Category: Educational

Jesus’ Farewell

Posted by on 06/14/2018 in:

Jesus' Farewell

Looking for something a little more in-depth than your average study Bible? The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary is a single-volume resource that walks you through the entire Bible. We pulled this excerpt from the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary to give you a small taste of the kind of information it offers. Mostly, being an ILLUSTRATED Bible Commentary, this resource is filled with charts, images, and graphics. So, keep reading, and discover more about Jesus’ Farewell in John 13-17.

THE FAREWELL DISCOURSE

Jesus’ Farewell: John 13:31–17:26

In the upper room, Jesus now turns to his faithful followers and instructs them at some length. The discourse runs from 13:31 to 16:33 without narrative interruption and then concludes with Jesus’s prayer (17:1–26), which precedes the arrest (18:1–11). The literary form of this section is called the “farewell speech” and was well known in Judaism at this time. For example, one can turn to the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, an inter-testamental, extra-canonical work that records the final words of Israel’s patriarchs. The Assumption of Moses (first century AD) does the same for Israel’s prophet-leader in Transjordan.

Each Jewish farewell speech shows similar elements that are found in Jesus’s farewell:

  1. There is a plea for obedience to the law. Thus in 13:34 and 15:12 Jesus speaks of his new commandment of love.
  2. Often writings are left behind (cf. Assumption of Moses 10:11; 4 Ezra), and in the Fourth Gospel itself we have the chronicle of Jesus’s life now deposited for his followers.
  3. Spirit-filled representatives carry on the work, just as Joshua obtained the Spirit that rested on Moses (Assumption of Moses 10–12). Here Jesus promises the Spirit of truth (14:17), who anoints the disciples and particularly the beloved disciple for his work.
  4. Finally, the anxiety of those left behind is relieved. So Jesus speaks of comfort, terming the Spirit “the Comforter” or “Paraclete” (Greek paraklētos; NIV “Advocate”; 14:16, 26; 15:26).

It is evident then that Jesus recognizes the importance of this evening and is making his formal farewell.

He addresses his disciples’ worries in light of his imminent death and departure. But above all he holds out a promise and hope centered on the coming of the Holy Spirit—one who will guide, teach, encourage, empower, and mediate to the believer the comforting presence of Christ.

BAKER ILLUSTRATED BIBLE COMMENTARY

Want to learn more about the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary? Perfect! Just head on over to our website and we will give you all the details.

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Discipling Your Staff

Posted by on 06/13/2018 in:

Discipling Your Staff

When you think of discipleship, do you think of discipling your staff? The editors of the CSB Disciple’s Study Bible are PASSIONATE about teaching about discipleship. In this excerpt, they outline why you should disciple staff and how to do so effectively. And with the notes from this study Bible, you’re sure to learn and grow in your ability to make disciples.

DISCIPLING YOUR STAFF

Ministry leaders, especially pastors, should prioritize discipling their staff. Regardless of whether the role is full time, bi-vocational, or as a volunteer, the leader can follow Jesus’s example in disciple making. Unfortunately, the people under the direct influence of the leader can often be overlooked in the discipleship process. But leaders must be intentional with those who serve under them, just as Jesus was.

I. WHY DISCIPLE STAFF?

Why did Jesus walk with twelve men more closely than the masses? And why did he choose to walk even closer with three? It is clear that Jesus wanted to have a long-lasting impact on a few men who would go on to replicate the process. Every Christ-follower since is a result of what Jesus began with his disciples.

Multiplication is certainly a key result of making disciples, but so is spiritual growth. While church staff should be expected to grow personally and consistently, leaders can undergird that spiritual growth by providing community and accountability. Leaders must inspect what they expect. By discipling staff, ministry leaders ensure those they lead are accountable and growing in a community of peers.

II. HOW TO DISCIPLE STAFF

While discipling staff takes somewhat of a different approach than discipling a new believer or a group of acquaintances, the principles of basic disciple making still apply: (1) reading Scripture, (2) sharing what God is teaching, (3) memorizing God’s Word, and (4) praying with and for one another. These key elements still drive each meeting.

Here is a practical plan for discipling a staff of any size and church context.

A. Meet weekly. If possible, try not to add another meeting to the schedule. You probably already spend time with staff in some fashion, so maximize the time together by focusing on discipling. Use the first half of a staff meeting or plan to meet over lunch or breakfast weekly. Plan your meeting so that it is refreshing and helpful rather than a drain on already busy schedules.

B. Plan what you will read, share, and memorize each week. Choose what will be read, discussed, and memorized each week. Pick something that coincides with the sermon or Bible study to maximize the study time each week. Likewise, choose a passage or passages to memorize together and have one or two recite the selection each time you meet.

C. Be accountable. Ensure that your staff understands the importance of this time together. Make it a priority on your calendar and encourage the staff to hold it in high regard.

D. Challenge the staff to replicate what happens in the group. Encourage each staff member to disciple their own staff or group of volunteers. They can follow the same plan or make one that best fits their group.

E. Take breaks. Summer can be a difficult time for schedules to align. Don’t be afraid to take a few weeks or even a month or two off from meeting. Encourage your staff to continue to read and memorize Scripture even when you aren’t meeting.

III. THE FRUIT OF DISCIPLING STAFF

A discipled staff grows closer to one another and to the ministry leader. With accountability and community, team members find a greater sense of sharing one another’s burdens and celebrating one another’s victories. Staff members have a practical means by which they can grow spiritually. As team members replicate this process with their own staffs or volunteers, whole ministries can grow together.

Discipling a staff will bring them all together—from department to department as well as between each staff and its leader. Differences among believers can be divisive, but a discipleship relationship can forge an authentic unity within a staff as each member is increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. As the ministry leader engages with the staff walking through God’s Word, sharing how God is working, and memorizing Scripture, you will find yourselves growing in incredible strength and unity.

CSB DISCIPLE’S STUDY BIBLE

The CSB Disciple’s Study Bible will help you engage with and apply God’s Word to your daily life as a disciple of Jesus. Designed to equip you to follow Jesus and disciple others, it features discipleship-themed study notes, as well as tools and resources like the F260 Reading Plan, introductions with outlines and timelines, full-color maps, and discipleship articles from the team at Replicate Ministries.

