I am a monarchist. There: I said it. Despite living in a constitutional republic, which I love and appreciate so much, I favor monarchy not because I believe humans can justly rule as such but because there is a connection between the divine and earthly. A monarch is only ever endowed with power not by the people, but by God. Kings are not appointed but anointed. They do not receive their installment in capital or parliament but in a sacred precinct. No politician places the crown upon their head, but a clergyman is the one who crowns and anoints them and at the behest of God.
God once reigned over His people, Israel (1 Sam. 8:7) but they demanded a king. God gave them what they desired, but the king presented to Israel was later rejected by God as His representative on earth in favor of a better type of person. God chose the lowly shepherd, David out of all of his siblings to rule because of where David’s heart was—after God. Throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles, David was the exemplar of a well-do king whereas Reheboam was such for those who were idolatrous and evil. David was the ideal. The hope was that David’s descendants would be as he was: God-fearing and obedient. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case.
Setting a precedent for generations to come, and particularly for the West, was the process of making an ordinary person a monarch. For the Israelites, a holy man anointed the one whom God had elected. Saul was anointed secretly by Samuel so that he would be “prince” over Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). David was anointed before his family (1 Sam. 16:13), and Solomon before all the people:
So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and took him to Gihon. Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. (1 Kings 1:38–40)
Fast-forwarding centuries beyond this time, many of us are familiar with the English royal family, Queen Elizabeth II being head of that family and ruling monarch. Her coronation was something spectacular. The coronation ceremony of the British monarchy dates back to Medieval times and consists of five parts: 1) The recognition—dating as far back as AD 973—was to present the monarch thus ensuring that they were not an imposter. 2) The ruler takes a sacred oath, and 3) they are then anointed with holy oil while a canopy covers them thus obscuring them from the watchful crowd. The sign of the cross is made on the forehead, chest, and hand which sanctifies them as a ruler devoted to God for people. 4) They are crowned, and the peers of the realm then put on their coronets. 5) Finally, their Lord’s pay them homage.
The crown that Elizabeth II was crowned with, as well as others before her, was St. Edward’s Crown—dating back to 1661. Only the monarch, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the royal jeweler are permitted to touch this crown. The concept of a crown itself dates back over 2,000 years. It used to be a band placed on the head as if a halo and represented the wearer as head of the nation. The scepter denoted the ruler’s power, and the robes, usually scarlet or some similar color, were regal garments. However, once Elizabeth was crowned, she was then officially recognized by God and the people as the rightful ruler of England.
Early in Israel’s history, God proclaimed that Judah would be the tribe of royalty (Gen. 49:10). Nearly eight centuries before Christ was born, Isaiah promised that the anointed one (Messiah) would derive from the lineage of Jesse, King David’s father (Isaiah 11:1–5). This is the Person whom we hold to be both Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Moreover, He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When Jesus was crucified, His accusation appeared overhead: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37). Christ’s throne was the cross, His crown made of thorns, His scepter one of the very instruments used to beat Him, and His robe was the cape of a Roman soldier’s garb all in a display of mockery to fulfill what Isaiah wrote centuries earlier:
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. (53:3–5)
Charles I was executed by the English people, the monarchy abolished in favor of a republic. However, when Lord Cromwell—the man who sought the execution of Charles I and who established the republic—died Charles II revived the monarchy to the pleasure of the people. On Good Friday, Jesus who was believed to have been King of the Jews was crucified and His body laid in a borrowed tomb. However, on Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead in a glorified body thus restoring the hope of humanity that had days earlier been thought lost. Jesus Christ was raised ” to sit on [David’s] throne” (Acts 2:29–33). He is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)!
Our Savior didn’t choose the finest of robes, or gold for His scepter. His crown didn’t contain any precious jewels, but plenty of thorns. Jesus, rather than being arrayed in splendor, pointed out that humanity’s treatment of God has been for centuries a mockery. Having used the very hatred we have for the divine in our selfish pride and ego, He allowed it to be that He died so that we might live. Resurrection has occurred. Jesus is now gloriously reigning at the right hand of God. We too must be crucified with Christ, buried and raised by our faith in Him through baptism. Only then will we receive the crown of life promised to those who endure.
