Thursday, March 21, 2019

Biblical Theology LIII: Philemon

The Epistle to Philemon is a personal letter written by Paul to a slave owner named Philemon. The purpose of the letter was to appeal to Philemon to see a particular slave named Onesimus in his possession as more than a slave, and more of a brother in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his very life to him, and if Onesimus has taken anything from him in his running away, he should put it to Paul’s account.

Theology: The theology of Philemon holds many assumptions that Philemon is presumed to understand given Pauline teaching elsewhere. For instance, the gospel of Christ has made new creatures of everyone who believes, and has united them to Christ. As such, all Christians are a part of the new eternal family. Whatever station in life in which they are found, their relationship to Christ and to other Christians is to be considered above any other. This does not mean that all stations in life are replaced by their newfound position in Christ, but rather that their stations in life are informed and transformed to be glorifying to God rather than just existing for the “good” of fallen society. 

Notice that there is no Christless Christianity here that one finds in the social justice of liberal Christianity. Paul is not arguing for the abolition of slavery or any other cultural institution. Instead, he is arguing that all individuals in Christ must now consider one another in love. Paul himself could command Philemon, as an authority over him, but instead appeals to him in love in the same way he wishes Philemon to deal with Onesimus and his sin against him. This does not mean that the abolitionists were wrong in saying the Bible condemns modern slavery (see note below).

Paul is also not arguing that love is how everyone should treat everyone in general. It is centered on one’s relationship to Christ. He is arguing that Christians specifically are brothers in Christ, and are therefore, to see one another as brothers and to have a disposition of love toward one another. There is no call to change Roman society, only a call to change the Christian’s mind and works with good theology.

Ethics: Since all Christians are brothers, it is immoral to treat a fellow Christian poorly in any way simply because their station in life may be lower than another. Christians in power have an obligation to treat Christians under their power with familial love. This is due to the fact that one has been placed in Christ through faith, and now is now regenerated by the Spirit of God to create and transform all existing relationships between believers. The child should become a more obedient child for the glory of God, the parent a more loving parent for the glory of God, the wife a more submissive wife, and the husband a more loving husband, and the slave should become more obedient for the glory of God. Likewise, the master should treat his slaves as brothers in Christ, and not merely as personal possessions to be used and abused at will.

Note on Slavery: Slavery was used as a type of work program in the ancient Near East and the Bible. If one became impoverished, he could save himself and his family by becoming a slave. According to the Bible, if he was an Israelite, he was to be offered his freedom after seven years in what was called the Year of Jubilee. He could decide to stay or leave at that time. For the rest, it was a lifetime of slavery if one was not an Israelite, was born into it, or was captured in war unless his or her master decided to set them free. Even in war, however, slavery was used by God as a mercy upon those who would now slowly starve to death or die of exposure due to the family being killed and resources plundered or destroyed. This all took a horrible turn in the African slave trade, where only a particular people were viewed as inferior creatures and somehow alone worthy to be made slaves, as opposed to any other race. This was not a mercy, but a savage evil where people were murdered and families destroyed for the sake of financial gain. This slavery corrupted the world and was an abomination that Christians had the obligation to eradicate from their own homes, as well as to advise their nations to rid themselves of this kind of slavery that had corrupted and debased their societies. It is important to make the distinction between this kind of racist slavery and the slavery of the Bible that was often used to save the lives of the poor who did not wish to be beggars and risk their lives relying on the kindness of others or the abundance of crops. In other words, the reason why the Bible does not have a problem with slavery is because it can be used to be creational and preservational toward God’s people. The reason why it would have a problem with the racist slavery of the past four hundred years is because it was anticreational and antipreservational. This does not mean that slavery in the Bible was desirable any more than being a poor factory worker is desirable (hence, Paul argues that if one can be freed, that is much better). It just means that it is not seen as an evil, and therefore, not condemned. Instead, Christians who are slaves are told to work hard and to be submissive to their masters as though they are working for God, and Christian masters are told to treat their slaves with dignity and love for those who are in Christ, so that an avenue of welfare was redeemed and glorifying to God. It is important to understand this because many people will argue that the gospel demands that we condemn even the slavery of the Bible, whereas it is clear that the gospel demands no such thing. Instead, the gospel demands that slaves in biblical slavery are treated right, and that the anticreational/chaotic activity that was modern slavery be completely condemned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

An Interesting Argument for Federal Headship in the Early Church

Notes on Revelation 8:2-11:19

Although the imagery of the trumpets can be drawn from various places in the Bible, the seven trumpets may mimic the seven trumpets that symbolize the Canaanite conquest in that the fall of Jericho is the key event that represents the event. John is using lots of imagery from  the exodus and conquest accounts, and so it would make sense that the trumpets are drawn from this event. If true, the judgment of God upon the world, i.e., all the plagues poured out upon it, is God taking away the earth from the wicked and giving it to His people in the same way that He takes away the land from the Canaanites and gives it to His people. This would bring more color to the proclamation at the end of the cycle, which states, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15). God is not swooping His people away to some other place. He is making the world He created for them their eternal home. Hence, it becomes His kingdom and He reigns over it forever.

