Friday, November 20, 2015

A Letter of Thanks to my Mentors from a Distance

It is always odd to read books that impact you, especially when you've never had the privilege to thank the author/s in person. I imagine it is incredibly awkward to shake his or her hand and say, "your book was really helpful" as most professors or theologians are a bit awkward as well!

But, in beginning my second year at Fuller Theological Seminary, I feel a bit of an impulse to thank and mention various theologians who have made my time easier, and helped influence me in my journey. So here goes nothing.

My thanks first and foremost go out to John Goldingay. Besides being a really helpful spiritual mentor (he is my priest at S.B., after all!), I've been greatly impacted by his work in Old Testament theology, and I recall a deep sense of calm after reading the first volume of his Old Testament Theology. If you haven't read it, please do yourself a favor and do so.

In thinking more about John, I have to thank him for being available for my often goofy questions about issues in the Old Testament, and his kindness in simply being a spiritual mentor. He may not know this, but I am enriched and rewarded every time I sit down in S.B., and the members there have made it feel like home.

The second major influence of my academic study has been Craig Allen Hill, who teaches at Fuller Irvine and other places. He was my Greek professor for my first two quarters, and my professor for Interpretive Practices. Aside from being gracious, he took the time to just meet with me for coffee, and I was honored that he did so. He was patient, and he taught me the language of the New Testament. I recall the first time I opened a Greek commentary (Ephesians, by Andrew T. Lincoln) and was able to read most of the Greek text, and I broke down. It was an empowering experience, and it confirmed a deep-seated desire to learn and grow into my Christian vocation.

I never had confidence that I could learn and do well at something, so the fact that I was able to learn a dead language and use it effectively was empowering. So I thank Craig Hill from the bottom of my heart.

Many more could be named, but Richard Hays (Duke Divinity School) has been a major influence on my theological development, especially his work in 1 Corinthians and the New Testament's use of the Old Testament. He revolutionized how I read Paul, and really pushed me to consider the ethical nature of Paul's instructions.

Ronald Pierce at Biola University has been a continued influence on my life. His course at Biola on women in the Bible was the first bible class I ever took seriously, and I was honored that he took the time to come to our wedding and see Allison and I take our vows. He's been a kind and spirited mentor from a distance and also a close spiritual guide for the difficulties in seminary. His course changed how I viewed the vocation of women, and challenged me to reconsider what I had previously been taught. For this, I am forever grateful.

Another influence (and I should really wrap this up!) is Philip Barton Payne. His book on Paul and women really settled a lot of issues I had, and his continued relationship at various conferences and over email has been helpful and delightful. The man is a walking lexicon and I am constantly grateful for his insight and grace as he helps this student meander through the rocky terrain of New Testament studies.

So, thanks Dr. Payne.

Last (and there is no 'last' to this list), my heart goes out to Gordon Fee. His commentary on 1 Corinthians was the first commentary I ever bought on my own, and it has continued to be a light into my life. He has alzheimers now, but his work in New Testament and also on behalf of women in ministry (c.f. DBE) has been a spiritual breeze in a Summer of spiritual difficulty. I wish I had the chance to study under him, but in watching his lectures on 1 Corinthians on youtube, you can catch a glimpse of the spiritual ferocity and sensitivity of this veteran interpreter of Scripture.

More could and should be mentioned, but these are the one's that have been most influential.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Deflated Balloons and Eugene Peterson's Dictum

Eugene Peterson wrote, “Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time” (The Contemplative Pastor, p.21). In reflecting on this single sentence for ten straight minutes, I realized I was fulfilling the Psalter’s words in Psalm 139:17: “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” To ponder the thoughts of God (interesting that they aren’t the words of God) itself takes “a quality of spirit,” but it also seems to require an illustration, as I have no words to describe it adequately. 

Imagine a balloon slowly deflating over a period of a day, air squeaking from the small hole until finally the balloon lies dispirited on the floor. Of course, this is not a positive event for the balloon, but it describes almost the cognitive sense that one needs in order to perform Peterson’s dictum.

