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Should Galatians be Gender-Inclusive?

I’m reading Peter Oakes’ new commentary on Galatians in the Paidiea series right now. In a sidebar titled Translating Adelphoi, he points out that, in keeping with the culture of today while not forgetting the culture of yesterday, translators have a tough time with the term adelphoi (“brothers”) in Galatians 1.2.

The Texts

In Gal 1.2, the NRSV says, “and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia….

Gal 1.11, “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;”

Gal 2.4, “But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us—”

Gal 5.13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”

Gal 6.1, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.”

Gal 6.18, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen”

Gender-Inclusivism

  1. Translators know that when Paul uses the term adelphoi (I’ll simply refer to “brothers”) he is referring to all Christians, male and female.
    1. Translators agreed that it was an inclusive term, “encompassing women as well as men” (39).
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  2. With the 1900s came feminist scholars who argued that these masculine “inclusive” terms “encoded and reinforced patriarchal assumptions” (39).
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  3. At the same time, the English language started to move away from using these masculine terms as inclusive: “many women perceived themselves as excluded from such categories” (39, again).
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  4. As a result many translators translate adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” (this is so in Oakes’ commentary too)

So What is the Problem?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to argue that gender-inclusive language in the Bible is “the devil,” but Oakes does bring up an interesting point.

“The word adelphoi is actually one of the masculine ‘inclusive’ terms in question. Rendering it as ‘brothers and sisters’ could, to an extent, mask a real patriarchy tendency in ancient Greek culture or in the Bible. Moreover, adelphoi may carry connotations of the activities of particular kinds of male groups, such as clubs or elite philosophical gatherings” (39). Here’s a turn of events: “It may also be that it was actually quite radical for Paul to use this term to designate the members of a gender-mixed and socially mixed group. He may effectively have been ascribing heightened status to some members who would not normally have moved in [social] circles where they would have been addressed as adelphoi….” (39).

What Oakes is saying here is that while in the twentieth century some women felt like they weren’t being treated equally and were being overlooked, in Paul’s day anyone who wasn’t a man was overlooked. By addressing the group as “brothers,” Paul is not simply addressing the few men in the home churches even though their families are also listening to the letter being read. He is giving everyone a higher social status. In 6.2 he tells them to bear one another’s burdens, which would include the head of the home bearing the burdens of the servant and the slave. Yes he would still have slaves (if this is questionable to you, read here), but he was to treat them with love and bear their burdens just as Christ bore his sins.

Heirs According to Promise

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3.28–29). Here Oakes says,

“There may… be a radical edge to [Paul’s] use of the masculine term, ‘sons,’ because, in the first-century house-church context, it could be significant that Paul describes the Christian identity of women and slaves among its expected hearers, in terms of the imagery of free male heirs. One further factor is that being sons of God was also an attribute of Israel (e.g., Hosea 11:1). Describing gentiles as having this identity undercuts Paul’s opponents by asserting that gentile Christians already have the closest possible link to God, without needing circumcision” (129-30).

I don’t really have an answer on if Galatians should or shouldn’t be gender-inclusive. The ESV says “brothers” for Gal 1.2, while the NIV says “brothers and sisters.” I’m not knowledgeable on all the ins-and-outs of translation and culture, but we  do live in a culture which knows little about how to read the Bible despite the fact that the Bible is always the #1 Bestseller. Having an English translation doesn’t mean we’ll understand every nuance of the ancient author’s thoughts, but it does mean we can understand God’s overall plan of salvation. Though we can’t do it all by ourselves. We need teachers. We need authors. We need to “bear one another’s burdens.”

Gal

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The Unseen Realm is Coming

Does Deuteronomy 32.8 say, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (ESV)? Or does it say, “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel” (NKJV)?

Does it matter?

Yes, it does (my friend Lindsay wrote about it here). But why does it matter? What does the Bible tell us about the supernatural? What did the ancient Israelites believe about this unseen realm?

