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Important News from Pastor Ian

Posted on: September 28th, 2017 by Christy Jansma

Pastor Ian shares from his heart on how He believes the Lord is directing his future. Over the past weeks and months, he and the leadership have set a timeline and plan for moving forward, with his roles and responsibilities scheduled to end on the last Sunday of January 2018.

Please be in prayer for Pastor Ian, our church board and staff, and our church family as we journey through these changes and look forward to the future together.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #9

Posted on: September 7th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

Matthew 16:27-28

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

Question: Is the Son of Man coming “in his Father’s glory with his angels” (v.27) the same as “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (v.28)? What does Jesus mean when he says, “Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”?

It might be because I’ve been trained by CAPTOR this summer but, as soon as I start to engage a passage like this I want to know: what’s the context? So, let’s start there.

Jesus is talking to his disciples (v.24). He is making sure they understand the requirements necessary to be his disciple and then goes on to talk about the benefit: being his disciple will cost you now but faithful, sacrificial discipleship is the only way to get rewarded when Jesus returns. Further, the reward will far surpass whatever it might cost you to follow Jesus. Immediately after Jesus’ prediction, we read of Jesus’ transfiguration with Peter, James, and John as eyewitnesses (17:1-8).

When I read statements like “the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels” and “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” I immediately think Jesus must be referring to his eventual return. However, I need to remember that Jesus consistently spoke of his kingdom both as something that was currently established and yet to come. In this case, I think Jesus is talking about both his future return (“”the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person…”) and the present experience of his kingdom (v.28).

Why do I think that Jesus is not talking about his future return when he talks about “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”? The clue is in his prediction that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” I am quite confident that everyone who was standing there at that time has experienced death. So, unless Jesus was mistaken about when he would return, his prediction in verse 28 cannot be referring to his future return.

Without going into tonnes of detail, people have a few theories about what Jesus was referring to: his transfiguration, his resurrection, Pentecost, the spread of the kingdom through the missionary activity of the Church, or all of the above.

I think Jesus was referring to his transfiguration six days later: first, some of those standing there (James, John, Peter) were witnesses to Jesus’ kingdom glory; second, Peter indicates that his participation in the transfiguration confirms the promise of Jesus’ return (2 Peter 1:16-18); and, by having the transfiguration follow immediately after Jesus’ prediction, I think Matthew, under the direction of the Spirit, wants us to tie the transfiguration to the prediction.

This means “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” refers most directly to the transfiguration, which is a foreshadowing and guarantee of the future glory when “the Son of man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and… reward each person according to what they have done.” In the context, Jesus is saying that it will cost you to follow him but it will be worth it. Peter points to the transfiguration as evidence that this is true – the message of 2 Peter 1 is, “Hold firm to your calling despite the cost. I know it’s worth it because I got a glimpse of the glory that is to come. You don’t want to miss it!”

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #8

Posted on: September 5th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

Question: How should we understand this verse today? How should we apply it?

When we read a verse like this, we tend to highlight it, put it on a motivational poster, and use it to say that God promises to fulfill my individual plans for my individual future. This is not the way to read and understand the Bible.

First, we must realize that context really matters when we interpret and apply the Bible. This promise is in “the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1). So for me to claim this promise as written directly to me is to rip the verse out of its context.

The plans God has is not for an individual, but a people and a nation and they are specific to the context: that God will bring them from exile in Babylon, restoring them to the land and to relationship with himself.

Just because the promise was not made to us, it does not mean that it was not written for us. There are still principles we can draw from this letter Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon. I think Paul picks up on the principle when he wrote the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Again, the temptation is to take this verse out of context and make it apply to my individual situation. The good Paul is talking about is being conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29-30). This is not a promise that God will do whatever we determine is good; the promise is that whatever circumstances we might face, we can be confident that God will accomplish his purpose and conform us more and more into the image of Jesus.

This is the principle underlying the promise in Jeremiah 29. Things look hopeless for the children of Israel. God had promised Abraham (their ancestor) land, children, and blessing. Now the children have been removed from their land and it seems like they will not be able fulfill their purpose of being a blessing to all nations. God is assuring them that, even though things look hopeless, he will accomplish his purpose for them. The promise was partially fulfilled when the children of Israel returned to the land (something Ken talked about in his sermon). Ultimately, God’s plan was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

So, we cannot claim this verse as a promise that God will fulfill my individual plans for my individual future. However, because Jesus has risen from the dead and because the Spirit has been poured out on us (Romans 8) we can be confident that God will fulfill his promise: one day we will reflect perfectly the glory of Jesus.

