The Second Half…

B-Quad begins today. That means I’m adding 2 more classes to my schedule. While my eagerness to learn and to study has not waned, I am a little overwhelmed at the prospect of adding more assignments, more research, more writing, more translating than I’m already doing. God’s grace will remain sufficient.

That (probably) means less blogging.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 6:35 am  Comments (1)  
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How should we read the Beatitudes?

I am accustomed to reading the Beatitudes of Matt. 5:3-10 (or 5:3-12) individually, separately. I wonder if we ought to pursue understanding them as more tightly connected. Rather than viewing them as distinct aphorisms, perhaps Matthew, as he has surely summarized Jesus’ much longer sermon, intends for us to hear/read them as intimately connected communicating a primary theme.

What has clued me in to this possibility is noticing, for the first time, that the ones blessed in the first Beatitude and the last Beatitude receive their blessing for the same reason. (I take 5:10 as the last Beatitude, rather than 5:11-12, since 5:11-12 shifts to addressing his audience directly. More on this at the end.) Matt. 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” None of the other Beatitudes share this commonality. If this is indeed an “inclusio,” which is a literary feature where the initial phrase/sentence/idea in a series or paragraph is repeated at the end to bracket the series or paragraph in order to emphasize that which is repeated, perhaps Matthew intends for his readers to understand all of the Beatitudes in light of the first and the last.

If this is a legitimate interpretive procedure for us, how shall we proceed? It’s probably best to consider the meaning of the repeated phrase, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Simply, I suppose we could say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, that is the ones mentioned in the Beatitude. Now, we face the daunting task of defining “kingdom of heaven.” First, let’s put to rest the artificial distinction many people make between “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God.” This is not supported by the uses of these phrases. While Matthew is certainly the only New Testament author who uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” he also uses the phrase “kingdom of God” on occasion (6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43), with no apparent difference in meaning. This can be most clearly demonstrated from looking at Matt. 19:23, which uses “kingdom of heaven,” and Matt. 19:24, which uses “kingdom of God,” in exactly the same way. Perhaps there is some legitimacy to the explanation that Matthew preferred not to use the phrase “kingdom of God” out of respect for Jewish sensibilities with regard to the usage of the divine name or saying the word “God.” Second, what shall we make of this kingdom language? Reading through the Gospel of Matthew, I’m not sure it’s best to understand the phrase “kingdom of heaven” as referring to a place (primarily). The summary of Jesus’ (and John the Baptist’s) preaching given in Matt. 4:17 says that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I’m not sure how to make sense of a place being “at hand” (however we are to take that phrase…imminent? on top of you? soon to come? in your midst? already here?). Even with the language of “entering” the kingdom, I’m not sure that this is best understood as speaking of a place. Truly, when I hear the word “kingdom,” my first thought is usually of a place, but, even in English, doesn’t it mean more than this? For the sake of space, let me just define how I think we need to understand kingdom language, generally. (I may defend this at another time.) When we read “kingdom,” “kingdom of heaven,” or “kingdom of God,” I think we need to think “reign of God,” or even “sovereignty of God,” in the literal sense of the word “sovereignty.” I think the term is referring to God’s rightful rulership over his creation. This becomes specifically tied conceptually to Messiahship, since the Messiah is the Davidic King. So, when the Gospels speak of the coming of the kingdom, I think they are specifically referring to the Messianic reign of Jesus, as Jesus comes into the world to take his rightful place as King. This will, ultimately, culminate in a place, so thinking of the kingdom as a place is not entirely out of line. But, I think the language is emphasizing the authority of the Sovereign over his place.

