Sunday, July 19, 2015

With Upward Eyes of One: Notes on Ephesians 2:11-22

Last Sunday, Allison and I preached at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (our home church). Allison tackled v.11-16, and I focused on the latter half of our passage for liturgy. It was a truly invigorating experience. Here are my scattered notes, including initial notes I did on v.11-16. 


In many ways, Ephesians 2:11-22 is a highly systematic compression of Paul’s work in Romans 1-3 and 9-11. For example, Romans 3:9 states that “both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin” (CEB), and even states to the potentially boastful Gentiles in 11:21 that “If God didn’t spare the natural branches, he won’t spare you either” (CEB). There is this sense of unique racial and ethnic tension that runs through Romans and Ephesians. However, the tension between Jew and Gentile has been abolished in Christ, removing any tension between the two groups, who have now become one.

We can find plenty of what God has done in Christ in the first major pericope in Ephesians, 1:3-14. In this text we find a reference to “the saints” (τοῖς ἁγίοις), which seems to presuppose the entirety of the new group in Christ Jesus (v.1b). This may be confirmed in v.3 where we (ἡμᾶς; plural pronoun) are blessed by God in Christ, indicating a wide net of people who are already included in the people of God. We see this sense of unity already assumed before we’ve even gotten to our main text. Remember, this is a church that is being written to, not a singular individual.

V.11 begins with an admonition to “therefore remember” (Διὸ μνημονεύετε). Because of Gentiles being “dead” in 2:1 (νεκροὺς), we “Gentiles” (ἔθνη) have now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (V.13). This is made clear by the adjacent references to “alienation” and “strangers” in v.12. V.13 caps off v.11-12 by asserting that we are now “near” to one another and not separate.

V.14 asserts that αὐτὸς (the implication is that αὐτὸς refers to Christ given the immediate previous reference to him in v.13) “is” (ἐστιν: present) “our peace” (εἰρήνη ἡμῶν). The use of εἰρήνη occurs quite prominently in Paul’s opening addresses to his churches, specifically the εἰρήνη of God or from God. Specifically in Ephesians 1:2: “grace and peace to you from God” (ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ). Conflict undone. Or hesed (Allison’s note).

Because of Christ who, having made (ποιήσας) us one (ἓν), the barrier has been “broken down” (λύσας). However, λύσας seems more apt at describing something that has been (or is being) destroyed or dissolved (λύω; the root). F.F. Bruce notes that “not only has [Christ] reconciled his people to God through his death but he has reconciled them to each other” (Bruce, Commentary, 295). However, it seems premature to conclude that this reconciliation has already been accomplished with one another, as we are still a church divided. The foundation has been laid, but we have stopped building a place of unity for one another.

Thus, v.14 is a call in some sense for active participation with one another, as disciples, as parents, as brothers and sisters.

In v.15, John Muddiman writes, “As revealed Scripture and prophecy of the coming of Christ, the Old Testament Law still has an important place (see Rom. 3:21); it also provides moral guidelines of continuing validity (1 Cor. 10:11); it is only in its regulative and statutory aspects, the element of external compulsion, that it is no longer needed, because the spirit of freedom in Christ achieves the same end by other means and without the cost of creating division between Gentiles and Jews.” (Muddiman, 133).

The emphasis on the “annulment” of the Law and her ordinances results “in one new humanity” (εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον) by “making peace” (ποιῶν εἰρήνην). This εἰρήνη occurs 8 times in Ephesians, and seems to suggest a focal point in assuming unity: you cannot have εἰρήνη without the unity of the body.

Within v.16, we see a continuum with the conjunction καὶ and the subjunctive ἀποκαταλλάξῃ, “and might reconcile” the both, which is an adjective that qualifies the previous group of Jew and Gentile, specifically with it being in plural form (ἀμφοτέρους). The subjunctive indicates an aspect of accomplishment within the past (hence the aorist tense), with implications towards the future (hence the subjunctive active tense). A key component of this is the “already, not yet” aspect of Christian theology: for example, we await the redemption (or liberation) of our bodies, certain and yet hopeful for that which comes later, on the basis of the previous resurrection of the Son of God. The language of reconciliation appears in 2:16, specifically in a tense only found here. The 3rd person singular aorist subjunctive (ἀποκαταλλάξῃ) specifically states that “he might reconcile.” The use of subjunctives throughout this passage seems paradoxical: this is something that has been accomplished, and is something that is in the process of being accomplished.

We have been reconciled; how now do we live as a reconciled people? The text specifies a specific sequence of events: ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι τῷ θεῷ διὰ τοῦ σταυροῦ (…in one body to God through the cross); this reconciliation in one body (the united church) has happened (and must continue to happen) because “by putting to death the hostility in him [Christ] (ἀποκτείνας τὴν ἔχθραν ἐν αὐτῷ). V.16 speaks very strongly—in violent language—of destruction or death. In this specific form, it is used to refer to the slaying of a person in John 16:2. The use of the aorist participle ἀποκτείνας reveals that this hostility is being utterly destroyed, or even killed. The NRSV captures this tense perfect when they write: “putting to death.” Paradoxically, it is the process of being destroyed or abolished or dissolved.

Christ’s proclamation of peace involves those who were far (Gentiles) and those who were near (Jews). Through the life and death of Christ all people now have access to God, and this access results in peace for both parties. There is no impartiality or discrimination in Christ. This access results in one people group being united together, knit together, into one new humanity.