(Side note: another verse I’ve often heard people use as a promise of personal power is Philippians 4:13 – Jesus will help me be a better soccer player, student, investor, etc. The wording of the promise itself reminds us not to rip it out of context: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Looking at the context, “all this” refers to Paul’s ability to be “content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (v.12). Clearly this is not a promise that Jesus will give us the strength or ability to do whatever we want. Rather this is a promise that we can be content in poverty or wealth because our confidence is not in wealth but in Christ’s power).

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #7

Posted on: September 1st, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” Ephesians 1:11

Question: Has God really predestined some for salvation and some for damnation? This seems to contradict passages where Jesus died for all (e.g. John 3:16)? See also Romans 9. It seems unfair – as if humans are God’s pawns.

Stacks of books have been written defending various views on this topic so I’m definitely not going to be able to provide an adequate answer here. For a brief summary of the two main positions, check out my response to a similar question from Church at 6.

I think sometimes we have a hard time seeing beyond certain words in Scripture. Predestination is one of those words. When we see “predestination” we automatically attach a theological understanding to the word: God has predestined a select group of people for salvation. We have to work really hard to read the rest of the words around that word (the “Context” from our CAPTOR model) and make sure that our interpretation of the passage is not saying more than Paul, inspired by the Spirit, intended to say.

In Ephesians 1, Paul is saying that “we” were chosen as part of God’s destiny to be for the “praise of his glory.” The Judeo-Christian worldview is that history is moving towards its climax when everything will be put under God’s rule (Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament). This means that God had a purpose for creating the world and everything in it – including humans – and that, despite the rebellion of humans and spiritual beings, God will accomplish his purpose. In other words, creation has a predestined purpose. Because we handed our authority over to the powers of sin and death and placed ourselves in subjection to them, we could no longer fulfill our destiny. However, God has freed us through the life, death, and glorification of Jesus so that, if we have faith in Jesus, we can once again fulfill our predestined purpose for the “praise of his glory.”

So does Paul mean that we are predestined in the sense that humans were created to bring glory to God and now those who put their faith in Jesus are able to fulfill that predetermined destiny? Or is Paul saying that God has predetermined which humans will put their faith in Jesus? Ephesians 1:4-6 seems to indicate the latter: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace…” However, in all of this Paul is talking about the larger context of God’s predetermined purpose for all creation.

I had a prof who would present the various views on a topic and then move on. Inevitably, a student would ask, “Sir, which do you think is the correct view?” The prof would respond, “What do you think?” I understand what he was doing, but I hated it! I much preferred another prof who would present the different views and then say something like, “If you asked me today, this is where I would lean towards. But, I’m still learning and I might change my mind.” So, I’m going to tell you where I lean today: Because I believe God is in control of the whole universe without fully understanding what that means when it comes to issues of evil, suffering, and “predestination” I think Paul is saying that God has chosen humans who will put their faith in him. I am not certain if this is based on God’s foreknowledge –he knew who would put their faith in Jesus and therefore chose them – or if it based on God’s will – God made a sovereign choice to have certain humans put their faith in him. But based on my understanding of Scripture and how God has worked in human history, this is where I lean today. However, I could be wrong! So my first prof’s question is still important: “What do you think?”

This brings us to the second part of the question: if it is true that God predetermines who will put their faith in him, is it fair? Or are we just God’s pawns? Paul addresses this question in Romans 9.

Again, we have to consider the context. In Romans 9 Paul is wrestling with Israel’s place in God’s divine plan for creation. The question behind the passage is: if God has included Gentiles into the multi-ethnic family of Abraham, does that mean that he has permanently “moved on” from Israel?

Most Israelites believed that the whole people group would be saved because they were children of Abraham. Paul reminds them that not every descendant of Israel was an heir of the promises: Abraham had two sons but only one of them received the promise (Romans 9:6-9). Then Isaac, the recipient of the promise, had two sons, but only one of them received the promise (v.10-13). So it is not a guarantee that you are an heir of the promise just because you are genetically connected to a particular people group. God chooses some to receive the promise.

But the question remains: is this fair? Paul argues that it is. He argues that God is not unfaithful because he did not choose Esau but he is faithful because he chose Jacob. No one deserves to be a recipient of God’s mercy but God, as is his right as God, has chosen some to be recipients of his mercy and compassion (v.14-18). Apparently, just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that “the Egyptians may know I am the Lord” (e.g. Exodus 9:16), so God has hardened most of Israel so that the Gospel would spread to the Gentile nations.

The question remains, how is it fair that God hardens some so that others can believe? Is it fair that God would hold us responsible if he predetermines our response to the Gospel? Paul anticipates this question (v.19) and gives two responses in the form of rhetorical questions:
1. Who are you to talk back to God (v.20-21)? Doesn’t God, as Creator, have the right to set some of his creation apart for a special purpose?
2. What if we can see God’s glory more clearly in his patience with those who will not put their faith in Jesus? (v.22-24)
I know, not very satisfactory. Paul acknowledges that it is mysterious – that we cannot fully wrap our minds around it.