The text below comes from the Logos website. If you look there they also have the official video. Michael Heiser is the author of this blog, this podcast blog, and this blog. Over the last year and a half, when my friend Lindsay talked about him, Lindsay always referred to Heiser as the “Divine Counsel guy.” That’s what he’s most known for and how I could best remember him. Now, after fifteen years of work, his book The Unseen Realm is out (it came out yesterday, in fact). You can read about it below.

Here you can find The Unseen Realm and Supernatural for sale on Amazon.


Overview

The psalmist declared that God presides over an assembly of divine beings (Psa. 82:1). Who are they? What does it mean when those beings participate in God’s decisions (1 Kings 22:19–23)? Why wasn’t Eve surprised when the serpent spoke to her? Why are Yahweh and his Angel fused together in Jacob’s prayer (Gen. 48:15–16)? How did descendants of the Nephilim (Gen. 6:4) survive the flood (Num. 13:33)? What are we to make of Peter and Jude’s belief in imprisoned spirits (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6)? Why does Paul describe evil spirits in terms of geographical rulership (thrones, principalities, rulers, authorities)? Who are the “glorious ones” that even angels dare not rebuke (2 Pet. 2:10–11)?

The Unseen Realm presents the fruit of Dr. Heiser’s fifteen years of research into what the Bible really says about the unseen world of the supernatural. His goal is to help readers view the biblical text unfiltered by tradition or by theological presuppositions. “People shouldn’t be protected from the Bible,” Dr. Heiser says. But theological systems often do just that, by “explaining away” difficult or troublesome passages of Scripture because their literal meaning doesn’t fit into our tidy systems.

In The Unseen Realm, Michael Heiser shines a light on the supernatural world—not a new light, but rather the same light the original, ancient readers—and writers—of Scripture would have seen it in, given their historical and cultural milieu. This light allows today’s pastors and scholars to understand the biblical authors’ supernatural worldview.

Get an unfiltered look at what the Bible really says about the unseen world.

Praise for The Unseen Realm

This is a “big” book in the best sense of the term. It is big in its scope and in its depth of analysis. Michael Heiser is a scholar who knows Scripture intimately in its ancient cultural context. All—scholars, clergy, and laypeople—who read this profound and accessible book will grow in their understanding of both the Old and New Testaments, particularly as their eyes are opened to the Bible’s “unseen world.”

Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

“How was it possible that I had never seen that before?” Dr Heiser’s survey of the complex reality of the supernatural world as the Scriptures portray it covers a subject that is strangely sidestepped. No one is going to agree with everything in his book, but the subject deserves careful study, and so does this book.

—Jon Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary

There is a world referred to in the Scripture that is quite unseen, but also quite present and active. Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm seeks to unmask this world. Heiser shows how prevalent and important it is to understand this world and appreciate how its contribution helps to make sense of Scripture. The book is clear and well done, treating many ideas and themes that often go unseen themselves. With this book, such themes will no longer be neglected, so read it and discover a new realm for reflection about what Scripture teaches.

Darrell L. Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement, Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement. Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

Contents

  • Part 1: First Things
    • Reading Your Bible Again—for the First Time
    • Rules of Engagement
  • Part 2: The Households of God
    • God’s Entourage
    • God Alone
    • As in Heaven, So on Earth
    • Gardens and Mountains
    • Eden—Like No Place on Earth
    • Only God Is Perfect
    • Peril and Providence
  • Part 3: Divine Transgressions
    • Appearances Can Be Deceiving
    • Like the Most High?
    • Divine Transgression
    • The Bad Seed
    • Divine Allotment
    • Cosmic Geography
  • Part 4: Yahweh and His Portion
    • Abraham’s Word
    • Yahweh Visible and Invisible
    • What’s in a Name?
    • Who Is Like Yahweh?
    • Retooling the Template
    • God’s Law, God’s Council
    • Realm Distinction
  • Part 5: Conquest and Failure
    • Giant Problems
    • The Place of the Serpent
    • Holy War
  • Part 6: Thus Says The Lord
    • Mountains and Valleys
    • Standing in the Council
    • Divine Misdirection
    • The Rider of the Clouds
    • Prepare to Die
  • Part 7: The Kingdom Already
    • Who Will God for Us?
    • Preeminent Domain
    • A Beneficial Death
    • Infiltration
    • Son of God, Seed of Abraham
    • Lower Than the Elohim
    • This Means War
    • Choosing Sides
  • Part 8: The Kingdom Not Yet
    • Final Verdict
    • Foe from the North
    • The Mount of Assembly
    • Describing the Indescribable
  • Epilogue

