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Pitfalls of Leadership

I love our Texas State Fair. It's colorful, loud, noisy, but filled with variety. Often, however with all that variety, I frequently eat too much, get lost and can't decide where I am or where to go. I've experienced that leading can be sometimes like that as well. Often confusing and frequently too many options in different situations, I've found myself making a wrong turn, feeling lost and getting myself in trouble. Indeed, pitfalls abound in variety and in leadership!

Have you ever found yourself at the bottom of the pit that you dug yourself saying, "I can't believe I did that" (or said that) at work? Hiding in your office, wanting to take that back, because you dreaded the consequences. Or have you observed a sister co-worker make a really foolish move? Most of us in leadership have.

A pitfall is a trap or a snare that you can fall into before you even know what's happened. Growing in our leadership skills is a road that is surely filled with them. Hoping to avoid some, let's take a closer look at some common ones. Our focus is NOT the biggies (like dishonesty, immorality, and the catch-all pride). Those will certainly take you down. Rather, let's think about the subtle ones that also trip you up. Ones that probably won't get you fired, but may cause you to miss a promotion or a new opportunity. Let's use the State Fair metaphor and do a top ten, starting with number ten and working our way to number one.

10. The Information Booth—Failure to Learn . . . More

When you enter the State Fair, do you stop by the Information Booth? There is a wealth of help to get you around the fair: maps that show where the midway is, the auto show; timetables so you don't miss the Bird show; and exactly where you can get your funnel cake.

Leadership is both innate and a learned skill. Just look at kids on the playground. Someone is usually leading the rest—a bigger, smarter, born leader. Who knows for sure? But as you mature, you need to be intentional about growing as a leader. It is a skill that you can develop. It is your choice. There are books you need to read, seminars you need to attend, and mentors you need to enlist. Failure to thrive as a leader is when you Fail to Learn. . .more. Don't pass by the Information Booth—get all the help you can to improve your skills.

9. The Organ Grinder and His Monkey—Keep Your Own Monkey

Years ago the Organ grinder and his monkey were a common couple at the fair. The monkey was never far from the man and often jumped up on his back as he played music.

All of us at times will have "a monkey on our backs" which is defined as "a seemingly impossible problem that we can't solve." What we don't do is dump our monkey on someone else, especially not the boss.

My husband, who has been the boss since high school, told me, "You can tell me about your monkey, you can show me your monkey, but if you come in with a monkey you better have at least one good solution for your monkey, and don't even think about giving him to me." No boss likes to solve your problems. They have enough of their own. They like to think of themselves as a RESOURCE for you, not your problem solver. You can get advice, but Keep your own Monkey.

8. What Do You Wear to the Fair?—Failing to Observe the Unwritten Dress Code

State Fair attire is optional; almost anything goes, jeans, shorts, sandals. It's not written anywhere on any brochure what one is supposed to wear. You must decide.

Just like the Fair, you will likely encounter a place with an unwritten dress code. But there is always a dress code for leadership. In your workplace, where you volunteer, in your family, there is a dress code. Leaders don't overdress and they don't under dress. Generally, this dress code is unwritten. Discerning the unwritten dress code takes observation and asking around. Watch what the "boss lady" is wearing, ask peers if certain clothes are appropriate, and choose to dress like a leader.

7. Walking the Midway—Focused Only on Pleasing Followers vs. Focused only on the Task (2 extremes to avoid)

When you walk down the Midway at the Fair, vendors from both sides attempt to snag you to their booth, their food, or their wares. Walking down the middle, glancing at both sides and not getting captured by either is challenging.

Leadership demands both focus and balance. Are you task focused or people focused? Know who you are. Take all the tests you can to discover your bent. You will default to people or tasks depending on how you're wired. Be careful, you need to walk the Midway. Accomplish the task, but don't ignore or trample people along the way. Be aware that people need you, but don't let their needs trump getting a project completed. What a balancing act this is!

I've had a variety of administrative assistants over the years with a variety of personalities and gifts. I remember two that lived in the extreme edges. One was so people focused that I never could count on the timely completion of the task. It was frustrating and tiresome. People loved her, but I couldn't wait to get rid of her. I needed help! Another was so task focused I hated to interrupt her. Her mood was awful if you caught her in the middle of a task she was trying to finish, even if the task was for me! That didn't work well, either. As a leader, understand your bent and ask people to hold you accountable if you get snagged to the extreme on either side.

6. Take a Risk—Unwilling to Be Stretched (Beyond What You Think You Can Handle With Success)

There is probably one ride you won't go on, one event you won't do, one food you won't even try. What is it? Why? Did you throw up on the rollercoaster? Get sick after a turkey leg? Everyone is going in the Haunted House, but not you—too scary.

You won't even go there because you might fail and then what would everyone say about you? I'm not talking about counting the cost and figuring out what resources you need. I'm talking about refusing to even try. Keeping everything safe. Never taking a risk. Turning down anything that is too much work, or you're afraid of losing face if it doesn't turn out. This attitude and behavior will limit you quicker than a failure. You'll get labeled and marginalized. Take the risk, be stretched, and enlarge your plate.

5. The Carousel—Going Around Authority

Picture this: the beautiful, magical carousel with horses that move up and down as she goes round and round. Going around on this ride is wonderful and romantic.

Circumventing (or going around) authority at work is deadly. Maybe you don't like the wait, or the current decision that is being made, or the people in charge. So, you find a way to go around the process and the people to get what you think is best. You know someone above them or you just do what you want to do anyway indifferent to what you've been told. You have good intentions, but you're unwilling to let this play out the way it's going. Danger. This will always come back to bite you.

4. The Rollercoaster—Riding the Rollercoaster of Evaluation (Yours and What Others Say of You)

Who hasn't experienced the thrill of ups and downs of the rollercoaster? Certainly some are more extreme than others but those thrills have the potential to make us sick as well.

The same applies to constantly evaluating our leadership. Emotionally, physically and spiritually you will go up and down if you ride this one. You will constantly be looking back and thinking, "this time I was great" or "this time I was terrible." To some degree we're all performance driven, just because we're leaders, but I'm talking about something different from honest self-evaluation or seeking others' critiques to improve. This ride is when you feel good about yourself if you think you've done well or you feel horrible when you think you've failed. Don't ride the extremes of up and down. Really good leaders (and athletes) have learned not to ride this rollercoaster.

3. State Fair Food—Losing Self Control (At Inappropriate Times and Places)

We expect to overeat at the State Fair indulging on foods we don't normally consume every day. Funnel cakes, corny dogs, roasted corn, turkey legs, cotton candy and what else? But if you go to the Fair and eat all this food, we often go home with a huge food hang-over, regretting our loss of control over our appetite. When we eat it all, we pay.

In leadership, especially for women, there are some areas of self-control we must harness. My focus here is tears in the workplace. Men don't know what to do with tears, whether it's their wife, a peer or a subordinate. Women usually can determine if another woman's tears are genuine or manipulative. Men don't usually have that discernment and feel frustrated: either they can't "fix" you or they think you're playing them. Leave your tears at home except for when everyone is crying. A little self-control will pay big dividends in your leadership role.

2. The Ferris Wheel—Failure to Think Globally Across the Organization

You can't grasp the size, or the grandeur of the whole Fair, unless you travel to the top of the Ferris Wheel and survey the scope of the entire fairgrounds. From the top, you gain an entirely different perspective than you had from below.

When we're on the ground, or in other words, departmentally focused, we become too self-absorbed in our arena, our own island of responsibility and we frequently miss the view from the top. It happens everywhere: churches, para-churches, corporations and even the family. When I was Women's Minister, I focused on being a voice for women in our church. I think that was good. But when I was asked to have a senior leadership position, I was challenged to think church-wide. I realized then how essential it is to think globally across the whole even when you are representing just a part. This defeats "silo thinking" and prepares you for greater responsibility. Maybe someday you'll be sitting on top of the Ferris Wheel all the time!

1. Standing in line—Attempting to Push Your Way to the Top

Who hasn't waited in line for the best ride or to get a Fletcher's hot dog just to see someone cut in and get there first! Aren't we tempted to yell at them, especially if we've been waiting a long time? I mean really—what kind of person does that?

Leadership is earned, affirmed and deserved. A friend once told me "to be a good leader, you have to first learn to be a good follower." Positions of leadership are offered and one is invited into the role. You can get a job with a resume but you can't interview for leadership. Pushing your way to the top will not gain the respect or admiration you need as a leader that people want to follow. Pushing yourself ahead is a short term gain with a long term loss.

Avoiding pitfalls, an ongoing task...

Several years ago one of the Mayoral candidates for my city promised to "fill the potholes" if elected. That alone got my vote! She won and a campaign to fill them began. Unfortunately as soon as one hole was filled, winter came and another appeared. It's an endless job filling pot holes in the city. Leadership has its numerous "pot holes" to avoid. Hopefully we can avoid these ten.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Women's Articles

Passing the Peace Pipe: Conflict Resolution

How are we going to pass the peace pipe if you won't smoke?

A peace pipe, also called a calumet or medicine pipe, is a ceremonial smoking pipe used by many Native American tribes, traditionally as a token of peace. [Wikipedia]

I am weary of your quarrels,
Weary of your wars and bloodshed,
Weary of your prayers for vengeance,
Of your wranglings and dissensions;
All your strength is in your union,
All your danger is in discord;
Therefore be at peace henceforward,
And as brothers live together.

From Hiawatha by Longfellow

Honestly, when was the last time you were in conflict with someone else? Your mother, your spouse, your child, a fellow worker, or a neighbor? Probably not too long ago. Can you visualize that person? Name them. Have you resolved that conflict yet?

The scriptures tell us we will have conflict, we will bump into each because we have differing desires and resources. Conflicts that lead to tense or broken relationships need fixing. We are told that there are ways to resolve our conflicts that promote harmony and reconciliation. So why don't we live in peace with each other? What keeps us from smoking the proverbial peace-pipe? Do we choose ignorance of biblical instructions, saying instead, "I just don't know how to resolve this"? Or do we know what to do and procrastinate because it's too hard to face? Perhaps we've tried and failed and are unwilling to try again.

There is no doubt that conflict resolution is a hard process, the key words being "hard" and "process." Yet, the call of God for a believer is to live in unity and in peace.

Finally brothers. . .live in peace. 2 Cor 13:11 NIV

Where do we begin? Perhaps first we need to affirm that conflicts that break fellowship also break the heart of God. God desires us to live at peace with one another. This truth must be rooted deeply in our hearts, a core belief, so that we will be compelled to act out of our convictions. A corollary truth is that peacemaking is not optional for the believer but part of representing the life of Christ on planet Earth.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Mt 5:9 NIV

Thinking of the conflict you're in right now, what's your attitude about resolving your differences? Has your response encouraged or inhibited progress toward a meaningful solution?

If we are convinced we need to try to reconcile a conflict, what's our next step? Matthew 7:5 tells us to look inward before we move outward.

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's. NIV

Whenever we're in conflict, we're called to honestly ask ourselves. "Am I contributing to this problem either directly or indirectly?" "Is there something that I need to own?" As we examine ourselves we may find we need a change of heart, a different way of thinking, or to apologize for our part of the conflict.

Apologize? You've got to be kidding! Apologizing is admitting I was wrong, not a popular behavioral action for our world today. Recently, President Obama surprised journalists with an impromptu appearance, saying he "could have calibrated" his words differently when he said police had "'acted stupidly'" in handling the situation."

The first question after he left the room to the Presidential spokesman was: "Did he just apologize?" "Was that an apology?" How rare is an apology! We don't even know what it sounds like!

Ken Blanchard says: "The hardest part of apologizing is realizing and admitting you were wrong." He goes on to say, "The apology begins with surrender (letting go of being right, confront the truth about your own failings, and be 100% honest with yourself)." (The One Minute Apology)

That's the hardest part for me, how about you? When I admit I need to own a part of the problem (or all of it) then that means I need to do something. Matthew 18: 15-17 tells us what to do when someone has offended us: go to them and be reconciled. But Matthew 22:24 tells us what to do when we have offended someone else: go to them and be reconciled. So it looks like we have to go . . . in either situation.

So how do we "go" apologize? The Peacemakers Ministry (www.peacemaker.net) has excellent resources for the process. They have listed the Steps of Confession:

1. Address everyone involved (Ps 41:4; Luke 19:8)
Public sin, addressed publicly; private sin, addressed privately

2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe (Ps 51)

3. Admit specifically

  • Sinful attitudes (cravings, judgments)
  • Sinful words (harsh or reckless words, grumbling, complaining, falsehood, gossip, slander)
  • Sinful actions (not keeping your word, not respecting authority, not treating others as you want to be treated)

 

4. Apologize (express sincere sorrow for the way you affected this person)

5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19; Nu 5:5-7; Luke 19:8)

6. Alter your behavior (Eph 4:22-32)

7. Ask for forgiveness (Gen 50:17)

It is a relief to know that the Scriptures are realistic and tell us to live in peace: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men" (Rom 12:18). That means that sometimes we try to reconcile and the other person will not smoke the peace pipe. You can't control someone else, but you can do everything "as far as it depends on you" to make peace. Leave the rest to God.

