Book Review: Judges and Ruth

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Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth (Kregel Exegetical Library). Kregel Academic, 2013.9780825425561

If you are looking for a detailed, exegetical, linguistic, and homiletical commentary on Judges and Ruth, then this is a commentary at the top of the list.

In the Introduction (pp. 1-105) Chisholm covers Chronology, Narrative Structures, Proclamation, Preaching, and other introductory matters. Interestingly he provides three possible chronologies of Judges, two for the early 15th century and another for 13th century. He examines the arguments for and against each view. I thought it a little odd that he does not come down definitely on one of the three. Nevertheless, his presentation of the data is very good, helping the reader follow the arguments, and to come to his/her own conclusions.

He asks two questions that are of more recent interest. Does Judges have a political agenda? (pp. 62-67) and What role do the female characters play? (pp. 69-81) In both cases he deals with the answers based on the text itself. His careful study offers insights in both cases, especially the role of female characters. This whole section well serves the careful reader/student.

Chisholm accepts the canonical form of Judges and consequent literary structure, which is another positive of this commentary. “I believe that the book, when examined in its canonical form, is a unified work…[which] is not as susceptible to the kind of speculative fancy that litters the history of biblical higher criticism” (p. 15) This approach also informs and guide his literary analysis, and the proclamation.

His approach to literary and narrative structure is detailed, yet very concise, and so it takes time to sort through the data (pp. 81-8). But the survey is well worth the time for the reader. Helpfully, he uses these insights in each section of his translation throughout the book. This provides a convenient way to check translation and structure at the same time. Given many other commentaries that separate and then seldom refer to it, Chisholm’s work is consistent and helpful. Well done.

Another significant value of this commentary is the emphasis on linking the exegetical, linguistic, literary study with the move to proclamation, not limited to a nod in that direction, but thorough presentation for each section of Judges (and Ruth). Each major section of text includes the following subsections: Translation & Narrative Structure, Outline, Literary Structure, Exposition, Message & Application (including homiletical trajectories). The breadth and depth of each is helpful for understanding the text, and moving into a preaching/teaching situation.

The commentary on Ruth is equally informative and usable. His discussion of the role of Naomi as a major character along with Ruth and Boaz provides a different perspective for each subsection. The note about the role of public vs. private discourse is enlightening. “Public events tend to focus on Naomi’s dilemma and its resolution, while private conversations highlight the commitment of the characters to the well-being of others” (p. 558). Interestingly, the author notes that both Boaz and Ruth seem to function as a type of Christ—worth further investigation and thought.

This book will prove to be a valuable resource for anyone preaching or teaching on the Old testament. It helps to know your Hebrew when you use it, although you can still benefit from it without Hebrew. There might be areas of disagreement on Chisholm’s points, but he provides the necessary detail to explore further and come to your own conclusions. One area I expected a little more development (than just Boaz and Ruth) was the Christological significance of both Judges and Ruth.

Overall, this is one of the best books that Kregel Academic has produced. Well laid out, logical, and thorough. This is an excellent commentary, worth reading and referring to often if you teach or preach on either book.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Context of Matthew 18:15-35

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Limits of study

Obviously it is difficult to jump into the middle of a text without understanding the context. Our text comes at the end of the fourth discourse, which describes the ekklesia (church), i.e. the New Messianic people of God (13:54–19:1). There are two parts in this discourse.

The previous section (13:54–17:27) focused on the deeds as Jesus separates Himself and His disciples from the first century Jewish understanding of what it means to be God’s people. In other words, the former way of living (under the old covenant) is passing away, and Jesus begins to contrast what the new covenant [testament] means for living. This separation begins with the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (13:54-58). The death of John (14:1-12) highlights that the prophetic preparation for the Messiah has been completed.

Then follows a series of miracles that demonstrate particular aspects of the Messiah’s work and what they means for His disciples. The feeding of the 5,000 highlights not only Jesus’ power and authority, but even more the heart of God— “He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them“ (14:14). Rather than the “shepherds” of Israel who saw the crowds as ones to be manipulated, used, and exploited, Jesus saw the people as they were, people in need.