Christ is seen here in Ephesians as the point of integration where the construction of the new building is to take place: the temple of God which is comprised of God’s people. Christ is at the center of this reconciliation, and has set a base for how the church is to be knit and built together. The church, in other words, is an organic being, comprised of many members all on a level playing field.

Verse 19-22 seems to comprise a singular sentence, focusing on the continual aspects of unity in Christ. Here in v.22, then, is the climactic statement: we are in the process of being knitted (united) together. The entirety of v.11-22 is so focused on the body of Christ being united and knit and integrated together that we almost miss the simplicity of this: in Christ, we are one. Jews and Gentiles are thus one new humanity, not two. They are not two groups living under one roof, they are one body, living under the holy auspice of God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are not separate but equal groups; rather they are one group period. While there are differences within the family, nevertheless they are one family.

This has happened because Jesus has died and been resurrected, offering himself as an end to the hostility between ethnic divisions. Now, as diverse believers in him, there is no “me” and there is no “us versus them” – there is “us.” As we await the consummation of Christ’s kingdom, we live as a holy body, a sanctuary dedicated to reconciliation and unity for one another.

Reconciliation with Christ means reconciliation with one another.

This does not mean I lose my distinctiveness, but that you and I are fully embraced members of my new family in Christ. And that is the central point of this passage.

  • What is the solution to these barriers or dividers? What concrete practices can we invoke? An example for myself, I was instantly welcomed and assumed to be part of the family when I came here. That is a positive breaking down of any potential barriers. How then, as the church universal, can we bring about reconciliation for all people?
The NOW and HOW of this reconciliation. 

Here is my own (rough!) translation of v.17-22. 



καὶ ἐλθὼν εὐηγγελίσατο εἰρήνην ὑμῖν τοῖς μακρὰν καὶ εἰρήνην τοῖς ἐγγύς·

My translation: 

And having come, he proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace [to you] who were near.

Building off of the previous verse (v.16), we have a powerful statement of about peace for those who were far and those who were near. This proclamation includes a double repetition of “peace,” which indicates that this affects both Jew and Gentile; there is not partiality between both groups. The Jewish people who were close have peace, and the Gentiles who were far have peace. The grammatical construction explicitly includes εἰρήνην for both gentile and Jew.

The coming of Christ is the focal point of ἐλθὼν: his coming indicates what is to take place: peace and unity for his one people.

There appears to be an intertextual echo to Third Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19, and they have been combined to form a singular concept: peace for those who were far and near.

How is this peace enacted? It is explained in v.18.



ὅτι δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἔχομεν τὴν προσαγωγὴν οἱ ἀμφότεροι ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα.

My translation: 

So that through him [Christ] we both have [Jew and Gentile] access in one Spirit to the Father.

Present active indicative verb: ἔχομεν – this is something we, as a Church, have now. The plural form includes all members of the church universal; all now have access to God through Christ in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 5:2).

Through the life and death of Christ all people now have access to God, and this access results in peace. There is no impartiality or discrimination in Christ.



῎Αρα οὖν οὐκέτι ἐστὲ ξένοι καὶ πάροικοι ἀλλὰ ἐστὲ συμπολῖται τῶν ἁγίων καὶ οἰκεῖοι τοῦ θεοῦ

My translation: 

So now you are no longer strangers and aliens, but rather you are fellow-citizens with the saints in the household of God.

Because of v.18, we are all fellow-citizens and members of God’s household. The conjunction (καὶ) includes the household members, as the issue of citizens and household bring two separate spheres of life together into one.



ἐποικοδομηθέντες ἐπὶ τῷ θεμελίῳ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν, ὄντος ἀκρογωνιαίου αὐτοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ,

My Translation: 

Having been built together on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

The only other use of “cornerstone” in the New Testament is found in 1 Peter 2:6, where the author is quoting the Old Testament: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16). Christ is seen here in Ephesians as the point of integration where the construction of the new building is to take place. Christ is the center of this reconciliation, and has set a base for how the church is to be knit and built together.



ἐν ᾧ πᾶσα οἰκοδομὴ συναρμολογουμένη αὔξει εἰς ναὸν ἅγιον ἐν κυρίῳ,

My translation: 

In whom [Christ Jesus] the whole building is being knitted together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord.

A reference to αὔξει (growing, increasing) is found in the parallel text in Colossians 2:19, where the body “grows” from God. The knitting of the body together is akin to a building being built is a temple in the Lord. Together, as Christians, we comprise something holy. The picture is of complete and holy unity.

This process of growing implies progression towards a singular goal, a goal that will be actualized when Christ comes to restore his kingdom.



ἐν ᾧ καὶ ὑμεῖς συνοικοδομεῖσθε εἰς κατοικητήριον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν πνεύματι.

My Translation: 

And in whom you are also being knit together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Because X, now Y. It has broader implications beyond Jew and Gentile.

Questions to consider:

  • Given the church’s past and present history of segregation (white churches having only white members of affluence), how can the body of Christ work to remove these dividing walls? 
  • There is a completed sense at work, and also a work in progress in Ephesians 2:11-22. How do we as a church see this as accomplishment, and as process?
    What kinds of obstacles do we as a global church face for reconciliation? What obstacles do we as a congregation face for reconciliation? What barriers or dividers do we have?
  • What is the solution to these barriers or dividers? What concrete practices can we invoke? An example for myself, I was instantly welcomed and assumed to be part of the family when I came here. That is a positive breaking down of any potential barriers. How then, as the church universal, can we bring about reconciliation for all people?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Will Men Fight Sexism? A Guest Post

My wife Allison originally posted this on her facebook. I now repost the entirety of it here with her permission.