Learn more about the CSB Disciple’s Study Bible and add it to your library by visiting our website

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The Significance of the Priestly Blessing: Numbers 6

Posted by on 06/12/2018 in: ,

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.’
‘So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV)

Blessing Rooted In Israelite Culture

The act of blessing is deeply rooted in Israelite culture. It bears a wide range of meaning. On the one hand, Jacob’s stealing of Esau’s blessing and the latter’s inability to acquire another from his father, Isaac (Gen 27:30-38), provides a glimpse into the near magical power of blessing. In that story, to bless is to bestow power for fertility and well-being, which, once spoken, takes on a life of its own. On the other hand, the expression of divine blessing appears to be no more than a stereotypical exchange for “Hello.” The book of Ruth provides an example of how the invocation of divine blessing was part of the everyday language of greeting, for example, when the harvesters welcome Boaz with the words, “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

The cultic use of divine blessing, as in vv. 24-26, functions someplace between the two examples noted above.

The cultic use of the priestly blessing was widespread by the late monarchical period. Similar cultic language is richly attested in other liturgical literature. Psalm 129:8, for example, concludes with a priestly blessing on the worshipers, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you. We bless you in the name of the Lord” (see also Pss 128:5; 133:3; 134:3).

The Hebrew inscription “the Lord bless you and keep you and be with you” was found on a jar at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the upper Sinai, dating from the eighth-century. This inscription indicates the use of a blessing very similar to Num 5:24-26 already in the middle of the monarchical period. The discovery of the priestly blessing in a burial cave in the area of Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom (contemporary Keteph Hinnom) is even more striking. The blessing is written on two silver amulets that date from the late seventh century.

An amulet is an object believed to give magical powers of protection against evil to the one who wears it. The discovery of such an amulet in a grave raises further questions of whether the priestly blessing was meant to function in association with the dead. Baruch Levine suggests that the priestly blessing may have protected the dead on their way to Sheol.

The Blessing’s Structure

The priestly blessing has a simple structure, consisting of three lines, each of which contains two verbs: bless-keep (protect), shine-grace, lift-peace. The name “Yahweh” appears once in each line, in association with the first of the paired verbs.

Yahweh bless you and keep you;
Yahweh make his face to shine upon
you and be gracious to you;
Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you—
and give you peace

Two readings are possible from this structure.

The six verbs could be interpreted to describe distinct actions of God. They can also be interpreted in pairs. The first verb in each line summarizes an activity of God upon the worshiper, and the second describes the results of God’s actions. The use of the name “Yahweh” as the subject for only the first verb in each sentence favors the interpretation in which the verbs are paired. The result is a threefold blessing.

The first emphasizes concrete gifts—blessing and security (guarding).

The second stresses the hope that God will be well disposed toward the person (to lighten or shine upon the worshiper) and thus temper judgment with mercy (to be gracious).

The third asserts that God will pay attention (lift his face), thus providing fullness of life (peace). David Noel Freedman notes a variety of subtle stylistic devices in the Hebrew that aid in carrying out the meaning of the priestly blessing. These include a progression in the numbers of words (3, 5, 7) and consonants (15, 20, 25) in each line. The progression is framed by an opening (“The Lord bless you”) and a closing (“and give you peace”) cola of the same length (7 syllables in Hebrew).

Blessing Within the Context

Numbers 6:22-23, 27 frames the priestly blessing within the context of Numbers 5–6. These verses take the form of divine instruction for the Aaronide priesthood. Numbers 6:22-23 indicate that the blessing is meant to function as a concluding benediction (vv. 22-23) to the instruction for camp purity in chaps. 5–6. Numbers 6:27 clarifies that it is God (rather than the priests) who blesses Israel.

The literary setting has puzzled scholars, prompting some even to suggest that the text has been displaced from Lev 9:22, where Aaron is also described as blessing the people from the door of the tent of meeting. But the function of the blessing as a concluding benediction on the camp and the congregation does correspond to other cultic uses of the priestly blessing in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 129:1), suggesting that its present context is less arbitrary than many have suspected.

The overall design of Numbers 5–6 provides additional guidelines for interpreting the priestly blessing in its present context.

The placement of the priestly benediction at the door of the tent of meeting follows naturally upon the inward movement of the laws of defilement. These laws began with contamination requiring expulsion from the camp (5:1-4), followed by three types of relationships within the camp with the power to defile. These relationships moved in an ever-closer orbit to the tabernacle at the center of the camp—from defrauding in general (5:5-10), to adultery (5:11-31), and through to the Nazirite vow (6:1-21). The location for expiatory rituals has tended to follow the same movement. The laws of defrauding and adultery require that the offender be presented “to the priest” (5:9, 15), while the defiled Nazirite must go “to the door of the tent of meeting” (6:10, 13). The door of the tent of meeting is also the location for the priestly blessing on the congregation (see Lev 9:22).

The priestly blessing has at least two functions in its present literary context.

It provides yet another safeguard against defilement by blanketing the camp with the power of divine blessing. It also concludes Numbers 5–6 with a description of the ideal camp. The ideal is where God pays particular attention to persons, where blessing and security drive out the power of death, and where the achievement of wholeness and peace is possible.

The Central Message of Blessing

The priestly blessing (Num 6:22-24) is the most familiar passage in Numbers 5-6. The central message of the blessing is stated in the closing Hebrew word, שׁלום (šālôm), translated “peace”. In English, “peace” connotes the absence of war. It can also describe a state of tranquility. These meanings are also in the Hebrew. But the peace of God in the priestly blessing embraces even more aspects of life, including good health, security, inner harmony, wellness, material prosperity, and a long life. The broad and rich meaning of “peace” in the priestly blessing reinforces the role of holiness in the life of Israel to bring about both social and physical health.

It is noted in the Commentary that the priestly blessing provides an ideal vision of the camp and that it functions as a conclusion to the laws of defilement in Numbers 5–6. The ideal of the priestly blessing continues in contemporary Jewish and Christian worship. It is included in most lectionary cycles as a topic for preaching. The blessing of God also continues to be the last word in many of our Sunday liturgies as a closing benediction.

The central task in preaching this text is to explore what blessing means.

