Christ: The Prophet Of Prophets

 

 

 

 

The book of Deuteronomy contains many warnings and admonitions for the people of God as they are about to enter the land of Canaan. The eighteenth chapter of the book contains a remarkable passage regarding the origin of the prophetic institution. God was going to raise up a body of men and put His word in their mouth (Deut. 18:9-22).

The Levites were the appointed teachers of the Law. However, in the promised land there would be new circumstances which would require further revelation from God. Canaan was a land filled with superstition — they claimed detailed knowledge of the future, but their sources were declared abominations by God, so Jehovah promised to raise up prophets to make known His will. In this article we will notice the superstitions employed by the Canaanites during the time of Moses (as described in Deut. 18:10-12), and then see how Christ was “the Prophet” God would raise up.

Superstitions Of The Canaanites

The first superstition of the Canaanites mentioned by Moses was febration — the practice of one making “his son or his daughter pass through the fire” (Deut. 18:10). The purpose of febration was to obtain an oracle, or to avert national disaster (cf. Deut. 12:29-31). This practice was common among the worshipers of Moloch, the national deity of Ammonites (Lev. 18:21). This abomination caused God to root out the Canaanites (Lev. 18:24-30).

“To Baal-Haman, in great crises, living children were sacrificed, as many as three hundred in a day. They were placed upon the inclined and outstretched arms of the idol and rolled off into the fire beneath; their cries were drowned in the noise of trumpets and cymbals; their mothers were required to look upon the scene without moan or tear, lest they be accused of impiety and lose the credit due them from the god.” (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 42).

The next three terms used by Moses describe various methods of divination, including “one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens.” God wanted His people to know these practices were powerless against His people, as expressed in Numbers 23:23, “For there is no sorcery against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel.” No soothsayer has any power against Israel, for Israel receives her information from the Lord.

Moses also mentions two other classes of divination, “a sorcerer, or one who conjures a spell,” followed by two groups who seek after the dead, “a medium, or a spiritist.” Manasseh reinstituted many of these crimes when he was King in Judah (2 Kings 21:1-6). “Although these two words, ‘ghost’ and ‘familiar spirit’ are used side by side, there was nevertheless a distinction between them. The person who was possessed of an ob (ghost) was evidently a ventriloquist. Like the witch at Endor he might call up the ob and describe what he saw. Those about him would probably hear only a muttering or twittering which seemed to come from the ground. The ‘familiar spirit’ however, was evidently a spirit that was at the beck and call of a particular person.” (Edward J. Young, My Servants The Prophets, p. 23).

“One who calls up the dead” is a comprehensive term which covers all forms of spiritualism.

“The context refers to sorcery, divination, spiritism, and other similar practices. Excavations at different sites have uncovered a great number of figurines, charms, amulets, and other objects connected with sorcery, fertility cults, demon exorcism, and pagan superstitions that at times propagated themselves in Israel to such an extent that legislators, prophets, and some rulers had frequently to warn the people against them.” (Gonzalo Baez-Camargo, Archaeological Commentary On The Bible, p. 55).

“The list is indeed impressive. These superstitious practices which were so much in vogue among the Canaanites of ancient time are the reason why the Lord will dispossess these people of their land. Moses then advances a step. Not only are these practices in themselves abominations, he says, but also every one that doeth them is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. It is for this reason that God will drive out the Canaanites from their land. It is well that we should grasp this fact, for it has sometimes been maintained that the God of the Old Testament was an arbitrary despot, who drove out the Canaanites and brought Israel into Palestine, and this, it has been said, was a cruel, arbitrary act. Such a judgment, however, is unjust, and out of accord with the facts. God, in dispossessing the Canaanites, was doing a gracious and merciful thing to the remainder of the world. The Canaanites, through their abominations, had themselves become abominations. If there was to be any salvation for the world, Canaan must go. The cup of their iniquity had filled, and they could no longer be permitted to exist as heretofore. Let no one, then, charge God with lack of justice in His treatment of Canaan.” (Edward Young, p. 24).

In spite of all of the means of divination used by her neighbors, Israel would not have to resort to such means, for God would raise up a Prophet “from your midst, from your brethren” (Deut. 18:15). Therefore, there would be no reason for Israel to turn to heathen soothsayers. God was going to raise up a body of prophets to declare His words, and later He would raise up one great Prophet, who alone could compare to Moses.

Christ Is God’s Final Prophet

The New Testament often speaks of Christ as “the Prophet,” a reference back to the promise given by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 18.

As John opens his account of the life of Christ he tells of the work of John the Baptist. On one occasion priests and Levites from Jerusalem went to John and inquired as to whether or not he was the Christ (John 1:19-23). When John denied being the long-awaited Messiah the priests and Levites then asked if he was Elijah, to which John answered “I am not.” They then asked, “Are you the Prophet?” They wanted to know if John was “the Prophet” Moses had promised centuries before — the answer was “No.”

It was in the region of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus fed the 5,000 with “five barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:1-14). When the people had been fed and there was still bread to spare, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, who is come into the world” (John 6:14).

On one occasion Jesus healed a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Jesus told these Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). There are many Old Testament passages which speak of Christ, but the one He had in mind on this occasion was found in the writings of Moses. Jesus said, “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you — Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47).