Remember that person you named at the beginning of this article? In checking your attitude:

  • Have you been irritable, rude or unapproachable in the conflict?
  • From this point on, where or how can you make a special effort to be forbearing, large-hearted, gentle, courteous, considerate, generous, lenient or moderate? How could your gentleness be evident to others?
  • What affect is this dispute likely to have on your: family, work, ministry, church, friendships, relationship with God?
  • If you confess your part in this dispute, what are some possible outcomes?

 

So you've been willing to humble yourself, apologize and offer the peace pipe to another.

Wait a minute, maybe you're the one that has been offended. Right in front of your face is the aromatic pipe and the last thing you want to do is smoke it. I mean they have really hurt you and now they want you to forgive and forget and make peace. What are you going to do?

Believing that peacemaking and reconciling is glorifying to the heart of God, we are all called to learn the process and choice of forgiveness.

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. Luke 11:4 NIV

Remembering that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us, there are certain misunderstandings about forgiveness that we need to keep in mind.

Forgiveness is not a:

1. Feeling. It is an act of the will. It involves a decision not to think or talk about what someone has done.

2. Forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiveness is an active process, a conscious choice, a deliberate course of action.

3. Excusing. Excusing implies what you did was not really wrong or you couldn't help it. Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. Forgiveness says, "We both know what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you."

Instead we remember that Forgiveness is a Decision.

We make Four Promises of Forgiveness when we forgive someone else. We choose to say:

  1. I will not think about this incident
  2. I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you
  3. I will not talk to others about this incident
  4. I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship

Some last questions to ask:
• Have you done everything in your power to live at peace with your opponent?
• Have you truly forgiven and can you make the four promises of forgiveness?
• Is God pleased with the resolution?

Smoking in our health-conscious society is taboo to those who desire to avoid the affects of tobacco on the body, so I speak metaphorically when I ask, Have you have been smoking lately? Whether you need to pass the pipe or receive it, may the peace of God be yours today.

Related Topics: Fellowship, Forgiveness, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Relationships, Spiritual Life, Women's Articles

Paul and the Mystery Religions

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Probe's Don Closson argues against the strong dependency view that claims that the Apostle Paul borrowed religious ideas from the pagan mystery religions.

 

Introduction

A common criticism of Christianity found on college campuses today is that its core ideas or teachings were dependent upon Greek philosophy and religious ideas. It is not unusual for a student to hear from a professor that Christianity is nothing more than a strange combination of the Hebrew cult of Yahweh, notions adopted from the popular Greek mystery religions of the day, and a sprinkling of ideas from Greek philosophic thought. This criticism of traditional Christianity is not new. In fact, its heyday was in the late 1800s to the 1940s and coincides with what is now called the History of Religions movement. This group of theologians and historians accused Paul of adding Greek ideas to his Hebrew upbringing, and in the process, creating a new religion: one that neither Jesus nor His first disciples would recognize.

Was the origin of Christianity dependent on existing Greek philosophical and religious ideas? That question hinges upon how one is using the word "dependent." Philosopher Ron Nash argues that dependency can be weak or strong and that the difference is a vital one. A strong dependency would mean that the idea of Jesus as a dying and rising savior-god would never have occurred to early believers if they had not become aware of them first in pagan thought. It would be admitting that Paul and the other new Christians came to believe that Christ was a resurrected God-man who made an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world because of pagan ideas. Proving a strong dependency of Christianity on Greek thought would be very damaging to those who hold a high view of Scripture.

A weak dependency means that the followers of Jesus used common religious terminology of the day in order to be understood by the Hebrew and Greek culture surrounding them. This poses no problem for a high view of Scripture. As Nash states, " . . . the mere presence of parallels in thought and language does not prove any dependence in the strong sense."1 Nash and others argue that only a weak dependency can be shown to have existed between Greek religious thought and the Gospel of Christ.

In this article we will consider arguments against the strong dependency claims of the History of Religions movement and modern critics. Specifically, we will compare the theology of the apostle Paul with ideas found in the popular Greek mystery religions present during the early church period.

Although these ideas rarely surface in everyday discussions, Christians entering the academic world of our college campuses would benefit from time spent understanding this issue. In the hands of a professor hostile to Christianity, partial truths and exaggerated similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions can overwhelm an unaware teen. Being conscious of these arguments against Christian thought prepares us to give an answer to everyone who questions the hope that we have in Christ.

Arguments Against a Strong Dependency on Mystery Religions Viewpoint

Previously we noted that the History of Religions movement claimed that Christian thought had a direct and strong dependency on the mystery religions. Although some scholars agreed with this view, many did not. A good example is the famous German historian Adolf von Harnack, who wrote:

We must reject the comparative mythology which finds a causal connection between everything and everything else. . . . By such methods one can turn Christ into a sun god in the twinkling of an eye, or one can bring up the legends attending the birth of every conceivable god, or one can catch all sorts of mythological doves to keep company with the baptismal dove . . . the wand of 'comparative religion' triumphantly eliminate(s) every spontaneous trait in any religion.2

What were the basic traits of the mystery religions? The annual vegetation cycle was often at the center of these cults. Deep significance was given to the concepts of growth, death, decay and rebirth. The cult of Eleusis and its central deity, Demeter, goddess of the soil and farming, is one example. The mystery religions also had secret ceremonies and rites of initiation that separated its members from the outside world. Every mystery religion claimed to impart secret knowledge of the deity. This knowledge would be communicated in clandestine ceremonies often connected to an initiation rite. The focus of this knowledge was not on a set of revealed truths to be shared with the world, but on hidden higher knowledge to be kept within the circle of believers.

At the core of each religion was a myth in which the deity returned to life after death, or else triumphed over his enemies. As one scholar explains, the myth "appealed primarily to the emotions and aimed at producing psychic and mystic effects by which the neophyte might experience the exaltation of a new life."3 On the other hand, the mysteries were not concerned as much with correct doctrine or belief, but with the emotional state of the followers. The goal of the believers was a mystical experience that led them to believe that they had achieved union with their god.

The various religious movements found throughout the Roman Empire were not united in doctrine or practice, and they changed dramatically over time. Any impact that they may have had on Christianity must be evaluated by the time frame in which the religions encountered one another. When comparing religious systems, Philosopher Ronald Nash warns that caution is advised against using careless language. He states, "One frequently encounters scholars who first use Christian terminology to describe pagan beliefs and practices and then marvel at the awesome parallels they think they have discovered."4

What if someone told you that the root of Paul's New Testament theology was in obscure Greek mystery religions, rather than his Jewish training and his encounter with Jesus Christ? That's exactly what the History of Religions movement argued at the end of the 19th century. Many scholars still teach that Paul's portrayal of Jesus as a dying and rising savior would never have occurred without the presence of the mystery religions. Next, we will continue to consider arguments against what might be called "the strong dependency view."

Weaknesses in the Strong Dependency View

The first argument against this view is the logical fallacy of false cause. This fallacy occurs when someone argues that just because two things exist side by side, that one must be the cause of the other. As one theologian has written, the History of Religions School had the tendency "to convert parallels into influences and influences into sources."5 Causal connection is much harder to prove than proximity. The mere fact that other religions may have had a god who died and then came back to life in some manner does not mean that this was the source of Christian ideas, even if it can be shown that the apostles knew of this other set of beliefs.

Some scholars, hostile to Christianity, tend to exaggerate, or invent, similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions. British scholar Edwyn Bevan writes:

Of course if one writes an imaginary description of the Orphic mysteries . . . filling in the large gaps in the picture left by our data from the Christian Eucharist, one produces something very impressive. On this plan, you first put in the Christian elements, and then are staggered to find them there.6

An example might be the practice of the taurobolium in the cult of Cybele or Great Mother. This initiation rite, in which the blood of a sacrificed bull is allowed to pour over a neophyte, is claimed by some to be the source of baptism in Christianity. Arguments have been made that the language "blood of the lamb" (Rev. 7:14), and "blood of Jesus" (1 Peter 1:2) was borrowed from the language of the taurobolium and criobolium in which a ram was slaughtered. In fact, a better argument can be made that the cult borrowed its language from the Christian tradition.

The cult of Cybele did not use the taurobolium until the second century A.D.; the best available evidence for dating the practice places its origin about one hundred years after Paul wrote his epistles.7 German scholar Gunter Wagner points out that there was no notion of death and resurrection in the cultic practice.

After noting the change in meaning that the taurobolium experienced over time, scholar Robert Duthoy writes:

It is obvious that this alteration in the taurobolium must have been due to Christianity, when we consider that by A.D. 300 it had become the great competitor of the heathen religions and was known to everyone.8

More Weaknesses in the Strong Dependency View

A simple but powerful argument against the likelihood that Paul would have turned to pagan thought for his theology was his strict Jewish training. In Philippians 3:5 Paul boasts of being a Hebrew of Hebrews. He had studied under Gamaliel, the most celebrated teacher of the most orthodox of the Jewish parties, the Pharisees. And in Colossians he warns against the very syncretism he is being accused of proposing. According to Bruce Metzger:

[W]ith regard to Paul himself, scholars are coming once again to acknowledge that the Apostle's prevailing set of mind was rabbinically oriented, and that his newly found Christian faith ran in molds previously formed at the feet of Gamaliel.9

We find no accusations in the New Testament of Paul incorporating pagan thought into his theology, nor does he defend himself against such claims.

The very nature of the mystery cults, with the conflicting pantheon of deities and mythical beings, makes it highly unlikely that the strict monotheism and the body of doctrines found in the New Testament would be their source. Although the mystery religions did move towards advancing a solar god above all the others, this change began after 100 A.D., too late to impact the theology of the New Testament.

It should also be noted that early Christianity was an exclusivistic religion while the mystery cults were not. One could be initiated into the cult of Isis or Mithras without giving up his or her former beliefs. However, to be baptized into the church one had to forsake all other gods and saviors. This was a new development in the ancient world. Machen writes, "Amid the prevailing syncretism of the Greco-Roman world, the religion of Paul, with the religion of Israel, stands absolutely alone."10

Paul's religion was grounded in real events. The mystery religions were not. They were based upon dramas written to capture men's hearts and passions. Reformed scholar Herman Ridderbos writes:

Whereas Paul speaks of the death and resurrection of Christ and places it in the middle of history, as an event which took place before many witnesses . . . the myths of the cults in contrast cannot be dated; they appear in all sorts of variations, and do not give any clear conceptions. In short they display the timeless vagueness characteristic of real myths. Thus the myths of the cults . . . are nothing but depictions of annual events of nature in which nothing is to be found of the moral voluntary, redemptive substitutionary meaning, which for Paul is the content of Christ's death and resurrection.11

Next we will conclude with further arguments against Paul's use of the mystery religions.

Conclusion

Muslim author Yousuf Saleem Chishti writes that the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the atonement are pagan teachings that come from the apostle Paul, not from Christ Himself.12 He states that, "The Christian doctrine of atonement was greatly coloured by the influence of the mystery religions, especially Mithraism, which had its own son of God and virgin Mother, and crucifixion and resurrection after expiating for the sins of mankind and finally his ascension to the seventh heaven."13 Were these doctrines something Paul made up or borrowed? What did Jesus teach regarding the atonement?

First, both Jesus and Paul taught that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law and the teaching of the Prophets, not to abolish them. In Colossians (2:16-17), Paul writes that the religious codes of the Old Testament were merely a foreshadowing of the things that were to come, and that the new reality is found in Christ. Both Christ and Paul taught the necessity of the blood atonement for sin. Jesus stated that, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). At the Last Supper He added, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Paul affirmed Christ's teachings when he wrote, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Tying the doctrine back to the Old Testament, Paul wrote, "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The idea that Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin, dying on the cross, and being resurrected are hardly Paul's ideas alone. They are found in the earliest Christian writings and held consistently wherever the faith spread. The parallels between Christianity and Mithraism claimed by Chishti are hard to evaluate or confirm. He gives us no references as evidence for the similarities.14 Other scholars who have looked at the issue find that most of the similarities disappear on close inspection. Where they do occur, it can be argued that Mithraism borrowed ideas from Christianity rather than vice versa. Bruce Metzger writes, "It must not be uncritically assumed that the Mysteries always influenced Christianity, for it is not only possible but probable that in certain cases, the influence moved in the opposite direction."15

Those who find Christianity hard to accept have offered many reasons for not doing so. The claim that the doctrines of Christianity had a strong dependency on the mystery religions stands on shaky ground and should be investigated thoroughly before one rejects the good news of the New Testament writers.