Is the bestowal of a blessing sacramental, or is it no more than a socially polite activity? Also, what is it that we receive at the close of a worship service? Is real divine power transmitted in blessing? Or, is the preacher simply telling us that the worship service is nearly over? The latter point creates a problem for interpreting the priestly benediction. Notice how the introduction to the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-23) stresses that only priests can bless. It is not a casual activity. Additionally, the conclusion (Num 6:27) indicates how close the text is to the world of magic. The author must clarify that the priest does not possess the power to bless independently of God. The need for such clarification underscores that divine blessing has independent power that can be let loose in the congregation.

New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary

This excerpt is adapted from the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (10 Vols.). This series offers critically sound biblical interpretations. Also, it is written by scholars, pastors and laity representing diverse traditions and academic experience. Therefore, this collection of commentary meets the needs of preachers, teachers, and all students of the Bible.

We have the 10 volume set available for purchase on our website! So, learn more about the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. See how it works in the app, and add it to your library today, here.

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Asking for Wisdom

Posted by on 06/04/2018 in:

Asking For Wisdom

During times of trial, it is crucial that we ask for wisdom. The Book of James touches on how we should be praying, asking for wisdom, and that He will be faithful in giving it to us. Read through this excerpt from the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary for in-depth learning of this lesson.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. — James 1:5-8

THE PROBLEM OF TRIALS

James uses a “chain-argument” utilizing catchwords (“need,” 1:4b, 5a; “faith,” 1:3, 6) to bring together the problem of trials and their solution (wisdom and prayer). When faith is tested by times of affliction and suffering, the Christian must turn to God in prayer and find the wisdom to turn the trial situation into a time of growing faith and ongoing endurance. As God’s people realize that they lack wisdom to handle their trials, they must find that essential resource by turning to God and accepting that wisdom as a gift from him.

YOUR TRIAL SURVIVAL GUIDE

James begins by expressing the one need everyone has in difficult times: wisdom to endure trials. The word “if” (ei [TG1487, ZG1623]) in the phrase “If you need wisdom” is a first-class condition assuming the reality of the situation—virtually, “Since you need wisdom.” In the Old Testament wisdom is an attribute of God (Dan 2:20-23) given to chosen leaders like Solomon (1 Kgs 10:23-24); it was also available to those who fear God (Prov 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). In the Wisdom Literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach) wisdom means to live in God’s world by his rules, with two foci, its practical orientation (embracing every area of life and conduct) and its dependence on God (reverence and submission to his dictates).

Often wisdom was personified as a life-giving force in this world (see Osborne 2006:242-254; Patzia 2000:1200-1203). Jesus was a teacher of eschatological wisdom (Matt 11:2-19, 25-30; 23:34-39; et al.), and Paul speaks of “God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge” (Rom 11:33), as well as “wisdom in its rich variety” (Eph 3:10).

THE JEWISH UNDERSTANDING OF WISDOM

James, building on the Jewish understanding of wisdom, saw it primarily as a gift from God (1:6-8) available only to those who ask him for it (1:5; see Gowan 1993, who points to 4 Maccabees as an example of this theme).

In 3:13-18 it is called a “wisdom from above” that anchors the Christian virtues that control the tongue. Most recognize that in James wisdom functions in ways similar to the Holy Spirit. Yet at the same time the two “cannot be entirely equated, because believers could not lack the Holy Spirit,” while they could lack wisdom (Blomberg and Kamell 2008:51). It is best to see the Spirit as mediating this gift from God.

Since the reality is that everyone lacks this wisdom, there is only one answer. One must turn to God and “ask” (a present imperative indicating ongoing prayer) for it. Then begins an incredible meditation on the kind of God we have—a God who responds to our prayers in love.

The Greco-Romans had capricious gods who were disinterested in humanity’s plight and whose involvement in people’s lives often had to be bought (or bought off). The Old Testament paints quite a different picture; there we see a covenant God who loved his people and was constantly involved in their needs, who even in his judgment of their foolish wanderings from him acted redemptively to bring them back to himself.

THE GOD WHO GIVES…

Here in James he is described as “the giving God” (tou didontos [TG1325, ZG1443] theou), with the present tense participle referring to a loving God “who never stops giving.” In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says,

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.”

Both aspects of this challenge are found here as well. Our responsibility is to bring our needs to God, and his promise is that he will respond. This is as it says in 1 Peter 5:7,

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

God’s free and continuous giving has two characteristics. First, it is “generous” (haplōs [TG574, ZG607]), a word that James uses dynamically (see note on 1:5) to connote not just the gracious extent of his liberality but also his single-minded focus and the unhesitating nature of his response to his children’s needs. When we lack the basic wisdom to handle and overcome our trials, we can place ourselves in the hands of a Father whose constant vigilance over us and empowering presence in our lives mean we can find the strength and understanding to withstand all difficulties.

Second, God “will not rebuke you for asking,” meaning that God does not give grudgingly or with a great deal of reproach for his children’s inadequacies and lack of wisdom. There is no need to hesitate in prayer, as if one’s finite, sinful condition will bring about only anger and recrimination from God. God does not belittle his people for their failures but forgives them when they come to him in repentance; he responds immediately to their prayers. James says simply that instead of mockery and condemnation, “he will give it to you” (this phrase occurs last in the sentence for emphasis).

ASKING FOR WISDOM

It is important to note what this doesn’t say: It does not promise that believers can get anything they want from God. That will be addressed in 4:3; when we ask for “only what will give [us] pleasure,” we will not get it. John 14:13 promises, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it,” but “in my name” means “in union with me and my purposes” (Osborne 2007:214). God will not give us what we want but rather what is best for us. Here the prayer is for wisdom, and that will always be given. Martin (1988:19) has a fine summary:

“James has painted in some bold strokes the scope of such praying: It is universal (God gives to all who petition him), it is beneficent, it is without regard to merit, and it is a response with no equivocations.”

FAITH OVER DOUBT

The rest of this passage (1:6-8) centers on the importance of faith over doubting when coming to God in prayer. Petitions to God must be done “in faith,” that is, with a total trust and dependence on God, taking him at his word. Many commentators (Adamson, Dibelius, Martin) see this as a complete confidence and certitude that God will answer. This is correct, but I also agree with those scholars (Blomberg and Kamell, Ropes) who say that the thrust is wider, referring to the basic reliance on God in every area of life, a God-centeredness that defines the Christian walk.

Mainly, this confidence does not mean we are certain that we will receive whatever we ask for but rather that God will act in the way that is best in every situation. This does not teach a “name it and claim it” theology; such is utterly wrong because it teaches that we control God, while in reality only God is sovereign over every situation!