It seems like God’s choice is locked in permanently. Except, if we keep reading in Romans, we find Paul saying that God has hardened the hearts of Israel so that the Gentiles would believe so that the children of Israel would grow envious of God’s blessing on the Gentiles and put their trust in Jesus so they, too, could receive the blessing (Romans 11).

Paul believed that the hardening of hearts was temporary: as they saw what life under the blessing of God looked like, they would be attracted to that life and respond by putting their faith in Jesus. This means that we, who are included in the faith-based, multi-ethnic family of Abraham and therefore heirs of the promise by faith in Jesus, have an obligation to demonstrate and proclaim the benefits and blessings of living in God’s kingdom so that others may see and, in turn, perhaps put their faith in Jesus. This is God’s predetermined purpose.

Finally, it strikes me that when Paul talks about predestination it results in praise: “In love he predestined us… to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6); “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12); and at the end of his long discussion about God’s purpose for hardening Israel’s hearts, Paul bursts into song: “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever give to God that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

We might not fully understand his mind, methods, and purposes. But we can trust that God is fair, good, and loving. We see this over and over again in the Bible and in the story of redemption. Because he is those things, we can praise him even though we don’t fully understand him.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #6

Posted on: September 1st, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28

Question: What about tattoos today?

Context: The Book of Leviticus is a summary or compilation of “the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites” (Leviticus 27:34). They focus particularly on the proper observance of religious rituals around the Tabernacle but also include laws to ensure the ritual purity and holiness of the Children of Israel. The command regarding tattoos is in the section on holiness.

The prohibition against tattoos is placed in the same sentence as the prohibition of cutting your body for the dead. There is historical evidence that cutting the body with a razor in grief was part of the Canaanite religious practice. It reminds me of when Elijah held his contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. In order to compel Baal to consume their offering with fire, they “slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” (1 Kings 18:28).

There is some evidence that suggests tattooing or painting the body was also part of pagan religious rituals perhaps as protection against spirits or as identification with the religious group (John Walton, etc. IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament). The mark meant to identify the Israelites as the people of God was circumcision. To place another mark on their body was to indicate allegiance to another god.

Analysis: The main theme of Leviticus is God’s Holiness. This is the motivation behind the commands: “therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). These laws are examples of how the Children of Israel are to live out this calling.

Remember: being holy is not only being pure; being holy is also being separate and set apart. This helps us to understand some of the laws in Leviticus. Some of the laws will help the Children of Israel be separate by calling them to a new level of righteousness and purity and some of the laws will highlight their separation by calling them to ritual practices that are different from the surrounding culture and remind them of their purity and uniqueness.

Problems: The challenge is to figure out which laws are applicable to us as God’s people today and which were expressions of separation in the culture of the day. This is complicated further because the laws are not grouped. For example, looking at the immediate context of the verse in question, we see it’s surrounded by a command not cut the hair as the sides of our heads or clip the edges of our beards (v.27) – commands we would say are meant to set the children of Israel apart in their context and don’t apply to us – and a command to not force our daughters into prostitution (v.29) – a command we would say applies to all God’s people for all time.

Themes: Remember, the main theme of Leviticus is “be holy, because I am holy.” The specific commands must be understood as they contribute to this theme. In addition, we must remember that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. Therefore, we must try to understand this command through the lens of Jesus’ good news and the grace of God.

Obligations: The over-riding obligation as God’s people is to live our lives a way that reminds us that we are set-apart by God’s grace for God’s purpose and that, as set-apart people, we are separate from the world.

In the New Testament, one of the defining marks of separation is the way we love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).

What does this have to do with tattoos? I would argue that the prohibition against tattoos was meant to signify the separation of the Children of Israel from the religion and practices of the surrounding culture. Therefore, it is not a sin for a person to get a tattoo today… with one exception: If getting a tattoo violates your own conscience. When it comes to the disputable matter of eating meat in Rome (because it might have been offered to idols), Paul says it is fine to eat, “but whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). I believe the same principle applies: if you have doubts about the holiness of getting a tattoo, you should not get one.

There is one final obligation we must consider: our obligation to one another in God’s family. If the defining characteristic of our uniqueness is to be our love for one another, we must consider how getting a tattoo might affect the people around us. In his instructions to the church in Rome, Paul doesn’t say to stop eating meat if it offends your brother or sister. In fact, he says we should stop judging one another. But we should also not “put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13). This means that if you think that in any way you might convince someone to get a tattoo whose conscience is telling them it is not holy, that, out of love for that person, you would sacrifice your right to get a tattoo to ensure they do not violate their own conscience.

