August 8, 2018

“Do Not Resist by Evil Means”? (Matthew 5:39)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In his lectures on Matthew 5:38-42, Peter Leithart, following Glenn Stassen, who is following Clarence Jordan, claims that Jesus is not saying “Do not resist the evil one” but rather is saying “Do not resist by evil means.” It is, after all, a dative: to ponero.

That’s pretty attractive, given that elsewhere in Scripture we are told to “resist the devil” and given what appears to be resistance of some kind to evil people on Jesus’ part throughout his ministry.

On the other hand, the verb here, anthistemi, seems to take its direct object in the dative in many many passages. Furthermore, if it was supposed to be “by evil means,” would there be an article? Wouldn’t it just be  ponero, instead of to ponero?

Greek scholars out there, is there anything to be said for the Leithart/Stassen/Jordan interpretation? Is it even possible? Or must we, however regretfully, set it aside and conclude that Jesus was indeed saying that we must not resist “the evil one” (whatever that means, and whoever that might be)?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (0)

“Do Not Violently Struggle Against Evil”? (Matthew 5:39)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In his recent commentary on Matthew, Peter Leithart says that Matt 5:39 can be translated, not “do not resist evil” or “do not resist the evil one,” but rather “do not resist by evil means.” He footnotes N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 290-291.

But that’s rather puzzling. When I turn to that page in Wright, I find nothing of the sort. Wright does not suggest that the term translated “evil” here can be taken instrumentally: “by evil means.” He accepts the usual translation: “do not resist evil.”

But Wright focuses on the word translated “resist” and claims that the Greek verb here, antistenai, is “almost a technical term for revolutionary resistance of a specifically military variety,” footnoting an essay by Walter Wink and noting that Josephus “uses the word with the sense of ‘violent struggle’ 15 times out of 17 uses.”

So Wright’s paraphrase might be “Do not violently struggle against evil [or: the evil one].” And, in this context, he seems to take it to mean that Jesus’ followers are not to become (proto-)Zealots.

Maybe so. On the other hand, a glance at BDAG indicates that this verb appears several times in the NT and I can’t spot one clear instance in which it refers to “violent struggle” or has any necessary implication of violence at all.

Besides its appearance in Matthew 5:39, antistenai itself shows up in Luke 21:15; Acts 6:10; and Ephesians 6:13. The related anteste appears in 2 Tim 4:15; anthistato in Acts 13:8; antesten in Gal 2:11 (did Paul violently struggle against Peter when he “opposed” him to his face?!); antestesan and anthistantai in 2 Tim 3:8 (was Moses ever violently attacked by the Egyptian wizard priests?); anthesteken in Rom 9:19; 13:2 (along with anthestekotes); and antistete in James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:9 (are these authors telling us to “violently struggle” against the devil?).

The only passage in the NT where “violently struggle” might just perhaps fit is Rom 13:2 and that’s certainly not obvious to me. In every instance — probably including Rom 13:2 — the verb has to do with opposing someone or something in some form or another, but it doesn’t ever necessarily connote violence. Maybe in Josephus, but not in the NT.

That leaves us with the puzzling fact that we do seem to see some resistance on the part of Jesus and the apostles to wicked men. James and Peter tell us to resist or oppose the devil, while Jesus in Matthew uses the very same verb and says “Do not resist the evil one.”

Wright’s solution — that Jesus is telling his disciples not to become violent revolutionaries against the Romans who might force them to walk a mile or even strike them — is attractive in its way. Certainly it’s true enough as an application. But was this the specific thing Jesus had in mind?  Pace Wright, there does not seem to be a solid lexical basis for saying so.

[Update: It seems that there is a mistake in Leithart’s footnote.  The source of this interpretation, taking “evil” as a dative of means instead of as a direct object, is not Wright but rather Glen Stassen, drawing on Clarence Jordan.  See my next post.]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:43 pm | Discuss (0)
July 19, 2018

Evangelistic Preaching

Category: Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

The Great Commission speaks not only of bringing sinners to the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but also expressly of teaching the converted — indeed, all persons — to obey everything that our Lord has commanded. The week-by-week instruction of God’s people in what they are to believe and what God is asking them to do in this life is evangelism.