With this coming Sunday being Palm Sunday, we can historically trace the events of the week leading up Jesus’ crucifixion. We’re able to reflect on the annual observance of His sacrifice because it happened the week of the Jewish Passover, which coincides with the time of Christ’s crucifixion. If you look at your calendar, you’ll see that this coming Sunday is marked Palm Sunday with the following week being the week of the Passover. So below, I’ll list what happened each day of what’s referred to as “Holy Week” and hope that each day you’ll reflect on each even and their coinciding passages as a matter of your Christian devotion.
Sunday: Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday was when Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by the crowds who held up palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The prophecy about this even is in Zechariah 9:9, and the Gospel story is in Matthew 21:1–11.
Monday: Jesus clears the Temple of the money changers in Matthew 21:12–22.
Tuesday: Jesus teaches on the Mount of Olives and delivers His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 21:23–24:51.
Wednesday: This is known as Silent Wednesday because the Bible doesn’t say what Christ did on this day of the week.
Thursday: This is the day of the Passover, beginning at sundown in the evening, and Last Supper. It’s often referred to as “Maundy Thursday.” While in Bethany, Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the upper room for the Passover Feast, and Jesus washes His disciples’ feet that evening as they prepare the share the ‘Passover Meal in Matthew 26:17–75.
Friday: This is referred to as “Good Friday,” because it was the day on which Christ was tried, crucified, died, and buried. This is the most difficult of days leading up to Jesus’ final hours. Before 9 am, He was tried and sentenced to be crucified. At about 3 pm He breathed His last breath. By 6 pm His body was taken down and laid in the tomb as recorded in Matthew 27:1–62.
Saturday: Jesus was crucified on Good Friday (Day 1) and reposed in the tomb from Friday evening through Saturday (Day 2). The events of this day are recorded in Matthew 27:62–66.
Sunday: This day is what we know as Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday as some call it. This was the day on which Jesus rose from the grave, and the tomb was found empty. This, therefore, became good news—the gospel. You can read about it in Matthew 28:1–13.
This is a question I’m often asked (referring to the title). My simple answer is: “Whichever you can best understand.” My most significant concern is with making sure that the reader of the Bible can understand what they’re reading and be transformed by it. For many Christians, reading the Bible is somewhat tricky. We all learn differently, and putting things one way versus another can be the main difference in encouraging or discouraging the reader. One of my goals as a minister is to help Christians to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and that means meeting them where they are. Some Christians are on the level of The Message, others are back in Elizabethan times with King James. Wherever they are is where I want to meet them, and wherever they are is where I want them to encounter God.
Now, if pressed further on the question as to which is my favorite English translation, I have a multitude of answers because I favor no one over another. I love the King James Version for its poetic flow. I enjoy the literalness of the NASB. I enjoy the readability of the ESV and its attempt to remain faithful to the original text. I even, and this may be heretical to some, appreciate the NIV for putting into words the very thoughts behind the text. I preach and teach from the NKJV, however, because that’s the version to which the Glendale Road congregation is most accustomed. If you were to ask any member at Glendale Road, they would admit to hearing me comment on the Hebrew and Greek syntax. I don’t do this to sound smart, but to explain the text and its nuances in what I hope is a simplistic way.
There are different translation philosophies, and the reason for so many translations has precisely to do with this. There’s the philosophy of translating the Scriptures word-for-word; what’s called “formal equivalence.” The NASB, KJV, NKJV, ESV and such others are of this persuasion. Then you have optimal-equivalence which takes the tension between readability and textual accuracy and gives a translation such as the NET and HCSB do. Then we have the thought-for-thought philosophy, often referred to as functional-equivalence, which is what the NLT and NIV strive to do. This philosophy seeks to give the same effect on the current reader that it would have on the ancient reader (hearer).
Each philosophy has its strengths and weaknesses. A word-for-word translation might lend to a literal interpretation method when figurative or allegorical might best suit the context, for example. Nevertheless, I do not particularly favor one over the other, though I’m accustomed to using word-for-word translations if only for textual studies, which I do a lot of as a minister and Bible teacher. Here’s an example of a translation tension using 1 Thessalonians 4:4.
