Studies in Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

ezekiel

I posted these articles a few years ago when I was doing my study on eschatology.

Since I wrote them, they have become some of my most read posts that draws some of the biggest traffic to my otherwise small, obscure blog. The one thing I failed to do, and should have, because I was short sighted as to how popular they would be, is post them in one article for easy access. Rather than having to find all 6 via the link tags, here they all are in one place for easy availability.

I would encourage folks to read them in order from start to last, because they build upon themselves as I get to the thorny question as to a real, historic and future temple where animal sacrifices will function and how that relates to the work of Christ on the cross.

Resources on Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

Interpreting Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

Literally Reading Ezekiel 40-48

Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48

Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifices and Hebrews

Answering Objections to Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifice

Jesus and Taxes

jesusconstitutionTime Traveling Kenny Loggins wants you to read this oversized document

I wanted to offer up a comment or two regarding a couple of articles from the Christian Libertarian Institute blog that an acquaintance passed along to me.

Taxation is Theft. Yes, Really

and

Taxation is Theft. (The Rest of the Story)

The articles are Jamin Hubner’s clumsy, hamfisted presentation for the notion that government taxation is theft and Jesus would never, ever approve of it.

Long time readers of my blog may recognize the name, Jamin Hubner. I tangled with Jamin a few years ago when he was flirting with Biologos-like ideas regarding the book of Genesis and what it tells us about creation. Those articles can be found HERE for those interested. He used to swirl about in my orbit of theological associates, blogging occasionally for James White and Alpha and Omega Ministries, as well as maintaining his own personal blog and doing a bit of podcasting.

His growing notoriety at the time, coupled with a sloppy handling of theological subjects, brought him under the scrutiny of additional critics other than myself and he eventually retreated from the internet blogging world. Since then, he started teaching at John Witherspoon College, received a doctorate from South Africa University (where, ironically, Ergun Caner received his), has become a shill for so-called feminist evangelicals, even being scheduled to speak at one of their navel gazing mugs and muffins conferences next year, and now quotes N.T. Wright liberally.

Somewhere along the line with all of that, he also started dabbling in economic theory and libertarian political philosophy and here we are with these two articles.

His first article quotes a bunch of academics on economics and dismisses any evangelical who cites Romans 13 as teaching that Paul taught taxation was entirely legit and Christians are required to pay taxes. Rather than even addressing what Paul argued in Romans 13, Jamin says he is gonna take it back to what Jesus actually said on the matter from the Gospels. That approach makes me wonder what he thinks about Paul. Seeing that Jesus inspired Paul to write Romans, what he wrote in chapter 13 about Christians and government and taxes would be Jesus’s thoughts on the matter, but oh well.

The second article is an attempt to explain why Jesus believed taxation is theft. According to Jamin, Jesus couldn’t just come out and condemn Roman taxation as theft because He and His disciples would be killed by the authorities. It is similar to how Jesus never came out and condemned slavery, because to do so was counter-cultural and would have the government powers putting a stop to Christianity before it could even get started.

He writes,

Naturally, Jesus’ life and teaching caused listeners to wonder if paying taxes was really necessary (Mt 22:15-22; Lk 20:19-26). Being a good Jew, taxation for him—especially enforced by the secular empire—was theft. But, to go out in the streets and simply decree “taxation is theft, so don’t do it,” would mean immediate death—just as declaring “slavery is wrong” would mean the collapse of the entire ancient economy, with nearly 20% of the populous being slaves. So he never acknowledged the money as being stolen property (i.e., “give unto Caesar what is yours”), as that would have (a) openly legitimized theft and (b) fanned yet more fire for the flames of violent revolution. But he had to fulfill many other conditions in this tight box: (a) don’t leave people thinking Caesar/the state is Lord, since he’s not; (b) diminish the empire and its importance; (b) say this without getting crushed; (c) don’t cause anyone else to get crushed. Good heavens, only God could pull this off!

He then cites and applies a Bible verse out of context, and closes with a friendly reminder that everyone pays taxes because they have no other choice, so don’t stupidly take on the IRS.

Oh boy. Where to begin.

Let me zero in on the key phrase in the title of these two posts: Taxation is theft. The word theft means “to steal.” Stealing is a violation of God’s law; it’s number 8 in the Ten Commandments. If Jesus is God and the Angel of YHWH who brought Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 15:19-20; Judges 2:1-5), I would think that He would be familiar with the 10 Commandments.

So, if He believed taxation is theft, then He believes taxation is a violation of God’s law. If we take Jamin’s view, what he is suggesting is that Jesus basically told the Jews to tolerate, and participate in, the violation of the 10 Commandments by begrudgingly paying taxes to the Roman authorities because they had no choice but to. It would be like Him telling the Jews it is alright to violate the Sabbath, commit adultery, or murder, because you really have no choice and any resistance would bring the Romans in to crush everybody.

reganNothing says lower taxes like Ronald Reagan shooting a gun from the back of a velociraptor

But let’s expand that thinking. If it is true Jesus believes taxation is theft, then any Christian who works for the IRS, or the local county tax offices, or runs a financial business that specializes in helping people with their taxes, like H&R Block, is in violation of the 8th Commandment. The Christians are unlawfully aiding in the stealing from their fellow citizens and the financial folks are helping their fellow citizens prevent the unlawful theft of their money.

Now, let’s move to the Bible and see a couple of significant examples of divinely ordained taxation.

First, during the time of the theocratic kingdom of Israel, the people were required to give a number of tithes from their personal property to the Lord. See for example Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21ff., and Deuteronomy 14:18-29. The tithe was a divinely ordained system of taxation. Its primary purpose was to maintain the state government, which was overseen by a Levitical administration. They were in essence the government that ran the religious duties of Israel’s theocratic kingdom. Because they did not have an inheritance of their own, the other tribes supported them financially.

Second, coming to 1 Samuel 8, near the end of the time of the judges, Israel demanded a king like all the other nations. God grants their request, but institutes a number of taxes that would be required of the people to fund the new kingly administration, 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

If taxation is theft as Jamin and his Christian libertarian pals suggest, then God essentially set up a system of tithes that violate the 8th Commandment. Moreover, when Israel demanded a king, God caused them to sin by forcing them to participate in a system of theft that broke His law. Such is patently absurd.

Now, let’s turn our attention back to a NT passage Jamin highlights. He mentions the story of Jesus and Peter paying the temple tax from Matthew 17:24-27. He writes,

Jesus’ trivializing of earthly authorities and embodied ethical life (e.g., free of theft) led again to the question: “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” [Peter] said “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”  When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

It goes without saying that this is a lot different than the popular, naïve mantra of “just pay your taxes, it’s the law; Romans 13.” And Jesus’ response is not anything close to contemporary justifications of taxation. The very fact that it was and remained a controversial talking point indicates the complex nature of the situation. What does seem clear is that Jesus was rolling his eyes the whole time; “Yeah, like they’re in a position to demand people’s possessions. Sigh, whatever. Just find a coin and give it to them.”

Maybe I’m mistaken, but Jamin seems to be thinking that Jesus is addressing non-Jewish, secular governmental authorities, such as the Romans. But the question about the temple tax again comes from the OT. Jewish men over the age of 20 were required to pay a sanctuary/temple tax on an annual basis. Exodus 30:13-14 reads,

13 This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD.
 14 Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD.

That same tax is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:4-10 when king Joash decided to restore the house of the LORD. Described as a levy that had been fixed by Moses (vs.6), the tax was important to reinstate because the previous wicked queen, Athaliah, had raided the Levitical coffers and they had no funds to maintain the sanctuary.

Jesus’s response to Peter regarding the question of paying the temple tax is a Messianic affirmation, not a repudiation of paying taxes. He is God’s son. As the Son of the King whose temple it is, He is not required to pay the temple tax. But so that there is no offense and the law is upheld, he had Peter pay it. Nothing in Christ’s words to Peter suggests He believes taxation is theft or that he is rolling His eyes at the request of a temple tax.

While there is no where in Scripture when Jesus condemned taxation as theft, I think we could all agree that a case can be made that taxes can be unfair and excessively burdensome.

