4:8-9’s statement that Jesus descended into the earth before his ascension and led captivity captive. (Of course, MacArthur has a commentary and has probably addressed those passages there.) MacArthur’s arguments were all right, but the question asked by believers in soul sleep (i.e., Armstrongites, Adventists) recurred in my mind. If people’s souls go to heaven or hell immediately after their death, why have a last judgment at the resurrection, in which it is decided whether people go to heaven or hell? Is not the last judgment superfluous, in this scenario?

E. Is MacArthur’s picture of heaven compelling? Overall, it is rather nebulous, perhaps because he feels that the Bible is not overly specific about the matter. For MacArthur, heaven is a place that people will enjoy, even if we do not entirely understand how people will enjoy it. MacArthur does depict heaven as a place where God is worshiped and exalted and where sin no longer weighs people down, and that is compelling. His response to the question of how Christians will be happy in heaven when their unsaved loved ones are suffering in hell was a little lacking, in my opinion. MacArthur said that believers in heaven will feel an immense sense of belonging, but that seems rather selfish: my loved ones are suffering in hell, but at least I feel a sense of belonging! Some people, such as Armstrongites but even mainstream Christians (i.e., Erwin Lutzer), hold that heaven will be a place of creativity and innovation. MacArthur did not present such an idea, as far as I can recall. He seemed to depict heaven as a place of perfection, so why would there need to be creativity or innovation?

F. I appreciated the personal touches to this book. MacArthur talked about how he loved his wife, in addressing the question of whether people will still be married in heaven. He seemed to acknowledge his flaws. The Puritan sermons in the book’s appendix were that way, too: acknowledging how sin and negativity weighs us down in this life.

This book is a faithful attempt to look to the Bible for details about heaven and angels.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Church Write-Up: Hosea 1:10, Hosea 2, and Romans 9

The sermon at church this morning made many of the same points as the mid-week Bible study, so, in this particular Church Write-Up, I will focus on the Sunday School class, which is about Hosea.

A. Hosea 1:10 (2:1) states: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (KJV).

This verse is a prophetic prediction that God will restore Northern Israel and reaffirm her as his people, after a season in which the Northern Israelites are not God’s people, due to their disobedience.

Last week, the pastor was saying that the Northern Israelites became lost to history. The pastor expressed explicit disagreement with Garner Ted Armstrong’s position that the Northern Israelites became the Anglo-Saxon people, or any other Europeans.

When, however, was Hosea 1:10 fulfilled? The pastor’s answer to that is “in Matthew 16:16.” There, Peter, due to personal divine revelation, proclaims that Jesus is the son of the living God. This takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Hosea 1:10 predicts that the Northern Israelites will be called the sons of the living God; in Matthew 16:16, Jesus, as the embodiment of Israel, is called the son of the living God. Hosea 1:10 is directed to Northern Israel, which is probably the “place” where God will reaffirm that the Northern Israelites are his people. The Book of Hosea also mentions “Jezreel,” a verdant area in Northern Israel, in both a negative and a positive sense: “Jezreel” means that God will sow judgment on Israel, but also that God will graciously sow the Northern Israelites into their land. That coincides with God affirming Israel as his people after a period in which they are not his people. In Matthew 16:16, Peter calls Jesus the son of the living God in Caesarea Philippi, which is located in Northern Israel, specifically (according to the pastor) in Jezreel. Peter affirms that Jesus is the son of the living God in the place where God had said that Israel is not his people: in Jezreel. As occurs elsewhere (i.e., Matthew 2:15; cp. Hosea 11:1), Israel is narrowed down to one person, Jesus; God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus’s salvific work.

The pastor noted that Romans 9 applies Hosea 1:10 to believers, who have been made God’s people through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel is narrowed down to one person, Jesus, but then it is expanded to include the church, the beneficiaries of Christ’s work.

At the same time, in an offhand comment, the pastor appeared to suggest a more literal fulfillment to Hosea’s prophecies about Northern Israel. In Hosea 2:14, God says that he will woo Israel in the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. The pastor related this to Israel becoming closer to God in exile, which was a sort of wilderness for her.

B. Paul in Romans 9:24-25 applies Hosea 1:10 to the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God. According to the pastor, Paul interprets the “place” where not-God’s-people will become God’s people, not as the land of Israel, but rather as the word of God, specifically the Gospel. The Gospel is where people become the people of God, as they receive it. That may work. Romans 9:31-33 depicts God laying a stone of stumbling in Zion, which is Jesus. Those who receive Jesus are affirmed as God’s people; those who deny him, at least for the time being, are not God’s people. Jesus, one who was from Israel, is the “place” where one’s status as part of God’s people is enabled and determined.