What did Moses say about Christ? God told Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:18-19). This passage was speaking of Christ, for Peter quoted it in Acts 3:22-23 and applied it to Him. Stephen quoted this same passage in the sermon which cost him his life (Acts 7:37).

On the Mount of Transfiguration our Lord stood with Moses and Elijah and discussed His impending death. Peter, overwhelmed in the moment, said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4). However, “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'” (Matt. 17:5). The point is clear: as great as Moses and Elijah were in their won right, we are to listen to God’s Son today!

Jesus is God’s final spokesman. The Hebrew writer reminds us of how “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Conclusion

Concerning “the Prophet” who was to come, God said, “whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him” (Deut. 18:19). The Hebrew writer mentions the consequences of neglecting the message of Christ. “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:1-4).

Have you listened to the words of Christ, God’s final spokesman? If you reject the message of Christ, you will have rejected your only means of eternal salvation!

If The Jews Had Accepted Jesus

 

 

Modern premillennial theory insists God had not anticipated the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. They often think that God was shocked when Jesus “came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). They also teach that one day Christ will return to this earth and the Jews will then accept Him as their Messiah. The Bible teaches that the Father in heaven knew all along how the Jews would react to His Son Jesus. God had planned the time perfectly and “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).

Have you ever considered what would have happened if the Jews had accepted Jesus as their Savior and King? Let’s look at the consequences:

First, there would have been no crucifixion, and hence no shedding of blood. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). However, Jesus spent His entire earthly life preparing for the cross. “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:23-33).

Second, since there would have been no shedding of blood, there could be no remission of sins. “And according to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). On the night in which He was betrayed, as He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28).

Third, the church would have never been established, since it was purchased with the precious blood of Christ. When Paul addressed the elders from Ephesus, he admonished them “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church is composed of saved people. In the New Testament, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Fourth, if the Jews had accepted Christ as their Messiah, there would be no gospel, since the foundation of it is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4). This “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Premillennialists usually have very little use for the gospel of Christ — they look upon it with contempt, however, “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21). Do you believe in the power of the gospel?

Bless the Congregational Lectureships

We acknowledge the passing of time in noting that one day, some will be writing a history of the church of our day, and they’ll be looking back into “old history.” When that “old history” is written, focusing on the church of our time, surely there will be a great deal of praise for the congregational lectureships we now see. In view of the drift away from fundamental Bible truths in our day, and in the concern that many had for the future state of the kingdom, congregations in various parts of the nation began to hold their annual lecture series. I do not believe I am overstating the case in venturing that the truths brought forth in these lectureships has been the saving of the church from apostasy – that part of the church that could, and would, be warned.

Lest someone jump with the accusation that I said that the credit should be given congregations, and men, I hasten to point out again that I said the TRUTHS – truths of God – there proclaimed have been the church’s salvation. We now mention two or three things along that line:

(1) The lectureships have meant much in informing the memberships, locally. Growth comes through the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2), and if God’s people are to know and grow, and become all that God would have them be, knowledge must dispel ignorance (Hosea 4:6). I have never attended any sessions, in any of our lectureships, without having gained some Bible knowledge.

(2) The lectureships have meant much in informing brethren far from the hosting congregation. They come from near and far, and that same information given to the benefit of the local church is then through those attending, taken home to benefit many congregations. Through the printed word, and then through audio and video cassettes, the messages are sent throughout the land and abroad. The hosting congregations know that they have “sounded out the word of the Lord” to distant places (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

(3) The lectureships have meant much in the warnings given. There is the Biblical focus on the times in which the Bible’s books were written, but also a focus on the problems, trials, afflictions of our own day. Various movements, from Crossroads/Boston, to the efforts to merge with the Christian Church, to the issue of abortion, to the attempts to introduce the mechanical instrument into worship, etc. are dealt with, giving a “thus saith the Lord,” and brethren are warned of dangers. The lectureships have served to wake some up from their spiritual sleep, and have, through the truths presented, served to thus forewarn and forearm the saints as to the fight that will be brought to their congregational doorsteps.

(4) The lectureships have meant much in the warnings given, especially, to elders in the church. There is no more direct benefit, that can be realized in any quicker fashion, than to have the eldership informed and warned – if they then will take care of their duties. They are charged with feeding (Acts 20:28) and watching over (Hebrews 13:17) the flock of God. They, of all people, should be informed and thus warned. No congregation ever spends any better money than in providing the expense, if it is needed, for its elders to attend these lectureships. In so many cases, no money would be needed, but the congregation should be encouraging its elders to take advantage of these opportunities.

(5) Also, we dare not forget the preachers. The lectureships have meant much to them, again in informing and warning, but also in providing encouragement. Those who are young, and perhaps in their first works, need such encouragement, and it is wonderful to hear how problems and situations were dealt with successfully, and it is of great aid to these younger men. They need the association with those who are older and more experienced, and the value of such is beyond calculation. Congregations and elders, encourage and assist these young men in their endeavors to be informed and thus of greater service in the kingdom!

