The case of Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire to the Lord and their subsequent deaths is somewhat enigmatic. God had just sent fire to consume the burnt offering on the altar (Lev. 9:22–24) which the priests were to have kept kindled in perpetuity (Lev. 6:12–13). Now, two of Aaron’s sons, priests in their own right, presented an unwelcome fire that resulted in God sending fire to devour them. The altar of incense, however, was not in the holy of holies but was just before the veil which partitioned the holy of holies from the sacred place. Several sources suggest that the priests entered the holy of holies, however (Vayikra Rabbah 20.8; Torat Kohanim; et. al.). God had previously instructed against such a “strange” offering on the altar of incense (Exod. 30:7–9), so what they had done violated what He earlier warned against doing.
The “strange fire” likely came from a source otherwise not sanctioned by Yahweh (cf. Lev. 16:12 [Milgrom, 598]). Interesting it is that the phrase, “So fire went out from the LORD” is the same as that which appears in Lev 9:24. On the earlier occasion, the fire demonstrated God’s approval and acceptance, but on the latter, His disapproval. Yahweh is, therefore, hallowed by manifesting His power against transgression as well as in approving of righteousness. The priests established His holiness and honor by their reverence for Him. They were chosen not to be honored themselves, as Aaron might have mistaken, but to honor God and reveal His greatness to Israel (Houston).
Rather than thinking that this story is about what happened to Nadab and Abihu, it’s really about Aaron. Notice that he is addressed after what befell his sons in verses 3, 6, 8, and 12 of Lev 10 with one of the speakers to Aaron being Yahweh (v. 8). This was one of the rare times that God spoke directly to Aaron, and He emphasized the importance of discernment in the priestly vocation (v. 10). Aaron was told by Moses what God revealed to him at the moment regarding the cause of his eldest sons’ deaths (v. 3). Moses then instructed that no public display of mourning be made nor for him to remove himself from the tabernacle due to the presence of the anointing oil upon them (vv. 6–7). Israel, however, was permitted to mourn for Aaron and what had occurred.
Emotion is ever-present in this narrative. When God’s fire lit the altar, the people “saw and shouted with joy” (9:24). The root of Aaron’s silence suggests not just holding his tongue, but a mournfulness that might induce him to moan in sorrow which he repressed (10:3). The father isn’t stoically standing by as if not moved by what’s happened but is bothered by it all (Eliasen).³ Aaron is so bothered that he refused even to eat of the sin offering made by Eleazar and Ithamar, his two other sons. This was not to be rebellious, but cautious lest he incurs a similar fate to that of his sons. Moses grew angry with his nephews for this, but Aaron responded in a way that communicated that he views himself as his sons or they as extensions of him. Therefore, Aaron didn’t lose two of his sons, but a part of himself died (Lev. 10:16–19), so he feared eating it lest he suffers similarly.
Here on out, the distinction between the sacred and profane are highlighted for the Israelites so that God may dwell in their presence and them in His. What went wrong here? It is possible that Aaron still had his idolatrous tendencies about him, which led to his sons’ usage of profane fire. God had already selected Aaron and his sons as priests to Himself before Moses returned to the bottom of Mt. Sinai, and Aaron had constructed the golden calf (Exod. 32:1–6). The golden calf itself was not a god but was a heavenly throne upon which a deity or deities would sit, similar to the cherubim of the ark of the covenant. It was meant to invite the deity to dwell among the people and lead them, but was done in a way unauthorized by God. Later, the northern kingdom would erect golden calves in Bethel and Dan, not as images of pagan worship but as thrones for the God of Israel (Alter, 494). If Aaron hadn’t ridden himself of idolatrous ways, his sons would have held the same cavalierness when they offered strange fire, thus reflecting on the parenting of Aaron.
The failure of a patriarch regarding God with reverence and holiness isn’t isolated to Aaron. King David similarly failed in this regard. His adultery was followed by Amnon’s rape of Tamar, which led to Absalom’s rebellion. The son acted likewise to the father, which brought misery and death. This same pattern happens regarding Eli, Samuel, and Jeroboam. It also occurs with a variance to Noah. The sons repeat in some way the sins or carelessness of their fathers, but as it progressed to the next generation, it got worse for them and had a harsher conclusion (Houston).
Alter, Robert, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 494.
Eliasen, Karen C., “Aaron’s War Within: Story and Ritual in Leviticus 10,” Proceedings 20 (2000): 81–98.
Houston, Walter J., “Tragedy in the Courts of the Lord: A Socio-Literary Reading of the Death of Nadab and Abihu,” JSOT 25, no. 90 (Sept. 2000): 31–39.
Milgrom, Jacob, Leviticus 1–16 (AB, 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991), 598.