Notes

1. Ronald Nash, The Gospel And The Greeks, (Probe Books: Dallas, TX, 1992), 18.
2. Ibid, 118.
3. Ibid, 124.
4. Ibid, 126.
5. Ibid, 193.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid, 154.
8. Ibid, 155.
9. Ibid, 196.
10. Ibid, 197.
11. Ibid. 198.
12. Normal Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Baker Books, 1999), 490.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid. 492.
15. Nash, 198.

©2001 Probe Ministries.

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/paul-and-the-mystery-religions/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Textual Criticism, Theology

Trash Your Marriage in 8 Easy Steps

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Probe's Sue Bohlin offers a tongue-in-cheek look at eight ways to tear down one's marriage, complete with eight opposite, biblical ways to build it back up.


The divorce rate is at an all-time high, and marriages are falling apart everywhere you look. Marriages of church-going people are crashing and burning especially fast. There are forces in our culture that contribute to marriage stresses such as pornography, the prevalence of drivenness, two-career families, and the dynamics of the blended family. But people also make foolish choices to destroy their marriages from within.

Talking about the family, Proverbs 14:1 says, "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands." Ephesians 5:28 exhorts husbands to love their wives as their own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them. God's plan is that we treasure and cultivate our marriages, but it's very easy to trash them instead. Let's take a tongue-in-cheek look at eight ways that people trash their marriages.

Be Selfish

The first step is to be selfish. My pastor once said that the AIDS of marriage is justified self-centeredness. Everything needs to revolve around you because, let's face it, you are at the center of the universe, right? If you find something you like to do that ignores your spouses' feelings and interests, go ahead and do it! Too bad if they don't like it! You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get!

Always insist on having things your own way. If you don't get your own way, throw a tantrum. Or freeze your spouse out. Get your kids involved in this game by saying things like, "Would you please ask your father to pass the salt?" Don't be afraid to withhold sex if your spouse isn't letting you have things your own way. There's a lot of power in that, so don't waste it!

If there's only enough money in your budget for what one of you wants, make sure you get what you want. Especially if you're the wage earner, or if you make more than the other. Money is power, and don't be afraid to use it against your spouse!

Make demands instead of requests. Wives, let your husband know that he will do things your way, or you'll make his life miserable. Husbands, when you want your wife to do something, just tell her to do it. "Please" and "thank you" are for the kids. This is your spouse you're talking about—they don't need it. Save all your courtesy for strangers; don't waste it on the person you said you'd spend the rest of your life with.

What we really mean to say:

Selfishness is guaranteed to hurt marriages, so ask for God's help in putting your husband or wife ahead of yourself so you don't trash your marriage.

Pick at Each Other

The second step is to pick at each other. If you know that something you do annoys your spouse, be sure to do it often. And intentionally. When she complains about it, tell her to buzz off, it's not as annoying as the stupid things she does to bug you. The more childish the annoying habit, the better.

Be critical of the smallest thing the other one says and does. Don't let your spouse get away with anything! Stay vigilant for every little offense. Be sure to address these small details with an air of superiority . . . unless it works better for you to act like a martyr, as if you deserve the Nobel Prize for putting up with someone who doesn't squeeze the toothpaste from the end.

Always get the last word when you're arguing. Dr. Phil McGraw has said that the most accurate predictor of divorce is when people don't allow their partners to retreat with dignity. So make your spouse feel whipped and defeated at the end of a fight. As long as you win, that's what matters.

Let The Kids Be More Important

A third step to trashing your marriage is to let the kids become more important than your spouse. Moms, make your husband feel left out of the intimate, secret relationship between you and your baby. As the baby grows, continue to draw the line where it's you and your child on one side, your husband on the other. Keep your Mommy hat on all day and all night. Your kids don't care if your hair is brushed and if you put on perfume and a little makeup before Daddy comes home, so why should he?

Dads, invest all your energies into making your child succeed at what he's good at, or what you want him to be good at. Squeeze out Mom so that you will be your kid's favorite parent. Work so hard on homework and school projects that there's no time for family time.

Let the kids and your other priorities crowd out your "alone together" time. Date nights are for unmarried people! In order to be fulfilled as a person, it is essential to invest all your energies in parenting, career, housework, church commitments and hobbies, so don't worry if there isn't enough time left over for the two of you. It's no big deal. There's always tomorrow. Or next year.

What we really mean to say:

Hey! If you find yourself doing these things, stop! You don't have to trash your marriage!

Show Disrespect

Show disrespect for your spouse, especially in public. One of the best ways to disrespect your partner is ugly name-calling, especially about things he or she can't change. However, the old standbys of "stupid," "fat," "ugly," "weak," and "loser" are always effective, too.

Complain about your spouse to your friends. It's even more powerful if you do it in front of your spouse. Then, if he objects, punch him in the arm and say, "I'm just kidding! You take everything so seriously!"

There are a number of ways to show disrespect with nonverbal communication. Roll your eyes, cluck your tongue, narrow your eyes in contempt. The heavy sigh is a real winner, too.

Wives: Straighten out your husband when he makes a mistake, especially in front of others. Lecture him. Ridicule him: his feelings, his behavior, his dreams, his thoughts. Do everything you can to emasculate your husband. Husbands: Let your wife know you think your opinion is better than hers. Interrupt her when she's speaking.

Refuse to Meet Emotional Needs

Another easy way to trash your marriage is to refuse to meet your spouse's emotional needs. Men and women need different things from their life partners. Dr. Willard Harley discovered and examined a pattern in his excellent book His Needs, Her Needs. Husbands' top needs, it turns out, are: first of all sexual fulfillment; second, recreational companionship; third, an attractive spouse; fourth, domestic support; and fifth, admiration. Wives, if you want to trash your marriage, ignore his need for sex and that you be there for him in leisure time. Blow off his desire that you look your best and he can be proud that you're his wife. Make your home as stressful and chaotic as you can, and never, ever tell him what you admire about him.

Wives' top needs are: first of all affection; second conversations; third, honesty and openness; fourth, financial commitment; and fifth, family commitment. So guys, if you want to trash your marriage, don't show your wife you love and appreciate her. Don't talk to her. Close off your heart to her. Make her constantly worry about finances. Don't be a faithful husband and father.

Dr. Harley's got a Web site, MarriageBuilders.com, that has a lot of good, practical information for building strong marriages, so you'd better stay away from there if you're not interested in being intentional and constructive!

Remember, we're being tongue-in-cheek here. We want you to build your marriage, not trash it!

Treat Your Friends Better than Your Spouse

The sixth easy step to trashing your marriage is to treat your friends better than your spouse. Since a lot of men unfortunately don't even have friends, this is something women tend to do more. Women know how to treat their girlfriends. They call them up just to encourage them. They drop off flowers for no reason. They send them cards, and they listen intently to whatever's going on in their lives. They are emotionally invested in their friends. They are quick to mention when someone looks nice or does something well because women are usually good at affirming each other. If you want to trash your marriage, don't do any of these thoughtful kindnesses for your husband. If your girlfriend is having a bad day, go out of your way to take her a wonderful casserole and fresh salad and dessert . . . but serve your husband Spaghetti-O's.

But husbands, if your wife needs you for something at home, and your buddy scores some tickets to a game, tell your wife "too bad, so sad." After all, she'll be around forever but tonight's hockey game won't. If someone at church or in the neighborhood needs something fixed, drop everything to take care of it, even if it means that the broken things around your house will continue to go unfixed.

Be a Pansy

Step number seven for trashing your marriage has two parts. Husbands, be a pansy. Retreat into the safety of passivity. Refuse to take initiative or responsibility in making plans or suggestions. That way, when things go wrong, you can say, "Don't blame me! It's not my fault!" These are great ways to trash your marriage.

Be His Mother

Wives, be a mother to your husband. When people ask how many children you have, say things like, "Two—three, if you count my husband." Tell him to wear a coat when it's cold and take an umbrella when it's raining, because he can't figure it out on his own. Be sure to say "I told you so" as often as possible. If he is passive or irresponsible, jump in and rescue him so he won't have to deal with the consequences of his own choices. Make sure he feels three years old. Tell him how to live his life, down to the smallest detail.

What we really mean to say:

Please, if you find yourself doing these things, ask for God's help in being constructive instead of destructive. We want to help you build your marriage, not trash it.

When You're Angry, Blow Up

Let's talk about one final way to trash your marriage. Yell and scream, or quietly say hurtful words; it doesn't matter. Inflicting pain is the important thing. Call each other names in the heat of your emotion. Dredge up the past and bring up old hurts. You can hit or slap with words as well as with hands, and they each leave a different kind of lasting damage to your spouse and to your marriage. Losing control when you're angry is a powerful way to hurt your spouse.

Build Your Marriage in Eight Harder Steps

Well, enough of ways to trash your marriage—how about eight steps to build it? All we have to do is look at the opposite of this article's negative, destructive steps.

To build your marriage, fight selfishness by developing a servant's heart. Commit yourself to acting in your spouse's best interests. Do at least one unselfish deed for your husband or wife every day.

Second, instead of picking at each other, choose to let things go. Be grace-givers. Remember that "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8).

Third, be intentional in keeping your marriage at the center of your family. Have regular date nights, and schedule times away to invest in the intimacy of your relationship. Go to a FamilyLife Marriage Conference (www.familylife.com).

Fourth, commit to actively be respectful to your spouse by never saying anything negative to other people. Be kind in your words and actions. Treat each other as courteously and with the kind of honor you would bestow on a stranger or a dear friend.

Fifth, talk about your spouse's particular emotional needs. Read Willard Harley's excellent book His Needs, Her Needs. Find out which ones are most important to your partner, and do everything in your power to meet them.

Sixth, treat your husband or wife at least as well as you treat your friends. Be as thoughtful and encouraging and affirming as you can possibly be.

Seventh: Ladies, resign as your husband's mother. You married an adult; treat him with the respect an adult deserves. Men: Your wife needs a servant-leader—someone who refuses either passivity or tyranny—to love her as Christ loves the church.

And last, when you're angry, express it wisely and constructively. Use words like "I'm angry about this" instead of yelling or hurtful silence. If you're too mad to speak with self-control, wait till you cool down. And don't go to bed without dealing with the situation (Eph. 4:26).

You don't have to trash your marriage. You can treasure it instead.

© 2003 Probe Ministries

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/trash-your-marriage-in-eight-easy-steps/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Divorce, Forgiveness, Love, Marriage, Parenting, Women's Articles

The Apologetics of Jesus

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Jesus was the greatest apologist who ever lived. Probe's Patrick Zukeran examines some of His apologetic methods.

 

Jesus was one of the greatest leaders, teachers, and remarkable individuals that ever lived, but few realize that Jesus was also the greatest apologist. Apologetics is the rational defense of Christianity. Christian apologists use reason and evidence to present a convincing case for Christianity, challenge unbelief, expose errors, and defend the message of the gospel. Apologetics was an essential part of Jesus’ ministry. If it was important in His ministry, it certainly should be in all ministries looking to impact the unbelieving world for Christ.

The Bible commands us in 1 Peter 3:15, “But set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be prepared to give an answer [apologia] to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have.” We are commanded to provide a well-reasoned answer for our faith in Christ to an unbelieving world. Jesus commanded us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). Apologetics involves knowing why you believe and complies with Christ’s command of loving God with your mind.

There exists some misunderstanding among Christians as to whether apologetics is necessary. Some believe that our belief in Christ is based on “faith” and thus does not require solid reasons or evidence to support it. Therefore, in witnessing to unbelievers, some mistakenly suppose that apologetics is ineffective in leading anyone to faith. The call of the Christian is to simply present the gospel, and the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures will do the rest. However, this was not the example of Christ.

Christ made extraordinary claims to be the divine Son of God. He made such claims as being the source of life, forgiver of sins, the embodiment of truth, and authority over the Old Testament Law. Such claims were met with skepticism, doubt, and hostility. Jesus knew He was making remarkable claims, and He did not expect people to simply believe His message without good reasons. He was not seeking or wanting people to exercise “blind faith." Jesus understood that we are rational and moral beings, for we are created in the image of God who is a rational and morally perfect being. For this reason, we exercise our rational capacity and investigate the evidence before making decisions.