That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. (ESV)
That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour. (KJV)
Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it. (Message)
I would translate the passage, “To know each one of you his own vessel how to acquire/possess in holiness and honor.” The term “vessel” was often used about a wife in antiquity because she received the seed of her male counterpart in sexual intercourse (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). Since the vessel was utilized as a receptacle, we see it elsewhere in Scripture: Paul was God’s chosen vessel (Acts 9:15), and indeed he received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). Believers too were vessels meant for honorable use while unbelievers were for dishonorable use (Rom. 9:21; cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-21). The noble was receptors of the Holy Spirit like Paul (Rom. 8:9–11) while the dishonorable were recipients of wrath (9:23). Since her husband ruled the wife in ancient Rome, she was considered his possession. Therefore, the proper acquisition of a wife demanded the husband avoid passion. Is Paul instructing the Thessalonians, who had converted from paganism to Christianity, to take wives to themselves with honor, or to regard their bodies with reverence and, therefore, avoid such acts as masturbation per se?
Passion was the dishonorable loss of self-control according to the ancients. As one scholar put it, “Vices of excess disgrace those who commit them [1 Cor. 7:35–36; cf. 6:18].” The active form of decorum referred to an elegant appearance obtained through control of elimination of all the passions; particularly those passions relevant to drinking alcohol, overeating, and sex. Pleasures that were overindulged in were seen as filled with passion and, therefore, ugly practices. What was Paul advocating? Paul likely encourages that men regard women as value. Perhaps even Christian equality, friendship, and mutual openness.
For this is what living with a woman as one’s wife means—to have children by her and to introduce the sons to the members of the clan and of the deme, and to betroth the daughters to husbands as one’s own. Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households. (Demosthenes 59.122; ca. 382–22 BC)
Avoid impurity to the utmost of your power before marriage, and if you indulge your passion, let it be done lawfully. But do not be offensive or censorious to those who indulge it, and do not be always bringing up your own chastity. (Epic. Ench. 33.8; ca. AD 55–135)
While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.
One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives. (Tertullian Apol. 39)
[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners. (Diogn. 5.7)
Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union.” (Aristides Apol. 15)
In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all. (31)
Most English Bibles will usually have a footnote about a passage that presents difficult translation possibilities. 1 Thessalonians 4:4 is typically one such passage. A word-for-word translation can be misleading, and depending on the other two philosophies, they can also be misleading. As to either of the two possibilities of taking a wife in holiness and not using one’s own body for sexual gratification, neither of these contradict clear Christian teaching. However, which did Paul actually mean? Because the case could be argued either way, we may not know. The Thessalonians knew, but all we can offer is our best, and sometimes this is all a translation is—a committee’s or person’s best.
When I played basketball in middle school, I much preferred defense to offense. I always loved getting under the goal when it came time for rebounds because I didn’t mind scrapping to get the ball and either get it to the other end of the court or in the basket. As it would often happen, there were rebounds I made that came at a price. The ball would sometimes bounce so hard and fast off the backboard that when I’d reach up to catch it, my right ring finger would jam because of the force with which the ball came off the backboard. That particular finger has been stuck so much that I wondered for a time whether or not if it would adequately reset. Thankfully, it did.
While playing with a jammed finger on your shooting hand, I often missed shots because I couldn’t grip the ball or follow entirely through with my release because of the pain. I had never realized just how much work that one finger contributed to the overall game. My feet and arms worked in tandem to get me from one point to the other. My hands could block or receive a pass. My legs could thrust me up for a rebound, but the fingers, wrist, arm, legs, eyes, and all were vital to sinking a shot. I could make a minor adjustment to make the shot despite the pain, but I never took that finger for granted anymore after it jammed.
When Paul wrote about Christ’s assembly, he used the depiction of a body in 1 Corinthians 12. He opens with a precursory discussion about spiritual things—“gifts” not existing in the original but implied by context—through which Christ is called Lord and never accursed since the Holy Trinity is one (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1–3). Those hearing this letter read had been gentiles led astray by idols, such who were often at odds with one another. Reading Iliad and Aeneid shows just how the gods often warred against each other on behalf of people(s). Carrying this mindset into Christianity would have been antithetical to the faith, because Father, Son, and Spirit work in unity and are not divided, as the Corinthians were.