Sexism exists in the United States in the broader culture and within the church and it is not fun.

Personally, I have been forced to think about sexism as a very real issue by virtue of merely existing as a woman studying theology and caring about the power of God and the Bible to change how we think and act. Something that has become immediately obvious is that many men (and women!) are simply unaware of the every day problems women face. This is not any individual man's fault. Part of the reality of being a man in this world means you will not have to face many of these situations yourself. For example, on my way to a conference at Fuller my husband tried to get my attention by honking incessantly. I didn't notice. I explained later that I always get honked at, whistled at or derogatory comments as I walk from A to Z dressed in jeans and a plain t-shirt. They were were surprised to hear it. I was surprised they didn't know. I take it for granted that men think I am the type of thing they can do this to. It is usually best to ignore it and keep walking.

If you (men) want to make a difference in your world then it is time to recognize these occurrences as they happen and be a good bystander and say something even if it has some minor personal cost to you. There are greater consequences if women speak up than if you do. If I speak up or get angry when someone is insulting I become written off as "emotional" or an "angry feminist." What this means is that I am not allowed to get angry and have to be as indifference to what is happening to me as possible if I want to be listened to. Generally speaking, I don't get angry though after several days of more overt sexism it gets tiring.

[Nick's comment]

I remember Allison's fingernails gripping my forearm, causing me to bite my tongue. It worked: she kept me from saying something quite offensive to the gentleman, and we ordered our food and went on our way. It wasn't the first time someone said something mildly sexist that weekend, but it certainly was the most memorable.

[End Nick's comment]

What other instances of sexism am I talking about?

Recently, at a conference I was giving a paper refuting the notion that universalism is taught in Romans 5. Beforehand while waiting in line for lunch at a nearby restaurant with my husband a well-meaning man we did not know decided he wanted to pray for my fertility. He asked if we wanted kids and after saying that we would like to adopt in five years (still not sure either way) he made an off color remark to Nick about Sarah only getting pregnant after Abraham prayed and said he wanted to pray for me to have children. I politely let him know that our needs were financial at the moment. He chose to ignore it and pray for my fertility any way after telling us his theology about God's command for me to fill the earth. Notice that Nick's fertility was not prayed for--I was awkwardly singled out and it was assumed that the greatest need of this person he had never met before was to have children. At the moment neither of us knew what to say. It was not unusual for me to have random weird experiences like this and I did not feel embarrassed at the time. Such is life. It was a good thing that I did not feel offended or upset because there were several other minor instances throughout the next couple of days and I needed to focus on reading my paper.

It is usual for me to initially be treated like I do not understand something and have it repeated to me. Something similar regularly happened to my friend Sarah at a Bible college. Even though she got better grades in class, men would regularly try and explain things to her or "help" her understand. I learned early in undergrad to simply repeat their position back to them along with the initial critique and not to be afraid to cut them off from too much repeating. Generally, I only have to "prove" myself the first time around. Another thing many men take for granted is that they will be automatically or more readily included in discussion in their field of study. I have to insert myself into the discussion and be above average to be considered average. Additionally, my contributions are easily compared to other women rather than other people or other scholars. If I do well I may be considered smarter than any women that person knows or if I do average or poorly I am yet another example of why women shouldn't...can't...don' this or that. In lists I am generally put alongside other women (coincidentally). I am compared to other women doing theology rather than other people doing theology.

In academia I am always in a no-win situation. If I show emotion I am written off as "emotional." If I am cut and dry and to the point (which happens to be my style whether by nature or nurture) I will be told I am more masculine--not a good thing if you are not a man and happy to be a woman. Sometimes, people are simply shocked that I have said something intelligent. Several times after speaking in some capacity I have been told how pretty I am along with compliments on my arguments, points, delivery...etc. Its not that I don't like being told I am pretty or that I don't think I am. It is simply out of place and odd given that these presentations have nothing to do with this. This is a problem another female friend of mine has who runs a non-profit. I do not know of any male friends who preach or give speeches who are regularly told they are attractive or handsome after they do well. They do not have this narrow and superficial part of themselves highlighted. Being beautiful just so happens to be something women are highly valued for in this society and it cannot help but make its way into every part of our lives.

In movies women are either damsels in distress or scantily clad super heroes who have sex with this or that person (a trend somewhat diminishing!). Female politicians are often sexualized in some way. Hilary is the "nut-cracker" and Palin is the hot ditz.

In common discussion "being a girl" means being weak, incapable, and emotional (supposedly having emotions makes one less objective). Being powerful as a woman means catering to the sexual appetites of men and manipulating them with it. I am supposed to like being called sexy even in a reductionistic way. Attractive, empowered women wear little. In many Christian conservative circles wearing anything revealing (sometimes just attractive) means you are a slut and on the whole we are regularly told that we are responsible for male lust and sin. "Don't 'cause' him to stumble."

There are consequences for women who try and excel in their fields and have a healthy dose of assertiveness to realize their goals. Their character and person often get attacked.