To be clear: Paul doesn’t say not to eat meat because someone might judge you. He says not to eat meat because you might cause someone to stumble by eating meat themselves. The obligation is to prevent people from violating their own conscience.

Reflections: We have lots of freedoms in Christ. Bruxy Cavey – the teaching pastor at the Meeting House – demonstrated this by having Leviticus 19:28 tattooed on his arm! (see blog here) However, we need to make sure that the exercise of our freedom does not cause our brother or sister to follow us into behaviour that would be harmful to them spiritually or otherwise.

I’m sure you can think of a hundred examples besides getting a tattoo, but let me point out one: the consumption of alcohol. This continues to be a disputable matter for many. As we consider our approach to alcohol consumption, we need to remember that we are called to be holy – does our alcohol consumption reflect the holiness of God? We are also called to love one another – is our alcohol consumption leading others to sin by consuming alcohol against their conscience or by leading them to violate Paul’s prohibition against drunkenness?

Let’s remember that the defining mark of our uniqueness as the people of God is to be our love for each other. Let’s love each other in a way that is holy. This kind of love requires that we stop judging our brothers and sisters for doing things we wouldn’t do when it comes to matters of conscience. It also requires that we sacrifice our own freedom to prevent our brother or sister from stumbling. That kind of love will set us apart more effectively than whether or not we have a tattoo.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #5

Posted on: August 24th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

Matthew 12:46-50

Question: Is Jesus rude to his mother?

You’re probably figuring out by now that a lot of the difficulties we have with the Bible can be resolved, to a large extent, by looking at the context (the first part of our CAPTOR acronym). This passage is no exception.

So, let’s look at what’s happening: Jesus is teaching a crowd of people when someone in the crowd makes him aware that his mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak to him. This is Jesus’ response: “’Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Short answer: Yes, Jesus is being ‘rude.’

However, we need to understand the big picture. Mark tells us that Jesus’ mother and brothers were coming to “take charge of him” because they thought Jesus was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). It is in this context that Jesus gives his response.

However, Jesus isn’t just being rude or trying to put his mother and brothers in their place. According the Craig Keener, it was unheard of to allow ties within the faith community to take precedence over ties within the nuclear family (IVP Bible Background Commentary). This is why, when Jesus called one young man to follow him, the young man responded, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Matthew 8:21). This seemed like a reasonable request: let me fulfill my first obligation to my nuclear family and then I will take on my obligation to you. Jesus’ response to the young man was similar to his response to his family: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22). In other words: your first obligation is to me.

In both instances, Jesus is being culturally offensive, or ‘rude,’ in order to make his point: through Jesus, God is creating a new family. In this new family, our first obligation is to God as our Father and to one another as brothers and sisters. This is still culturally offensive in our religious context today. Evangelicals are known for defending family values. But Jesus’ teaching and example show us that we have to navigate our allegiance to our nuclear family in light of our allegiance to Jesus and our new family.

We have to be careful that we do not value nuclear family at the expense of our allegiance and obligations to our new family. One way to practice this is by including members of our faith community in the rhythms of our nuclear family. The act of making space at our tables, at our family movie nights, or in our family vacations for those who are part of our spiritual family – remembering the single members of our spiritual family – demonstrates that our allegiance extends beyond our nuclear families. We need to remember that Jesus taught that our love for one another would be one of the key markers by which the world would identify us as his followers. This includes how we love those within our nuclear families but it must extend beyond. In fact, Jesus reminds us that our first obligation is to God as our ultimate Father and to one another as brothers and sisters in his family.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #4

Posted on: August 21st, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

“But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness.” – 1 Timothy 2:15

Question: What does it mean “women will be saved through childbearing”?

Pastor Ian just preached on 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday, dealing with the question about women teaching and in leadership in light of this passage.

This verse is another problem (using the CAPTOR acronym) in the passage (for a refresher on CAPTOR, see [PART 1] of this series).

Before we can talk about what this verse means, we need to examine what the verse says. Remember that when you translate from one language to another, you also interpret the words. This makes sense because the author wasn’t just writing words. He had a purpose. There is meaning attached to those words. The translators’ job isn’t just to give you words but to help you understand what the author means. This is what’s happening here.

The original doesn’t say “women.” Instead, the verb “saved” is in the singular form. Translating the verb with less interpretation would result in “she will be saved through the childbearing if they continue…” To understand this verse we need to figure out who “she” is, what Paul means by “will be saved” and who “they” are. There are three main opinions:

1. “She” and “they” = all (Christian) women; “will be saved” = spiritual salvation:
Supporters of this opinion tend to interpret Paul’s instructions to Timothy in the previous verses as universally binding instructions for the proper order of worship: because Eve was deceived by the serpent, women are forever disqualified from teaching.

