Tag Archives: hermeneutics

PaedoCommunion

The Benefits of Paedocommunion, pt. 1

Take this at face value: communion or the celebration of what Jesus reforms and Paul calls the supper is a ritual of the body of Christ; and as a ritual it is set apart from others as a ritual with a caveat. It is also set apart from other rites in that it is the only ritual which excludes the baptized children of the church. Other rituals wherein baptized children may participate are baptism, prayer, singing, study and being instructed in the weekly worship of the church. It is within this context that this essay is limited. This essay seeks to critique this practice and argue (if not demonstrate) that including all baptized members of Christ’s church in the celebration of the supper is not only for the good of the church, but it is also of her essence.

No other ritual has an overt maledictory warning affixed to it. This does not mean that other biblical and Christian rites do not have consequences for their abuse; rather, the consequences for such abuses are understood by inference. Such is not the case for communion. The Apostle Paul declares that abusing the Lord’s Supper is detrimental to one’s health, both temporal (some are sick) and fatal (some sleep). Whether or not the supper is detrimental in these ways depends upon the participant’s posture during the celebration itself. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some sleep. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

This essay will not seek to exegete the text in its entirety but will assert certain deductions for the reader to consider. Note only this, the author of this essay assumes that Paul’s addressing this particular issue is notably limited to this particular church in its particular historical context. What this means is that Paul’s words are not primarily prescriptive for all of church history but for this first century body. Note well, this does not mean it has no application, only that it’s original context and intent is primarily concerned with the first century zeitgeist.

To begin with, from the text above one can see that Paul declares that there is a wrong and a right way to eat and drink the supper and Paul calls this an unworthy manner. What this is not is this. Eating the supper in an unworthy manner in the context does not mean eating it as an unbeliever. That might happen, but that is not what Paul is dealing with here. It also does not mean eating the supper in ignorance of its significance. Yet, sadly, this is very often how the table is fenced. What this error is can be seen by considering how Paul addresses the Corinthians’ practice in the first century.

Paul addresses his hearers with corrective words saying first of all that their coming together as a church is not in unity but in division. Paul uses sarcasm and irony to make his point when he says that these divisions are necessary in order to prove who is genuine and who is not. One might well think of James’ words to his hearers when he addresses the rich abusing the poor in his letter making the same point. Were James to use sarcasm, he might well say that the rich debasing the poor is necessary and good in order to recognize who is genuine among you. It is sarcasm because it actually is not good to make social distinctions in the body; it is ironic because in actuality their behavior proves the opposite—their victims are the genuine ones.

The first issue Paul deals with then is disunity amongst the members of the body. There is disunity in the Corinthian church because when they come together to celebrate the supper eating is done in seclusion and drinking is done in excess. Both aspects of the supper, eating and drinking, are in view here. In eating, there is to be no isolation from the rest of the body: each goes ahead with his own meal…another goes hungry. In drinking of the cup there is intoxication: another gets drunk. As said before, this essay is a simple presentation of the text, so this will not be a laborious argument. If these are the two primary foci of Paul’s rebuke, let us apply it to today’s church experience in the supper.

To begin with, in today’s celebration of the supper there is hardly enough bread for anyone to get his fill and if anyone were hungry he would go away the same because the portions are miniscule. Secondly, regarding drunkenness in the cup…. Need more be said? 90% of the church uses grape juice and even when churches obey Christ and use wine, the portions are so microscopic no one could get drunk. Briefly, here we encounter an entirely different milieu than the early church. Today’s church is not in the same situation as that of the early.

The second issue Paul addresses is that of committing this principle of disunity. Note his focus. If his focus is on disunity and he addresses participants regarding their violating a principle, what is the remedy? Paul exhorts his hearers to remedy the situation by examining whether or not they are in violation of disunity. This is the needed area of focus by the worshipper. Paul’s words in vv. 27ff are not to be isolated from his previous points. When Paul says, let a man examine himself, of what is the man to examine himself?

Today’s churches apply the text in this way. They call for all believers prior to partaking to examine whether there is any sin of which they are not repentant. They call for believers to examine their hearts to make sure they are not at odds with any other believer. They call for all worshippers to examine whether or not they understand what the supper is all about; that is, they are to examine whether or not they know what the bread and wine signify. These are basically the parameters of the call to examination. But this begs the question as to whether or not this is to what Paul was referring. Not only this, but in churches where confession is a part of the liturgy these violations are dealt with early in the service. When it comes time for the supper, all sins are already confessed and repented of. Who needs to examine himself again?

Since these churches believe that this is what Paul was referring to, it is the responsibility of each believer to ensure that he is not violating Paul’s warning and is able to examine himself accordingly. Taken this way, then, these churches seek to “help” others not violate Paul by determining who is able or not able to examine and discern. Taken this way, these churches esteem young children as powerless to apply Paul’s words. Since children cannot adequately examine themselves, they are not to participate. And since Paul so sternly warns and the consequences are so dire, the leaders of the church must guard against and provide protection for those who might violate this mandate (notice Paul never mandates this).

This effort is thoughtful and it is very important to help others keep from sinning, but regarding this issue, it is a non-sequitor. That is, it does not follow that children are to be kept from participating in the supper because more than likely they are not mature enough to apply Paul’s words as the elders understand them to be. It does not follow precisely because of that which Paul is concerned. Children ought not to be barred from the table until they are able to examine themselves and discern the body (or bread and the wine as they take it) because that is not what Paul is worried about. What Paul is concerned with in this text is social distortion; what Paul is concerned with here is active prejudice; what Paul is worried about is excluding those who belong. In a simple twist of irony, these avid men are actually making divisions among the body that Christ would oppose. One might argue that were paedocommunion the issue of Corinth, Paul would say that they are not discerning the body rightly or that they are guilty of the body and blood.

This essay will assert that Paul does not have exclusion of children in view here unless they are in danger of violating the principle of disunity. Said another way, the discernment Paul requires is simply the opposite of what Peter was doing when he refused to eat with Gentiles. He was not discerning the body rightly. When Paul calls for the examiner to discern the body, he is not expecting the participant to explain the difference between the Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and modern evangelical view of the supper. While this might be an application of what Paul was saying, it was not his primary concern. Paul moves fast and furious as he speaks of bread, wine, body, and blood. This sacrificial language is in reference to the elements of the meal and are the basis for unity in the body.

In the passage in view, when Paul wants to refer to the bread and the wine he does so by their nomenclature: bread and wine. When Paul calls for the man to discern, he calls for him to discern the body. This essay’s position is that the body with which Paul is concerned follows from his previous argument of making distinctions and divisions in the church body. What this means is that the positive side of the supper is unity: Jew and Gentile are united; rich and poor are united; old and young are united. The bread is from multiple grains and the wine from multiple grapes but there is one loaf. To divide any of these groups is to ask for judgement.

In conclusion, this essay argues that children are not in the interest of Paul. There is no way to bring a charge of disunity and division against children in the church unless they are doing as they see and if that is the case, don’t fall asleep!

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PaedoFaith

Every child born to baptized members of a Christian church is bound to be baptized by order of covenant structures. There is so much theology behind why Christians do what they do that very often the ins-and-outs are not always thought through. That is, Christians very often do things for the right reasons without exactly knowing why. Conversely, many Christian parents fail to do certain things for the same reason: they know not what they “do not” do. Christians who do not baptize their children are in disobedience to their covenant King. But this negligence is no more a gross rebellion than Christian churches that exclude children from communion requiring first that they have a conversion experience.

Conversion for non-covenant members is not the same as that of covenant children; nor is it necessary to require the same of covenant children. In fact, it is antithetical to the nature of the covenant. Christian children of the covenant are only made to be such by baptism. It is not so that natural birth makes a child of the covenant; baptism and baptism alone does this. This has important implications for gross misunderstandings about the sign. First and foremost, what happens to a child born to Christian parents who dies in infancy or before faith can be lived? The Bible doesn’t answer this question, but everyone (including the Baptist) expects God to be merciful and save the child. But this has nothing to do with the sign in and of itself. One might think of Paul’s argument in Romans 4 about Abraham’s being the father of Jew and Gentile faith: one has the sign and the other doesn’t but both are saved. The sign of baptism (precisely like the sign of circumcision) is for entrance into the covenant as an ordained priest for Kingdom service.