In the same manner, the same Spirit by whom one confesses Christ as Lord is one who gives the diversity of gifts (charismaton), ministries, and activities (1 Cor. 12:4–7). The Spirit is one God but gives to each person something that may be different from another. They are diverse but united (1 Cor. 12:8–11). As was then is now: just because one person has giftedness does not mean that those with differing gifts or none at all are any less Christian than the one so endowed. This is the central point that Paul makes, and he makes it in verses 12–13 of 1 Corinthians 12.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
Jesus Christ is a single body. Those belonging to Him come to be in Him and members of the body through baptism. They then become members of that individual body, and our unity in Christ demonstrates that we are so through His worldview. Our baptism signifies and defines us at the people of Christ: Christian. We who submit to baptism, therefore, are to learn the way of life Jesus intends for us as His covenant people. It matters not whether we are of one nationality or another, one socio-economic standing or another. What matters is that we are born into the body of which Christ is our head (cf. Col. 1:18; 2:19) in the same manner in which all humanity has as its head Adam, and all Israel had as their head the forefather who bore their same name.
With this in mind, we ought not to see a fellow Christian’s giftedness as a sign of greater piety or devotion to God. Nor should we look upon those with a title as more significant than others who lack an ecclesiastical title (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28–31). Each member of the body has its purpose(s) and ought not to be regarded as of lesser value than any other (cf. 1 Cor. 12:15–24) because no one body is ever in discord, but harmony (1 Cor. 12:25–26). This, now, leads to a few implications of the church as the body of Christ.
- The church is where Christ is, and He is its creating and sustaining force. He promised to build such an assembly (Matt. 16:18), and He has also promised to never forsake His people (Heb. 13:5–6). You can find Christ at church (assembly), and when we who are members of that body conduct ourselves honestly with Him as our head, people see the significance of the church and would want to be a part of the body. There’s more to assembling than what we wear, or how reverent we act. If we do not embody His headship as our lives, we present ourselves as hypocrites and shouldn’t wonder why it is hard to get people to come, let alone join.
- The church is as important to Jesus as your body is to your head. If you sever yourself from the head as a member of the body, you will die. We fit together like an intricate whole, so willfully neglecting assembly and living a life separated from the body makes as much sense as beheading someone and expecting the body to still work without the head. Because Christ is our head, “He is Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). We shouldn’t seek to be separated from our leader.
- The presence of Jesus in the world should be represented by us, His people. We ought to continue the very ministry of Christ, and though we each have different parts to play, we all ought to contribute to the growth of the whole (Eph. 4:16).
Sir Michael Costa was a great orchestral Conductor of the 19th Century. It is said that one day he was conducting a rehearsal in which the orchestra was joined by a great choir. Midway through the session, the piccolo player stopped playing. It seemed innocent enough – after all who would miss the tiny piccolo amidst the great mass of instruments blazing away? All of a sudden Sir Michael stopped the entire orchestra and choir. “Stop! Stop! Where’s the piccolo? What’s happened to the piccolo?” We may sometimes feel like that piccolo player – that we don’t have much to offer, that if we stopped our ministry no one would notice anyway. Yet the Great Conductor sees, and needs us to complete his musical masterpiece!
 N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2013), 396.
 Eduard Schweizer, The Church as the Body of Christ (Richmond: John Knox, 1964), 53.
It seems as if periodically that some celebrity pastor falls from grace and the status of their church becomes suspect thereafter. The most recent such pastor is James MacDonald. The fault in such ideas of church is that they are tied to the identity of one particular person, often a man and sometimes a woman. These pastors peddle the ideals of Christ from their pulpits while living questionably off the stage: Mark Driscoll, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker all come to mind—each of whom “earned” exorbitant salaries beyond what any servant of Christ should reasonably expect.
Anytime a church is built upon a faulty human, bad things are sure to follow. Humans use their ingenuity and marketing skills thinking that they have to make the Gospel appealing to humans while it is we humans who need to alter our tastes to comprehend and take hold of the divine. Concerts, smoke, lighting, coffee bars are all part of the modern idea of making church appealing. When do we begin to ask, “Is this what God wants?” Upon what rock did Christ intend to build His church? Was it a rockstar pastor? What was it? Who was it? Peter?