When Paul says “will be saved” he is talking about a deepening experience of salvation or persevering in the faith (‘continuing in faith, love, holiness, and propriety’). According to this view, therefore, Paul is either saying that women persevere in faith or have a deeper experience of salvation as they embrace their unique role in bearing children (ESV Study Bible, notes).

This contradicts what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:34-35 where he argues that men and women are better able to engage God’s mission in a state of singleness. It’s also hard to align this opinion with the description of the New Covenant in Joel 3:28-29 where God announces that the Spirit will be poured out on all God’s people and that “your sons and daughters will prophesy.” There is no indication that a women’s experience of the New Covenant will be childbearing. Further, this ignores the change from plural to singular forms of verbs in the passage.

2. “She” = the wife; “will be saved” = protected during childbirth; “they” = husband and wife
This position argues that the change from the plural to singular, starting in v.11, in the passage is intentional. Typically supporters of this opinion argue that Paul is addressing relationships in the home, rather than in church – or at least that the line between the home and church wasn’t as distinct as it is for us since the church met in homes. This means that Paul is probably addressing “the wife” and “the husband” from v. 11 to the end of the passage. In addition, the Creation account is an illustration of what is happening in Ephesus. Cynthia Westfall (Paul and Gender) argues that the inclusion of the Creation account is to combat the false teaching that was deceiving the women in Ephesus.

We need to understand that pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death for women during this time. It was common for women to call on a particular god to save them during pregnancy and childbirth. Ephesus was the center of worship for Artemis who was the goddess of childbirth. In this context, it’s possible that Paul is reminding the women that their trust should be in Jesus, not Artemis, to protect them during childbearing.

Further, it seems that women in the church in Ephesus were refusing to get married or have children (1 Timothy 4:3; 5:13). This could be an attempt to gain authority over their husbands (v.12) and related to the false teaching spreading particularly among the women (2 Timothy indicates that men were the source of the false teaching).

According to this view, Paul is saying that women will be protected through the act of child-bearing if the husband and wife continue in faith, love, and holiness with self-control. In other words, the husband has a role to play in protecting his wife by involving her in the decision about the size of family and the frequency of intimacy, practicing self-control and faithfulness – despite the cultural expectations around the availability of household slaves and man’s sexual appetite, and ensuring his wife is properly cared for during her pregnancy.

One problem with this view is that it sounds like a guarantee that if the husband and wife are faithful and trust Jesus that she will survive childbirth. History shows that this is not the case. However, we need to remember that our faith is not based on formula – calling the elders to pray (James 5:14-16) does not always result in healing. There is a principle that if husbands and wives practice faith, love, and holiness with self-control that she will have a better chance of surviving child-bearing.

Another problem with this view is that “she” most naturally refers to Eve.

3. “She” = Eve; “saved through childbearing” = the Seed; “they” = ??
Reading from v.13, the flow of the passage goes like this: “For Adam formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, but it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But she will be saved through the childbearing…”

Paul is using the creation account to illustrate what is happening in Ephesus: he references Eve’s creation (Genesis 2), Eve’s deception (Genesis 3:6), and the promised salvation that would come through Eve’s daughters (Genesis 3:15).

Perhaps the order of creation was part of the false teaching, and related to the Paul’s instruction that a wife should not exercise authority over the husband. In correcting the false teaching, Paul sees and opportunity to illustrate from the creation account: just like at Creation, it is the women who are being deceived by the false teaching. Verse 15 could then be an attempt to qualify his statement: women continue to play an important role in God’s mission as it was through the woman that the Saviour came into the world.

The problem with this view is that it does not adequately explain who “they” are and how continuing in faith, etc. are related to The Childbirth.

I always hated it when a teacher would explain the various options and then leave me hanging. However, I think the only thing that is clear about this verse is that it is not clear what Paul means. Personally, I would lean to opinion #2 but I’m not completely satisfied by that explanation. You’ve heard of a mystery wrapped in an enigma? This is a difficult verse wrapped in a difficult passage!

So, I think we should be really careful about how vehemently we defend our interpretation of the entire passage, let alone this verse. We should certainly be very careful that we are not interpreting this passage and this verse apart from the context of the entire letter, as well as other letters written to the same church (2 Timothy, Ephesians) and Luke’s account of the formation of the church in Ephesus (Acts 19).

This passage is an example of another objection that I’ve heard: how is the “average person” supposed to be able to understand the Bible? We need to remember that the Bible was not written to us but for us. So while the Holy Spirit speaks and convicts through the reading of Scripture, it does not mean that we should expect to understand everything immediately upon a cursory – or even careful – reading of the Bible, especially a passage like this one.