In addition to the feeding miracle Jesus walks on the water, which only His disciples see, then heals the sick in Gennesaret. These miracles demonstrate his authority over all creation, extending compassion as needed. Yet, even then the disciples face the reality of their lack of faith. Contrast that with the two “outsiders” who are commended for their faith (Matthew 8:10-11; 15:28).

The conflict between Jesus and the rulers of the Jews increases as we move into chapter 15. The old way was to examine the externals as the measure of law-keeping, and obedience to God. The tradition of the elders is exposed when Jesus points to Word, namely Isaiah, to condemn them (Matthew 15:8-9). It isn’t what goes into a person that defiles, but what comes out, comes out of the heart (15:10-20).

Jesus ventures into another Gentile area, Tyre and Sidon. Note that while Jesus came to Israel, it is also true that Jesus was preparing for Matthew 28:16-20 by His own extension of the message beyond Israel. In this case the Canaanite woman reveals true faith. Two more miracles follow this story. Again, note the divine characteristic in 15:32, “And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, ‘I feel compassion for the people.’ ”Mt14

Yet remarkably in Matthew 16:1-4 the Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a sign. They see, but do not see. The contrast for the new people of God is that seeing comes from faith. After explaining the real problem of these leaders, Jesus now asks the disciples who He is—the context and object of faith. Peter gets the identification correct: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The source is not Peter’s deduction, but the revealing work of God. Sadly, in 16:21-23, Peter also exposes how little he knows what his confession really meant. Peter wants a Savior of his own making. He gets much more in Jesus.

Jesus explains more about what this confession Peter made when He said: “I also say to you that you are Peter (Πέτρος masculine referring to Peter), and upon this rock (πέτρᾳ feminine referring to his confession, not to Peter) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This confession also leads to the issue of forgiveness of sins, a theme that is central in our main text, 18:15-35.

But the confession also includes Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus, thus, contradicts one of the major expectations of the Jewish people: the Messiah would lead them to victory over the Romans. Such a confession includes the disciples to deny themselves and follow Jesus, cross language that will be fully evident in chapters 26-28.

Chapter 17 adds to the disciples’ confusion. Jesus, the one who will be killed, is not transfigured in front of three disciples. Then He follows that with another prophecy of His death and resurrection. It’s like the disciples have been given a puzzle with many pieces, yet the pieces seem to come from many different puzzles.

Chapter 18:1-14

This text provides the immediate background and transition to our text of interest. The question in 18:1 reveals how the disciples are still thinking in the old paradigm. “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus clearly refutes such thinking when he uses a child (“a child, normally below the age of puberty” BDAG). In other words, the wisdom and superiority of an adult perception of greatness are not in the mix. It is an issue of faith, something the disciples have missed repeatedly.

In 18:5-9 Jesus goes even further. It is not a matter of (self-imagined) greatness, but rather how do the new people of God treat the “least” in the kingdom. Leading one of the least into sin has great consequences.

[Jesus said:] “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! (Matthew 18:6-7 NAS)

The least includes the lost among them, those who go astray (18:10-14). Notice, too, that the finding of the lost is critical, but also the the resulting rejoicing. God desires that not one be lost.

With this background we see that Jesus will usher in a new kingdom, the church (ἐκκλησία). It will be far different than what the people had experienced under the old covenant. Relationships will reflect God’s perfect love and compassion. Anything that interferes with the relationship of the church is to be dealt with following the pattern of greatness in the new kingdom.

This then leads us into the text of 18:15-35.

Matthew 18 Intro

I have been interested in studying the Gospel According to Matthew for at least two decades. That interest has been sparked further by the congregation I serve and the Seminary teaching I am doing. In the current congregation during Sunday morning Bible Study we have been looking at Matthew since September 2011. And I have been teaching Matthew in the Seminary this Spring Quarter (2014).url

In the congregation we have focused on Matthew 18:15-35—for two months. What could occupy us that long on one text? In the next series of blog posts I will address some of what we learned and discussed. Is it worth the time? Absolutely. And we could have spent more time on the text! As I explore this, you can see how the text itself and the application could easily lead to this. And you will understand how much is missing in this series of posts.