Those are some of the benefits we think of as we view the congregational lectureships now underway. Many can look back and ask, “When would I have known of this problem, or how to handle this particular issue, if I had not been given the material at these lectures?” Naturally, I run the risk of some stating, “Well, he is ‘high’ on them because Southwest has a lectureship, and naturally he would promote them!” If such is said, we’ll endure that, but we will point to the items above, (1) through (5), and know that these cannot be denied. These were true, and I realized them, long, long before the first Southwest lectureship. And, if the Southwest lectures were to be closed down tomorrow, the points would still be true concerning all other faithful lectures. Again, these events have brought forth truths to the saving of the kingdom in our time!

CHRISTIAN WORKER, October, 1989

The Fruit of Benevolence

 

Inspiration informs us that our Lord came to this earth to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Son of God “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28); and, as a result, He purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Those who believe (John 8:24), repent (Luke 13:3), confess the name of Christ (Rom. 10:9-10), and are willing to be immersed in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) are added to the blood bought church of the saved (Acts 2:47). No one can be saved unless they have been obedient to the gospel plan of salvation. Christ came to this earth and suffered because He does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). It is easy to see that Jesus’ main focus in life was the saving of souls.

My friends, this is the main work of the church today! We must be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49), as was our Lord. Everything we do as a body of Christians should be centered around this important task of saving souls. The work of saving souls is accomplished through three main avenues: 1) the preaching of the gospel (Mat. 28:19; Rom. 10:13-14), 2) edifying one another (Eph. 4:11-12), and 3) benevolence work (Gal. 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). How can benevolence work be used to lead souls to Christ? Let me give you an example.

In 1975, Ben and Beverly Phillips moved to Ketchikan, Alaska looking for work to support their large family. At this point in their life they had no concern for religion and no future plans for such – both had a background in denominational churches. Their only concern was the physical – the here and now, but their lives were soon to change drastically. The trailer house in which they lived caught fire and was totally consumed in only a few moments. Luckily, they were able to get out of the trailer with no loss of life – but while doing so they lost everything they owned. The fire so quickly came upon them that some of them had to run out of the trailer without shoes or shirt. There they stood watching their life burn away – they wondered how they would survive.

Luckily for the Phillips family, the church of Christ in Ketchikan was benevolence-minded, and quickly came to their aid. Above the church building in Ketchikan was an apartment that the local preacher had used in times past. The brethren quickly furnished the apartment for them, and provided them with food and clothing. As I talked to Ben and Beverly about this time in their life, they were deeply touched by the benevolent outpouring of the Christians in this small town. One of the things that greatly impressed them was that the good people did not give their leftovers, but gave Ben and Beverly their best. The church in Ketchikan required nothing of the Phillips family – but were simply there to help.

On Sundays when the Christians in Ketchikan came to worship, Ben and Beverly stayed upstairs and would not come down for worship. Ben and Beverly were invited to attend, but chose not to. The brethren there still helped the Phillips family all they could – they knew to do “good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). As Ben and Beverly continued to see the outpouring of benevolence from these wonderful Christians their hearts began to soften. Soon they begin to attend worship, and later agreed to study the Bible with the local preacher. Before long, Ben and Beverly obeyed the gospel and became New Testament Christians. Ben and Beverly told me that had it not been for the benevolent outpouring of the church they might never have become Christians. Today, Ben serves faithfully as an elder in the Lord’s church in Malvern, Arkansas, and his wife Beverly is a hard working, faithful member in the church. To this very day, Ben and Beverly get “teary eyed” as they speak of this benevolence-minded group of God’s people. They said that the Christians in Ketchikan set a standard of benevolent Christian love that they will always strive to emulate. Beloved, benevolence can be used to soften the heart of man – allowing them to see their need for the gospel of Christ. Most will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

This is why the New Testament instructs, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). Paul says, “remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). “Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). How benevolence-minded are you as you seek to save the lost?

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A Review of “How to Read the Bible” by Steven McKenzie

 

Given the nature of the content, How to Read the Bible, by Steven McKenzie is a surprisingly quick and easy read. In fact, it seems as though McKenzie went out of his way to ensure that all readers (including serious students and scholars) could enjoy and benefit from his research and collected thoughts. McKenzie’s underlying premise is that the modern reader often misses the primary point of scripture simply because he approaches the text with the wrong assumptions and presuppositions. In other words, the modern reader often reads the Bible through the lens of literal history, when in fact, it rarely actually takes that form of literature.

McKenzie begins with a case study of Jonah to demonstrate the importance of genre in biblical interpretation. In so doing, he successfully redirected readers’ attention to the fundamental method and message of the book and away from failed attempts to explain and justify the events of the story as purely historical. Once he presented and defended his case for the importance of genre, he redirected his attention to a discussion of form criticism.

The book is broken down into five chapters where the author dedicates each chapter to a review and discussion of various genres found in the biblical literature— history, prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, and epistles. Specifically, he sets out to demonstrate exactly how that type of literature (by primarily utilizing the Old Testament text) ought to be read and understood; along with also seeking to show the biblical student what are the most common mistakes made when dealing with that type of literature.

