July 28, 2011
My wife has updated her blog (click HERE). She has not blogged very regularly lately, but I take full responsibility for this, since I am the “computer hog.”
July 27, 2011
Richard Weaver, in one of my all time favorite books, Ideas Have Consequences, argued that newspapers multiply stereotypes, thrives on endless dissemination, and “its progeny, like the frogs of Egypt, come up into our very kneading troughs” (Weaver, 94). He continues, describing how newspapers distort in the interest of holding attention, thrive on friction and conflict, dramatize, and are glad to see a quarrel start and sorry to see it end. Weaver writes,
“No one is prepared to understand the influence of journalism on the public mind until he appreciates the fact that the newspaper is a spawn of the machine. A mechanism itself, it has ever been closely linked with the kind of exploitation, financial and political, which accompanies industrialism” (Weaver, 94).
Weaver’s thoughts about newspapers are almost completely identical to another great writer — Jacques Ellul. For example, read one of his many books on technology, or his The Humiliation of the Word. It is interesting to discover how many influential thinkers were not fond of the papers. For example, Weaver (p. 98) describes Thomas Jefferson’s distaste for the newspaper. Writing to John Adams, Jefferson said, “I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Eucllid, and I find myself much the happier.” Similarly, C. S. Lewis is remembered in his biography The Narnian for having never read the newspapers and for being almost completely ignorant of the current events of the day.
Melville captures the general distaste for newspapers as he describes the joys of the mast-head on the whaling ships,
“In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head, nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea. . . . There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invest you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner — for all your meals for three-year and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable” (Moby Dick, 159, emphasis added).
July 25, 2011
When it comes to prayer, I often find myself experiencing cycles of highs and lows, ups and downs. Sometimes I can’t wait to pray, and prayer comes easily as I pour out heartful thoughts and feelings to the Lord. Other times, however, prayer is hard work, as I find myself putting prayer off and being distracted by other “more important” things.
I’ve found myself more drawn to prayer this summer, and I think perhaps I might be able to identify why. You see, this summer my wife and I have had many opportunities to have friends and family in our home (I think when all is said and done, we will have had people in our home for over a month total). As we’ve spent time with each of our visitors, we’ve heard about what’s going on in their lives. Without going into details, we’ve heard some exciting ways our friends are being challenged and are experiencing God’s goodness, and at the same time we’ve wept with friends over heart-breaks and disappointments. And long after the company leaves, prayer is made for each of their situations.
So, the connection I’ve noticed is this: when I’m making it a point to really connect with people, I find it very easy to pray. How could I not pray in light of what’s going on in your life? But on the other hand, when I am isolated and disconnected, prayer is difficult. How can I regularly make selfless prayer when I’m living a selfish life? Hopefully I’m noting stretching the facts to say that the same pattern was true in Jesus’ life. Not that he was ever a selfish prayer! Rather, many of his most selfless times of prayer came when he was surrounded by people. It was in these times that he withdrew and prayed . . . the whole night.
So, are you struggling with prayer? Get involved in the lives of others, get out of your own little world, and as you pour yourself into the lives of others, I think that like me, you’ll find it difficult not to pray.
July 19, 2011
“[James's words] are by one of the Lord’s apostles, and if we ourselves have not deeply perceived their meaning, we nevertheless dare to trust that they are not casual and idle words, a flowery expression of a flimsy thought, but that they are faithful and unfailing, tried and tested, as was the life of the apostle who wrote them” (Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, 32, quoted in Bauckham, Wisdom of James, 11).
Kierkegaard also mentioned in his writings that the first chapter of James, especially vv. 17-21, was his favorite passage of Scripture: “my first, my favorite text, my first love, even my only love — to which one returns again and again and again and always” (Kierkegaard, quoted in Bauckham, Wisdom of James, 160).
In this post I want to examine Genesis 2:15 and raise a few questions about a current popular interpretation. I will argue that the translation found in most English versions is correct, which reads ”The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (ESV et al.; emphasis added). I will also argue that the increasingly popular interpretation that replaces the words “work it” and “keep it” with “worship and obey” is a mistranslation.