I confess to you that when I first entered the ministry, I wanted the large congregation, lectureship and workshop speaking appointments, radio and television exposure, and the prestige that I assumed accompanied such. To be honest, I wanted to “increase.” If I had to guess, I’d suppose that a lot of ministers would never wish to confess that they want the same, but some do. Some of us have wanted to be the superstar preachers that we even sometimes may criticize—i.e., Joel Osteen. We scarcely would care to suffer hunger or thirst as did Paul, or homelessness as did our own Savior who professed that he had nowhere to lay His head. Here’s what a bit ironic: I now minister at a large congregation where my sermons are live-broadcast to a radio audience and are even video recorded and on Youtube. I have spoken at a few, not many, lectureships and workshops, but none of these things move me. I could certainly do without all of them, but because they exist, I wish instead to use them to exalt Christ rather than increase myself.
“Whosoever wishes to be exalted shall be humbled,” said the Lord. God has indeed humbled me, and I only hope that I don’t elevate myself anymore as I wished to do. Ministry burnout and conflict brought me to the point of not caring about any of those things. I actually at one point tried to exit ministry, but the Lord prevented me from doing so. Therefore, the things that I used to crave, even covet, were not matters of interest. It’s sort of humorous to me how it seems as if once I stopped caring about them, God thought I was ready for them. This revelation has been life-changing.
During my season of conflict and burnout, Jeremiah became my close ally. I read of his exploits and mistreatment at the hand of Israel’s religious leaders, and I felt in good company. I went from being an ambitious minister seeking limelight to one who sought only God. I wish, however, that I was a pious as I might make this all sound, but the truth is I’m not. I identify as a struggling human seeking God and helping other struggling humans to find Him. So what’s the point of all of this?
I would caution every minister to really evaluate why they do what they do and for whom. I won’t question anyone’s heart because God only knows it, but some ministers are good at feigning piety and humility. As a recovering manipulator of people, I see through it. I had come to the realization that it would be necessary to impose self humbling restrictions on myself to protect myself from temptation. I have purposefully turned down speaking appointments to avoid the attention that may be directed at my own abilities. I have also kept more to myself rather than networked among other ministers not because I’m stuck up or think I’m better than anyone, but because speaking invitations usually follow such networking. Even still with the trappings of the larger congregation and other things I once sought, I invest in people because ministering to those who face difficulties cultivates gratitude on my part for what I have and am not facing.
I wish to adopt to myself and the ministry God has gifted me the mindset of two passages that mean so very much to me:
He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
One of the most challenging parts of ministry, for me at least, is to go from either an occasion of rejoicing to weep or vice versa. One day I went from the hospital where a woman lay actively dying to a ribbon-cutting for an ultrasound machine at a non-profit that promotes life. It was somewhat ironic to go from an atmosphere of death to one of life. One was filled with sorrow and the other with joy. While at the hospital, I strove to be compassionate and reverent while at the other, I smiled and laughed. I have had such occasions recently, but it’s harder to smile.
Friday, I attended the funeral of a dear loved one whose depression was so overwhelming that he ended his life. A good, kind Christian man whom I love and love his family as well. That was tragic. Sad. Heartbreaking. Saturday I went to visit a terminal teenager who’s exhausted all medical options to no avail. I hurt for her, her family, and for all whose faith may be shaken by what she’s gone through. We have prayed and prayed and prayed. We still feel that God is capable of performing a miracle in her interest on this earth, but He may will that she be in His presence, which will bring us grief and sorrow.
I find that I weep with many who weep, metaphorically. What I most hate is that I have become so accustomed to such environments of sorry that I no longer cry. I haven’t really cried in the longest of times. I certainly still feel for those who sorrow and suffer, but I’ve grown so used to being the strong one for everyone else that I sometimes wonder who I am. How can I go from a moment of sorrow to rejoice? It’s like I flip a switch. However, I do feel that this takes a toll on me. I am rather tired often lately. I can’t get enough sleep. My energy is low. All I want to sometimes do is sit and veg.
This is my lot and portion in life. God has called me into His service to minister because He can sustain me, and He does. It almost seems unhuman to be able to do this work, and sometimes I tire of it, but as long as He uses me, I will serve Him and others to the best of my ability. I will say, though, that heaven seems sweeter each day.
I have recently recorded, along with Dan Winkler and Jake Sutton, six episodes that will air in a part of Pennsylvania predominantly non-religious. My fellow preachers and I recorded these at the request of some brethren from that state, and the focus of our episodes was fundamental Christianity. The title of the series is, “If We Do What They Did.”
If you would care to watch them for yourself, or even share them with someone for evangelistic purposes, you can do so in a few ways. If you have a smartphone, tablet, smart-tv, or stream television services, you can look up Gospel Broadcast Network and download their app. Otherwise, you may be able to call them at 662-847-5508 and request DVD copies of the lessons by mentioning the series title. There may be a cost if you opt to go with the DVD. You can also go to their website, or YouTube channel and watch the series there.