So, in light of this understanding of “kingdom of heaven,” let’s get back to the Beatitudes and this phrase common to the first and last Beatitude, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean for the reign of God, the sovereign rule of God to belong to these blessed ones? I think we can understand this as saying that these are the rightful citizens under God’s rule who are to receive the benefits (blessings?) of the gracious sovereignty of King Jesus. Another important thing to note with regard to these two Beatitudes in contrast with the rest of them: the verb is in the present tense. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is significant because all of the other Beatitudes are framed in the future tense. This might reflect what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Perhaps he was intending the ambiguity of the phrase translated “is at hand.” Perhaps he intended to indicate that the kingdom, in one sense, has already arrived with the coming of the Great King, Jesus, but in another sense the kingdom has not fully come, has not been consummated. Perhaps that is what creates the obvious tensions in some of the Beatitudes: blessed though poor in spirit, blessed though mourning, blessed though meek, blessed though persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The truth of these blessings demands an explanation, which Jesus gives to each. So, the kingdom is here, but not in its fullness. This is clearly taught throughout the New Testament and is part of the reason Jesus must come again.

So, perhaps we should understand the blessing of each Beatitude to be a true and genuine blessing for some right now, but should we then say that Jesus’ reasons for these blessings are set in the future, specifically in the time of the consummation of the kingdom, when Jesus returns to consummate the fullness of the Messianic kingdom, when all of the rebels will be cast out and the New Heavens and the New Earth become the dwelling place of God and his people together? Let’s see what this might look like.

5:4–Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Those who are mourning now are truly blessed. Why? They shall be fully comforted with a comfort that they are unable to experience right now, when Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory.
5:5–Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Those who are currently meek, not demanding their rights, not wielding power in order to exploit others or achieve selfish gain, are truly blessed. Why? They shall inherit the whole earth, which sounds very much like the transformed Abrahamic promise reflected in Rom. 4:13. But this inheritance will not be received until Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory.
5:6–Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Perhaps it would be better to translate “righteousness” as “justice” here (the Greek term can have either meaning depending on context). Thus, those who have a genuine longing for justice in this world are truly blessed in this Christlike desire. Why? They will see justice, finally, when Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory.
5:7–Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Those who treat others with mercy are truly blessed now. Why? They will receive mercy beyond imagining when Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory, which includes infinite undeserved kindness.
5:8–Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Those who are internally pure, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, cleansed from all unrighteousness are truly blessed now in their purity. Why? They look forward to actually seeing God when Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory.
5:9–Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Those who work hard for peace between people are truly blessed now. Why? They may have confidence that they will be recognized as those who act like their perfect Father who is a God of reconciliation. And this will take place in the grandest way, as Paul says, at “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19) when Jesus comes again and establishes his kingdom in all its glory.

Now, as I’ve tried to sketch out what the individual Beatitudes are trying to communicate in light of the first and the last Beatitudes, we should take a look at those two Beatitudes also.

5:3–Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:10–Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Now, we should ask, “Since the reason for these Beatitudes are identical, should we understand the entire statements as parallel?  Should we interpret these two in light of one another? More particularly, should we equate the two Beatitudes themselves?” I think we can and perhaps should. I wonder if Matthew intends to help us see the more ambiguous characterization (in my estimation) “poor in spirit” in light of the more clear characterization “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” So, could we say that those who are poor in spirit are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake? What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? Perhaps Matthew would answer, “To be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”

Or perhaps this leads to a broader conclusion. Perhaps we should understand the entire set of Beatitudes as describing what any one citizen under God’s sovereignty should be like. Thus, Jesus is highlighting the true blessedness of the citizen of his kingdom is found in knowing that one who can be characterized by these qualities is indeed a true citizen of his kingdom and has the great consummation of the kingdom to look ahead to, when every citizen of the kingdom will be able to receive the full benefits of citizenship.