Baptism is not salvific in the sense that 95% of Christianity intimates. Baptism is initiation into the covenant and that is all it is (now, to be sure, there are benefits to being a member). Baptism means what it means and its meaning is the same for the infant as it is for the adult. Whatever baptism means for a newly converted unbeliever, it means exactly the same for the baby of Christian parents. Baptism, then, is a new creation ordinance for Paul tells us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation and baptism is entrance into that new world order. Faith is the only thing that saves, but baptism is the only way into covenant. Salvation is covenantal in nature and only intends to communicate salvation when the subject of baptism lives in accordance with and by faith. This does not exclude infants who cannot exhibit faith as an adult can for baptism is never essentially a man’s expression of faith in God; but rather and ultimately, it is the very act and word of God toward the subject receiving the sacrament. There are differences in the subjects, yes, but there is absolutely no difference in the message to either subject.

The message of the Gospel communicated in full to the subject is the very word of God depicted in the act of baptism and this message is two-fold; on the one hand, it is benediction while on the other hand it is malediction. Baptism holds out for the subject both the hope of resurrection and the threat of no resurrection. The determining factor for the outcome is faith. Will the subject live by faith or not? The call to Christian parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And yet, this discipleship is done with duplicity regardless of whether or not it is intentional. To be sure, it is not intentional. Nonetheless, it is done in duplicity when children are raised to believe and live by faith and yet are required to have a conversion experience like a pagan. Again, we have said it above in one way but we will say it in a new and startling way here: the conversion of a child happens when he is baptized.

New birth and its various synonyms are clearly declared by Jesus to depend upon two things from God: water and the Spirit. Baptism is not man’s word to God but God’s word to man.

On baptism, again…

The Baptist’s point, “only a mature person can be instructed as a disciple” precludes infants as such because there is no cognizant response. This is a false dilemma and a straw man. The paedobaptist position is rather, “Who better to be the subject of teaching all that Christ has taught but infant-like children?” Our position is presuppositional as we assume (not that all children are saved) but that the nature of the covenant demands that children of believers are raised as believers. A Reformed Baptist’s claim to be covenantal in his hermeneutic is undone here and it is his position that the new covenant is only made up of true believers that prevents his affirmation of infants as the subject of baptism. It is, then, the nature of the covenant which is at stake. If the nature of the covenant is primarily soteriological, then his position is tenable. However, that is not the case. The nature of the covenant is not soteriological but generational. It is the nature of the covenant to presuppose that the children of believers will be raised to procure, promote and propagate the faith. This does not ensure that all will be saved, nor does it mean baptism ipso facto saves. The meaning of baptism is ordinal. It is an ordination ritual wherein the proper subjects of the rite are laid hold of by the Master of the covenant for service in his kingdom. Whether or not those subjects do this by faith is a whole other matter.

Again, a Baptist makes a straw man when he says that it is contrary to John 1.12 to baptize infants b/c only those born of God are sons of God and baptizing infants is man’s work and John 1.12 says it is not by will of man that makes a person a son of God. This is not a tenable argument and it is not the paedobaptist position. John says, “But as many as received him, he gave them the authority to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name, who, neither by blood nor by the desire of the flesh nor by the will of man but born of God.” As a paedobaptist, I affirm all of this in John’s gospel. It is not my presupposition to baptize my children based on their being my children (born of blood, nor my desire, nor my will). It is my presupposition to baptize my children because God requires it in the nature of the covenant (but born of God). Baptising infants is not man’s desire or will (which is what Baptists assert); it is God’s will.

Whom does God expect to be baptized? Believers and their children. The Baptist asserts more than he wills to. If baptism is God’s action, then it is God’s will and not man’s. If, therefore, God has ordained that his Spirit works in and through and with water, then it is non-sense to assert that when a man baptizes, he is forcing God’s hand. It is God who is forcing the hand. He says to baptize and he says what that action means.

It is interesting to note that the Bible is not a store house of proof texts. John 1.12, 13 are not isolated words. They follow what John has been saying heretofore: Jesus came to his own (the Jews) and even the world (the Jews) did not receive him. The reader must ask, “Why does John say what he says in vv. 12, 13?” Against whom is he speaking when he delineates not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man? Answer this and his point has nothing to do with baptism’s subject per se.

Picture this: a youth who was baptized as an infant grows up not following the Lord. At a point in his life he hears John 1.12, 13 and understands that he must receive Jesus by faith. So he does. What of it? Does this negate his baptism? No. Soteriology is only a fraction of the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not merely about being saved but it is merely about service to God and that by faith. This youth is simply now living out the calling placed on him at his baptism: the fear of Jesus is the beginning of knowledge. To wit, do I hope my children never read John 1 because it is a proof text against paedobaptism? No. I hope they read it because it is a proof text for faith in Christ.

One Baptist refers to Eph.2 8,9 and says that grace must be freely given to be grace according to this: for by grace you have been saved, not by baptism….” Right here, he shows his hand and he gives the game away. The reformed, covenantal position is not that baptism saves and it never was. Baptism does not save apart from faith. Baptism is a means to an end whose end is either destruction or salvation. The whole debate is now defunct because a Baptist is arguing for a position untenable by covenantal standards. Were I arguing with him I would have to retort, “Hey, wait-a-minute. That’s not what I believe. Against whom did you think you were arguing?”

The Baptist is right to point out that Noah’s flood and the Exodus have nothing to do with baptism….per se. They do have to do with covenant theology, however. Baptism depends upon covenant theology, not the other way around. Paul says that all who went with Moses out of Egypt were “saved?” No. He says that they all were baptized in the cloud. Well, what does this mean. What ever it means, it is covenantal, not propositional soteriology.

Think about this conversation.

Father: Son, do you think you are saved?

Son: Yes.

Father: How do you know?

Son: Jesus is my priest, King-prophet and I have been baptized into his name.

Father: Does baptism save?

Son: Why are you asking me this question? Are you trying to trick me? This is a non-sequitor, Dad. Asking if baptism saves is like asking if praying saves (which it does) or if taking communion saves (which it does). Nothing we do saves us; only God saves and that by faith. Baptism is a means to an end and it was begun in me when I was an infant.

Father: So, what does it mean that you are baptized?

Son: Positively, it means that God has laid claim on me and that I am his and that I am allied to Jesus who is my priest, King-prophet. I have been buried with Christ and that I have put on Christ; it means that my sins are forgiven and that I have been circumcised with Christ. It means that I have been washed in regeneration by the Spirit. All of these things the Bible says are mine by baptism and I believe them to be true. Negatively, without faith, all of that is undone and instead of life I am consigned to death.

Baptists make much of the aspect of “faith” regarding intellect and awareness. That is, faith requires understanding a proposition and if there is little to no understanding, then, there is no basis for baptism. This begs the question. Is faith to be measured out by a certain level of intellect? Is faith merely cognizance? If so, is there a test for meeting this level? Of the following who is the proper subject of baptism? A three year old? A five year old? A nine year old? A 15 year old? A 23 year old? A forty year old? It must be conceded that all will have differing levels of maturity regarding what they are able to know and express. A 40 year old will certainly know more than a 3 year old. Does this preclude the three year old from baptism? If not, then what must the three year old “know”? Faith is much more robust than that. Faith is not merely intellectual but also relational. Faith is not merely trust and belief and knowledge; it is an allegiance, a relationship, a way of living. This allows for an infant to be allied to Christ in the same way a 40 year old is; both are called to “kiss the Son (faith), lest he be angry with you and you die in your way; blessed are all those who take refuge (faith) in him.

Reading the Bible again (for the first time)

Reading the Bible is not like reading another modern book; it is, rather, like reading a symphonic score written by a brilliant composer. The first chapter of Genesis begins the composition and lays the foundation for subsequent pieces wherein are layers upon layers of the same notes played again and again; and wherein sometimes the pieces are octaves higher or lower; or are developments or deconstructions of the initial, seminal piece. Genesis 1 is a model of seven or an heptamorous matrix. Chapters 2 and 3 follow and model their story-line after the first. Note the similarities below.