WHAT IS WAVERING?

“Do not waver” is literally “not doubting” (mēden diakrinomenos [TG1252A, ZG1359]). The verb does not really mean to “doubt” that God is going to act but rather to have a divided mind that keeps one from trusting God in the first place. Moo (2000:60) says its basic meaning is “differentiate,” often used in the sense of “create distinctions” (2:4), “judge” (1 Cor 14:29; NLT, “evaluate”), or “dispute” (Acts 11:2; NLT, “criticize”).

In the middle voice, as here, this “doubt” means to “dispute with oneself.” So the idea is that the person is internally divided, “wavering” between trusting God and trusting self. Nystrom (1997:61-62) notes that the duplicity or dishonest doubt James addresses here is different from honest doubt, which has “healthy and even helpful effects.”

Noting the honest emotions, even anger, of the psalmists directed at God (e.g., Pss 13:1; 39:1-3), he points out how “in the press of life, we, like the psalmist, often wonder where God is, whether he really cares, and why he waits.” Such doubts force us to recall God’s faithful character and all he has done. Moreover, God responds to such doubts and meets us in the midst of our human weakness.

WHO IS WAVERING?

In the next verses (1:6b-8) James describes those who “waver.” Since they have a “divided loyalty” between God and this world, they are “as unsettled as a wave of the sea.” The two participles, “blown and tossed,” are virtual synonyms put together for poetic effect rather than to emphasize a violent force. Thus, they do not connote a typhoon or waves crashing on the shore, but rather the unsettled, ever-changing sea, driven by the wind. One moment such people are up (centered on God), the next moment they are down (centered on this world). You might call them spiritually “seasick”!

The emphasis is on the instability of this kind of Christian life, which “oscillates between faith and skepticism, unwilling to trust in Christ once for all and to stay the course in allegiance to him” (Blomberg and Kamell 2008:53). The need is for perseverance in faith (1:3-4), a constancy of walk in which God and Christ are ever uppermost in facing the vicissitudes of life. We live in a fallen world, and in this world bad things happen to good people. Moreover, as Christians we must face the possibility of persecution, and this is a theme of James as well as of 1 Peter. There is only one way to handle such ups and downs in life, and that is by an unwavering trust in the providential care of God.

CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARY

This excerpt is adapted from the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. This series provides up-to-date, evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments. Each volume is designed to equip pastors and Christian leaders with exegetical and theological knowledge to better understand and apply God’s Word.

We have the 20 volume set available for purchase on our website! Learn more about the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, see how it works in the app, and add it to your library today, here.

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Spiritual Gifts in Worship

Posted by on 05/29/2018 in:

Spiritual Gifts in Worship

There has been, and probably always will be, a great debate over spiritual gifts and their role in the Church. Richard L. Pratt (and editor Max Anders) walk Christians through this 1 Corinthians controversy in the Holman Commentary. We’ve included an excerpt of this part of the commentary, but we did cut quite a bit out because it comes with SO much information.

Every section has a meaningful quote, real-life stories, plenty of summaries, verse-by-verse commentary, introductions, application points, teaching tips, and lots of direction for further discovery. We couldn’t ask for more in a commentary!

So, here are just a few parts of the Holman Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-30.

“Let us all then, considering these things, imitate the love of these members; let us not in any wise do the contrary, trampling on the miseries of our neighbor and envying his good things. For this is the part of madmen and persons beside themselves. Just as he that digs out his own eye hath displayed a very great proof of senselessness; and he that devours his own hand exhibits a clear evidence of downright madness.” — John Chrysostom

IN A NUTSHELL

In this chapter the apostle Paul turned to the issue of spiritual gifts in the church. He touched on a number of matters but especially on the value of all spiritual gifts.

INTRODUCTION: THAT LITTLE PIECE IS WORTH THAT MUCH?

We have seen many changes in technology during the last fifty years. One of the most important changes is the shift from “bigger is better” to “smaller is better.” It used to be that the biggest computer in the school was the best computer. Now the smallest computer in a briefcase is the best computer.

I once had a computer crash in the worst way. It was not something big that broke. It was one of the smallest pieces. I remember the technician explaining it to me. He drew a picture of the defective part, then commented: “You understand that this part is only this big…” He then drew a circle smaller than a dime.

Then I asked the big question. “How much is it going to cost me?” When he told me, I laughed. “That’s more than I paid for the entire computer. That little piece is worth that much?”

“Yup,” he replied. “This piece may be small, but what it does is vital to the computer. The computer just can’t work without it.”

Paul pointed out in this chapter that every gift God gives to his church is valuable. The Corinthians looked at appearances to determine which gifts were more important than others. But Paul declared that the smallest and least spectacular gifts are essential to the work of the church.

COMMENTARY: SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN WORSHIP

MAIN IDEA: Paul explained the role of the gifts of the Spirit in worship, beginning with the value of diverse gifts in the worship of God. He discussed the issue in three main sections: identifying the Spirit, the unity and diversity of the Spirit’s manifestations, and the unity and diversity of members in the body.

Much controversy exists over whether the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit listed in this passage continue today. The controversy generally centers around the issue of special revelation. Some interpreters believe that special revelation continues today, while others deny the giving of new special revelation. Evangelicals take many different positions on this subject, but for the sake of convenience evangelical positions can be categorized under three basic headings.

CONTINUATION

Some traditions affirm that the infallible transmission of special revelation ceased with the closure of Scripture. Even so, God continues to speak to his church through apostles and prophets and through other supernatural means such as tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, etc. These groups apply Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy directly to their situations because they believe these manifestations of the Spirit continue in modern times.

MODIFICATION

Other traditions hold that significant changes have taken place between the days of Paul and our day. First, the offices of apostle and prophet were foundational offices of the church (Eph. 2:20), designed specifically to transmit special revelation to the church in its early stages. In this view, these offices have ceased.

Second, manifestations such as tongues, prophecy, and messages of knowledge and wisdom have gone through modifications with the cessation of the apostles and prophets. In this view, none of these gifts provides direct infallible special revelation. Through fallible pastors, teachers, and the like, God leads the church into proper application of his Word in Scripture through preaching, intuitions, advice, and evaluations of circumstances. Nevertheless, at every point the teachings of these officers must be evaluated carefully by the Scriptures.