I live in California. Taxes, fines, and levies are placed on nearly everything the state government can get their greedy little hands on. A lot of that tax money is squandered on paying out golden parachute pensions and other retirement benefits for state employees, not to mention ridiculous programs like the green initiative nonsense.

However, the unfair and incompetent mismanagement of tax funds does not mean taxation is theft. Taxes are just a normal and necessary part of maintaining a functioning society. I know for myself, I do not have the skill set to be a fire fighter or a police officer or even a road construction guy. All of those duties are important to having livable townships. Paying for those goods and services are where taxes come into play. And while I may agree that many of those jobs could be given to the private sector, they still cost money to fund. You can call it taxation ,or paying a fee, but they still need to be paid for. I mean, the fire fighter needs to feed his family and pay off a mortgage just like I do.

Honestly, these articles are a tad worrisome. All I know is that Kent Hovind often argued in the same fashion that Jamin has. The feds wouldn’t let Dr. Dino get away thinking taxation is theft. I can tell you right now they won’t let Jamin, either.

How Idolatry Ruined Israel

goldencalf1 Corinthians 10:1-14

I want to continue looking at Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols and the extent of Christian liberty. Previous three posts can be seen here,

PART 1
PART 2
PART 3

Just to recap, the Corinthians believed they could maintain their previous, non-Christian relationship with the pagan culture of Corinth. That attitude further convinced them they were at liberty to join in the ceremonies and other festivities of the pagan temples. In fact, given the tone of Paul’s letter in regards to the matter, they were rather insistent about their participation.

That insistent attitude, however, was ruining their testimony with unbelievers, as well as leading other Christians astray into idolatry. Rather than telling them they have that liberty, yet to be mindful of the so-called “weaker brother,” the standard interpretation of these passages, Paul confronts them with a sharp rebuke telling them to get out of those places altogether. Their liberty does not give them that right; in truth it was really a false, self-serving liberty.

Over the course of 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul, I believe, presents his case for the Corinthians rejecting their false liberty  around four broad areas, 1) It was a danger to believers, 2) It disqualified one’s overall ministry, 3) It ruined Israel, and 4) It disrupts the fellowship of the brethren.

With this post, I come to the third area Paul presents as to why the Corinthians must get out of the temple and stop eating idol food. That is, idolatry ruined Israel.

Paul breaks down his argument along three points,

The Record of Idolatry – He begins by directing his readers back to the OT history of Israel. That he would bring up the OT is interesting. He is primarily interacting with gentiles when he writes the Corinthians, offering correction to individuals who wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the OT at all. Paul, none the less, instructed them in the history of Israel, because the OT is so vital to understanding the promises of Christ and how they relate to the Christian Church. There is application to be made from God’s dealings with Israel who were His people, to the Christian Corinthians who are also His people.

The Corinthian church came from somewhere. Their existence is anchored in history, so Paul is essentially instructing them in that history. Additionally, Christ was there as well with Israel. That of course is because Christ is God, and like he was with Israel, so to is He with the Corinthians.

There are similarities between the Israelites and the Corinthians. Just as the Israelites were called out from bondage to Egypt, Christ called out the Corinthians from bondage to sin. Just like God protected and provided for Israel in the wilderness, so also Christ protects and provides for the Corinthians.

However, in spite of having God and Christ with them – seeing the cloud of glory, seeing the miracles, and having God provide directly for them – Israel involved themselves with sinful, idolatrous activity. They are what Paul describes as examples from whom the Corinthians can learn by observing God’s dealings with them.

The Warning of Idolatry – As Paul notes in 10:7, Israel engaged in building a golden calf as recorded in Exodus 32. He goes on to remind the Corinthians how they also committed sexual immorality in Numbers 25, complained against God in Numbers 21, and also complained against God’s chosen man, Moses, in Numbers 16. Each one of those instances involved elements of pagan worship. They worshiped false gods, engaged in sexual immorality, and ultimately reject God and Christ.

Those OT events stand as examples, or illustrations, the Corinthian church needs to ponder. They should learn from their tragic example. Just like Israel had first hand experience with the true and living God when He brought them out of Egypt, the Corinthians did as well, especially in experiencing salvation. With that in mind, Paul is warning that they need to consider their slouching toward disobedience with their abuse of liberty. As he writes in 10:12, the Christians needed to take heed, lest they fall into idolatry and incur the judgment of God. Their continued persistence in participating in pagan temple could at any moment destroy them as a church.

The Call to Put Away Idols – Paul then finishes up his warning by reminding the Corinthian’s in 10:13 of God’s promise to take care of His people. He does so by writing that none of them will be overtaken in a temptation, and will never be tempted beyond what they are able to bear.

This verse is misunderstood. The typical view of what Paul is stating here is taken as him telling the Corinthians that when hard trials come their way, particularly in their individual, personal lives, God won’t give them more than they can handle. In reality, however, that isn’t always true: sometimes a person does get a lot and they can’t handle it on a personal level at all.

That is not at all what Paul means with this verse. In the context of our discussion about them abusing their liberty in the pagan temples, the Corinthians would be tempted to involve themselves in the temple ceremonies because it is cultural. As I noted in a previous article, they would see the temple, not merely as a place of idol worship, but as a cultural center where those who want to get ahead in society would gather to be seen and heard and to gain influence among peers. If they were to cut themselves off from those opportunities, there could be severe, financial and cultural repercussions. At least that is the worry on the part of many in the church.

However, the greater good they could do is flee from the blatant idolatry in those temples. The Corinthians need to cut their participation in those places out of their lives, and if they experience uncomfortable persecution and financial hardship, God is faithful, writes Paul, to help them. He provides the way of escape, as it were.

The much greater harm is the idolatry itself. For just like it destroyed the nation of Israel over the course of their history, it too will certainly destroy the Corinthians. That is why Paul commands them to flee from idolatry. It is not a matter of the extent of their Christian liberty, but obedience to the Lord.

Let’s Talk About the Christological Hermeneutic

emmausI want to discuss a Twitter exchange I had with some Reformish acquaintances concerning the so-called Christological Hermeneutic (CH for our purposes here).

My exchange began when I had tweeted out a link to Matt Waymeyer’s blog article entitled, Luke 24 and the Christological Hermeneutic.

In his article, Waymeyer explains how the CH is a manner of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures that seeks to find references to Christ on almost every page. “In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.” Proponents claim Luke 24, that tells the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, is a proof-text that demonstrates the interpretative priority of the NT when reading the OT. Jesus and the Apostles, then, interpreted the OT according to the CH and set a model for the Christian church to follow.

Waymeyer then lays out three reasons why Luke 24 is not presenting for us an interpretive filter through which to read the OT,

  • There is no record of which OT texts Jesus cited when speaking to the two disciples. Advocates of the CH then wrongly assume that Jesus is referencing OT passages that do not explicitly mention Him as the true Messiah of Israel.
  • When Luke writes that, “He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” it is believed that “all the Scriptures” means that all the Scripture of the OT must speak of Jesus in some fashion. The words, “all the Scriptures,” however, are better understood as the entirety of the OT Scriptures entailing the three main divisions: The 5 books of Moses, the writings, and the prophets. In fact, Luke 24:44 even suggests this is what Jesus did when he stated, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”
  • Luke 24:27 specifically says that Jesus spoke about “things that pertain to himself,” meaning he directed the disciple’s attention to those clear, undeniable passages that spoke of Him. Jesus was not presenting an interpretive grid that grants permission for Christians to adopt a typological and Christological hermeneutic that finds Jesus in the pages of every portion of the OT.

In response to my tweeting out that article, I had a number of fine men leave me some challenging objections. I thought I would offer a fuller response here at my blog.

– Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 10

The first couple of objectors raised 1 Corinthians 10:4 where Paul talks about Christ being the spiritual rock that followed Israel through the desert. Because he uses the word “spiritual” at least 3 times in the opening verses, it is only clear that Paul is modeling the CH for the readers of the NT.

Some thoughts in response. First, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 is in the middle of a section of Paul’s letter in which he is telling the church at Corinth to get out of the pagan temples and to leave off attending their idol feasts. As he lays out his case as to why they should abandon the pagan festivals at Corinth, Paul explains that one of the main reasons is idolatry destroyed the people of Israel. That is his point here in chapter 10.