I don’t want to give the impression that we need experts or priests to tell us what the Bible says. I believe that the Holy Spirit is able to apply the Scripture to us and that the Lord’s intention is that we would be able to feed ourselves from Scripture. However, God has also made us part of a community of faith. I think his intention was that we would wrestle with these difficult passages in community. Included in our community are historians and scholars and linguists, etc. who all help us more fully understand the words of Scripture. Paul tells Timothy that it will require work and skill to properly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This is still true for us today.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #3

Posted on: August 17th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Question: What is the reason for head coverings? Are they relevant today? What was considered a head covering?

Two caveats before I start:
First, in Paul and Gender, Cynthia Long Westfall spends twenty pages discussing this passage. I won’t be taking up that much space. If you’d like to explore this more in depth, I recommend her book, Craig Keener’s The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, and his article “Man and Woman” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.

Second, I am not going to use the CAPTOR acronym (see previous blog) as rigidly. I will focus mostly on the context since this is mainly a cultural issue. This passage is a great example of Pastor Ian’s reminder: the Bible was not written to us but for us.

In this passage, Paul is addressing a question about whether women and men should cover their head in worship. Paul instructs women to cover their heads and men to uncover their heads.
The head covering Paul is referring to is a veil or hood. There were different styles and lengths of veils that were prevalent through the history and across the geography of the Roman Empire. Some, particularly in Palestine, covered the face as well as the hair.

Before I started studying the passage and the historical context, I assumed two things:
1. That wearing a veil was a sign of submission;
2. That the women in the house churches were trying to assert their freedom in Christ by refusing to wear a veil when the gathered for worship.

I failed to understand that in the ancient Mediterranean world, women’s hair was a prime object of men’s lust. For a woman to have her hair uncovered in public was a signal that she was available. A married woman should cover her hair; both to signal her faithfulness to her husband and because her beauty (or ‘sexiness’) should only be displayed to her husband. A worship gathering is not the place to signal sexual availability or to display that kind of sexual beauty, especially since it was believed that men were unable to control themselves in the presence of such provocative beauty (I still hear similar arguments today!).

Additionally, veiling was a sign of social status in the ancient world. There were women who were prohibited by law and custom from wearing a veil including current or former slaves, women in the low classes, and current or former prostitutes. Paul believed that in Christ we are all equal: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28). Paul is advocating that all women be allowed to veil in worship, regardless of social status, as an act of dignity and honour. This was a significant command; imagine you were a slave owner who attended church with your female slave. You would be reminded of her inherent dignity, worth, and equality as a child of God, and the limits of your control over her – every time she veiled herself.

We assume that it was the women who didn’t want to wear a veil. This is probably based on our Western mindset: we live in a culture of bra-burning and wearing revealing clothes as a demonstration of women’s power over their own bodies. However, we also live in a world where women have been forced to unveil: the women being arrested for wearing burkini’s on the beaches of Cannes, for example. In addition, it is usually, though not exclusively, men who try to set the rules for what women wear and don’t wear. In Esther, it’s the king who orders Vashti to unveil herself to a roomful of prominent men; in the Roman culture, it was men who set the rules about who could and could not be veiled, and it was men who had most at stake: a woman veiling herself was indicating that she was not sexually available to him. It was limiting the power of the man.

This makes it easier to understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:10 – “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” (It doesn’t make it easier to understand what “because of the angels” means, but you didn’t ask about that. Thank you!). If Paul was commanding women to wear a veil against their will, this phrase doesn’t make sense. If Paul was confirming the women’s desire to wear a veil, the verse makes sense: she has authority over her own head and can wear a veil.

Obligations and Reflection: We have to look beyond the presenting problem (veils) and consider the universal principle: Paul’s teaching on modesty and dignity, especially in our sexually charged culture. Paul argued that worship gatherings were not a place to advertise sexual availability. This caution is for both men and women. Men’s clothes aren’t typically as obviously revealing as women’s clothing can be. However, advertising sexual availability isn’t just about the clothes you wear. It’s also about words, tone, body language, scents, touch, etc. I think Paul would caution us to careful to be modest in the way we dress, talk, and act so that we don’t steal focus from Jesus when we gather to worship.

Related to this, we have an obligation to treat everyone as a brother and sister in God’s family. We have an obligation to treat everyone with the dignity and honour they deserve as one created in the image of God, whom God loves, and for whom Jesus died. We must especially go out of our way to dignify and honour those who typically get overlooked and oppressed. This is at the heart of Paul’s instructions: the status symbols of culture do not apply in the family of God.

This is the gospel: regardless of your status in the world and regardless of your past – Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, lonely or popular, poor or rich, powerless or powerful – you are a full participant in the kingdom and a full heir of the promises because of Jesus.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #2

Posted on: August 14th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25-26)

Question: What is the full number of the Gentiles?

