Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sorry to disappoint my readers all round the world

I was surprised at how long it is since I last posted here. Sorry if anyone has been waiting impatiently! In fact I have not disappeared from the blogosphere, as I have been quite busy commenting on other blogs. For example, I have commented on the Better Bibles Blog, about sanctification and normal English usage; on Adrian Warnock's blog, about healing and the alleged link between feminism and homosexuality; and on the Daily Duck, about quantum theology! So if you are looking for more of my thoughts, try these links.

Meanwhile I have added to the sidebar of this blog a facility to search the TNIV Bible. I have also been monitoring the map of my readers, all round the world from Hawaii (one of at least 21 locations in the USA) to New Zealand, and even including one in Saudi Arabia - interesting! I know who some of you are. Perhaps others would like to introduce themselves by commenting here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Redeemed and set free!

What does it mean for us Christians to say that we have been "redeemed", that Jesus has provided "redemption" for us? There is an ongoing discussion of this on the Better Bibles Blog. I have made some comments there. Now I want to write something a bit less technical about it, so I am doing so here.

Eugene Nida, the pioneer of "dynamic equivalence" Bible translations like the Good News Bible (which was the main Bible in my church until last year), wrote in his 1977 book Good News for Everyone (p.74, as quoted on Better Bibles Blog):
The fact of the matter is that the terms "redeem" and "redeemer" have lost very much of their earlier significance in English. For many people "redeem" is associated more with trading stamps than with the biblical theme of deliverance and salvation.
Well, trading stamps have gone out of fashion since the 1970's, at least here in the UK (it shows my age that I remember Green Shield stamps), but we still have all kinds of vouchers which we can redeem, which even have a "redemption value" (usually 0.001p!) printed on them.

But how does this relate to the Christian idea of "redemption"? In Ephesians 1:7 (TNIV) we read:
In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood...
Does this mean that the blood of Christ is like a voucher paid to someone as a purchase price for us? And if so, to who? This is indeed one line of Christian thinking on this subject, but the conclusion had to be the unsatisfactory one that Jesus' blood was paid to Satan. Yes, we were slaves to Satan and we are no longer, but God did this not by making a business arrangement with Satan, but by defeating him and destroying his power.

But we are on the right track with the idea of Christians being set free from slavery. For the Greek word translated "redemption", apolutrōsis, was commonly used in relation to the setting free of slaves. Sometimes a slave was freed because someone paid a price to buy the slave, and the Greek word for this price was lutron or antilutron, accurately translated "ransom" in Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:6 (TNIV and many other translations). In other cases slaves were set free by their masters without any payment being made, for example as a reward for faithful service, but the process was still known as apolutrōsis. And the same word was used for release of a prisoner, as in Hebrews 11:35, where there is no suggestion of any payment being made. So, although apolutrōsis is derived from lutron, it does not necessarily carry the idea of payment or redemption; it can just mean "freedom" or "release".

So what should we make of this? The Bible certainly speaks of Jesus giving his life as a ransom (lutron or antilutron), Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:6. There is a similar picture in 1 Peter 1:18-19 (TNIV):
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Here "redeemed" represents the Greek verb lutroomai, derived from lutron, and a better translation might be "ransomed" or "set free by a ransom", something for which silver or gold might be used. But this cannot be understood as in any way literal, for Christ's blood was not paid to anyone, nor did he become Satan's slave taking the place of others - that would be a rather inadequate view of the Atonement. So, the idea of a ransom must be taken as a model of the underlying spiritual reality, and one which like all models of the Atonement should not be pressed beyond the rather limited scope given to it in the Bible.

Thus it is better to take the word apolutrōsis as meaning not "redemption" but "release" or "freedom". This works well every one of the ten times that the word is used in the New Testament. I offer my own translation, modified from TNIV, of these ten occurrences in their context:
...because your liberation is drawing near (Luke 21:28).

...through the freedom that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). we wait eagerly for our adoption, the release of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

...our righteousness, holiness and freedom (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In him we have freedom through his blood... (Ephesians 1:7).

...until the release of those who are God's possession... (Ephesians 1:14).

...with whom you were sealed for the day of release (Ephesians 4:30). whom we have freedom, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14). that he has died to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

...refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35, TNIV unchanged).
And similarly for some related words:
...because he has come to his people and set them free (Luke 1:68, lutrōsis).

...looking forward to the liberation of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38, lutrōsis).

...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to liberate Israel... (Luke 24:21, lutroomai).

...who gave himself for us to set us free from all wickedness (Titus 2:14, lutroomai).

...but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal liberation (Hebrews 9:12, lutrōsis).
The only other occurrences of "redeem" and "redemption" in the TNIV New Testament are in Galatians 3:13,14, 4:5 and Revelation 14:3. In these places "redeem" represents a quite different Greek word group, agorazō and exagorazō, which mean "buy, purchase". These words are also used of Christian "redemption" in 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23, 2 Peter 2:1, Revelation 5:9, 14:4, where TNIV translates "buy" or "purchase"; also arguably Ephesians 5:16 where TNIV correctly interprets "making the most of".

If "purchase" is acceptable in Revelation 14:4, it should also be used in 14:3 where it would be much clearer. This leaves Galatians 3:13,14 (the Greek word in v.13 is translated twice for clarity) and 4:5. In the latter case the reference is to freedom from slavery, but the Greek word has clear connotations of purchase. In 3:13 the point is that we were cursed and have now been set free from the curse. So I would suggest the following, modified from TNIV:
Christ set us free from the curse of the law... He set us free in order that... (Galatians 3:13-14). purchase those under the law... (Galatians 4:5).