Christ knew He would have to make a convincing case to uphold His claims and He did. Throughout His ministry, Christ presented compelling reasons and evidence to uphold His claim to be the divine Son of God. Jesus’ apologetics included the testimony of witnesses, miracles, the resurrection, prophecy, reason, the use of parables and more. The apologetic methods of Jesus serve as a model for every believer who desires to engage and impact an unbelieving world for Christ.

The Testimony of Witnesses

A man ill for thirty-eight years lay beside the Pool of Bethesda along with a multitude of crippled individuals. Suddenly an unknown stranger walks up and asks him a strange question. “Do you want to get well?” As the lame man begins to explain his situation, the stranger orders the man to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" Immediately, strength enters his legs and he rises and walks, carrying his mat as the stranger orders. Soon afterwards the Pharisees arrive and an examination ensues.

What should have been a moment of rejoicing turns into a serious interrogation. The Jewish leaders in John 5 confront Jesus seeking an opportunity and reason to kill Him. Instead of praising God in the healing of the lame man, the focus of the Jewish leaders is on the apparent violation of their Jewish tradition by Jesus.

Jesus responded saying, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working." (Jn. 5:17). The following verse states, “For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” (Jn. 5:18). In this chapter Jesus performed some remarkable feats and made some extraordinary claims. When questioned, Jesus gave an answer or an apologia, a defense of His work and character. In His answer, we see that He was the greatest apologist and that apologetics was a key component in the ministry of Jesus.

In the passage that follows, Jesus presents one of the clearest and strongest cases regarding His nature as the divine Son of God. New Testament scholar Leon Morris states, “Nowhere in the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a formal, systematic, orderly, regular statement of His own unity with the Father, His divine commission and authority, and the proofs of His Messiahship, as we find in this discourse.”1

What was the apologetic method Jesus used in this instance? Jesus’ apologetic involved the testimony of witnesses. According to Jewish law, a testimony is valid only if there were at least two witnesses who could testify to the truth of an individual’s claims (Deut. 19:15). Jesus knew these men needed solid testimony to confirm His claims but also testimony that would convict them of their error regarding their understanding of His identity.

Jesus brings forth five witnesses that testify on His behalf; John the Baptist (5:32-35), His works (5:36), the Father (5:37), the Old Testament Scriptures (5:39-40), and Moses (5:41-46). There were no more authoritative witnesses than these. In a brilliant presentation, Jesus makes His case. The testimony of witnesses was part of the apologetics of Jesus.

Apologetics in the Parables

It is a well-known fact that Jesus was a great storyteller. His stories captivated the audience and taught a valuable lesson. The term “good Samaritan” and “the prodigal Son,” are recognized all over the world because of the unforgettable stories told by Jesus. One of the best ways to communicate truth is to illustrate it through stories which are also an effective way to penetrate into hardened hearts that would not be receptive to a direct gospel presentation. The parables of Christ are some of the most remarkable lessons ever taught. However, did you know that the parables of Christ were also powerful apologetic presentations of our Lord?

Through the use of these stories, Jesus makes a declaration and a defense of His ministry and claims. The images He selects are used in the Old Testament and later Jewish literature in reference to God. Jesus uses these images and applies them often to Himself. Philip Payne states, “Out of the fifty-two recorded narrative parables, twenty depict Him in imagery which in the Old Testament typically referred to God. The frequency with which this occurs indicates that Jesus regularly depicted Himself in images which were particularly appropriate for depicting God.”2

By applying these images to Himself Jesus indicates his self-understanding as the divine Son of God and was communicating this truth to His audience. Payne identifies ten prominent images used in the parables in which images used in reference to God in the Old Testament Jesus applies to Himself.3 Jesus’ repeated use of such images indicates He wanted His audience to recognize His divinity and that He was carrying out the very will of God in His ministry on earth.

Here are a few examples where Christ declares His divinity in the gospels. The image of the rock is used to describe God, especially in the Psalms (Ps. 19:14, 28:1, 42:9, 61:2, 62:2, 71:3, 78:35). In the parables of Jesus, He states that those who build their lives upon His teachings have built their lives upon “a rock” (Matt. 7:24-26 and Lk. 6:46-49). In Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34, God is portrayed as a shepherd. In John 10 Jesus identifies Himself as the good shepherd. In another parable, Jesus uses the example of a bridegroom. In Isaiah 49, 54, Jeremiah 2, and Hosea, God is pictured as a bridegroom. In Mk. 2:19, Matt. 9:15, and Lk. 5:34-35, Jesus identifies Himself as the bridegroom. The parables were powerful stories Jesus used to communicate truth but they were also part of the apologetics of Jesus.

The Use of Reason

Jesus commanded us to “Love the Lord your God with all your . . . mind” (Mt. 22:37). Jesus exemplified what it meant to love God with “all your mind." He was the greatest thinker who ever set foot upon the earth. Philosopher Dallas Willard states,

We need to understand that Jesus is a thinker, that this is not a dirty word but an essential work, and that his other attributes do not preclude thought, but only insure that he is certainly the greatest thinker of the human race: ‘the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth.’ He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind.4

Jesus understood that we are created in the image of God. Our creator is a reasonable and rational being. We are thus endowed with the capacity for reason and rationality. In Isaiah 1:18, God invited Israel saying, “Come now let us reason together." God wanted the people of Israel to use their ability to reason and consider the consequences of their behavior.

Jesus showed Himself to be a brilliant apologist who used the laws of logic to reveal truth, demolish arguments, and point out error. The communication of truth and discerning error requires the use of reason. Since our faith is a reasonable faith, reason was part of the apologetics of Jesus.

An example of the use of reason is found in Matthew 12:22-28. Here the Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the Devil. Through the use of reason, Jesus showed their accusation to be false. The argument He used is the argument known as reductio ad absurdum [Latin for "reduction to the absurd"]. This is an argument that demonstrates if the primary premise is supposed to be true, then it leads to a contradiction that is absurd. One would then inevitably have to conclude that the original premise is false.

Jesus responded stating that “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?” Jesus points to the illogical nature of their accusation and further points to the testimony of His miracles that confirm His authority being from God.

Apologetics of Miracles

Something had gone terribly wrong. The Messiah had arrived but the Kingdom, which would be characterized by liberty, freedom, and the just rule of God, had not arrived. Instead, John the Baptist found himself in prison awaiting execution. Confused and discouraged, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Lk. 7:20). Jesus responds by pointing to the testimony of His miracles: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Lk. 7:22-23). When asked by John if He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus defends His claim by pointing to the testimony of His miracles. Miracles represent another component in the apologetics of Jesus.

A miracle is a special act of God that interrupts the normal course of events. Natural laws describe what occurs regularly by natural causes, but miracles describe what happens rarely, by supernatural causes. A miracle is an act of God designed to confirm the word of God through a messenger of God.5

Throughout the Old Testament, God used miracles to confirm His message and His messenger. Christ’s miracles demonstrated that what He claimed about Himself was true and that God’s confirming hand was on the message He preached. Jesus performed a vast array of miraculous signs that demonstrated His divine authority over every realm of creation.

When friendly as well as hostile audiences questioned Jesus, He defended His claims with the testimony of miracles (Mk. 2:1-12, Jn. 2, and 10:22-42). Many who witnessed Christ’s miracles made the connection. Nathaniel, witnessing the omniscience of Christ, responded exclaiming, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." (Jn. 1:49). Nicodemus in his evening visit meets Jesus saying, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn. 3:2).

When Christ establishes His kingdom, all creation will be subject to Him. Sin, sickness, death, and disease will be overcome and the subjects of the kingdom will never be in want. The miracles of Christ reflect His divine character and demonstrate the King of the Kingdom has arrived.

Apologetics was an essential component of Christ’s ministry and should be an important part of any ministry looking to engage this lost world for Christ. The Bible commands us to defend our faith, and Christ set the supreme example for us to follow.

To learn more about the apologetics of Jesus and gain valuable practical lessons from His examples, check out the online store at Probe.org and purchase a copy of the newly released book, The Apologetics of Jesus written by Norman Geisler and myself.

Notes

1. Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 311.
2. Philip Payne, "Interpreting Jesus' Parables," (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge University, 1980), 263.
3. Ibid., 313-17.
4. Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician," Christian Scholars Review (Summer 1999): 610.
5. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 201-2.

© 2009 Probe Ministries

The original version of this article is found at www.probe.org/the-apologetics-of-jesus/. Articles and answers on lots of topics at Probe.org.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Christology

神的圣洁

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很多人一年的复活节才第一次或者第二次去教堂(他们在圣诞节也会去)。复活节看来似乎有某种正面的,给人鼓舞与希望的内容。复活节强调了基督的复活和所有人都将复活的盼望,虽然对于无信仰的人来说,这样的盼望是毫无根据的。

将基督钉在十字架上,在基督的敌人们看来是一个值得庆贺的胜利和对于基督的沉重打击。但是随着我们的主的死亡所发生的事件,一切都彻底改变了。人们为他们所看见的而战抖,带着恐惧离开:

48 聚集观看的众人见了这所成的事都捶着胸回去了(路加2346-48)。我们的主复活并升高到父那里之后,门徒们开始传扬他就是应许的弥赛亚和复活的主(参见使徒行传222-36311-26)。这让那些以为已经永久解决了他并让他沉默的人惊恐不已(见使徒行传41-2)。

对于基督徒来说,我们的主从坟墓中复活是一件令人安慰的事实,并且启示我们将崇敬和敬畏归给他,因为基督的复活证明了他的圣洁。但是这同样的复活将逐渐带给那些拒绝他的人某种内心的恐惧,因为当他再次降临世界时他将以同样的方式击败他的敌人。如果他们真的理解这个含义,我们主的复活就不会给不信者带来安慰。但是,却可能促使不信者悔改并转向他寻求罪的饶恕和永生,就像在五旬节带给数千人的改变一样(见使徒行传237-42)。在我们学习神和他的儿子的圣洁之性质(不要忘记神的圣灵),让我们考虑这一真理在我们寻求敬拜和服侍他的时候可以如何的带给我们新的生命。

神之圣洁的重要性

在开始学习神的圣洁这个主题时,让我们记住这一神圣属性的重要性。司布尔(R. C. Sproul)从以赛亚6章中得到这样的洞见:

经称神是圣哉,圣哉,圣哉。他不仅仅是圣哉,也不仅仅是圣哉,圣哉,他是圣哉,圣哉,圣哉。圣经从来没有说神是爱,爱,爱,或者仁慈,仁慈,仁慈,又或愤怒,愤怒,愤怒,又或义,公义,公义。但是圣经说他是““圣哉,圣哉,圣哉,他的圣洁充满全地。1

洁的定义

词常常被理解为其现代的用法而不是在圣经中真正的含义。因此,我们的研究将从回顾圣洁的若干定义开始。

(1) 成圣就是被从自身所属之类中完全分开,分离。司布尔(Sproul)如是说:

的基本含义是‘分离这个词从词源是‘割下或者分离。也许一个更精确的描述是‘从某物上割下。当我们发现一件衣物或者一件商品十分杰出,远超其余,我们可能用“卓然不群来表达我们的想法。2

这表示一个圣洁的存在是唯一圣洁的,无物可以相较,无物可以匹敌。

当圣经将神成为圣洁之时,原则上是说神是超越的。他是如此遥远与高超,看起来几乎全然与我们不同。成圣就是成为另一个,以一种特殊的方式有所不同。这个含义同样适用于我们称呼地上的事物3

经是这样说的:

 11 耶和华阿,众神之中,谁能象你?谁能象你至圣至荣,可颂可畏,施行奇事?(出埃及记1511)。 2 只有耶和华为圣;除他以外没有可比的,也没有磐石象我们的 神。(撒上22)。

 8 主啊,诸 神之中没有可比你的;你的作为也无可比。 9 主啊,你所造的万民都要来敬拜你;他们也要荣耀你的名。 10 因你为大,且行奇妙的事;惟独你是 神。(诗篇868-10;另见诗篇991-3;以赛亚40255715)。

(2) 成圣就是道德之纯洁。

当一物被成圣,当他们被献上为祭,需要通过洁净以分别。他们以纯洁的方式被使用。与简单的分离一样,他们也表达洁净之意。洁净内含于圣洁的概念中。对于此我们务必谨记圣洁不受限于洁净的概念。它包含洁净,但是远远不止于洁净而已。它是洁净与超越。它是超越的洁净。4

 3 谁能登耶和华的山?谁能站在他的圣所?  4 就是手洁心清、不向虚妄、起誓不怀诡诈的人。 5 他必蒙耶和华赐福,又蒙救他的 神使他成义。(诗篇243-5)。

 3 彼此呼喊说:圣哉!圣哉!圣哉!万军之耶和华;他的荣光充满全地! 4 因呼喊者的声音,门槛的根基震动,殿充满了烟云。 5 时我说:祸哉!我灭亡了!因为我是嘴唇不洁的人,又住在嘴唇不洁的民中,又因我眼见大君王军之耶和华。(以赛亚6:3-5)。

 13a 你眼目清,不看邪僻,不看奸恶;(哈巴谷书113a)。

(3) 称神是圣洁的,意指他的本性的每一个方面都是圣洁的。

当我们用来描述神,我们面临另一个问题。我们常常用一组我们称为属性的形容词和特点来描述他。我们说神是个灵,他是全知的,他是爱,公义,怜悯,仁慈,等等。一种倾向是将圣洁加于这一常常的属性列表之上,以作为众多属性中的一种。但是当词用于神,并非定义了某个单独的属性。神的圣洁是从普遍意义上使用的。这个词是神的神性的同义词。也即可以用于神本身之所是。它提醒我们神的爱是圣洁的爱,他的公义是圣洁的公义,他的怜悯是圣洁的怜悯,他的知识是圣洁的知识,他的灵是圣灵。5

洁有多重要?