Next, because Paul is warning the Corinthians about their idolatry when participation in the pagan feasts and temple ceremonies, he draws their attention to the history of Israel and how their flirtation with idolatry led to their physical and spiritual demise. In the same way Israel’s idolatry ruined them, the idolatry the Corinthian Christians were engaging in at the temple festivals will ultimately bring them to ruin.

Last, the word “spiritual” does not mean Paul is spiritualizing the historical events that happened to the people of Israel. The point he is making is simply that Israel’s provision came from a spiritual source, that being God. He provided the water, the food, and the protection, pictured as a rock, and yet the children of Israel left off trusting in his provision and committed idolatry against Him.

Because Jesus is God, and in the same way He was there among the Children of Israel present in the rock that protected them, He is also among the Christians at Corinth. Paul exhorts them to recognize that truth, see the example that Israel was for them in their sin, and to flee from following their ways into idolatry.

– Romans 5:14 and Christ as a type of Adam

Another challenger pointed me to Romans 5 and Paul’s discussion about the imputation of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness. Specifically I was asked a series of questions pertaining to Romans 5, “Did all die in Adam? If so when? How do we know? Was it true before Paul wrote? was Adam a type of Christ? Did he become such only at the very moment Paul penned Rom?” Let me provide a couple of responses to them.

Did all die in Adam? If so when? How do we know? Was it true before Paul wrote? – I’ll cover the first four questions quickly because they are all related to the extent of Adam’s sin. I have to confess that I am not quite sure how my inquisitor believes those question demonstrates the CH and a typological approach to reading the OT through the lens of the NT.

At any rate, we know all men died in Adam because that is what God said to Adam in the garden if he were to eat of the fruit, “In the day that you shall surely eat of it, you will die,” Genesis 2:17. Certainly my challenger does not believe the OT is vague or unclear about the extent of Adam’s sin? Paul even explains as much in Romans 5:12 when he writes how physical death is a stark indicator of the extent of Adam’s sin. The whole OT bears out that theological truth throughout its pages.

Was Adam a type of Christ? Did he become such only at the very moment Paul penned Rom? – I believe he is referencing Romans 5:14 which states, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

The key question I have in response is, what does Paul mean when he says Adam is a type of Him who was to come? Is he modeling for us an overarching principle of the interpretative priority of the NT over the OT? I don’t think so; certainly not in the manner the CH requires. The word “type” just means “example” or “pattern,” and in the context here of Romans 5 and Paul’s teaching on imputation, he is saying that Adam imputed his sin to those who were his people, i.e. all humanity, in the same way that Jesus imputed His righteousness to those who are His people, i.e. all who believe in faith.

– All heroes in the OT were shadows of Christ. Matthew 12:40

Still another objector chimed into the conversation by tweeting out that he believed all heroes in the OT were shadows of Christ. He referenced Matthew 12:40 where Jesus states, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Three thoughts,

First, I don’t necessarily disagree with that idea. I even noted in a previous article that I believe types of Christ exist in the OT. But those types that foreshadow the coming of Christ and the work of redemption He will accomplish are generally rather clear with a discernible anti-type in the NT. For instance, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David, can all be consider true types of Christ and we draw that conclusion because events in their lives clearly depict Christ’s ministry. So put another way, a student doesn’t have to go on a type hunt in order to determine if some OT person is a type of Christ.

That said, however, are all OT heroes types of Christ? Not necessarily. Gideon could be labelled a hero, but I would not necessarily call him a type of Christ. I would say the same thing regarding such individuals as Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah for instance. And Jonah wasn’t really heroic. God had to make him go to Nineveh and while he eventually went, he grumbled all through his ministry to the people there. The only real connection to Christ is God sending a massive fish to swallow Jonah. In the same way God delivered him from his watery tomb, so too will God deliver Christ from His.

Lastly, recognizing OT types, however, is far different from a typological hermeneutic that results in the CH and the principle that gives interpretive priority to the NT over the OT. Just because we can recognize an event or person from the OT as foreshadowing the life of Christ does not mean we are to depart from a normal, historical-grammatical approach to a CH approach to the Bible that allows the NT to reinterpret and spiritualize what is recorded in the OT.

– Are We Required to Preach Christ When Preaching the OT?

One final challenger asked about preaching Christ when we preach from the OT. In other words, shouldn’t we be faithfully pointing people to the Jesus of the NT when we preach the OT? Personally, I don’t think so. Of course we should proclaim Christ when the OT passage under consideration warrants it, but that won’t be all the time. One would be hard pressed to faithfully present Christ from the story of Abimelech in Judges 9.

Now that doesn’t mean there are no spiritual truths to be found in such passages, just that it is not about Jesus. Now I understand that is like dragging nails against a chalk board in the ears of my Reformished friends because they have been fed this idea that ALL sermons, even ones from an OT narrative, must have a Christ-Gospel focus when a preacher preaches. But really? The plan of redemption is certainly an important component to the plans of God, but if the passage directs our attention to God’s sovereignty, or his justice, or His dealings with man’s sin, it would be amiss to downplay those truths just to pull together some fanciful interpretation that is supposedly Christ focused when such is not the case at all.

As a Christian, I am much more concerned about handling accurately the Word of God. I believe a Christian is gravely mishandling the Scripture when we manufacture types and shadows that don’t really exist. We not only dishonor the Lord who gave us the Bible, but we do a great disservice to those who hear us preach.

Disqualifying Your Ministry

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1 Corinthians 9

I have been exploring the extent of Christian liberty as it relates to Paul’s teaching on the topic of eating meat sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Previous posts can be read here, PART 1 and PART 2

In review, Paul opens his argument in I Corinthians 8 by explaining how eating meat sacrificed to idols can be a danger for believers. He confronts and rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their egregious abuse of liberty that was damaging the testimony of their church and bringing reproach upon Christ. They believed that because they understood that idol worship really did nothing spiritually to a Christian, they had the right to participate as believers in the pagan temple rituals of Corinth. Paul spends three chapters in his letter explaining how they were wrong about their participation in pagan temples, and exhorted them to get out of those places and have nothing to do with them.

Beginning in chapter 9, Paul moves to correcting their abuse of liberty by drawing their attention to his personal ministry and missionary endeavors. His ministry as an apostle gave him the right, or freedom, to ask and receive financial assistance from those to whom he ministered. Paul instead relinquished his financial rights so as not to be an unnecessary stumbling block that would hinder the spreading of the Gospel. Likewise, he exhorts the Corinthian believers to not disqualify their ministry in Corinth.

Keep in mind that the pagan temple services were societal and cultural gatherings for those in Corinth. If a person wanted influence, social status, connections, and personal power within the Corinthian social ranks, that person received invitations to any pagan festivals, rituals, or feasts. If he were to forsake those invitations, he not only gave up social prestige and getting ahead in Corinthian society, there was also the possible forfeiture of financial gain.

Considering the argument that the Corinthians would personally lose there social benefit if they were to give up their so-called liberty engaging in temple ceremonies, Paul points to his own life and ministry. In chapter 9:1-14, Paul lays out his reasons why he not only had the freedom, but the very right, to ask for financial gain from the Corinthians, but yielding up those rights brought so much more spiritual benefit for the Gospel’s sake.

He starts out speaking to his apostleship, 9:1-6. Just as the other apostles exercised their right to financial support, and even the support of their wives, so too did Paul and Barnabas have such a right. Next, he points out how soldiers are taken care of by the army, farmers eat the produce of their own fields, and shepherds can partake from their own flock, 9:7. He then points out the scriptural principle that one who plows has the freedom to eat of what it is he plants, 9:9-10.

In like manner, Paul explains how the Corinthians were the product of his ministry and he had a right to ask them for financial support, 9:11-12. And then he states that those who perform sacred duties, which could include both pagan and believing ministers, regularly share from the altar, 9:13-14. In other words, they are supported financially by those who attend the temple or seek out their spiritual services.