In his discussion on historiography, the author highlights the idea that the biblical writers were motivated by etiological means—that is, the effort to seek to explain the cause or origin of something; where the “primary objective of ancient history writing was to ‘render an account’ of the past that explained the present.” In doing so, he walks the reader through various texts in Genesis. One potential flaw on the part of the author is to focus too narrowly on the etiological influences and ignore the theological imports; which often demonstrate themselves in applications of the text. For example, in his discussion of the Tower of Babel incident, McKenzie concludes, “Its intent is to provide an explanation for the origins of the different human languages and cultures associated with them” (p. 39). While this is true, the story is also meant (if not primarily meant) to demonstrate the theological point that sin had created a separation between humans and God.

In the chapter on biblical prophecy, McKenzie explains how prophets exhorted their audiences through the use of predictions of curses or blessings in the immediate future, not so-called prophecies of events in the distant future. This chapter also provides an insightful examination of the manner in which the New Testament authors utilize Old Testament prophecy and reinterpret the text to serve their own specific needs. For example, the Gospel of Matthew reinterprets Isaiah Christologically, even though it is clear that Isaiah was actually referring to an event that was to take place in the immediate future. In this regard McKenzie attempts to demonstrate the actual nature of the use of both the Old and New Testament prophets; and to refute the implications and assertions modern interpreters. At this point, he is essentially pulling the rug out from under most “traditional” church-goers who have consistently identified Isaiah’s text as supremely Christological in nature. To that extent, he may have done well to help his reader make this change a little easier.

In this same light, the following chapter was difficult for this self-appointed traditionalist, where McKenzie effectively laid bare all preconceived notions on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Specifically referring to the Proverbs, after revealing multiple inconsistencies in the nature of the proverbs he addresses them by stating that “there was no single ‘right’ way of looking at things. There was disagreement, because life was and is complex, and circumstances fluctuate. What may be true for one person or a given situation is not necessarily universally so.” After addressing both Job and Qoheleth in much the same manner, McKenzie concludes the chapter and reconciles these issues by explaining that it is the intent of the literature to present “the debate and thereby to license the reader to search for his or her own answers.”

The text is concluded with chapters on the nature of the final two genres: apocalyptic and epistles. McKenzie remains consistent with his approach to reveal the actual nature and nuances of the texts and thereby allowing the reader to approach the scriptures with a greater appreciation for understanding the nature of literature and genres in the Bible. Even given the wealth of specific examples, this remains by the greatest benefit to the reader.

In a work directed at a popular audience, periodic reference to further resources and summaries of reading strategies would have been a useful addition. The book concludes with endnotes—many of which elaborate on ideas introduced in the body of the work—as well as a bibliography and a subject index. In How to Read the Bible, Steven McKenzie has made genre analysis accessible to a wide audience and in so doing has provided readers with a useful way to read the Bible intelligently for personal enjoyment and spiritual benefit.

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Women’s Roles in the Church pt 1

 

 

WHAT THE “BIBLE SAYS” ABOUT WOMEN’S ROLES WITHIN THE CHURCH:  A CRITICAL DISCUSSION OF TEXTUAL ISSUES AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT

INTRODUCTION

There has been, for some time, a growing tension within the Churches of Christ regarding several doctrinal issues that have otherwise been points of clarity and definition for the denomination. Not the least of these is the understanding of the roles afforded to women (according to the Scriptures) within the formal assemblies. In many instances this tension has grown into conflict that has even divided individual congregations.  For those not exposed to this type of culture, which is prevalent in many churches in addition to the Churches of Christ, being female restricts people from leadership roles and from some teaching roles within the church.  The defining of what would be leadership and teaching roles varies, depending upon the place worship.  For any and all groups of Christians to attain some sense of unity called for in the Scriptures, it seems that we are beckoned back to the Scriptures in order to re-examine our previous understanding and assumptions. Have we correctly understood the formative texts for this issue? Whether we determine to maintain our present course or alter our position(s) seems to be less relevant, in terms of unity, than our willingness to allow one another the voice to ask the difficult questions.

“The voice” is a key concept here, not only in the scope of this paper but in the writing of this paper since two authors are involved and since of them is male, utilizing a more traditional approach to biblical interpretation, and the other is female, utilizing a less traditional approach. In consideration of this, it seems pertinent to first recognize those two voices individually for the purposes of context before joining efforts as possibly one voice in the searching of the Scriptures and others’ voices regarding them.  The following paragraph is a personal perspective from Jeremy Schopper.  It is followed by a personal perspective from Robin Wood.  

Perhaps as the “Introduction” affords some leniency towards a greater sense of informality, I ought to take advantage of the opportunity for greater transparency. I do not wish to attempt to plow new ground on this issue. And after having read much of what the scholars have to say, it seems unlikely that there are many more original thoughts to be added to the discussion—unless of course some new information is brought to light. Instead, I must return to my previous line of thinking and make some minor corrections. For me to find some degree of unity with my faith heritage and at least some degree of integrity with my faith, it is absolutely imperative that I re-examine my previous understanding and assumptions on this issue. The correct question is this: have I correctly understood the formative texts for this issue? And, regardless of what conclusion the research leads me to, it is crucial that I find my own voice in this discussion.  