神的圣洁不仅仅是一个适合学者讨论和研究的神学主题。实际上,神的圣洁对于每一个活着的灵魂来说都有极大的重要性。基督徒特别应该注重神的圣洁。旧约和新约中的一些事件显了圣洁对于信徒的重要性。这些例子仅仅是圣经中关于神的圣洁及其对于圣徒的影响的少数几个。

摩西和圣洁的神
(民数
201-132712-14

 1 正月间,以色列全会众到了寻的旷野,就住在加低斯。米利暗死在那里,就葬在那里。 2 会众没有水喝,就聚集攻击摩西、亚伦。 3 百姓向摩西争闹说:我们的弟兄曾死在耶和华面前,我们恨不得与他们同死。 4 们为何把耶和华的会众领到这旷野、使我们和牲畜都死在这里呢? 5 们为何逼着我们出埃及、领我们到这坏地方呢?这地方不好撒种,也没有无花果树、葡萄树、石榴树,又没有水喝。 6 摩西、亚伦离开会众,到会幕门口,俯伏在地;耶和华的荣光向他们显现。 7 耶和华晓谕摩西说: 8 你拿着杖去,和你的哥哥亚伦招聚会众,在他们眼前吩咐磐石发出水来,水就从磐石流出,给会众和他们的牲畜喝。 9 于是摩西照耶和华所吩咐的,从耶和华面前取了杖去。 10 摩西、亚伦就招聚会众到磐石前。摩西说:你们这些背叛的人听我说:我为你们使水从这磐石中流出来么? 11 摩西举手,用杖击打磐石两下,就有许多水流出来,会众和他们的牲畜都喝了。  12 耶和华对摩西、亚伦说:因为你们不信我,不在以色列人眼前尊我为圣,所以你们必不得领这会众进我所赐给他们的地去。 13 这水名叫米利巴水,是因以色列人向耶和华争闹,耶和华就在他们面前显为圣。(米利巴就是争闹的意思)(民数记 20:1-13)。

12 耶和华对摩西说:你上这亚巴琳山,观看我所赐给以色列人的地。 13 看了以后,你也必归到你列祖(原文作本民)那里,象你哥哥亚伦一样。 14 为你们在寻的旷野,当会众争闹的时候,违背了我的命,没有在涌水之地、会众眼前尊我为圣。(民数记 27:12-14

摩西向以色列人发怒的理由非常充分。他们真是硬着颈项的百姓,正如神亲口所说(见出埃及记 335)。以色列人来到加低斯,这个地名的意思是。米利暗死在那里,就葬在那里。在加低斯百姓没有水喝。群众开始暴乱,一群暴徒围着摩西和亚伦要将他们置之死地,他们几乎已经成功了。人们指责他们没有将会众领到应许之地。而无水成为群众暴乱的最终借口。

摩西和亚伦来到会幕门口,耶和华的荣光向他们显现。耶和华晓谕摩西拿着杖去吩咐磐石流出水来,这就是以后保罗所说的,预表着基督本人的灵石(哥林多前 104)。但是在暴怒中,摩西并没有仅仅吩咐磐石,而是用杖击打磐石两下。这带来的严重的后果。

谁又没有暴怒,所作的甚于用杖击打磐石呢?但是这个行为在神看来非常严重,所以他禁止摩西进入应许之地。摩西再也不能看见他曾经如此接近的土地。为什么?神告诉他,而他则为我们记录下来,为你们不信我,不在以色列人眼前尊我为圣……(民数2012)。在严厉地处理摩西的过犯时,神说这是不在以色列人眼前尊我为圣13节)。

为一时的激愤,摩西犯罪了,并且因为这罪,他不得进入应许之地。他的罪行是用杖击打磐石。但并不仅仅因此而已。击打磐石是不顺服的行为,因为没有遵守神的指引。由此,神认为这是不信的表现:

12 “耶和华对摩西、亚伦说:因为你们不信我,不在以色列人眼前尊我为圣,所以你们必不得领这会众进我所赐给他们的地去。12节)。

我常常以为摩西不过是犯了某种用杖击打磐石的罪,就像早年那燃烧的荆棘一样(见出埃及记3),一样显示了神的存在。犯罪的根源是不尊重神,这导致了摩西的不顺服,因此他用杖击打磐石。摩西对于百姓的愤怒超过了他对神的敬畏。但他对神的敬畏应该克服他对以色列人的愤怒,所以神将这不尊重看得很重。 6

乌撒与神的圣洁
(撒下 6:1-11)

 1 卫又聚集以色列中所有选的人叁万。 2 卫起身,率领跟随他的众人前往,要从巴拉犹大将 神的约柜运来;这约柜就是坐在二基路伯上万军之耶和华留名的约柜。 3 们将 神的约柜从冈上亚比拿达的家里抬出来,放在新车上;亚比拿达的两个儿子乌撒和亚希约赶这新车。 4 们将 神的约柜从冈上亚比拿达家里抬出来的时候,亚希约在柜前行走。 5 卫和以色列的全家在耶和华面前,用松木制造的各样乐器和琴、瑟、鼓、钹、锣,作乐跳舞。 6 到了拿艮的禾场,因为牛失前蹄(或译:惊跳),乌撒就伸手扶住 神的约柜。 7 神耶和华向乌撒发怒,因这错误击杀他,他就死在 神的约柜旁。 8 卫因耶和华击杀(原文是闯杀)乌撒,心里愁烦,就称那地方为毘列斯乌撒,直到今日。 9 那日,大卫惧怕耶和华,说:耶和华的约柜怎可运到我这里来? 10 于是大卫不肯将耶和华的约柜运进大卫的城,却运到迦特人俄别以东的家中。 11 耶和华的约柜在迦特人俄别以东家中叁个月;耶和华赐福给俄别以东和他的全家(撒下 61-11)。

非利士人俘获了神的约柜并准备将其作为他们的战利品。但是很快他们就发现约柜是一切巨大痛苦的根源。他们到处转移约柜,最后还是决定放弃归还以色列人。根据非利士的祭司和占卜者建议的方式,他们将约柜运出。他们为以色列的圣洁之神放上了赎罪奉献的金子,将其放在新造的车上,由两头刚刚生下小牛的母牛拉车(见撒上6)。

如果非利士人不能在以色列圣洁之神面前站立,约柜所到的伯示麦的人也同样不能。

 19 耶和华因伯示麦人擅观他的约柜,就击杀了他们七十人;那时有五万人在那里(原文是七十人加五万人)。百姓因耶和华大大击杀他们,就哀哭了。 20 伯示麦人说:谁能在耶和华这圣洁的 神面前侍立呢?这约柜可以从我们这里送到谁那里去呢?(撒上 6:19-21).

基列耶琳人就下来,将耶和华的约柜接上去,放在山上亚比拿达的家中,分派他儿子以利亚撒看守耶和华的约柜. 约柜在基列耶琳大约二十年。(撒上71-2)。最后,大卫聚集了30000以色列人,从基列耶琳将约柜取回耶路撒冷。 约柜是神存在的象征,是至圣之物(见撒下62),需要在会幕的至圣所存放,是洁中的至圣。根据神的指示,它由哥辖的子孙用杠穿在约柜环上搬动(见出埃及记2510-22;民数41-20)。其他人不得偷窥约柜,否则处死。

约柜到耶路撒冷的那天是个欢乐的日子。但是人们忘记了约柜的圣洁,忘记了这是神的居所。他们没有按照律法上的指示运输,而将约柜放在新造的牛车上。约柜回家的路程是个喜庆的游行。多么欢乐的时刻呀。但是当牛失前蹄,看来车将倾覆倒地,乌撒伸手扶了约柜。神立刻击杀了乌撒。

卫的第一反应是受挫感和向神怨恨。为何神对乌撒如此严厉?看来大卫是忘记神在律法中指示的运送约柜的方法了。神破坏了他们的庆典,大卫很恼火。经过仔细考虑大卫才认识到所犯的致命错误。至于乌撒,神因为他的不尊重而击杀了他。(撒下 67)。

不尊重是一个危险的毛病。即使我们的动机是诚挚的,我们的行为是在敬拜神,我们也必须时刻记住神是圣洁的,并通过我们对他的指示和命令的顺服来显示对神的尊重。

赛亚和神的圣洁
(赛亚书 6:1-10)

 1 乌西雅王崩的那年,我见主坐在高高的宝座上。他的衣裳垂下,遮满圣殿。 2 其上有撒拉弗侍立,各有六个翅膀:用两个翅膀遮脸,两个翅膀遮脚,两个翅膀飞翔; 3 彼此呼喊说:圣哉!圣哉!圣哉!万军之耶和华;他的荣光充满全地!4 因呼喊者的声音,门槛的根基震动,殿充满了烟云。5 时我说:祸哉!我灭亡了!因为我是嘴唇不洁的人,又住在嘴唇不洁的民中,又因我眼见大君王军之耶和华。6 有一撒拉弗飞到我跟前,手里拿着红炭,是用火剪从坛上取下来的, 7 将炭沾我的口,说:看哪,这炭沾了你的嘴,你的罪孽便除掉,你的罪恶就赦免了。 8 我又听见主的声音说:我可以差遣谁呢?谁肯为我们去呢?我说:我在这里,请差遣我!  9 说:你去告诉这百姓说:你们听是要听见,却不明白;看是要看见,却不晓得。10 要使这百姓心蒙脂油,耳朵发沉,眼睛昏迷;恐怕眼睛看见,耳朵听见,心里明白,回转过来,便得医治。 (以赛亚书61-10)。

乌西雅的死看来代表的犹太的黄金年代的终结。时光过去了;910节所说的时光即将开始。以赛亚的事工是在一个在人看来非常恶劣时间开始的。他的侍奉将不会被承认为成功的(就像很多过去的先知那样的成功)。他受到冰冷的对待。他和他的信息被拒绝。怎样可以给予以赛亚他所需要的正确立场并让他可以忍耐这艰难的时光?答案是:关于神的圣洁的异象。

这正是神给予以赛亚的——对于祂的圣洁的戏剧性启示。他看见主坐在宝座上,无比崇高。天使环绕侍立,彼此呼喊说圣哉!圣哉!圣哉!万军之耶和华;他的荣光充满全地!3节)。大地震动,殿充满了烟云。这正是一个人所能期待看见的神的圣洁之异象。

赛亚的反应远远超过现今我们听见的很多宣称自己在教授圣经真理的人。他没有感觉到自己的了不起。他的自尊没有因此而增强。正好相反,看到神的洁之异象让以赛亚悲叹自己完全的罪孽。如果神是圣洁的,以赛亚则自认不是。以赛亚承认自己的不圣洁和他的百姓的不圣洁。

最引人注目的一点是以赛亚通过他们的见他自己(和他的百姓)的罪。以赛亚承认自己是嘴唇不洁的人,又住在嘴唇不洁的民中。以赛亚如何能够从自己的言语中获得自己的罪的证据?圣经的其他经节大量的说到口舌和我们的罪显明在言语中(例如,参见箴言中很多地方,以及马太1232-37罗马书310-14;雅各31-12)。

注意,如果以赛亚认为祸根是直接指向嘴的,那么医治也是如此。一个撒拉弗用红炭沾了他的嘴,象征性地清洁了他和他的嘴。神希望通过这个异象在以赛亚的生命中实现什么?我相信神希望以赛亚明白,这个圣洁的异象将对他要说的和他如何去说产生巨大的影响。