Now, at first glance, it would seem that the choice between the two phrases is an easy one. Shouldn’t we expect to find biblical instructions about worship, rather than about working a garden and keeping it pristine? But unfortunately, the matter is not simply about deciding between which interpretation seems more theological. The real question is about what position is taught in the actual text of Scripture.
Part of the difficulty is that in examining the Hebrew behind this verse, each word can have multiple meanings. Thus, the first Hebrew word עַבָד can mean”to work” or ”to serve” or “to worship” (see Deut 6:13; 2 King 10:19) while the second word שַׁמָר can mean ”to keep” or “to guard” or “to obey.” So the question, then, is whether Adam was to work the garden and keep it, or to worship and obey.
John Sailhammer is probably the most well-known supporter of the “worship and obey” view. In his commentary on Genesis (Expositors, Vol. 2) he notes (pp. 45-48) that the Hebrew לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ is constructed with two infinitives, each having what appears to be feminine pronouns suffixed to them. Sailhammer argues that these “feminine pronouns” cannot refer to “garden,” since it is a masculine word. Instead, these should be understood as a common feature of biblical Hebrew, simply as a final he attached to the end of infinitives (p. 47). Furthermore, Sailhammer notes that working the ground is the result of the Fall (3:22-24) – an ironic reversal of fortunes from his pre-fall state which cannot be seen if 2:15 is translated as “keep” and “work.” Therefore, Sailhammer concludes,
A more suitable translation of the Hebrew . . . would be ‘to worship and obey.’ Man is put in the garden to worship God and obey him. Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience; he was a priest, not merely a worker and keeper of the garden (Sailhammer, 45).
Sailhammer also notes that context supports this idea of worshipful obedience, since in 2:16 God commands man. As is true elsewhere in the Torah, “enjoyment of God’s good land is made contingent on ‘keeping’ God’s commandments” (Sailhammer, 45).
Sailhammer’s influence may be seen in the statements of several others. Howe (Rethinking Adam in the Garden, 6) states,
Rethinking Adam in the garden casts a different theological light on the responsibility that Adam bore there. Rather than Adam
bearing any responsibility toward the garden, Adam’s responsibility was toward God: to worship and obey Him. Further, the significance of the change of direction of Adam’s attention before and after the fall is retained. Before the fall, Adam’s attention was directed upwards toward God. Adam was to obey God by keeping God’s commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was to worship God by trusting God to supply the good. After the fall, Adam’s attention was directed downwards toward the ground (3:17-19). Because of the curse, the ground was now the source of Adam’s sustenance. Because of the curse, the ground would yield its food to Adam only with much toil and sweat. Adam’s reorientation toward the ground was a portent of Adam’s future to “return to the dust” out of which he was taken.
So we see that this approach is appealing because it seems more theologically rich. Man before the fall is directed Godwards, man after the fall is directed groundwards. Thus, work in the dirty soil is said to be the result of man’s sin. Similarly, Liederbach and Reid echo Sailhammer’s view in their recent book The Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in an Emerging Culture, where this passage (Gen 2:15) is used to argue that worship is the purpose of creation. Discussing this passage, they state, “There is a greater reality and truth that lies behind this passage, and it is often missed or under emphasized” (p. 120). Sailhammer is then quoted to help bring out this often overlooked truth. The authors conclude ”God also gave to Adam an orienting purpose for his whole life: to worship the creator through obedience. . . . He specified the purpose of living before him as a joyous journey of worship and commissioned the first couple to fill the earth with worshippers!” (p. 122, 124).