These groups apply these passages only indirectly to their churches, adjusting the meanings of the passages to account for the current circumstances wherein infallible special revelation no longer occurs. Paul’s words still give the church guidance for managing current manifestations of the Spirit analogous to those in Corinth.

CESSATION

Some branches of the church assert that all supernatural special revelation has ceased and that God communicates with his church today only through the Scriptures. These people usually hold that the miraculous gifts seen in the New Testament have ceased, believing that miracles existed to demonstrate the authority of God’s infallible spokespersons. When God stopped sending infallible spokespersons, the Spirit stopped bestowing miraculous gifts. For the most part, Paul’s comments on the supernatural gifts are largely irrelevant because these gifts no longer exist. Preachers and teachers of the word today have the responsibility of reasoning carefully through the logical implications of Scripture.

To meet the needs of each position, this commentary will focus primarily on Paul’s original meaning to the Corinthians in this passage. Different readers must apply these matters to their situations according to their orientations toward Continuation, Modification, and Cessation.

A. IDENTIFYING THE SPIRIT (12:1-3)

SUPPORTING IDEA: The Corinthians’ pagan background made them susceptible to being misled by supernatural manifestations Paul told them how to identify those who spoke by the Spirit.

12:1 – Paul began with the expression now about spiritual gifts. The terminology now about (peri de) indicates that Paul responded to questions or issues raised by the Corinthians themselves. He did not reveal their precise concerns, but stated emphatically that he did not want them to be ignorant or unaware of this topic. Once again, Paul created a familial mood by addressing the Corinthians as brothers.

12:2-3 – Paul provided a central criterion for distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s work from the experiences of pagan religion. He did this by setting up a contrast between the times when the Corinthians were pagans. . . and led astray to mute idols, and their Christian experience of speaking by the Spirit of God.

The precise nature of this contrast is debated. Some interpreters argue that Paul contrasted the fact that pagans were led by idols, and Christians by the Holy Spirit. Others have argued that Paul specifically contrasted the extraordinary supernatural experiences of ecstatic speech in pagan religion with the supernatural work (esp. tongues and prophecy) of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Although the former outlook may not be ruled out entirely, several considerations support the latter view:

  1. Mystery religions popular in the Mediterranean world at that time practiced ecstatic speech.
  2. In this passage, Paul did not focus on Jews, but on Gentiles who were likely to have been involved in such idolatrous religions.
  3. Paul said that the Gentile believers were formerly influenced and led astray by someone or something.
  4. He described the idols as mute, which in this interpretation would be a great irony.
  5. The general context of this verse focuses on the nature and restrictions that apply to speaking in tongues, a Christian experience similar to the ecstasy of pagan religions. It would appear, therefore, that Paul reminded the Corinthians about their past extraordinary religious experiences of idol worship.

Paul drew attention to these past experiences to deduce general instructions on distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s gifts from pagan religious experiences. First, the Holy Spirit never leads anyone to say, Jesus be cursed. If someone in the church at Corinth spoke such words (even under supernatural influence), he was not speaking by the Spirit of God. Second, the Holy Spirit empowers those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

If a religious experience does not honor Christ as Lord, then it is not from the Spirit. If it does, then the Holy Spirit may be behind the experience.

B. DIVERSE SPIRITUAL GIFTS (12:4-11)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul warned against identifying the Spirit with only one manifestation in the church. The gifts of the Spirit are manifold, and each is important in the worship of God and the ministry of the church.

For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.

C. UNITY & DIVERSITY OF MEMBERS IN THE BODY (12:12-30)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul pointed out the importance of each spiritual gift in the church by means of an extensive analogy. He likened the church, the body of Christ to the physical human body.

For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.

PRINCIPLES

EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING: Paul went to great lengths in this passage to establish proper attitudes toward every gift of the Spirit. The Corinthians tended to exalt some gifts over others, but Paul urged them to recognize all gifts as the blessings of the Spirit of God.

  • Every Christian is a necessary, beneficial member of the church.
  • Spiritual gifts are primarily for the purpose of building up the church.
  • Because we are members of one another, the spiritual states of our fellow believers affect us personally.
  • We do not receive spiritual gifts according to merit or ability, but as God sees fit according to his grace.

APPLICATION

  • We must look for ways to use our gifts in the service of the church and encourage others to do so as well.
  • We must not take pride in our spiritual gifts.
  • We must not feel inferior if our spiritual gifts are not as impressive as the gifts of others.
  • We should actively pursue spiritual gifts.

GO FURTHER: QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION

1. Why do some people have certain gifts of the Spirit, while other people have different gifts? Is this a good thing? What is the purpose of gifts of the Spirit?

2. Why did Paul include this chapter in his letter? Do you think it was to correct a particular problem? If so, what was the problem? If not, why does the argument appear here?

3. What is the point of the “body” metaphor? Did Paul emphasize diversity or unity, or did he treat both equally? Can you defend your answer with explicit examples from the text?

4. Are there any people in your church who do not belong there? Is it always bad when people leave a church? Why or why not?

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What Were Roman Jails Like in Paul’s Time?

Posted by on 05/21/2018 in:

Roman Jails in Paul's Time

In the New Testament, we hear a lot about Christians being imprisoned—especially Paul. In fact, he wrote his letter to the Philippians while in jail! We’ve gathered some information from the ESV Archaeology Study Bible here for you to learn more about Roman jails were like.

PAUL WRITING THE PHILIPPIANS FROM PRISON

In the Roman world, imprisonment was rarely a long-term punishment. Most prisoners were awaiting either trial or execution. Debtors could be imprisoned until their friends or family paid o‘ the debt (Matt. 18:30). The length of imprisonment depended on the swiftness of a trial, which could be drawn out for years, especially in political cases. Conditions of imprisonment were closely linked to the status of the prisoner. Non-Roman citizens, even of high status, were often harshly treated. In contrast, house arrest was typically more comfortable for the prisoner, who was usually physically chained to a guard but could still host visitors.

PRISON CONDITIONS

Paul experienced a wide variety of prison conditions. He was chained in a common holding cell in Philippi (Acts 16:23– 30), imprisoned in probably better conditions in the praetorium at Caesarea (Acts 23:35), and held in relative comfort while in house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16). In Rome, Paul was responsible for maintaining himself during his imprisonment, including his meals and clothes (Acts 28:30). Paul’s Roman citizenship meant he was eligible for a daily food allowance, but Paul depended on his friends and fellow believers to supply this food. While under house arrest in Rome, Paul was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the elite Praetorian Guard.