For those who receive this article, click on the titles below, and you should be redirected to the YouTube videos of the first four episodes. It’s my sincere hope that these will be used for God’s glory and the harvesting of new Christians.
This last Sunday, President Trump showed up at a church in northern Virginia—specifically the one where David Platt ministers. Platt himself is on the board of The Gospel Coalition as well as missions with the Southern Baptist Convention. Whereas a few days earlier Franklin Graham urged for what appeared to be partisan prayers for the President, Platt exemplified how a Christian should pray for a President or anyone in authority. You can read about it at “David Platt Models How to Pray for a President.”
Because higher churches (e.g., Anglican, Orthodox) include prayers for national leaders as a part of their liturgy, such invocations aren’t oddly placed or even ever misconstrued as partisan. This is a lesson we can learn from them because Scripture commands prayer for governing leaders, and it should be done at all gatherings regardless of who’s in office. Paul enumerated the various types of prayer one should offer for such persons in authority: supplications (entreaties), prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. I particularly appreciate Origen’s (ca. 200–54) insight on these different prayers:
I think that supplication is a prayer offered with a special request for something a person lacks. From this is distinguished prayer which is more plainly offered with simple praise, not to obtain a request but simply to praise the nobility of great things. And I think that intercession is a petition for certain things addressed to God by someone who has some greater boldness, while thanksgiving is a statement of gratitude made with prayers for receiving good things from God, either when it is a great thing that is received and acknowledged with gratitude or when the greatness of the benefit is apparent only to the one who has benefited. (On Prayer 14.2)
In congregational prayers today we typically reserve a more significant part of our praying to ask God for things, and this is an aspect of prayer (cf. James 5:13–16; 1 Peter 5:7), but there’s also the focus, as Paul points out in 1 Tim 2:1–4, of praying for specific things for others as well as simply giving thanks.
The focus of these categories of prayer is “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, the subject of such prayers was to have been everyone, even those in authority. Perhaps Paul has in mind those who incorrectly taught the Law as well as Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he mentions in this same letter to Timothy. Praying for those who we find troublesome is an excellent way to rightly order our hearts toward them. Paul isn’t saying anything new, but admonishing Timothy as Jesus would have: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45; cf. Rom. 12:7–21). Timothy was to have prayed for all people because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), Christ is the mediator of people (1 Tim. 2:5), He gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6), and Paul preached Him to the nations (1 Tim. 2:7). There’s a universality that accompanies remembering everyone in prayer, the unsaved, the heretical and wayward, and the dissenter. Our frustrations with such people often lead us to revile them, but Paul would have us pray for them in various ways not only for their benefit but also for our spiritual formation.
In addition to remembering everyone in prayer, there’s also the mention of kings and all in authority. The climate of our American society is so politically charged that I doubt very much that we Christians are prayerful of our governing leaders as we should be. Instead, we embroil ourselves in “gotcha” politics wherein we are the most ungracious and partisan of all. If I were to judge by what so many brethren post on Facebook and Twitter, we follow not the Prince of Peace, but the Devil of Division. Were we to actually pray for our governing leaders as God would have us, we would likely not be so vitriolic against them despite agreeing or disagreeing with policy decisions. Let’s face it, we’re a prosperous nation the likes of which the world had not seen until our country became what it is. Any discomfort we experience is actually a high-class problem that a decent portion of the world will never aspire to, but we moan and groan as if it’s the end of the world.
Our current and previous administrations (Obama and Trump) have seen a divide in our country that has birthed fringe groups who always find something over which to be offended and protest. I can’t help but think that a lot of this began, at least as far as I can remember when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed and what was socially unacceptable became viewed as an alternative lifestyle given privileges equal to that of which it had never known. What we as Christians see as sin has been turned into alternative lifestyles that are celebrated by pride rallies. Now, I believe that each person, regardless of their temptation and sin is made in God’s image and possess intrinsic worth on this basis, and we can celebrate a person’s quality on this virtue. However, I cannot believe that so many are celebrating and having pride in what is a sin. Nevertheless, with as much as I’ve disagreed with each President on various issues, I have never forgotten that I too am a sinner and need Christ’s salvation. I have striven to pray for each of these men and reserve revelry so as not to confuse any hearer of where my complete trust is—in Christ.