Structure and Organization

Commentaries offer different approaches to looking at the structure of Matthew’s Gospel. Jack Kingsbury examines the structure, Christology, and kingdom theology. He sees the structure revolving around three parts: the person of Jesus Messiah, the proclamation of Jesus Messiah, and the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Messiah. While not necessarily agreeing with his structural analysis, I have found his approach helpful in filling in some gaps with other approaches.

Daniel Patte focuses on two points for commentary: 1. The structure is based on Matthew’ faith (level 3 for those familiar with Voelz’s hermeneutical approach). While this gives good insights, it is tenuous because we have little to verify level 3 kinds of issues. 2. Opposition passages. This approach can help the student because the growing tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders (in particular) is obvious as one reads the Gospel.

David Scaer also follows a level 3 understanding of the Gospel. His focus is on the Matthew as the first catechism. So he views the structure (within the five fold discourse below) from the perspective of Matthew writing a catechetical document.

These and many other resources are excellent aids for the student of Matthew’s Gospel. See at the end of this post selected resources. For instance, Franzmann’s commentary is easy to overlook due to its age, and non verse-by-verse approach; but it is a profitable read for the student—more than one time.

Perhaps the most common structural view of Matthew is the Five Discourse approach. This basic five division structure comes from noting these specific passages:
7:28 And when Jesus finished these sayings,

11:1 When Jesus had finished “ordering”
13:53 And when Jesus had finished these parables
19:1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings
26:1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings

This leads to the following structure, which is derived from study notes in Dr. Robert Hoerber’s class in 1982-3.

Five Discourses in Matthew’s Gospel

Introduction: Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:1–4:16)

I. First Group: Annunciation of the Kingdom and the Call to Repentance (4:17–7:29)

A. Deeds: (4:17–25)
B. Words: Sermon on the Mount (of Matthew) (5:1–7:29)

II. Second Group: Compassionate Messiah seeks the lost sheep of the house of Israel (8:1–11:1)

A. Deeds: 10 Messianic deeds of power (8:1–9:35)
B. Words: Mission discourse (9:36–11:1)

III. Third Group: Contradicted Messiah conceals the Kingdom from those who rejected it, and further reveals it to those who have accepted it (11:2–13:53, NB 13:11)

A. Deeds: (11:2–12:50)
B. Words: Seven Kingdom Parables (13:1–13:53)

IV. Fourth Group: The Ekklesia (church), i.e. the New Messianic people of God (13:54–19:1)

A.. Deeds: (13:54–17:27)

1. Separation from Judaism (withdrawals)
2. Communion with His followers

B. Words: Principles for the New Ekklesia (18:1–19:1)
NB: Matthew is the only Gospel using Ekklesia (16:18; 18:17 [2x])

V. Fifth Group: Messiah gives His disciples a sure and sober hope (19:2–26:1)

A. Deeds: Judean Ministry (19:2–22:46)
B. Words: Discourse on Eschatology (end times) (23:1–26:1)

Conclusion: Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Matthew (26:2–28:20)

The next post will concentrate on the place of Matthew 18:15-35 within this structure.

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Selected Reading List

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007.

Franzmann, Martin H. Follow Me: Discipleship According to Matthew. Concordia Publishing House, 1961.

Kingsbury, Jack Dean. Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom. First Thus ed. Augsburg Books, 1991.

Patte, Daniel. The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith. Fortress Pr, 1986.

Scaer, David P. Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004.

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

(found the source for this: Amy Young: An open letter to pastors: the words express exactly my heart)

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

To those who have aborted children, we remember them and you on this day

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children, we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent, we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren, yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

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This photo is of my (not Amy’s) mother, 1944

Phyllis1944

 

Another thought-provoking blog:

A Mother Like No Other

 

Gospel Assurance and Warnings—Book Review

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Washer, Paul. Gospel Assurance and Warnings (Recovering the Gospel). Reformation Heritage Books, 2014.GospelAssurance

I am writing this review as someone who is outside the Reformed/Evangelical community, namely as a pastor in the confessing Lutheran tradition, but also one who is keenly aware of the need to challenge much of what passes as the Christian faith.