From a covenantal perspective, every sermon is an evangelistic sermon. Not only parents and other adults, but also the children of the covenant must be evangelized. By that we mean they must be taught to think of themselves as the people of God and must be trained to be the people God called them to be when he laid his claim on them in baptism and separated them from the unbelieving world. — Norman Shepherd, “Growing in Covenant Consciousness.”

Posted by John Barach @ 5:32 am | Discuss (0)
July 18, 2018

Harder Tasks

Category: Christian Life :: Permalink

People today often suppose that the early years of a person’s Christian pilgrimage are the difficult ones, and that as you go on in the Christian life it gets more straightforward. The opposite is frequently the case. Precisely when you learn to walk beside Jesus, you are given harder tasks, which will demand more courage, more spiritual energy. — Tom Wright (I’ve forgotten the source; probably Mark for Everyone).

Posted by John Barach @ 9:40 am | Discuss (0)
July 17, 2018

Rules for Passover (Exodus 12:43-50)

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Permalink

Umberto Cassuto sees seven distinct commands relating to the Passover in Exodus 12:43-50:

And YHWH said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover:
Every son of a foreigner will not eat it.
And every servant of a man who is acquired with silver,
and you have circumcised him, then he will eat it.
A settler and a hired-hand will not eat it.
In one house it will be eaten; you will not bring forth from the house any of the flesh outside,
and a bone you will not break of it.
The whole congregation of Israel will do it.
And if a sojourner sojourns with you and would make Passover to YHWH, every male of his will be circumcised, and then he will draw near to make it, and he will be as a native of the land.
But every foreskinned-man will not eat it.”

It seems to me that these seven commands are related to one another chiastically:

A Every son of a foreigner will not eat it

B Servant, once circumcised, will eat

C Settler and hired hand will not eat

D Eaten in one house; none taken outside; not a bone broken

C’ Whole congregation will do it

B’ Sojourner, once circumcised, will draw near

A’ Every foreskinned-man will not eat it

The parallel between A and A’ is emphasized by the word “every,” which is found only in these lines. What A’ makes clear that A does not is that the prohibition is on the uncircumcised partaking.

The parallel between B and B’ lies in the fact that, whether it’s a servant or a sojourner, if he’s circumcised he may partake of the Passover.

The parallel between C and C’ may be less clear, but there is a contrast between the (uncircumcised) settler and hired-hand and the (circumcised) whole congregation of Israel, which would include the circumcised servants and the circumcised sojourners.

At the center is D, which may in fact be viewed not as one command (Cassuto) but as two closely parallel commands, bringing the total from seven (Cassuto) to eight: eating the Passover in one house and not taking any of it outside emphasizes the unity of the Passover and hence of the Passover people, but so does not breaking a bone (e.g., to carry some of it somewhere else).

In fact, it might even be possible to see the D and D’ sections as “In one house it will be eaten” and “A bone you will not break of it,” with “You will not bring forth from the house any of the flesh outside” forming an E section (so that there are not seven or eight but nine sections here).

A Every son of a foreigner will not eat it

B Servant, once circumcised, will eat

C Settler and hired hand will not eat

D Eaten in one house

E None taken outside

D’ Not a bone broken

C’ Whole congregation will do it

B’ Sojourner, once circumcised, will draw near

A’ Every foreskinned-man will not eat it

And that middle section (E), it seems to me, relates to what the whole passage is saying about who may partake: Those who partake are the ones inside the house, the house which, on the first Passover night, had blood on the doors and was passed over by YHWH when he struck Egypt. Only the circumcised are in the house; the Passover flockmember may not be taken outside the house, that is, to the uncircumcised.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:29 pm | Discuss (0)

“You Have Heard … And I Say” (Matthew 5)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

It’s amazing how much some commentators read into Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the ancients…” and then he quotes word for word from Scripture: “You shall not murder” and “You shall not commit adultery.