Now, what shall we do with 5:11-12, which I separated from the rest of the passage? Jesus seems to turn to address directly his audience: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Now, let’s get his audience clearly in view. Looking back at 5:1-2, we read, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” It seems best to understand that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples, though crowds were present as well, eavesdropping as it were. So, Jesus has just described what citizens of the kingdom of heaven ought to look like with eight Beatitudes, and then he turns to address his disciples directly, and he draws them in at the last Beatitude. In 5:10, he had spoken of persecution “for righteousness’ sake,” but in 5:11 he speaks of persecution “on my account.” To show the genuine parallel, let’s translate more literally: 5:10 speaks of persecution “on account of righteousness,” and 5:11 speaks of persecution “on account of me.” Thus, Jesus here more concretely identifies the concept of righteousness with himself. Instead of telling them immediately why they are truly blessed when this is their experience, he commands them to rejoice and celebrate! (As a side note, we actually see this happening in Acts 5:41.) Now, he tells them why they should rejoice and celebrate: “your reward in heaven is great.” It’s interesting that here he does not use the language of kingdom. Also, it’s important to point out that there is no verb in the Greek, so nothing at all is being intended about the time. He is simply characterizing a reward that belongs to them as great. Should we read “heaven” here as meaning the same thing as “kingdom of heaven” earlier? Perhaps Matthew is abbreviating the phrase. I’m really not sure at all. However, I think it’s safe to say that this reward would have been expected by his original hearers to be received in the future.

So, perhaps he has concisely summarized and applied to the disciples the Beatitudes he had just spoken recorded in Matt. 5:3-5:10, and maybe they would have heard it something like this: “Hey guys! You disciples, my followers! Everything I just said…I was talking about you! As you follow me, you will be characterized by those qualities, particularly by being the recipients of persecution. So, recognize how blessed you are as you experience those qualities in yourselves! Look forward to what I have for you when I consummate the kingdom! You are the true citizens of my kingdom! Celebrate your citizenship and look forward to the day when you will be able to enjoy all of the privileges of your citizenship!!” Believers from that day until Jesus returns should acknowledge are true blessed citizenship. Rejoice! Celebrate!

Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Gospel according to “These Stones”

John the Baptist’s preaching/ministry is somewhat difficult to characterize. This, I suppose, is due mostly to the brevity of the narrative account of his ministry. This brevity is surely due to the Gospel writers’ desire to focus on Jesus. In reading through Matthew over the past couple of days, I think I have noticed an interesting association with the Old Testament that I haven’t seen before. The story of John the Baptist recorded in Matthew 3 has several affinities with the story of Joshua and the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land in Joshua 1-4. The Gospel of Matthew as a whole is permeated with Old Testament quotations and allusions, but there also seems to be a significant number of more subtle associations with some Old Testament narratives that underlie Matthew’s thinking at a number of points.

Matthew starts out his narrative about John the Baptist by saying that he “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matt. 3:1-2). Then, Matthew says that Isaiah spoke of him when Isaiah said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matt. 3:3, quoting Isa. 40:3). So, should we equate “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” with “crying in the wilderness”? I ask because, if we should, then we should also equate the message. Thus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” is essentially the same message as “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” I don’t think this is a necessary conclusion to draw, but it may be what Matthew intends.

Now, the narrative begins to focus on what John the Baptist was up to. He was baptizing people in the Jordan River. Why the Jordan River as opposed to any other body of water in Israel? Perhaps it was to reflect something of what God did at the Jordan River in the Old Testament, particularly as narrated in the book of Joshua. Matthew says that the people were “going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:5-6). I find the fact that they were confessing their sins as they were being baptized very interesting. Baptism was a practice of many cultures of the ancient world, most regularly, it seems, for the purpose of purification. Jews, however, almost exclusively baptized only proselytes, Gentiles who wanted to participate in the worship of Yahweh and take part in the Jewish way of life. (This is often cited as a primary reason for the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ aversion to John’s baptism; they understood themselves to be the people of God who had no need of ritual purification by baptism.) So, what of the confession of sins here? It is certainly related to the idea of ritual purification. But, could it also be reflecting Josh. 3:5, where Joshua is said to command the people to consecrate/sanctify/set apart themselves? There is no explicit mention of confessing sins here, and the Hebrew term is usually used to indicate ritual/ceremonial purification, which involved various washings with water and sometimes was closely related to offering sacrifices. There is one place in the New Testament, that I can recall, that explicitly links confession of sin and cleansing: 1 Jn. 1:9. Nonetheless, I think John’s baptism, a cleansing ritual, is linked to the confession of sins, and perhaps this would have been understood by Matthew’s original readers as related to consecrating oneself in the Old Testament, particularly in Josh. 3:5. (This might be too subtle, but with the context of the Jordan River and the affiliation of baptism with cleansing, perhaps not.)