As Christianity spread, bishops arose in cities who served between the bishops and presbyters (elders) of rural congregations. Among city-bishops arose men named metropolitans who superintended capital cities and provinces. As the metropolitans arose, those churches that had close ties to an apostle were given higher esteem because they were supposed to bear the purest form of apostolic tradition. The bishops of these capital cities and provinces received the honorary title of “Patriarch,” and at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) this form of ecclesiastical government is assumed to have already been in operation.
The most prominent of congregations thought to hold the purest form of apostolic tradition and teaching were Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. Later added to the list were Constantinople and Jerusalem. Constantine moved the head of his rule from Rome to modern-day Istanbul, Turkey in AD 330. He named the city after himself (Constantinople), and the world recognized it as the head of the Roman rule and it was dubbed the “New Rome.” However, the church in Old Rome did not accept this distinction because of the empire’s relocation. One church believed they still had the prominence, and the relocated church thought that because it followed the emperor, it had the preeminence.
Centuries earlier in refuting Gnosticism, Irenaeus (AD 180) had pointed out the succession of bishops to establish sound doctrine in the church. The Gnostics did not have such a historical claim of apostolic succession, but they had their list of sequence that Irenaeus refuted with his own.
The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric … To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies 3.3.3. [AD 180])
Irenaeus also pointed out in the previous verse that Peter and Paul established the church and handed over the episcopate (bishopric)—not Peter only as the claim has been. Since Peter and Paul were at Rome for their execution and since many remaining Christians had communed with these esteemed apostles, the church (universal) assumed that a purer apostolic tradition lay in the Roman church. This gave way to Rome’s exaltation before the church.
With this list of succession was added Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This passage was taught as having spoken of Peter’s preeminence over the church. However, church historian Henry Chadwick wrote,
[This text] cannot be seen to have played any part in the story of Roman leadership and authority before the middle of the third century when the passionate disagreement between Cyprian of Carthage and Stephen of Rome about baptism apparently led Stephen to invoke the text as part of his defence against Cyprian. But it was not until Damascus in 382 that this Petrine text seriously began to become important as providing a theological and scriptural foundation on which claims to primacy were based.¹
Peter, therefore, cannot be the “rock” upon which the church is built, in my opinion.
Two other probable interpretations of the rock upon which the church is built are: 1) the confession itself (Chrysostom, Calvin) or 2) Jesus Himself (Origen, Augustine, Luther). Confession is an integral part of our faith (cf. Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9–13). However, having a high Christology as I do, I exalt Christ and His person as the rock upon which the church is built, and the confession of such being paramount to the actual building of the church. To posit that it is either/or in this case presents a false dichotomy. I would see it as both/and with favor toward the person of Christ over confession if I were forced to choose.
To Israel, they were hewn from the rock of Abraham (Isaiah 51:1–2)—a notion that a rock pointed more so to a person than a confession. However, the assembly that Christ promised to built would derive from Him (Eph. 2:19–22; cf. Isaiah 28:16; Rom. 9:32–33; 1 Cor. 3:9–11)—to believers as the rock of our foundation, but to unbelievers, a stone of stumbling.² Connected to Christ’s Messiahship is His death and resurrection (Matt. 16:21), and when the first sermon of the church was preached, Jesus was proclaimed to have died and been raised from the dead (Acts 2:36)—a fact which led to the pierced hearts on Pentecost, and ultimately a reality that led to the building of His assembly.
When we consider that the rock upon which the church is built happens to be Jesus, this ought to define our identity. A lot of “newer” churches define their identity based on what they do for people as churchgoers. We all ought to have our identity revolve around the death and resurrection of Jesus because this is the rock upon which His church was built and shall continue to be built. All other options are cheap imitations borrowing a scheme from Him to promote their own wishes. I leave you with the following:
The early church didn’t need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being a part of God’s body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe.
We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice. Too often we add in our own voices, thinking if we offer just the right services or package the gospel in just the right way so no one gets offended, we can convince people to stay. By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches … Many of us make decisions based on what brings us the most pleasure. This is how we choose our homes, jobs, cars, clothes, food, and churches. We pursue what we want; then we make sure there are no biblical commands we are violating. In essence, we want to know what God will tolerate rather than what He desires. Maybe we are afraid to ask what will bring Him the most pleasure. Ignorance feels better than disobedience.³
¹ Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, rev. ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 237–38. The earliest traces of this passage referring to the Bishop of Rome or other such bishops as Peter’s successor can be traced to the early third century according to Oscar Cullman (Peter, Disciple, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Study, 2nd ed. [London: SCM Press, 1962], 165–67).