Now the question may be asked, “What does financial support have to do with disqualifying someone’s ministry?”

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A couple of thoughts,

First off, Greek and Roman culture valued oratory. In other words, an erudite speaker with the ability to articulate ideas and persuade with his words so that he compelled listeners with the philosophy he presented, would have the potential for a lucrative talent. In fact, he could be paid quite well.

Additionally, the educated leisure class, or those who commonly frequented the pagan temple festivities, believed that anyone who did not charge for his speaking abilities obviously did not have anything substantive to say. The message he presented was essentially worthless. A really good lecturing philosopher would charge for his philosophy talks. Paul countered that thinking frequently during his ministry. For instance, he responded to the Corinthians for this very attitude in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

Yet Paul chose not to charge for his preaching, nor did he care about his speaking talent at all. Instead, he refused his right to receive money from the Corinthians and supported his own way through tent-making and other means. He then points to his custom as an example as to why the Corinthians should put aside any liberty they believed they had with participating in pagan temple rituals and get themselves out of those places.

Paul, then, lays out three broad reasons how the Corinthians can disqualify their own ministry if they would not give up their misguided liberty.

Devalues God’s Calling – 15-18. God had called Paul to salvation; to be HIS apostle who carried the Gospel.  However, if he preached the Gospel, as “under compulsion” (vs.16), accountable to others apart from the Lord, he would be beholden to a big donor or perhaps a group of donors. In other words, the Gospel he preached may not be the true Gospel, but the one his benefactors wished him to preach because they gave Paul money.

Paul on the other hand makes it clear that he is beholden to no living person. He is only accountable to God because he choose to give up his rights when it came to making a living at ministry. While he was entitled to financial support, he saw how it could possibly cause others to doubt the credibility of his overall ministry, thus discrediting God’s calling on his life.

Diminishes His Service – 19-21. Paul turns to explaining how surrendering his rights to be supported for ministry freed him for more service (vs.19). Freed from any obligation to a set of supporters provided him liberty to minister to a wide variety of people.

On the one hand, he made himself like the Jews, or what he describes as “those under law.” He wasn’t unnecessarily offensive to the Jewish people, but accommodated their practices for the purpose of having inroads to their synagogues.

An excellent example of Paul’s ministry in this fashion is seen in Acts 16:1-4 where he has his young disciple, Timothy, circumcised so as not to be an offense to the Jews. Paul certainly recognized that honoring certain Jewish tradition did not add anything to his salvation (vs.20), but it did provide him the ability to attend Jewish gatherings for the purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel.

Yet on the other hand, when necessary, he adjusted his ministry to reach gentiles, or those “without the law,” with the Gospel. He avoided the snobbery that Jews often displayed against the gentiles, like for example Peter’s separation from the gentiles when other Jews from Jerusalem visited with him at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).

And just so that Paul was clear to the Corinthians, when he states he is “without the law,” he is not saying he lives a lawless life with no holiness. He is submitted to the “law of Christ,” (vs.21). That doesn’t mean he lives under an entirely different expression of the law of God, but that his ministry is directed by Christ-likeness. Similar to what Paul will later write in this letter in 11:1 to be “imitators of me as I am of Christ,” or how the law of Christ constrains him to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2.

Damages Others – 22-27. Lastly, Paul explains how continuing with the participation in temple festivities can disqualify one’s ministry by losing the opportunity to present the Gospel to the weak.

Now the question among commentators at this point is who does Paul have in mind when he mentions “the weak?” Is it the idea previously discussed in chapter 8, a person with a weak conscience? A Christian who has a thin faith and lacks the knowledge of God like the strong, and who could easily fall back into patterns of sin from which he was saved? Or does he have something else entirely in mind?

The understanding  that the weak is a person struggling with his conscience on matters like whether or not Christians have the liberty to eat idol food would make sense if Paul’s main argument in 8-10 is for the strong to show love for the weak in faith by giving up their liberty for their sake. But as was established in the previous articles in this study, Paul’s argument is for the Corinthians to totally remove themselves from pagan temples and idol feasts. He isn’t trying to settle a dispute between those with the freedom of knowledge to eat idol food and those still trapped by their weak consciences.

Considering the context here, it is better to understand the weak as not Christians with weak consciences, but as unbelievers who were the social underclass in Corinth and could never prosper from the participation in temple culture from their rituals. The primary reason for drawing that conclusion has to do with Paul’s overall discussion from 19-27.

The illustrations in chapter 9 are used by Paul for explaining how giving up his right to financial support helps him further the Gospel. His reasoning from 19-22 for giving up that right is so that he could reach the lost in all levels of society, Jews, Gentiles, and now the weak. If the weak were already Christians, categorizing them with unbelieving Jews and gentiles is strange.

The point he is making is meant to confront the Corinthians who used their liberty at the pagan temples as a means for their personal financial gain. Their right to be free in regards to temple rituals and feasts not only isolated them from those Christians who could be led astray back into idol worship, but also from the unbelievers who were of a lower social class with no economic ability to participate in those temple practices. For Paul, he relinquishes his financial rights for the weak so he can bring them the saving Gospel, (22-23).

As Paul concludes his thought, he notes the discipline of athletes, (24-27). A runner who wishes to win the gold medal will discipline himself so that he can obtain it. He denies himself leisure time, and instead runs to build endurance. He limits his diet, eating those foods that will strengthen his body. He takes care of his feet, perhaps spending extra money on well-made running shoes.

In the same way, Christians need to discipline themselves, and that would be centered squarely on limiting what perceived liberty they believe they have. In doing so, it will keep them from a disqualified ministry that limits the effectiveness of the Gospel.

Dispensationalism, Hal Lindsey, and Typology

mark

Shortly after I posted my article exploring the facepalming misuse of Scripture by many in the Reformed camp with the overuse of a typological hermeneutic, I had a dear pastor friend of mine leave a blistering comment on Facebook. He wrote,

There is rich irony in being lectured about typology by dispensationalists who regularly see Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation… Not saying you do, but lets be careful not to over-generalize. Both sides have their fair share of abuses in regard to typology.

Additionally, another commenter wrote,

It’s true that many who over-spiritualize are from the Reformed camp, and A.W. Pink is a good example of that. But I still see it as a problem of certain individuals and their tendencies, and not limited to only people from a Reformed background. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen (from Arminian Dispensationalists) those who give similar bizarre treatment to various Old Testament passages or New Testament parables, in order to ‘prove’ the pre-trib rapture of the church.

Both of them make a good point. In fact I had other folks tell me that their Independent, Fundamentalist Baptist pastors pulled out all kinds of fancy conclusions from stories in the OT. IFB pastors tend to swim in the Dispensational waters.

I certainly agree that I have heard my fair share of crazy eisogesis. I recall once hearing a pastor spiritualize the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic is like the person who will not heed God’s warning to steer clear of danger, etc., you get the picture.

But is it accurate identifying those imaginative interpretations regarding the parables, or helicopters, or even the Titanic, with a typological hermeneutic? I don’t believe so.

It may be helpful, then, if I define the terms. What exactly is typology and a typological hermeneutic?

Probably the clearest definition for the concept of biblical types is given by Donald K. Campbell in his old BibSac article, The Interpretation of Types. His working definition defines them as, “…an Old Testament institution, event, person, object, or ceremony which has reality and purpose in the Biblical history, but which also by divine design foreshadows something yet to be revealed.”

There are several instances I would imagine most readers can think of off the top of their heads, like the passover lamb, the mercy seat in the tabernacle, and the great high priest all pointing to the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. Abraham sacrificing his only son, Issac, pictures the crucifixion of Jesus, whereas the lamb caught in the thicket next to them, the substitution Christ made on behalf of His people, and Jonah in the fish for three days picturing the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.

With each type, however, there will be the “fulfillment” with what is called an antitype. Generally, the antitype is clearly stated and obvious in the NT. In other words, the reader of Scripture doesn’t have to engage a Bible study with a clever imagination and an interpretative treasure hunt of “Let’s Find the Type!” in order to see the type.