Product Details

  • Title: The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible
  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Publisher: Lexham Press
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Pages: 384

About Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser is the academic editor for Logos Bible Software, Bible Study Magazine, and Faithlife Study Bible. He is the coeditor of Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology and Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations; he is also the Hebrew instructor for Learn to Use Hebrew for Logos Bible Software. He earned his PhD in Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages and holds and MA in ancient history and Hebrew studies. In addition, he was named the 2007 Pacific Northwest Regional Scholar by the Society of Biblical Literature.


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Why is the Ethiopian Eunuch so important?

Horse

I’ve been reading Alan J. Thompson’s latest volume in the NSBT series titled The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (my review of it here). In chapter 3, Israel and the Gentiles: the kingdom and God’s promises of restoration, he points out that Acts 1.6-8 says a lot about how the book of Acts will play out. Throughout his book Thompson shows how the kingdom of God is seen throughout Acts, how Acts continues the themes from Luke’s Gospel, and how Acts tells us that God keeps his covenant promises.

In Acts 1.6 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus answers them in verses 7-8, and many people find his answer to be an odd one. Though I can’t get into it now, Thompson believes and gives evidence for the position that the disciples did understand what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3). The disciples ask about the kingdom of God and Israel in 1.6, and he answers them in 1.7-8.

In 1.8 Jesus gives three phrases which reflect the OT:

  • ‘when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’ (Isa 32.15)
    • This refers to the “end of the desolation of Judah and the coming of the new age with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit” (107)
  • ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Isa 43.12)
    • God’s people will be transformed, now that he is the only God and Savior, and will be his witnesses to an unbelieving world around them.
  • ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Isa 49.6)
    • A Servant representing Israel will restore Israel, and this restoration will include Gentiles (Isa 49.6 is also used in Acts 13.47, where Paul and Barnabas explain their reasoning for reaching out to Gentiles).

God will rebuild the Davidic Kingdom “through the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ to the throne of David (2:30-33), the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit of the last days (2:16-17), the ingathering of the exiles of Israel (2:5, 9-11) and the repentance and turning to the Lord of Israel in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, which unite under one Davidic King (2:38-47; 4:4; 8:4-25)” (116).

Outcasts

In Acts 8.26-40, Philip comes across an “Ethiopian,” a “eunuch,” a “court official,” although after 8.27 the man is only referred to as a eunuch. Why a eunuch of all titles? Thompson shows that Luke says four things about this eunuch:

  • v34, ’the eunuch’ asks Philip about a passage of Scripture (Isa 53.7-8)
  • v36, ‘the eunuch’ asks about baptism
  • v38, ‘the eunuch’ is baptized by Philip
  • v39, ‘the eunuch’ did not see the vanished Philip again “but went on his way rejoicing” (116).

Fly Away

Luke emphasizes the fulfillment of Isaiah throughout Acts (Acts 1.8; 8.34 quoting Isa 53.7-8; Acts 13.47; and in many more places). While the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53, it is in Isaiah 56 where we see God’s promises for the eunuch. “Isaiah 56 looks forward to the time of God’s salvation when the exclusion of those with defects from the assembly of God’s people in [Deut] 32:1-7 will be overturned“ (117).


Isa 56.3 says, “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’”

In 56.5 the Lord tells the eunuchs, “I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”


The Lord will give joy to those who love and worship him (56.7-8). 56.8 ties the gathering together of Israel with the gathering together of foreigners, including eunuchs. Here in Acts 8, the “despised and rejected” eunuch is reading about the “humiliation and ministry of this despised and rejected Servant” (117).