“Oh,” say the commentators, “he’s rejecting the Pharisees’ view. The Pharisees thought that only the actual acts of murder and adultery were condemned, but it was okay to be angry and hate people and lust and so on.”

Well, maybe they did. But we don’t know it from what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t address their misinterpretations. He doesn’t mention misinterpretations. In fact, he doesn’t address interpretations here. He simply quotes what God said in the Law — what the disciples and the crowds had heard in the synagogues, what God had said to their fathers at Mount Sinai and through Moses just before they entered the land — and then he puts his own word alongside: “And I [emphatic] say to you…”

Who does he think he is to put his word alongside that of God’s Word? No wonder the crowds went away marveling, not just at what he said, but at his authority.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:27 am | Discuss (0)

“These Commandments” (Matthew 5:19)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

The word “these” in Matthew 5:19 cannot refer forward to Jesus’ commandments, says D. A. Carson, because in Matthew’s Gospel the word outos “never points forward.” It always refers to something in the previous context, never to something that follows.

But is that so? A quick search brings up Matthew 10:2:

Ton de dodeka apostolon ta onomata estin tauta: protos Simon ho legomenos Petros… etc.

“Of the twelve apostles, the names are these: first Simon, who is called Peter, etc.”

Whaddaya know? Tauta (“these”) points forward. So much for “never.” And therefore it is within the realm of possibility that “these” points forward in Matthew 5, as well.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:48 am | Discuss (0)
July 16, 2018

Fill in the Blanks

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Permalink

Another reason to look at the Bible in the original languages:

In Exodus 21:6; 22:8, and 9, it says that a certain person should be brought before _______ and in Exodus 22:28, it says “You shall not revile _______ nor curse a ruler of your people.”

Now, in several versions (including the KJV and NKJV) the word in the first blank is “the judges” and in the second blank is “God.” In fact, virtually all versions have “God” in the second blank. But in some other versions, the word in the first blank is “God.”

In Hebrew, both blanks have HaElohim, which is either “(The) God” or “the gods.” If it’s the latter, it’s referring to the judges, who are called “gods” elsewhere in Scripture (Ps 58; 82).

I suspect that the latter is correct in connection with both blanks: The person in Ex 21:6; 22:8, 9 is to be brought before the gods (= the judges) for them to pass sentence, and Ex 22:28 is telling us not to revile the gods (= the judges/rulers), which is parallel to cursing “a ruler of your people.”

But if I had just looked at an English translation, the question would never have come up.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:44 pm | Discuss (0)

Circumcision of Jewish Christians?

Category: Bible - NT - Acts,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

I’m reading Doug Wilson’s To a Thousand Generations for the first time and I’ve come across something that puzzles me.  As part of his argument for infant baptism, Wilson points to the ongoing practice of circumcision among Jewish Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, says Wilson, Jewish Christians were required — obligated by God — to circumcise their children.  “Baptism was required to display the unity of believing Jews with believing Gentiles (Eph. 4:5), and circumcision was required to show the unity of believing Jews with Abraham (Rom. 4:11-12)” (p. 78).

I have no trouble imagining that a Jewish Christian might have had his newborn son circumcised.  But was he obligated to do so?  Timothy wasn’t circumcised by his Greek father and so Paul has him circumcised, but it does not seem as if he was obligated to be circumcised; it seems like a concession, because the Jews knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek (Acts 16:1-3).

What about other things that were once required in the Old Covenant?  Would a Jewish Christian have been obligated to keep the dietary laws?  Would it have been sinful for him to eat some crawfish or a link of boudin before AD 70?  I can’t see that it would have been.  It might not have been wise to flout his liberty in front of unbelieving Jews.  But would it have been sinful?

Would a Jewish Christian have been required by God to continue to bring offerings to the temple?  It’s true that Paul takes a Nazirite vow, and so we can conclude that a Christian might bring an offering in Paul’s day.  But were Jewish Christians obligated to do so?

Would a Jewish Christian be required by God to keep the laws of clean and unclean?  To redeem their firstborn?  To present firstfruits at the temple?  To keep the laws relating to the land and inheritance?