But what about the other view that argues God simply told Adam to work the ground and keep it? Should it be so easily dismissed? One important guideline for reading the Bible is to interpret a passage in light of its context. So, when trying to understand the meaning of a difficult word (such as “to work the ground” vs. “to worship”) one should see if the same word is used in the surrounding context. And in our case, it is! Genesis 2:5 states, “no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.” Significantly, where this verse says “to work” is the same word that appears in Gen 2:15, and in the exact same construction (an infinitive)! Moreover, in 2:5 the word appears with a feminine object (the ground), explaining why in 2:15, the same word can be used with the feminine pronoun attached to it. It would be just like me saying in English, “I gave the dress to my wife . . . I gave the dress to her.” You would understand that since I used the same verb “gave” in each sentence, when I say “wife” and then “her” I am talking about the same person. This is what is happening in the Hebrew of Genesis 2. It says, “there was no man to work the ground . . . God put the man in the Garden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:5, 15). It is very inconsistent to translate the same word as “to work it” and then right after to translate it as “to worship.”
This fact is supported by the context of the entire chapter, where the focus is on the amazing garden that God formed for man. 2:4 states that the context is describing the “generations” of the heavens and earth. On the earth, there were no shrubs because there was no man to work the ground (2:5). But in 2:7, God solves this dilemma by creating man. The wonders of the garden are described in vv. 8-15, its pleasant food, its juicy fruits, its four rivers, the precious gold and stones. And then comes 2:15 — the passage we have been discussing — “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to work it?worship? and to keep it?obey?”
From the description of the garden, it becomes clear how luxurious it was. In fact, 2:8 describes it as a garden planted by God. And yet, God’s garden, flowing with rivers and gold and full of fruits, is entrusted to man’s care. What implications might be drawn from this? Surely, theological ones. Note the dignity of man, the responsibility; he has been entrusted with naming the animals and enjoying the produce. And, man works in this garden, showing that work is not a result of the fall. Rather, work was a divinely appointed task. In fact, the word for God “putting” man in this garden is that he “rested” man in the garden (v. 15). So it might even be said that it was possible for man to work in this restful garden of delights, and to do so in a glorious pre-fall manner.
Perhaps part of man’s keeping the garden was to keep/guard the tree of knowledge, perhaps from slithering snakes (3:1) or both himself and his wife from temptations that were sure to come.
But another clue that 2:15 should be translated as “to work it and keep it” is the language of the fall in ch. 3. Man was put in the garden to work it the ground and God’s first words to Adam after the fall are “cursed is the ground” (3:17). Where before Adam’s work was enjoyable, now it would be “by the sweat of your brow” (3:17). Adam was “to work it,” now it will bring thorns “to him” (note the parallelism, 3:18). And then chapter 3 concludes with Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden, now to work the cursed ground. How ironic: man had been placed in God’s perfect garden to work it; now he is driven from the garden to work by the sweat of his brow. And with one final swoop of irony, the way is guarded behind him by flaming cherubs wielding swords. Adam failed to keep/guard the garden, so now the garden is kept from him.
It seems, then, that despite the theological conclusions that can be drawn from 2:15 regarding worship and obedience, the text says otherwise. Adam was put into the garden to work it and keep it (2:5, 15). The text then portrays his failure to do so, and therefore as he is driven out of the garden the exact same language repeated: Adam was put in the garden to work the ground (2:5); his failure means that he will now have to work the ground outside of the garden (note the exact same phrase that is mirrored between 2:5 and 3:23). This seems to form an inclusion around the entire narrative and makes it extremely unlikely that 2:15 should be translated as “worship and obey.” Perhaps the LXX translators grasped this important theme and rendered 2:15 as ἐργάζεσθαι αὐτον καὶ φυλάσσειν (to work it and guard). And this interpretation is not without its theological ramifications, as explained by Keil and Delitzsch:
man was placed there to lead a life of repose, not indeed in inactivity, but in fulfilment of the course assigned him, which was very different from the trouble and restlessness of the weary toil into which he was plunged by sin. In paradise he was to dress (colere) the garden; for the earth was meant to be tended and cultivated by man, so that without human culture, plants and even the different varieties of corn degenerate and grow wild. Cultivation therefore preserved (שׁמר to keep) the divine plantation, not merely from injury on the part of any evil power, either penetrating into, or already existing in the creation, but also from running wild through natural degeneracy. As nature was created for man, it was his vocation not only to ennoble it by his work, to make it subservient to himself, but also to raise it into the sphere of the spirit and further its glorification. This applied not merely to the soil beyond the limits of paradise, but to the garden itself, which, although the most perfect portion of the terrestrial creation, was nevertheless susceptible of development, and which was allotted to man, in order that by his care and culture he might make it into a transparent mirror of the glory of the Creator.