I have done this exercise across the week, and will continue to do it today, and it helps slow everything down. In a world of wicked rapidity, taking the moment to deflate and focus on the sensation of thinking with God’s thoughts is an exercise of trepidation and interior renovation: these are anything but fun! But, the Scriptures coalesce around the idea of living in revelation and it seems the Paslter was right: “I try to count [God’s thoughts]—they are more than the sand” (Ps. 139:18a). 

Sometimes it helps to get lost in the ocean.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Psalm 110: Some Initial Reflections


There are several reasons why Psalm 110 has grabbed my attention and imagination. The primary cause for my selection is that the Psalm appears to be quoted throughout the entire New Testament, with a plethora of diverse voices quoting or alluding to it. For example, Paul seems to paraphrase or allude to 110:1 in 1 Cor. 15:24-25, Rom. 8:34 and Col. 3:1. The (possible Deutero?) Pauline epistles make some reference to the same verse in Eph. 1:20-22 and 2:6. Psalm 110 seems to be an important eschatological verse for Paul and the Pauline tradition. A strand of the Gospel tradition (Matthew 22:43-45; 26:63-64; Acts 2:33-36; 5:30-31; 7:55-56) seems to also see this verse as significant Christologically and eschatologically in the later parts of the first century CE. While almost certainly not part of the original Gospel, Mark 16:19 seems to contain a possible allusion to 110:1; given the textual tradition of Mark 16:9-20, it seems that even later scribes saw the importance of this Psalm. Hebrews is keen to cite or allude to 110:1 multiple times (1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13) as does 1 Peter (3:21-22). Thus, this Psalm is widely known amongst the diverse authors of the New Testament from the middle of the first century to the later parts of the first century. Since my research interests lie with the New Testament, it is necessary to understand this popular Psalm on her own terms. 


As per Fuller Theological Seminary’s preferred translations, I will limit my use to the CEB, NRSV, and NIV. Much of the differences between these three translations lie in the realm of emphasis. For instance, in 110:1, the NRSV does not include the apposition phrase, “for your feet,” whereas the CEB and NIV do include the phrase. There is also a difference in punctuation in the apposition phrasing. The CEB concludes the sentence with an exclamation point (!) and the NIV does not.

In v.2, there is a distinct difference in translation over the relation of the scepter and the Lord. The NRSV says the scepter is sent “out from Zion.” In addition to the addition of “may” at the beginning of the verse, the CEB views the scepter as reaching “far from Zion!” The NIV views the King’s scepter as an “extension from Zion.” The focus of the narrator is on the King’s scepter being extended or sent (“your”). In each case, the scepter’s point of origin is found as coming “from Zion,” though there is some tension regarding the exact nature of this scepter’s leading.

Continuing with v.3, the NRSV has an interesting phrase, “will offer themselves willingly” as opposed to the CEB’s rendering, “stand ready,” which illustrates a contested concept. The nature of a willingness to “offer themselves” suggests a deep conviction on the part of the King’s soldiers to die for him. “Stand ready” (CEB) makes sense, but “will be willing” (NIV) is less precise as to what is “willing” and suggests a future tense orientation. Regarding v.4, the CEB adds an appositional phrase, “a solemn pledge” in order to clarify the “sworn” language immediately before. This helps modern eyes see the seriousness of “swearing an oath or pledge” in Scripture and actually helps draw out the meaning.

V.5 appears to be a difficult verse to translate. The CEB seems to focus on the King’s actions: “by your [the King’s] right hand” which implies the activity of the King, and not God (NRSV, NIV). The focus of the other two translations is on God’s “crushing/shattering,” of the King’s enemies. The question then becomes, who is the one enacting judgment upon the enemies? Is it solely God, or is it the King through God’s providence? The tenses of “crush/shatter” are also different. The NRSV and NIV have a future orient, “will shatter,” and the CEB has a present tense, “has crushed.” Are the tenses in Hebrew meant to evoke a more prophetic (future) alignment, or is this an invocation for the present king?