“All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor 1.20). All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ. Israel looked forward to the physical resurrection, and it happened in Christ Through Christ’s resurrection Israel was and is being gathered together with Gentiles included, as the one people of God. Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two” (Eph 2.14-15). Christ, seated at the right hand of God, rules and reigns now, and we are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Baptize

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Mercy on the Wavering in Jude 22-23

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I’m reading Peter Davids’ 2 Peter and Jude volume in the PNTC series on Logos. In dealing with the false teachers (FT) in the church, Jude tells his readers to show mercy to the followers. Mercy? Shouldn’t the followers be kicked out of the church? Shouldn’t the FT too?

How should his readers handle the false teachers and heir followers? “Are they to be hated, fought, feared, or simply shunned? Jude implicitly rejects all of these approaches (so common in contemporary attitudes toward teaching considered to be false and misleading) and argues for a much more positive response” (98). While Jude has already condemned the FT’s (v5-16, v12 showing that the FT’s are still in the church, feasting with the community at the Lord’s Supper), “their followers are to be rescued rather than ostracized” (100).

3 Groups

  1. “Those who doubt” (v22)
  2. Those close to “the fire” (v23)
  3. Those whose “garments“ are “stained by the flesh” (v23)

Here, the goal is rescue and the attitude is one of “mercy mixed with fear,” even if some seem to be “beyond hope” (103).

1. Be merciful to those who doubt (v22)

Jude 2 reads, “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”

Jude 21 reads, “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”

These (and all) Christians are wished mercy and are expected to receive mercy. Since we have seen the Lord’s mercy we are expected to show mercy too rather than pronounce judgment on all who annoy us. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2.12-13).

They are to show mercy to those who doubt. While sometimes doubting can mean “arguing/disputing” (Jude 9), and other times “discerning/discriminating” (Matt 16:3), when “used without the disputant with whom to argue or the object to judge or discern, the term means that the argument is going on inside the person, and he or she is in inner conflict or doubt, as in Acts 10:20; 11:13; Rom 14:23; Jas 1:6…. It is to [these] people in such inner turmoil that one is to show mercy” (100).

In Jude “some are doubting, not sure who is right. Rather than condemning them for their uncertainty about the truth or their entertaining the possibility that the teachers whom Jude opposes could be right, Jude calls for mercy, being gracious toward them and showing the same type of acceptance and love that God shows” (101).

2. Save others by snatching them out of the fire (v23)

While some weren’t sure who was right and may not have participated in lewd (or in righteous) practice, “some were already getting involved with the practices of the teachers Jude is opposing (101).

Some are so close to the fire they need to be snatched away.

Zechariah 3.1-5

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Davids says that this scene is “a judgment scene [with] the Lord refusing to condemn but rather choosing to remove the impurity of the priest” (101). Following John the Baptist (Matt 3.10), Jesus (Matt 5:22), and other NT writers (Heb 10:27), the ‘fire’ here is one of judgment. This second group is not yet in hell, but they’re already looking over the edge of the cliff that leads to this fiery grave. Or, rather, Christ will return and there will not be a second chance to repent (Heb 9.27-28). “In Jude’s picture the flames of judgment already lap around their feet; one must snatch them away before they are fully in flame and lost forever” (102).

Yet, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. This is the basic NT attitude towards sin in the church. Often times when it comes to judgment and sin, we (myself included) think of 1 Corinthians 5, where the incestuous/adulterous man is to be excommunicated (with the purpose of him being brought back to the believing community, v5). Matt 18:15–17 is more focused on restoring the brother/sister than kicking them out of the church. “It is only when all attempts to appeal to them have been rejected that the church reluctantly recognizes that they are on the outside, not the inside, of the community of Jesus. Luke 17:3–4; Gal 6:1–2; 2 Thess 3:14–15; 1 Tim 5:20; Titus 3:10 all show the church more ready to restore the erring than to exclude them, although boundaries must be drawn for those who insist on their error” (102).