Context: We need to remember that Paul, a convert to Christianity from a conservative form of Judaism, has essentially travelled all over the Eastern Roman Empire sharing the message of Jesus and establishing churches in key cities. He is now looking to take the message of Jesus to the West, including Spain. He wrote this letter to followers of Jesus in Rome to seek their support in being a home-base for his missionary work in the Western Empire.
In addition, there is conflict between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians in Rome. The Jews, including Jewish Christians, were expelled from Rome. When they returned, they found that the church had continued to grow and thrive under Gentile leadership. However, the expression of Gentile Christianity looked different than the expression of Jewish Christianity.
Paul wants to gain the support of the Gentile Christians in Rome but doesn’t want to create a further divide between Jewish and Gentile Christians. So, in this section of the letter, he reminds the Church of their Jewish heritage and addresses the question: is God finished with Israel?

Analysis: Paul argues that God is continuing to keep his promise to Abraham because there is a group of Jews who have faith in Jesus and because part of God’s promise to Abraham was that all nations would be blessed through him and his descendants. In addition, it has always been God’s way to work through a small group of people to display his glory to the rest. Finally, Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ good news is not irreversible and final; God’s blessing on the Gentiles is making the Jews jealous which, Paul believes, will compel the Jews to accept Jesus as God’s Messiah and enter the kingdom.

Problems: “the full number of the Gentiles”
This is where it’s really important to make sure that we don’t allow our presuppositions affect what the Bible actually says. For example, if I come with a Calvinist presupposition, I would say that Paul means God predetermined that certain Gentiles would respond to the gospel. When that “full number of the Gentiles” respond to the message of Jesus, then all Israel will be saved. It’s possible to see that in the text but it might be more about the lens I am reading the text through.
It’s also possible that Paul is saying that when Gentiles from every tribe, nation, people and language group (Revelation 7:9) respond to the gospel (“the fullness of the Gentiles”), then Israel will return to faith in Christ. This view fits really well with the over-all teaching of Scripture: John’s vision of worship in heaven and Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
“All Israel will be saved” What does Paul mean by this: every child of Israel who ever lived throughout history? Those children of Israel who are alive when Christ returns? Something else?
Paul makes it clear in other places that it isn’t enough to be a Jew ethnically (e.g. Romans 2:28; Romans 9:6-8); a person must recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah in order to enter into the promises of the new covenant. On the other hand, Paul argues that because they are physical descendants of Abraham, the children of Israel are still recipients of the promise God made to Abraham (Romans 11:28-29). While these seem like paradoxical statements to us, Paul’s view of God is large enough to embrace paradox.
In addition, it was common for Jewish teachers at the time to make the statement, “All Israel will be saved.” Then they would list all the Israelites who would not be saved. The common understanding of the phrase, therefore, was “Israel as a whole (but not necessarily including every individual) will be saved.” (Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament). This is likely how Paul’s audience would have understood this phrase.

Themes: The themes of this section surround the main theme of redemption and history. Paul is wrestling with what salvation and God’s mercy mean for the nation of Israel, given the necessity of repentance and belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah and Lord.

Obligations: By referring to “the fullness of the Gentiles” Paul is reminding us of our obligation as missionaries to our world. Jesus taught that the gospel of the kingdom would be spread to all nations before the end would come. He commissioned us to go into all the world with this message. John’s vision included people from every nation, tribe, people and language group surrounding the throne of Jesus. All of this reminds us of our obligation to be witnesses of the kingdom.
A second obligation is stated directly in the passage: “so that you may not be conceited.” Paul is reminding us that we are not better than any other people group, including the children of Israel. We were not the first people to be chosen by God and we were not chosen because of any merit in ourselves; we are simply relying on the kindness of God. We should not look down on the children of Israel for their rejection of the Messiah; apart from God’s grace, we would be in the same boat. Plus, we should never forget the possibility (certainty?) that God will grant mercy to the children of Israel, allowing them to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and Lord.

Reflection: As people reflect on creation, human relationships, universal standards of good and evil, etc. I’ve sometimes heard them exclaim, “How can people not believe in God?” I understand the sentiment of that statement. But Paul warns us in this section to be careful not be arrogant in our belief – as if we believe because we are smarter, wiser, better. The kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy. Paul reminds us to humbly preach and demonstrate the gospel of this kingdom to all nations, including the children of Israel.

FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #1

Posted on: August 10th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

1 Corinthians 15:20-34

Before I get to this passage, I want to say thank you and to commend you! We received more “difficult passages” questions than there are weeks in the summer. This means we won’t get to them all in our Sunday services. So, we will address the ones we miss through this blog. I want to commend you because I think that if we are reading the Bible carefully, we should always find things that challenge our understanding of God and the Scripture. Your response indicates that you are reading the Bible carefully and not glossing over those passages and verses that are difficult and challenging. This is good! Keep it up!