I was warned by someone at TEDS that my potential mentor for an internship Dr. Mimi Haddad was known to be aggressive. This made me nervous. After meeting her and knowing her for many years after this was revealed to be gender stereo-typing because the woman I met was merely assertive, intelligent and insightful.

I became friends with an old classmates Grandmother who likes to research, study Greek and Hebrew and taught herself Russian when in Russia because she could not afford a tutor. Although witty, she is very soft-spoken, gentle and kind. Curiously, many have said she is arrogant, rude and find her threatening. This labeling appears to occur at Bible studies when she timidly shares something she learned from one of her books or in the Greek.

Anytime I am assertive in any way I worry that I came off too strong. Maybe these experiences are why most of my female classmates (very few in number) at the undergrad and masters level stuttered when talking, or apologized for offering an idea and used many qualifiers ("sorry if this sounds..." "I could be wrong but..."). Anything to appear smaller or couch what was about to be said.

Many women who try to do something about any problems around them know they will be thought of as "the BITCH." This word has come up countless times from older and younger women I meet. Most of us do not swear. We find that if we are assertive this becomes our identity. The choice becomes, do we just take it or do we let ourselves become the bitch. We will be seen as aggressive, spiteful, petty, repulsive, whiny, manipulative, and threatening. Men who stand up for us may have their masculinity challenged.

From an early age girls are taught to be polite and selfless. In the real world we are less likely to interrupt when someone talks over us. I didn't even notice I was being interrupted repeatedly in class until my professor scolded the guy. When leading a table discussion on gender one of my classmates kept interrupting his wife every time she tried to give her opinion after I asked it (5x!). This was of course after he had asked me if I was able to be objective and not get upset about the discussion we were all about to have (he had never met me before). Often women are expected to be the ones to follow their husbands education, career, general wants and needs (though this is changing). Many women feel selfish when they have to speak over someone, insist on their way or even request doing something different than what others want to do. They can also feel rude, mean or selfish if they disagree in a public setting and may apologize.

We are regularly taught in church that God designed us to be the only one who is passive, and/or submissive, and/or self-sacrificing when being abused (think John Piper telling wives to endure abuse for a season).

I hear on the radio or in sermons men talk about how women should know their place. I hear how only I should submit. I hear how I should like being ruled over if my husband is nice to me. I hear about how I should give him sex all the time. Sometimes I hear that only a man is made in God's image. It goes on and on. I will also hear how we women are feminizing or taking over the church how the all male leadership is being oppressed for the convictions that women should be submissive...etc. Usually these men are preaching to the choir.

Sometimes someone who knows I am theologically an egalitarian will try and be shocking and say something about my husband having authority over me...etc. I am never shocked. I always hear this.

Such is life.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Place and Priority of Single Women in Pauline Theology

A post I recently wrote for the Junia Project (you can read that here) has me thinking more about a claim I made therein:
Indeed, the marital status of most of the women and men who assisted in Paul’s extensive missionary activities (Rom. 16; Phil. 4:2-3) is rarely mentioned.
Now I fully stand by my statement (because I think it is largely correct), but it begs for more explanation and data, which I aim to provide.

It is quite common to see married couples within Paul doing missionary work. The famous couple Prisca and Aquila is most probably a married couple because they are mentioned together in multiple epistles and in various other writings in the New Testament. The fact that both Paul[1] and Luke[2] place Prisca’s name before Aquila is most often thought to be because of her status. 2 out of 3 references in Paul concerning Prisca place her before her husband (Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19) – a fairly uncommon practice as many have pointed out.[3]

Andronicus and Junia are thought to be a married couple, but I think it is somewhat ambiguous. We have no record of them outside of this one reference, though if Bauckham and others are correct, we do have multiple references to her in Luke (8:3; 24:10).[4] The references in Luke specify she was married to “Herod’s steward.” If they are married, they were still missionaries together: same as Prisca and Aquila.

Paul, however, was unmarried for what seems to be most of his epistles. We see this most clearly in 1 Cor. 7: “I wish that everyone was as I am” (θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν). The most likely implication is that Paul is single and probably celibate. He did not consider it to be a problem for an unmarried man or woman: most likely, it was due to the call of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12). One’s status was not a problem for participation and fellowship within the body (Gal. 3:26-29), and Paul did not want even slaves to fear their exclusion, and encouraged them to gain their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21).[5]

In Romans 16:1-2 we have Phoebe (Φοίβην), who is “our sister” (τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν).[6] It would be common for a husband to be named, but none are in this text. Paul specifies that Phoebe herself was “a patroness of many, and especially to me” (αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ). Her status as διάκονον was no hindrance to her as a single sister in Christ.

The text in Romans 16:6 speaks of this “Mary, who has worked very hard (ἐκοπίασεν) among you.” The same aorist active verb is applied also in Romans 16:12 to three other women who exercised work ἐν Κυρίῳ: Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis. Persis is even called “the beloved” (τὴν ἀγαπητήν), illustrating Paul’s awareness and love for her. These women worked within a world that did not value them nearly to the extent that Paul did. It is likely that Tryphaena and Tryphosa were still working at the time Paul was writing, as he uses a present active participle (κοπιώσας) to indicate their continued involvement in the church at Rome. All of these women mentioned in Romans 16 are not mentioned as married except for someone’s mother (16:13) and Paul even mentions this unnamed mother! A strong showing of active women in the church of God, and others send their love because Paul writes “All the churches of Christ greet you” (αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ Χριστοῦ): it is possible that other men in these churches would have been aware of these women and their activity.