AFTER PAUL WROTE PHILIPPIANS

Finally, when he was later rearrested and executed (likely a few years after this letter), Paul was probably placed in an underground cell somewhere in Rome. It is possible that he was then imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in the Roman Forum. This was where major convicted enemies of the state were strangled or kept before being thrown off the Tarpeian Rock on the Capitoline Hill. However, if Paul was executed by a sword outside the city, as later tradition claimed, he probably would not have been imprisoned at Mamertine.

Roman Prison

MORE INFORMATION ON THE BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS

AUTHOR

Paul is the stated author of Philippians, and while Timothy is listed in 1:1 as a coauthor, the main voice is clearly Paul’s. Timothy may have been Paul’s amanuensis, or secretary. The letter was written to the Christians in the Roman colony of Philippi. Some scholars have suggested that the current epistle combines two authentic letters of Paul, with the first letter concluding at 3:1 (“Finally, my brothers . . .”). However, Paul elsewhere uses “finally” in the middle of an epistle (1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Thess. 3:1; cf. 1 Pet. 3:8).

DATE

Paul wrote this letter while in prison, and the date of the composition of Philippians depends on where Paul was imprisoned. His statements to the Philippians concerning his possibly imminent death (e.g., Phil. 1:20) indicate the letter was most likely written from Rome, perhaps in AD 62. This also fits most naturally with the mention of the praetorium and “Caesar’s household”.

BACKGROUND

The church at Philippi had a special significance for Paul, as it was the first church he founded in Europe (see Acts 16:6–40). The first convert was Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, and women continued to have a prominent role in the Philippian church (e.g., Phil. 4:2). His brief incarceration in Philippi (Acts 16:23–40) would make Paul’s later imprisonment mentioned in this letter all the more poignant for the Philippians, especially for the converted Philippian jailer. Paul visited Philippi a few times after his initial departure, and the church maintained active support for his ministry (Phil. 4:15–16). Imprisonment carried with it a social stigma, and it would have been easy for the Philippians to turn their back on Paul at this point; instead, however, they remained faithful to him. Paul thus writes of his gratitude for the Philippian church and for their loyalty to the gospel.

ESV ARCHAEOLOGY STUDY BIBLE 

This blog is adapted from notes inside the ESV Archaeology Study Bible. This resource roots the biblical text in its historical and cultural context, offering readers a framework for better understanding the people, places, and events recorded in Scripture. With this knowledge, Christians will be better equipped to read, study, understand, and apply the Bible in their daily lives.

Learn more about the ESV Archeology Study Bible here.

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What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

Posted by on 05/14/2018 in:

What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

“These are the commands, the decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” — Deuteronomy 6:1-2 

A frequent command given to God’s people in the OT is to “fear God” or “fear the Lord.” It is important that we understand what this command means for Christ’s followers today. Only as we truly fear the Lord will we be freed from all destructive and satanic fears. By fearing God, we can avoid being trapped by the natural pull toward going our own way, defying God and giving in to the inviting ways of immoral behavior.

What does it MEAN to FEAR God? The broad command to “fear the Lord” involves understanding several things about a believer’s relationship with God.

ONE: GOD IS LOVING & JUST

First of all, we must recognize that God is loving, merciful and forgiving; but he also is holy, just and righteous. Knowing God and understanding his character (cf. Pr 2:5) means accepting the fact that his justice and holiness (i.e., purity, perfection, completeness of character and separation from evil) cause him to judge sin.

TWO: FEAR CAN PRODUCE AWE

Fearing the Lord means to be in awe of his holiness, to give him complete reverence and to honor him as the God of great glory, majesty, purity and power. For example, when God revealed himself to the Israelites at Mount Sinai through “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast,” they all “trembled” in fear (Ex 19:16) because of his great power. They even begged Moses to deliver God’s message to them so they would not have to encounter God himself (Ex 20:18-19; Dt 5:22-27). Also, when the psalm writer reflects on God as Creator, he says: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps 33:8-9).

THREE: FEAR CAN PRODUCE FAITH

True fear of the Lord causes believers to place their faith and trust in him alone for salvation. For example, after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground and saw how God destroyed the Egyptian army who came after them, they “feared the Lord and put their trust in him” (see Ex 14:31, note). The psalm writer encourages all who fear the Lord to “trust in the Lord–he is their help and shield” (Ps 115:11). In other words, fearing God produces confidence, hope and trust in him, which are necessary when we are looking to God for mercy, forgiveness (Lk 1:50; cf. Ps 103:11; 130:4) and spiritual salvation (Ps 85:9).

FOUR: GOD IS ANGRY ABOUT SIN

Finally, to fear God involves recognizing that he is angry about sin and has the power to punish those who stand arrogantly against him and break his laws (cf. Ps 76:7-8). When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were afraid and tried to hide from God’s presence (Ge 3:8-10). Moses experienced this aspect of the fear of God when he spent forty days and nights praying for the sinful Israelites: “I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you” (Dt 9:19). In the NT, the author of the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges God’s coming vengeance and judgment, and then writes: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).

WHY FEAR GOD?

The reasons for fearing God are found in the meaning of the “fear of the Lord,” as described above.

  • We should fear him because of his matchless power as the Creator of all things and all people (Ps 33:6-9; 96:4-5; Jnh 1:9).
  • In addition, the amazing power that he continues to exercise over his creation–including humankind–is cause for fearing God (Ex 20:18-20; Ecc 3:14; Jnh 1:11-16; Mk 4:39-41).
  • When we truly realize God’s holiness (i.e., his purity, perfection and separation from evil), the normal response of the human spirit is to fear him (Rev 15:4).
  • Anyone who sees or experiences a manifestation (i.e., a visible or physical sign or demonstration) of God’s glory cannot help but become afraid (Mt 17:1-8).
  • The continual blessings we receive from God, especially the forgiveness of our sins (Ps 130:4), should lead us to fear and love him (1Sa 12:24; Ps 34:9; 67:7).
  • Above all, the fact that the Lord is a God of justice who will judge the entire human race should be reason enough to produce a godly fear (Dt 17:12-13; Isa 59:18-19; Mal 3:5; Heb 10:26-31). It is a sobering and absolute truth that God is constantly aware of our actions and motives, both good and bad, and that we will be held accountable for those actions, both now and on the day of our personal judgment.