...the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth (Revelation 14:3).
So we are left with a modified TNIV New Testament without the poorly understood words "redeem" and "redemption", which to me would be great improvement. Similar changes to the Old Testament might also be beneficial, but I won't go into that now.

As noted on the Better Bibles Blog, the Good News Bible (Today's English Version), the Jerusalem Bible, the Contemporary English Version, the New Living Translation and The Message have mostly avoided the words "redeem" and "redemption". But other recent versions like TNIV have, sadly, kept to a traditional wording which is poorly understood and misleading. As Christians we can claim to be redeemed, but how much clearer is this wonderful truth when we express it as "Jesus has set us free!"

It's never too late to say "sorry"

Another story from the BBC:
Sorry is often said to be the hardest word but Andrew Hawkins felt compelled to apologise to a crowd of thousands of Africans.

His regret was not for his own actions but offered on behalf of his ancestor, who traded in African slaves 444 years ago. ...
It's never too late to say "sorry", or at least never so late that it is not worth saying. Individuals and nations may be trapped by the consequences of sins of past generations, even from centuries ago. Saying "sorry" releases those who say it, as well as those they say it to, and enables them all to move ahead in a positive and beneficial relationship. Andrew, who seems to be some kind of Christian, has realised this and set himself free from any kind of bondage to this slave-trading heritage in his past. And hopefully his actions, and those of the group he is part of, will help to extinguish the remnants of racism and promote full reconciliation between the descendants of slaves and the descendants of those who profited from slavery.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Second Coming insurance refused!

I don't really intend this blog to be a collection of oddities. But I can't resist linking to this one, about three sisters who tried to insure themselves to cover the cost of bringing up Christ, if they should conceive him by virgin birth for his Second Coming! This is what the BBC says, so I suppose it must be true, although I am asking a friend who works for them to check it out.

Of course these sisters have forgotten that the Second Coming will not be a repeat of the first one, not another child being born by virgin birth, but:
At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Mark 13:26 (TNIV©)

The Gifts of the Spirit

I have put on my website a short paper which I recently wrote on The Gifts of the Spirit. This was intended for the house group (home study and prayer group) which I help to lead. We spent three evenings studying and praying through this material. I hope it may be of interest to some readers of this blog. I welcome any comments or questions about this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Walking on Water

At the Revival Days conference I was at last weekend I felt some of the time that I was walking on water! Not quite in the literal sense, despite this picture of me taken at a nearby ford. But it was certainly a wonderful time of being close to the Lord and feeling his refreshing presence.

I mentioned this conference in my posting a couple of weeks ago on the Toronto Blessing. Yes, some of the Toronto manifestations were still happening. It is sad, perhaps, that Blogger does not support video clips, as I have a great one of some friends of mine rolling on the floor laughing in the Spirit - but then, although the conference venue had been declared a "Fear Free Zone (1 John 4:18)", my friends might be a bit embarrassed to see this on the Internet.

But the focus of the conference was not on manifestations. In fact it was on God the Father's love. The speakers (the two pastors of the church, who both happen to be women) encouraged us to reject a caricature of the Trinity, that the Father is the stern one, the Son is the loving one, and the Holy Spirit is the fun one! They reminded us that the Father is also the loving one, and that even if our earthly fathers were stern, or worse, and not loving, our heavenly Father is not like that. This led to some powerful prayer ministry for people who found it hard to experience the Father's love because of past hurts.

For me this conference was mainly a time of confirmation of things which God had said to me before and encouragement to continue in the same directions. I am being led into serving him in new and deeper ways, and should expect to see signs and wonders. Who knows, I may really find I can walk on water - so that Jesus may be glorified.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Duck Quacks Back

While I was away (and I still intend to report on that) the Daily Duck posted some interesting reflections on the God blog wars. It is sad that he felt left out of what seemed to be an in-house argument among Christians. I am not sure whether Christians should completely avoid disagreeing in public, which includes anywhere in the "blogosphere", but if we do we must remember to do so in Christian love, and to remember that what we say needs to be helpful for non-believing readers like Duck. It was sad in a way that Duck could complain
There I was, in their midst for a whole week, and nobody tried to save me.
But I am glad that in response to my comment he wrote
Yes, you were.
But, sadly, he didn't really want to be saved. Here is the comment (reformatted) which that was a response to:
Duck, thank you for this. But I must say I am surprised that you say that
nobody tried to save you.
I did! At least that was a major purpose of what I was writing. I was trying to show you that there is a way round the the artificial theological barriers which some people have erected. Such barriers cannot stand when they are not in the same place that the Bible has erected barriers, and especially when they are built across the door which God has opened into his kingdom. For, however much these people may rant in the pulpit or in the blogosphere, God has
placed before you an open door that no-one can shut
(Revelation 3:8 TNIV©),
or to change the door metaphor within the same chapter to one which is probably a bit more exgetically sound, he says
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me
(Revelation 3:20 TNIV©).
Meanwhile I am taking Duck's advice (although I won't be using the results in the way he suggests!) by adding a page view counter to my blog. In fact I am adding a cool system called ClustrMaps, which I found on Eddie Arthur's blog, which shows not only how many hits I am getting but also where they are in the world. It will be interesting to see where they do come from.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Eddie Arthur on Bible Controversies

I remember Eddie Arthur as the most interesting of the teachers I had when studying in 1992-1993 to be a Bible translator, at the British SIL school, now ETP. Eddie now blogs regularly, and very interestingly, on Bible translation and on various other issues relating to the Christian life. I can especially recommend his latest posting All Together Now: Why Bible Translation is Important II. Indeed we should avoid unnecessary arguments about English Bible translations, and give higher priority to translations into languages which do not have any translation. The latter is still my main work. Sometimes I get a bit too involved in the former controversies, but only where I see basic Christian teaching and values under threat.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Quiet here, busy elsewhere!