The judgment that removes the wicked from the world and breaks their oppression over God’s people mimic the Egyptian plagues (hail fire, waters of blood, darkness, locusts, the destroyers unleashed to kill them) with the exception of the waters being turned foul like wormwood. This may mimic the judgment of God over the idolaters who worship the golden calf among the visible community, where Moses makes the people drink the waters with the crushed golden calf within it, and a plague follows (although this water is not called bitter). This event itself was a type of the bitter water ordeal where a woman who is suspected of adultery undergoes a trial where the drinking of water is only a judgment if the woman is guilty of unfaithfulness. It allowed the Levites to identify who was guilty of spiritual unfaithfulness. This would inform the end scene where they do not repent of their idolatry and unfaithful behavior even after the plagues, and hence, are guilty and many die from it. Both of these have to do with God’s visible community, however, and not the secular world. This added element is significant to John’s overall point in the book, which is that both the world that has no confession to belong to Christ and those who claim it but deny Christ with their false theology or evil ethics are not a part of God’s salvation, but His judgment. This is rather a subtle point at this stage of the book, even though when read in light of the letters in Chapters 2-3, its meaning may show more of its significance.

The plagues overall, of course, are the reversal of creation, as the original Egyptian plagues are. Instead of flourishing land and vegetation, the land is pummeled by hail and fire. Instead of waters that support life, the waters kill all of its livestock and are undrinkable. Instead of light, darkness. Instead of man ruling over the creepy crawly things on the earth, the creepy crawly things rule over man. All of this indicating that those who have rejected God’s sovereign rule over their own lives and reject His ordering of their own chaos, will receive none of His sovereign rule over chaos in general. Hence, He no longer holds back the forces of chaos from destroying mankind that wanted God’s ordered world without the God who orders it.

The plagues are likely meant to display God’s spiritual judgment upon the wicked that lead up to final judgment, and not necessarily physical judgments. This seems likely when the locusts are understood to be demonic powers ruled by the Destroyer (often referred to as the Angel of Death in the exodus), i.e., the Angel who rules the Abyss/Realm of Chaos (likely the devil). The horses themselves are a combination of different wild animals that breath elements of destruction and chaos (fire, sulfur, and smoke). This means that the judgment of God that torments and kills men may be more internal than external. It may lead eventually to external judgment, as it often does, and this cycle, therefore, may be a more symbolic way to represent the conquest, war, famine, and death in the first cycle. Either way, none of these disasters are merely physical. They are demonically empowered, and it is likely that the judgment of God begins with God giving the wicked over to Satanic and demonic rule and destruction. In fact, this is likely why the people do not repent after all of these plagues. They simply cannot recognize them as judgments from God because they have so indulged themselves in sin that they are blinded to it and have been given over to their blindness and demonic deception.

The angel who stands on the waters and the land in Chapter 10 may also be the destroyer. In 1 Chron 21:14-16, the destroying angel stands between heaven and earth and is sent to destroy the unfaithful in Israel. This would make sense since John is about to prophecy against the world and the false church, and the destroyer stands ready to carry out God's judgment upon the wicked. However, the angel may just be an archangel of some sort, proclaiming the judgment of God through John, and not necessarily carrying it out. The scroll handed to John by the angel and that is eaten by John here mimics that of Ezekiel’s scroll that he must speak to the visible covenant community of God and warn them to repent of their sin. His duty is to be a watchman over God’s people in this way. Likewise, in Chapter 11, John’s responsibility is to warn and protect the true people of God through the very book he is writing. The measuring of the temple is also linked to Ezekiel’s temple, which may be why the temple in Chapter 11 was introduced by a passage in Ezekiel.