I mentioned in the Junia Project post that Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were not married. They labored (συνήθλησάν) together with Paul (μοι), and along with all of the other “co-workers” (συνεργῶν). Their status in Christ is assured, and they are not mentioned as being married, though an oblique reference to Clement could point to one of them being his wife or brother or fellow-worker. We simply do not know of their marital status.

Three other women deserve mentioning. Apphia (Philemon 1:2) is called “the sister” (τῇ ἀδελφῇ). Some translations believe that this is meant to convey “our sister” and some commentators believe that Apphia was Philemon’s wife. However, Paul does not refer to Apphia as γυναικὸς but as ἀδελφῇ. This likely means she was not his wife, but rather involved within the household in some form. She is not called a wife, a slave, or anything: ἀδελφῇ is the noun Paul uses and he leaves it at that. It is certainly likely that she is single and it is not uncommon for single women to live with their family, so maybe Philemon is her brother.

In Col. 4:15, Paul greets Nympha and also “the church that meets in her house” (καὶ τὴν κατ᾿ οἶκον αὐτῆς ἐκκλησίαν). It is curious that Paul does not mention her husband at all, either as “head” of the home, or as a “mutual partner.” It is possible that a wealthy single woman could own a home, so her singleness included facilitating a Christian atmosphere and the sharing of resources within the early community of Christians.

In 1 Cor. 1:11, Paul refers to a woman named Chloe, who is written in the genitive form (Χλόης), indicating a possessive genitive that indicates her oversight over these people who gave Paul some information. Again, her marital status is not mentioned or stated. It is ambiguous, but we can rest in the belief that Paul saw no reason to mention her husband, should she have had one.

Of course, all of my arguments do not hinge on new discoveries. It is certainly possible that these women were married, but is equally likely (more likely in my opinion) that their marital status was not an issue. The mere fact that Paul does not emphasize their status as married means that it was likely not largely relevant to him. Much more could be added, but in summation single and married women have a place in our churches and we ought not exclude single women from ministry.

Paul certainly didn't. 


[1] Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19, if by Paul.
[2] Luke specifies that Aquila and Prisca are together (Acts 18:2) by the use of γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ. All of Luke’s reference to this couple is found in ch18. 2 out of 3 references place her first, the same ratio as in Paul.
[3] Sandra Hack Polaski, A Feminist Introduction to Paul (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005), 45: “It is unusual to see the woman’s name listed first. This practice implies that Prisca is the more prominent member of the couple, possibly because she is of higher social class but perhaps more likely because she is the more important church leader.”
[4] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 165-185.
[5] Philip Payne, “Twelve Reasons to Understand 1 Corinthians 7:21-23 as a Call to Gain Freedom,” manuscript. link  

[6] The use of the article τὴν specifies who Phoebe is: our sister.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When You Get Them Seminary Blues

Summer reading list plus Summer drinking list.
It's a weird feeling.

Like when a relationship goes sour and ends.

Or like when your wife leaves for the weekend and you end up sleeping alone.

Or, even, when nothing bad happens and you are left with that empty feeling that can only be described as the seminary blues.

Seriously, this is a thing.

I've written two major papers this quarter, spent hours upon hours online, reading and talking and foruming it up with classmates over Paul, empire, textual criticism, sex, and social context. I don't know how weird it is to say this, but I've spent so much time in 33-62CE that I have forgotten to live in the twenty first century. In normal conversations with people at work, I've dropped Paulinist language almost by accident. A friend asked me if I thought something, and I said "by no means!"

He looked at me like I had stuck my hand down my pants.

The feeling is like this: on a Monday I get up at 330am, drive to work from 4am to 5am, work from 5 until the mid-afternoon, go to Irvine (a ten mile drive north of work), sit around and write for 2 hours, sit in class for 3 hours, and go home. Most of the day is spent driving, working, listening to lectures, reading, writing, and listening to lectures.

And now I have nothing to do besides work.

No reports. No forum debates. No papers. No research. Nothing.

And it leaves this gaping hole in your schedule and you find yourself almost in a state of anxiety. Or maybe that's just me. As I'm sitting in our studio in Pasadena, reading Goldingay and Thompson, nursing hot chocolate, I have forgotten what it means to sit down and not do anything.

Its something you desperately want, and when it happens, you end up sitting down and writing about why you have nothing to do. Nothing to do is a good thing sometimes. Seminary teaches you Greek, textual criticism, hermeneutics, the pains of history, and the nature of Scripture. It sometimes forgets to teach you how to sit down and enjoy silence.

So, I will go back to Thompson, Goldingay, and my hot chocolate. Not because I have to read them, but because I get to. Time to relearn the nature of enjoying literature without the stress of a deadline. Now with a brew.

Thanks for reading my musings.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Prodigals and Parables: A (Short) Analysis of Luke 15:11-32

This is short, and I was not allowed to consult commentaries. One thousand words for the win.

The story of the prodigal son is a staple in my evangelical story. People referenced it constantly when I returned to the faith, and I read it that way for a long time: until now. Reading this text within its canonical context and co-text has pushed me to reflect on the nature of the overall narrative in relation to the first-century readers.