I have been too busy posting and commenting elsewhere, as well as with real life, to post much on this blog this week. And from tomorrow until Saturday night I am away at a Christian conference, Revival Days which I mentioned in a previous posting. So things may be quiet here until next week - although I would welcome comments, and would not be surprised to receive some on my controversial posting about whether Hindus and Jews can be saved.

The discussion of "Did God kill Jesus?" continues on Adrian Warnock's blog, and there are now more than 100 comments on one posting, including several from myself, and follow-up postings from Adrian. Some people have picked up on my suggestion in the long comment thread that another commenter was not "a theological heavyweight". I think some people thought I was comparing her with myself, whereas I intended to compare her with teachers like John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones who had been quoted earlier in the discussion. Later in the comment thread I apologised for the misunderstanding.

Meanwhile on the Better Bibles Blog I have been posting on an interesting technical issue with the Greek New Testament text.

Next week maybe you will hear how my conference went, or however God leads me to post.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Can a good Jew or Hindu be saved?

Duck asked in a comment on my posting Models of the Atonement:
But what does it say about your theology that a good Jew or Hindu will be damned to eternal suffering but a bad Christian will be saved?
Well, I have not quite said this. First, I have not mentioned "eternal suffering", and there is an ongoing debate among Christians over whether those who are not saved suffer for ever or are simply annihilated. I don't intend to get into that debate now. But more importantly, by God's standards there is no such thing as a good Jew (except for Jesus), or a good Hindu, or for that matter a good Christian. All people have done wrong things and fall short of God's standards. As a result none deserve to be saved or receive anything good from God. It is God's free gift, his "grace", to offer salvation although it is not deserved. And this is his offer to everyone, including Jews and Hindus. But God doesn't force anyone to accept this gift, and many people don't. They are not saved because they reject the offer of salvation. That is not God's problem but theirs - and yours, Duck.

I accept that there is an issue here about those of other religions, or none, who have never heard the Christian message. Just as Abraham was saved for responding in faith to what he had heard of God's message, so also I believe that many who do not profess Christianity now will be saved because they have responded to the light about God which they have received, through God's general revelation and to some extent through other religions. They are not saved by their other religions, but only through the death of Jesus Christ. But I believe they can be saved without explicitly calling on Jesus Christ, and certainly without changing their outward religious identity to become Christians. However, this is no excuse for those who do clearly hear the good news about Jesus and reject it.

This is a very brief summary of a very difficult issue!

Models of the Atonement

I remember a conversation which I had at the University of Cambridge, about 30 years ago. I was a student of physics, and I was talking to a friend who was studying theology, and was like me an evangelical Christian; his background was more "Reformed" than mine.

I explained to my friend how in physics there were many things, such as the nature of light, which could not be understood directly but which were studied by means of models. For centuries there was debate over whether light was made up of waves or of particles. It is now understood that light is in itself neither one nor the other, but something more complex which goes beyond direct human understanding. For some purposes it is helpful to use the model that light is waves, and for other purposes the model that it is particles. But neither model can explain everything about light; each model is useful within a certain field but becomes misleading if pressed to logical conclusions outside that field.

I suggested to my theological friend, in the context of a debate on some theological issue, that we should not expect to be able to understand it fully, because it is too deep for human understanding, but we should look at it through models, in the sense used in physics. I remember my friend suddenly catching on to what I was talking about and realising its significance for his own studies.

My friend later became a professor of theology, indeed for a time he held a highly prestigious chairs in theology at a very well known university. He has been described, admittedly by his publisher, as
one of Britain’s finest systematic theologians and teachers of dogmatics.
I hope that the insight I gave him about models helped him to attain such distinction. But I mention this not to boast or drop names (in fact I am deliberately withholding his name!) but because it seems to me that other "Reformed" Christians also need to understand models. Read on...

The Atonement, the way in which God dealt with the problem of sin through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, is the great and central mystery of the Christian faith. As mortal and sinful humans we cannot hope to understand it completely. Nevertheless, from what has been revealed in the Bible and with the help of our God-given human reason, we can get some way towards understanding it. And to use the language of physics, we do that by using models. The Bible provides us with the starting material for these models.

Theologians have put forward at least four major theories of the Atonement (see this Wikipedia article, which is convenient although not necessarily reliable): "Christus Victor"; satisfaction or substitutionary; moral influence; and governmental. Each of these has various flavours. And there is some support for each in the Bible. The "Christus Victor" theory was favoured by the early church, and has also had modern proponents (and I rather lean towards it). But the satisfaction theory has been dominant in western theology since the 11th century.

As careful theologians have long realised, no one of these theories fully encapsulates the truth about the work of Christ. Each of them, if pushed to their logical conclusion as if they were literal descriptions of what happened, ends up in conflict with the Bible - just as treating light simply as a particle, or simply as a wave, ends up in conflict with observations. It is impossible to get around this completely by adjusting the description; instead one is forced to realise that the description is only a model, and not a literal description of the truth.