Note that chapter 2 presents Man as Light-ruler modeled after Day 4. This paradigm not only occurs in Chapter 2 but also reappears throughout the Bible where human rulers and nations are referred to celestially. So, whereas Chapter 2 develops and matures Chapter 1’s model, Chapter 3 is a deconstruction or a de-creation theme.

Day 1: God makes light

Gen. 2: The empty, formless earth is given a light, humanity, 2:4-7

Gen. 3: The eyes of Adam and Eve are opened, 3:7a; Matthew 6:22

Day 2: God makes the firmament chamber between heaven and earth

Gen. 2: God makes the Garden-sanctuary, 2:8

Gen. 3: Adam and Eve put a separation (clothing // firmament/expanse/veil) between them, 3:7b- 10; compare the layers of clothes between Yahweh and Israel at the Tabernacle

Day 3: God makes land, and trees and grain

Gen. 2: Trees grow out of the garden; centrality of the garden, 2:9-14

Gen. 3: God comes to the garden and accuses them of eating from the forbidden tree, 3:11

Day 4: God establishes heavenly lights to rule

Gen. 2: Adam established as ruler, 2:15

Gen. 3: Adam, and then Eve, renounces ruling authority, 3:12-13

Day 5: God creates swarms and sea monsters, commanding and blessing them

Gen. 2: God commands Adam regarding trees and threatens a curse, 2:16-17

Gen. 3: God curses the serpent, 3:14-15

Day 6: God creates animals and humanity, blessing them with (a) fruitfulness and (b) food from the soil

Gen. 2: God establishes community between men and animals, and between man and

woman,2:18-24

Gen. 3: God diminishes the blessing of (a) fruitfulness and (b) food from the soil, 3:16-19

Day 7: God enters His rest

Gen. 2-3: Adam and Eve are united, but fail to enter God’s rest, and make clothes for themselves

Gen. 3: Adam and Eve are reunited, and God makes clothes for them, 3:20-21. Then God

excludes them from His sabbath, 3:22-24.

 

Here is another diagram that lays out how chapter three is matched up on Day 7:

1. Garden formless, empty, given light-bearer (man), 2:4-7

“And YHWH God formed man”

Spirit hovered, made light // breathing into dust, make man

2. Garden-sanctuary, 2:8

“And YHWH God planted a garden”

3. Trees grow out of land, 2:9; centrality of land, 2:10-14

“And YHWH God caused to grow”

4. Man established as ruler, 2:15

“And YHWH God took the man and put him”

5. Commands, regarding trees, 2:16-17

“And YHWH God commanded the man”

6. Community, 2:18-24

“And YHWH God said”

7. Sabbath sin and judgment, 2:25-3:23

With this model we can see that Adam and Eve fell on the 7th day which when the Law is read shows why many atoning works are done in 7s. This is also the day Satan fell. His tempting of our first parents was his fall from heaven. Notice that #7 involves the Sabbath, Sin, and Judgement and that the paragraph of Chapter 3 begins with the last verse of Chapter 2. The word describing Adam and Eve’s nakedness and the “bronze one’s” being shrewd in Hebrew has the same root and is meant (in the Hebrew) as a foil for the subjects.

Now the man and his wife were both supple and were not ashamed and the bronze one was more subtle than any beast which Yahweh God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees of the garden’?”

First, the woman’s response: she doesn’t quote God directly. We have to read between the lines here because she was not present when the prohibition was given to Adam. How did she learn of it? From her man? We may presume this. So did Adam give her his “spin” on it? Did he “add” the directive not to touch? Did Eve do this herself in her response? We do not know. What we do know however is that when God gives his Levitical laws to Moses for the people, there is the prohibition not to even touch things that are either “holy” or “unholy.” As priests (which Adam and Eve are), they are merely applying the law of “do not taste, touch, or eat” and we should not fault them for this. Second, notice how the “serpent” reveals what he knows when he responds to Eve’s answer.

The serpent said to the woman, “Dying you will not die. For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”

We can see that the enemy both lies and tells the truth. While he denies what God said, he also illuminates what God intended. The enemy knew that God intended for Man to mature into a divine-like status (Psalm 8) and this is what this Arch-angel detested. Rather than performing his duties as a drill sergeant (the angels were old creation tutors, see Galatians and Hebrews), he lead the parents into depravity and corruption. If Man was to mature into divinity, this knowledge of good and evil was a privileged right as a judge. Notice how the text illuminates this for us.

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took…

Again, we must look to Genesis 1 for help. In the first chapter God is described as “seeing” and “saying.” He sees with his eyes and evaluates his work and then declares his assessment. Here, Eve “sees” but makes an immature, rash judgement and seizes what is not hers at the time. She is an anti-god. But the point to be made here is that the text reveals what this knowledge of good and evil is. The tree’s true purpose is to make one wise, though not in a magical sense; it was the reward for a patient obedience. This is what the phrase knowledge of good and evil means.

Now, wrestle with the presupposition of what it means to die. What did Adam understand God to mean when he warned, “Dying, you shall die”? The traditional understanding of this malediction is that this double negative (dying you shall die) heightens and emphasizes the event and so our translations say, You shall surely die. But what if something else is meant?

What if (and this is a tremulous if), in God’s economy there was to be a future dying of man (apart from sin) which would be answered by a future resurrection (apart from sin); and that should Adam violate God’s command, Adam’s disobedience would negate that death? What this would mean is this. Instead of our translations reading, You shall most certainly die, it would mean, 1) In the day that you eat of it, dying, you will die or 2) In the day that you eat of it, your[future] dying will be unto death without resurrection. A quick retort might say, “Yes, but that is not what the text says. If that is what was meant, why didn’t God just say that?” This is a fair question but one not without a possible answer. The plausible answer is that the theology of the Old Testament shows that death and dying and resurrection (see Gen.. 2.21) in and of itself only has a negative result when sin is involved. All of Paul’s words in Romans about sin and death entering into the world by one man still stand. But think of what Paul says in I Corinthians 15. He says that the sting of death in sin. The sting of death is sin. This is commonly interpreted to mean, The sting of sin is death (or to speak Romans 6.23-ly, “The wages of sin is death without resurrection”). But this reverses what Paul says.

Paul does not say here as he does in Romans that the wages sin is death (with no resurrection to life). That is still true in this paradigm. What Paul says here is that death under Adam has a sting to it and this is what God meant in the garden. The sting that death has in Adam is no resurrection unto life; otherwise, without sin, death would have no sting but there would still be death.

Again, “On baptism 2”

Jesus’ great commission to his disciples for world wide conquest of the good news is ground breaking and establishes the means for such a conquest. First, it is ground breaking in that the sign of the covenant is applied to all the nations, not just Israel. Therefore, all are ordained to priestly service (or are “disciple-ized”) in the kingdom of God for the life of the world. Second, it establishes how this ordination takes place which is primarily baptism and teaching all that Jesus commanded naturally follows baptism; however, it is not the teaching wherein a disciple is made but the baptism. Without baptism there is no disciple. Baptism makes disciples and contextualizes the teaching.

Baptists want to contextualize this teaching immendiately following one’s being made a disciple and argues that this precludes paedobaptism precisely because infants cannot immediately learn or have “visible” faith. But this is too constricted an idea of discipleship. Paedobaptism presupposes faith and treats the baptized infant as a latent disciple who will receive proper tutelage in its time. In fact, practically speaking, the only thing that separates the Baptist from the Presbyterian is the absence of the sign. Both will discipline or evangelize the child of professing believers to believe in Christ. Both will teach and train in the disciplines of prayer, confession, repentance, and corporate worship. That is the irony: Baptists are truly closet-presbyterians.

I disagree with the Baptist estimation of the supremacy of the New Covenant. I affirm the exact opposite in that it is in every way of the same quality and it is precisely different quantitatively. The superiority of the New Covenant to the old can be likened to that of a cheque and gold. In the Old Covenant were written many checks and in the New those checks are cashed. Everything a believer had in the old covenant a believer has in the new but better because the check has been cashed so-to-speak.