我通过保罗在哥林多前书1-3和哥林多后2-6中的教导,非常容易的理解了以赛亚书6章中的信息和含义。保罗看起来也因为拙于言辞而受到指责,而其他一些人(特别是那些混在哥林多的假使徒——见哥林多后书1112-33则更加有吸引力,他们能言善道,巧言如簧。但是保罗是一个注重讨神喜悦胜于讨人喜悦的人(哥林多后书215-1641-2)。后果就是,保罗绝不稀释福音的信息来讨好人(哥林多后书21741-2)。他用最简单最清楚的词语说出真理,所以人们可以靠着圣灵来相信和改变,而不用人的聪明来说服别人(哥林多前书21-5)。

给予使徒约翰的启示的开始(记载于启示录),约翰看见主被高举和成圣的异象。这个异象在要求他记录他所见的之先:

19 所以你要把所看见的,和现在的事,并将来必成的事,都写出来。(启示录119,斜体为作者所加)。

一点也不奇怪,我们在圣经的最后一本书的最后部分看见将所见的启示记录保存下来的重要性的强调:

 18 我向一切听见这书上预言的作见證,若冇人在这预言上加添甚么,神必将写在这书上的灾祸加在他身上; 19 这书上的预言,若冇人删去甚么,神必从这书上所写的生命树和圣城删去他的分。(启示录2218-19)。

赛亚是在他的信息将被拒绝和抵抗的日子里成为先知的。人类天生的罪性就是想避免痛苦与迫害,因此,如有可能,他也许希望修改基督的信息和传福音的方式以使得人们可以更高兴的接受。在以赛亚侍奉之初,神就揭示了祂的圣洁,以激励他成为一个忠诚于自己的呼召和神给予的信息的人。以赛亚再也没有失去他所看见的异象,他明白他侍奉的神是让人敬畏与喜悦的。

他的侍奉的荣耀在那给他信息的神那里——他侍奉位神。保罗在他侍奉之初也有类似的经验;在他归信的时候,他看见神的荣光并且终身不忘。他所传讲的福音和侍奉的神的荣耀支持他度过痛苦,不幸,还有被拒绝(包括其他基督徒)。保罗对于他接受的呼召和得到的福音非常忠实,甚至死亡也不能使他改变(参见哥林多后书3-6)。

稣基督的

约所应许到来的弥赛亚的形象渐渐变得明确了,最后可以看到弥赛亚不仅是人,也同时是神(见以赛亚书96-7;弥迦书52)。因此,他必然是圣洁的。也因此,当天使传报玛丽亚圣子将奇迹般从她——一位童贞女——而生,他说,“圣灵要临到你身上,至高者的能力要荫庇你,因此所要生的圣者必称为神的儿子”(路加福音135,斜体为作者所加)。

过我们的主在地上的生活和侍奉,渐渐可以看得清楚他不是一位普通人;实际上,他也不单是一位先知,也不仅仅是人。他是神子。就是污鬼也承认他是神的圣者马可福音124;路加福音434)。耶稣的言行标志他是站在任何(仅仅是人)存在之上的神。彼得曾以打渔为业,但当他顺服了主耶稣的教导,却产生了惊人的结果。彼得的回应是恰当的:

 8 西门彼得看见,就俯伏在耶稣膝前,说:主阿!离幵我,我是个罪人!(路加福音58

当耶稣治愈污鬼附体的哑巴,众人都希奇,说:

在以色列中,从来没冇见过这样的事(马太福音933)。

当耶稣告诉瘫子他的罪一杯赦免,接着治愈了他,人们不能避免如此的推测:

 5 稣见他们的信心,就对瘫子说:小子,你的罪赦了。6 冇几个文士坐在那里,心里议论,说: 7 这个人为甚么这样说呢?他说僭妄的话了。除了神以外,谁能赦罪呢?  8 稣心中知道他们心里这样议论,就说:你们心里为甚么这样议论呢? 9 对瘫子说你的罪赦了,或说起来!拿你的褥子行走;那一样容易呢? 10 但要叫你们知道,人子在地上冇赦罪的权柄。就对瘫子说: 11 我吩咐你,起来!拿你的褥子回家去罢。12 那人就起来,立刻拿着褥子,当众人面前出去了,以致众人都惊奇,归荣耀与神,说:我们从来没冇见过这样的事!(马可福音25-12)。

当那位生来就瞎眼的人被耶稣治愈,文士和法利赛人很不情愿承认这样的奇迹发生了。瞎眼的人可以发生的事情的含义,他将这看法阐明给他的询问者:

 30 那人回答说:他幵了我的眼睛,你们竟不知道他从那里来,这真是奇怪! 31 们知道神不听罪人,唯冇敬奉神、遵行他旨意的,神纔听他。从创世以来,未曾听见冇人把生来是瞎子的眼睛幵了。 33 这人若不是从神来的,甚么也不能做(约翰福音930-33)。

稣早期的侍奉工作中所行的奇迹和征兆指向他的圣洁,就如围绕他的死亡所发生的事情一样。超自然的3时黑暗和殿里的幔子从当中裂为两半(路加福音2344-45

47 百夫长看见所成的事,就归荣耀与神,说:这真是个义人! (路加福音2347)。

50 稣对他说:朋友,你来要做的事,就做罢。于是那些人上前,下手拿住耶稣。51 冇跟随耶稣的一个人伸手拔出刀来,将大祭司的仆人砍了一刀,削掉了他一个耳朵。 52 稣对他说:收刀入鞘罢!凡动刀的,必死在刀下。53 你想,我不能求我父现在为我差遣十二营多天使来么? 54 若是这样,经上所说,事情必须如此的话怎么应验呢?(马太福音2750-54)。

稣钉在十字架上时群众嘲讽的话在他复活之后就显得更有影响了:

 42 他救了别人,不能救自己。他是以色列的王,现在可以从十字架上下来,我们就信他。 43 他倚靠神,神若喜悦他,现在可以救他;因为他曾说:我是神的儿子。(马太福音2742-43,斜体和着重是作者所加)。

对于现在词极感兴趣。他们挑战耶稣立刻从十字架上下来,因此可以不死。如果他这样行了,按照他们的说法,他们就信他。难道他从死亡中复活不更加让人敬畏!从十字架上下来,与从坟墓中复活,那一样更加伟大?耶稣做了更大的事情,所以有些人信了他。

在使徒行传中,不管是彼得还是保罗都特别强调复活的含义:

 23 他既按着神的定旨先见被交与人,你们就藉着无法之人的手,把他钉在十字架上,杀了。24 神却将死的痛苦解释了,叫他复活,因为他原不能被死拘禁。25 卫指着他说:我看见主常在我眼前;他在我右边,叫我不至于摇动。 26 所以,我心里欢喜,我的灵(原文是舌)快乐;并且我的肉身要安居在指望中。 27 因你必不将我的灵魂撇在阴间,也不叫你的圣者见朽坏。(使徒行传223-27,着重为作者所加)。

32 们也报好信息给你们,就是那应许祖宗的话, 33 神已经向我们这作儿女的应验,叫耶稣复活了。正如诗篇第二篇上记着说:你是我的儿子,我今日生你。 34 论到神叫他从死里复活,不再归于朽坏,就这样说:我必将所应许大卫那圣洁、可靠的恩典赐给你们。35 冇一篇上说:你必不叫你的圣者见朽坏。(使徒行传1332-35,着重为作者所加)。

彼得和保罗不仅宣讲耶稣的复活成就了诗篇1610预言,他们还宣讲他是神的圣者,因为他的圣洁,神不会将其灵魂撇在阴间。耶稣从死亡中复活不仅澄清了耶稣是以色列人的弥赛亚,并且也宣示他是被应许的圣者。复活是耶稣基督的圣洁的正式封印。

经常我们发现自己将耶稣仅仅看作曾经有短暂的3年公开侍奉的那一位。但是,他的复活改变了一切,他不再仅仅是个尘世的肉体,而是通过他已改变的身体得到荣耀。他的荣耀和圣洁不再是蒙着面纱的,所以启示录说他是昔在、今在、以后永在。在耶稣死亡之前曾经和主一同行走,曾经靠在他怀里的约翰(见约翰福音1323现在在他面前匍匐,被他的圣洁与荣耀所征服:

 12 转过身来,要看是谁发声与我说话;既转过来,就看见七个金灯臺。 13 灯臺中间冇一位好象人子,身穿长衣,直垂到脚,胸间束着金带。 14 他的头与髮皆白,如白羊毛,如雪;眼目如同火焰;15 脚好象在炉中煆炼光明的铜;声音如同众水的声音。 16 他右手拿着七星,从他口中出来一把两刃的利剑;面貌如同烈日放光 17 我一看见,就仆倒在他脚前,象死了一样。他用右手按着我,说:不要惧怕!我是首先的,我是末后的, Isa 41:4; Isa 44:6; Isa 48:12; 18 又是那存活的;我曾死过,现在又活了,直活到永永远远;并且拿着死亡和阴间的钥匙。19 所以你要把所看见的,和现在的事,并将来必成的事,都写出来。(启示录112-19)。

神的圣洁与教会
(使徒行
51-16;哥林多前1117-34

亚拿尼亚和妻子撒非喇的故事在基督徒中广为人知。早期的教会非常重视穷人。当他们有需要的时候,圣变卖部分家产,将所得放在使徒的脚下,让他们来分配(见使徒行传244-45434-37)。亚拿尼亚和撒非喇也同样做了,但是他们怀有欺心。他们变卖了一些财产但是却没有全部将所得奉献,而是私底下留下部分。他们将余下部分给了使徒,但是说这就是全部。彼得发现了他们的罪,谴责了他们,两人就都死了。全教会和听见这事的人都甚惧怕。

我一直很注重这一对夫妻说谎的事情,还有他们的行为。但是通过学习神的圣洁,我发现了以前未曾思考的两个更加重要的细节。首先,两人对说谎了。他们的欺骗冒犯了神的圣洁。这同时就像坏的酵一样会破坏整个教会(参见哥林多前书56-7)。正如巴拿巴斯的慷慨大方鼓励其他人也同样的放弃所有财产,半心半意,采取欺骗行为的亚拿尼亚夫妻将成为其他教会成员的恶劣榜样。请记住现在教会是神在地上的居所。神是圣洁的,因此他的教会必须也是圣洁的。亚拿尼亚和撒非喇的罪就是挑战圣洁的神和他的教会。

然后,路加还加上了亚拿尼亚和撒非喇的死对于教会和其他人的影响的评论。全教会和听见这事的人都甚惧怕(使徒行传51113)。不信者因为害怕而远离教会,圣徒则因此得到激励而远离世界(其中的罪)。

惧怕是人对于神的圣洁的反应。因此,亚拿尼亚和他的妻子的罪是缺乏敬畏,并干犯了神的圣洁。但是突然爆发出来的神性之圣洁将这对夫妻置于死地还是给那些听见的人带来了恐惧。

在哥林多前11章可以找到有关的经文,那里保罗因为某些人在主的圣餐上行为不轨而指责和劝诫教会。教会通过分享主的身体而和主交通,正如我们在福音书关于最后的晚餐(逾越节)的描述上看到的。有的人可以带来很多食物和饮料,并且在他人基本无力带来食物的时候大肆享用。有的人带着丰盛而奢侈的食物早早的来到,而另一些人则迟到。那些来得早并且带着食物的人不愿意等待他们和分享,所以他们饱食过度这个过程中,有的人喝醉而失控,所以庆祝主的死的仪式成为一种羞耻,就像哥林多那些异教徒邻居们的异教庆典一样了。

罗劝诫哥林多人,不是说他们不配参与圣餐礼,而是说他们的态度配不上圣餐。在KJV版圣经中的不配(Unworthily词在NASB版中翻译为不配的态度(in an unworthy manner。两种翻译都正确反映了原文此处所用的副词而非形容词。大部分基督徒认为保罗责备哥林多人不配(形容词)参加圣餐,而没有正确认识到他是禁止他们以不配的态度(副词)参加圣餐。没有人配得上主的身体和主的宝血,但是我们可以用一种珍重和感激的态度来纪念主。

罗进一步说哥林多人擘饼和饮杯是不配地,他们干犯了主的身体和主的血(哥林多前书1127),因此就是吃喝自己的罪了(29节)。他进一步解释说在圣餐礼上的这种行为导致有好些软弱的与患病的,死的也不少(30节)。

这样理解保罗的话,哥林多人在圣餐礼上犯的罪是不敬畏神。主的身体——他在地上的身体和血——是圣洁的。他作为无罪的献祭代替了我们。主的身体也是教会,同样是圣洁的。在圣餐礼上喝醉和乱行,这个教会显出对基督的物理身体和灵性身体——教会——的漠视。这种不敬冒犯了神,所以他让一些人患病而另一些人死亡。在敬拜时的不尊重态度既代表没有明白神的圣洁的含义也是对神的圣洁的冒犯。不敬是具有可怕后果的重罪。神的圣洁要求我们在敬拜他时保持严肃,不可轻浮。这并不是说我们的敬拜必须不苟言笑,庄严和阴郁。但是我们必须认识到神的临在是严肃的,要谨慎地避免不敬的态度冒犯神的临在。