Ok, let’s get to the actual passage. The particular question was about 1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”

To help us wrestle through these difficult passages, we’ve be using the CAPTOR acronym from Getting the Message by Dr. Daniel Doriani:
C – context
A – analysis
P – problem
T – themes
O – obligations
R – reflections

We’ve already identified the problem: what does Paul mean when he talks about receiving baptism for the dead? Is it something we should be practicing? To help us answer the question, we need to look at the context.

Context: Paul is writing to a group of Christians in Corinth. Paul founded the church during an eighteen month stay (recorded in Acts 18). From the time he left to the time he wrote the letter, their personal social interests have caused conflict and division. In his letter, Paul calls them to think like servants rather than pursuing their personal social agendas.

Analysis: In the letter, Paul addresses particular causes of division that have been reported to him. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addresses the resurrection from the dead. Apparently some were preaching that there was no bodily resurrection from the dead.
Paul begins his counter argument by re-stating his gospel message: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” and appeared to many people (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). He argues that if Jesus rose bodily from death it doesn’t make sense to preach that there is no bodily resurrection from the dead: if there is no physical resurrection then Jesus did not rise from the dead and our faith is futile (15:17) and those who have died are lost (15:18). Paul is absolutely convinced that Jesus rose from the dead with a physical body and therefore those who put their faith in him will also experience a bodily resurrection.

Problem: Paul uses “baptism for the dead” to support his argument for a bodily resurrection: if there is no resurrection, it doesn’t make sense for people to be baptized for the dead.
There are a couple important principles to keep in mind:
1. As Pastor Ian has reminded us, the Bible is written for us, not to us. This means that while we may not understand what Paul is referring to here, we can presume that his original audience did.
2. We should understand a particular passage in light of the teaching of the whole Bible. In this case, baptism for the dead is not referred to anywhere else in the Bible. Further, there seems to be no historical reference to baptism for the dead up to the time Paul wrote this letter. If we were supposed to practice baptism for the dead, we should find more instructions in more places and references to it being practiced and affirmed in the early church. In fact, when Marcion (an early Christian) and his followers practiced baptism for the dead based on this passage and it was universally opposed by the other church fathers.
3. Paul regularly uses writings and practices from the culture to make his point. For example, the altar to the unknown god in Acts 17. It doesn’t mean that he condones the practice necessarily; he uses their practice to illustrated and support his point. In this case, we might paraphrase his argument this way: “It’s clear that even you don’t really believe that there is no bodily resurrection because you are being baptized on behalf of the dead. Why would you do that if you didn’t think they would rise again?”

Another problem is that it is not clear what Paul is referring to when he says baptism for the dead. Because there is no further biblical or historical reference to it, we are in the dark as to what he means. We assume that people were being baptized on behalf of those who died before they could be baptized. However, it is not clear. For example, it could refer to the Jewish practice of washing (baptizing) a corpse in preparation for burial, or something else entirely.

Themes: The theme of the passage is that the bodily resurrection of Jesus gives us confidence that those who have faith in Jesus will also experience bodily resurrection. This fits with the over-all message of the gospel: Jesus does not just save our souls but our whole person. Further, it fits with Paul’s argument that what we do with our body has eternal significance.

Obligations: We’re on pretty shaky ground if we conclude from this one verse that we should start practicing baptism on behalf of the dead. It is clear that Paul is using the practice (whatever it refers to) to support his argument for a bodily resurrection. It is not clear that Paul is condoning this practice.
What is clear is that the resurrection of Jesus gives us confidence that we will also experience a bodily resurrection which gives us confidence to pursue the mission of Jesus without fear. In verse 30, Paul says: “As for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day…” Paul’s confidence in facing death for the sake of Jesus’ mission comes from his confidence that he has been united by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection.
Are you living in a way that speaks to your confidence in a future bodily resurrection based on the resurrection of Jesus? Or are you living in fear? Jesus’ resurrection compels us to pursue Jesus’ mission without fear of death.
A further implication is that what we do with our bodies matters. Our future bodily resurrection has implications for our practices of sexuality, participating in the customs of our culture, and practices of exercise and nutrition. Our bodies are not of ultimate importance but, because those who have faith in Jesus will experience a bodily resurrection, what we do with our bodies is of eternal significance.

Reflections: The main point of the passage is that Jesus rose from the dead. The main call of the passage is to live a life that indicates our confidence in Jesus’ resurrection by pursuing Jesus’ mission with courage and confidence even in the face of rejection, ridicule, and death.