How will fearing God affect our lives? The fear of the Lord is far more than a Biblical teaching, principle or idea. It is relevant to our daily lives in many ways. Here are 6 to get started:

1. WE BECOME OBEDIENT

First, if we truly fear the Lord, we will obey his commands, live according to his Word and say “No” to sin. One reason why God inspired fear in the Israelites at Mount Sinai was so that they might learn to avoid and reject sin and to obey his law (Ex 20:20). In his final address to the Israelites, Moses repeatedly connected fearing God to serving and obeying him (e.g., Dt 5:29; 6:2, 24; 8:6; 10:12; 13:4; 17:19; 31:12).

According to the psalm writer, fearing God is equal to delighting in his commands (Ps 112:1) and following the principles of his law (Ps 119:63).

Solomon taught that “through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6; cf. 8:13). In Ecclesiastes, the whole duty of the human race is summarized by two simple requirements: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc 12:13). On the contrary, anyone who is content to live wickedly or defy God does so because “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps 36:1-4).

2. WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN

Not only should the fear of the Lord affect individual lives, but it should also affect families. God instructs his followers to teach their children to fear him by training them to hate sin and to love God’s commands (Dt 4:10; 6:1-2, 6-9). The Bible often states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10; Pr 9:10; cf. Job 28:28; Pr 1:7). A Christian’s basic goal for his or her children should be that they learn to live by God’s principles of wisdom (Pr 1:1-6). Teaching them to fear the Lord is a critical first step.

3. WE GROW IN SANCTIFICATION

The fear of the Lord has a sanctifying (i.e., purifying, separating from sin, spiritually maturing) effect on God’s people, just as applying the truth of God’s Word does (Jn 17:17). It compels us to hate sin and avoid evil (Pr 3:7; 8:13; 16:6). It causes us to be careful in what we say (Pr 10:19; Ecc 5:2, 6-7). It protects us from weakening our consciences and our moral sensitivity toward what is right. The fear of the Lord has a spiritually cleansing, purifying and restoring effect that can last forever (Ps 19:9).

4. WE WORSHIP WHOLE-HEARTEDLY

The holy and reverent fear of the Lord motivates God’s people to worship him with their whole being. People who truly fear God will praise and honor him as Lord of all (Ps 22:23). David said that a worshiping congregation is the same as “those who fear” God (Ps 22:25). At the end of history, when the angel who proclaims the eternal gospel–the “good news” about Jesus Christ–calls everyone on earth to fear God, he immediately adds, “and give him glory … Worship him who made the heavens, and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev 14:6-7).

5. THERE IS A PROMISED REWARD

God has promised to reward all those who fear him. “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Pr 22:4). Other promised rewards include security and protection from death (Pr 14:26-27), provisions for daily needs (Ps 34:9; 111:5) and a long life (Pr 10:27). Those who live in reverent awe of God know that “it will go better with God-fearing men,” regardless of what happens in the world around them (Ecc 8:12-13).

6. WE GAIN A HUMBLE CONFIDENCE

Finally, fearing God brings a humble confidence and overwhelming spiritual comfort. The NT directly links the fear of the Lord with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit (Ac 9:31). Those who do not fear God will have little or no sense of his presence and protection (see Dt 1:26, note). However, those who fear God and obey his Word will experience a deep sense of spiritual security and the anointing (i.e., empowering) of the Holy Spirit. They can be sure that God ultimately will “deliver them from death” (Ps 33:18-19).

FIRE BIBLE STUDY NOTES

This blog is adapted from the Fire Bible Study Notes. Learn more about this resource and watch how it works in the Olive Tree Bible App by visiting our website.

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Misguided Convictions about Daniel

Posted by on 05/09/2018 in:

Misguided Convictions About Daniel

John E. Goldingay included his thoughts on some misguided convictions about Daniel in the Word Biblical Commentary. Read the excerpt below!

MISGUIDED CONVICTIONS ABOUT DANIEL

What assumptions should we bring to [Daniel] regarding the nature of the stories and the origin of the visions? Critical scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached the visions with the a priori conviction that they cannot be actual prophecies of events to take place long after the seer’s day, because prophecy of that kind is impossible. Conversely, conservative scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached these visions with the a priori conviction that they must be actual prophecies because quasi-prophecies issued pseudonymously could not have been inspired by God; it has also approached the stories with the a priori conviction that they must be pure history, because fiction or a mixture of fact and fiction could not have been inspired by God.

All these convictions seem to me mistaken.

I believe that the God of Israel who is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is capable of knowing future events and thus of revealing them, and is capable of inspiring people to write both history and fiction, both actual prophecy and quasi-prophecy, in their own name, anonymously, or—in certain circumstances—pseudonymously.

It was excusable for Pusey…to think that pseudonymity makes the author a liar and must be incompatible with being divinely inspired. It is less excusable now we know that in the ancient world, and in the Hellenistic age in particular, pseudonymity was a common practice used for a variety of reasons—some unethical, some unobjectionable—for poetry, letters, testaments, philosophy, and oracles, and by no means confined to apocalypses… That pseudonymity is a rarer literary device in our culture, especially in religious contexts, should not allow us to infer that God could not use it in another culture. Whether he has actually chosen to do so is to be determined not a priori but from actual study of the text of Scripture. I shall consider these questions in the Form sections of the commentary.

– John E. Goldingay

WORD BIBLICAL COMMENTARY (WBC)

The Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) delivers the best in biblical scholarship from the leading scholars of our day. These scholars share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation. This series emphasizes a thorough analysis of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence. The result? This commentary series contains judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the text in the framework of biblical theology.

These widely acclaimed commentaries serve as exceptional resources for the professional theologian and instructor, the seminary or university student, the working minister, and everyone concerned with building theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

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The Avalanche of Sin in Genesis

Posted by on 05/08/2018 in:

The Avalanche Of Sin in Genesis

There is an avalanche of sin in Genesis. It includes pride, murder, sexual immorality to name a few. But what is the significance of these stories? Read this excerpt by Gordon J. Wenham. We found it in the Word Biblical Commentary.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GENESIS

The ancient [Near Eastern] background to Gen 1—11 shows it to be concerned with rather different issues from those that tend to preoccupy modern readers. It is affirming the unity of God in the face of polytheism, his justice rather than his caprice, his power as opposed to his impotence, his concern for mankind rather than his exploitation. And whereas Mesopotamia clung to the wisdom of primeval man, Genesis records his sinful disobedience.