The Good

There are many things to like about this book. Washer takes on the current evangelical emphasis of “salvation prayer and asking Jesus into your heart” theology. In Washer’s words: “Churches reduce the gospel message to a few creedal statements, teach that conversion is a mere human decision, and pronounce assurance of salvation over anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer” (p. ix). He points out the extended problems with such an approach: 1) “hardens the hearts of unconverted,” 2) “deforms the church,” 3) “reduces evangelism and missions to little more than a humanistic endeavor driven by clever marketing strategies,” 4) “brings reproach to the name of God” (pp. ix–x).

Such an analysis of the problem facing much of the Reformed/Evangelical is sadly accurate. Even more so, those trends, especially #2 and 3, have had significant influence beyond the Reformed/Evangelical strain, extending also to Lutheranism. So, Washer’s book is a wake up call for any Christian, and especially preachers who have been led astray by such short-sighted, and worse, wrongheaded approaches. As Washer writes: “Thus, men have traded their mantles for methodologies, prophecy for pragmaticism, and the power of the Holy Spirit for cleverly devised marketing strategies” (p. 4).

As per the title, the book is arranged in two parts: Biblical Assurance (chapters 1-14) and Gospel Warnings (chapters 15-19). The first part presents the positive side of salvation, the second the negative side, namely false assurances of salvation.

There are some excellent chapters in the first part of the book, particularly chapter 10 “Confessing Christ.” He states: “We will begin with a declaration that might be considered somewhat radical or even avant-garde to many in the evangelical community—Christianity is about the person and work of Jesus Christ” (p. 100, emphasis in original). In chapter 14 “Believing in Jesus” Washer clearly identifies critical problems with what is “faith” in contemporary evangelical circles.

The Not-so Good

For all of Paul Washer’s spot-on identification of problems in the Reformed/Evangelical movement, there is a serious flaw in the entire book. His solution is not any more helpful than the problems he identifies. The problems are based on a poorly stated law, and yet he offers only another version of the Law, namely Law-based performance in one form or another. The problem is even in the title of the book, Gospel Assurance and Warnings. If the Gospel is what God has done for sinful humans through the work of Jesus Christ, then it is free of any kind of condemnation (warnings). Yet, repeatedly he offers the “gospel warnings” as the solution. In reality, that is only Law compounded upon problem he is trying to fix, namely poorly presented Law.

Even in the first part, “Biblical Assurance,” Washer presents 14 criteria for looking upon the person’s life to determine whether he/she is saved. Notice that each of them, while good to explore, lead the person to performance, based on the Law. Yet, the Gospel invites the person to see how Jesus Christ has met all those requirements for us sinful humans.

Washer’s statements lead to a contradictory approach: “Understand that this is not a call for ministers or lay people to become judges of others, but to put away the belief in and proclamation of a superficial and powerless gospel…” (p. 17). And yet throughout his book, Washer is indeed judging others. Of course, if the entire book is really based on the Law, then judging is the expected result.

This confusion of Law and Gospel is highlighted in one section of “The Small Gate” (chapter 16). In one sentence he clearly gives the gospel foundation, yet contradicts that very clear word at the end of the same sentence. “Our assurance of salvation should not be founded upon a comparison of our sanctification with that of other believers, but upon our relying on the merits of Christ alone and our recognition of God’s providential sanctifying work in our lives (p. 184, emphasis added). So, is it Christ’s work alone? Or is it our contribution in sanctification that is the foundation of our assurance?

And then, he offers this muddled advice to preachers: “After the evangelist preaches the gospel, he must make a passionate call for all to come to Christ. However, he must give this call in accordance with the Scriptures. He must not compromise or tone down the demands that Christ places upon those who would enter the kingdom…” (p. 185). On the next page he continues, “When the demands of the gospel become part of the gospel presentation, then the gospel will once again be a scandal…” (p. 186). Note that if there is a “demand” in the gospel, then it is no longer gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). The scandal of the gospel is that God became flesh and took upon himself the sins of the whole world (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), not that there is additional demands on the person.

