October 2011
M T W T F S S
« Sep   Nov »
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for October, 2011

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 2 John 4-7a

    Saturday, October 29th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Eight:  Oct 30, 2011

    This week we began the body of the letter.  As is common, John starts with some positive statements aimed at framing the discussion of the problem, which begins in verse 7.

    Study

    II. Body

    a.      Living In Truth and Love (4-6)

    4 – I was overjoyed to find some of your[1] children living truthfully, just as the Father has commanded us.

    I was overjoyed to find

    -          The Greek word for find is the word εὕρηκα – eurēka.  This is what Archimedes supposedly said when he discovered buoyancy in a public bath and ran home naked crying Eureka.  It means “I have found it.”  It is in the Perfect tense which suggests that John’s joy was  based on a personal experience.  Thus it is probably referring to something that happened during a recent visit to this church.

    some of your children living truthfully

    -          There was a question in the class as to why the word “Some” was italicized is some versions. Does this mean that the translators added the word?  The answer is yes, but the meaning is pretty clearly implied which is why some other translators don’t.   The Greek text of the key phrase reads,  ἐκ τῶν τέκνων σου (ek ton teknon sou) – or in a literal translation: “out of the children of you.” Thus word translated “out of”  (ἐκ)  is pretty clearly indicating that out of a whole there were some.  Thus translators render this as “some of your children.”

    -          While it is clear that John was referring to some, the meaning is disputed.  One option is that he found “some” were and other that were not.  In other words John was happy to find that there were still some who were following the truth (lit walking in truth ), that not all had fallen away.  Note again the emphasis on the truth.  A second option, however, is that while John is happy about the “some”  he is saying nothing about the others. Since his comments appeared to be based on personal experience, he may have met with some during his visit, and those were the ones he is talking about.   He is saying nothing about those he did not meet with.  Given the positive tone in this section I would think that the second option is more likely.

    just as the Father has commanded us

    -          While the word translated commanded refers to a singular commandment, John is referring here not to any particular command but to the commandments of God in a general sense.   All of the commandments, taken as a whole, are a commandment that we live in the Truth.  That is what God asks of us.

    5 – Dear lady, I am now requesting of you[2] that we all continue to love one another. It is not as though I am writing to give you[3] a new commandment, but one that we have had from the beginning.

    Dear lady, I am now requesting of you

    -          John now makes a direct request, which serves to emphasize his request.

    that we all continue love one another

    -          Notice how verse 4 and 5 link the concepts of living truthfully, and loving one another.  Both are at the core of the Christian experience.  For many this view of love, a view where love is something we have control over such that we can be commanded to love, does not make a lot of sense.  In the modern view, love is something that just happens.  We may fall in or out of love and it is really beyond our control, it just happens.  While this is a common view, this is not a biblical one.  Biblical love is something we have a choice in. We are commanded to love:

    John 13:34 I am giving you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

    Eph 5:25   Husbands, love your wives as the Messiah loved the church and gave himself for it,

    Not…a new commandment

    -          A minor issue arises with John’s claim that this is not a new command.  How does this square with John 13:34 just quoted?   This is really not hard to reconcile.  While for us, 2000 years later, the New Testament is take as a whole, it must be remember that the period it covers was nearly 70 years.  Thus while Jesus told his disciple this was a “new” commandment,  2 John was probably written over 50 years later to second or or even third generation Christians who had heard this from the time of their conversion. Thus for them it was not new.  This will be in contrast to the new teachings spread by the false teachers.

    6 – And this is what demonstrates[4] love: that we live according to God’s[5] commandments. Just as you[6] have heard from the beginning what he commanded, you[7] must live by it.

    And this is what demonstrates love:

    -          This is Lit:  and this is love (καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ` ἀγάπη / kai autē estin ē agapē)   John now goes on to describe exactly what he is requesting.

    we live according to God’s commandments.

    -          Note the change from The commandment (v5) to commandments (v6). The commandment is  that we love one another.  The Commandments  are how we love another.   To love God is to obey God.

    John 14:21  The person who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I, too, will love him and reveal myself to him.

    -          Obeying God shows love for God. But how does it show love to “one another?”  God laws are not arbitrary rules, given so that he can punish us,  but are given by God to make our lives better.  The simple fact is that sin damages relationships and damages lives.   While Christians are often portrayed as killjoys who irrationally follow blindly old rules that no longer apply, the simple fact is that the evidence is on our side.  Many studies have shown that on average those who regularly attend church live happier and longer lives than those who don’t.

    b.      Reject False Teachers (7-11)

    7* – For many deceivers have gone out into the world. They refuse to acknowledge Jesus the Messiah[8] is coming in flesh[9]. Any such person is a deceiver and an antichrist.

    For (ὅτι)

    -          While this verse marks a change in the letter from positive exhortation to warnings, it is connect to the previous verse.  In context,  John was glad that they were living in the truth because…

    many deceivers have gone out into the world.

    -          Just as Christians missionaries that 3 John 5-6 says we should welcome have gone out so had their counterparts. And it is these counter parts that John is now going to warn about.