Over the course of the past year, I have been exposed to various ways of interpreting the Bible that have awakened me to challenge the assumptions that I have abided by, including the restriction of women in leadership and teaching roles within the church.  Challenging these assumptions, although privately, has led me to searching the Scriptures and has caused an inner struggle between the familiar and the unknown.  It is too late to return to the familiar, and, yet, the road ahead is unclear.  This journey is uncomfortable, to say the least, and is not without its potential consequences, such as rejection, which in the long run, may or may not discourage this pursuit.  In the mean time, I choose to continue searching the Scriptures and taking this journey cautiously toward freedom one step at a time.  In other words, I may have found my voice, but do I dare speak?

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The Nature of Conflict

There is a myth that conflict is inherently wrong, or even inherently sinful. This myth is likely perpetuated by the reality of our consistent failures when it comes to how we respond to the various conflicts in our lives. In other words, because we are so accustomed to the negative outcomes from handling conflict incorrectly, we naturally assume or conclude that conflict in sinful. This is not true and is supported neither by the inspired Scriptures nor practical experience.

The reality is that choices and actions prior to and in response to conflict is what is either sinful or sanctified, not the conflict itself. Standing alone, conflict is amoral. Jesus’ life serves as a clear representation of this difficult reality. The Gospels record one conflict after another between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. The Gospel of Matthew records one of Jesus’ responses in chapter twenty-three. In what is a representative taste of a long tongue-lashing that extends from 23:13 until 23:36, Jesus says,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

 

In this example, the fact that Jesus was involved in repeated conflicts demonstrates that it (conflict) is not inherently sinful. However, in this instance (and in Jesus’ opinion) these conflicts were initiated because of the sinful attitudes of his opposition. Clearly, had another person been in Jesus’ place, they likely would have responded in a sinful manner. After all, how much continued conflict and personal attacks could a person endure before they react in such a manner?

One other consideration related to the amoral nature of conflict is its inherent inevitability. At its core, conflict is simply the absence of agreement. Or more specifically, according to Dictionary.com it is defined as: coming into collision or disagreement; being contradictory, at variance, or in opposition. It seems rather obvious that disagreements and variances are going to happen between people—even those with especially close and loving relationships (i.e. parent/child or spouses). Man was created to be a unique individual. That one fact alone is bound to create conflicts.

The Cause of Conflict

This leads naturally to the question, “what causes conflict”? Certainly, as has been referred to, conflict can be created innocently; and it may simply be a matter of two people respectfully disagreeing about an issue that is entirely innocuous or benign. However, that is not necessarily the case; and the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about defining those behaviors and attitudes that instigate conflict that may not be entirely above reproach; or that which may actually be sinful. Paul’s comments in his letter to the Ephesians serve to frame this conversation. He writes:

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

Through these comments, Paul appears to be making the case that these particular behaviors contradict the will and nature of the Holy Spirit: bitterness, rage, anger, harsh and slanderous words and all other types of evil behaviors. He then gives three directions that, not coincidently, align themselves with his more famous list found in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). It’s clear that (according to v.32) Paul is providing direction that, if followed, will limit unnecessary conflict. For example, Paul is saying that we ought to live without rage, anger, harsh words and slander—the perfect ingredients for a feud. So what causes conflict? At least according to Paul, conflict is created when people live contrary to the will and leading of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Proverbs mirrors Paul’s thinking. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that Paul’s direction may actually be reflecting teachings found in the Proverbs. Specifically, 15:1 states that “a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” This clearly teaches that angry and harsh words incite tempers; which in turn produces or exacerbates conflict. Anger and harshness is in direct opposition to gentleness and kindness, two “Fruits of the Spirit.”

Proverbs 18:13 shares another direction that aligns itself with Paul’s teachings in Galatians. It states that, “spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” This is a clear indictment against a lack of patience, another “fruit of the Spirit”. Proverbs 26:20-21 provides one additional example. “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.” The first of these two proverbs indicate that gossip is a common source of conflict. It’s reasonable to conclude that a lack of self-control is a common source of gossip. In the second proverb, the writer indicates that a quarrelsome person does not live at peace. These are two more “fruits of the Spirit. One last time . . . based upon this evidence, it seems that at least some conflict is generated when people live contrary to the will and leading of the Holy Spirit.

How Is Conflict Remediated?

 

As was discussed previously, this truly lays at the crux of the matter because it is often at this point that sin enters into the picture. Again, conflict alone is not sinful. However, manner in which it is created and resolved may certainly be. So what does the Bible say with regard to resolving conflict? What direction exists that would lead a God-fearing and Spirit-following person to successfully navigate conflict? The answer . . . plenty.

Keeping in mind that giving in to the opposite party is not necessarily the right choice, Proverbs 19:11 provides a compelling argument. It states that “sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” In short, it may well be the case that the best way to resolve a conflict is to ignore the transgression that instigated it.

Paul provides several strong teachings on handling conflict. For example, in Colossians 3:13-15 Paul says that we ought to

make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

 

He also shares in 1 Peter 3:8-9 that

 

all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.

 

Perhaps the greatest teaching on handling conflict comes from Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:3-5. In this letter it seems that Paul was attempting to reconcile damaged relationships. He writes in this text, “don’t be selfish; don’t try impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Tigay and Brueggemann Comparison Paper

Tigay and Brueggemann have each authored what are apparently complete opposite (in terms of approach and focus) commentaries on Deuteronomy. This much seems clears from the outset, given among other factors, the nature of and purpose of the two series that they are writing for, JPS Torah Commentary and Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, respectively.