² Oscar F. Seitz, “Upon this Rock: A Critical Reexamination of Matt 16:17–19,” Journal of Biblical Literature 69, no. 4 (Dec. 1950), 329–40.
³ Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2018), 43, 53–54.
“Church” is, I believe, an anachronistic translation of ekklesia. It came to us through various languages which ultimately derived from kyriakos (“the Lord’s). This seems to have been used since AD 300 and onward, and when we think of the “church,” we ultimately envision the building wherein we meet. “Church” being used of the building in which we meet is accurate, and sometimes well-meaning Christians admonish that we “be the church and not simply go to church.” The sentiment is that as a living body, we should be active and not stationary—something with which I can agree. However, to describe our meeting places as churches—the word itself having derived from the German Kirche—is not altogether wrong. What many may be unaware of is that English is a Germanic language. We often think of it as based in Latin, but in truth, we use many loanwords from Latin and Greek, but our language itself is Germanic.
Ekklesia is often broken down by its compounds to define it in older scholarly works and many modern favorite tomes: ek meaning “out of” and kaleo meaning “call.” Hence, the church is often described as the “called out,” but out of what are we called? The world, so we’re told. Since most languages do not define terms based on their compounds, I favor looking at the language the way an ancient audience might have understood it rather than loaded with a theology which may have evolved later on. For this reason, I take a classical approach. The term, then, would have simply meant “assembly.” Doesn’t sound very spiritual or unique, does it? A term doesn’t have to be used with theological meaning for it to have a special significance as God may have used it. William Tyndale in 1526 produced the first English Bible translated from the Greek and translated this term as “congregation.” Wycliffe’s translation as earlier, but it used the Vulgate.¹
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build (architectural language) His “church,” or “assembly.” How should we understand this? “Assembly” referred to what was done and not where. It was often used of the assembly of citizens of a Greek city who made decisions for the city-state. It’s used in this vein in Acts 7:38 and 19:32, 40. To the Greeks, it was a noble word and denoted the activities of the Greek civic life.² The way that Matthew likely intended to portray it was in continuation of Israel’s history. Ekklesia and sometimes synagoge replace the Hebrew term in the LXX that denoted the people of God. Furthermore, the Semitic paradigm of Matthew’s account is evident in a few ways:
- The blessing of Peter is an Old Testament style.
- Addressing Peter by his father’s name—Bar Jona.
- The play on words with Peter’s name in Greek.
- The expressions “flesh and blood” and “bind and loose.”³
These each suggests a Jewish reading of the term and concludes that it must be understood as “assembly” as such that appeared at the base of Mt. Sinai when all Israel was assembled before God (cf. Deut. 4:9–10; 9:10–11; 18:15–16 LXX). They did a few things that Jesus’ disciples would have likely paralleled to His statement:
- They consecrated themselves before assembling (Exod. 19:10).
- They assembled before God (Exod. 19:17).
- They heard God’s law (Exod. 20–23).
- They were instructed in the covenant and heard it read (Exod. 24:3–4, 7).
- A meal was eaten to partake of the sacrifice that ratified the covenant (Exod. 24:4–11).
- Offerings were collected for the tabernacle (Exod. 25:1–8).
We can see similarities between Israel’s and the Christian assembly. We too are consecrated by faith in baptism (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–4), we assemble each Lord’s Day where we hear God’s Word read and are instructed in it, and we also partake of the Lord’s Supper and collect offerings. Whether it is a stretch or not to make those comparisons I’ll leave up to the reader with the one notable missing element being the singing of praises. All in all, when Christ promised to build His assembly, this is likely what His disciples envisioned.
¹ Jennifer Eyl, “Semantic Voids, New Testament Translation, and Anachronism: The Case of Paul’s Use of Ekklesia,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 26, no. 4 (May 2014): 315–39.
² Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 129–33.
³ Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Meaning of ‘Εκκλησíα in Matthew 16:18 and 18:17,” Bibliotheca Sacra 167 (July–September 2010): 281–91.