The further I read in Part 2, the more discouraging was Washer’s presentation. The law was not only prominent, it was oppressive by the end. Note how he applies the “bad tree-bad fruit” analogy. “A bad tree cannot bear good fruit, and an unregenerate heart cannot fulfill the righteous requirements of the law” (p. 224). That is a half truth; he should continue with this: “And neither can a regenerate heart fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.”

The worst part is that Washer does not point to the true solution to the errors of the church. That is, the gospel of Jesus Christ in the written Word, in baptism (baptism now saves…through the cleansing of the consciences, 1 Peter 3:21), in the Lord’s Supper (“body of Christ given for you” and the “blood of Christ shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” 1 Corinthians 11:23-28) in the absolution (Matthew 18:18-20). The places where Jesus has promised to be, where he remembers us (that is the Gospel, not us remembering him) are neglected. Each of these is external to the Christian (extra nos), and because they are true Gospel bring the very thing that Washer desires. And none of it is tainted with our feeble attempt at keeping the Law.

Paul Washer identifies critical problems in the contemporary Christian Church. For that we can thank him. But sadly what he offers is Law based approach that will fail in the end. I can not recommend this book to the people in my church, because of the confusion regarding Law and Gospel. What offers the Christian assurance is that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law entirely for every person, and he suffered death as payment for the sins of every person—that is the assurance of the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) for a copy of the book for an unbiased review.

Why I used NAS

Over the past two years I have looked at translations that might be appropriate in our congregation. Essentially we have been using HCSB and GW, alternating on a quarterly basis; right now we have been using GW. Both translations have good qualities for use in our situation. Both have some weaknesses. This last Sunday, both translations left something to be desired.

Last Sunday in the Narrative Lectionary, the Gospel reading was John 11:1-44. The theme was obvious from v. 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live even if that person dies.” But here is what GW has:

John 11:25 GW   Jesus said to her, “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.”

The translation is legitimate, but it also runs into a problem. Namely, there are a few texts which are so well known, even by nominal Christians. This is one of them. Psalm 23 is another. So, I thought we might use HCSB.

John 11:25 HCSB Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”

Okay HCSB seemed to be the right choice for this Sunday.

John 11:33, 38 HCSB

But then as I explored using HCSB, I ran into another issue. The translation may be legitimate, but it is so jarring that people might be so distracted by it, that they miss the greater thing in the text.

John 11:33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved.

John 11:38 Then Jesus, angry in Himself again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

Most translations provide: “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” I won’t go into the details, but notice how “angry” changes the focal point. And the first question that arises is: What is Jesus angry at? Himself, for delaying too long? His friends, Martha and Mary, for not believing what He says? The crowds? Sin?

The problem is that nothing in the text suggests an answer. HCSB has a footnote, but again, it is speculation. In the process, though, the center of the text, what Jesus is revealing in Himself, is sidetracked.

The Solution

So I chose NAS for this text.

John 11:33 NAS When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,

John 11:38 NAS So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

And it worked well. The reading was not a long, complicated Pauline sentence (i.e. Ephesians 1:3-14). But for this Sunday NAS was the right combination.John1125

A few important blog posts

Although my schedule has been hectic and writing is a backseat option until the end of this week, I have discovered several important blog posts recently.

My good friend, Rev. Dr. Curt Leins, National Mission Developer and Assistant Presiding Pastor of The AALC, wrote about the temptation that has crept into western Christianity over the past 30 years. Temptation to be like God

Rev. Mark Surburg challenges us as we see what Lithuanian Lutherans are presently doing. Mark’s thoughts: Lithuanian Lutherans take in Syrian refugees. Would we?

Kelly writes a blog about helping those who struggle with depression: 10 Ways to Show Love to Someone With Depression

Pastor Dustin Parker writes about change and Lent: Change: A Lenten Journey

May these important words help you in some way.

One question raised this past week was: What are you doing for Lent? Perhaps the better question is: What is God doing in and through you for Lent?

Come to Jesus—where he may be found

Come to Jesus—where he may be found

(PS I hope to be back to blogging in a week or so)

Slavery and me

I tend not to publicly offer opinions on politics, etc. But this topic is more than that. As I saw a Facebook post about slavery today, I realized how this affected me.

