Friday, March 11, 2011

The Oracles (λογια) of God vs. the Orator (Λογος) of God

In Romans 3:2, Paul is answering his own question about the advantage of being a Jew if the salvation of God extends to the Gentiles and the judgment of God comes upon the Jews under the same conditions. One of the advantages he offers is that
“the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”
The word translated “oracles” is the plural form (it only occurs in the plural in the NT) of the Greek word λόγιον (lōgion) which is clearly related to the more common world logos (λόγος).
It is significant that Paul uses this word to point out the advantage that the Jew has over the Gentile. Even though Jesus, the Divine Logos, was a Jew, he does not belong uniquely to the Jews so as to give them an advantage when it comes to the righteousness of God (a major theme in Romans). Rather they have an advantage in possessing the “oracles” of God. This term is used three other times in the NT
Acts 7:38 (ESV) — This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.
Hebrews 5:12 (ESV) — For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,
1 Peter 4:11 (ESV) — whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The “oracles'” of God then are the specific revelations of God whether in the Mosaic Law or through the apostolic and prophetic ministry within the church. They are the teachings about and from God given to His people to instruct them how to live. λόγιον is this Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word (אִמְרָה imrah)translated “word” in English in Psalm 119 (Ps. 118 in the LLX; verses 11, 38, 41, 50, 58, 67, 76, 82, 103, 116, 123, 133, 140, 158, 162, 170, 172)
The ethical implications of the “oracle” can be seen sharply in Ps. 119:11:
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”
The Hebrew is singular, but translated with the plural neuter in the Septuagint. The LXX reads, “in my heart I hid your oracles that I might not sin against you.” The revelations, or words of God, given to His special people, the Jews, have an advantage of restraining sin through law (by law, I do not mean simply the Mosaic Law as a set of rules to followed, but law as revealed principles about what is good for mankind as a creature in the image of God). They are, according to the author of Hebrews, the milk, or basic principles, of the truth.
God’s self revelation in terms of man’s good (ethics/morality) is a far cry from His revelation of Himself in the Divine Logos, Jesus Christ. The Logos is not a revelation about man, but a self-disclosure of God to man, to save man from himself. Jesus is not just another saying from God, but the very presence of God in human form, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Logos is not particularly Jewish, though he “was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:2). He is the universal, timeless, revelation of the true nature of God as God. In Him alone is salvation, and not in any logia (oracles) from God. Salvation is not found in specific formulations traced back to specific prophets. It is not found in a truth about God, no matter how orthodox. It is found only in His unique Son, Jesus Christ, the Logos who from the beginning was with God and who was God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Believe AND Doubt Not

Too often in our prayers we hedge our bets. We try to pray both sides of an issue, just in case God doesn’t
come through.
This has become especially apparent to me recently in praying with my children for the “little” issues that weigh on their hearts. I tend to avoid praying really specific things out loud in front of my children, lest God fail to “come through” and my children begin to disbelieve the power of prayer. But this kind of thinking is exactly backwards. I should be stepping out in faith and praying prayers that my children will be able to recognize as “answered” when God does in fact “come through.” After all, it’s His reputation on the line, not mine.
This realization came to the forefront the other day as I was translating James 1 and came across one of the Greek words translated “doubt” in the NT. Some interesting insights ensued as I looked into the nuances of this and other words translated “doubt” in the NT.
  • διακρίνω [diakrino - a “diacritical mark” (e.g. the little slanty line above the iota in διακρίνω) is a distinguishing mark]  – This is the verb translated “not doubting” in Js. 1:6. It is often coupled with the command or condition of faith, such as “if you believe and do not doubt”. In the active voice διακρίνω has the meaning of “to decide, to judge, to discern.” But in the middle and passive voices it can carry the meaning of “to doubt, to waver.” This meaning does not arise until the NT where it gets its meaning from the contrast to faith.
  • διαλογισμός (dialogismos – related to English “dialogue”)– only in Luke 24:38 when Jesus presents himself to the disciples and asks them, “why do doubts arise in you hearts?”. He then provides the proof needed to remove those doubts. This word has the more common meaning of “reasoning," “opinion” or “dispute”. It seems to mean “doubt” in the sense that one has conflicting opinions or arguments on both sides of a matter so that he cannot come to a firm conclusion.
  • διστάζω (distazo) – Used when Jesus chastises Peter for floundering when walking on the water in the question “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31). This word carries the idea of “doubt, hesitating” and is used in the NT only of actions (cf. also those who doubted or hesitated to worship Jesus after his resurrection in Mt. 28:17 just before the Great Commission).
In response to their marveling at the fig tree that had withered under Jesus’ curse, Jesus tells the disciples,  “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt (διακρίθῆτε, a passive form of διακρίνω) you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Mt. 21:21 ESV). There are two conditions listed. The first is to have faith and the second is to not doubt. While closely related, the distinction between the two should not be ignored.
Similarly, in James, the Lord’s brother commands the person lacking wisdom to ask God for it and follows with a promise that “it will be given to him” (Js. 1:5). But then comes the condition. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting (διακρίνω), for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” It would seem that James, Jesus’ younger half-brother, learned a thing or two from his Big Bro. He combines the notions of having faith and not doubting in the same way Jesus does in Matthew’s Gospel. They are distinct ideas, not merely repetitions of the same thought. The charge to have faith is distinct from the charge to not doubt. To doubt is not the opposite of to believe. Rather the opposite of believing is disbelieving. Doubt is a wavering as the result of an inner conflict or argumentation.