Because as Christians we tend to assume these points in our theology, we often fail to recognize the striking originality of the message of Gen 1—11 and concentrate on subsidiary points that may well be of less moment. But an examination of the wider context of Gen 1—11 within the book itself, and the structure of these chapters, does, I believe, emphasize the centrality of these [following] themes in the opening chapters…

THE AVALANCHE OF SIN IN GENESIS

The opening chapters of Genesis describe an avalanche of sin that gradually engulfs mankind, leading first to his near-annihilation in the flood, and second, to man’s dispersal over the face of the earth in despair of achieving international cooperation. Gen 3 describes how man’s first sin led to alienation between husband and wife and expulsion from the presence of God in Eden.

Chap. 4 tells how Cain murdered his brother Abel and how Cain’s descendants further degraded mankind by their barbaric behavior.

Chap. 6, the sexual union of women with the sons of God, is the last straw; the ultimate boundary between deity and the human family is breached, and the first creation returns to the watery chaos that characterized the earth before the separation of land and sea.

A SECOND CHANCE

Noah, in many respects a second Adam, head of the new humanity and recipient of the renewed commission to fill the earth and subdue it, makes a more promising start… Yet he succumbs to wine, and his son Ham acts most dishonorably toward his father Noah, attracting to himself and his descendants a curse that was to be reflected in their future history. For from Ham descended Israel’s arch-foes, such as Egypt, Assyria, and the Canaanites (9:24-27; 10:6-20).

Finally, the tower of Babel demonstrates the folly of the most illustrious civilization and religious system of the day. Their attempt to reach up to heaven is the acme of folly and prompts mankind’s dispersal over the face of the globe. Without the blessing of God the situation of humanity is without hope: that seems to be the chief thrust of the opening chapters of Genesis.

ROOM FOR HOPE

But the promises first made to Abraham in 12:1-3 begin to repair that hopeless situation…

– Gordon J. Wenham

WORD BIBLICAL COMMENTARY (WBC)

The Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) delivers the best in biblical scholarship from the leading scholars of our day. These scholars share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation. This series emphasizes a thorough analysis of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence. The result? This commentary series contains judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the text in the framework of biblical theology.

These widely acclaimed commentaries serve as exceptional resources for the professional theologian and instructor, the seminary or university student, the working minister, and everyone concerned with building theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

Want to learn more? Here are 5 benefits to using the WBC in the Olive Tree Bible App.

You can also visit our website to learn more about the volumes inside this commentary.

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Do Christian Missionaries Impose Their Culture?

Posted by on 05/07/2018 in:

Do Christian Missionaries Impose Their Culture?

Christian missions can be done well… and not well. But does this mean that we should abandon missions? Is it really that bad? Read this adapted article from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible to think deeper on the question, “Do Christian missionaries impose their culture?”

DO CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES IMPOSE THEIR CULTURE?

Many people believe Christian missionaries impose their culture on others. Missionaries allegedly soften up native peoples by weakening their cultural resistance, leaving the field open for colonists and Western capitalism. Mission has been described as enslavement or even as genocide, and the gospel has been called the “everlasting story of the West against the Indians.”

ADDRESSING THE STEREOTYPES

Such extreme accusations signal that we are entering a world of stereotype and caricature. We first find them in the nineteenth century but stereotypes of missionaries became widespread in the mid-twentieth century, with the recognition that some cultures can oppress others. This insight was applied to “Christian” cultures of the West, especially as supposedly spread by missionaries.

Most caricatures have a basis in fact, however flimsy, and some missionaries have fit aspects of the stereotype. The early church faced similar issues (Ac 15; Gl 2) when the apostles rejected the imposition of traditions upon new converts. The fact that Scripture records such disagreements is strong witness to its historical reliability. It’s also a warning to churches to be vigilant against imposing local customs on other people groups. The stereotypes assert that missionaries have consistently ignored this warning. Have they?

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

Missionaries cannot avoid taking their own culture with them, but they can avoid imposing it on others. As Henry Venn remarked in 1868, long before the twentieth-century secular discovery of pluralism, that the “marked national characteristics” of the church will be its “perfection and glory.” Indeed, at a time when the study of native cultures was almost racist in its focus on the evolution of culture from primitive to sophisticated, some missionary scholars—such as James Legge, Robert Morrison, and John Farquhar—insisted on the value of native cultures.

Examples abound of missionaries recognizing cultural diversity and pioneering its study and preservation. This isn’t surprising, as missionaries often lived alongside native people and learned their language in order to translate the Bible. From José de Acosta in Latin America to William Carey in India, from Jacob Grigg in Africa to John Smith in Jamaica, missionaries have helped preserve cultures and native languages. Linguist Mary Haas has estimated that ninety percent of the material available on Native American languages is missionary in origin. Some missionaries courageously identified with native peoples. For example, Samuel Worcester went to prison for his defense of Cherokee rights.

Stereotypes of missionaries aren’t only factually inaccurate; they can also be unjust toward African, Hispanic, and Asian peoples. The stereotype of Christianity as white and Western misrepresents the church’s origin and has long been out of date. The period of Western dominance came full circle many years ago when the church’s centers of gravity moved to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Moreover, we do no favors to native cultures in saying a few missionaries easily overpowered them. This presumes native cultures fell easily to Western influence and obscures the violent oppression of native people.

MOVING FORWARD

Stereotypes that treat Christianity as Western, and native cultures as weak, are culturally biased at best and unintentionally racist at worst.
All cultures, developed and developing, fall short of biblical standards and need the gospel. We shouldn’t fear or ignore all criticism of missionary methods. But to be helpful, such criticism should be informed and fair. Stereotypes of missionaries are neither.

CSB APOLOGETICS STUDY BIBLE

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Want help to better understand, defend, and proclaim your beliefs in an age of increasing relativism? Then you should check out this revised and updated edition. It includes new articles and extensive apologetics study material. Additionally, everything written comes from today’s leading apologists! You will gain a deeper understanding of the relevant apologetics issues and questions being discussed today.

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