The visible church is viewed as both the holy sanctuary for which John is responsible (measuring has the idea of one who has a managerial responsibility over a possession), and the compromised church that is given over to the world and its judgments. The true church is encouraged through the imagery of the Law and Prophets which proclaim the gospel being personified as something that both gives testimony to the wicked world and speaks against worshiping the beast, and that which overcomes the beast and the wicked world. Hence, John’s protection of the true church is warning them to remain faithful to the Word of God and the gospel of Christ in the midst of pressures from the wicked world to compromise.

The entire section, therefore, is meant to relay the idea that the false church is under the judgment of God as it is actually a part of the world and not the true church. The true church, however, will be protected if it heeds the words of the book John has written, as the people of God are warned in the beginning and end of the book (1:3; 22:7, 9).

The second cycle ends with God judging all of the living and the dead, and giving the inheritance promised to the prophets and the saints who listen to them. God takes over the world and reigns forever, which is a fulfillment of Daniel 2, where the kingdom destroys all other kingdoms and only it remains forever.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Biblical Theology LII: Titus

The Epistle to Titus is the last of the Pastoral Epistles that really describes that the church is a new kind of community that lives out the implications of the gospel and apostolic teaching in everyday activities and life. Paul writes to Titus to complete what is lacking in the church at Crete to bring about this goal.

Theology: As in the other Pastoral Epistles, the center of the household of God is the discipleship in the Word of God. Since this takes a place of primary importance, it is of utmost importance to install elders who not only are teachers, but demonstrate the Christian maturity that comes from the discipleship of the Word of God in their own lives. As opposed to merely saying that an elder is qualified when he is able to teach, and charging the elders with teaching, as in the other letters, Paul here describes what he means by being able to teach. The elder is to have such a level of teaching so as to be able to teach a wholistic, healthy, doctrine without error, and to refute those who contradict it. In other words, the elder is to be a rabbi, a scholar, and not just merely someone who has read his Bible and a few books here and there. 

This is necessary because it is from the elders that the rest of the community will be taught the truth upon which they are to establish their lives and daily practice. In essence, they become teachers from these teachers and so the elders must have their teaching well thought out and established so as to be able to successfully engage opposing ideas. 

Hence, this teaching is to be taken and taught in daily life. Older men and women are to teach younger men and women to live out the implications of the new creation of their persons that look forward to eternal life in the new world to come. If a group of believers fail to implement this method of discipling the community, and rely only on the elders to disciple the community, they have failed to be a witness to the world around them by participating in the maturity of the community.

Ethics: The particular ideas that Paul wants Titus to refute are both antinomian and legalistic teachings that stem from both cultural syncretism of the lax culture in Crete and the false teachers (likely proto-Sethite Gnostics). Cretan culture was extremely corrupt. The island was largely made up of criminals. Hence, Paul quotes Epimenides in saying all Cretans are “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (something that may have been tongue and cheek or just a more generalized statement--obviously Epimenides was a Cretan and it would mean he was a liar as well if understood absolutely). The reputation of Cretans was that they indulged in all sorts of immoral activity that their culture glorified. 

False teachers had come in to remedy this by attempting to argue that they should follow some form of asceticism, perhaps that of Sethite Gnosticism, which taught a lot of mythic ideas that were added to the Old Testament, and that there was a special lineage of humans who had broken free from the Archons (i.e., angels) of the Demiurge by breaking his commands. Ritual commands, like circumcision, in the law were likely taken as ascetic practices that displayed one’s freedom from the physical world. One gets the idea that these are not regular Jews because of the disputes about genealogies, myths, and commands of men, which would not what Paul would call the Pentateuch. It is also clear in 1 and 2 Timothy that these teachers are forbidding marriage, which is a trait of some forms of gnosticism but not of Judaism.

In any case, such teachings led only to further disorder and immorality in the community. Instead, Paul argues that “the knowledge of the truth” leads to godliness in the hope of eternal life (1:1-2), and that it is the gospel of true grace that leads to denying ungodliness and live in uprightness (2:11-14). Hence, although the Cretan Christians at one time lived in a wicked manner, they have been regenerated and redeemed to live in holiness (3:3-7). 

In each case that Paul says this, he emphasizes that the eschatological hope is connected to the way Christians live. Knowing what is true about the hope of eternal life and the world to come is a necessary truth that leads to right teaching and living in this present age. This is a common New Testament idea. Eschatology informs the morality of the larger Christian life. 

Paul ends the letter by telling Titus how these Christians might immediately apply what he has said by doing good via giving financial aid to fellow ministers in Christ who are being sent out from them.