Within the larger context of ch14-15, our text sits comfortably after 15:1-7 and 15:8-10, and both sections refer to lost items (coin, sheep). Both pieces are significant as they are parables, but the subject of the younger son in the third unit (v.11-32) indicates that we’ve progressed beyond items into personhood. 14:1 tells us that Jesus “was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath.” It seems that the entirety of 15:11-32 can be aspectivally located within 14:1. All of these stories are being told over a meal, where social privilege is evident (14:7) and situated within that specific residence. Jesus’ address to his host (14:12) indicates that there were no poor at this event (14:13-14), thus indicating a social hierarchy. Crowds, having followed Jesus (14:25), are outside. The meal within the dwelling of the Pharisee illustrates that some were open to Jesus.

15:1-2 indicate that the tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and scribes were all near Jesus, placing implicit mixed social, political and religious pressure. Themes of eschatological reversal play quite heavily here as Jesus emphasizes the ones who would be discarded (15:3-7), and the one who seeks them out. Each parable has an audience of the haves and the have-nots, with the focus on reversal and repentance. Now, Jesus can launch into the parable of the prodigal son, which concerns each listener at this meal.

The story begins (v.11) with a father and his two sons. The younger demands his share of the father’s property. Is it implied that the older son is given his dowry as well (“… he divided his property between them”, v.12)? After leaving for a distant land, the younger son lost everything; the adverb ἀσώτως is used here and only here in the New Testament to describe his life (which is the present active participle ζῶν). BDAG 148 defines ἀσώτως as “wastefully, prodigally.”

The younger son goes to a foreign land (v.14). Perhaps this is rhetorical irony by Jesus, as the one with excess is caught in a land that is now barren; the younger son (Joseph from Genesis 37-50) is not in Kansas anymore. In v.15-16, the younger son’s duty is to feed the owner’s pigs, which are seen as “unclean” animals in Leviticus 11:7-8. There is nothing there for the younger son to “fill himself”; the verb “γεμίζω” indicates a perverse reversal of being “filled.”

V.17-19 tells of the plot point concerning the younger son’s return to his father. He remembers his former status as a well-fed younger son. The people outside the Pharisees’ house identify with this son at this point, as they are perhaps hungry outsiders. The younger son remembers his father’s wealth and how even hired workers had enough bread to eat (v.17). Staple foods like bread are gold in light of starvation. Simply, the younger son wants nothing more than to be a hired hand, a keeping of his current status.

In v.20, the father sees him from far off, indicating that he was looking for him, and knew where he would come from. The father was filled with compassion, and he runs out to him and weeps. A possible intertext for this passage may be Gen. 45:14, where Joseph weeps with his brothers after a long time apart because of horrific actions on the part of his brothers. Here, the roles are reversed: the older embraces the younger this time.

Despite this display, the son blurts out his failures. How often do we still feel the need to remind those who forgive us that we still sinned? The father ignores this and has the slaves (δούλους, not μισθίων); this change may emphasize the status of the slaves in the younger son’s stead. The father does not have his son’s body washed, and instead places rings and robes on him (v.22); a father’s happiness covers a multitude of customs. V.23-24 utilizes the fatted calf, showing us that a grand feast is to commence (a reference to Lev. 9:3 as a “burnt offering?”). What makes this interesting is that the imagery of fresh meat is not lost upon those who are outside and hungry during the telling of this parable. When the older son hears this celebration one can imagine his annoyance at not being invited. Indicating the possible shift of social status regarding “δούλους” and “μισθίων” in v.22, here in v.26 the older son asks the “παίδων” (child, servant) about the celebration.

We are not told the father’s words when he emerges from the celebration, but the response from the older son reveals that he views himself as a “δουλεύω” (one who slaves) to his father, thus viewing himself lower than the “παίδων.” The father is shocked, as he believes “all” (πάντα) that he has belongs to his older son. This reveals the selfishness of the older son: his status was never under dispute, and was never at odds with the father’s character and love for his younger son. Thus, when someone lost repents (v.32), we celebrate and rejoice.

The fact that the older brother—now likely representing a Pharisee who is already a part of the kingdom—reacts negatively when the dirty and repentant return to the family of God reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom. This is all over a meal, an intimate setting. Pharisees are already included in God’s kingdom, but to some of their chagrin, so are the outsiders who repent and return. 


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Suffering and Triumph: An Analysis of Philippians 1:12-30

Paul’s words in Phil. 1:12-30 are often used as a reminder for Christians to “persevere” and “be faithful”; these words, though certainly helpful, are often chanted by brothers and sisters who believe they are in dire straits. Ancient suffering is viewed as superficially equivalent within a first century Western context, and this raises the concern of death in v.21-24. It has become necessary to revisit the paradoxical themes of triumph and suffering within Paul’s personal letter to Philippi.

The letter genre that seems to fit Philippians 1:12-30 is paranetical topoi and maybe gratitude. This is could be due to Paul’s emphasis on “joy” and “rejoicing” throughout this section. 1:12-30 is the follow-up from 1:1-11, beginning with “I want you to know.” This phrase implies a break between sections, moving us in a new direction and suggesting that Paul is intending to update his readers after assurances and prayers (V.8-11). The themes in v.12-30 (joy, love, goodwill) are hinted at in v.1-11 and are to be more fully developed in v.12-30.