The contrast between the Old and the New is not in not-having and having. That is, it is not that in the Old they did not have but in the New they do have. This is a possible interpretation of the Jeremian quote in Hebrews but it is not the only one. Here are the possible erroneous interpretations of what is better about the New Covenant:

  1. cannot be broken
  2. spiritual realities
    1. law into minds
    2. written on hearts
    3. God will be their God
    4. They will be his people
  3. Everyone will know the Lord
  4. God will be merciful to their iniquities
  5. God will not remember their sins

It is my contention that these are not new realities which did not exist in the Old Covenant. Here are a few of only numerous available proof texts:

a. Leviticus 4. 20 So the priest shall make a covering for them, and they will be forgiven.

b. Psalm 40.8: 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.

c. Deut. 4. 35, 39: “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 39 “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.

d. Psalm 85.2 You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.

Again, quotes like these can be multiplied so the issue really is not whether these realities were experienced by OT believers but the issue is that which upon the realities were based. This then leads into my greatest disagreement with the interpretation that says the new covenant cannot be broken. But first, the author of Hebrews is not distinguishing between one covenant and another in this statement, they did not continue in my covenant but rather he is simply recounting what happened in the past. And what happened? They did not continue in God’s covenant. This is not a point of contrast between the two eras however as it is within the nature of “covenant” that it can be violated. This begs the question as to what is meant by broken.

Breaking the covenant from a human standpoint means that the covenant has been violated and that the curses of the covenant are enacted. Within the nature of the covenant lies the possibility of apostasy which is the greatest form of disobedience. Conversely, not every sin is a breaking of the covenant. In truth the greatest form of disobedience leading to apostasy is what the Bible calls disbelief. Ironically, Jamin’s desire to use the New Covenant’s nature as a proof text for its surety is found within the same book where the author has spent numerous chapters warning against this precise sin. Jamin very often says, The author assumes thus and such. The author of Hebrews assumes that the nature of the covenant has not changed and says to Christians in the New Covenant, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” That’s a direct quote. Contrary to New Covenant theology, even Christians can break the covenant and so, the covenant is made up of both elect and non-elect in the New Covenant.

If this is true; if it is true that the covenant is made up of believers who will persevere and those who might not, then it is my contention that infants not only are able to be covenant members but are made so, not by natural birth, but by the washing of regeneration which is being born from above by the Spirit and water, not by the will of man, but born of God. The reason this is so, is because baptism does not guarantee salvation but places the believer within the sphere of the covenant where she is called to persevere by faith.

On baptism

The great debate about the proper subjects of baptism is hampered by the sin of talking passed one another. One side (hence, the Baptist) says one thing and the other (hence, the Presbyterian) another and neither side is listening. Well, except for me (!). I am listening and what I hear is a lot of arguments against straw men. All of the ins-and-outs of this or that errant teaching on baptism are irrelevant. Don’t bring them up. Don’t bring up Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other faction with which one might disagree. As a reformed Christian who believes the proper subjects of baptism are infants and those more mature, the arguments against Rome and the East won’t do here. Their arguments for baptism are not mine.

Here is the fundamental issue: the nature of the covenant. What one believes about the nature of the covenant is what is at stake. It is an issue of hermeneutics, interpretation, and application of the two. For instance, how does one interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew about his parousia? Jesus does not simply come to the issue for the first time in chapters 23-25. He has been addressing his audience on his parousia from the beginning. When Jesus talks about the sun, moon, and stars in upheaval, to what is he referring? This is an issue of hermeneutics and there is only one right answer.

After hearing my presentation of my hermeneutics on the passage above another might simply disagree with my methodology and that is the same with the baptism issue. It is an issue of definition and terms. History is a helpful guide but she is not the master. What the second or third century generation did and practised is basically irrelevant to the discussion for both parties. Both sides of the debate have quotable authorities from the early church. What of it? Much of what is used in the debate is actually an argument from silence on both sides, so let’s not do that.

Let us argue from the scriptures and by that I do not mean let’s look at the NT and note where it mandates baptizing infants. Don’t even go there. Don’t bring it up. I already concede it’s not there. What is there? Silence. There is silence for both parties. For the Baptist, there is a silence as a mandate for the baptism of infants. For the Presbyterian there is a silence for change in protocol from the application of the covenant sign to infants (that is, the NT does not change what the OT establishes). Both must argue, then, from better cornerstones.

Sidebar: Here I will address a red herring which is often used in arguing for the Baptist position. One of the principles of the Baptist position is to argue for the mode of immersion in baptism. Many Baptists argue that immersion is the biblically mandated mode for believer baptism. When a person is baptized the proper way to perform the rite is immersion. His reasoning is based upon the language of many NT texts which say that both the one baptized and the one performing it “went down into the water.” The conclusion drawn is this. The preposition into denotes the use of more water than merely sprinkling or pouring.

Not denying this, the Presbyterian will answer that into doesn’t have to imply that more water is used than would fit into one’s hand or hands. Yes, both went down into the water but the water was merely applied to the new convert and that not in excess.

Both parties of the debate can argue for their position based upon the language of the text and so, if both arguments can be validated, they negate each other and ought not be used too particularly. On the one hand, the Baptist argument is valid because in the Greek, baptize can denote full immersion. On the other hand, the Presbyterian will argue that this same word can also denote a thing simply being washed and not immersed. Both are true and so neither ought solely to be rested upon.

End of the sidebar.

First, in the arsenal of the Baptist there is an silence of mandatory infant baptism in the New Testament. Much of his hermeneutic is summed up thus: whatever from the Old Testament is repeated in the New is to be observed. So for instance, in the case of the sign of baptism, there is no evidence of its being applied to infants in any of the New Testament writings. Therefore, in this system applying the waters of baptism to infants is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

This however, does not threaten to undo the Presbyterian. In fact, he rejects this hermeneutic per se. From his perspective this way of interpreting the Bible is only one side of the coin. That is, suppose someone were to say, “Well, the New Testament doesn’t repeat the prohibition not to copulate with animals, therefore, it is now allowed.” “No.” the Presbyterian would say, “Even though the NT does not repeat this prohibition, it is still in effect.” Therefore, this principle in theory is rejected. The other side of the coin is this. In principle, whatever the Old Testament establishes is still in effect if it is not prohibited. Therefore, since the principle of applying the covenant sign to infants is not rescinded, it is still in effect.

Here is where the impasse appears. Does either side of the debate agree to or at least understand these principles? If the Presbyterian rejects this argument, the Baptist must go elsewhere. If the Baptist rejects the Presbyterian argument, then the application is the same and so the argument must be based upon other grounds.

So where does one begin? One begins at the beginning.

Why do most Baptists reject paedobaptism? I shall offer only two examples as far as I can tell. One is hermeneutics. In this area the Baptist looks at the NT and reads of men and women (primarily in Acts) converting and receiving baptism. The only record in the NT of the recipients of baptism are those who are able to respond to the message of the Apostles. For the Baptist, then, this is fundamental to his interpretation and application of what he reads. He then surmises that only those who respond in faith receive baptism. In my opinion, this is really the only place for the Baptist to hang his hat.

The other reasons for a Baptist to reject paedobaptism becomes personal, existential, and emotional. That is, the Baptist rejects this position solely because he is reacting emotionally to what he believes is an errant view of baptism. For instance, many Baptists will argue that history shows that many Christians have taught that the waters of baptism automatically and actually remove sin and in effect “save” the recipient; based on this fact, the Baptist will reject this view of baptism. Another reason to reject infant baptism as a Baptist is the historical view that baptism “regenerates” a person or is the cause of making a person spiritually alive from the death of sin. Lastly, the Baptist rejects infant baptism because the infant is not able to decide for himself that he would like to be baptized. The child is baptized, so-to-speak, against his will and this appears to many as tyrannical and despotic and the NT example is that of men and women deciding for themselves.

All of these examples though are personal in essence. That is, the Baptist will reject the idea because it doesn’t fit into his view of what sin, salvation, faith, and people are and not upon the Bible’s view of the nature of the covenant.

