Sunday, March 31, 2019

Notes on Revelation 12-13

The woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon with a crown of 12 stars upon her head is faithful Israel. This imagery likely comes from Joseph’s dream, although it is repurposed by John to display the glory of God’s people. The words used to describe her labor are emphatic and intense. She is in great pains to give birth to this child (perhaps, making allusion to Israel’s struggle to survive and to make it to the age of the Messiah). 

The dragon is described as having the color of fire (purros), which makes it the ultimate symbol of a chaotic agent. The dragon already is that symbol in the ancient Near Eastern world, specifically Babylonian, from which John has inherited this imagery. Fire, of course, is John’s chosen symbol of ultimate chaos. Fire is an element in which humans cannot live—perhaps, the most unlivable element known in John’s day, and certainly, on the mind of the post-Vesuvian, Roman world (his description of hell as a “lake of fire” is most-likely taken from this event).

The dragon is further described as having seven heads and seven crowns, which displays the totality of his rule. The ten horns, however, may indicate the temporality of his reign, as well as the reign of the beast described in the same manner in Chapter 13. In Revelation 2:10, Christ tells the church at Smyrna that they will undergo persecution for 10 days. This seems to be said as a comfort in that it will be only for a temporary period. Likewise, in 17:12, the ten horns represent the ten kings who give their dominions to the beast, but their rule is only for “one hour,” surely representing the short period of their reigns. If this is the case, then the ten horns likely represent the temporary reign of the dragon. Since the beast is described in the same way, it is likely that the dragon rules through the beast and that reign itself is temporary. The fourth beast in Daniel, the terrible beast, also has 10 horns.

His sweeping away a third of the stars is a reference to the fallen angels that follow him. This is a Second Temple Jewish understanding found in texts like 1 Enoch and Jubilees. Stars have represented angels throughout the book. It is possible that they represent the tribes of Israel in the imagery of the woman just pictured, but it seems unlikely that John would think only a third were swept away given that the bulk of Israel went into apostasy. The Greek word surō means to drag or draw away. The tail may represent that which follows the dragon, but we may be looking for John to be more specific than he is. Instead, it is enough to say that the dragon has dragged away a third of the angels, i.e., a massive amount of angels, but still displaying the partiality of his domain in heaven in the same way that the thirds in the preceding judgment texts indicated only partial, microcosmic judgments.

The dragon then stands in front of the woman so that he can devour the child who will rule the nations with a rod of iron, but he is caught up to God and His throne. This is clearly referring to Christ. The woman is Israel, and John, as he often does, repurposes imagery from other things to refer to new things by recalling the birth event of Christ, where Herod attempts to destroy Christ as a baby. His mother is then told to flee to Egypt to be protected there until the threat is past. Israel is now the woman that God exiles to the wilderness, and yet, is being protected there for a period of time. That period, i.e., 3 and a half years, is taken from Daniel’s use of it to describe the persecution of Antiochus IV that lasted for 3 and a half years. It has come to symbolize a time of tribulation and persecution, and so John uses it to refer to an indefinite time period when tribulation/persecution will take place. 

The ascension of Christ has caused a war to break out in heaven, but His work has caused the archangel Michael, who guards God’s Israel, to prevail. The devil is thrown down with his angels. The spiritual rule of Christ begins from heaven, and the only domain left for the dragon is the earth. This is a part of John’s already-not yet theology, where victory is first taken in the spiritual realm and then later taken in the physical, i.e., first heaven and then earth. The Accuser’s ability to make any progress with God against His people who sin against Him in heaven has come to an end. Christ’s work and ascension has put an end to any accusation against them.

John makes sure to let his readers know that this is true for those who overcome. They overcome by their faith in the work of Christ on the cross, their testimony, and the fact that they no longer love their lives more than Christ, even willing now to die rather than deny Him.

The ascension of Christ has now brought on victory for those in heaven, but turmoil for those upon the earth, since the devil now knows his lease is going to be up soon. His dominion in heaven is over, which means that his dominion over the entire cosmos is set to end. Hence, he does what he does now εἰδὼς ὅτι ὀλίγον καιρὸν ἔχει “knowing that he has little time.”

vv. 13-16 references the devil’s desire to destroy Israel (i.e., Jewish Christians), but again the text relates that she is given wings of an eagle (a symbol of deliverance in Revelation) and flies out to the wilderness (i.e., exile). John seems to be arguing that Israel’s exile, although a judgment upon Israel, is something that will ultimately protect it (faithful Israel that believes in the Messiah at least) in the long run. There is no chronology that can be gained from this chapter, as the scene of her going out to the wilderness during the time of tribulation (Daniel’s 3 and half years that is now described as it is in Daniel as “time, times, and half a time”) seems to be repeated again.
The woman is clearly distinguished from the Gentile Christians, since they are described as the woman’s children who keep the commandments of God and the testimony about Jesus (v. 17). What is v. 18 in many texts is the transition to the means through which the devil will make war with Christians, i.e., through the two beasts of Chapter 13. If this refers to Jewish Christians (ethnic faithful Israel) in contrast to Gentile Christians, it seems odd that Jewish Christians are not also seen as being persecuted by the dragon through the beast. It may be, however, that John's point is that the Jewish Christians are exiled from the Jewish Wars and that now the dragon will continue to persecute the Gentile Christians (specifically, his Gentile recipients in Asia Minor).