Paul’s brief reference to his “imprisonment” (v.13-14) suggests that he was likely under the authority of “the whole imperial guard” (v.13).[1] Where would there be bases of operation for this “impartial guard? Paul speaks of πραιτωρίῳ and some other cognates (c.f. πραιτώριον) appear in Matthew (27:27), Mark (15:16) and John’s (18:28, 33; 19:9) gospels during the crucifixion narratives. Is this theological intentional and significant?

While Paul’s precise location is nebulous, his comments about the motivations of those who profess Christ (v.15-17) are clear and may push readers of Paul to carefully consider the motivations of those who preach the gospel, (“proclaiming from envy and rivalry vs. goodwill” and “love”) since it does not seem to concern Paul as of now (v.18; though see 3:2). Was this an ethnically diverse congregation? Paul ultimately believes that how “Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true,” he will rejoice (v.18-19).

Once Paul has spoken of his hope in deliverance (v.19-20), he then turns to his desire “not to be put to shame.” This phrase echoes Psalm 119:6, where the Psalter proclaims that those look upon God’s commandments “will not be put to shame.” This phrase appears throughout Psalm 119 (c.f. v.31, 46, 80 and 116). Paul’s hope is to exalt Christ with his body, through life or death. In the backdrop of imprisonment, the πραιτωρίῳ, possible disunity amongst the believers (4:2-3), and the opponents in Philippi (1:27-28; 3:2), Paul’s joy is manifested in “boasting” only of Jesus Christ and—subsequently—not of Rome. This will lead to the Christ “hymn” in 2:6-11 where the exaltation of Christ is hinted at already in 1:20 where Jesus “will be exalted (μεγαλυνθήσεται)…whether by life or by death.” Paul will exalt Christ by his death by the manner of his life and by his sufferings (v.21-24). His desire to be “with Christ” may be a Christological claim, possibly echoing Hosea 11:12: “But Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One [my emphasis].” The echo may illustrate Paul’s relationship with Christ as a suffering one who was yet faithful.

The references to “flesh” (v.22, 24) and “body” (v.21) may illustrate that Paul does not believe that σὰρξ and σώμα may to be used interchangeably and I wonder if this reveals that Paul does not have an entirely negative view of σὰρξ. Rather, he views it as something preferable. The comparative adjective κρεῖσσον is translated as “better” (NRSV; CEB) and “is more necessary for your sake” (NASB). Is Paul thinking from a dualist or monist perspective here?

Suffering is dominant in the Old Testament (Ps. 4:2; 9:13 with its reference to “shame”). Paul may also be invoking the servant song in Deutero-Isaiah 52:13-15 as an intertext, where the servant “shall be exalted and lifted up.” In essence, the “suffering” of Deutero-Isaiah 53:3, together with Paul’s repeated emphasis on “boasting” and “joy” throughout Phil. 1:12-30, establish the paradox of gladness in suffering for the sake of Christ. This may also be a reference to martyrdom, as Paul intimates elsewhere that the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:17). Imitation is thus a primary point for Paul here, and Christ will be the ultimate example of imitation in ch.2. Because of Paul’s conviction of this (v.25-26), he participates with the Philippian community, sharing with them “abundantly” as they boast “in Christ Jesus.” The Old Testament backgrounds demand further research.

The use of the adverb Μόνον in v.27 may indicate that Paul has moved away from his circumstances and applies the previous section to the Philippians. The emphasis on unity (“one spirit”… “one mind”) illustrates the probable conflict brought by “opponents” in v.28. This is the first time Paul has said he’s heard of troublemakers in Philippi, and there is little indication about how he’s heard of these adversaries (c.f. 1 Cor. 1:11), though his co-worker Epaphroditus may have told him these things while in his presence (2:25; 4:18).

God has given believers the chance “to believe” (πιστεύειν) but also “to suffer” (πάσχειν). These two active infinitives suggest that Paul views them as a consequence of the other: belief, followed in conjunction (ἀλλὰ καὶ) by anguish. Paul’s conclusion asserts that modern Christians who have not suffered—unlike many of their ancient brothers and sisters—should reevaluate their lives in light of ancient tragedies. We do not come to Christ in order to have a safe reality; we come to Christ because He is the only King that saves. Paul brings his argument around with a bittersweet reminder that he is still in his previous condition (v.30).

Paul’s suffering has still not ceased, despite his continual joy.


[1] πραιτωρίῳ (imperial guard) is elsewhere used in its dative neuter singular form in Acts 23:35: Paul is to be placed in Herod’s headquarters, which may suggest Rome or Ephesus as a possible place of writing.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Fuller Forum: Reflections About Reflection

This post comes from my time in Dr. Sechrest's Paul class. We were required to attend the Fuller Forum. These are my reflections. 

Throughout the Fuller Forum conference, police sirens repeatedly beset Walter Brueggemann’s plenary lectures as the persistent wailings echoed throughout the packed chapel. As Brueggemann spoke, the student body was repeatedly aware of the almost profane nature of the sirens resounding throughout a sacred space such as a church and this tragic reality forced us to consider how justice, grace, and law are to be reflected in the life of the church.

Having been made aware through my various readings in Paul and the Old Testament, I thought I was becoming more aware of empire and the economics of the day. Nothing prepared me for being this wrong. The challenge of economy is a persistent theme throughout the Old Testament and Brueggemann hammered this home with passion and unpredicted delicacy. My question is this: in light of the Old Testament’s emphasis on economic equality and it’s condemnation of financial exploitation, how do we as a church work within the confines of government without betraying or compromising our mission as a church?