Tigay’s work is certainly one of, if not the most, detailed and comprehensive commentaries on Deuteronomy available today. In addition to the verse by verse explanations (which comprise the majority of the content) there are three other sections of material that are extremely beneficial. The first is the introductory material which thoroughly covers the themes, date and background of the book, its’ composition and history and its role in the ongoing Jewish tradition. The second section is a collection of thirty-three excurses. The excurses alone, numbering more than one hundred pages, are invaluable additions to any students’ library. Some of these deal with issues from specific passages of scripture, for example, “The Ceremony of the Broken-Necked Heifer 21:1-9;” while others focus on more general or wide-ranging topics such as “The Historical Geography of Deuteronomy.” The third substantial section of the commentary is the notes that are included for the introduction, the main commentary and the excurses. Along with providing the standard citation sources, they also include extremely helpful comments concerning the nuances of the passage/translations, punctuation and grammar and additional interpretive perspectives. The majority of the text is comprised of verse-by-verse material commenting on the text.

It would be incorrect to say that this portion of the work is limited relative to that of Bruegemann. However, this is one area is which their distinctive approaches are most apparent. Tigay seems to view Deuteronomy solely in light of the reforms of Josiah and he writes with that historical context in mind. Conversely, in this regard, Brueggemann is considerably more concise is his summary of the current scholarly arguments; and instead of primarily taking a socio-historical approach, he leans towards working through the text by drawing the reader to consider literary, theological and ethical aspects. With regard to the history of the formation of Deuteronomy, Brueggemann offers three rather concise explanations of sources and then proceeds to move quickly ahead: (1) Levitical source which emphasizes the authority of the priests regarding the Torah, (2) a prophetic source that focuses on Israel’s special union with YHWH, (3) and a scribal source (p.20-21).

Where Tigay provides a line-by-line explanation of the text, grammar, syntax and philology, Brueggemann (as previously mentioned) focuses his attention on the theological and ethical dimensions of the text. In fact, one of the greater strengths of Brueggemann’s work is the manner in which he uses the biblical text as a means by which to speak a theological message into the current culture, specifically for the Christian and Jewish context. An example of this is found in his comments on p. 89-91 where he is speaking of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (The Greatest Commandment). Within this context, Brueggemann invites the reader to connect this Deuteronomy text with the “costly summons to discipleship . . .” and the manner in which “the same command to love Jesus issues in the same uncompromising demand of obedience”—i.e. theology and ethics.

This being said, we should not presume that Brueggemann altogether ignores or fails to offer any exegetical analysis. On the contrary, he begins each scriptural section with an entry titles “Exegetical Analysis.” The primary differences from Tigay here are that he does not insist upon following a verse-by-verse treatment. Instead, Brueggeman is comfortable in dealing with each passage pericope by pericope (and does so following the theological breaks in the text itself). Nor does he interest himself in much, if any, technical points of grammar and the like. These two features provide offer a greater readability—which is sure to endear the work to laypersons, pastors/teachers and introductory students of theology.

Perhaps the greatest strength on Brueggemann is the manner in which he brings together the theological and ethical dimensions of the text to form something of a “public theology” where he highlights the nature in which Deuteronomy serves to inform the Israelites how they ought to live out their lives as a response to God’s blessings as His chosen people. In that regard, Brueggemann highlights several different sociological ethical points that, as was previously mentioned, are especially relevant in today’s post-modern culture (though it is likely that Brueggemann may have not been specifically interested in addressing this audience). For example, with regard to our consumer-driven influences, he states that the “warning issued in this text does not seem remote from the circumstance of the faithful in a society as affluent and secure as in the United States. Ours is an economy of abundance that lives by an ideology of satiation” (p.91). Similarly, he comments on immigrant communities (p.111) and environmentalism (p.74).

Conversely, where Brueggemann provides the greatest benefit to the reader by “connecting dots” so to speak to the modern culture, Tigay’s greatest advantage is the depth with which he seeks to explore the very items that Brueggemann glosses over (i.e. grammar, syntax and philology). Ultimately though, despite their differences in approach and strength, both works provide a great benefit to the serious student of Deuteronomy.

Dealing with Conflict

 

 

I appreciated the opportunity to review several articles

related to conflict and conflict resolution, particularly as it

relates to “in the trenches” ministry. It was because of this

fact that I was able to derive the greatest value. And it is

also because of this that I am able to relate these articles

back to Scriptures. To that extent the articles were full of

biblical principles.

First of all, there is a widely perpetuated myth that

conflict is immoral, or even sinful. It seems likely that this

myth is spread by the reality of our consistent failures when it

comes to how people respond to various conflicts. In other

words, because we are so accustomed to the negative outcomes

that come from handling conflict poorly, we naturally assume or

that conflict in sinful. This is not true and is supported

neither by the inspired Scriptures nor practical experience.

Reading the articles help to reinforce my thinking on this.