The beast coming out of the sea is first clearly referring to the Roman Empire as a whole. It will later become more specific and be personified in two of its emperors, Nero (the head that was slain) and Domitian (the head that was healed). Each of its horns has ten crowns, again, denoting the idea that these are rulers of a temporary empire made up of other kings giving over their authority to the emperor. The sea is the more chaotic place, less created, and hence, well represents the world as the place from which this beast springs.

Lots of imagery from Daniel is repurposed here. The three wild beasts (leopard, bear, and lion) of Daniel 7 are now combined into one beast. Veneration of the beast is worship of the dragon. John has argued from the beginning that to follow the world and its patterns is to reject Christ as Lord, and here, he argues that it is to worship the devil. In fact, John argues that this includes the whole world. Only faithful Christians who are destined to follow Christ will not follow the beast, i.e., worship the devil through the beast.

He is permitted to rule for 42 months, again, 3 and a half years, symbolizing a time of tribulation/persecution.

Another beast appears, but not from the abyss like the first one. This one comes from the land, a created place. It has the horns of a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. The imagery of the lamb used for Christ in the New Testament is only found in about 4 or 5 places outside of Revelation. The imagery, however, is used thirty times to refer to Christ in the Apocalypse. It is clear that John wishes to argue that the second beast comes in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, but its message is that of the dragon. This continues John’s polemic against the false teachers in the church who are arguing that it is morally acceptable for Christians to partake in the world’s practices, starting with the celebration festivals to other gods (likely the emperor cult specifically) and sexual immorality (which was also a large part of acceptance of the culture). John now argues that this beast is the false church that is really just an extension of pagan religion that causes the world to worship the beast, and draws them away from Christ and the truth. This beast will later be called, “the false prophet.”

This beast gives credence to the pagan Roman religion, and John describes it as a part of that religion, causing people to worship the beast, causing the image to have its effect upon the world and the church, etc.

The image speaking and causing those to die is likely not talking about a literal statue coming alive. Instead, Pliny’s letter to Trajan is a help as the image was used to identify Christians and put them to death. In a way, it testified against them when they refused to worship the Augusti through it. The false teachers in the church were telling Christians that they could worship the emperor and the gods and partake in the religious festivals to them without being condemned, since they had a licentious view of grace. John now argues that those who follow these false teachers, as the rest of the world follows the world’s paganism of which it is a part, become possessions of the beast, and therefore, are described as having his name written upon him (the marker of a slave who cannot escape his master or of a horse that is branded). This will ultimately mean that they will go wherever their master goes and share his fate in the lake of fire.

Richard Baucham in his book, The Climax of Prophecy has an excellent chapter fleshing out the numbers used for Nero’s name (the number spells out both Nero and the Greek word θηρίον “beast," see G. K. Beale's commentary). It is clear that John wishes the beast to be identified first as Nero. Later, he will inform his reader that Nero is dead and a new beast (the healed head) has risen in the eighth emperor according to John’s chronology.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Four Reasons What You're Learning in Church Isn't Changing You

Some people can sit in a pew, go to seminary, even be preachers for years on end without being conformed to the image of Christ through what is taught. Here are some reasons that might be the case.

1. You're sitting under preaching and teaching that isn't faithful to the Word of God. This happens in various ways. Maybe it isn't faithful because the teacher believes false things. Maybe it isn't faithful because the teacher doesn't understand how to exegete Scripture and completely ignores the actual meaning of the text and replaces it with something else. Maybe it isn't faithful because the teacher believes true things but does not teach the whole counsel of God. Hence, only basic things are taught and the Christian cannot grow beyond them. Either way, if the Spirit uses the truth of the Word to create His people, then absent of the Word, no growth can take place, since the instrument of the Spirit has been removed.

2. You're just not listening. Maybe you just find the truth of the Bible boring. You'd rather daydream or think about things you want to think about. Your mind wanders to what you'll be doing afterward, or maybe you just don't work hard at concentrating, so your mind just drifts. Either way, faith, and transformation, is through hearing and hearing through the Word of God, so you cannot be transformed by what you do not hear.