In reflecting about Brueggemann’s plenaries and the multitude of speakers (a highlight being able to see my priest John Goldingay preach with his trademark green socks peeking out from some affluent trousers), I would like to challenge this conception of a “dynamic” relationship with God. While I’m very sympathetic to this portrayal of God in the Old Testament, I am reserved to consider Brueggemann’s statement (and I must paraphrase): “This relationship between YHWH and Israel is open, fractured, and on going. It is not settled.” I wonder if this is completely accurate. For example, YHWH always seems committed to Israel throughout the Old Testament, and even YHWH’s fierce denouncement of the Israelites in Exodus 32:7-11 seems to suggest that YHWH is still settled on Israel in some sense. It is said of Moses “of you I will make a great nation” (v.10). It could be that the Old Testament offers a myriad of pictures of YHWH, and so we are free to generalize and avoid being bogged down in details. However, YHWH almost always seems committed to Israel as a corporate body, even when all seems lost.

When Dr. Cleveland asked about segregated churches, Brueggemann stated a possible solution (and I again paraphrase): “Meet in the middle over certain issues…we need to keep repenting of our tribalism.” While this is entirely necessary, I wonder if Brueggemann’s statement does not go far enough. Of course it may depend upon the issue, but I wonder it may be more necessary to suggest that denominations as a concept are what the problem is—or at least contribute to the problem. The very logic of a denomination is that it places parameters around what function as identity markers within a specific people group that resides within a specific people group. I do not want to demonize denominations, as my denomination (American Baptist USA) has been incredibly faithful and gracious. I do wonder, however, if the church can gather around a specific creed (Nicaea, Athanasian) and allow our rougher edges to be sanded off by one another. To be one in Christ ought to imply deference to the other, and a desire for unity within diversity (1 Cor. 12). 


Friday, April 24, 2015

Justice or Judgment in Amos 5:24?

Should מִשְׁפָּ֑ט be translated in Amos 5:24 as “justice” or “judgment?” מִשְׁפָּ֑ט is primarily defined in BDB 4941 as “judgment” and “justice.” In the assigned literature (Hosea, Amos, and Micah), the noun appears 8 times. Modern translations translate מִשְׁפָּ֑ט in Amos 5:24 as “justice” (CEB, NRSV, NIV, ESV). I will, however, suggest that מִשְׁפָּ֑ט is best translated as “judgment” in Amos 5:24.

Amos 5:7’s use of מִשְׁפָּ֑ט is correctly translated as “justice” because God is exhorting Israel to return, but instead they have turned “מִשְׁפָּ֑ט” into wormwood, suggesting that a good thing has become corrupt (the CEB translation: “throw justice to the ground”). V.15 is another exhortation for the remnant to “establish justice,” and while God desires to be gracious, v.15 is somewhat more ambiguous. מִשְׁפָּ֑ט could be translated as “judgment” could be viewed positively as something done by the remnant. But “justice” seems more coordinate when paralleled with the call to “hate evil and love good,” especially in Amos 6:12 where there is a contrast as something good (מִשְׁפָּ֑ט) is turned into something that resembles “poison.” However, these references likely appear in a different paragraph from v.24, as the next paragraph seems to begin in v.18 and proceed to the end of the chapter. This potential break may illustrate that מִשְׁפָּ֑ט will be better translated as “justice” in v.24.

Hosea 5:11 states, “Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment” (NRSV). V.9 specifies that “Ephraim shall become a desolation in the day of punishment.” The references to being “punished” (v.2) and “devoured” in v.7 illustrate the judgment of God. 10:4 contains the other use of מִשְׁפָּ֑ט and it also seems to be better translated as “judgment” for two reasons: first, the reference to “litigation” (NRSV) rising up like “poisonous weeds” in v.4 suggests the destruction of a crop, which is the life for many. Second, the language of destruction following v.4 seems to affirm God’s judgment and the general usage of battle language in v.13-15. Hosea’s use of מִשְׁפָּ֑ט seems more coherent with “judgment.” Micah’s two references seem to affirm the translation of מִשְׁפָּ֑ט as “justice” as 3:9 concerns a perversion of something good, and in 6:8 “justice” seems more coordinate with “kindness” rather than judgment, which involves a more negative connotation.

This brings us to Amos 5:24. The use of מִשְׁפָּ֑ט seems most likely to be a reference to judgment, as the repeated expression “the Day of the Lord” (v.18, 20) may illustrate. The text in v.18 and v.20 specify to whom God is speaking: it is those who actually desire this Day of Judgment, which is a day of terror (Joel 2:31; Lam. 2:22). Is. 13:6 states this day of the Lord “will come like destruction,” which suggests an eschatological judgment. While I am not entirely settled on my choice, I find the translation of “judgment” in Amos 5:24 to be a better contextual fit, especially in light of the Day of God’s judgment. 

This study is of course limited, and I don't pretend that it is exhaustive. I was limited to 500 words. However, given the limitations, it is safe to say that Amos 5:24 is indeed best translated as "judgment." I also have not had Hebrew yet, so I am limited by that as well.

Of course, it is possible for "justice" and "judgment" to be two sides of the same coin, but I was not given the option of having my cake and eating it too. :)