A similar point can be made regarding Christians who reject the sovereignty of God in salvation. Some believe man is solely responsible for his conversion to Christ and any thought that God alone chooses whom he will or will not save is personally abhorrent to that person. What is the issue here? Is it the Bible? Not primarily. It is one’s personal views on who God is, what he does, and who man is and what he is capable to doing. The Calvinist will point to his interpretation of certain passages and the Arminian will reject that interpretation based upon his existential reaction to the information. He simply does not like this view of God and man. He is a hopeful optimist and the Calvinist position is too pessimistic. His view is not based upon what the Bible says, but upon his own personal feelings. This is the same with the Baptist view of baptism.

The only approach saving the Baptist from losing the argument is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the argument based upon the demonstration of baptism in the New Testament. On the other, is the Baptist’s argument that the nature of the New Covenant is different than that of the Old Covenant. So, finally, all of this debate depends upon the nature of the covenant to which we now turn.

**In the symbolic world of the Bible’s language much of what is said is covenantally analogical. That is, something is said or done as if it were actually true because the action is taking place within the sphere of the covenant. In the case of baptism, one reads in Acts,

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is to be understood from this passage? Regarding baptism, there are two things one learns. First, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Second, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the passage says. Think about this. Were a new Christian to read this passage on his own without knowing anything about church history, what would he conclude? Would he have any presuppositions preventing his taking this passage at face value? Most likely not. Most likely he would read this passage and begin to speak like the Bible speaks.

However, to speak this way about the efficacy of baptism puts many people ill-at-ease. Within the covenant, though, speaking this way is fundamental. In order for a person to have a right relationship with God, his sins must be dealt with. The guilt and death that belongs to a person still in Adam must be removed before entrance into the covenant is effected. This is just one aspect of the symbolism of the rite of circumcision. Access to God’s presence in the OT was mediated by the presence of the tabernacle and in order to be close to God’s presence, sin had to be removed (or covered as the Bible speaks). Symbolically, then, circumcision did this. Not to be circumcised (only for the priestly nation of Israel since Gentiles were saved with a “circumcision made without hands”) was still to be in Adam symbolically and therefore in death and sin. To be circumcised was to be cleansed symbolically from death and sin on the eighth day. For seven days, the son was dead in trespasses and sins, but on the eighth, new day, he was made alive by God.1

Interestingly, the same result is given to the mother in an analogous rite. The circumcision of the male child lessened the time of uncleanness for the mother. When she had a daughter and there was no circumcision ritual, her days of purification were doubled. The doubling of the days of purification, then, seems to function as a symbolic circumcision. For the male, there was actual physical circumcision while for the female the rite was communicated through a different rite. All of this is symbolic covenantal language. The point to be made here is the rituals were symbolic ways of conveying God’s holiness. To have access to God, one’s defilement needed to be covered.

Think back to the Abrahamic covenant. Were we to use today’s vernacular to communicate this story we might say this:

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be [baptized]. “And you shall be baptised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be baptised throughout your generations, who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants, who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be baptised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an un-baptised male who is not baptised in the flesh…that person [will be hated by me]; he has broken My covenant.”

The practical application of this is the Baptist will not be able to behave as he would like. He would like to behave by teaching his child that God loves him and that Jesus died for him and to pray and sing to God. But in the Baptist’s theology, he cannot. He must needs bring the child through the rigors of conversion before anything positively can be done toward God by the child. Here is the irony. One would expect the Baptist to behave baptistically. He doesn’t. He can’t. Instead he behaves presbyterianly. He treats his child the same way as the one against whom he is arguing. He is in fact, discipling a child in the way he should go.

This is not mean to sound over simplified and as if a straw man is being constructed to destroy. Is there anyone in the history of Baptist theology who lived consistently with his belief about baptism? If he did, he would discourage his child from praying, singing, or confessing with the family before there is evidence of a true conversion. How can God listen to a sinner who is still in his sins? Isn’t that the point of conversion?

One argument made by Baptists is that faith is the only thing that saves. Without faith there is no salvation. God will not save without faith. If a person dies without faith in Christ, he dies as an enemy and still in his sins. Unless, of course, one is talking about infants. Baptists believe infants are not damned to hell for at least two reasons. One, infants have no original sin. If this is true, then, when an infant dies, there is no sin for which to atone and so God welcomes all infants into glory regardless of the covenant. Second, infants are born sinners but God is merciful and kind and loves his image in them and so based upon his goodness to them, saves them in spite of their sin and, indeed, despite the fact that they have no faith.

The irony in both of these instances is that to some degree, the Baptist believes what the Presbyterian believes; the Baptist presupposes what the Presbyterian does and he doesn’t even know it. The only difference is he doesn’t baptize the infant. The Baptist position is that the New Covenant is only made up of those who truly profess the faith because for him, to be “in covenant” with God is to be truly saved. The question becomes, are infants (regardless of being born to believing parents) in covenant with God? The Baptist will say, No. Pagan child or Christian, the infant cannot be in covenant with God without faith. And yet, he will grant a position in the covenant and salvation to infants who die before being able to even hear the Gospel based upon his view of God’s mercy. The presupposition is that God saves the child without requiring him to exhibit faith.

As the premise of this essay shows, it is the nature of the covenant that answers all of these difficult questions. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are in covenant with God through baptism but that being in covenant with God is not automatically salvific. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are Christians through their baptism but being a Christian is not automatically salvific.

Baptism is a sign of being in the covenant wherein there are stipulations for the covenant member. Baptism is a sign of ordination and obligation to serve God faithfully under the threat of death. For the infant who lives out the positive implications of his baptism he is saved not by baptism in and of itself but with his baptism and by faith. For the infant who lives a life of faithlessness contrary to his baptism and dies in unbelief, he baptism will stand against him as witness to his violation of the covenant and his baptism will not save him without faith.

Baptism is a symbolic teaching tool the believer is given to use for his edification and discipline. Peter says in his epistle that baptism is an answer to God for a clean conscience. The Baptist argues that an infant cannot appeal to God for a clean conscience. But Peter does not intend to define baptism so narrowly. Peter’s words are meant to bring assurance to those who being baptized use that baptism as an appeal to God for a clean conscience. Paul’s appeal to the Roman soldier based upon his being born a Roman citizen is an apt analogy. Paul was born into his citizenship and did not understand its import until he was strung up to be beaten without trial. What does he do? He appeals to the governing authority for his deliverance. He says, I am a Roman citizen by birth, therefore, grant me parlay. It is the same with baptism. The mature Christian uses what was given to him as an infant to appeal to God for an audience. Baptism then (contrary to Baptist thought) does provide assurance and that for the infant it is a latent privilege to be used all throughout one’s life.

Baptism does not have to be understood the moment it is applied in order for it to perform its role. In a real sense, baptism is for the parents. Think about it this way. God says to the parents, this is your physical child and I have given him to you for safe guarding and training in the faith. In this rite of baptism, I am claiming your child as my own and ordaining him for service into my kingdom. Your child was dead in sin and trespasses but now he is born from above to walk in newness of life. He is your responsibility. You must instruct him in the way he should go that he might not depart from it. In this sign, I am making all things new. His being in Adam is over and his being in Christ is begun.

The Baptist argues from a false premise from the opposing view that baptism binds God’s hands to act simply because the water is applied. The question for Baptists becomes, does God save everyone who cries out to him for salvation? Is everyone saved who has ever prayed the sinners prayer? Baptist theology is in the same bind here. In both cases, it can be said that God is bound to save anyone who prays for salvation but the fact is, not every one who has done this perseveres in the faith. Saying the sinner’s prayer is no more magical than is baptism. So, he cannot reject the paedopabtist position based on this argument since he must use the same structure for his position.

1 And I will say this. Baptism as much as circumcision is God’s action. He commanded it and so, he determines its meaning. If God says a certain thing is to be done and when it is done it is a “done deal,” there should be no quibble. Circumcision’s symbolism was priestly. There were four “horns” which were “circumcised” for priestly service: the right thumb, the right toe, the right ear, and the penis. Circumcision was a maledictory oath meaning this. For the right ear, having it “pierced” open to hear God’s command one could either listen or not. Positively, the piercing meant the priest would listen to God; negatively, it meant were he not to submit to God’s law, his ear would be severed off by God in judgement. The same symbolism stands for all the other “horns.”

What are words for?

What are words for?