C. The pastor referred to a scholarly view that the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31 is based on themes in Hosea 2. Hosea 2 depicts a new marriage between God and Israel. God makes with Israel a covenant. Israel has a new beginning. God is not only forgiving Israel but is making things new.

D. In Hosea 2:18, God promises to make a covenant for the Israelites with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and creeping things. The pastor said that God often calls nature as a witness because it is not fickle; human beings, by contrast, are fickle. Nature is an unchanging witness to the covenants. There may be something to that, since Jeremiah 31:35-36 compares God’s commitment to Israel with the ordinances of the sun and the moon, implying that these features of nature are stable and lasting.

E. The pastor commented on Romans 9. He said that Paul’s point there is that one is part of God’s people, not by race, circumcision, or keeping the law, but by rather God’s determination, God’s mercy, and faith. The pastor continued to say that Luther prioritized God’s mercy over God’s sovereignty, meaning we can thank God for showing us mercy, while also hoping God will show mercy to others. I think that is ultimately where Paul goes in Romans 11:30-32, where Paul envisions God showing mercy to the Israelites, who previously rejected Christ.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Church Write-Up: Peter Is Re-Commissioned

Here are some items from Wednesday’s LCMS Bible study. The text was John 21. I will be saying what the pastor said, without always saying “the pastor said” or “according to the pastor.” Occasionally, I will add my own thoughts.

A. John 21 was probably added later to the Gospel of John, since John 20:30-31 appears to end the book neatly. John’s pupil may have written John 21. He was trained by John, since his writing style is the same as John’s. His purpose in writing the chapter is to correct the misconception that Jesus said John would never die, after John indeed had died.

B. To quote from the handout, “For Matthew, Mark and Luke—-and even John—-the marking of the passing of time becomes less important following Jesus’ resurrection.” Prior to the part about Jesus’s resurrection, the Gospels are sticklers for chronology and time. After the part about Jesus’s resurrection, they are not. We do not know if the events in the resurrection stories took place over several days, or over a shorter period of time. There are some exceptions: John 20 says that the disciples gathered on the first day of the week, then eight days later. Why this change? According to the pastor, it is because the Gospel writers believed that Jesus inaugurated a new day: the eighth day, a time of new creation, the Day of the Lord, the day that will precede Christ’s second coming. Time is irrelevant in this new day that Christ inaugurated. In Acts, though, time clearly does continue to pass. I typed in “days,” “months,” and “years” in my BibleWorks and saw that Acts frequently uses those words in a chronological sense.

C. Peter and other disciples are going fishing in John 21. They may have forgotten that Jesus had commissioned them to spread divine forgiveness in John 20. Jesus was re-calling and re-commissioning them in John 21.

D. The Gospel of John was written decades after the synoptic Gospels and appears to draw from them. John 21 has parallels with Luke 5:1-11, the story in which Jesus initially called Peter. A common element in both stories is that Jesus enables the disciples to catch an incredible amount of fish. There is a difference, though. In John 21, rather than asking Jesus to depart from him, as occurs in Luke 5, Peter runs towards Jesus.

E. Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon son of Jonas” in John 21. According to the pastor, this may echo other times that Jesus called Peter “Simon son of Jonas.” Jesus did so in John 1, when he initially called Peter; here in John 21, Jesus is re-commissioning Peter. Jesus also called Peter “Simon son of Jonas” in Matthew 16:17, after Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus in John 21 is reminding Peter that Peter knows who Jesus is.

F. Jesus was gently challenging three character flaws that Peter had: the temptation to be important, to be accepted, and to be powerful. Peter had wanted to be important. Even if other disciples forsake Jesus, Peter declared in Mark 14:29, Peter will not. Then Peter denies Jesus three times. The risen Jesus in John 21 asks Peter if Peter loves him more than “these.” The “these” may be the other disciples: Jesus is asking Peter if Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples love Jesus. Peter replies that he has affection for Jesus, perhaps recognizing that he fell short of the exalted agape form of love. Jesus is willing to work with Peter’s affection, however, and exhorts Peter to feed Jesus’s sheep: to feed them with teaching and to care for them personally. Peter is encouraging Jesus to stop being full of himself and to follow Jesus, which includes service to Jesus’s sheep.

G. Peter is tempted to be accepted. Peter denied Jesus because he wanted to fit in rather than be disliked or arrested. Jesus in John 21 tells Peter, however, that Peter will die to glorify God.

H. Peter was tempted to power: he cut off the ear of the priest’s servant when Jesus was arrested (John 18:10). Jesus in John 21 tells Peter that someone else will lead Peter to where he does not want to go. Peter will be powerless.

I will stop here, even though there were other interesting items.

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