神的圣洁与当代基督教

神的圣洁不单单是我们赞同的一个教义。反之,神的圣洁这个教义应该指导和约束我们的生活。

(1) 神的圣洁应该引导我们思考神的接

经常听见基督徒提出无条件接说法。这个词首先被用于神,然后又用于信徒。神无条件接纳我们,他们这样推理,所以我们也应该无条件接纳别人。我的诘难是这个说法没有圣经依据。可能更坏的是,这也许就不是一个圣经的概念。神并非不管我们做什么都无条件接纳我们。看看以色列民族。因为他们坚持罪恶,神说他们不再是他的子民(参见何西阿书1)。神没有接受该隐和他所献的祭物(创世纪45)。唯有通过耶稣基督的血,神接受我们,所以即使基督徒也不是不管他们的态度和行为就被无条件接受的。神的圣洁揭示神不会接受那些不圣洁的事物。实际上,神所接受的我们的任何方面的都是他创造并放在我们身上的。过分轻易地说无条件接纳可能会鼓励轻率和不顺服的生活方式。

教会不会那些自称基督徒但是却像异教徒一样生活的人(哥林多前书51-13)。我们必须处罚和开除那些拒绝像一个基督徒一样生活的人。教会是分别为圣的,因此需要将从中清除。那些调无条件接纳的人请考虑下面的话:

14 你要写信给老底嘉教会的使者,说:那为阿们的,为诚信真实见證的,在神创造万物之上为元首的,说: 15 我知道你的行为,你也不冷也不热;我巴不得你或冷或热。 16 你既如温水,也不冷也不热,所以我必从我口中把你吐出去。(启示录314-16)。

(2) 们谈论交账时候应该考虑神的圣洁的教义

认为的概念是从世俗世界引入的。我不完全反对交账,但是教会有时谈论交账给人多过交账给神。我们不应忘记我们要交账的对象:

36 “我又告诉你们,凡人所说的閒话,当审判的日子,必要句句供出来;马太福音1236)。

17 们要依从那些引导你们的,且要顺服;因他们为你们的灵魂时刻儆醒,好象那将来交账的人。你们要使他们交的时候冇快乐,不至忧愁;若忧愁就与你们无益了。(希伯来书1317调为作者所加;另见哥林多前书310-15)。

12 这样看来,我们各人必要将自己的事在神面前说明。(罗马书1412)。

4 们在这些事上,见你们不与他们同奔那放蕩无度的路,就以为怪,毁谤你们。 5 必在那将要审判活人死人的主面前交账。(彼得前书44-5)。

(3) 神的圣洁应该支配我们对自尊的思考。

我被上世纪初一位心理学家的言词所打动,这与我们如今被教导的大有不同:“这种崇敬被心理学家William McDougall引人注目地定义为‘最卓越的宗教情感;人的权势难以激发出崇敬,其中混合了惊奇,畏惧,感激,和自惭形秽的感受。’”7

当以赛亚遭遇神的圣洁而发出"祸哉!我灭亡了!为我是嘴唇不洁的人,又住在嘴唇不洁的民中,又因我眼见大君王军之耶和华。"的惊叹时(以赛亚65),我们如何可以(在最好的意义上)说在基督里我们找到了自我的尊严?

我恐怕我们全部的出发点就错了,我们来到基督那里是为了让我们自我感觉更好而不是谦卑匍匐在他面前,敬畏于他的圣洁。我们的心应该充满感激赞美,因为他赐予我们的恩典。在神面前自以为义的信任我们自己之所是的人,不是将信心放在他所是的真正的基督徒(见路加福音9-14)。

"不论何时,圣洁的人在看见神的存在时也被震动和淹没,因此在圣经中随处可见他们的恐惧和惊奇……人在与庄严的神进行比较之前从来不可能正确地认识和感受到自己的渺小。"

(4) 神的圣洁应该提醒我们如何接受和实践当代教会增动。

当代教会增长运动得到不少称誉8 。然而看来,在这个运动试图通过将寻求者(seekers变成友善的寻求者(seeker-friendly”传福音的时候,没有足够认真的对待神的圣洁性。我将提及我所关注的几点。当教会在主日清晨的基本任务应该是使徒行传242所描述的那样(使徒的教训,彼此交接,擘饼,祈祷。)时,一个教会怎么能将她的基本服务的焦点放在传福音上?或者环中说法,当教会的基本任务是敬拜和教诲时,她如何可以在聚会时关注于传福音?进一步讲,一个人如何可以邀请一个非信徒以非信徒的身份来参与敬拜?圣经教训我们没有这样的寻求者罗马书310-12)。那些得救的人是神所拣选的人,神的灵会复苏他们的心,神会启迪他们的思想。那些死在过犯罪恶中的人,神让他们复活了。(以弗所书21-7)。

神所拣选并通过圣灵在其中工作的人,没有不归向神的,为何需要哪些失丧的人来教会呢?在使徒行传中,得救的人加入教会,而其他的人在离得远远的。在教会增长所强调的这些方面,似乎没有人注意教会通过纪律来缩减,也没有人热情的传扬和实践神的圣洁。当神击打亚拿尼亚和撒非喇致死,不信的人没有蜂拥来到教会,但是所有的人都敬畏神,正如他们应当行的一样。如果敬畏神是智慧的开端,那么神的圣洁就不可忽视。神的圣洁将驱赶一些人离开,但是也会将选民带到十字架前。

当我学习以赛亚6章,哥林多后2-7还有其他一些经文时,我发现以赛亚和保罗都对神的圣洁怀有深深的敬畏。这样的认识让他们成为讨神喜悦的人而非讨人喜悦的人(见加拉太书110)。保罗不会在他的福音信息中添加水分,也不会使用不恰当的不尊重神的圣洁的方法来传福音。被神所拣选又被神拯救的人不需要场推广的方式来拯救。那些理解了神的圣洁的教会将传扬,实践和保卫纯正的福音。

(5) 理解神的圣洁将改变我们在敬拜中的态度和行为。

在旧约中,敬拜具有严格的形式。在新约里,敬拜似乎可以更加自由。旧约中少数的祭祀阶级在新约中变成所有的信徒。但是使徒行传5和哥林多前11强烈的警告我们在敬拜中不够严肃的对待神的圣洁将带来严重的后果。不尊重是最严重的冒犯,我们可以从旧约和新约中找到不少例子。敬拜是神持续关注是否尊重祂的一个领域。我为那些怀着热情和喜悦参加敬拜,却非常清楚的违反神有关教会在敬拜时当如何做的指示的人感到伤心。同样,乌撒在伸手扶约柜的时候,按照他的角色他既诚挚又热心,但是神却因为他缺乏尊重而处死了他。摩西被禁止进入应许之地,乃是因为他的不尊重和没有完全精确地顺服神对于他的指示。这带来了下一个要点。

9 当以圣洁的妆饰敬拜耶和华;全地要在他面前战抖! 诗篇969)。

(6)对于神的圣洁的合宜反应是敬畏,从敬畏而出的是顺服。

当我看圣经中关于神的圣洁的描述,发现从人的心中应当发出敬畏来,而敬畏和服从则有非常强的关联。例如,在以弗所书533,妻子应当尊重(字面意思是害怕)她的丈夫。妻子对丈夫的顺服常常用服从他来表达(参见彼得前书35-6)。敬畏或者害怕带来服从。同样的关联可以从彼得前书213-25罗马书131-7有关公民对于政权,以及奴隶对于主人的态度中看到。

对神的敬畏是理解其圣洁的结果。因此也是很多美德的源头。敬畏是知识的开端(箴言17)。它让我们厌恶和避免恶(箴言813166)。它也是强烈信心的基础(箴言1416),是生活的根本(箴言1427)。神的圣洁是很多奇妙的果实的根,它让我们从心中涌出对于那唯一的圣者神的尊重。

(7)神的圣洁是我们成圣所必需的基础。

神的圣洁是我们被要求过圣洁生活的理由:

14 们既作顺命的儿女,就不要效法从前蒙昧无知的时候那放纵私慾的样子。 15 那召你们的既是圣洁,你们在一切所行的事上也要圣洁。 16 为经上记着说:「你们要圣洁,因为我是圣洁的。」 17 们既称那不偏待人、按各人行为审判人的主为父,就当存敬畏的心度你们在世寄居的日子, 18 知道你们得赎,脱去你们祖宗所传流虚妄的行为,不是凭着能坏的金银等物,19 乃是凭着基督的宝血,如同无瑕疵、无玷污的羔羊之血。(彼得前书114-19

为神是圣洁的,我们作为他的百姓也必须洁。圣洁是我们得到的呼召(以弗所书14罗马书829;帖撒罗尼迦前书43)。我们必须实践和向世界宣扬神尊贵,而其中最尊贵的就是神的圣洁。

(8)神的圣洁让福音为荣耀的需要。

当我思想神和主耶稣基督的圣洁(并不排除圣灵)时,我更深深的对髑髅地的十字架充满敬畏。我时常思想我们的主在客西马尼的园中受到的极大痛苦。通常,我将他的痛苦看作他在思想将承受父神的愤怒——那本该我们承受的愤怒——时的恐惧。但是对神的圣洁的学习提醒我那是圣洁的神对于罪——对我们的罪——强烈厌恶。主耶稣这圣洁的神忍受着对罪的强烈反感,却背负着整个世界的罪走向髑髅地。耶稣不仅痛苦于父神的愤怒,也痛苦与他所背负的我们所有人的罪。多么奇妙的救主!

从我对教会史的理解,重生总是和生命更新,更强的感觉神的圣洁,以及更清楚地确认自己个人的罪有关。如果神的圣洁在我们生命中成就就像我们读到的圣经人物例如以赛亚的生命中一样,我们将更加深刻的认识到自己的最和我们对于饶恕的深刻需要。不圣洁,我们不能进入神的天国。在他的圣洁中,神为我们的罪做好的准备。通过他自己在髑髅地十字架上的牺牲,耶稣基督付完了我们罪的赎价,因此让我们可以分有他的圣洁。当我们承认我们的罪,我们的不义,并相信基督为我们的行为而死,我们就重生了。我们的罪被赦免了。我们的不洁被清洗干净了。我们成为神的孩子。

复活节的星期天是我们庆祝耶稣基督从死亡中复活的日子。如果你将信心放在他那里,这一天也将成为你从死亡中获得新生的日子。

 1 们死在过犯罪恶之中,他叫你们活过来。2 时,你们在其中行事为人,随从今世的风俗,顺服空中掌权者的首领,就是现今在悖逆之子心中运行的邪灵。 3 们从前也都在他们中间,放纵肉体的私慾,随着肉体和心中所喜好的去行,本为可怒之子,和别人一样。 4 然而,神既冇丰富的怜悯,因他爱我们的大爱, 5 当我们死在过犯中的时候,便叫我们与基督一同活过来。你们得救是本乎恩。 6 他又叫我们与基督耶稣一同复活,一同坐在天上, 7 要将他极丰富的恩典,就是他在基督耶稣里向我们所施的恩慈,显明给后来的世代看。(以弗所21-7)。


1 R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), p. 40.

2 Ibid., p. 54

3 Ibid., p. 55.

4 Ibid., p. 57.

5 The relationship between fear (or reverence) and obedience is indicated in the New Testament as well as the Old. In 1 Peter 1, Peter calls upon the saints to live in fear of God (1:17). In chapter 2, fear (reverence or respect) is the root of obedience to kings, to cruel slave masters, and obedience to harsh husbands (3:1-6; see also Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:33). Irreverence is the root of disobedience.

6 William McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology (New York: Methuen, 1908), p. 132, cited by Kenneth Prior, The Way of Holiness (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, rev. ed., 1982), p. 20.

7 John Calvin, as cited by R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, p. 68.

8 See Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), pp. 21-24, for some of the positive contributions of the movement. The rest of the book deals with its critical deficiencies.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Character of God

2. The Addressees in Paul's Salutations

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The Addressees in Paul’s Salutations

The inaugural essay on ‘theological development’ was an introduction to the topic; this is the second essay in what will most likely be a long series. But to speak about Paul’s salutations—and specifically, the addressees in Paul’s salutations—may seem like an odd place to begin. Surely there are more important issues that can be addressed. That is true enough, but I wanted to begin with something that was simple and straightforward, easy to detect, and often overlooked. The addressees in Paul’s salutations fit the bill quite nicely.