Well, as a matter of fact, we know that the Jewish Christians didn’t keep the laws relating to the land.  They sold their property (Acts 4:34).  They didn’t maintain their inheritance, as faithful Jews once strove to do.  There’s no hint that the nearest kinsman redeemed their land or anything like that.  They sold it — and when persecution heated up, they moved away.

So, again, I can certainly imagine that many Jewish Christians did have their sons circumcised and that it took some time for that practice to fade away.  But it’s not clear to me that Jewish Christians were required by God to keep doing until AD 70.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:49 pm | Discuss (0)

Not Only a Comfort But a Joy

Category: Christian Life,Theology :: Permalink

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs — and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for the life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates. But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

We are in danger of forgetting that God is not only a comfort but a joy. He is the source of all pleasures; he is fun and laughter, and we are meant to enjoy him.

Otherwise … we shall try to be negatively good, and make a virtue of misery; plume ourselves on the rejection of delights for which we are too weak, measure our piety by the number of pleasures we prohibit. And others will react against us by rejecting religion altogether, probably announcing with pride that they are choosing ‘life’ instead. — Joy Davidman.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:38 am | Discuss (0)
July 15, 2018

“Until Heaven and Earth Pass Away” (Matthew 5:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

Jesus says, “Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one horn by no means will pass away from the Law until everything happens” (Matt 5:18).

“Until everything happens” here is parallel to — and identical with — “the heaven and the earth pass away.” The two phrases refer to the same time. But what time is that?

Easy, right? It’s the end of the world. But is that what “the heaven and the earth pass away” means? Not in the Bible.

In Isaiah 65-66, we hear about the passing away of the heavens and the earth and the establishment of a “new heavens and a new earth.” But is that after Jesus returns and our bodies are raised in glory to be like his? It can’t be.

In Isaiah 65:20, we read, “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.”

Are there still going to be infants being born after Jesus returns? Is there still going to be death after the resurrection? Will there still be sinners living on earth after the final judgment? Of course not. And so that’s not what Isaiah 65-66 has in mind when it speaks about the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.

Instead, it’s speaking about something that would happen in history, before the final judgment, before the resurrection of the body. It’s speaking about the end of the Old Creation and the establishment of the New, the end of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New. It’s speaking — to use Jesus’ words — about the coming of the kingdom of the heavens.

And the good news Jesus was preaching to the crowds in Galilee — and in the Sermon on the Mount — was that the kingdom of the heavens was near, near in time, about to be established in that generation.

Was it? Certainly. By his death, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, outpouring of the Spirit, vindication of his church, and overthrow of Jerusalem, Jesus established God’s kingdom on earth.

Coming back to Matthew 5, what that means is that now the old heavens and earth have passed away. All things in the Law (and the Prophets) have happened. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and the Law has passed away. No one today is under the Law. No one today is in the Old Covenant.

We still read and learn from, say, Leviticus. But we are not under it as Israel once was. No one is required to abstain from pork or crawfish, to be circumcised, to regulate worship according to the moon, and so on.

And that means that this passage in Matthew 5, like the Beatitudes, is gospel, the good news that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant, has brought about the transition to the New Covenant, has established the kingdom, and given us a new heavens and a new earth. As Paul puts it, in Christ all of God’s promises are “Yes.” And therefore we expect him to bring about the fullness of the new covenant as well.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:39 pm | Discuss (0)

“Until Everything Happens” (Matthew 5:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

What does Jesus mean when he says “Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one yod or one horn by no means will pass away from the Law until everything happens” (Matt 5:18)?

I suspect that we often think Jesus is speaking here about “the Law” in terms of commandments, maybe even declaring that every last commandment is still binding upon Christians until the end of the world.

But is that really what Jesus is talking about? He has just spoken about “the Law and the Prophets,” referring to the whole of the Scriptures as foreshadowing the future, as needing to be fulfilled, as talking about something that was to happen.

And so too here. Jesus says “… until everything happens.” Jesus has come to fulfill the Law — not just the commandments but the whole of that revelation from God — and every last bit of it, all that it prophesied, is going to happen.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (0)