As we think about rulers who are corrupt, unjust, and who most would say deserve what they got coming to them, let’s remember that as Paul has already said, “Jesus came to save sinners.” He desires all men to be saved, and we should have that same desire too. Think about when David was fleeing the murderous intentions of King Saul. On a couple of occasions, David could have murdered Saul quickly. After all, Saul was a sinful man whom the Lord had rejected as king. God gave him an evil spirit to torment him, but when David had those chances to take Saul’s life, he refused to do so saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Sam. 24:6). All that David had done was to cut the corner off of Saul’s robe because he’d gotten that close, but since he did that, his heart troubled him. David said pretty much the same thing on another occasion affirming that he would not harm Saul despite how evil and rejected he was because he had been anointed by God (1 Sam. 26:11). No one would have blamed David had he done such, but he didn’t because Saul was God’s anointed no matter how sinful he’d been.
I think it rather striking that David maintained respect and reverence towards the man who occupied the very position that God had rejected him from being and who also sought to end his life. Nevertheless, David took God’s anointing seriously so that even after having been rejected by God, Saul was still one worthy of, in David’s mind, a level of respect. We see Paul later acting similarly when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. After beginning to address those present, the high priest ordered him stricken, and Paul replied by reviling the high priest. After it was disclosed to Paul that he’d slandered the high priest, Paul repented with the invocation of a passage from Exodus, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:1–5). Despite the high priest acting contrary to the law, Paul still knew that he was worthy of a level of respect because of his position. Perhaps instead of saying that we respect the office but not the person, we could look at the one occupying the office and, as Paul instructs Timothy, pray for those holding it and not separate the occupier from the station itself.
God is not so detached from creation that He doesn’t play any part in it. It is He who establishes and tears down kingdoms (Jer. 18:7–10). Interestingly enough, the hearts of kings are like streams in the Lord’s hands, and He turns them wherever He wants (Prov. 21:1). God can divert the channels wherever He chooses, so regardless of whoever is in power, He can do with them what He wishes for His ultimate purpose. If we spent our time prayerfully beseeching God’s blessings and best for our governing leaders (cf. 1 Peter 2:13–17; Rom. 13:1–7), we might not speak so unkindly of them. It would be somewhat hypocritical to pray for God to use those in authority for His great while at the same time criticizing them and everything they do.
We describe the space we live in as earth, while the area where God dwells is in heaven. However, in the beginning, the two were one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It’s the earth that God, then, illuminates, adorns, and populates. The construction of the planet resembled, to an ancient audience, that of a holy precinct, or temple.¹ In all ancient temples, images of the deity were placed; hence, humans being created in God’s image. There, as God’s image, we were to represent His identity and do His work.²
When God rested on the seventh day, the meaning that often escapes modern readers that wouldn’t have those of antiquity was that a deity rested in a temple, and only in a temple. That’s why they were built, despite thinking that it was all about sacrifice. A temple was a place of divine rest (cf. Ps. 132:7–8, 13–14) more so than it was a place for worshippers. The sacred space of the earth was God’s resting place, and as such, it was holy.
The first demarcation came after humans ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once their eyes were opened, God cast them from the Garden lest they, in their state of seeing good and evil, partake of the tree of life and live forever in that state of decay. God, therefore, protected them from the tree of life by placing cherubim at the east entrance of the garden to guard the path to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24).
However, it doesn’t appear that heaven and earth were then divided. God still comes among Cain after he murdered Abel. Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24). That God took Enoch is enigmatic. Did He take him beyond the cherubim to the protected precinct? We don’t know unless one would place credibility in the Book of Enoch which says that he was taken into heaven (viz., Eden?), a bifurcation which doesn’t appear to have so much existed then as it does now.
Angels consorting with mortals, as depicted in Gen 6:1–8 was the cause of judgment upon the earth and, apparently, a permanent demarcation between heaven and earth, making one realm into two. Afterward, we see Noah construct the first altar (Gen. 8:20). It would appear that humanity can no longer dwell before the Lord, but must officially make atonement for their trespasses. The aroma from the offerings ascends to heaven where God dwells until the tabernacle/temple was constructed. Through these two holy places, heaven comes to stay on earth. After that, atonement needed to be made so that humanity could approach deity, but they could do so at the tabernacle/temple.
The decoration of the holy place and its resemblance to Eden was noted by YHWH worshippers. As the east entrance of the garden was protected by cherubim, so one also approached God from the west where the altar was. After atonement was made, the priest progressed in an eastward direction toward the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was and hence God’s presence. There, at God’s presence, is life—reminiscing of the tree of life.
When Jesus came to earth, he “tabernacled” among humans (John 1:14). By so doing, Jesus was able to take pockets of heaven with Him, if you will, and grace the earth with it. Since God had to be kept apart from the world due to its corruption and His holiness, He took on flesh to grace the world with His presence and bring His healing to those whom He encountered. Reminiscent of the seraph who touched the lips of Isaiah to purify him, Jesus in His holiness did not consume the world or humanity but purified it. His death on the cross once more opened access to the tree of life.