But there’s more. John then apparently perceives some enemies in the midst of the crowds (though, Luke’s account has him castigating the whole crowd, but this may simply reflect the fact that John announced his condemnation generally to the people, but he was directing his words at a particular group in the crowd, without identifying them by name). He chastises the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the crowd by calling them children of vipers! Matthew tells his readers that these Pharisees and Sadducees came out to “his baptism,” not to be baptized by John, as the general populace was characterized earlier. He asks them an apparently pertinent question: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” This question leads me to ask what association does the coming wrath have with the imminent kingdom of heaven? Matthew tells us that John was preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” but John here asks them how they know that they need to be fleeing the coming wrath. Thus, should we conclude that repentance=fleeing the wrath to come? Whatever this means exactly, apparently it leads them to mutter amongst themselves that they are Abraham’s descendants, which I suppose meant to them that they had no wrath to fear. John pounces on this wrong-headed thinking and reminds them of the true nature of salvation as a gift from God that does not come by bloodline or by nationality. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). Now, I want to ask, “To what stones is John referring?” I have always thought reading this passage and have heard it taught that John just looked around and saw some rocks on the ground and found a point worth making about God’s power. Thus, John’s point would be that God has the power to make rocks into the people of God. I’m not sure how well that would have answered their objection, and, at this point, I’m not sure they would have even thought in those kinds of categories, whereby God makes inanimate objects into believing human beings. So, is it possible that John was actually referring to some particular stones?

Recall Joshua 4. Joshua has just led the people of Israel across the Jordan River on dry ground, reminiscent of Moses leading the people of Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground. “When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, “Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight”‘” (Josh. 4:1-3). When Joshua commands the people to do this, he commands each man to pick up a stone “upon his shoulder.” I suspect these stones were not pebbles! Joshua explains to them that “these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (Josh. 3:7). This word for shoulder seems to require us to envision a man hoisting something up between his head and his shoulder, with the stone resting at his neck with his hand raised up to support it. These were large stones. These stones were then taken out of the Jordan River to Gilgal and set up as a monument. Now, there is a difficulty in the text of Joshua regarding these stones. Josh. 4:9 indicates that Joshua himself set up twelve stones as a monument, but it’s difficult to determine whether this is referring to Joshua’s setting up the monument at Gilgal or whether Joshua has taken up 12 more stones and set up an additional monument in the middle of the Jordan River. If you compare the ESV with the NIV at this point you can see the difference plainly, as the ESV translates verse 9 in such a way that makes it clear that Joshua has taken up 12 stones to set up a second monument, whereas the NIV translates verse 9 in such a way that makes it clear that the narrator is referring to when Joshua later sets up the monument at Gilgal. Both readings have difficulties and I’m not sure which one is best, though I think both are plausible for various reasons. But, at any rate, what needs to be highlighted here is the purpose of the monument (if there are two monuments, I think it is safe to say that both are built for the same purpose, though the purpose statement is only applied specifically to the monument at Gilgal). Joshua tells the people, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever” (Josh. 4:21-24). It is important to note a couple of things about this. First, notice how they ought to relate this event back to the Exodus event, when God brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Second, notice how the monument is to function as a reminder to the people of how God has worked in their midst to bring them into the Promised Land, into their inheritance.

Now, what of John the Baptist and our text in Matthew 3? Could it be that John points these Pharisees and Sadducees to this monument, rather than just some rocks on the ground? (Of course, if there is substantial archaeological evidence that the pillar(s) from Joshua’s day had surely been destroyed by this time, this reference is then improbable.) If this is so, what is John actually affirming about God by saying that God can make from these stones children for Abraham? First, I’m sure that John is crushing the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ feelings of superiority or entitlement by which they had concluded that they have no need for cleansing or confession of sin because of their bloodline going back to Abraham. Secondly, I think it may be possible that John is doing this by showing something wonderful about how God creates a people for himself in the first place. This monument was meant to serve as a reminder of how God brought his chosen people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. So, how does God make children for Abraham from this monument? I think John might be pointing to the message of the stones rather than to the stones themselves. He’s saying to these Jewish people, “Remember the story! Remember what these stones are supposed to teach you, to remind you of! Have you forgotten to ask your fathers what these stones mean?? Remember how God brought you out of Egypt! Remember how he graciously chose you and rescued you from darkness and slavery! That’s how God makes children for Abraham!”