The problem comes when some theologians and Bible scholars try to insist that their favoured view of the Atonement is not just a model but literally and objectively true. Among those who have been guilty of this are many in the "Reformed" tradition. For example, according to Adrian Warnock, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book Great Doctrines of the Bible, discussed and rejected "false theories of the atonement". As I don't have this book I can't be sure which theories the Doctor was so confidently rejecting and on what basis. But he should be very careful about claiming that such theories as "Christus Victor" are objectively false. No doubt he can find Bible verses which don't entirely support "Christus Victor", but in response others can find for him Bible verses which don't support his own favoured substitutionary theory. For it it seems that if any one of the theories of the Atonement is pressed beyond the biblical evidence to its logical conclusion, it leads to absurdity.

This is what we have seen in the recent debate over whether God killed Jesus. Careful and well-trained theologians have agonised over theories of the Atonement. Those in the "Reformed" tradition have been especially attached to the substitutionary theory. But the best of them have realised that this is only a human model and approximation of a divine truth which is beyond human comprehension. As a result they have been careful with their statements, avoiding pushing the model to logical conclusions beyond the limits of what is clearly supported in the Bible. The unfortunate problem is when less careful students of the Bible, or students of "Reformed" writings, treat descriptions of models as if they were literal truth, go beyond what is written in the books they are studying, and start to teach things which clearly cannot be the truth about our just and loving God. This becomes an especially serious problem when in the process they manage to confuse outsiders into thinking that their repulsive teachings are the true Christian message.
"Do not go beyond what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6 TNIV).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Baddow Life newspaper

One of the projects I work on for my church is Baddow Life newspaper. This is a quarterly 8-page newspaper which is jointly produced by the three Anglican churches in Great Baddow, the village where I live which is now more or less a suburb of the county town, Chelmsford. The newspaper is distributed free of charge to almost all of the about 6000 homes in Great Baddow. It includes articles of general community interest as well as about the Christian faith and the churches' activities. The June 2006 issue has just been uploaded to the printers and to the website, and the printed copies are due to be distributed on Thursday 22nd June.

I write some articles for the newspaper and help to coordinate others. I also help with technical issues. For the record as much as anything else, I have uploaded to my personal website a selection of the articles I have myself written for Baddow Life over the last three years.

Today's Bible Passage: Acts 4:8-12

This was part of the reading at my church this morning. I also referred to this in the ongoing discussion on Adrian Warnock's blog (I think it's in about the 25th comment!)

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

" 'the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.'
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved."

Acts 4:8-12 (TNIV©)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Did God kill Jesus: should I post like this?

After posting on the issue of whether God killed Jesus, I wondered in fact this kind of posting was appropriate in such a public forum. I criticised Adrian Warnock for the negative impact of one of his postings on a non-Christian; but could my own postings have a similarly negative impact on readers? I certainly need to be careful what I write.

First, let me clarify that when on this blog I disagree with my Christian brothers and sisters I am doing this out of genuine love and concern for them. I certainly don't want to stir up controversies and divisions among Christians. My intention is to guide others gently into finding out the truth for themselves. I accept that I don't always do this perfectly, for I am an imperfect and sinful man. And I am open to gentle correction from my readers, on or off blog. (You can find my e-mail address at my personal website.)

It seems to me that the essence of the problem here is the excessive reverence, sometimes close to worship, which some Christians have for their favourite preachers and teachers. It was, as I see it, this kind of reverence which led Adrian to jump to the defence of CJ Mahaney when his words were being attacked by a non-Christian. He would have done better to pause and reflect on whether, if Mahaney actually said that the Father killed the Son (the whole thing is an unverified quotation from a sermon in an anonymous blog posting), he might have said a little bit more here than he really intended, or more than was justified from the Bible. Instead Adrian's unfortunate reaction was to jump in as if questioning a favourite preacher of his was a direct attack on the gospel. And once having taken that tack he seems unwilling to back down, even though he now wonders if he is alone in taking this position.

The reason why I am treating this matter so seriously is that I am so passionate that everyone comes to hear and respond to the good news that Jesus loves them, so much that he died for them, and that they can respond, turn from wrong things, and receive the forgiveness and freedom which they crave for. So I react strongly, perhaps too strongly (but then Paul's reactions were similar e.g. in Galatians 2:11-14, 3:1-10), when I hear other Christians perverting that message, for example into something immoral and repulsive like "the Father killed the Son". The repulsiveness of that version of the message is evident from Duck's reaction. But the true gospel, although sometimes veiled, is never repulsive or immoral in that way. But it has power from the Holy Spirit to break down the barriers which some people, sadly within the Church as well as outside, put up to hinder its progress.

Did God kill Jesus?

Without really intending to, I have got involved in a controversy, which has been raging most recently on Adrian Warnock's blog, over whether it is right to say that God killed Jesus. See my posting here last Saturday for the beginning of the story. Adrian took things further with his posting Making an Impact Outside the Blogdom of God; it seems that he is proud of making such a negative impact on the non-Christian Duck. That post has generated a long series of comments, including from the well known American Christian leader Ligon Duncan. And Adrian has himself brought in an even bigger gun, John Piper, supposedly in his defence.

The problem is that no one is actually supporting the idea that God killed Jesus. Duncan, Piper and others insist that God sent Jesus, and that it was God's plan for Jesus to die, and that by Jesus' death God dealt with the problem of sin. And I agree with all of this, although some of the details are debatable. But none of them, no one except Adrian, can bring themselves to say that God killed Jesus. This is not surprising, for the Bible doesn't say so, and it is not just the non-Christian Duck who realises that for God to kill his own Son would not have demonstrated his justice (Romans 3:26) but would have been a monstrous injustice.