3. You're in unrepentant sin. In this case, you may hear the Word fully, but your idolatry, sexual immorality, unreconciled relationships with believers, etc. have caused the Spirit to shut you out. Hence, the Word is dead. It has no supernatural force behind it in order to create growth through the renewing of the mind and washing in the Word.

4. You're not saved. You just don't have the Spirit to begin with, but you have been culturally/naturally conditioned to believe certain Christian truths. The Word, in general, is just a deadening object of intellectual discussion and philosophical thought, or it is an emotional mechanism to cope with psychological and sociological issues. Church is your club or self-help group, but you yourself are void of the Spirit.

Revelation 5:10, an Example of Solving Textual Issues

In Revelation 5:10, we are told that God has gathered for Himself a people from every tribe, language group, nation, etc., and that they will reign upon the earth. Some have noted the textual issue in 5:10 concerning the word βασιλεύw in terms of whether it is a future or present. If future, one translates it as most translations do, "they will reign upon the earth," presumably a future referent. If present, of course, one could translate it as "they are reigning upon the earth." The former being a rule that is future to the person and the latter being a triumphant spiritual way of saying that these people are ruling on the earth even though they are being oppressed and martyred. 

Let's look at the textual evidence. There are three major variants.

βασιλεύουσιν] A 046 1006 1611 1841 1859 2020 2065 2081c 2138 2329 al (itar) syrh WH

βασιλεύσουσιν] ‭א P 94 205 209 1828 1854 2042 2050 2053 2073 2081* 2344 2351 2814 Byz itc itdiv itgig ithaf itz vgww vgst syrph copsa copbo arm Hippolytus Cyprian Maternus Fulgentius Andrew Arethascomm NA NR CEI Riv TILC Nv NM 

βασιλεύσομεν] 57 141 2432 itdem vgcl Maternus Tyconius Primasius Bede Beatus Haymo Arethastext ς ND Dio

If we notice the first reading, which is a present (a perfective aspect), is supported by Alexandrinus (5th Cent.), which is the earliest text that reads this way. It is shows up in some later uncials and minuscules dating after the tenth century.

The future aspect, with the exception of Alexandrinus, is supported by the earliest manuscripts, i.e., Sinaiticus (4th Cent.), P (6th Cent.), and Church Fathers in the second and third centuries. 

The third variation is also future aspect, but second person plural instead of third person plural, i.e., "we shall reign" instead of "they shall reign." This is likely due to the fact that the ones singing this are humans and so the scribe likely thought it was more fitting. The third person, of course, can be inclusive of those who are saying it as well, so the change is unnecessary. These texts are much later (12th and 13th centuries). 

Hence, the earliest texts support the future third person singular.

Furthermore, the diversity of texts with the future third person, ranging from the Alexandrian to Byzantine tradition support this as the original reading.

On top of that, the diversity of translations, from various copies of the Vulgate to a diverse tradition of Syrian and Coptic translations support the future third person as the original text.

Further, the two variants themselves indicate the original reading is the future third person plural. Although it would be as easy to see either the sigma dropped by accident or the sigma added by accident, the third variant indicates that the original had the sigma (at least the textual tradition used by the correctors).

Finally, the teaching of Revelation is not that Christians currently reign upon the earth, but that they will reign upon the earth if they overcome the tribulation/persecution/pressures of the wicked world ruled by the beast and the devil. This is the picture in Chapters 21-22. 

All of this evidence indicates a strong support for the reading, "they will reign upon the earth."

Biblical Theology LIV: Hebrews

Hebrews is historically thought have been written by Paul, but scholars today believe it is written by someone else. Hence, when referring the author of Hebrews, they merely use the Latin word for author “Auctor.” Hebrews begins the section of the New Testament called the “General/Catholic Epistles.” 

Theology: Auctor is arguing against the idea that Jewish Christians should just return to Judaism, as 
it is the first revelation from God, and Christianity is something new. He argues that the Hebrew Bible is insufficient unless fulfilled in the Messiah, and he argues that Jesus is that Messiah. In fact, he argues that, according to the Hebrew Bible, He is God Himself who has humbled Himself and become man so that He could identify with them, and become both their sacrifice and their High Priest. His resurrection and ascension allow Him full access to God as their intercessor. 

Hence, Jesus is the fulfillment of typological pictures in the Hebrew Bible that were never meant to function sufficiently in and of themselves. Neither angels nor Moses, nor Aaron and his priesthood were ever adequate mediators, as they cannot identify with God; nor are they perfect humans, and so they fail to be able to plead man’s case before God, since they are in need of atonement for themselves as well in order to be pleasing enough to God to be heard. Only Jesus is both God and perfect man, fully identifying with both, and able to become both the accepted sacrifice and Mediator that man needs to be reconciled to God. The promises of forgiveness and resurrection are only found, therefore, in Him.