Within v.6-7, there is some variation between 6a amongst all three translations. The NRSV emphasizes, “Execute judgment among the nations,” suggesting that the Lord is at work amongst the nations, but the nations are not the exclusive focus of judgment. The CEB counters this with, “bring the nations to justice,” which seems to highlight a less retributive aspect of the Lord’s action, and the NIV is explicit in making the “nations” the direct object of “judge.” Thus, there seems to be some differences in translation regarding the style of judgment, and the direct focus or recipient of that judgment. In v.7, both the NRSV and NIV state that God “will drink,” as opposed to the CEB (“drinks”). The emphasis from the NRSV and NIV appear future oriented rather than the CEB’s emphasis on the present action. There may also be an issue in 7a; the NRSV makes this a result of drinking by beginning the final clause with “therefore he will…” which suggests a more specific result action.

In conclusion, the differences in translation are often minute. However, a major issue may be summed up as such: how did the original author or editor intend for this Psalm to be understood, with an eye towards the future installment of a King, or with intent toward the present King? How do these variant tenses and other translational issues affect our reading of this particular Psalm in relation to Israel’s story? Is this Psalm possibly meant in a Proleptic fashion, anticipating a future of deliverance? Is this Psalm intended to instill hope in an idealized future figure? Time will only tell!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Paul and Not Jesus? A Brief Reflection

As I sip grapefruit from a wineglass, I recall a question someone asked me a long time ago. Well, long ago in the sense that I do not remember the specific time. In between the insanity at work, the joy of marriage, and the pressing of seminary, I can now think about this unmentioned comment in more detail
"Why Paul and not Jesus?"
In the spirit of New Testament scholarship, one could write a few dissertations about this very question, and I'm quite confident at least someone has. For me, Paul remains the singular apex of frustration and inspiration. In between being an iconoclast and an impeachable brick wall, Paul has shown himself to be a remarkably profound and infuriating dead man.

A key difference for me, in terms of my love for Paul, is that we have so much diverse material about him. Thirteen epistles in the New Testament are attributed to him, which roughly equates to 25% of the entirety of the New Testament, and so he is the second most prolific author we have in the canon. However, in terms of influence, Paul is second to none here in the Western world. Justification, gender, sexuality, the rapture: all of this is largely filtered through a Pauline lens (and this is a good thing in many ways), and so it is not unheard of as to why I prefer studying Paul over the Gospels.

Another possible answer is that Paul explicitly (and implicitly) challenges his congregations in the midst of immense ethical turmoil, and the reconstructions behind this-through the blessing of historical criticism-are particularly fascinating.

Finally, Paul haunts me. The man is our first interpreter of the sayings and significance of Jesus, and the fact that he is so culturally removed from myself (I say this while typing on a computer, after all!) makes him uniquely fascinating insofar as his writings continue to influence a large portion of humanity. It is easier to study Paul simply because he often just tells us what he feels. Anger. Joy. Sorrow.

Part of me wonders if Paul ever considered that his epistles to his dysfunctional and often bonkers churches would end up all collected and put between two covers and recited on Sunday mornings everywhere. I like to hope he would be flattered, but part of me thinks his reaction would be more earthy than that.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Evangelicals and the Problem of Scripture

For those of you who have suffered through my various cryptic Facebook and twitter posts, well, the time has come. In this post, I will be highlighting the issues and questions surrounding the inerrancy debate within evangelicalism. In thinking through this important (but not essential issue), I’ve been pouring over the multitude of lectures on Youtube. Mostly stuff by The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 the Gospel, including a recent conference held by John MacArthur focused exclusively on inerrancy. As it may not yet be obvious, I have profound disagreements with TGC and T4G and John MacArthur on a multitude of issues and a multitude of attitudes, but I consider them to be brothers in Christ, and so on and so forth. It is simply a matter of common courtesy as far as I am concerned, at least from me to them.

In listening to these various lectures, which include mainstays such as Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Carl Trueman, Michael Horton, and others [1], I was struck by the repeated emphasis on the inerrancy of Scripture as a foundational position for the Christian faith.  This, they said repeatedly, lay at the heart of Christian faith.[2] One, I forget who exactly, said that if he found one error, he would cease preaching the Gospel.