The letter essentially teaches that right teaching begets right living, and it becomes the witness of the Christian Church to the world. Wrong ideas beget immoral living (e.g., the idea that Zeus is like the God of the Bible and lies, and therefore, being dishonest is morally acceptable). In contrast right living adorns the gospel, and the truth from which it flows, that Christians say they believe. To live a different way is to live out lies that speak against the truth. In fact, if the truth is not taught in one’s household and lived out in one’s daily decisions, it is a denial of the gospel and Christian truth even if it is being affirmed in one’s confession.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Notes on Revelation 6-8:1

The Lamb alone is worthy to open the seals, which is a way of John communicating the same exclusivity of the Son that he communicates in his Gospel.
Everything inside a document that one can open belongs to the one who opens it, meaning all judgment and salvation belong to the Son, another idea from John’s Gospel; and an important point to communicate that all people ultimately should be loyal to the Son, not to the world or its authorities, since to Him belongs all things.

The Son’s general judgment upon the world is conquest, war, famine, and death. All people experience this as part of the general judgment upon fallen mankind and creation. The command to go forth is given to the horsemen from the throne of God and the Lamb. The salvation in Revelation is the act of giving the inheritance of Christ, i.e., the whole world and resurrection life, to His people. This act, therefore, also means taking away the earth from the wicked and those who have corrupted and destroyed Christ’s people. Hence, all acts of judgment upon those who ruin God’s people are acts of salvation for God’s people. It is a double-edged sword.

Those who follow the Son, true Israel, however, are sealed (same word as the other seals) so that they belong to the Son alone, and not to the devil or his wicked world. Hence, the judgments of Christ upon the world will not lead to their spiritual destruction, even though it may lead to their physical suffering and death in the here and now. Hence, the seal is on their foreheads to protect their minds/faith through the suffering they will endure by being in the world that is under judgment.

The number 144,000 refers to the true church among the visible church upon the earth (7:1-8). The number is likely meant to parallel those who make up the new Jerusalem in Chapter 21. These are the faithful among the churches in Chapters 2-3 who overcame/were victorious by not compromising with the world and following the Lamb wherever He went (14:1-5). The scene then looks to another scene where John sees an enormous crowd made up of every tribe, nation, language, and people group, and these are identified as those who have come out of the great tribulation and rather than succumbing to the pressures of those persecutions have washed themselves in the blood of the Lamb (i.e., repented and received cleansing—which is another element taken from Johannine literature, where one who confesses his sin is made clean by the blood propitiation of Christ. These are likely the same group, not two different groups. One is merely a picture of these faithful witnesses as they lived in the time of tribulation in the wicked world and the other when they have come into God's presence both in the future creation.

The judgment of the wicked in the first cycle uses stock apocalyptic/prophetic speech that refers to the macrocosmic event at the end of the wicked world’s rule. Here it is coupled with a cataclysmic earthquake, whereas later it will be war and fire that burns the wicked world. The salvation here also mimics that found in the end of the book, e.g., wiping away every tear from their eyes, give them waters of life and will never thirst again, no more sun to beat down on them, etc.

The sky being rolled up is likely imagery that comes from the symbolic idea that the sky is a protective ceiling from cosmic waters that represent chaos. What it would essentially mean is that God now lets all chaos, including both natural and spiritual, i.e., demonic (there could be this sense in Revelation since stars are falling to the earth and the natural and spiritual are not divided so sharply in the ancient worldview), forces loose upon the created order. This is made more explicit in the second cycle, where Christ is clearly unleashing demonic/chaotic forces upon the world. Creation that has been corrupted is unraveling and undone to the point that all men just look to be covered upon by the avalanche of rocks to avoid any more of God’s wrath upon the earth.

The right response to God and Christ destroying the wicked and saving His people is worship and thanksgiving. The response we often hear today from those who think God must act only lovingly toward all if He is to be worthy of worship and praise is a symptom of the wicked in Revelation, who curse God rather than give Him glory. It means that those who think this way are the damned, even if they claim the name of Christ.

The reader is not told what the temple and throne are in the first cycle. It is only said that those who come out of the times of trouble and whose works are cleaned up through repentance will serve God in His temple perpetually and be forever sheltered by the Lamb. In the second cycle, it is clear that this refers to the resurrected people of God in the renewed created order upon the earth.

All of this is to point out on a smaller scale than what is discussed more specifically in the second cycle that all Christians who repent and follow Christ will receive Christ’s reward and those “Christians” who compromise and follow the world are part of the corrupting influence of the world that destroy Christians and will receive the judgment of the world.

The chapter break is poor. It should end with the breaking of the seventh seal in 8:1, and silence, which is likely to represent the original creation account where God rests on the seventh day.