July 16, 2011
I did something today I thought I would never do: I purchased a copy of Rosetta stone (German). HJ expressed interest in learning German so that, Lord willing, she will be able to converse in the language if we end up in Germany. So, my wife and I will now be working on German together, and we’ll be sure to do so in front of Melody so she can get used to the sound of the language. We managed to purchase the Rosetta stone on eBay for $100, which includes all 5 levels of the program.
July 16, 2011
Previously, I posted some quotes from Timothy Gombis’s book The Drama of Ephesians. Now, I’d like to offer, not so much a book review, but rather a book summary. My reason for doing this is that Gombis’s approach to Ephesians is very unique, and so I think that summarizing his overall thesis may be helpful.
Gombis argues that Ephesians should be understood as a drama depicting God’s victory in Christ over the powers ruling this present age (p. 19). The notion of divine warfare should not merely be seen in chapter 6, but as the theme that shapes Ephesian’s entire argument. As a drama, Ephesians is a script depicting God’s acts and inviting God’s people to continue enacting His victorious triumph. As such:
1:3-14: capture the imagination of believers (in order to effectively enter the drama, God captures our imaginations with the scope of his drama)
1:20-2:22: The account of God’s victorious acts in Christ and of his ongoing triumph (the storyline’s basic structure). God defeated the powers in Christ’s death and resurrection and installed Jesus as cosmic Lord. As the monument of his triumph over the powers, God created the church.
1:20-23: Assertion — Christ defeated the powers.
2:1-10: First defense of assertion — Satan had enslaved humanity to sin, God triumphed through Christ by providing freedom.
2:11-18: Second defense of assertion — God’s defeat of the powers’ division of humanity. Through the cross, Christ has brought unity.
2:19-22: The church is now the temple of God, displaying the permanent victory of God over the powers.
3:1-14: Paul’s example models how God’s triumph in Christ is manifested in a person’s life.
3:14-4:6: The letters hinge point, bridging the two main sections. In the first half of the letter (1:20-2:22), Paul tells the story of God’s victory. The letter’s second half instructs believers how to embody this reality and perform such a drama.
4:17-6:9: Ethical instructions for how the church engages in divine warfare — act faithfully by cultivating continual transformation.
4:17-24: develop dynamics of transformation.
4:25-32: a series of examples of transformation.
5:6-14: The church’s transformation of its surrounding culture.
5:16-17: Transformation involves wisdom and discernment.
5:18-6:9: manifesto for transformed community life.
6:10-18: The rhetorical conclusion of the letter. The church is now, as God’s agent and as Christ’s body on earth, the divine warrior (p. 157). Spiritual warfare happens through simple love for others and by cultivating cross-like lives.
July 7, 2011
For all you avid biblio-bloggers, be sure to check out The Divining Blog and its recent post The top 50 blogs by divinity and theology professors. As a student, it is always interesting to see what professors are blogging out there. Also, perhaps an interesting spin-off-post from the one I just mentioned could be entitled “top 50 blogs by ordinary joe-shmoe’s.” In fact, that is one of the things I enjoy most about blogging, the fact that anyone can write a blog. A lot of people hold this against blogging. I even heard a seminary professor once criticize blogging because “anyone can write a blog and air their opinions. Why should I care about what you think? What are your credentials?” Hearing such a statement saddened me; aren’t all believers being molded to the image of Christ and learning the tough lessons of obedience? Aren’t all believers learning lessons from the word and being guided by the Spirit? In my opinion, this means that every believer has something “blog-worthy” whether they have impressive credentials or not.