What can we conclude from this mini word study?
First, we are to have faith in God. That is, we are to trust Him because He is faithful.
Second, if we want to experience the full potential of the power of prayer, we must do what it takes to rid ourselves of our doubts that cause us to waver, to hesitate and to have ongoing disputes in our hearts.
But how?
Part of the process for doing this, I believe, is doing exactly what Peter did in stepping off the boat. He exercised his faith in face of his doubts. He learned that Jesus would reach out His hand and not let him drown. We can do what the disciples did when they doubted the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection – we can look for more evidence and put ourselves in a place where Jesus can reveal himself to us personally.
We can respond as the father who brought his son to Jesus’ disciples for a failed exorcism and then, after getting in an argument with them, finds himself turning to Jesus himself for help. Upon hearing of the failure of his disciples, Jesus chastises “this faithless generation” and orders the boy brought before him. The man, in desperation pleads, “But, if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.” Does this prayer sound familiar? Do you see the condition placed on it? Jesus does. His response is incredulous. “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Let’s stop here for a moment. This is where I live much of the time. I hear Jesus saying “all things are possible!” but I’m still pleading, “if you can…” “if it’s your will…” I live with “little faith” and am justly rebuked by Jesus.
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” ” (Mk. 9:25)
This too is my prayer, my desperate entreaty. I believe; help my unbelief. I believe; help me doubt not.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hermes, Jesus and the Meaning of Life

After His resurrection, Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not yet recognize Him as their resurrected Lord, but began to explain to Him why they are so downcast. They told him of heir hopes that were dashed when Jesus,  “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” (Lk. 24:19) was crucified and entombed. And now, on the third day since his crucifixion, they were bewildered, unsure of whether to believe reports about His resurrection.
Jesus chastised them, and then, as any good teacher would, he turned their conversation into a teachable moment.
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk 24:25–27 ESV)
What I wouldn’t give to have listened to this conversation with Jesus (in English!). Oh, to have him “interpret” (NIV: “explain”) for me Moses and the Prophets!
What did this “interpretation” involve? What did He say? What verses did He cite? Did he work from the Hebrew Scriptures or the Septuagint? While we don’t have a record of what Jesus told the disciples, we can gain significant insight into a key interpretive principle recorded in the words of Luke.
But first, let’s do a little Greek!
The word translated “interpreted/explained” is ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō) from which we get the word “hermeneutics” (the art and science of [biblical] interpretation). It is etymologically related to the Greek god Hermes, who was the messenger of the gods credited with discovering language and writing.
Of course, the modern thinker rejects the idea that there is a “messenger-god” who brings divine language and meaning to us from beyond the mortal realm. Rather, each person is left to find (or create) meaning for him or her self. Indeed, many today question whether any message from or about the divine can even be meaningfully expressed. Others (e.g. Derrida) balk that any claim to possess “the meaning” is really a power play for a god-like control over others.
But in Jesus we have a clear affirmation that not only is meaning attainable – that interpretation is not a vain pursuit – but that He is the one who makes it attainable.
Jesus is our Hermes. He is the Divine Logos (Word). He is the real presence of God, communicating the divine essence to mortal man. He is the Word become flesh.
It is this reality that brings meaning to the Bible and to life in general. When Jesus interprets the OT for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he centers it’s meaning on His own life, ministry, death and resurrection. Only when bare facts and bare texts find their proper context in a proper relation to Jesus do they find ultimate meaning.
So, while we agree with the secular rejection of the Hermes myth, we do not reject the underlying premise that for language and life to be meaningful, it must have a divine origin.
Concerning Jesus Paul writes, “all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16b-17)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Obama the Platonist Philosopher King?