In the Greek Old Testament often quoted in the New Testament, the term translated for “garden” is “paradise.” Jesus told the thief beside Him on the cross that he would join Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). Paul was caught up into Paradise to see what no man could see (2 Cor. 12:4). Jesus promised to the overcomers that they would eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7). The perfect atonement of Jesus takes us back to a pre-sinful state so that we can in that state partake of the tree we were forbidden from when we once existed in decay and futility. Praise be to God!
¹ I strongly recommend a reading of John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010).
² John H. Walton, ed., Genesis, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.
He used to say that daughters should be settled down when they are maidens in age but women in thought: by this he meant that it was right that girls be educated too. (Diogenes Laertius Cleobulus, 1.6.91)
A lot has been and is happening in the life of my daughter, seventeen-year-old Bri. She’s discovered a love of journalism, and because of this, she is arranged to shadow WPSD’s Brianna Clark tomorrow morning from 4:30 a.m.—1:00 p.m. which means that we’ll have to leave our home by 3:30 a.m. in the morning. It’s worth it, though, and I trust the coffee will sustain us both throughout the day. Calloway County High School allows their juniors a mentorship day where they can shadow someone in the field they may want to enter for a career, so this is what we’ve set up and are grateful to WPSD and Brianna Clark for agreeing to accommodate her.
Bri has also landed an internship with Murray State News this summer, so tomorrow she’ll get a glimpse of television reporting and all that goes into it. This summer, however, she’ll learn about journalism in writing for a paper, so she’s experiencing an enormous amount of exposure in the journalism field. In the first week of July, she’ll attend a conference at George Mason University in D.C. For the week, she’ll attend lectures by noted journalists, some of whom are on prime-time television. Many people have aided in making that possible. We have had friends and family, and members of the Murray community donate towards her attending this conference, and my wife and I are grateful to them. Bri also contributed to these costs herself by the jobs she’s worked—part-time at Culvers, Hendon’s Garden Center, and helping cater at weddings with a sister from our congregation. I’m so pleased that she’s not afraid to work and will work as many jobs as needed for her goals. The help she’s received from others has been so appreciated by her and my wife and me, and we thank each one who has been kind enough to help us.
Now for the clincher: After several meetings and much discussion, Bri has decided to join the Army National Guard. She was contacted by a recruiter based on test scores. She initially had no interest, but we decided it best to at least hear them out. We’ve learned that with the National Guard, Bri could enlist as soon as this coming June. She would obligate herself to them for six years, and her time would begin counting upon her swearing-in in June. She would, of course, finish her senior year in high school while also drilling one weekend per month and going away for a couple of weeks during the summer for training, and she’d earn money during this time.
Upon graduating from high school, she would attend basic training (boot camp) and her job training, which would consist of about six months, so there are 1.5 years down with her senior year and basic/job training. She is leaning toward military police as her National Guard job-training. She would then enter Murray State University’s ROTC program while working on her bachelor’s degree, presumably in journalism and/or public relations. We were told that while she was in the ROTC program, she would have a guaranteed deferment were her unit mobilized. However, upon graduating with her degree, she would attain the rank of 2nd Lt. By the end of her degree, she would only then have six months of her enlistment left. If she decided, she could then either reenlist or work out her time and move on.
The National Guard would provide her with pay for her job with them every month, and health benefits as well as life insurance. She could work another job if she chose to, but they would pay for all of her college expenses, and she would graduate without debt—which is something we’ve urged her to try to do. Upon graduation, she could pursue a career pertinent to her degree or her job training with the Guard. She would have options, which is something we’ve wanted for her. Our main advice to Bri about her career has been, “Make sure it would please God and that you’re happy doing it.” That’s it.
On Monday evening, her mother and I signed forms with the National Guard that cedes our parental authority as her guardians and allows her to act like an adult from here on out as far as they are concerned. The ball is now in her court. Contingent upon her passing all medical exams, she would only need to make the commitment and take her oath, and she would be a member of the Army National Guard. If it’s God’s will and her desire, her mother and I support her decision and would be most proud of her. Even if something were to happen and things didn’t work out as they look to be working out, we’d still be proud of her and support her in her desires. I will say, however, that signing away our parental rights was a rather solemn moment. Steph and I have done our work to the best of our ability as her parents. Now, it’s time for our little eaglet to prepare to fly from the nest. We love you, Bri.
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. (1 Cor. 11:5)
A couple of weeks ago I opened this passage to my Wednesday evening class and noted that women, in the first century, spoke and even prayed in mixed company. Perhaps even in the assembly. One inquired why I thought this was the assembly to which I pointed them to the following context of the Lord’s Supper appearing. However, some contend that a transition of settings appears to occur in 1 Cor 11:17–18 given the rhetoric. Others include all of 1 Cor 11 in an assembly text. The former might relieve the tension of whether or not women spoke in the assembly when worship occurred—as we’d tend to demarcate it—but it still doesn’t diminish the stress existing in churches of Christ wherein all cases only men should offer prayers in mixed company (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8).¹
Unfortunately, as we were given this careful study and as questions arose, time ran out, and we couldn’t settle the matter which, if the Lord wills, we shall do this evening. Some of the noted points were these:
- Prophetesses existed in the early church as so prophesied by Peter in Acts 2:17–21.