Ethics: Therefore, the Jewish Christians who are being pressured to reject Christ need to stay and endure any persecution they receive for following Christ, since He alone is the means to their redemption. He makes this clear with a series of warning passages that argue that those who turn away from Christ and His church will not be saved. There is a strong teaching of God’s sovereignty that authors and perfects His people’s salvation, and yet, they must choose to remain in the faith on a human level, as the means through which God accomplishes His goal of perfecting their salvation. 

Furthermore, these Jewish Christians are simply doing what everyone in the Hebrew Bible has done when given promises from God, i.e., they are having faith in God by expecting that He will give them the fulfillment of His promises in due time. 

Hence, in the meantime, they are to live in a way that is pleasing to God, waiting for their full redemption and deliverance from persecution. He makes it clear that because Jesus fulfilled the law does not mean that they do not have to observe the morality of the law. Therefore, they are to live as Christians by loving one another, which means doing good to one another and refraining from doing any evil to one another. They are to obey their leaders, and trust in God that He will strengthen them through solid teaching. Their sacrifices now are the praise God receives from their lips and their taking care of fellow Christians in need. Finally, he reminds them that Christ suffered outside the camp, and therefore, they should also by being excluded from the community suffer in shame with Him. He comforts them by blessing them with the blessing that God will equip them for every good work in the world.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Captain Marvel and the Admission that Gender Equality Is a Modern Illusion

Let me start out by defining what I mean by "equality." The word "equality" in our culture has come to mean, "I can do all of the same things that you do." Apparently, this might have meant that I can run a mile just as fast as an Olympic athlete and give birth to children, but of course, those absurdities are never pressed. Instead, the idea of equality seems to be the idea of sameness just between the genders in general. Women need to have the same opportunities that men have because they can do anything men can do. Equality is a bad idea, not because it threatens men, but because it isn't true.

I went to see Captain Marvel this past week, and thought it was a pretty good movie. Not the best, but still an important link in the Marvel Universe. Of course, we are bombarded with female leads and heroes these days in TV shows and movies. After all, we all need to be convinced that women can kick as much butt and take names as men. There is simply nothing more true to life than watching a 130 pound woman take down a 250 pound muscular man trained in special forces and martial arts. As we all have been told since our youth, women can do anything men can do (except open a jar of pickles of course).

What I thought was most humorous about the movie, however, is that in its attempt to convince everyone how powerful women are, and how they can do anything men can do, it ended up inadvertently admitting that they can't.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

The movie basically starts out with Brie Larson's character fighting Jude Law's character, and of course, Jude Law, small man that he is, still whoops up on her pretty badly. She ultimately wins by using her special powers. The movie then ends with him telling her to fight him without the special powers to see if she can finally beat him. She, of course, uses her special powers anyway and then tells him that she has nothing to prove to him.

What the movie subconsciously admits by this, even though it was going for another message entirely, is that a woman is not as strong as a man and cannot equal him without technology. Technology, not the woman, is what gives the apperance of equality between men and women.

In other words, women cannot be equal to men without something that fills the gap between them. This is what technology does for women, which is why gender equality is a modern illusion.

A woman cannot fight off a man who attacks her. Give her a gun and she can. A woman cannot eat meat without a man going out and killing an animal. Give her a weapon or a grocery store and now she can. A woman cannot walk away from sex without the threat of a child prohibiting her from advancing in the work place. Give her birth control and now she can. She can enter into wars, be as successful in business as a man while having sex, she can defend her home, eat all of the same foods as a man, all without a man, because she is given the technology that allows her to feed her illusions of equality.

Instead of equality of sameness, the Bible teaches equality of value. Both the man and the woman are valuable in the differing roles they play in life. These differing roles are wrapped around the bringing up of covenant children in the world and preserving the life of the family in different ways. When the woman does what only the woman can do or should do, she is superior to the man. He cannot do what she can do. Perhaps, one day technology will allow him to do anything she can do, but it will not be him doing it. It will be the technology doing it. The technology, not the male human, will have equality with the woman in the same way that the technology today, not the female human, has equality with the man.

If the argument is that technology can do whatever a man can do, then granted, to some degree, this is true; but all this says of the woman is that she cannot. In fact, the fact that she cannot is the very reason she must use technology. Her very use of it to equal the man is an admission that she is not equal in and of herself.

Yes, we can all fly in airplanes, but it does not mean humans can do what birds do. We can all scuba dive in the sea, but it does not mean we can all do what fish do. A man is a man. A woman is a woman. And each is made beautiful and shows the beauty of God by embracing, rather than hiding, their gendered humanity with technology.

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.