Some people have suggested that verses such as Isaiah 53:10 and Romans 8:32 imply that God killed Jesus. The latter says no more than John 3:16: the word translated "delivered" or "gave up" does not imply death, for it is also used in Acts 14:26, 15:40, where it is sometimes translated "committed" or "commended". Isaiah 53:10 is very difficult and unclear in Hebrew; "crush" is metaphorical, and there is no proper justification for the ESV rendering "he has put him to grief". The closest anyone can come is Isaiah 53:4: "
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted." (TNIV). Adrian still considers that Jesus was punished by God, but in this verse there is a clear contrast, signalled by "yet", between this misunderstanding and the true position given in the first part of the verse.

So, Adrian is left alone trying to defend what was probably originally a rhetorical flourish by CJ Mahaney, one which probably he would not really intend to be taken as a proper theological position.

Friday, June 09, 2006

1 Timothy 2:12: Authority or Domination?

I don't intend this blog to become a place for debating subjects like the role of women in church. There are plenty of other places where such subjects are discussed. But I would like to record here a response which I made to a posting on Justin Taylor's blog, on The Meaning of "Authority" in 1 Tim 2:12. Justin quoted me as writing, in a comment on an earlier posting of his:
The problem here is that in 1 Timothy 2:12 the Greek word αὐθεντεῖν is not correctly translated 'exercise authority'. Its exact meaning is debatable, but it clearly seems to imply some kind of usurpation of proper authority, and perhaps a domineering attitude which is not at all Christian.
Justin continued:
One of the problems in the blogosphere is that comments can be made like this (without argumentation or links to argumentation) and people can assume that this is based on solid scholarship, when in fact it isn't. The best scholarly work on this shows it to be false.
He continued by quoting from an article by Andreas Köstenberger in an attempt to prove his point that αὐθεντεῖν authentein means "exercise authority".

I replied:
One of the problems with the blogosphere is that people like you, Justin, can assert that a particular work is "the best scholarly work" and accuse others of not basing their arguments on sound scholarship, without any requirement to prove their points. And they believe you because they are already predisposed in your favour.

I am sure that Köstenberger et al's work is excellent scholarship. But that by no means implies that they have the last word on this subject. IH Marshall's scholarship also has a very high reputation, but, according to the review of Köstenberger's work on Amazon by Alan S. Bandy, "Marshall's commentary on the Pastorals (1999) ... argued for a negative sense of both "teaching" and "exercising authority"" in 1 Timothy 2:12.

As for Baldwin's research into contemporary use of αὐθεντεῖν, while I can accept that neither of the two allegedly attested occurrences certainly mean "domineer", the simple fact is that neither of them certainly means "exercise authority" in a positive sense either. The example from Philodemus does not in fact clearly read αὐθεντεῖν at all, for the text has been conjecturally reconstructed, and one translator seems to have understood it as more like "domineer" than "exercise [proper] authority". Baldwin doesn't give enough context to the 27 BC quote to determine whether there are any negative connotations. The 2nd century AD Attic lexicon's "to have independent jurisdiction" may be the best guide to how Paul used the word, and this would of course be a misuse of authority in a Christian setting. The only other occurrence within several centuries of Paul's time (leaving aside Ptolemy's astronomical speculations), that in Hippolytus, can also be translated in a positive or a negative sense. 4th century and later occurrences are irrelevant in my opinion. Well, you say that Köstenberger accepts that Baldwin's study "falls short of absolute proof". That sounds to me like a very British understatement!

So, Justin, while like Denny I accept that the meaning of αὐθεντεῖν is controversial as well as debatable, it is quite clear that my interpretation is based on solid scholarship, that of IH Marshall among others. Of course solid scholars can differ, and they do here. But the implication is of course that no one can with confidence interpret this verse as forbidding women from all leadership positions in the church, still less imply (as certain recent statements seem to) that those who do not enforce such a ban are heretics and worse than unbelievers.

Pray for Iran

I am one of several hundred of thousand Christians around the world currently praying for Iran, for a 40 day campaign. The organisers are asking for more people to join the campaign. They write:
The Iranian church believes the nation could be on the edge of a radical spiritual transformation and with three weeks of the campaign left, there is still plenty of time for many more to join the prayer effort.

The prayer campaign is focused on three main areas: for the persecuted Church in Iran; for revival in Iran; and for God to intervene in the political situation. Daily prayer requests are posted on the ‘Pray for Iran’ website, and individuals can choose to subscribe and receive the prayer requests each day by email. Each day there is a very popular slide show with images from Iran accompanied by Persian worship music to help people pray for Iran.
The prayer material is available in nine languages!

Yesterday's Bible Passage: Ephesians 4:11-16

Blogger was playing up again yesterday evening. I did manage to post on A Vision of Paradise, but by the time I had prepared this Bible passage Blogger was down again. So I am posting it the next morning. It seems that Blogger works in the morning here, perhaps because most Americans are still in bed, perhaps because the engineers who are playing about with it are in bed!

I chose this passage partly because I was working yesterday on a draft translation of Ephesians, and I had to look at some difficult issues in this passage.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Ephesians 4:11-16 (TNIV©)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Vision of Paradise

I am reading "Listen to Me, Satan!" by the Argentinian evangelist Carlos Annacondia (Charisma House, 1998). Despite the title, this book is more about God's work than Satan's. In fact C. Peter Wagner writes that it "may well be regarded in the future as one of the most important, if not the most important, revival books of the decade."