- These prophetesses obviously never only spoke to other women about their prophecies, else the church couldn’t be edified as Paul later lauded such (1 Cor. 14:1–5).
- The whole issue in 1 Cor 11:2–16 was head coverings, so we shouldn’t make the point what Paul didn’t make it.
- As I would be given to understand the whole context, prophetesses, were they in the formal assembly, should cover their heads when they prayed and prophesied to show themselves subjected to God’s order despite being gifted.
The whole of the issue, I believe, is concluded in 1 Cor 14:33–35 when all women were commanded to be silent in the assembly. Paul wasn’t only picking on women as some might suggests, but he had earlier even commanded those who spoke in tongues without an interpreter to be silent (14:28) as well as other prophets when one spoke (14:30). Therefore, this isn’t a case of a misogynist Paul holding women back. Instead, he aimed to bring order to the assembly, especially one that had become in such disarray (14:33, 40).
I have read other, egalitarian commentaries on this passage. They have many excellent points, but there have been enough that I disagree with to not myself see the matter as they do. Historically, women did not have the same places of instruction as men. They had offices in which they served, but that service so far as I know did not include formal instruction in the assembly. This isn’t to say that they couldn’t do it or lacked the knowledge, but that in the solemn assembly of the body of Christ, it wasn’t their station to do so.
¹ See the essay by Everett Ferguson, “Topos in 1 Timothy 2:8,” Restoration Quarterly 33 (1991): 65–73 where he argues that “everywhere” in 1 Tim 2:8 designated places of assembly for worship (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). This would exclude other sites, understandably, and thus render it permissible for women to pray in mixed company so long as the church wasn’t formally assembled for the liturgy (cf. Acts 13:1–3).
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.
1 Timothy 3:1–7
Paul believes it to be a faithful saying that if one desired the bishopric that one desired a good work. I say bishopric and not “office” or “position” of a bishop (“overseer”) simply because that is absent in Greek. Rather, the term given is in the genitive case which indicates that it shows possession of something, hence translators including “office” or “position” of a bishop, or overseer. The only other time this term appears in the same case indicative of this function is in Acts 1:20 where it reads, “Let another take his office.” Literally, one could translate the Greek in Acts 1:20 as “let another take his bishopric”—a reference to the vacated apostleship of Judas Iscariot.
While often referring to an office of an overseer, I believe that viewing such as an office robs it of its function. The way some operate or don’t is more by their title than of the “good work” to which it should be viewed as. Being an overseer in the church of Christ is not just having a title, but a “work,” a good one at that, that includes pastoring and teaching. Overseers are to be active in their work and not passive, hence Paul calling this a “good work.” Any overseer worth his salt will swiftly state that it is work, sometimes laborious and exhausting, but it is a labor entrusted to those men whom God would have shepherd His church. Three particular passages give us insight into this good work. First, in Acts 20:17, 28, the terms “elders,” “overseers,” and “pastor” are interchangeably used of the bishopric. Bishop is a synonym of overseer, elder of presbyter, and pastor of a shepherd. Paul had summoned the elders of Ephesus and encouraged that they pay attention to the flock over which they were made overseers. They were, therefore, to pastor the flock. Second, Titus 1:5, 7 urges that he appoint “elders.” Such men were to serve as “overseers” of the church. Third, 1 Peter 5:1–2 has the apostle exhort his fellow “elders” to “shepherd” the flock among them while they served as “overseers.” Therefore, the terms bishop/overseer, elder/presbyter, and pastor/shepherd were all used interchangeably of this one function in the New Testament. The terms used for the work as much as define how one ought to serve and do the good work of a bishop. For example, “elder” denotes wisdom that comes with age and, therefore, warrants respect. “Bishop” denotes a guardian of something entrusted to him. “Pastor” denotes tenderness and nurturing toward those in his care.
In every place and city, elders were appointed in the early church to see to the growth and fidelity of the congregations (Acts 14:23: Titus 1:5). Their oversight appears to have been limited to those over whom they had watched—note “every city” in Titus 1:5 and “among you” in 1 Peter 5:2. Several were always present, working together to do this good work (Acts 20:17; Phil.1:1; Titus 1:5). No one man is able to do the work alone. No one man is superior to his other overseers, and the good work of a bishop is marked not by lording his authority over the flock—including those who minister in the congregation either as deacons or preachers—but by serving as an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:1–3).