God works the same way he did thousands of years ago when he chose Abraham and brought him up out of Ur of the Chaldeans in order to create a people to be his special treasure, who were to expand God’s rule over the entire world, to all tribes, nations, and languages. Hear the gospel of these stones! Remember the passover lamb that was slain, so that the blood would protect them from God’s destroyer, and so that God would take them out of Egypt the very next day! John the Baptist came preaching repentance and came baptizing to prepare for Yahweh’s coming in the person of Jesus the Messiah, bringing in the kingdom of heaven, or the reign of God. Remember the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world. Remember that it is God who brings people out of the kingdom of darkness and slavery to sin and into the kingdom of his beloved Son. The one who rescues us from Egypt is faithful to bring us home to the Promised Land, to dwell eternally with him.

Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Labels have their place.

I suppose.

However, labels often can be divisive. Particularly theological labels. Instead of throwing around labels for ourselves, why don’t we spend more time talking about the issues that the labels are supposed to reflect?

For example, if I walked into a group of people and said, “I’m an egalitarian,” what would that accomplish? What would people hear me saying? Invariably, some of the people would not understand the term. Others would nod their heads in agreement, wanting to claim the same label for themselves. Others would squirm uncomfortably, having certain understandings and assumptions (some correct and some incorrect) about egalitarianism in general. If this were to occur, what would I want to be claiming for myself? I might wish merely to say, “I believe women can teach in the church.” If that’s all I were saying, then I’m not necessarily saying anything that a complementarian would not agree with. Or I might wish merely to say, “Men and women are equal in the sight of God.” But, as it is, many people would hear me saying all sorts of things. Some would hear me acknowledging that I think homosexual marriage is legitimate. Some would hear me saying that I think women ought to pastor and be elders of churches. Some would hear me saying that wives should rule the roost. Some would hear me making claims about my political leanings. And again, some would not hear me saying anything intelligible at all because they don’t understand the term. Let’s not pick on egalitarianism/complementarianism only. If I walked into a group of Christians and said, “I’m a Calvinist,” what would people hear? Some would hear me saying that I don’t think evangelism is necessary because God’s already chosen who will be saved, so it doesn’t matter what I do. Some would hear me saying that I think John Calvin is the greatest theologian in church history. Some would hear me saying that I don’t think people have free will. And again, some would not hear me saying anything intelligible at all because they don’t understand the term.