July 5, 2011
It seems that in almost every sermon I hear lately, mention is made of “small groups.” Whether I’m listening to the car radio, visiting a church, or right at home, “small groups” seems to come up. In each setting, small groups are pushed as possibly THE most important aspect of the church, the place where believers can use their gifts, where relationships are built, where those from the community are drawn in and connected, etc.
I can’t help but ask a few questions about this scenario. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the small group that I’m a part of and am thankful for some good friendships we’ve formed. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder: Where in Scripture do we see any mention of small groups? Why are small groups such a popular thing lately? Is this another trend being implemented simply because “it works,” or is this practice anchored on the solid teaching of Scripture?
More importantly, what deficiencies in our Sunday gatherings are revealed by our emphasis on small groups? Churches are admitting that the structure of Sunday morning does not allow time for believers to have fellowship or to use their gifts or to encourage each other. The fix-all solution is to offer a time outside of the gathered assembly where this can happen. But why should we think that these things must happen outside of the Sunday gathering?
And now for my final question: what is church? That may seem like a loaded question. Let me rephrase it. When believers have gathered, say, in someone’s home, prayed together, discussed the word, talked about their weeks and witnessing opportunities – both their struggles and their victories — can such be considered church? I think the answer is yes. I’ll be honest with you, I often leave small group feeling more encouraged in my faith than when I leave Sunday morning. And so, if what happens in my small group can be considered “church,” then what about Sunday morning? Is Sunday morning’s singing and sermon also church?
I think, then, we can summarize the small group phenomenon in this way. Traditional churches are recognizing that the way church is done is lacking in some VERY important areas. The need for serious change is admitted. Small groups are the attempt to make up for these deficiencies without having to alter anything that happens on Sunday morning. In other words, offering small groups outside of church allows us to continue doing church like we’ve always done it, even though it is lacking in several important areas. We can continue doing things like always, and not have to bother with change. After all, who likes change? Change, much-needed change, can occur in a place we call a small group.
I realize that these thoughts are a little controversial, and that many will not agree with my conclusions. I welcome your thoughts and discussions.
July 3, 2011
In reading through the book of Acts I became curious about Barnabas and his description in 4:36. This verse is often translated as “Barnabas, son of encouragement.” In fact, I’ve heard some pretty good sermons about the ways Barnabas encouraged others. But my question is this: Is the term “encouragement” the best translation of this passage? Here’s why I ask:
The term in the Greek is parakale̅sis. BDAG suggests that this term might be translated as encouragement, exhortation, comfort, or consolation. Each of these nuances are seen in Acts (9:31; 13:15; 15:31; 16:9; 20:12). The term is closely related to the one used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit (parakle̅ton, Jn 14:16) — often translated “comforter.” So, it becomes apparent that the term’s various meanings make it difficult to translate.
In considering the meaning of “Barnabas, son of parakale̅sis,” it is important to note Acts 11:23, where Barnabas goes to Antioch and “when he came and had seen the grace of God, was joyful and exhorted [parakaleo] them all to cling to the Lord with purposeful hearts.” Now, exhortation is a word that is not commonly used in English today. What does it mean? Websters defines “exhort” as “to incite by words or advice; to animate or urge by arguments, as to a good deed or laudable conduct; to address exhortation to; to urge strongly; hence, to advise, warn, or caution” Perhaps Luther had this idea in mind when he translated Acts 11:23 with “ermahnen,” meaning that Barnabas urged, cautioned, advised, or warned. Similarly, The Message uses “urge.”
So, was Barnabas the son of encouragement or the son of exhortation? Or can it be said that one can exhort by means of encouraging? I leave that for you to decide. For now I am simply musing over a slight nuance of the term, and wondering what implications it might have on this important early church leader. Interestingly, A. T. Robertson also mused about Barnabas and said, “Doubtless his gifts as a preacher lay along this same line [as his nickname parakale̅sis]” (Word Pictures, 57). If Robertson is correct and Barnabas’s gift of exhortation was located in his preaching skills, this might shed a glimpse on his later ministry alongside Paul. For later, Barnabas the son of parakale̅sis stepped aside, allowing Paul to become the team’s primary spokesman, the primary exhorter, if you will.