The purpose of James’ letter is seen in Jas 5.19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” That desire to bring salvation is probably the purpose of James as a whole. In our text we find the same attitude in Jude” (102).

3. Those whose “garments“ are “stained by the flesh” (v23)

“…to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v23b)

This third group is most likely involved in the sins accepted by the teachers. The image of “clothing stained by corrupted flesh” may  refer back to Jude 8 (Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones). Yet even they are not beyond hope. “Jude says, ‘Show mercy’” (103).

To make this quick, “mercy” mixed “with fear” likely means showing the offenders mercy with a fear of being seduced by the same sins that has seduced them. Some of these sins are probably sexual (Jude 6-7, though in total they include a host of others).

“The “clothing” referred to by Jude is a specific article of clothing, the chitōn, the inner of the two articles of clothing in everyday use. Since it was worn constantly and next to the skin, it was quite likely to be stained by the body, as is a T-shirt today…. In Zechariah the high priest is delivered from judgment with the order to change his clothing. Here people are also to be rescued, and their ‘clothing,’ meaning their sins, are to be ‘hated’ and left behind. Such an image combines well with that of showing mercy ‘mixed with fear’” (105).

So out “mercy mixed with fear,” does it mean to distance ourselves from the sinner? Especially when we read “hating the clothing“? Hate the sin, hate the sinner? We think of some “limited-contact“ verses from the Bible:

  • Matt 18:17, “…treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
  • 1 Cor 5:11, “…you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
  • Titus 3:10, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”

Yet these verses all have to do with one who is excommunicated from the church. Meaning, after the church has confronted the person about their sin and the person has refused to stop, then they are excommunicated from the church. The offender is disrupting the community. He/she is living in complete disregard to the teachings (and commands) of Christ. What is the church to do but to let them go, praying and hoping that the person will repent and come back.

Here, Jude can’t be suggesting that his readers should have no contact with the FT followers. “If we are correct that Jude has little hope for the teachers, but can conceive of the rescue of their followers, then these followers would be even less likely to be excommunicated than the teachers (105-06). As it follows,

“one should attempt to persuade such people to reject the teaching of the false teachers and return to the orthodox standard of behavior. Yet at the same time one should have nothing to do with their sins and must in fact, as part of the rescue process, [work to] separate the people from their sins…. One cannot rescue people without personal contact, but one must also be cautious that what seduced them does not seduce you. It is quite possible to remain in positive contact and accept a person without at the same time condoning or accepting the person’s sin. This appears to be Jude’s position, a merciful one indeed” (106).


As always, this was longer than I originally expected, but if you’ve made it this far you’ve seen that Jude is interested in “turning wanderers” back to the truth and “saving souls from death” (Jas 5.19-20). Jude, James, Peter, Paul, and Jesus were all interested in saving sinners. They aren’t hard-liners in the sense that once somebody sins they are chucked out of the church. No! Here Jude allows the followers of the FT’s to remain in the church (for the time being). But he asks the church to show them mercy and what?

  • Let them live their life?
  • Be tolerant towards those who have different ideals, even if it opposes the teachings of Christ?
  • Turn a blind eye and wait for someone else to confront the sinner?

No, Jude tells his readers to be merciful, to snatch, and to save. Get them away from their sin, and do it with mercy, in truth and in love.
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A look at how Davids’ commentary appears on Logos software

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Excursus: The Book of Life

Exodus 32.30-33, The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to theLord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.


Here in Exodus 32 Moses is interceding with YHWH over Israel and their sin of idolatry with the golden calf they had made (32.1-4). In the verses above, both Moses and God acknowledge that sin can cause someone to be “blotted out of your [YHWH’s] book.” Many young and old have pondered the question, “What is this ‘Book of Life’?