    Questions and Discussion.

    This week’s discussion picked up on the themes of living in truth and love, and in particular old versus new commandments.  The modern technological society has a built in bias towards the new,  and against the old.  While it is primarily driven by the rapid change in technology, cultural development is rarely so nicely compartmentalized.  For example,  after Einstein’s theory of relativity came to be accepted in physics, relativity as a concept spread throughout the culture and soon many things, including morals were seen as relative.  Likewise, modern cultures love of the the new, and devaluing of  the old is not restricted to technology. This has affected the church as well.

    One of the members brought up the issue of the lack of contemplation and meditation on God’s word.  In the fast pace world there is little time for such things.  In fact, many kids (and even some adults) are virtually addicted to their own adrenaline, as life becomes a search for excitement and the next big rush of adrenaline. Little wonder that they do not have time to just sit and pray, contemplate study and meditate on God’s word.  And yet, if we do not stop to listen, how will we ever hear the Holy Spirit?  If we do not stop to study, contemplate and meditate on God’s word, how will we ever know what it says for our lives?  Are you powered by adrenaline, or by the Holy Spirit?

    Next week we will continue in 2 John 7

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:
    [1] 4 Lit. your (singular)
    [2] 5 Lit. you (singular)
    [3] 5 Lit. you (singular)
    [4] 6 The Gk. lacks what demonstrates
    [5] 6 Lit. his
    [6] 6 Lit. you (plural)
    [7] 6 Lit. you (plural)
    [8] 7 Or Christ
    [9] ISV: having become human

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 2 John 3

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Seven:  Oct 23, 2011

    While this class follows the text very closely, there is no preset schedule, nor any particular number of verses that we need to cover each week.  Instead I encourage discussion and leave room for the Holy Spirit to take the class, where He needs to take it.  This was one of those week, were most of the class was taken up in the discussion and questions.   As a result we only covered one verse.   I will try to summarize at least the main points that were discussed in the question section below.

    Study

    I. Opening

    b.      Greeting(3)

    3 – Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus1 the Messiah,2 the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

    -          Ancient letters followed the standard opening with a greeting, an example of which can be seen in Acts 15:23.

    From:  The apostles and the elders, your brothers
    To: Their gentile brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
    Greetings
    .

    Paul’s letters show an expansion of the standard greeting with Christian elements in awordplay with the word Greeting (χαίρειν/chairein) changing it to Grace (χάρις/charis) and often adding peace, the standard Jewish greeting.  Thus in 1 Cor 1:3,

    May grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, be yours!

    This came to be a common patter among Christian letters and one that John follows here.

    Grace, mercy and peace

    -          Grace and peace were common among Paul’s letters and to this John adds mercy.

    -          A member of the class mentioned that there was a progression in this verse, and there is a definite progression.  Working backwards, you cannot have true peace apart from God. But sin keeps us from God, and it is God’s mercy that allows us to be reconciled with him, and this mercy in grounded in grace.

    will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus

    -          This is an affirmation, not a request.  Note that John is making it clear that the source of our grace, mercy and peace are both the Father and Jesus.

    -          This will be important has the letter develops, for the denial of Jesus as the Messiah forms a key part of the false teachings this letter warns against.

    the Father’s Son

    -          Jesus is further described as the Father’s Son.  This repletion is a form of emphasis that Jesus is the son. Again this was something the traveling missionaries discussed in this letter rejected.

    in truth and love.

    -          John again comes back to truth adding love.  This stresses their importance in grace, mercy and peace, without truth or love, there can be no grace, mercy or peace.  This is why truth and love will play such large role in the rest of the letter.  So John is not just greeting his readers, he is using the opening of this letter to prepare his readers for what follows.

    Question/Discussion:

    As mention above the question and discussion took up the majority of the class, and my memory is not sufficient to have captured it all. So you see there is a reason to come to the class and not just follow it online!  But I will do my best.

    The discussion started with the theme of the class, living in truth and love.   These are both very important concepts, but they are often at odds with each other.  In addition, truth, itself is a very challenging concept.  This was brought home to me in the very first week of this current class.  Highland Community Church has a winter and summer schedule and does not have classes during the summer.  So when our class started up again, not too surprisingly, one of the members who has been in the class for several years asked me, how was my summer?

    My first reaction was to say the standard, “fine,” but I realized this was not true.  For reason that are not important here, it had been a difficult summer with virtually no free time to actually enjoy it.  Here I was, about to start teaching on truth and love, and before class even started I was about to say something that was not true. So I was honest, it had been a difficult summer.

    This started a discussion among the class as to what and how much to say, and how you can answer truthfully, without going into long and possibly unwanted explanations.  But before long, the discussion broadened onto how we are not always truthful with ourselves. Just as we tell others that we are Ok, or that everything is fine, we say the same things to ourselves.  We are fine; no problems with God; I have my life in order.  Yet if we were to ask God, would he say the same thing?

    Before I had started this study, I thought I was doing pretty well on the truth front, and in a general sense this was probably true.  But it did not mean that I was up to God’s standards, or even that I viewed truth, or its importance, in quite the same way that He does.