Here is an extract, from p.26:
Once God gave me a vision of a big oasis with exotic plants, all kinds of fruit trees, streams of crystal clear waters, flowers, dark green grass, birds, and a large crowd drinking refreshing drinks, eating fruit, singing, laughing, and playing. I thought, This place must be paradise. But as I came closer to the fence around its borders, I saw a desert on the other side. There were no trees, no water, no flowers, and no shade; the hot sun was splitting the rocks in two, and I saw an agonizing crowd staring at us. Many had parched, broken skin; their tongues were swollen, and they had to help each other to stand. Their hands were extended toward those of us in paradise, begging for help.

This vision helped me to reflect the church of Jesus. The walls in our buildings are tired of listening to us. Every single brick could become a doctor in theology. Let's take the message of the pulpit to the streets, to the town squares, to the parks. Let's go door to door talking about Christ. The cries of those who suffer resonate in our ears. Let's wake up; the news on radio and television, the daily newspapers, and the weekly magazines are singing praise to the destroyer. Let's preach about Jesus Christ!
Of course the precise methods we use have to be suitable for the culture we are evangelising, under the Holy Spirit's guidance, and not simply copied from Argentina. But we certainly need to accept this call in principle!

And then from p.29:
I want to close this chapter with some words that God spoke to me: Love for the lost produces revival. When love ceases, revival does too. He who has a passion for souls lives in an ongoing revival.

Better Bibles Blog

Over the past year I have been an occasional contributor to the Better Bibles Blog, coordinated by my Internet only friend Wayne Leman. In fact the only posting I have made there for several months is RSV: acceptable to all? But I have also made regular comments there. My recent comments include long exchanges on TNIV vs. ESV, concerning singular "they", and Key Issues Re: Bible Translation: critique #1, relating to the issue I raised last year in my posting Does God have a long nose?

I would recommend the BBB to any of you interested in issues relating to Bible translations, especially in English.

Qualified to interpret the Bible?

Dr Jim West is rightly concerned about the proliferation of bad Bible interpretation on the Internet. So he has put forward guidelines on who is qualified to interpret and comment on the biblical text, basically that they should be theologically qualified and actively involved in a Christian or Jewish community. I don't entirely agree with him: many without formal qualifications have deep knowledge of the Bible and are fit to interpret it as long as they are aware of the limitations of their understanding. But, in case anyone wonders or questions my credentials, I do meet his guidelines; my theological background is given in the introductory posting on the blog.

The Toronto Blessing: some further thoughts

After my posting on Tuesday about my experiences similar to the Toronto Blessing, I read in more detail Adrian Warnock's account of the original blessing, which is especially interesting because Adrian is a qualified psychiatrist as well as a charismatic Christian. His medical training is clearly reflected in his account.

Adrian noted the prominent involvement in the original blessing of Sandy Millar and Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton. This may well explain both the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Alpha course, which Nicky Gumbel pioneered and still leads, and its extraordinary effectiveness worldwide - including in a small but significant way in my own church. In 1994 Adrian commented that during the Toronto Blessing
There have not been large number of conversions, and most people are not calling this a revival.
But if this Blessing is counted as even partially a basis on which the Alpha course was built, it must now be understood as having led to a large number of people turning to Christ through that course. It was not perhaps a "traditional" revival, but its results must be seen as comparable to large scale revival.

Adrian considered whether the Toronto Blessing ought to be considered a genuine work of God. He put forward the following test for this which he took from Jonathan Edwards - presumably the 18th century preacher and not the athlete of the same name who is also a prominent Christian:
It was in the study of 1 John 4 that he found his signs to indicate the genuiness of a work of God: An increase in esteem for Jesus as the Son of God, a greater following of God’s ways, an increased hunger for and understanding of God’s word (thus listening to the Apostles), and an increased love for God and man.

It is by the fruit of this movement that we will know its genuineness. (Mt 7:15-20). The result of all this ought to be a greater desire for holiness and to see souls saved.
On this basis both the original Toronto Blessing and the similar manifestations which I experienced should be accepted as at least to a large extent genuine. I would recommend to anyone that they take any opportunity to experience this for themselves, but also that they follow Adrian's advice:
attend with a desire to experience God for yourself if all this is genuine. Do not seek phenomena, seek God.

No posting yesterday - Blogger problem

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to post yesterday, Wednesday 7th. The Blogger site was down for most of the evening, UK time. Now, just after midnight here, it is up again. My apologies also to the friends who I just pointed to this site and encouraged to comment, that although they could read it they could not comment. But now they probably can - unless the site goes down again.

A friend who is currently in China reported that his access to this blog is blocked. I must say that I somewhat flattered that the authorities there consider me a threat! Does anyone know, are all Blogger blogs blocked there, or is it because their automatic system has found certain keywords like "God" or "Bible"?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Toronto Blessing: the outpouring continues

Adrian Warnock quoted (with permission) the following which I originally wrote privately to him:
I have also experienced the Toronto Blessing, although in my case only this year!
I realise that to put it this way may seem surprising to some. After all, the Toronto Blessing, at least as understood here in the UK, was something rather specific and special (not to mention controversial) which happened in 1994, first in Toronto and then elsewhere including here. Adrian's own account of these events is one of many. And perhaps it would be better to reserve the specific name for those events, which I missed out on at the time partly because I was working outside the country. So, more precisely, I might say that what I experienced this year was the activity of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the same kinds of phenomena which were associated with the Toronto Blessing. These manifestations were not in fact new in 1994. And they have continued in many places since then, including at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF) after which the Blessing was named, because it started there, under the ministry of John and Carol Arnott.