Additionally, types need to be distinguished from symbols. A symbol will be a graphic representation of an actual event, or person, or object, or even a biblical truth. For example, a lion symbolic of strength, or a sword symbolic of the Word of God, or a dragon symbolic of Satan, or a mother bird covering her chicks symbolic of God protecting His people. There can also be symbolic acts performed by the prophets. For instance, Ezekiel cooking with cow dung or Zechariah making crowns of silver and gold for Joshua the high priest.

It is also important to keep in mind that types are divinely orchestrated, apart from the one who is the type, whereas a symbol is not. In other words, Abraham did not think to himself, “I am a type, picturing the Father’s giving of his son for the salvation of the world,” when he offered Issac like God told him. Only the Lord knew what he was to picture which was yet to be revealed as revelation progressively unfolded into the future. However, when Isaiah prophesied about the work of substitution by Christ, he intentionally spoke of a lamb, an animal all Jews would immediately recognize, as symbolic of the person of Jesus and the work He would do.

While it is certainly true preachers can be given over to describing ridiculous comparisons that are pure imagination and totally miss the point of the passage they may be preaching, that is not the application of a typological hermeneutic.

Consider my pastor friend’s complaint about Dispensationalists seeing Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation. That happens to be a favorite example I hear from Amillennialists any time I defend a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic when reading prophetic books of Scripture. It is taken from prophecy guru, Hal Lindsey, who was the first theologian of sorts who turned a significant profit from the various pot-boilers he wrote on Revelation and other related prophetic themes.

While I am certainly not a fan of Hal Lindsey’s sensationalized approach to biblical prophecy and the book of Revelation, his non-Dispensationalist, Reformed critics, unfairly pillory his work. It is not nearly as crazy as they make it out to be. Plus, he definitely presents material that is much more doctrinally sound, actually taught in biblical context, and is overall saturated with Scripture compared to really goofy current-day writers allegedly in the same vein as Lindsey, like Jonathan Cahn or John Hagee.

The idea of Apache helicopters comes from Lindsey’s brief paperback overview on the book of Revelation called, There’s a New World Coming, published originally in 1973. He walks through the book of Revelation, obviously as a Dispensationalist interpreting the text, and he intentionally adjusts his commentary to a general, post-Jesus People era audience who would be new to studying the Bible, particularly biblical prophecy.

The comment about helicopters is taken from his commentary on Revelation chapter 9 regarding the locust coming out of the pit with stingers in their tails and their ability to torment men. Lindsey gives the standard commentary about the locust but then concludes by writing,

There are diverse opinions among Bible teaches as to whether these creatures are actually going to be a supernatural, mutant locust especially created for this judgment or whether they symbolize some modern device of warfare.

I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Vietnam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Vietnam. They’re Cobra helicopters!”

That may just be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the composite description very well. They also make the sound of “many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail. [138-139].

Notice that Lindsey says that the Cobra helicopter idea may just be conjecture, but most importantly, given what we outlined above regarding types and symbols, he didn’t even come close to a typological interpretation. He is just conjecturing, not claiming the locust are Cobra helicopters!

As much as non-Dispensational haters wish it were so, Lindsey’s amusing anecdote about Cobra helicopters is not the employment of a typological hermeneutic that is so prevalent in Reformed camps. It certainly is not the one I am particularly alarmed about.

As I noted in my first article, the problem with the the Reformed hermeneutic’s use of typology has to do with reinterpreting the OT narrative to make practically every event, person, or situation, a type of Christ. Again, the entire book of Song of Solomon is supposed to be a picture of the love Jesus has for the church, or the nation of Israel being the OT church or the Church the NT Israel.

Reformed proponents have often argued that there are key, overarching theological themes that override the details of the exegesis and the natural reading of the text in question. But is that how we are to ready and study Scripture? The absolute worst instance currently with so-called theological themes overriding the details of exegesis is the trend to reimagine the creation account of Genesis.

John Walton, for example, in his, The Lost World, sees the creation as a picture telling theological truths about mankind, the world, and ultimately redemption. God is not telling us how he formed the world as he is providing a picture, or type, of how the narrative is to function theologically in the remainder of Scripture. G.K. Beale in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, likens the garden of Eden to a cosmological temple that is patterned in the tabernacle in Exodus, another illustration of how theology trumps the details of the text.

While it may come across looking pious and sounding really, really spiritually deep to emphasis the theological types over the plain reading of the text, in taking that approach, the intended meaning is stripped from the text and misses the point the original author intended to convey.

“But God is the ultimate author of Scripture!,” is the usual response to my objection, “so that is what he intended to convey to begin with.” But the LORD used a human author who wrote down what He wanted to say and the original audience did not read it in that gobbledygook fashion. That only puts a person committed to a typological/theological hermeneutic in perilous danger of calling God a lying deceiver when He originally revealed those portions of Scripture.

The Myth of the Stronger Brother

realmen1 Corinthians 8

I recently introduced the topic of Paul’s discussion on eating food sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10. Folks can pop over to my first post to catch up on the background info.

However, to provide a little recap:

It is my contention that Paul was doing much more than settling a dispute between factions of believers at the Corinthian church who were divided over whether or not a Christian had liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I think Paul was insisting that ALL the Corinthian believers were to leave the idol temples and have nothing to do with them. He did not see eating idol food as neutral that ultimately did no spiritual harm to a Christian. He sees eating idol food as seriously dishonoring to the LORD and a disaster to the Christian Church.

Over the course of three chapters, Paul lays out his case as to why the Corinthians must leave the pagan temples and abandon eating idol food all together. I broke down his argument into four larger points: Eating idol food, 1. is danger to believers, 2. disqualifies one’s ministry, 3. destroyed Israel, and 4. disrupted the fellowship.

With this post, I want to consider the first point: Eating idol food is a danger to believers.

An overview of some critical concepts introduced in chapter 8 will help us understand Paul’s argument.

First, what exactly did Paul mean by the idea of “things sacrificed to idols” in 8:1?

As I noted in my introductory article, the classic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8-10 believes when Paul speaks of those things sacrificed to idols, he is talking about meat from a pagan sacrifice that is used in a religious ceremony, but then is taken to the local street market where it is sold to the general public for a price. The temple authorities not only use the meat in their ritual but also turn a profit in the local market by selling off what was left.

The Corinthian Christians were shopping the local markets for food to buy, find a fabulous piece of meat for a cheap price, and purchase it for the family to eat. Other Christians, who were once heavily immersed in the Corinthian pagan culture, are troubled by those fellow Christians who so easily, without a second thought, purchase food that was once used in a religious sacrifice. In their minds, that piece of meat has the stench of the pagan ritual wafting off of it. Those Christians are defiling themselves and cursing God by eating it.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 10:25, that seems to be the scenario that Paul is addressing as I will explore when I come to that chapter. However, eating things sacrificed to idols is much more than preparing a prime rib dinner for a fellowship time with meat purchased at the local market that just so happens to have been sacrificed to idols.

What Paul has in mind when he addresses the topic is the religious ritual and the meal eaten by the participants partaking in that meal. No Corinthian could avoid the rampant paganism that pervaded their city. Paganism was everywhere. Participation in the temple rituals are what connected them to their society and their culture.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols entailed an elaborate religious meal eaten by all the participants sharing in that meal. The animal for sacrifice was brought to the temple. The appropriate rites were performed that involved a priest making the sacrifice on behalf of the person or persons. The priest would examine the entrails of the animal determining whether there was a “revelation” from some deity. The rest of the food would be prepared for a banquet and eaten by the friends and invited guests. Individuals with unique privileges or social status could use special sanctuaries in the temple for their ceremony.

Participation in those various ceremonies was an integral part of living life in Corinth. Everyone attended and utilized the temple. It was the place where a person would make social connections, advance in business dealings, and demonstrate he or she was an upstanding member of Corinth. In other words, the pagan temple, and all the feasts that took place there, reflected a particular worldview.

That is the reason eating idol food in the temple should have been such a big deal among the Corinthian Christians. Eating at the temple was tied directly to a specific religious worldview opposed to God. What Paul is intending to address throughout chapters 8-10 is that the Corinthian Christians did not see their participation in those ceremonies as a problem and they should have. Rather than leaving the temple culture of Corinth behind them, they whole-heartily participated in it and attempted to synchronize their Christian faith with that participation.