Beginning Greek

Berea fancied himself a budding Bible student. He enjoyed listening to the technicalities of a deep expository sermon. He shared his hopes with his grandfather who, being an avid puzzle builder and Sudoku solver, asked him what he would need to begin this venture.

“Well, I would need a Greek New Testament and grammar book, a notebook and some flash cards for vocabulary words.”

“When you find what you need, just let me know and I will take care of the purchases.”

Berea recalled that he had come across a Greek New Testament in a used book store in town one day whilst perusing for Calvin and Hobbes tomes. Having returned to ensure it remained unsold, he told his grandfather who made good on his word and procured the United Bible Societies text with dictionary. Berea liked this one much more than the one he saw his pastor use whose book only had a paper binding. This one was had a plastic cover which gave him more a sense of nostalgia.

So, where to begin? He first memorized the Greek alphabet and to his amazement he learned that the English word alphabet was a contraction of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta. Word origins tickled his fancy, too. He was always curios about from where idioms and colloquialisms originated. As sometimes was the case when studying other subjects, Berea made himself a mnemonic diddy he thought quite clever:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta; say that again and I’m gonna belt ya!

Epsilon, zeta, eta, theta; wouldn’t wanna meet Darth Veta!

Iota, kappa, lamda, mu; now you can sing along too!

Nu, xi, omicron, pi; you’re the apple of my eye!

Rho, sigma, tau, upsilon; I don’t know what rhymes with upsilon!

Phi, xi, psi, omega; learn this song and you’ll never be a begga!

Berea often visited one of his church’s members in the local nursing home about his endeavors. On his most recent visit Granny Smith told him of her interest in angels since she was a child and he told her he would make that his first word-study. It seemed to fall nicely in line with his etymological leanings as well. He soon discovered a new word for himself: transliteration. Angel it turns out is not an English word for the Greek aggelos, but simply an adapted phonetic spelling of the Greek into English. The double “gg” in Greek contract to form the sound “ng” rendering ἄγγελος (ahn-ge-loss) into “angel” (eighn-jel). Berea knew his Granny Smith would find this very interesting. (Which she did.)

You say angels, I say messengers

What Berea also found interesting was the conflict of interest he felt was at stake. Transliterating a word from Greek to English only seemed to add one more step to the process of exegesis.

“God bless you.”

“Huh? No, Granny, exegesis is the discipline of establishing what the Bible means by what it says.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, what the Bible says and what the Bible means by what it says are not the same thing.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Sure. While I was studying the word ἄγγελος I looked up a number of verses that contained the word. Remember I told you that the word’s precise meaning is messenger? Well, that is the translation from Greek to English of the word; so, the English word for ἄγγελος is messenger. So, every time the Greek word ἄγγελος is translated, it ought to read messenger. For instance, Mark 1 quotes from the prophet Malachi where the expectation of a new messenger from God originates. When the Greek translates the Hebrew word messenger it uses ἄγγελος.

“That seems pretty straight-forward.”

“Sometimes, yes. But remember I also told you that in places where ἄγγελος is translated angel it is because the messenger is believed to be an actual “angel.” So, we’ve now moved from simple translation to interpretation.

“I don’t get it.”

“Ok. Think about Mary and Joseph’s finding out about Mary’s pregnancy. Who came to them and announced what God was doing?”
“Gabriel the angel.”

“Yes and no. Strictly speaking it was Gabriel the messenger. Instead of translating the Greek and allowing the reader to determine what kind of messenger Gabriel was, the translators interpreted for us what they think the Bible meant by ἄγγελος. Interpreting the Bible means the reader is supposed to determine what the Bible means by messenger, whether it is human or heavenly. In this passage the issue is not very dire. But the effect is that whenever one reads angel he doesn’t readily think of a human messenger, but a spirit being with wings and a halo.”

“So, is there a place where this translation has more weight to it?”
“Yes. There is a section of scripture where I think it is a mistake to translate ἄγγελος

as angel rather than messenger. In the first chapter of Revelation, we read

In his right hand he held seven stars….He placed his right hand on me and said, …the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…

So, what do you think angels means here?”

“Well, like you said. When I hear the word angel I think of a spirit being.”

“Yes, and unfortunately, I think this is not the meaning of the passage. That’s where I get my turn-of-phrase all translation is interpretation. Instead of translating the word for us and allowing us to determine its meaning, the translators overstep their bounds and with their transliteration interpret for us what they think the word refers to. So, we end up talking about what it means for a church to have its own angel. We end up wondering, further, whether or not this is what it means for present-day churches as well.”

“So what you are saying is that in English from the Greek, the sentence ought to read the seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches? And that from there the reader is supposed to determine who the messengers are?”

“Right. So if our translations read messengers, of whom might you think?”

“Well, if there is a messenger of a church, I guess I would think it would be the one who speaks to the church.”

“Ok. So, you can see that the word can refer either to a human messenger or an “angelic” one and the context ought to lead the reader in the right direction. In this case, what I would like to see it this. ἄγγελος means messenger; that’s not it’s nuance or connotation, that is what it means. I’d like to see a translation where we read much of what the Bible itself says, with the reader being influenced by the context alone and regarding this word; messenger should be the translation in every place.

“And so we are back where we started when you said there is a difference between what the Bible says and what it means by what it says. You are saying that the way translations go, I have been programmed to interpret a passage not by the scriptures alone, but with a little help from my friends.

“Right. I am of the mind that much of what we believe the Bible to mean has been influenced by the translations we use. Now, that’s not to say that our translations are wrong; taking one language into another is a challenge and so there has to be a bit of nuance when choosing this way of speaking over that. I just happen to think that the reader is robbed of spiritual, mental, and biblical exercise when he is told what a passage means by the translation. And sometimes, I think the choice of translating a word or phrase a certain way can be entirely wrong.”

“Like “the angels of the churches?”

“Yes. I think it was a poor choice to transliterate the Greek there. But hold on, I just had an epiphone.”

“Gesundheit!”

“Thanks. No, really. I just thought of another word that I have come across that has given me pause to think. Am I boring you with this? We can stop if you’d like.”

“No. I don’t mind. In fact, I am interested in your next revelation.”

What in the world?

“Funny you should say that. I am fully convinced that translation is important; so much so, that I would say the authors of scripture chose their words intentionally and with great care. What I think this entails is the reality that if an author of scripture could say something one way and he chooses to say it another, then there is a reason for that choice and we need to understand it. So, my next word study involved the word world.

“Oh, I remember Pastor Meyers talking about that word once. He said the Greek word for world is where we get our word for cosmetics. I always found that interesting.”

“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh? And do you remember what the Greek word was?”

“I believe he said it was kos…something or other. He also said its where we get our word cosmic.

“That’s right. The Greek word is κόσμος and it basically means “harmonious arrangement” but its nuance can refer to the inhabitants of the world. So, what do you think of when you hear or come across that word in the Bible? Like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”

“Oh, that’s one of my favorites. Reminds me that God’s salvation is bigger than just me; that God loves everyone.”

“Well, we can discuss that one later, but notice how you are interpreting the word world. How did you interpret it? Did you interpret it literally? As in God loves the physical orb upon which we live? Because if we do that, then all it means is that God loves the ground, water, and molten magma at the earth’s core.”

“Oh! So you want me to see that the Bible says world, but what does that mean?”

“Exactly. So does world mean this physical orb or does it mean the “people” on it? And does that meaning carry over into every other time it is used?”

“Can you think of another place where the Bible uses the word world but does not mean any of the above?”

“I can. Does this sound familiar to you? Do not love the world nor the things of the world?

“Yes, that’s in I John.”

“Right. So let’s put our thinking caps on and ask What do most people think this passage means by world?”

“Well, if I am most people, I have always been taught that it means just, the world, the things of the world that are against God’s ways. Like it says in the next verse, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world which is passing away…”

“Well, look who knows so much!”

“So are you going to tell me that world does not mean world there?”

“Yes. I could be wrong but I believe that to be consistent with the whole New Testament’s message, world in that context (and even in John 1) means the apostate nation of Israel.”

“What do you mean by John 1?”

“In John 1 we read this:

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God; he was in the beginning with God and nothing came into being that has been… He was in the world and though the world was made through him it did not know him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him.