In 1 Timothy 3:2–7, the author gives a list of qualities one desiring the work of a bishop ought to demonstrate. I avoid calling them “qualifications” only because I think God would have one who has such a character rather than who can fulfill qualifications as if it were a job application rather than a heavenly appointment. It may boil down to semantics in the reader’s eye, but it’s my scruple. What I’d wish to do is simply give understanding to each of these qualities that all Christians should endeavor to have as a part of our character. These characteristics ought not to set up the belief that some Christians are better than others, but this list goes to show that one ought to have reached a certain level of maturity that others may not have.
We, first, note that those qualified will be “men” with a “desire” to do the work of overseeing the church. One who may be a man but lacking the desire, I believe, should be omitted from consideration of the bishopric. After all, the work ought not to be performed “by compulsion but willingly” (1 Peter 5:2). However, some men may not have had the desire awakened until they are approached to consider serving in such a way. Going from these two initial descriptions, we note that the bishop must be blameless, or “above reproach.” That is to say that he ought to be without a chargeable offense. Everything that follows this one standard demonstrates how he may be above reproach.
That he is the husband of one wife has stirred more controversy among Christians than perhaps most other qualities listed here. As far as I’m aware, Koine Greek lacks a specific word to translate as “husband” and “wife.” Rather, the two terms are denoting the sexes used here. When context determines that the terms ought to be translated as “husband and wife” is when, so I’ve read, it would seem that she is in his possession, or in the genitive case. The language here could be literally translated to communicate that such a candidate should be a “one woman man.” As opposed to having concubines or mistresses—which Romans and Greeks were notorious for having in addition to their lawful wives—the bishop ought to have only one woman. This would rule out his possessing a mistress (cf. Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 6:16).
Some might say that if a man is divorced and remarried, albeit scripturally, that he shouldn’t be eligible for the bishopric. One may remarry and be a bishop if his previous spouse was unfaithful to their marriage bed (cf. Matthew 19:9), but it may be wise to not subject the church or his family to the scrutiny if it would lead to discord and division. Congregations that are more mature can accept the technicalities of this teaching, but those less mature or learned in a deeper grasp of the Bible may scrupulously and understandably think it wrong for a scripturally remarried man to be considered. If a man’s wife died and he married again, he could be a bishop because he was no longer bound to the previous marriage vows upon her death (cf. Romans 7:2–3). In each of these cases, the man would be a “one woman man” and would not have multiple women at the present time. This is the thrust of the Greek as I understand it, but I realize that some do not see it this way, and their sincerity in following Jesus ought not to be derided. I once had a brother remark to me that smaller country churches don’t have as educated preachers as other congregations to which I replied that their fidelity to God was no more or less than ours. Furthermore, if it weren’t for the educated theologians and preachers within the church, there wouldn’t even be a Bible in English, so we mustn’t dismiss the notion by a census of educated versus uneducated ministers.
A temperate man is one who is focused on his task (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:6). Having a sober mind amounts to thinking rightly about issues as God would have one do. Having good behavior is relatively self-explanatory, but the ancient method of hospitality differs from ours. Being hospitable means welcoming people into one’s home, entertaining them, caring for them, and sending them off with the blessing of a gift. That was the classical custom, though I’ve simplified it here. The term translated “hospitable” could be translated as “friendly to a foreigner.”
The one who is able to teach doesn’t mean that he is knowledgeable to teach, but that his character is worthy of him imparting the knowledge he has (cf. James 3:1). He’s also not to be addicted to wine. The phrase here isn’t indicative of a teetotaler, but of one who isn’t a drunkard. He isn’t to be violent, a lover of money, but gentle. He doesn’t start trouble and is content. He rules his own house well if his children remain under his roof. Much like the prodigal son, he was not prodigal while under his father’s household, but only after he left did he begin to live riotously.
For him to avoid the condemnation of the devil and the reproach and snare of the devil, he wasn’t to have been a novice, or new convert. Outsiders ought to think well of him because he could very well hinder people from coming to Christ if his character isn’t as such that people would avoid Christ due to the bad reputation of one of the church’s leaders. I believe that 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to the wives of bishops and deacons. Their wives ought to walk a path of righteousness just as their husband does so that they can aid their husband’s service to Christ.
The list of characteristics is certainly a tall order. However, I don’t believe any of these should be sacrificed. Some might say that it’s such a difficult list and that no one is perfect and can keep all of these. I would want to ask which we are allowed to ignore. No one is willing to overlook a man being the husband of one wife and having children. What makes these more important than the others? Each of these characteristics is divinely inspired, are they not? Then we mustn’t try to negotiate any of them away when we haven’t been given the prerogative to do so. After all, that would be taking away from the Word, which is a grave enough sin as it is. One man can fit all of these qualifications not because he is perfect, but because he is mature enough in his faith that his character reflects godliness worthy of leading Christ’s church.