ὁ βάσιλευς φιλόσοφος 
In a recent WORLD Magazine article, D. C. Innes makes the following observation
James T. Kloppenberg, in his book Reading Obama, argues that the president is philosophically driven, coming from the tradition of American pragmatism. Obama is a kind of philosopher president. Whether he is or not, he has been trying to govern as though he were a philosopher king. 
He then goes on to give a pretty good, concise explanation of Plato's "Philosopher-King" ideal. 
In The Republic, Plato presents the philosopher king as the ideal form of government: rule by one wise person who is whole-heartedly devoted to the truth and therefore incorruptible. The philosopher king, by this definition, would understand the science of all things, including the science of government, its technique and its proper ends, and so also the science of what is good for human beings as such. Because of his unparalleled wisdom and public-spiritedness, he would, of course, govern without the restraint of law. After all, any restraint upon science would be, to that extent, the rule of ignorance, which cannot be good.
While I am not interested in making political commentary here, I am interested in discussing Plato's ideal and whether it is transferable to the Christian cosmology (view of the world). 

For Plato, the philosopher-king was the ideal ruler because he could live in both worlds, so to speak. As a philosopher, he understands the true nature of things independent of their material appearance (the world of "forms"). As a king, he lives in the world of shadows and rules those who falsely believe the shadows are the real world (here you should recall your reading of Plato's Allegory of the Cave in high-school, but just in case it's not so fresh, here's a refresher).

There is much that the Christian can relate to in Plato's Analogy of the Cave. We too believe that there is a higher order of reality that supersedes the transitory experiences of this life. The fleeting moments of insight, pleasure, and unity are not in the end, the whole picture. There is an ultimate consummation of these things. Fleeting insight will be transformed into an unfaltering gaze upon the God of all knowledge. Momentary pleasure will be settled into unending delight in the Creator. And the connections we sometimes experience with others in this life will become a deep harmony with all the created order in the next.

Of all the great theologians of the church, none was more influential nor unabashedly Platonic in his thinking than Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). Indeed he affirms about the Platonists "we prefer these to all other philosophers, and confess that they approach nearest to us" ( However, he differs in at least one crucial way -- he recognizes there can be no human philosopher-king. Unlike Augustine, Platonists do not believe in the Fall (in a biblical sense) nor in the depravity of man. Christians believe the only lover of wisdom (i.e. philosopher - φιλοσ + σοφια) fit to rule mankind is the Author and Source of wisdom.

In the same manner, the human philosopher-king is incompatible with a democracy (or more properly, republic) such as ours. The checks and balances instituted by America's founding fathers were instituted to counter human depravity by keeping power from the hands of the few and providing a process of nonviolent reform. They lacked faith in any one man to both know and do the Good. But there is One in Whom such faith should be placed, though, as His disciples slowly learned, He did not come to rule as an earthly king.

So in philosophy and politics alike, , we must concur with, not with the Greek Philosopher (Plato), but with the Latin Doctor of the Church (Augustine), and place our ultimate hope for change in no mere man, but always and only in the one God-Man fit to be our Philosopher-King (Jesus Christ).