For me there was also a more specific link with the original Toronto Blessing. A few years ago some people from my church visited TACF and were touched by the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit there. In 2004 I think two of them attended a conference in the UK organised by Catch the Fire Ministries, which is an offshoot of TACF. At this they got to know Lori Lawlor, who is the Arnotts' daughter. Soon afterwards she was asked to lead a weekend conference at my church, assisted by a team from the church in Birmingham, Haven Renewal Centre, of which she is one of the two pastors (both ladies, sorry if that's a problem for anyone!). Since then I have been one of a group which has twice visited Haven for their Revival Days conferences, in November 2005 and February 2006, and we are going for a third time this month.

Given the family link to TACF, it was hardly a suprise to find that at Haven the Holy Spirit is expected to work in similar ways to the original Toronto Blessing. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit only works in the ways in which he (or she or it ?? - maybe there will be another posting on this sometime) is given permission to work. So in churches where noisy phenomena are not expected or not welcome, they don't usually happen. But when no barriers are erected the Holy Spirit works in all kinds of unexpected ways. He touches in a deep way the lives of people who are sometimes deeply hurt. And so it is not surprising that there are some strong reactions, even sometimes things which one might not expect to be the work of the Holy Spirit; but maybe it would be better to say that these things are coming from an imperfect human spirit as it is touched by God's Spirit of holiness.

So, yes, I saw and heard people acting in strange ways. I don't know that all of it was the genuine work of the Holy Spirit, but I am sure that some of it was - because it was happening to people who I know and trust, and eventually to myself. At the November conference I felt the Holy Spirit working in my life and helping to heal some deep issues, but was not much involved with any unusual manifestations. In February more deep issues were dealt with, and I also experienced properly for the first time some of the manifestations in my own life. No, I didn't roll about laughing in the Spirit for hours (but I did laugh a bit), and I didn't roar like a lion (although someone else did). But the Holy Spirit did make my whole body shake for several minutes, and this has happened more than once - and amazingly I was able to stay on my feet! And the fruit of this has been positive in a way which has lasted at least for a few months, with a definite upturn in my personal relationship with God.

I don't know what God is going to do with me and the rest of our group at the next Revival Days conference, but I am confident that it will be something very good!

Today's Bible Passage: John 7:37-39

I have had a busy day, so, although I am working on another posting, I may not get round to blogging anything more than today's Bible passage:
37 On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
John 7:37-39 (TNIV©)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Today's Bible Passage: Ezekiel 36:25-27

I will try to get in just before midnight this time with a passage for today. This was in fact part of my vicar's (pastor's) text for his reading yesterday evening, and I was looking at it again today. These are of course the words of the Lord to the people of Israel:
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 (TNIV©)
I could have quoted more both before and after this, but then I would have felt obliged to make some comment on the references to the land, and that would have opened up a controversial subject which I don't want to deal with just at the moment.

Just because I have chosen three Old Testament passages in a row, please don't think that I am somehow stuck in the Old Covenant. In fact of course both today's passage and yesterday's are specific prophecies of the New Covenant. I am sure that in future I will be led to share passages from the New Testament.

Adrian and I remember together

For some time I have wondered whether the well-known Christian blogger Adrian Warnock is the same Adrian as I knew as a teenager here in Chelmsford. Only a couple of days ago I was able to confirm this. This is because I recognised in Adrian's story, part four, the same mini-revival which I was also caught up in in 1984-85. I wrote to Adrian about this, and he has now posted (with my permission) part of what I wrote to him about those days. I intend to say more here about the Toronto Blessing which I mentioned in the quoted passage.

I don't think Adrian's teachers at "King Edward VI Grammer School" (which is one of the top state schools in the country) would be proud of his spelling of the name of the school!

Why use TNIV?

Some readers may have been interested, possibly even some offended, at my choice of TNIV (Today's New International Version) as my preferred Bible version for this blog. This version has been highly controversial, especially in the USA, for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has been running a vitriolic (and in my opinion quite un-Christian in tone) campaign against TNIV, accusing it quite unjustifiably of thousands of "inaccuracies".

Why did I chose TNIV myself? I have used NIV as my main Bible for personal use for more than 20 years. But there were several things about it which I had become not entirely happy with, for example its treatment of gender issues and the way in which it read the New Testament back into the Old Testament. See the quoted comment below on the latter point; I may come back to the gender issues at another time. When the TNIV New Testament came out in 2001 I saw that this was a significant improvement in several ways. Last year my church was looking to buy new "pew" Bibles (we don't have pews, which actually gives us a problem as we have nowhere to leave them out). The original intention was to buy NIV, but at my suggestion we waited for the then imminent publication of TNIV and then ordered it, at a bargain price direct from the International Bible Society. When at last I saw the full Bible, I was glad to see also to see some improvement on how the Old Testament depends on the New Testament, although the changes are not as complete as I might have liked. But I am not sure I would actually want to change Psalm 51:11 - see below.

I will not attempt a fuller review of TNIV because Rick Mansfield has just written an excellent one. Here are the comments on it which I just submitted:
Thanks for the excellent review. At least it was excellent once I had increased the font size twice so that it was large enough to read (on my high resolution laptop screen) - although still smaller than the Better Bibles Blog.

You mention the change in Philippians 3:8 from "rubbish" to "garbage". Here in England "rubbish" is the normal word and "garbage", although understood, is considered an Americanism. Sadly, perhaps, the people who prepared the British edition of TNIV did not change back to "rubbish" here, although they still change "rooster" to the normal word used in Britain as well as in KJV.