Another important concept Paul outlines in chapter 8 is the idea of “the weak.”

Again, the classic view understands the weak as Christians troubled with eating meat sacrificed to idols. However, the “strong” Christians had matured sufficiently so as to understand that eating meat sacrificed to idols did nothing to really do any spiritual harm. The weak were merely enslaving themselves to a silly superstition regarding meat sacrificed to idols and needed to think biblically. Because their consciences were misinformed on the matter, they were infringing upon every one’s liberty.

buddhistDown the street from my church in LA is one of the largest Thai Buddhist temples outside of Thailand. Nearly every week there is some festival or ceremony happening at that place. The folks attending there bring their food to be offered to the monks and in the various ceremonies. To raise money for the temple, the Buddhists sell food at their temple as well as at a nearby Thai restaurant. Many folks from my church frequent the place. (They have some excellent fried bananas, by the way). However, some of my Christian friends believe the restaurant is a living example of what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 8 and will refrain from eating there for fear of violating someone’s conscience from our church.

The problem with that perspective, and the strong/weak dichotomy in general, is that it doesn’t really exist in Paul’s discussion within these chapters. In fact, the use of the word “strong” to describe the mature believers is nowhere mentioned from 8-10. It is merely assumed that because Paul discusses the “weak” that the opposite, the “strong,” is implied with his argument.

That conclusion is drawn from Paul’s discussion of those with “knowledge” or “who know” found in 8:1-4, 7, 10-11. Thus, those with knowledge, or described as “who know,” are understood to be the mature, strong believers. They recognize that the idol is nothing, that the false religion is just that, a false religion, and eating any food associated with one of the false sacrifices does nothing spiritually or physically to the person. Similar to what Paul writes in 8:4-6. As the strong, they have liberty to buy and eat idol food and to enjoy it. The weak, however, do not. Their consciences trouble them when they eat idol food, so much so that they are said to become defiled from eating it.

The idea of knowledge in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, however, is his way of calling someone a Christian. Knowledge is equated with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to understand and receive spiritual truth. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes of being, “…enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” This use of knowledge is also found throughout many of Paul’s epistles like, 2 Corinthians 2:14, 4:6, 10:5; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; and Titus 1:1 to list a few.

The knowledge the Corinthians had revealed to them the true nature of false gods and false religion, 8:4-6. But rather than their knowledge being a good thing, it was in fact terribly misused. Backing up to 8:1, Paul expresses how knowledge can make one arrogant. When Paul writes in 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of  yours does not somehow become a stumbling block…”, that liberty is not a good thing; he is actually chiding their false liberty they had developed. What they considered liberty had made them arrogant toward one another within the church as well as those outside the church.

It needs to be kept in mind that the Corinthians’ so-called liberty was not merely limited to only purchasing meat that just so happened to have been sacrificed in a pagan temple. Instead, they were Christian believers actively involved in pagan ceremonies. The Corinthians were not asking Paul, “Is it alright if we eat food sacrificed to idols bought in the market?” but were insisting, “What’s the big deal about participating in temple services?”

Pulling our discussion together, the weak that Paul describes are those Christians who were still infused with old habits as idolaters.

Those weak Christians heard the Gospel. They believed upon Jesus as the Savior Who delivers sinners out of the bondage to their sin. Christianity is the religion of the true and living God. The worship of God and the fellowship with His people takes place in an entirely different and radically new way. God hates idolatry, according to His own word, and will suffer no other gods before Him.

Yet, fellow believers from their own church still frequent the temple and participate in the services that were offered, fellowshipping with pagans and attending their feasts that were often profane. All the while, those believers claim that because they are now in Christ, they have true knowledge about God and thus the liberty to eat and drink in the temple.

But that attitude poses two significant dangers that threaten the church.

First, it sins against the believers. Paul argues in 8:10-11, “for if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, it he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”  Paul’s words could not be clearer: The Christian who has developed a false sense of liberty in his mind and thinks it is okay to participate in the pagan festivities at the temple could very well bring a fellow believer to ruin. The idea of ruin means destruction, not just offended sensibilities.

Second, it sins against Christ. Paul continues in 8:12, ” And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” Beyond just bringing spiritual disaster against a fellow brother, the Christian is sinning against the Lord Jesus. That is because He is the one who secured that one’s salvation and now it has been place in danger by the foolish behavior of a fellow Christian.

What is Paul’s solution? Does he tell the Corinthians to be on the alert for immature believers and avoid them so as to not to offend their sensitive to the notion of eating in temples? Does he suggest discipling the weaker brother to grow in maturity so he can eventually join everyone else down at the temple? Not at all. He writes, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” In other words, completely eliminate your participation in such activity.

As we will go on to learn, dining in the idol temples is not just a stumbling block for the so-called weaker brother, it is a horrendous idea for all Christians.

Idol Meat and Christian Liberty

idolAn Overview of 1 Corinthians 8-10

I have been meaning for a while now to post some of my studies on 1 Corinthians that I presented to my volunteers at Grace to You over the last year. I was particularly anxious to toss up my studies on chapters 8-10, because I believe they are so wildly misunderstood by the larger Christian community.

But alas… I got distracted and put it off. However, a little dust up with some NCT folks on Facebook ignited my passion, so here we are.

Like I noted, I think chapters 8-10 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is totally misunderstood and misapplied by Christians, especially among the Red State evangelical and neo-Reformed types I bump into on social media. The chapters address specifically the idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the concept of Christian liberty, and the wrongheaded thinking among Christians about the subject has created a misapplication of what it is exactly Paul was addressing.

The idea of Christian liberty, in my opinion, has fallen upon hard times nowadays. It is usually defined along the lines as having the freedom to sit in pubs, drink beer, smoke cigars or pipes, and watch popular television programs, while at the same time conversing about theology. Many of those new libertines once circled around in the orbits of strict, fundamentalist congregations that were ran like a concentration camp by straight-laced, kill joy finger-waggers who condemned those activities they now celebrate.

Yet, at the same time, any Christian who even suggests that drinking and smoking and consuming entertainment is not necessarily the wisest testimony to present before the world, are shamed as being legalists. They will be labeled the “weaker” brothers, and some go so far as suggesting that they are “in sin” because they wish to place a yoke of burden upon the “stronger” believers who have been freed by the work of Christ to enjoy their new found merrymaking. The entire scenario is a concept taken from the chapters in Corinthians that are before us here.

drinkingwhat.That liberty/strong and weak conscience dichotomy represents the classic understanding of 1 Corinthians 8-10. It is taught that Paul was responding to an internal squabble taking place in the church of Corinth over whether or not Christians were at liberty to eat food that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Two factions had emerged. On the one hand there were the so-called strong believers who felt that all Christians have the ethical freedom because of Christ to eat any food that may have been offered to idols. Yet on the other, there were Christians in the church, who came out of the rank paganism of the Corinthian culture, who are weak in conscience regarding the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

The strong believers wrote Paul asking him to arbitrate the dispute. They wanted his instructions regarding the matter, especially they wanted Paul to inform the weak to stop worrying about offending God with partaking of delicious food that just so happened to be sacrificed to idols. When Paul wrote back to them in our letter that is 1 Corinthians, he sided theologically with the strong, but rebuked them for not considering the weaker brothers among them. Instead of giving them total freedom to eat a succulent prime rib that just so happened to have been used in a sacrifice to idols and telling the weak to shut up and enjoy their freedom, he informed the strong to lay aside their liberty for the sake of the weaker brothers serving them until they had sufficiently matured in conscience so as to enjoy the prime rib with them.

That interpretation is the standard one taught from the pulpits and believed by most Christians today; but it misses the point of the passage.

Rather than Paul deciding between two groups arguing at Corinth over whether or not the food they were eating was tainted with pagan hands, Paul was disagreeing with all the arrogant, enlightened Corinthians who insisted they could be a practicing believer AND still participate in idol temple ceremonies that were a staple of their culture there in Corinth. Chapters 8-10 isn’t about eating food that just so happened to have been used in a pagan sacrifice. Paul was telling them to get out of the temples and stop eating idol food all together, because the food was being eaten during a pagan service. These chapters have nothing to do with the freedom of strong believers eating food sacrificed to idols and deferring to the weak in conscience.