So, to make a long story short: there is a parallel idea here between world and “his own” so that they are the same reference. You might switch them up if you like: he was among his own and though he made his own they did not know him. He came to the world and the world did not receive him.

“Wow. That totally changes the meaning of the word! Which rocks my world! Ha! Get it?”

“Please don’t do that again, Granny. It’s weird. But yeah. So, here’s a bit more of my point. I believe the whole New Testament is about the end of the Old Covenant with Israel and the beginning of the New Covenant with the church (which is actually another word study I looked into). So, going back to I John, if the world is the apostate world of Judaism, that is the conflict about which John is writing. Most if not all the NT authors are arguing against Judaism and turning to Christianity and that is what John is talking about.”

But that’s only ½ of what I wanted to show you.”

“Oh? What’s the other half?”

“The word world that we looked at is what cosmos means and so I have no quibbles with that translation. But there is another Greek word that is translated world in certain places that ends up making interpretation confusing.”

“You said, ‘In certain places.’ “

“Yes. The word I am talking about is οἰκουμένη and it means “inhabited land.” When Jesus was born, in order to tax his empire, Caesar Augustus took a census of the οἰκουμένη and in my Bible it doesn’t say “world” it says inhabited earth. But in many other places it is translated world. I find this irresponsible and inexplicably unconscionable on the part of the translators because they are imposing their interpretation of the word and not simply translating it. I mean, why do that in Luke 4 but not in Matthew 24? I believe they do not do so because of their commitment to a theological system that has predisposed them to reading the Bible a certain way.”

“And you think I have been taught to read the Bible with the same view point because of how my pastor has taught me?”

“Well, in a way, yes I do.”

“Hmmmm. I am inclined to be persuaded by your argument and I’d like to hear more.”

All translation is interpretation

“Before we do that Granny Smith, let me restate a bit of my point. What I would like to see is this. Translations need to do less interpretation of texts and more straight translation. They need to expose the reader to what the words are, not what they are for. That is our job. They should give us a sentence (the what) without giving us the why (the meaning). Nuance and connotation are a part of interpretation rather than strictly translation. So, I say, give me the word and let me interpret its meaning.”

“So, what is our next stop, Captain Kirk of the Scripture Trekkies?”

“Hmmmmmm. Well, there is a word that I have come across that is not consistently translated in my opinion and the significance of this word is very great. Let me start by saying that in every concordance and lexicon I have consulted—even the dictionary in my Greek NT—the very first definition of the word is the same, but in every translation of the word, the nuance has been given to the reader and in many places it is not consistent. What this means is this. If I were a budding Bible student studying the Greek, I would be led by all the major study helps to conclude that the first meaning of the word is what the word itself means.

“The word in Greek is μέλλω and it is a verb. As far as I can tell its primary meaning is to be about to do something or by implication to intend to do something. So, if I am to stick by my guns and say that the responsibility of the translator is to give the meaning of the word and not its nuanced interpretation, then every time this word occurs…”

“It has to be about to.

“Right.”

“Ok, so? What’s the problem?”

“If I am right, everything we thought we knew about the New Testament is about to change. But let me ask you to assist me here. Let me show you demonstrably what I have found and you tell me what you think. To begin with, let’s say that I only have my UBS text and the Editrice Pontinfico Inistituto Biblico…

“Gesundheit!”

“Oh, you’re funny. So here we go! First is the UBS dictionary:

  1. Pg. 113 of the dictionary under the word μέλλω (following an infinitive)is

      1. Be going to

      2. Be about to

      3. Intend to

      4. Must

      5. Be destined

  2. Second, from the EPIB under List of words occurring more than 60 times in the NewTestament, pg xxxii, μέλλω with an infinitive

      1. Be about to

      2. Be destined to

      3. Intend to remain

      4. stay

Now, since I do not have access to anything else, I do some work on the web and find these lexical helps. First is

  1. Thayer

      1. Be about

      2. On the point of suffering

      3. To intend or have in mind

  2. Strong

to intend to, that is, be about to be, do, or suffer something (of persons or things, especially events; in the sense of purpose, duty, necessity, probability, possibility, or hesitation): – about, after that, be (almost), (that which is, things, + which was for) to come, intend, was to (be), mean, mind, be at the point, (be) ready, + return, shall (begin), (which, that) should (after, afterward, hereafter) tarry, which was for, will, would, be yet.

  1. Louw-Nida

(http://www.laparola.net/greco/parola.php?p=%CE%BC%E1%BD%B3%CE%BB%CE%BB%CF%89)

be about to

Free your mind

“So, what do you think?”

“Well, based on what you’ve said heretofore, I’d say you would want to hear this. A word has one primary meaning and it is that meaning which the translation ought to convey. Once we know what the word means however, we need to interpret it within the context of the passage. So, for instance: what does world in John 3:16 mean? What does inhabited earth in Luke 4:5 mean? Right?”

“So far, so good. What I would add is this. A word’s meaning is not necessarily also its nuance or denotation, or to say it another way, interpreting the intended nuance of the author’s intention is not necessarily synonymous with the word’s meaning.

“Ok. So, what’s so special about this word? You said everything would change. I am dying to know what would change.”

“Ok. Let me begin by asking you what you believe the Bible teaches about when Jesus will return.”

“Well, I’ve always been taught that Jesus could come back at any time and that when he does, all of the prophecies about the last judgement and the tribulation and the end of the world will be fulfilled. Does that sound right?”

“It doesn’t have to sound right; I just want to know what you believe about it all.”
“Well, I guess that’s what I believe.”

“Are you ready for this? I used to believe what you just described…”

“Used to? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is I no longer believe Jesus will return at any moment, but that his future return is perhaps 1000s of years in the future. What I mean is I no longer believe that the tribulation is future. What I mean is I no longer believe that what Jesus described as the sun, moon, and stars coming undone has anything whatsoever to do with our future. It has already happened.”

“So, you believe the resurrection has already happened and that Jesus is not coming back?”

“In a way, yes; and, in a way no. Now, I do not have all the answers to this new way of seeing things, but what I do have is just about as wild as if the Matrix were real. Everything is about to change. Freeing your mind from the misguided way of seeing the Bible will take some time and you will very often feel like Neo retching from the stress of understanding that what he thought was real is not.

“Now, most people are hesitant to go where I am going to show you, but I think it’s the right way. Let me now show you a bit more by putting together what we have seen above for you.”

Choosing the red pill or the blue

“The verb μέλλω means “about to” and within the New Testament it is linked with a coming judgement that many people think refers to something that is still future and sometimes that combination also happens with the Greek noun οἰκουμένη. Let me say it this way by quoting from what Luke records in the Acts. When Paul was preaching to the Athenians in the areopagus he said something profound. Let me quote from the New American Standard and then my translation.

“First, because he has fixed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.

Now mine, because he has fixed a day in which he is about to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead. What is the difference between the two translations?”

“Well, the first one seems to imply what I believe will happen at the end of time and the second one, yours, seems to imply that the judgement is sooner, but I’m not sure what to understand by inhabited earth because it could still mean the whole world. But that’s not what you believe?”

“No, that’s not what I believe and it would take a really long time to show you why that is, but let me just say this. I believe οἰκουμένη is best understood within the first century’s context and that it ought to be interpreted as empire or that inhabited earth is meant to be understood that way because of its use in Luke 4 when Caesar Augustus taxed his οἰκουμένη. Remember, Luke could have used cosmos, but he didn’t. He chose a different word for a reason.”

“But what does it mean that God is about to judge the οἰκουμένη?”

“Remember that I said that it would take a long time to explain that? Let me say that the Old Testament is full of passages wherein God judges all the nations based upon their relationship to Israel—how they treated God’s people. The term οἰκουμένη has to be interpreted theologically and theologically this term refers to the system of government established by God during the exile. It is in the book of Daniel where God introduces a new world to his people—a world wherein they are under the rule of the nations. But it is a world wherein God’s people are housed much like they were when the temple was intact.”

“I am not following you.”

“Ok. Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue?”

“Yes. Each portion of the statue referred to a different period of time when other nations would be in power, right?”

“Right. But how do you interpret what the Bible says about the parts of the statue? What does each element mean?”