I was struck both by his honesty and his rigidity. I recall a friend saying roughly the same thing, and I proceeded to tell him that he was no longer an inerrantist. Confused, he asked why; I pointed him to the longer ending in Mark (16:9-20), and asked him why this was still in Scripture even though we know it was not in the original text. Dumbfounded, he sputtered for a second and I then told him, “Its okay. It isn’t an error in transmission as much as it is a problem with translation. Sal’ good, mate.” But the question lingered. I also wrote a bit about the story in John 7:52-8:11:

Various modern English translations confirm in footnotes that John 7:53-8:11 is an interpolation. The CEB notes that “critical editions of the Gk New Testament do not contain 7:53-8:11” and the NRSV supports this with “most ancient authorities lack 7.53—8.11; other authorities add the passage here or after 7.36 or after 21.25 or after Luke 21.38, with variations of text; some mark the passage as doubtful.” Metzger explains that John’s pericope is missing from the “most early and diverse manuscripts” (Metzger, 187). There are external factors besides its manuscript omission: early church fathers don’t quote it until the twelfth century, showing a lack of awareness of the text in question (Metzger, 188) and that it also appears in multiple locations through John’s Gospel as the NRSV footnote states. This shows that scribes were uncertain about its placement within the narrative. The text’s addition may have been due to a scribe’s belief in the truthfulness of the account, and because of this they had little issue in trying to place it within the narrative. Coupled with this, the story is moving and shows Jesus in a consistent and compassionate light (c.f. his interactions with the unmarried Samaritan woman in John 4). After all, Metzger acknowledges, “the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity” (Metzger, 188) as a self-contained story. It may have happened, but John in his original Gospel did not include it.
It is not my intent to point to the various problems within Scripture—and I’m leaving a gaping hole right there with the word “problems”—but rather to try and steer the conversation towards a more fruitful dynamic.

A key question I have begun to ask about this question is this: “so what?” My long-suffering wife will attest to this, as I kept her up for a night, using this question as a guide to further my post-workout ramblings.

Scripture is inerrant. So what? So is a spelling book, or a scientific textbook that points out what the sky is blue. So what? I don’t consider the color of the sky to be a particularly moving or insightful key into how I worship God. The sky, after all, could be red or purple in your world. A fact does not necessitate authority. The fact of the sky being blue in my world does not factor at all into instigating an authoritative response.

Scripture is inspired. So what? Joseph Smith claimed he was inspired. So have many people in this world, including many cultic figures. The Koran could be inerrant; almost all Christians would, however, not choose the Koran as their supreme authority in faith and practice. The standard proof text for inerrancy/inspiration/authority is 2 Tim. 3:16, with the hapax legomenon θεόπνευστος occurring in relation to πᾶσα γραφὴ. God “breathed” all Scripture. Gordon Fee notes, “in doing so, [Paul] is not offering a theory of inspiration; he is, rather, reflecting the common tradition of Judaism (cf. 2 Pet. 1:21).”[3]
Church fathers (Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia) do not seem to specify if this is directed toward the Old Testament (what Paul usually means by γραφὴ), and the second question in this little question has to do with aspect: given that the canon debate has been largely settled by the time they are writing, are the Fathers justified in including both Testaments in this if they do so? Most likely, Paul is writing about the Old Testament and not his own epistles, which is the opposite of what many modern theologians seem to assert. This—again—is not to undermine inerrancy conceptually, but to push us towards a better framework. Or attempt to frame a better framework. It is indeed getting late now. 

2 Tim. 3:16—according to historical-grammatical rules of interpretation set out by ICBI—cannot be interpreted in the manner most ICBI users desire. Simply stringing along biblical words like, well, "word" will not help matters, nor will reductionistic propositions like "God does not lie," etc.