In his Exodus commentary in the New American Commentary (NAC) series, on page 685 Stuart explains,

In the ancient world both governments and individuals kept records of populations. These records were used for many of the same sorts of purposes that official records are used for in modern times [e.g., taxes, military]. Once a given population… became so great that no person… could maintain in his or her head a full, accurate list of the inhabitants, a listing… of inhabitants was required to be prepared in writing. Of course, this ‘book’ had to be updated as the actual population changed.

When someone moved into town, their name was added to the book. When someone closed up shop, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, or simply moved away, their name was simply removed (or “blotted out”). In this the listing would always be current, being updated as was fitting.

Through the Scriptures

Stuart mentions a few verses:

  • Psalm 69.28, Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
  • 1 Samuel 25.29, “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.”
    (The “bundle” here represents that of a shepherd who could probably would have had a bag/bundle of pebbles, one for each sheep of his. Abigail knows that God has the power to sling out the the bad pebbles from his bundle).
  • Deut 9.14, “Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they’” (cf. Deut. 25.19; 29.20).

Conclusions?

What can we determine from this?

  1. “The Book of Life is a record of those going on to eternal life as opposed to those who by their own decisions have rejected God and his salvation (cf. John 3:19-20). To have one’s name in the Book of Life is to have preserved in faith and obedience to God until the final judgment of the earth. To have one’s name blotted out is to have offended God by lack of faith and, accordingly, by disobedience so that one cannot continue to live, that is, have eternal life” (687-68).
  2. “[E]veryone starts out in the Book of Life. It is a book of the living, and all who are born originally appear in it….. All who come into the world have the potential for eternal life…. When they appear at the judgment and the books are opened (Dan 7:10; Rev 20:12), their names will not appear in the Lamb’s Book of Life because they chose a different direction… from the direction God prescribed” (688).

Surely, this should cause us to think. The Philippians are to stand firm in Christ, just as the women who have laboured “side by side” with Paul have, as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4.1-3).

Yet in the church in Sardis, in Rev 3.5 Jesus says, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels [cf. Mk 8.38].” Five other times in Revelation we find references to one having their name in the Book of Life (Rev 13.8; 17.8; 20.12,15; 21.27).

Let us stand firm in Christ and persevere unto the end that our names may not be blotted out of the Book of Life, but that when we appear before the Ancient of Days he will open the books, call us his children, and welcome us home.

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Excursus: Slavery and the Law in Ancient Israel

All it takes is a quick scan through a few internet forums. In the midst of the shallow conversations against Christianity’s “bigoted” beliefs, one surely finds a re-occurring topic: if it’s not about how Christians are heretics for wearing wool with cotton, it’s about how we read a slavery-promoting Bible. How can Christians serve a loving God who advocates such horrid slavery like that found in the 1700-1800s?

Of all the problems that people have with the OT law, slavery ranks near the top (along with homosexuality and genocide). Yet, should both slaveries be counted equal? Was the OT slavery equally as horrible as that found in the 1700s? Or is our YouTube generation committing the fallacy of anachronism: when one takes a modern concept/definition and imports it into the word/concept of an earlier time.

This would be like painting a picture of Moses and giving him a wristwatch. Or thinking that when the man in Ruth 4.8 gave Boaz his shoe, he handed over some Nike Elites.

looseshoe

That’s anachronism.

What is Old Testament Slavery?

Slavery_or_Shellfish

I’ve looked already at Frank Thielman and what he says about slavery in the NT, so I now turn my attention from the New to the Old Testament. In Exodus 21.1-11, the Laws on Servants, in Douglas Stuart’s commentary on Exodus (NAC), Stuart provides the reader with a three page excursus titled “Slavery and Slave Laws in Ancient Israel.”

The various Hebrew terms translated… as ‘servant,’ ‘slave,’ ‘maidservant,’ occur more than a thousand times in the Old Testament…. Although the laws in Exod 21:1-11 address primarily the circumstances of six-year contract servants, they do not implicitly distinguish among categories of employees. The most common vocabulary word for the servant is ‘ebed, which can mean ‘worker,’ ’employee,’ ‘servant,’ pr ‘slave.’ Anyone in any of these categories come under the protection of Yahweh’s covenant law…. Similarly, the words translated ‘buy’ [21.2]… and ‘sell [21.7-8]… can refer to any financial transaction related to a contract (474).