“Hmmmmm. You are really trying my retention of the sermons I have heard about this, but from what I can recall I think that each element represents the quality of each government. One was gold; another was silver; another bronze and the other terracotta. I was always told that each was different because each is of a different value, so it moves from the best to the least. Am I right?”

“Yes. I was taught that as well.”

“But you don’t believe that anymore?”

“No. It seems best to me to be as theologically consistent as possible, so that the Bible uses symbols consistently leading the reader to understand one passage based on another.”

“Ok. I follow you.”

“So, can you think of anywhere in the Bible where we read about gold, silver, and bronze?

“Well, the only place I can recall that combination is in the tabernacle and temple.”

“Exactamundo! That is exactly where I think we ought to go when interpreting this dream. So, what now?”

“I’m not sure. Can’t you just say what you think and I’ll go from there?”

“Sure. The tabernacle was God’s presence with his people. It was proof that God dwelt in the midst of his people. The statue was made up of the same materials and each material represented a different kingdom in the future. God was telling his people that the new tabernacle would be the ruling nations. God would still be with his people even though they were out of the land and his presence would be with them even though they were under the control of Gentile nations. See, most people think that Rome was the enemy of Israel in the New Testament.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“No. Rome wasn ‘t the enemy. Israel was her own worst enemy because she was bucking the system that God established back in Daniel. And Jeremiah rebuked the leaders of Israel warning them to pray for the peace of the nation which ruled over them. He didn’t want them to rebel against Rome. Think about this. Whom did Rome persecute in the Acts?”

“Well, I want to say the church, but I can guess you would say no.”

“Right. Consistently in Acts we see Rome punishing the Jews who rejected Paul’s message. You see, God set up a newer version of the Abrahamic covenant in the exile. The Gospel message in the exile was: those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse. There were consecutive emperors who blessed Israel and there were some who cursed them. I believe Nebuchadnezzar, Darius (who was Esther’s husband, Ahasuerus, the Great King), and Cyrus were converted Gentiles. As long as the ruling empire favoured God’s people, all was well. When the new covenant comes along, so does a new people.”

“So, you don’t believe the Jews are God’s people any longer?”

“No, I don’t. And neither does the Bible.”

“But what about what Paul says when he says that someday the Jews will become jealous to the point of turning to the gospel?”

“I believe that already happened. When Paul wrote that he was still in the infant stage of the church and through his ministry he was looking to make the Jews jealous now to seek God through Jesus alone. Today’s Jews are nowhere near what the Jews were in the decades following Jesus and they are not jealous of us as they were in the beginning of the church. In fact, there is no longer Jew or Gentile. The new man is christian. There is too much at stake not to say this. To assert that the Jews will one day again be the people of God is to deny Christ himself. To assert that someday in the future the Jews will once again be God’s people is to completely deny the whole New Testament. Just read (at least) Hebrews, Galatians, and Revelation.”

“But isn’t Revelation about the end of the world?”

“It is, but not the end of the world as we know it. Consistently in Revelation, οἰκουμένη is used in relation to the war which the kings wage against the church (Rev. 16:14). And in the beginning of the Revelation, Jesus warns one of the churches about an about to coming hour of testing upon the whole οἰκουμένη. “

“So that leads me to a question.”

“Ok?”

“What does that mean? What does the οἰκουμένη have to do with being tested or judged?”

“Ah. Very good, young Skywalker. Ask the right question you have. Remember that the theology of the Bible is just as (if not more) important as the translation. The New Testament is not only about Jesus putting an end to the sacrificial system and dying for the sins of man. It’s also about the end of the οἰκουμένη and the end of old heavens and the earth. It’s also, then, about the new heavens and earth one in which there is a new world order with a new emperor on the throne. The old οἰκουμένη is judged by her response to the gospel (Matthew 25) and this is what Paul and Silas were singing in prison and what Paul preaches to Felix and to Festus and Agrippa .”

“But aren’t the new heavens and earth about eternity?”

“Most people think so, but the immediate reference is to the new world Jesus institutes. The original term “new heavens and earth” (which John uses in Revelation) is a reference to Israel from Isaiah 65, not a literal new heavens and earth. Here’s the passage the way I see it.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.

There are many parallelisms in this passage. Note their symmetry here:

A Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight!

B “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

A’ And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

C “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

B’ For behold, I create Jerusalem

C’ for rejoicing and her people for gladness.

Note primarily, what God creates: he says he creates a new heavens and earth. Is this literal? No. Why should the reader draw this conclusion? He must draw another conclusion based on the clear parallel God himself makes: God calls the city Jerusalem the new heavens and earth. The parallel is clear and not forced. God says, “I create new heavens and a new earth…be glad and rejoice I create Jerusalem for rejoicing…and gladness.” Israel is to expect a make over, a renewal by the grace of God. God’s calling Jerusalem “new heavens and earth” is a politically symbolic reference going all the way back to Genesis 1, 7-9, and 37.

This hermeneutic must not be rejected out of hand and yet that is what many indeed do. Many reject this interpretation for fear of its precluding a more full future fulfillment when Jesus returns at the close of the final festal age. But this need not be the case. It need not be the case that one reject this symbolic interpretation for fear that it means losing a future fulfillment at some remote time.

As was stated above, some reject this hermeneutic because of its application to the words of Jesus in the Revelation when he talks about the new heavens and earth in the latter part of the vision (ch.21). It is my presupposition that the Revelation is the judgement of God against Israel as a body politic for her adultery against her covenant Master and murder his Messiah (Psalm 2). Adultery because she rejected the new Bridegroom (Matt. 25) and murder because she persecuted the new Bride (Matt. 23-25; Acts; Hebrews; the Epistles). Further, when Jesus talks about the new heavens and earth, he is talking about a new body politic (Matt.28.18)—a new bride, a new city (Rev 21, 22).

Following the structure seen before in Isaiah, note the parallels here in Revelation:

Rev. 20:11

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.

Rev. 21:1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer a sea.

The association to make here is connected to Isaiah. Jerusalem is the former heavens and earth which is fleeing from the presence of God and which passes away like an old garment (Psalm 102). The new heavens and earth which are created is seen in the following verses. Note the parallels made between the Bride and the City as they are one and the same. The Bride is the City and were Paul to have written a commentary here he would say and the City is the Body and who is the Body and Bride and City of Christ but his people, the Church, the New Israel.”

Whew! Now, that was a mouthful! You’ve given me enough to chew on for quite a while. And look at the time! It’s going to be a night of fits and starts. I’ll probably dream about this!”

Good night, Granny Smith. I look forward to our next get-together.”

You say world; I say inhabited earth

 

“So, something you said last time, Berea, came to my mind after we said good-bye.”

“What was it?”

“You said that the word for inhabited earth was translated that way in Luke 4, but then you intimated something about Matthew 4 that you never followed up on. Do you think you could do that now?”

“Sure.  Remember my thesis: a Greek word must be translated, not interpreted as much as is possible?”

“Yes. If a word means “this” it must not be translated as if it meant “that.”

“Yeah.  That’s a good way of putting it. So. in Luke 4 we read that Caesar taxed the whole inhabited earth.  Well, in Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth, not “world” as my translation has it.  Jesus did not say “cosmos,” he said “oikumene” and if word choice matters, I think Jesus knew which word to choose. Within the context of Matthew (that judgement is coming) itself, Jesus’ Olivet discourse establishes the context for the rest of the New Testament. Everything after Matthew 24 is about Matthew 24. The message of the Gospel that is to go out to the “world” is the message of Psalm 2, not salvation from the fires of eternal hell.”

“What do you mean by that last part?  I thought the Gospel was about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.”

“Yes, that is part of it, but that is most definitely not what the Apostles and Paul went about preaching. Jesus calls them “witnesses” or testifiers. And to what did they testify?  They testified to the resurrection, ascension and coming adjudication of Jesus within the lifetime of the generation of Jews within 40 years of Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus says that before the judgement comes, they will have preached the message throughout the oikumene/ empire or inhabited earth.  But our translations are not consistent here because they think Jesus is talking about the final judgement and so the whole world is what is meant.  But oikumene does not mean “world” in the same way and the same sense that cosmos does.