It seems to me, in speaking about Paul, that he assumed his own authority as an apostle of the risen Christ, and this gave him insight and power to, say, excommunicate a man “having” (
ἔχειν) his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:1-5). He also believed he had the authority "to command” (ἐπιτάσσειν: present active infinitive: 1:8) Philemon to free Onesimus, especially because he is “having boldness in Christ” (ἐν Χριστῷ παρρησίαν ἔχων). Paul’s authority seems to come from his relationship to the risen Jesus, and this determines how he acts towards fellow brothers and sisters. His authority comes from seeing the risen Jesus, thus confirming the Gospel of God: the resurrection of the dead, found only in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15).

Scripture and her multitude of authors—Paul, the Psalter, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, First/Second/Third Isaiah, Peter and the epistles written in his name—all seem to assume their own authority in their own inspired way, not on the basis of their own infallibility or inerrancy, but rather on what has been revealed to them. They know they are broken, violent, rash people. It seems, instead, that we ought to focus on the nature of what it means to have an authoritative text that speaks into our lives and informs our faith and practice. Peter not writing 2 Peter does not diminish the authority of 2 Peter; rather, it contextualizes it and forces us to re-conceive of how we read 2 Peter in light of the Gospels and in light of the history of canon.

Given the nature of pseudepigraphy in the New Testament (something I am assuming for the sake of argument), how is inerrancy to respond to fairly convincing arguments that Paul did not write Ephesians and the Pastorals, and that Peter did not write 2 Peter? If these are true, what then of inerrancy? These texts and their authorship would not challenge something as crucial as the resurrection of Jesus. So perhaps our focus is a bit askance.

The Koran could be error-free. The Koran could be inspired in some sense. However, having both does not give it a lick of authority over my life and how I practice as an evangelical Christian.

So it seems we should conceive of a more evangelical method of interpretation of Scripture, one that pays true attention to the details of disparate authors and contexts, and one that actually treats the text with full authority in our lives and in the lives of others.

Beyond “so what”, why does Scripture have authority in my life, your life, and the Church’s life? I will offer three short theses as to why I consider Scripture to be fully authoritative in my life and why this discussion needs to happen.

  1. Scripture most often is confirmed by history and by the methods and philosophy of history. Hidden within this is my own assumption that the world is an odd place and odd things can happen – like a man dying and rising from the dead, revealing Jesus Christ to be the Messiah he said he was. If this is historically true, then this whole resurrection thing means my life is more than a blip on this pale blue dot.
  2. The ethics of the New Testament—especially in Paul—regarding women and slaves and poverty are so progressive that the church seems unable to keep up with him. The fact that Paul goes against so much of his ancient patriarchal culture means something is up, and that he had a radical shift in thinking—based on his experience with the risen Jesus.
  3. My own experience is confirmed and challenged by Scripture. In struggling with sexual sin ever since I was eight years old, Scripture has repeatedly challenged me to improve and repent and grow and mature; it has confirmed that my experience was hollow and grim, and has shown me a better Way. In changing my habits and mind, I've seen tremendous growth and you probably have too. That would not be without the challenge of my wife and Scripture.
I do not claim to have this figured out, and it is highly likely I could embrace inerrancy in the future. I am reading through several works and delving back into the Gospels before this quarter begins, and my friend Jarrod has been pushing Vanhoozer down my ear for the past few weeks, so it is entirely possible.

But, for the sake of intellectual honesty and for the sake of the future of our Catholic Church, concern yourselves with the authority of the text first. That seems to be where the main rub is. If fully authoritative, how then do you live? If not, what then?

*Nick reserves the right to change his mind if he thinks he has written something dumb*

In Christ,

[1] It goes without saying that I disagree with all of these scholars when it comes to the ordination of women, the extent of the value of Reformed readings of Scripture, the genre of Genesis, and a whole host of other more interesting topics. This, of course, it not due to any level of disrespect I have towards these men, but because a theological degree or three does not make a man or woman free.

[2] I was also bemused and dismayed by their repeated comments about Fuller Theological Seminary and the seminary’s history with inerrancy; rather than engage, they dismissed and moved on. See George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 279.

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.