In the corpus Paulinum there are thirteen letters purported to be from the apostle. There is also the epistle to the Hebrews, an anonymous work which most scholars today would say is not by Paul. But of the 13 that have his name affixed, I would agree with most conservative scholars that all are by the apostle.

Chronologically, we can lay out Paul’s letters as follows1:

  • Galatians (48-49)
  • 1 Thessalonians (50)
  • 2 Thessalonians (50)
  • 1 Corinthians (54)
  • 2 Corinthians (55)
  • Romans (56-57)
  • Ephesians (60)
  • Colossians (60)
  • Philemon (60)
  • Philippians (61)
  • 1 Timothy (63)
  • Titus (63)
  • 2 Timothy (64)

If we exempt those letters sent to individuals (1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon), and focus only on the ones sent to churches, an interesting pattern emerges. Note the following:

Gal 1:1–22:

From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead) and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia.

1 Thess 1:1:

From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thess 1:1:

From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Cor 1:1–2:

From Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes, our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

2 Cor 1:1:

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia.

Rom 1:1, 7:

From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints

Eph 1:1:

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:1–2:

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, at Colossae.

Phil 1:1:

From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.

There are several interesting things to note about these various salutations, but our focus is on the description of the recipients. In Galatians, Paul calls them ‘the churches of Galatia.’ In 1 Thessalonians, he describes them as ‘the church of the Thessalonians.’ Same thing in 2 Thessalonians. But in 1 Corinthians, he does something new. He calls his readers saints: “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints.” He does the same in 2 Corinthians: “to the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia.” Ditto in Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians.

What should also be observed is that he addresses the Galatians, Thessalonians, and Corinthians as a ‘church’ (or ‘churches’), but does not do this after 2 Corinthians. The one constant in each letter is the place name, but the addressees are described variously. On a trajectory, however, we can see an interesting phenomenon: once Paul calls a group of believers ‘saints’ he never looks back. Further, he begins to do this in his letter to the Corinthians.

What are we to make of this? Are the salutations the only indicator of Paul’s view of his recipients? Doesn’t he use ‘saints’ to describe them elsewhere? Perhaps Paul does use ‘saints’ of believers in the Thessalonian correspondence (he doesn’t use the word at all in Galatians). On two occasions he uses the plural form ἅγιοι, 1 Thess 3:13 and 2 Thess 1:10. The first could possibly refer to believers, but hardly the second. It is of course not impossible for Paul to speak of human beings as ‘holy ones’; this was done, though infrequently, in the OT.3 But we should not assume that that he is doing so just because in most of his letters to churches he does address the believers as saints. This is one of the reasons that a chronological approach to the NT is important.

It may not be coincidental that Paul begins using the term ἅγιοι when addressing the Corinthians. One cannot argue that he did not use this word in Galatians because these believers were un-saintly, since he also does not use it in his letters to the Thessalonians (and they were saintly). Galatians may be the only letter in the Pauline corpus in which the recipients are not praised, but the lack of ἅγιοι in the salutations to the Thessalonians cannot be explained on this basis (cf., e.g., 1 Thess 1:2–10, which is in many respects one long thanksgiving for these believers). Further, the Corinthians were messed up folks, too! So why would he use the term in describing them?

Probably the reason why Paul used the term first in his salutations to the Corinthians is because here he wanted to focus on their saved status, even if their state was quite different from that. This was typical of Paul: focus on the indicatives of the faith as a sure basis for behavioral change. Imperatives can only come if indicatives are in place. In other words, one cannot obey without knowing that he or she has the ability to obey. And part of that ability is resident within our status before God. It may well be that Paul is thinking along the lines of the position of angels, or ‘holy ones’ (ἅγιοι) and is recognizing that those who are in Christ are every bit as holy as angels from heaven’s perspective (cf. Zech 14:5). However, it is more likely that Paul is thinking about what the people of God, in the OT, were commanded to be (cf. the LXX at Exod 22:31; Lev 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:6; Num 15:40). Rare is the statement that they already were ‘holy’ and when such a statement is used it most likely means that they were set apart to God, not that they were necessarily living in a holy manner.

What this means is that Paul is fleshing out a theological shift between the people of God in the OT and the people of God in the NT. In the NT, with the coming of Christ, our status before God has been determined by Christ’s place on the cross. It may have dawned on Paul that calling a group of squabbling, selfish Christians ‘holy’ is exactly how God thought of them because of what Christ did. Paul became hyper-sensitive to this issue, since he was charged with having a gospel that had lowered God’s standards of righteousness by allowing Gentiles into the community without having to become circumcised. He begins to articulate his thoughts in his letter to the Galatians, but they do not reach full maturity until Romans. There he will defend his gospel as upholding God’s righteousness at every turn (cf. Rom 3:21–26). But by the time he writes the Corinthians, you can almost see the wheels turning. Although these believers are not living godly lives, they are still, in God’s view, saints. And rather than lowering God’s standard of righteousness, this view actually elevates it above the OT standard in that it depends entirely on what Christ accomplished permanently in his sacrifice.

Some will object that Paul’s not calling the Galatians or Thessalonians is merely coincidental and that the chronological view really reveals nothing at all. But that is unlikely. This first usage is explained, as though it’s a new idea to the readers. Notice again 1 Cor 1:1–2: “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints…” The verb ‘sanctified’ is from the same root as ‘saints’ (ἡγιασμένοις, ἁγίοις). This is standard fare for Paul when he is connecting the theological dots in new ways.4 Further, although it is quite debatable whether Paul uses ἅγιοι anywhere in the Thessalonian correspondence to refer to Christians, this is not the case later. Once he does so in his salutation to the Corinthians, he continues to use the term as a badge of identification for the believers in Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 3:17; 6:1, 2; 16:1, 15; cf. also 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1, 12) and elsewhere (Rom 12:13; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:15; Eph 1:15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18; Phil 4:21, 22; Col 1:4, 12, 26). At most, only one instance of ἅγιοι in Paul’s first three letters could refer to believers, while positive identification occurs in every one of the next six letters, often multiple times. This strikes me as more than coincidental.

If this view is right, then a couple of observations are in order.

First, the fact that Paul does not call the Galatians ‘saints’ does not mean that he did not regard them as true believers. Their spiritual status must be determined entirely apart from the lack of this designation, since the Thessalonians also are not called saints.

Second, the letter to the Laodiceans (a second-century forgery, as though written by Paul) is something of a pastiche of some of Paul’s letters. But the salutation begins by speaking of the readers as ‘the brothers and sisters who are in Laodicea.” It does not call them saints. If our trajectory of Paul’s articulation is correct, then this datum would be useful in denying authenticity to the Laodicean letter (as if there were any doubt!). I would argue on a larger scale that theological trajectories on the micro-linguistic/conceptual level may well be used, if done so with caution and cumulative force, to test authenticity.

Third, development in articulation is not necessarily development in understanding or theology. That is to say, Paul from the beginning of his ministry would see the cross as Christ’s finished work that saves us, as that which supplies our standing before God without merit of our own. He doesn’t need to call a group ‘saints’ before such an understanding is evident. At the same time, his changing terminology does seem to indicate a growing clarity in expression which, in turn, may indicate a certain depth of reflection about the cross-work of Christ for him. It is one thing to say that I believe that Jesus has paid it all; it is quite another to think about the ramifications of that truth for decades and to articulate those ramifications. In my view, even though Paul was writing scripture this would not preclude him from maturing throughout the space of his canonical letters in his reflections, expressions, verbiage, metaphors, and concepts about his Lord and Savior. After all, the Bible is both the Word of God and the words of men.


1 I won’t take time to defend this order or these dates; see my introductions to NT books (all at http://www.bible.org/series.php?series_id=220 ) to get the data. There you will also see the degree of certainty/tentativeness I have on several of these dates.

2 All scripture is quoted from the NET Bible.

3 “Only rarely are the members of the holy nation called saints or holy [that is, as a statement of fact rather than obligation]. In a late wisdom Ps. saints are mentioned in parallel to those who fear Yahweh (Pss. 34:9 [MT 10]; cf. 16:3, where the context is unfortunately corrupt). In Dan. 7:18 they are those who stand by their God in the war between Yahweh and the world powers, and receive the kingdom” (H. Seebass, “Holy, Consecrate, Sanctify, Saints, Devout,” 3 (c) ii in NIDNTT).

4 See my discussion of metaphors for Christ in Paul in Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance (Bern: Peter Lang, 2008), in the section that discusses Titus 2:13.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

3. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and an Emerging Canon Consciousness

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“And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe” (NET).

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (ESV).

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (TNIV).

On the surface, 1 Thess 2:13 includes some of the major elements of bibliology: dual authorshiphuman personality involved in delivering God’s message, though God is the effective cause; canonicity—the Thessalonians accepted the Pauline teaching as the word of God; illumination/transformationνεργεται (this message is now working in those who believe). The point about canonicity is clearer in the ESV and the TNIV than in the NET because the NET has translated λγον θεο as ‘God’s message’ while the ESV and TNIV translate it as ‘the word of God.’

Does this verse mean that Paul really knew that he was speaking and writing scripture? If so, it is the earliest reference to such canon consciousness within the New Testament. And if that is the case, then we have an excellent basis for seeing this emerging canon consciousness as something that was from the beginning.

If we compare this statement to Peter’s admonition (1 Pet 4.11) about spiritual gifts, however, we may get a different take on things: “Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God” (NRSV); “If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (NET) [ε τις λαλε, ς λγια θεο]. Should we say that those with teaching gifts are uttering new revelation when they teach? Even minimally, are their words inspired? Yet Peter’s statement comes at least a dozen years after Paul’s. Has he retreated from Paul’s self-conscious inscripturating activity? Or has he included countless unnamed individuals to the list of those who penned scripture?

It might be argued that a different word for ‘word’ is used in 1 Peter 4: λγια instead of λγος. This is true, but probably irrelevant since, if anything, λγια is a stronger, more specific term than λγος.

But to keep to the exact phrase, we do see in the New Testament that many are said to proclaim the ‘word of God.’ Consider the following texts (every reference has λγος θεο in Greek; the translation is that of the NET):

Acts 4:31—“they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously”

Acts 6:7—“The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Acts 8:14—“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.”

Acts 13:5—“When they arrived in Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.”

Acts 13:46—“Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles.”

Acts 17:13—“But when the Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul had also proclaimed the word of God in Berea, they came there too, inciting and disturbing the crowds.”

2 Cor 2:17—“For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God.”

2 Tim 2:9—“for which I suffer hardship to the point of imprisonment as a criminal, but God’s message is not imprisoned!”

Heb 13:7—“Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.”

Rev 1:9—“I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus.”

Rev 6:9—“Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given.”

It is evident in most of these passages that ‘the word of God’ is speaking about the Christian message. The standard lexicon by Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich, in fact, says that each of these passages, and plenty more, is speaking about the Christian message rather than the Bible. To be sure, there are some passages in the New Testament in which ‘word of God’ refers to the written word of God, that is, the Old Testament (e.g., Matt 15:6; John 10:35; Rom 9:6), but this is a far less common meaning.

What should be recognized in at least the majority of the texts quoted above is that, on the one hand, the apostolic witness to Christ regarded itself as verbalizing the word of God—or the message from God about Christ—because the ultimate revelation was in Jesus. When Paul speaks of “carrying out the proclamation of the word of God” (Col 1.25) he is not speaking about proclaiming scripture (which would have been the Old Testament) but proclaiming the message about Jesus. Even in 1 Thess 2.13, this must be the case: the ‘word of God’ that Paul is referring to is the proclamation he and Silas made in Thessalonica, not the letter of 1 Thessalonians since he is referring to what he and Silas proclaimed in person before this letter was ever penned. Hence, we must not think that ‘word of God’ = Bible as a rule. On the other hand, Paul recognized that his message originated with God, not with himself. And at some point, it was a natural development for the early church to regard the apostolic writings as scripture, though this did not seem to explicitly happen, except in isolated instances, until the latter half of the second century.

There is thus an emerging ‘canon consciousness’ with respect to the apostolic writings. By AD 50, it is not yet there. There are two passages in the New Testament, both written much later, that are often cited as proof texts that the New Testament writers were self-consciously writing scripture, or at least that they were calling other portions of the New Testament ‘scripture.’ We will examine those in another study, but for now the question that we are raising is this: When did the early church begin to see the writings of the New Testament as scripture? When did they begin to place them explicitly on the same level of authority as the Old Testament? Did it take place within the pages of the New Testament itself, or only later? And, if later, how much later? All of this is part and parcel to the theological development within the New Testament (and beyond) that begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is that radical event that ultimately changed how a small band of Jews would think of God, scripture, the people of God and, above all, the Messiah.

Related Topics: Canon

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