In the Ancient Near East ([ANE] the time during much of the OT), as Stuart will go on to explain in his excursus, there were no corporations in this age. Pretty much “all industry…was ‘house’ or ‘cottage’ industry” (475). The business world was always family owned. The “financial transaction” that took place could be likened to that of a sports team. The players are not the property of the team/manager who owns them. The manager has the exclusive right to the employment of his players.

These “servants/slaves/workers/employees… signed” a six-year contract for their job. While they couldn’t expect 401(k)’s and retirement pension to comfort them in their old age, they could choose to serve longer than the required six years. In fact, they might actually like their boss and his family. This is quite different from slavery in the Western world.

In addition, some of the misunderstanding of biblical laws on service/slavery arises from the unconscious analogy to modern Western hemisphere slavery, which involved he stealing of people of a different race from the homelands, transporting them in chains to a new land, selling them to an owner who possessed them for life without obligation to any restrictions and who could resell them [to] someone else (although such did occur in the ancient world) [475]. 

Egypt vs. Israel

YHWH brought Israel out of the land of Egypt just a few months before. The memories of their forced slavery in Egypt were still fresh on their minds. The back-breaking work. Little pay (if even that). Little food. Whippings and beatings in the beating heat of the sun. Why would YHWH bring Israel out of bondage simply to put them under more bondage again?

The Egyptians made the Israelites slaves based on their ethnicity, forced them to serve as slaves for life, did not compensate them properly, if at all, and worked them unbearable hard as a means of keeping them weak and/or causing at least some to die under the burden of their slavery (1:9-14). 

Against this sort of historical experience, the Bible’s laws protect all sorts of workers, guaranteeing them the right to gain their freedom after a set period of time (21:1-4) as against the Egyptian practice of permanently enslaving Israel. Biblical law allowed service out of love rather than out of necessity (21:5-6) as opposed to involuntary service under oppressive masters in Egypt. Biblical law also gave immediate freedom to those who had in any way been physically abused (21:26-27) as opposed to the severe abuse the Egyptians had imposed on Israel.


Though there are many texts and issues left uncovered, here we can get an idea of the OT world and its context. Biblical slavery was not the slavery experienced in the 1800s. Here, people needed work. People went into debt. People needed to pay bills. They would work for a family for six years and be released, and they could choose to stay longer if they wanted.

But God’s Law was there not to completely overthrow the cultural system (the Law wasn’t written on iPads), but to shape the culture they lived in to God’s ideal. It gave the opportunity for each and every person to show that he loved the Lord with all of his heart, soul, strength, and mind, and his neighbour as himself.

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The Gospel in Ezekiel

Over the last few posts we’ve been looking into the first chapter of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar. We’ve seen what is important for the preacher to know: the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, his message, his rhetorical strategy. Finally, the preacher must plan carefully by preparing his congregation for Ezekiel.

Now, by looking at the opening section of Ezekiel 16, we can hopefully see what benefit this would have for the church today.

Block says vv1-14 are “the opening section of the longest literary unit in the book. At around 850, this chapter  alone is longer than half the [individual] Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai) and only slightly shorter than Malachi” (p 21). Most wouldn’t ordinarily teach Jonah in on go, and neither should they in Ezekiel 16. Block suggests that 16 should be split up into at least two or three sessions.

Outline

(I’m using Block’s outline found on p 22).