So, let’s stop throwing around labels so quickly. We are too quick to make assumptions about people and things based on labels that we claim. Let’s get this out in the open: labels claim certain things. Some of the things a label may claim we may not intend to claim for ourselves. Sometimes we take on labels because we’ve heard the opposite position and we aren’t convinced that it’s true. For example, a person may claim to be an egalitarian because they just don’t think the complementarian position is the best way to understand the relevant passages of Scripture that discuss (as the complementarian sees them) different roles for men and women as part of God’s created order. But this is no reason to claim, “I’m an egalitarian,” without examining the claims egalitarianism makes for itself as a summary of beliefs. Every label has underlying beliefs, interpretations of certain passages of Scripture, and commitments, and we ought to be more careful about claiming a label without investigating very carefully all of those beliefs, interpretations of certain passages of Scripture, and commitments to be sure that we want to buy “the whole package.” And let us certainly not run into the trap of saying, “The Bible just isn’t clear on this issue.” Now, I’ve heard both complementarians (though fewer) and egalitarians (many times) make this statement, and it boggles my mind! This is a slippery slope, indeed. Once we start saying that the Bible isn’t clear on certain issues that we have disagreements about, do we not run the risk of sacrificing more and more of the Bible’s teaching along the way, saying that things aren’t as clear as we thought they were? And, in the first place, if the Bible isn’t clear on this issue, then why claim either label?? If the Bible isn’t clear on this issue, then that ought to mean that it supports neither position, so why accept a label that you think has insufficient biblical support? But, I think this is typically a smoke-screen of sorts, to alleviate disagreement. And, while we’re on this issue, how can we say the Bible is unclear on an issue that it addresses in so many different passages? Maybe people who say this are only thinking of 1 Tim. 2:8-15 and 1 Cor. 11:2-16 (both of which, I agree, are very difficult passages, perhaps among the most difficult in the Bible). But what about Eph. 5:22-32; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Gen. 1:28; 2:7-24; 3:1-24; etc.? These passages, among others, address the issues from a fundamental level, and they ought to give enough data that no one could claim that the Bible is not clear on this issue, and claimants of both labels ought to strive to understand each of these passages in their own respective contexts and conclude how he or she ought to live in light of what they claim/command. Furthermore, to suggest (particularly in an overtly condescending tone of voice) that “it’s just their interpretation” automatically (and arrogantly) discloses that you believe your interpretation is the superior interpretation…which you already made obvious by claiming the label and all that it claims!! This is no argument at all; again, it just sidelines the real issues, which are wrapped up in the passages of Scripture themselves! Can we actually discuss the different interpretations to see which one makes more sense of the data, which seems to be more faithful to what the text says?? By making this claim, you’ve made it seem like you do not, in fact, care about the issues; you’re just wrapped up in the label! But, I digress….

Labels can be useful. They do provide us with a concise way to refer to a larger body of beliefs. But we must be more careful about how we use labels. Particularly in public forums, we ought not simply throw out labels and make sweeping claims with them. Rather, let’s do the harder, more significant, more potentially unifying work of discussing together the issues behind the labels. So, let’s get together and talk about why a person might want to claim the label “egalitarian.” Let’s open the Bible to those passages of Scripture and see if the egalitarian position holds its water, justifies its claims. Let’s strive to be as consistent as possible in our theology. And let’s not discount another person’s thoughts because they claim a particular label. Let’s talk together and strive to conform our thinking to the teachings we find in the Bible, and if someone else has a better understanding of the data than we do, let’s be humble enough to acknowledge it and change our minds to conform to Scripture. So, we might have to repent (change our minds and our behavior) for some of the beliefs we’ve held and the labels we’ve claimed. Our theology informs and affects our behavior, even if we’re not aware of it, and we ought to live in light of our beliefs. But may our beliefs, and thus our behavior, be formed and shaped and directed by the Bible, God’s revelation of himself, pointing us to Jesus, crucified, buried, raised from the dead, and now seated at the right hand of God interceding for believers, and calling us to live as he lived on this earth (1 Jn. 2:6).


In our church plant meetings, we are often praying for boldness, and our pastor consistently exhorts us to continue to pray for boldness, motivated by the description in Acts 4 of the believers praying for boldness and then immediately after being recognized by others because of their boldness. But I wonder how well we really understand just what boldness is. What exactly were the apostles praying for? And what are we praying for?

In thinking about this, I decided to check out what the book of Acts has to say about boldness, and I was actually surprised to find how frequently the word is actually used throughout the book. The Greek noun parresia is used 5 times and the verb parresiazomai 7 times. What struck me, at first, was that the word is already used of the apostles before Acts 4:29, where the believers pray together for boldness. It’s used again of Peter and John in Acts 4:13, as the Jewish council recognizes their boldness because “they had been with Jesus.” In Acts 4:29, the believers are all together praying to continue speaking with boldness, and we see in Acts 4:31 that God grants their request. Through the rest of the book, Paul’s boldness is focused on. He was not among the believers in Acts 4, but his conversion is narrated in Acts 9. And, soon after his conversion, Barnabas testifies about him that he has been preaching boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). And Paul continued to preach boldly as Acts 9:28 records. Paul and Barnabas together are characterized as speaking boldly in Acts 13:46 and 14:3. In Acts 18:26, we meet Apollos who spoke boldly in the synagogue in Ephesus, but, apparently, even in his boldness, he did not have the message quite right, for Priscilla and Aquila had to take him aside and explain to him “the way of God more accurately.” Apollos was then sent on his way over to Achaia, which is the region where Corinth is. Paul follows shortly behind and enters Ephesus apparently soon after Apollos has departed, and he spoke boldly in the synagogue of Ephesus for three months (Acts 19:8). In Paul’s defense before Festus, he is characterized as speaking boldly to try to persuade Festus of the significance of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection which Festus already knew about (Acts 26:26). Finally, it is very interesting to note that the final verse of the book highlights Paul’s boldness in preaching, as he is settled into house arrest in Rome, having freedom to receive guests and preach the gospel unhindered (Acts 28:31). So, clearly, boldness could be identified as a unifying thread that runs throughout the book of Acts.