1 Timothy 5:17–20
At this point, we take it that Paul is writing not about older men, but elders as an office. He’s already mentioned the bishops above whose office is synonymous with elders in the New Testament (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1–4) and some early Christian literature (Didache 15.1; Clement, Corinthians 42; Polycarp, Philippians 5) despite the distinction appearing in Ignatius’ epistles. Because of Ignatius’ influence, this letter could be read as bishop, deacons, and elders. Some may even contend for the tripartite leadership of the church given this letter’s structure. After all, Paul only mentions the singular office of bishop in 3:1, eldership in 4:14; and deaconate in 3:8 with Timothy himself being listed as a deacon (4:6). As I continue in the role of devil’s advocate, I might also mention for full disclosure that the Greek term from which we get elder (presbyteros) eventually evolved into the term now used as “priest.” Furthermore, the bishopric was a term used of the apostolate when Judas Iscariot’s position was being filled in the wake of his death leaving it vacant: “Let another take his bishopric” (Acts 1:20; my translation). From this textual evaluation, one could conclude that the bishop took the place of the apostle in authority while the elders oversaw the church and the deacons ministered therein.
Were we to counter this argument, we’d have to rely upon the interchangeable language used of the bishopric, eldership, and pastorate from those texts listed above. This is what we do, and why we in the churches of Christ have multiple elders and deacons within the local church. We have gone so far as to distinguish the preacher from the diaconate, but if we evaluate this epistle according to its language, we note that Timothy was a deacon or the diaconate consisted of ministers of the church. Either way, we remain with the most ancient interpretation, and this is how it is, but from what Paul writes here, we may stand to be corrected on a few points.
First, the elders who ruled well were to receive remuneration. Both verses seventeen and eighteen attest to elders being compensated for their labor. These were likely those who, as Paul says, labored in word and doctrine. These were teaching elders who ministered as people use the term “pastor” today. These pastors actually shepherded and taught, and for such, they were to have received an honorarium of some sort. The mention of “double honor” leads either to double compensation or two forms of honor such as remuneration and respect because the word translated “double” should be rendered “two-fold” thus making the interpretation two forms of honor.
Second, some have been of the mind that those who labor in word and doctrine shouldn’t rule as elders and that elders who teach should not be compensated for doing the work of ministry. I understand the argument for such, but most of the elders I’ve ever known who were also preachers ruled as elders but recused themselves whenever their personal compensation was discussed to avoid impropriety. An elder can be a preacher of a local congregation, can be paid, and still be an elder. This is biblical as we can clearly see here. The whole point and thrust of verse eighteen is compensation (cf. Deut. 25:4; Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7).
Third, elders are not untouchables. There seems to be the notion within the church that preachers are dispensable, and this may very well be true. However, there are also times when it is necessary for an elder to be removed. Sad, though it is, elders need to shepherd among themselves as much as the congregation over which they serve. One congregation at which I served taught me this more so. Among all elderships I’ve ever served, there has always tended to be a chief elder who believed it his duty to rule above the rest at times. At this one congregation, said elder who was the eldest and most senior shepherd often made issues where they didn’t exist with members and, particularly, me. This ultimately led me to leave that congregation. I spoke with the other elders during this unfortunate period, and it was agreed that he was problematic while I remained above reproach. My departure was necessary for me, and I learned that after I had left things became worse, and this elder was ultimately made to resign or face discipline. I will say, to his credit, he and I parted in union with apologies received and forgiveness granted. I learned that he had overstayed his usefulness and this taught me an important lesson: whenever I have run out my usefulness in service to the Lord, it would be important to step aside so that another can carry the torch.
In this case, Paul urges that two or three witnesses confirm any accusation against an elder (cf. Deut. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1), which I had in my case. For a man who has the responsibility to serve and shepherd the people of God, they will not be perfect. None of us are, but when the matter arises where an accusation could be levied against a shepherd of Christ’s church, multiple witnesses ought to be on hand so that disgruntled Christians don’t begin a crusade against shepherds. Notice that the deacon, Timothy is here tasked with this job, not an eldership. It may be that the presbytery was corrupted itself and needed cleansing. Timothy, sent by Paul, was to have sorted this out. The next verse has Timothy rebuking those “who are sinning” in the presence of all. The sinning here is present and active and thus an ongoing problem. For any who may be mistaken, the thrust of the phrase is best understood as those who persist in sin. This may apply to the elders against whom accusations are verified or those who are maliciously making such accusations without grounds for them. For Timothy, he was to have done such without partiality and objectively. If elders were removed, he was not to have laid his hands on others to serve as replacements (viz., ordination) hastily nor share in the sin of others who were unjustly accusing.