Slavery Today

Slavery has bothered me for many years. While I may speak against it in Bible class (according to the topic, issue, etc.) and privately, I never delved into the topic in any serious way. I ask myself: Is this enough?

Do we know anything about slavery? Is it a minor, side issue for us because we either don’t see it or refuse to see? What if my granchildren were kidnapped and sold into slavery? Then how would I respond?What if it was a neighbor or extended family member?

I am not pointing a finger at anyone. Just raising the issue. See EndItMovement for some additional information.EndItMovement

The Greater Slavery

As much as human slavery bothers me, slavery to sin does more so. And this slavery affects every single person. As Paul wrote: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

The problem is that we are very good at identifying others in slavery to sin. But we are less than candid with ourselves. God does not let us off the hook, though.

Paul talks about the power of Baptism in the life of the Christian (Romans 6:1-10). He notes: “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3)

This is not just theology, but practical living. Paul continues:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death,c or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. (Romans 6:16-19)

So, am I a slave to sin? Or a slave to righteousness? As I look at my life, sometimes I wonder.

Is my anger righteous or defensive and protective? Is my attitude toward others one of superiority or humility? Sadly, I am a slave to sin more than I want to admit.
And that is a tragedy. I can see someone in slavery when surrounded by bars, pimps, whips, threats. But my slavery? More sedcutive, more tantalizing, more promising. But also more intrusive. I can’t turn off the internet of my mind. I can’t change the TV channel in my memories.

The Greatest Release

I remember the night that the first Vietnam POWs were released in early 1973. At the time I was taking my physical to join the military. I remember the looks, the expressions of joy and the marks of imprisonment. 18 months later one of the longer held POWs became my first commanding officer. For a year, every week, I arranged for him to spend two hours talking to our command officers (pilots and intelligence officers) about his experiences.

It was not very pretty (he had been tortured). Slavery is never is pretty. But God does not leave us to wallow in sin, doubt, fear, attacks, criticisms… In Romans 6:11, Paul first uses the imperative (command) in Romans.baptism_2

Because of baptism, we have been released from sin and its tyranny. Thus, Paul writes:

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Note that he is not telling us that we have to do something to be freed from sin. Only God can do that, and he has done that through our baptism in Jesus (Romans 6:1-5). Rather, here Paul urges us to believe what God has already worked and done for us and in us.

Human slavery and trafficking in the modern world is complicated, protected, profitable, despicable. There are many strands, but there are movements to end it. I support such movements.

Slavery to sin in the modern world is as old as the story in Genesis 3. It takes even more to overcome this kind of slavery. It would take an act of God. In fact, it did take an act of God: Jesus died on the cross to take away our sin. John announced when he first publicly pointed to Jesus:

Real Ugliness—true Beauty

Real Ugliness—true Beauty

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

And Jesus accomplished that, fulfilling Isaiah 53 (as well as many other prophecies) and then confirmed by the apostles, 1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.

Let’s not let slavery to sin dictate our lives—to give glory to God.

Book Review: Apostle of the Last Days

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Because “eschatology” (end times or last days study) can cover a wide range of approaches, many of them not consistent with Scripture, I tend to be cautious when reading any book on the topic. Pate offers an excellent overview of Paul’s writings on the topic. While I do not agree with everything he wrote, the book is still worth reading and digesting.9780825438929

Pate addresses five components of eschatology: 1. New age has come, 2. It is cosmic and universal, 3. A Savior inaugurates the new age, 4. The new age/Savior is predicted in sacred writings, 5. The new age is celebrated through rituals. Then he looks at each of these components relative to the various movements and influences in the first century: Hellenistic religion (realized eschatology), Roman Imperial Cult (realized eschatology), Merkabah Judaizers (realized eschatology), Non-Merkabah Judaizers (inaugurated eschtology), and Paul (inaugurated eschatology). See page 21 for a helpful table of the each of these aspects.