Now, typically, I think, when we think of “boldness,” we think simply of confidence to stand up for the truth in the face of opposition. But, while this is truly one aspect of parresia, boldness, as it is used in the Bible, I think we are actually missing the primary meaning of the word, the meaning which supports or grounds or undergirds our ability to stand up to opposition and to proclaim the truth unashamedly. This aspect is revealed more clearly in the first occurrence of the word parresia in the book of Acts, found in Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:29. Peter says, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence (parresia) about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Our English translations, even the most consistently literal translations such as ESV or NASB, translate parresia here as “confidence” or “confidently” rather than with “boldness,” as in every other occurrence of the word in the book of Acts. It would be more helpful, perhaps, if the translators would be a little more consistent, but I can see why they feel that “confidence” is more appropriate in this context, and, in fact, it helps us see more clearly the fullness of the meaning of parresia. Peter claims to have confidence/boldness about the historical fact that David has died and is in his grave. Of course, as he develops this, he is making a contrast with the Son of David, Jesus, who has not remained in his grave! But, Peter is claiming confidence/boldness here because he is absolutely certain of the truthfulness of what he is preaching. This, I think, is the aspect of boldness that we are not thinking enough about. In order for us to have the kind of boldness that enables us to speak clearly and unashamedly in the face of skeptics or unbelievers, we must have a settled certainty about the events that comprise the gospel message.

Therefore, not only ought we be praying for boldness, but we must also be working to increase our confidence, our certainty about the events narrated for us in the Bible and about the significance of those events as fleshed out by the apostles in the rest of the New Testament, including and especially how those events fulfilled every hope and promise which are set forth in the Old Testament. Simply put, we must learn how to understand and proclaim “the whole counsel of God” as Paul indicates he did to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:27). In other words, we must be working diligently to increase our knowledge of the Scriptures. Peter’s certainty concerning the truth about Jesus’ resurrection in contrast with the great David’s death and how those two facts relate in the scope of redemptive history is why he was able to preach with boldness. So, we should not necessarily expect that God will grant our request for increased boldness if we are not actively pursuing an increased knowledge of God through studying his revelation to us. This is not to say that God’s granting our requests is dependent on our behavior or our preparedness; rather, it is to acknowledge that God often (if not always) uses means to answer our prayers. In fact, the fact that God uses means in this world to accomplish his purposes is one of the primary reasons we pray in the first place. Scripture bears out time and time again (even and especially in the book of Acts) that God uses the prayers of his people as the means by which he brings things to pass in our world. Thus, we ought to expect that God would give us boldness through or in response to our prayers for boldness. However, by virtue of the very nature of boldness, which, I think, includes and is founded on a growing confidence in the truth of the gospel in accordance with our increased understanding of the gospel, we must realize that God will probably grant our prayer through the means of increased study and discussion and thinking about the Scriptures.

This is probably one of the reasons that Paul prayed so frequently, as recorded in his letters even, that believers would grow in their knowledge of God (read: in their theology!).

October Great Bible Giveaway

Logos Bible Software, through, is giving away a ton of very high-quality (and expensive) Bibles in a random drawing each month. Here’s important info:

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 6:33 am  Leave a Comment