The truth is that our behaviors and choices before and

after the conflict is what is actually sinful or glorifying to

God. Conflict by itself is amoral. Jesus’ life serves as a clear

representation of this challenging reality. The Gospels record

one conflict after another between Jesus and His contemporaries.

For example, the Gospel of John records Jesus’ creation of

conflict and details his response.

13  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus

went up to Jerusalem.  14  In the temple courts he found people

selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at

tables exchanging money.  15  So he made a whip out of cords,

and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and

cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and

overturned their tables.  16  To those who sold doves he

said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s

house into a market!”  17  His disciples remembered that it is

written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-

17).

In this example, the fact that Jesus was involved in a

fairly serious conflict demonstrates that it is not inherently

sinful. However, in this instance (and in Jesus’ opinion) these

conflicts were initiated because of the sinful attitudes and

actions of those that he was in conflict with.

One other consideration related to the amoral nature of

conflict is its inherent inevitability. Fundamentally, conflict

is simply the absence of agreement. Or more specifically,

according to Dictionary.com it is defined as: coming into

collision or disagreement; being contradictory, at variance, or

in opposition. It seems rather obvious that disagreements and

variances are going to happen between people—even those with

especially close and loving relationships (i.e. parent/child or

spouses). Man was created to be a unique individual. That one

fact alone is bound to create conflicts.

This leads naturally to the question, “what causes

conflict”? In his article, “Seven Reasons for Staff Conflict,”

Jacobsen lists several factors that create conflict: majoring in

minors, miscommunication, environment, diversity in perspective,

generational differences, theological disagreements and a lack

of relationships.

Certainly, as has been referred to, conflict can be created

innocently; and it may simply be a matter of two people

respectfully disagreeing about an issue that is entirely

innocuous or benign. However, that is not necessarily the case;

and the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about defining those

behaviors and attitudes that instigate conflict that may not be

entirely above reproach; or that which may actually be sinful.

Paul’s comments in his letter to the Ephesians serve to frame

this conversation. He writes:

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you

live. Remember, he has identified you as his

own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of

redemption. 31  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh

words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

32  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving

one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Through these comments, Paul appears to be making the case that

these particular behaviors contradict the will and nature of the

Holy Spirit: bitterness, rage, anger, harsh and slanderous words

and all other types of evil behaviors. He then gives three

directions that, not coincidently, align themselves with his

more famous list found in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-

control). It’s clear that (according to v.32) Paul is providing

direction that, if followed, will limit unnecessary conflict.

For example, Paul is saying that we ought to live without rage,

anger, harsh words and slander—the perfect ingredients for a

feud. So what causes conflict? At least according to Paul,

conflict is created when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Proverbs mirrors Paul’s thinking. Or perhaps,

it’s more accurate to say that Paul’s direction may actually be

reflecting teachings found in the Proverbs. Specifically, 15:1

states that “a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words

make tempers flare.” This clearly teaches that angry and harsh

words incite tempers; which in turn produces or exacerbates

conflict. Anger and harshness is in direct opposition to

gentleness and kindness, two “Fruits of the Spirit.”

Proverbs 18:13 shares another direction that aligns itself

with Paul’s teachings in Galatians. It states that, “spouting

off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

This is a clear indictment against a lack of patience, another

“fruit of the Spirit”. Proverbs 26:20-21 provides one additional

example. “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear

when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights easily as

hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.” The first of

these two proverbs indicate that gossip is a common source of

conflict. It’s reasonable to conclude that a lack of self-

control is a common source of gossip. In the second proverb, the

writer indicates that a quarrelsome person does not live at

peace. These are two more “fruits of the Spirit. One last time .

. . based upon this evidence, it seems that at least some

conflict is generated when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

As was discussed previously, this truly lays at the crux of

the matter because it is often at this point that sin enters

into the picture. Again, conflict alone is not sinful. However,

manner in which it is created and resolved may certainly be. So

what does the Bible say with regard to resolving conflict? What

direction exists that would lead a God-fearing and Spirit-

following person to successfully navigate conflict? The answer .

. . plenty.

Keeping in mind that giving in to the opposite party is not

necessarily the right choice, Proverbs 19:11 provides a

compelling argument. It states that “sensible people control

their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” In

short, it may well be the case that the best way to resolve a

conflict is to ignore the transgression that instigated it.

Paul provides several strong teachings on handling

conflict. For example, in Colossians 3:13-15 Paul says that we

ought to:

make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone

who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you

must forgive others.  14  Above all, clothe yourselves with

love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  15  And

let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.

For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.

And always be thankful.

He also shares in 1 Peter 3:8-9 that

all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each

other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be

tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.  9  Don’t repay

evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people

insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is

what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for

it.

Perhaps the greatest teaching on handling conflict comes

from Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:3-5. In this letter

it seems that Paul was attempting to reconcile damaged

relationships. He writes in this text, “don’t be selfish; don’t

try impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than

yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take

an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that

Christ Jesus had.”

Thanks to Garage Door Service Aurora for sponsoring this weeks blog!