In the Introduction, I found his set up of the issue compelling. He gives a quick overview of Paul’s letters and the apocalyptic sense of the Gospel. This corresponds with my study over the past 30 years. While on the academic level, this has been debated, by the time “lay” level books are written, much of the eschatological/apocalyptic perspective is either negated or twisted to meet an agenda. Pate offers a way forward to address the issue academically but also pastoral. I thought it interesting and instructive that he carefully notes that “suffering Messiah” does not appear in pre-Christian writings. The primary text used in Christianity for this is Isaiah 53, but he notes that it does not use the word Messiah, but servant.

In his treatment of Galatians Pate provides a fine foundation for the eschatological perspective of Paul. At the same time he briefly addresses the issue of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), with a table of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright (p. 72). Pate aligns himself with the traditional understanding of justification rather than NPP. In his footnote he raises the assumption of NPP “It was only Lutheran exegesis that gave the false impression that Paul ever had a negative view of the Law” (p. 71). Therein lies a problem with the entire NPP; it misunderstands Lutheran exegesis.

In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, an area of special interest for me over the past 30 years, the author correctly challenges the idea of a “secret rapture of the church” before the coming of Christ. His table of comparing 1 and 2 Thessalonians with the Olivet Discourse (via Douglas Moo) is very helpful in understanding and interpreting these texts.

The most helpful and enlightening chapter for me was 1 and 2 Corinthians. At the same time, I have reservations about the four influences can be summarized in one concept as Petrine: “We will now put forth the theory that Torah-centered wisdom mediated by the Spirit adequately accounts for each of these influences, the source of which can well be traced to the Petrine party” (p. 126). While much is valuable, such a stance seems closed when Paul talks about the Spirit mediating the wisdom, even as Paul does in 1 and 2 Corinthians. I need to ponder this more.

Following his position (adequately demonstrated), then is that the real opposition to the Gospel in Corinth comes from Jewish context and especially mystic Jewish context, not Hellenistic. Especially helpful in his summary was the five fold imagery that Paul uses for Christ-centered leadership: 1. Agricultural 2. Architectural, 3. Financial, 4. Gladiatorial, 5. Familial. As he notes, “[Paul wanted] to jolt the Corinthian church into the reality that their divisive spirit was born out of exalting human leaders over the cross of Christ, God’s wisdom” (p. 144). That quote is almost worth the price of the book itself!

In Colossians I thought his presentation of the similarities and differences between Paul and Qumran was well done (pp. 210-4). Likewise the chapter on the Pastoral epistles was well done, thoroughly researched and presented.

His chapter on the theology of Paul was succinct yet thorough and a fine summary of what he has presented throughout the book. He provides a matrix of the contexts of theological categories (theology proper, Christology, pneumatology, anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and then Eschatology itself) with the specific areas of eschatological topics that he has addressed.

Some concerns

I think the issue of the Lord’s Supper (pp. 148-9) is left incomplete and unsatisfactory. Pate writes: “Such drastic divine measures shocked the Corinthian church into realizing that the Lord’s Supper, like baptism, did not magically protect them” (p. 149). And yet the essence of both baptism and Lord’s Supper are the eschatological focus of the community in the now, not yet form. Paul certainly reaffirms that in 1 Cor. 10:16 and again in 11:26. The reality of the Lord’s Supper is not a “magic protection’ but the giving of God has promised on an ongoing basis, forgiveness of sins. One confusing thing about his table on p. 154 at the bottom is having “the outer person” on the right and “the inner person” on the left. Normally reading a table like this in a left-to-right manner, we would expect the new on the right side of the table.

Pate makes an unfortunate choice in his words in regard to Romans. “The bad news of justification” (p. 176). That is a wrong understanding of justification (which is only Good News). The bad news is from the Law of God stating the requirements to meet and the judgment on failure to meet. Another concern in Romans is his comment on 11:25-26, specifically, “in the future the nation of Israel will indeed accept Jesus as their Messiah” (p. 179). That is only one possible understanding of the text.

Final Thoughts

A very well written book and can be useful for the pastor or seminary student. But I think it needs to be read in light of the theological concerns I have mentioned.

Editing

Sadly, there several editing mistakes, a couple which are significant.

p. 31–33 the numbered list is repeated

p. 174-176 major formatting issue (everything is indented, as if from a quote, but it is not).

Other editing errors were found on the following pages: 56, 104, 139, 143, 208.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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