A. The Call for Jerusalem’s Arraignment (1-3a)

B. The Indictment of Jerusalem (3b-34)

  1. Jerusalem’s Lowly Origins (3b-5)
  2. Jerusalem’s Exaltation (6-14)
  3. Jerusalem’s Shamelessness: Her Response to Grace (15-34)
    1. Her Religious Promiscuity (15-22)
    2. Her Political Promiscuity (23-34)

C. The Sentencing of Jerusalem (35-43)

  1. A Summary of the Charges (35-36)
  2. YHWH’s Response (37-42)
  3. A Concluding Summary (43)

D. The Analysis of Jerusalem’s Problem (44-52)

  1. The Indicting Proverb (44)
  2. Jerusalem’s Family Portrait (45-46)
  3. Jerusalem’s Shameful Personality (47-52)

E. The Doubly Ray of Hope for Jerusalem (53-63)

  1. The Bad Good News: The Qualification for Grace (53-58)
  2. The Good Good News: The Triumph of Grace (59-63)

Big Questions

The congregation will be confronted with many of Scripture’s big questions:

  • the nature of grace
  • the innate human condition
  • our tendency for ingratitude and rebellion
  • the cause and nature of divine fury
  • the triumph of grace

But Ezekiel also poses challenges in dealing with society and ethics:

  • What are the boundaries of appropriate rhetoric? How far should one go?
  • What does the text say about gender relations?
  • What are we to make of its portrayal of God?

We can’t simply answer these questions, and we can’t simply reduce God’s word to a few formulas to figure life out. God can’t be put into a box, and we must work to figure out His word and His world.

Contention

While the chapter is framed by good news (vv. 1-14 and 60-63), three-fourths of the chapter consists of “relentless accusation and disturbing pronouncements of the divine response” (p 23). Jerusalem was born from her “Amorite father” and “Hittite mother” (remember the Invention point in Ezekiel’s rhetorical list here), but was rejected by them and left for dead. YHWH came, rescued her from the wild animals, and lavished her with praise. She grew and was able to survive. When vulnerable from human predators, YHWH would save her again and again. At Sinai, he married her, entered into a covenant relationship with her, and gave her “all His resources  and [elevated] her to the status of his queen” (p 23). She was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19.6).

Literally, this text concerns Israel’s fame and fortune. But on another level, how God deals with Israel can show us how He deals with humanity. Ezekiel recounts the OT version of the gospel, announcing all of the elements of today’s gospel that Christian proclaim.

  • Is God’s perspective on history different than our “perfect” histories? Chapter 16 is written to those who claim to be God’s people. “Have we, like Israel, trampled underfoot his grace, and used all that he has lavished on us for selfish purposes and wicked ends?” (p 23).
  • Like Jerusalem, all of humanity is destitute and without righteousness. We see Paul say the same thing in Romans 3.23 and Ephesians 2.1-3. Apart from God’s grace we are doomed to our own failings and sinful horrors.
  • “Apart from common grace, the sentence of physical death hangs over humanity.
  • Survival does not mean our problems are solved. It is possible to live physically, but still lack spiritual life, which is possible only through covenant relationship with God.
  • God’s grace is the only hope for a lost humanity. By nature destitute, this is the only solution for the human condition.
  • Covenant relationship with God is the highest privilege imaginable.
  • As the objects of God’s saving and covenant grace, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:14).
  • As the undeserving recipients of God’s grace, we are called to joyful and faithful living, as trophies of his grace proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous life (Deut 26:19; 1 Pet 2:9-10)” (p 24).

Final Point

This leads to on final point that the pastor must remember: In order to preach from Ezekiel with authority and clarity for the church, we need to link his message with that of the New Testament responsibly.

The same YHWH who rescued Israel in her hopeless condition in Egypt is seen in the incarnate Jesus Christ who saved us from the core of our problems, sin, and who freely gives his blessings on us.

This concludes my sessions on Block’s chapter “Preaching Ezekiel.” I hope you’ve found this encouraging, whether you intend to preach through Ezekiel or not. What helps me is seeing how others apply scripture to today’s world, and, just from reading this, I can trust Block to do just that (even more so in Deuteronomy (NIVAC)Judges/Ruth (NAC), and his 2-volume set on Ezekiel (NICOT; 1-24; 25-48).

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