Now, before I unpack all of that, a little background is in order.

We in the 21st century, western society really cannot comprehend the power of religion, particularly a pagan, non-Christian one, forming our political-social lives. Here in the good ole U.S of A., we consider ourselves a “Christianized” nation, but if we are honest about it, we for the most part experience a secularized version of the Judeo-Christian ethic. As much as atheists will complain bitterly that atheism is shut out of the political arena and a person has to be a Christian to run for office because the entire US is “Christianized,” given the trajectory of our country’s moral decline, that is absolutely untrue.

Probably the closest we can come to the situation in Corinth during the time of Paul would be Islamic states and those countries where Roman Catholicism has a heavy influence among the people like Croatia and Mexico. India, with its commitment to Hinduism would be another, as well as a number of Asian nations committed to Buddhism. In those countries the politics and culture are interwoven to such a degree with the main religion that it dominates everything.

When the Apostles began to take the Gospel into the uttermost parts of the world beyond the boundaries of Israel, they went into a world that was pagan with a myriad of different religions, idols galore, and temples everywhere. We see in the book of Acts how the Gospel bumped up against idolatry. For instance, in Acts 14:11-13 the pagans tried to sacrifice to Paul thinking he was a god, Acts 17 records Paul’s famous encounter on Mar’s Hill in Athens, and in Acts 19, a riot breaks out in Ephesus when Paul preached the Gospel and challenged the cult of Diana.

A huge part of the pagan religious world was the feasts served in idol temples. Those feasts were what connected the pagan gentile to his culture and his gods. Just think about the religious milieu that was part of the everyday living for the OT Jews. In the same way, the temple practices were at the center of every facet of their lives, and the feasts and food offerings God required were considered to be so important that He brought judgment upon Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, for their sacrilege with mishandling those offerings on behalf of Israel.

Thus, when we come to Paul’s letters in the NT, idolatry and idol worship were a major theme he often addressed. For example, in his two letters to the Corinthians, Paul explained how idols were a part of their former lives (1 Corinthians 6:9), how idols lead people astray (1 Corinthians 12:2), and asked the Corinthians what business does God’s people (that would be them) have with idols (2 Corinthians 6:16).

In other NT passages Paul commends the Thessalonians for turning away from idols to the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). In Acts 15:20,29 it is interesting that the letter from the Jerusalem counsel told gentiles to abstain from fornication, things strangled, consuming blood, and idols. Acts 21:25 reiterates those same commands.

With those passages in mind, it is important to recognize that Paul is not okaying the so-called stronger believer eating a pot roast he bought at a market that was only offered in a sacrifice. The fact that the Jerusalem counsel condemned all of the areas gentiles participates in when worshiping in a false, idolatrous religion, and the fact that Paul spoke against idolatry throughout his epistles, makes it clear he was not talking about a pot roast someone bought at a market that was offered to an idol. What he was telling the Corinthians in 8-10 was to get away from the idols and temples and the pagan feast.

But we need to keep in mind that it was a major struggle for the gentiles to abandon their idolatry. That is because the new gentile Christians came from a pagan saturated society. Eating a meal in a temple to a deity would be a big, social-economic opportunity. It would be difficult to just give that up. Participating in those ceremonies and showing interest in the goings on in the local temple is what made them Roman or Corinthian. It demonstrated they were fit for leadership, that they were diverse and multicultural. In our day, it would be similar to attending a gay wedding of a business colleague. 

What the Corinthians were proposing to Paul was not the question of “do you think it is okay for us to eat food sacrificed to idols,” but rather they were brashly stating, “What’s the problem with attending pagan festivals and eating food sacrificed to idols?”

First Corinthians 8-10 lays out four reasons why it was a problem for the Corinthian Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

1. It was a danger to believers

2. It disqualified one’s ministry

3. It destroyed Israel

4. It disrupted the fellowship among believers

I’ll consider each one of these points in turn as I work my way through these chapters over the course of the next few posts.

Classic Apologists and Their Facepalm Misuse of Scripture

facepalmI wanted to offer some comments on a recent radio/podcast discussion between Sye Ten Bruggencate, who maintains the Proof That God Exists website, and apologist Eric Hernandez of Eric Hernandez Ministries. They were together on the Sin Boldly Podcast discussing apologetic methodology. Sye took the presuppositional position, Eric the classicist approach. Listen to the discussion HERE so as to get up to speed.

The podcast was an hour or so, and the two sides were able to articulate their positions clearly. I have always appreciated Sye’s work, and while I may have minor, disagreeing quibbles with his overall presentation, he does a fantastic job outlining what I believe to be the biblical way a Christian should defend the faith.

I was not familiar with Eric, but he came across as a nice fellow. He is well spoken and seems to have a growing ministry. His presentation, on the other hand, aggravated me to the point of wanting to pull out my hair. I guess that should’ve been anticipated, because he brought together all the talking points I’ve come to love and expect from classic apologists. The copious appeals to human philosophy, the intentional avoidance of biblical theology, and the grating misuse of Scripture.

It is that grating misuse of Scripture I wish to address with this post.

Now if I may begin with a bit of broad-brushing.

I believe there is reason for this misuse of Scripture. It has been my observation that classic apologists have an extremely low view of the Bible, especially at the front end of the apologetic encounter. Because they insist that the trustworthiness and viability of the Bible must first be established in the mind of the unbeliever with the use of external evidence BEFORE it can appealed to as an authority, they have a bad tendency of intentionally avoiding it.

When philosophical constructs and logic-chopping arguments are the focus with first engaging the unbeliever, Scripture invariably plays a secondary role. That regrettably causes bad exegetical habits to form, and the mishandling of Scripture springs forth from there.

Again, that is a broad-brush accusation. I obviously haven’t talked with every single individual who considers himself a classic apologist. I will readily admit there may be many classical apologists who handle the Scriptures quite well. That, however, has not been my experience; and I have discussed apologetic methodology with a number of them over the years on social media and in other venues.

Listen to the Sye and Eric exchange. Pretty much every passage Eric mentioned that he believes supports his classical approach was taken out of context. Just a cursory reading of the passage reveals that the verse has nothing at all to do with apologetics or how we are to engage unbelief. I wrote down the main ones that were repeated a number of times and I wanted to briefly address four of them.

elijah

1 Kings 18. I have heard classic apologists appeal frequently to the story of Elijah defeating the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. They insist that when the unbelievers asked for evidence of God, God certainly gave it in the form of fire falling from heaven and consuming a sacrifice.

However, if we read carefully the account, Elijah confronts Ahab in 1 Kings 18:17. He rebukes him for leading Israel astray into idolatry. Elijah tells Ahab to gather all Israel (the covenant people of Israel who already believe in God) and the 400 prophets of Baal that Jezebel supported. They gather at Mt. Carmel and there God puts His character on display, not to prove Himself to unbelievers, but to show Himself to Israel, especially Ahab. The showdown was meant as a judgment against Jezebel’s false prophets and a call to Israel for covenant faithfulness. It had nothing to do with proving God’s existence with evidence.

Isaiah 1:18. Isaiah’s words, “come now, and let us reason together,” are often quoted as a formula for engaging unbelievers reasonably. The idea being that God wants Christians to use their “reasoning,” and the “us” reasoning together is understood as believers and unbelievers meeting together to discuss the truth claims of Christianity in a reasonable fashion.

That is not at all what Isaiah is saying – well, what God is saying through His prophet. Rather, Isaiah’s opening chapter is a rebuke of the sins that Israel has accumulated, highlighted from 1:1-17. God, speaking through Isaiah, calls His people to repentance. He will wash their scarlet sins as white as snow, 1:18. The point Isaiah is making when he writes, “come let us reason together,” is that if Israel turns from their sins, comes back to covenant obedience, God will bless them. His words have nothing to do with apologetic methodology with unbelievers.