You mention the issue of keeping OT Messianic prophecies in a form which more directly applies them to Christ, for example at Psalm 34:20. It is worth noting that this is a change between NIV and TNIV which goes beyond the gender issues. NIV has been widely criticised for reading the NT back into the OT, for example in using capital letters for "Son" in Psalm 2:7,12 and "Holy Spirit" in Psalm 51:11, and for the rendering "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14. TNIV has backed down on capitalising "son" in Psalm 2, although it retains "Holy Spirit" and "virgin" - but for the latter has added a footnote "Or young woman". These changes, as well as the rendering of Psalm 34:20, suggest a policy change, welcome to me, of translating the Hebrew Bible as a Hebrew work from the BC period, and not imposing on it interpretations, even those inspired by the Holy Spirit, from centuries later and a very different cultural and theological context. But I am aware that not everyone agrees with me on this one.

Yesterday's Bible passage: Joel 2:28-32a

No time to blog on Pentecost Sunday. I was too busy at church and with friends, and anyway I spend enough time in front of my computer six days a week to want a break on Sundays. Sunday is already just past, here in the UK, but here is a slightly belated offering for Pentecost, prompted by Ruud's posting on Suzanne's Bookshelf, which was in fact of this passage from Joel as quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. I break off at the same place as Peter did, which is mid-sentence in TNIV, perhaps because this is the real climax:
28 "And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.

29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.

31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved; ...

Joel 2:28-32a (TNIV©)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Today's Bible Passage: 2 Kings 6:15-20

I don't promise a daily Bible passage, but here is one to start with, from my current favourite version, TNIV:

15 When the servant of [Elisha] the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?" the servant asked.

16 "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

17 And Elisha prayed, "Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, "Strike this army with blindness." So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.

19 Elisha told them, "This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for." And he led them to Samaria.

20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, "Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see." Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria.

2 Kings 6:15-20 (TNIV©)

"The Father killed the Son": the offence of the Gospel?

While preaching at the recent New Attitude conference, as reported on the associated blog, CJ Mahaney said:
Who killed Jesus?

The Father. The Father killed the Son. Feel God's love for you revealed in this verse. He crushed his son. For you. He crushed Him. He bruised him. He punished him. He disfigured him. He crushed him. With all of the righteous wrath that we deserved. That's what the Father did.

So great was his love for sinners like you and me.
It is perhaps not surprising that on that blog every comment so far, except for my own (I wonder if it will be allowed to stay there?), is gushingly positive about these words. But that is not everyone's response. A certain Duck has written:
If any single quote could encapsulate why I am not a Christian, this one, by C J Mahaney, has to be it.
How should Christians respond to this? Adrian Warnock's response was simple:
The gospel is veiled to the perishing . . . .
But is this the Gospel? Is the barbarity of a father killing his own son really the essence of the good news of Christ? Now I do not go along with Duck in rejecting the theology of substitutionary atonement, for that is clearly taught in Scripture. But, as I wrote in that comment on the New Attitude blog:
Where in Scripture does it say that "The Father killed the Son"? It is important to get things like this right. ... If the offence we are causing to [Duck] is the offence of the Gospel, of course it must stand. But we must make certain that it is the offence of the Gospel, and not the offence of our theological constructions which go beyond the Scriptures.

Prayer and the Powers

Walter Wink's book "The Powers That Be" (Doubleday 1998) gives some very interesting insights into Christians' spiritual battle against evil powers. I don't endorse everything in the book, as the underlying theology is somewhat "liberal"; for example, Wink writes (p.197):
I do not believe that evil angels seize human institutions and pervert them. Rather, I see the demonic as arising within the institution itself, as it abandons its vocation for a selfish, lesser goal.
But I was struck in a positive sense by this paragraph, the start of chapter 10 "Prayer and the Powers" (p.180):
Every dynamic new force for change is undergirded by rigorous disciplines. The slack decadence of culture-Christianity cannot produce athletes of the spirit. Those who are the bearers of tomorrow's transformation undergo what others might call disciplines, but not to punish themselves or to ingratiate themselves to God. They simply do what is necessary to stay spiritually alive, just as they eat food and drink water to stay physically alive. One of these disciplines, perhaps the most important discipline of all, is prayer.
And in the last paragraph of the chapter (pp.197-198) he writes:
In a field of such titanic forces, it makes no sense to cling to small hopes. We are emboldened to ask God for something bigger. The same faith that looks clear-eyed at the immensity of the forces arrayed against God is the faith that affirms God's miracle-working power. Trust in miracles is, in fact, the only rational stance in a world that can respond to God's incessant lures in any number of ways. We are commissioned to pray for miracles because nothing less is sufficient. We pray to God, not because we understand these mysteries, but because we have learned from our tradition and from experience that God, indeed, is sufficient for us, whatever the Powers may do.

Ready Salted Crisps


and why (as good Christians) we should be like them!

  • We are like CRISPS, not Pringles all pressed from the same mould: we are all different shapes and sizes, but we have the same taste
  • We should be SALTED with the salt of the gospel message, in our hearts and in our lives
  • We must all be READY to tell others about our faith whenever we have the opportunity

(What we in Britain call "crisps" many of you call "chips"; what we call "chips" are your "fries")

Getting this blog started at last

I set up this blog last summer with good intentions, but for various reasons never actually got started with speaking the truth. Now that summer has come round again (at last!), I have decided to get the blog started properly. But to start with I will be a little less presumptious than I might have seemed before, by offering some insights which I hope are helpful, but for which I make no claim that they are objective truth. Some of them may be based on comments I have recently made on other blogs.