If I could summarize the entire book of Hebrews, it would be according to a hymn we often sing in worship: “How Great Thou Art.” Throughout the entire book, the author presents Christ as far greater than angels, Moses, the Torah, and up unto chapter eight, Jesus is presented as of a greater priesthood than the Aaronic priesthood. Christ, unlike the priests who served the temple, did not need to offer sacrifice for His sins, would not inherit the priesthood by a birth-right, and there would be no end to His priesthood. Because He was both the offerer and offering, Christ’s priesthood is far greater in that He was able to remove the blockades that kept humanity from approaching God without continual sacrifices. Now, He is not a high priest that after presenting His offering must retreat from God’s presence, but He is seated beside God Himself. No one sits in the presence of Majesty, but Jesus can because of who He is and what He has done (Heb. 8:1).
Furthermore, the priests who ministered did so in the temple, which was a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). Jesus ministers in the actuality of what the priests on earth could only hope to minister in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus ministered in “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26). Many people have attended the Parthenon in Nashville, TN understanding that it is only a replica of the actual one whose ruins stands in Athens. However, by going to the one in Nashville, we can ascertain what it would have looked like and been in ancient Greece. Is it actual? No. It’s a replica just as how the temple was a replica of heaven, something insufficient in purpose but a temporary method to point to actuality (Heb. 9:8–12).
Of particular interest to me is the fact that Jesus is “liturgist of the holies” and of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8:2; my translation). In the temple, there were the menorahs along the walls, the showbread, and closest to the holy of holies was the altar of incense. At various times and in various ways, the floors would have been sprinkled with the blood of offerings as would have been the altar of incense. What were all these actions? They were the mediation of the covenant Israel made with God. We, however, are under a new covenant, and Christ as our liturgist mediates the new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6) which is the new covenant in His blood (Matt. 26:28), because it is the shedding of blood that enacts the covenant (Heb. 9:16–22). Since the work of the priests was to present offerings and gifts to God to effect reconciliation, this is the work Christ does (Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20).
Abortions are nothing new. They’ve existed since antiquity as a method to limit the number of children a household had. However, the oath attributed to Hippocrates that doctors take to this day prohibited abortion in ancient Greece—“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness, I will guard my life and my art.” Cicero argued that anyone who intentionally aborted a child deserved capital punishment (In Defense of Cluentius 32). In the Old Testament, we see the care God gives over the individual in His fashioning of them in the womb:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:13–16)
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4–5)
The Ten Commandments were used by early Christians just as they were by Jews—as teachings that pertained to moral living. Notably, the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” was given a greater expansion in Christian thinking. Those familiar with biblical Hebrew might better render the sixth commandment as, “You shall do no murder.” “Murder” is a term that we understand differently than “kill.” “Murder” carries the weight of malicious intent. “Kill” doesn’t always carry that same weight. I might be driving my car and lose control and run over a person and “kill” them. However, I didn’t maliciously intend to do them any harm. The early Christians, likewise, valued life—including that of the unborn.
And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder … you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. (Didache 2.2)
But the path of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the path of eternal death and punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul … Here are they who are persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies; they who know not the reward of righteousness, who cleave not to what is good nor unto just judgment … murderers of children. (Barnabas 20.1–2)
Christian writers believed that life began at conception. One early Christian inferred from Luke 1:41 when John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb that very belief (Instructor 2.10.96). Athenagoras pointed to Christianity’s rejection of abortion as proof that Christians were moral when he wrote that the Christians “say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God s for the abortion” (Leg. 35). Later church councils forbade abortion and actually levied punishments against those Christians who murdered their unborn. The Council of Elvira (4th century) reflects such beliefs.
If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice. (can. 63)
A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches. (can. 68)
Even some of the most notable early church theologians/bishops supported this stance. Both Augustine and John Chrysostom viewed abortion as murder.
Despite the rationale of those who advocate such today, there is always a scenario of mitigating circumstances that people rely on to justify the action. Those who favor abortion see the argument as a discussion of the woman’s body while those who oppose abortion view the matter relevant to the body of the unborn. How one considers the debate depends on their conclusion. However, I believe that even those who make the decision are deserving of compassion and mercy, because we may not know what led to their decision. All we can do as supporters of life is to listen, learn, and try to help.