Acts 17. Classic apologists are adamant that Paul’s message to the Athenian intelligentsia on Mar’s Hill models clearly the classical method of doing apologetics. Eric was no exception, citing the incident a few times in his discussion with Sye.

One of the reasons they believe Paul modeled classical apologetics has to do with his citation of two pagan Greek poets, Epimendes and Aratus. While those two men were speaking about pagan deities with their poems, Paul appeals to them as evidence for the true and living God that he proclaimed. In other words, Paul did not appeal to Scripture, nor start with the Bible, when he was talking with the Athenians. He used the poems of pagan poets.

We only have his summary message recorded for us, so we cannot be entirely certain what use of Scripture Paul made. He had already been in the Synagogue a while speaking with the Jews and other worshipers who attended. He obviously had gained attention with his preaching because the philosophers were interested in what he had to say.

Paul, seizing upon the fact that Athens was a city given completely over to the pursuit of false religion, idols, and every philosophical whimsy, took the opportunity to preach on Mar’s Hill what the Athenians already knew to be true: that they know the true and living God, but they have substituted their idols and false religions for worship of Him.

Paul quotes two of their poets, not for the purpose of appealing to external evidence in order to build his case, but rather to expose the folly of their philosophical worldview. He in essence is telling them, “look, you know the true God, even your poets did, but you all worship idols instead.” He goes on to explain to them how they will be judged for their sin and calls them to come to Christ. One will note that he doesn’t attempt to prove to them the Resurrection of Jesus, but just proclaims it to them, 17:31. If anything, Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill is exegetical application of Paul’s words out of Romans 1.

1 Corinthians 15. First Corinthians 15 is considered one of the more important chapters of the NT, because Paul makes a case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every classical apologist appeals to the chapter as proof that Paul utilized external evidences to prove the historical reality of the Resurrection, particularly the use of eye-witness testimony.

But 1 Corinthians 15 is a passage that is misunderstood by many Christians regardless of their apologetic methodological persuasions. It is mistakenly believed that Paul is trying to prove the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to unbelievers in the Corinthian church. He is not.

Rather, he is correcting the Corinthian’s erroneous idea that Christians do not experience a physical resurrection. Verse 12 states, “Now, if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you (the Corinthian church) say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The Corinthians believed in Christ’s resurrection; where they struggled was believing that a bodily resurrection happens for Christians.

The entire chapter is Paul’s apologetic for proving that because of Christ’s bodily resurrection, a resurrection the Corinthians accepted as really happening, all Christians will also experience a bodily resurrection. The chapter has to be read with that main focus in view.

There are probably others I may have missed, but those are the key passages I often hear brought up in discussions on the proper methodology for doing apologetics. While I believe it is vitally important that we anchor our methodology in the teaching of Scripture, our goal should be to do so not only exegetically, but also contextually. Misappropriating the Bible only undermines the entire apologetic enterprise.

Ezekiel 18 and the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

adam eating fruitI had occasion recently to engage some individuals who deny the imputation of Adam’s sin. This of course was on Facebook; a place that can be dank at times, filled with many dark corners occupied with the cages of every theologically foul bird imaginable.

One of the key arguments my antagonists used to make their case was an appeal to Ezekiel 18 as proof against the doctrine of imputation. The prophet Ezekiel, they claim, demonstrates that each individual person is responsible for his own sin before the Lord. Hence a son can never be held accountable for the sins of a father nor can a wicked father pass the guilt of sin upon his son. Ezekiel’s words demonstrates that the idea of Adam’s sin imputed upon all of humanity is a false doctrine.

I was challenged to provide a response, so I thought I would write up a rebuttal to this sloppy heresy.

Let’s outline the particulars first.

The earliest doctrinal statement, apart from Scripture, affirming the imputation of Adam’s sin is of course the Council of Orange in 529 AD. That is where the heresy of Pelagius was condemned and the doctrine of Adam’s sin defended and defined more concisely.

Canon 2 provides the relevant definition to my discussion here,

CANON 2.  If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him
alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he
declares that it is only the death of the body which is the
punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death
of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race,
he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who
says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man
and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because
all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

In other words, the Bible clearly teaches that when Adam sinned, he imputed his sin of disobedience to the whole of humanity. Meaning, every person, both man and woman, born after his fall into sin, were born sinners, incapable of saving themselves apart from God’s grace. Furthermore, all humanity bears the full guilt of Adam’s sin in that they are born under the curse of God, separated from God, and judicially under His judgment. The exegesis of all the necessary Scriptures that speak to Adam’s sin only confirms that truth.

So how exactly does Ezekiel 18 fit into the debate?

Ezekiel was an Exilic prophet. He was more than likely taken captive with 8,000 other Israelite in 598 BC by the Babylonians. He was called to a specific prophetic ministry to those captives before Babylon utterly leveled Jerusalem in 586 BC.

During his ministry to those captives, Ezekiel confronted the erroneous idea believed by his fellow countrymen that the reason why they were in their circumstances languishing in captivity had to do with the sins of the previous generation. In their minds, the people believed they did nothing wrong to feel guilty about and so denied any responsibility for the judgment they were experiencing. As far as they were concerned, they were innocent. Chapter 18 rebukes that false belief.

With that bit of background in mind, let me briefly sketch out what Ezekiel 18 is and is not saying.

First, it needs to be known that the use of chapter 18 against the doctrine of imputation is something of a novel idea. That “interpretation” has only been seriously considered within the last 200 years or so with the emergence of higher critical views of the Bible, as well as among unorthodox groups who hate the doctrine of imputation. That has not been the view of the historic, Christian church.

Secondly, Ezekiel is not rebuking once and for all the notion of transgenerational punishment as some modern commentators suggest. Moses was clear in Deuteronomy 24:16 that fathers were not to be put to death for the sins of their sons, nor the sons for the sins of their fathers.

Thirdly, Ezekiel is not teaching that individual salvation can be lost, another false notion about the content of chapter 18.

Fourth, Ezekiel is repudiating the doctrine of retribution. That is the idea that if a person does enough good, God will honor his good deeds, but if he has unconfessed sins, God will bring disaster and misfortune upon his life. That is what Job’s head-wagging friends suggested was the reason for his personal calamity and trials. They were wrong.

Fifth, Ezekiel also repudiates the false belief that a person can be held responsible for the past sins of loved ones, or generational curses. The prophet’s words are a direct refutation to the charismatic teaching of generational curses that are passed down from family member to family member.

What Ezekiel 18 does tell us is, according to verse 3, that the people of Israel are the focus of God’s rebukes. Meaning, the primary audience is the nation of Israel in judgment and captivity.

Rather than this chapter teaching us about extreme individualism as those who are opposed to the doctrine of imputation want to believe, Ezekiel rebukes that false belief and reminds the people they are in their circumstances because ALL of them as the collective nation share in the responsibility of committing those sins listed throughout the chapter. Adam, for example, blamed Eve for his disobedient act, who in turn, blamed the serpent. Yet all of them shared in the sin for which they were judged. The same is with the nation of Israel.

God reminds them through the words of the prophet that even though they all share in the guilt of Israel’s sin, God is not unjust and will judge everyone according to their obedience to the law. A law-breaking father is responsible for his law-breaking alone and his children will not be held accountable for it. Just as a faithful, law-keeping father is not held judicially responsible for his law-breaking son.

Additionally, God makes it clear in verses 21 and 22 that a wicked man who is a law-breaker who turns from his wicked way and now obeys God’s law, will not have his past sin of law-breaking held against him. God forgives and does not remember his past disobedience. In like manner, God states that a righteous man who turns from his righteous ways to live out the rest of his life as a law-breaking, defier of God’s ways will be judged for his sin and not his past righteousness. His apostasy is described as treachery in verse 24 and for it he will die.

The prophet concludes his words by proclaiming God’s heart who wishes none to perish, but that all of them would do right and live. That would entail them recognizing their collective sin against God’s covenant, their repentance to no longer be law breakers, and their return to obeying God’s commands.

So, rather than this chapter being a treatise that rejects and refutes the biblical doctrine of imputation, it is a specific word to the people of captive Israel to turn away from the law-breaking that brought them to their circumstances, return to God, and live.