CULTURE, HIERARCHY, AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT

 

Before diving into the formative texts, it may be beneficial to discuss culture, hierarchy, and their combined sociological impact, which are a part of the equation in the discussion of formative texts.  First, a culture is created when influence has resulted in like thinking and/or behavior among two or more people.  Sometimes that influence is attributed to someone amicably, and sometimes that influence is attributed to someone out of obligation or avoidance of unfavorable consequences.  Whatever the reason, the person of influence is in a position of power, which may create a hierarchy where the more powerful are attributed with more favor and where the less powerful are attributed with less favor.  Consistent influence is required in order for the culture to be maintained as well as to be propagated, which in turn, is required in order for the hierarchy to be maintained as well as to be propagated.  Those utilizing the hierarchy assume that one has, by default, reason to be given more or less consideration as to having a valid voice, if even to speak at all.  Without a valid voice, choices are minimal, which means that the amount of control one has over one’s own life, profession or otherwise, all but disappears.  The voices that dare to question or enlighten others of the hierarchy’s injustice may struggle to be heard.  This hierarchy with its variants from culture to culture becomes interwoven into the fabric of just being human to the point where people no longer remember that it is a human-created illusion.  It becomes just the way it is.  

For the ancient Greco-Roman times, those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been Gentile, free (never having been a slave), and male, and those on the lower end of the hierarchy would have been Jewish, slave, and female.  Little or no opportunity was available to change status.  For early twenty-first century America, it would be easy to assume that those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been white, Protestant, wealthy, male, have their genders “match” their sexes, younger (children excluded), physically attractive, having the appearance of being healthy, more intelligent, and without known physical or mental disabilities. Linda Day and Carolyn Pressler, also, discuss some of these descriptors and suggest that for the U.S. culture, that this type of hierarchy is anchored within a larger “…powerful narrative strand that suggest[s] that certain people are more valuable than others.”                                                                                                                     

Among other groups of people, this type of messaging has adversely affected women.  Who gets to make those decisions on what they may do or become within the world, within the church, and within the home?  The ultimate answer is God, but God according to whom?  More times than not, it seems as if “the Bible says” accounts for most of the “whom;” however, “the Bible says” is too often used as a means to stamp God’s endorsement on whatever may follow in order to make it immune to criticism.  This even presents a challenge when what follows is Scripture since the Bible requires interpretation in order to take something that was written over two thousand years ago in a foreign culture and ancient language and to apply it today within American culture in contemporary English.  Fair consideration, also, needs to be given to the fact that the authors penning the Bible were men who had their own perspectives, histories, and cultures.  To explain the challenge further, the Bible is often used as the ultimate filter to vet what a woman may think that the Holy Spirit is telling her to do and to vet any affirmations that she may have received.  An additional complication is that “every reader of the Bible is also an interpreter of it, but all interpretations are invariably influenced by sources other than Scripture.”  Specifically for women, this authority to interpret Scripture has been denied to them until recently.  This has affected their ability to have a voice and subsequent control over roles for themselves.  With or without admitted intentionality, some of these interpretations are constructed to promote limitations in what women may do or become with respect to their roles in church.  This would not be as much of an issue, except that somewhere along the way, a culturally pervasive hierarchy was established that would serve to favor interpretations that promoted those limitations.  Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza frames the conflict well by stating that

On the one hand, the Bible is written in androcentric language, has its origin in the patriarchal cultures of antiquity, and has functioned throughout its history to inculcate androcentric and patriarchal values.  On the other hand, the Bible has also served to inspire and authorize women and other nonpersons in their struggles against patriarchal oppression.

 

This is not to say that all who attempt to discourage have ill intentions or are not genuinely seeking God and are otherwise kind-hearted individuals.  Like everyone else, they are only acting on what they understand and believe about what God has revealed to them in Scripture.  Of course, they are going to discourage others if they feel that their Christian brothers and sisters are being instructed incorrectly or misled, but caution is warranted here.  A review of the not-so-distant past reveals that this same justification of categorically marginalizing a people and excluding them from certain roles has, in retrospect, been shown to be shameful and regretted later.  Not to be extreme, but it is a reality that “an appeal to Scripture’s authority has been used by the Christian church in countless atrocities, not the least of which was to persecute and kill Jews, kill thousands in holy war, burn women suspected of witchcraft or of using pain relievers in childbirth, kill doctrinal heretics and torture and enslave Africans.”  Those who appeal to Scripture to marginalize women, no matter how accepted it has been in the past among men as well as women, might one day be seen in a similar light either here on Earth or in Heaven.  In a risk analysis, it would seem that being a party to categorically marginalizing women, about half of the population, would be a worse error than to permit otherwise qualified women to perform roles usually reserved exclusively for men.  

Some, such as John Piper and Wayne Gruden would disagree and make a generalized statement inclusive of  Miriam and Deborah of the Old Testament that “…either women followed their unusual paths in a way that endorsed and honored the usual leadership of men, or indicted their failures to lead.”  In other words, when women have had leadership roles that affected people in a favorable way, the notable takeaway is not the accomplishment of God’s will but the shame that a man did not accomplish God’s will.  Tikva Frymer-Kensky adds a different perspective that seems like a hybrid with regard to leadership.  She equates leadership with the Old Testament priest position and agrees that women did not have positions of leadership; however, she also states that neither did men, unless they were born into priestly families.  Gruden and Piper do not seem to include that within their modern application of their analysis of who should be in leadership roles.