    Jesus is the truth in every sense of that word.  A commitment to Him is a commitment to truth, a key component of which is being honest with, and about, ourselves.  Letting God shine his light into our lives to reveal the things we need to work on.

    A few weeks ago, we had some questions about Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so after the discussion above, before going into 2 John, I updated the class on something that had happened during the week. My neighbor has had some Jehovah’s Witnesses coming over to his house, and so he stopped by to ask some questions about what they were claiming.   One argument in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with the class.

    A key difference between the historical Christian belief and the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is over the deity of Jesus Christ.  Christians have historically affirmed it, while Jehovah’s Witnesses deny it.  A key verse in this debate is John 1:1.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.

    Verses 1:14, 15 and 30 clearly identify the Word in verse 1 as Jesus.   So when it says “The Word was God,”  it is not hard to see why historically Christians have believed that Jesus is God.

    My neighbor said that in response to this passage, the Jehovah’s Witness had pulled out a Greek-English Interlinear and pointed out how the word translated God in the phase, “and the Word was with God” was different than the word translated God in the phrase “and the word was God.” My neighbor went on to explain that he had been told that the word ‘God’ in “the Word was with God”, refers to Jehovah, while ‘God’ in “the word was God” is not really god. Thus in the New World Bible, the Jehovah’s Witness’ translation, John 1:1 reads,

    In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.  (NWT)

    While this argument may sound good in English, it falls completely apart with even the most preliminary understanding of Greek.

    Here is the Greek of John 1:1

    Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

    Or transliterated

    En arche en o logos, kai o logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en o logos.

    Or as a word for word literal translation

    In beginning was the word, and the word was with the god, and god was the word.

    From this we can see that it is true that two words translated “God” in this passage are spelled differently, the first one is θεόν (theon) and the other is θεὸς (theos).  But the difference in spelling has nothing at all to do with the basic meaning of the word, but rather the grammar of the sentence.   The spelling is different because Greek uses the ending of words to indicate their function.  Consider the following sentence:

    Bill threw the ball to Joe.

    English uses word order to indicate function, so we know that Bill is the subject (i.e., Nominative Case) and Joe is the indirect object (i.e. Dative Case) by where they appear in the sentence.  Greek however uses the ending of the word for this.   One place were English also uses word endings, is with the possessive (i.e. Genitive case).   Thus in the sentence

    Joe threw Bill’s ball back.

    The  -’s  ending is used to show that the ball belongs to Bill.   English also uses the –s ending to show plural.   So whereas English does this for the Genitive case and for plurals,  Greek does this for all cases and for both singular and plural.    It shows the Nominative singular (i.e, the subject) with the  -oς   ending and the Accusative singular (i.e. the object) with –oν.  This the reason for the difference in spelling between  θεόν (theon) and θεὸς  (theos).  The first is in the Accusative case, which is exactly what one would expect as it is the object of the phrase, and the second occurrence is in the Nominative case.

    To see the fallacy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument consider again the two sentences about Bill and the ball.

    Bill threw the ball to Joe.
    Joe threw Bill’s ball back.

    Bill is spelled differently in these two sentences.  Does that mean that “Bill” in the first sentence is a different kind of Bill than “Bill’s” in the second sentence?  Clearly not! Bill is the same in both sentences and the spelling difference merely concerns how it is being used in the sentence.   The same is true for θεόν (theon)  and θεὸς (theos) in John 1:1.

    At this point a question was asked about the translation of “a god” found in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation.   First off, it is not impossible.  Greek has no indefinite article (“a”) nor can one simply determine by the absence of the definite article (“the”)  that a noun is indefinite. Normally, this must be determined by the context.

    A key issue in John 1:1 is that in the phrase “The Word was God” (lit:  God was the Word) both “God” and “Word” are in the nominative case.  A rule in Greek, Colwell’s Rule, does help us determine that “Word” is the subject, which is why it is translated as “The Word was God,” and not “God was the Word” because in English the subject normal appears first. It also suggests that God is definite (“was God”) instead of indefinite (“was a god”).  But it does to prove it.  I will not go into the details of the grammar here.  Those who are interested can find a more complete discussion of the grammar here.

    In terms of the context, an extremely difficult problem arises with the translation of “a god” particularly in the way it is understood by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  If Jesus is “a god,” in what sense is he a god?  If he really is “a god,” separate and distinct from the father, then you have the teaching of polytheism, the belief in more than one God.  On the other hand, if you want hold on to monotheism, the belief in only one god, then John 1:1 cannot really be saying what it is saying.

    Another point is that one of the ways Greek emphasizes something is by moving it to the front. (The other is, as we saw in the verse this week, by repetition)  Remember, because of the word endings, word order is not needed to determine the function of the word. In Greek you can put the words pretty much where you want them. While “Bill’s Joe ball threw” does not make much sense in English, that word order would not be a problem in Greek as the word endings would make it clear that the meaning was “Joe threw Bill’s ball.”   As mentioned above, the Greek literally reads “god was the word.”  So not only is the word being equated with God, but the “God” part is being emphasized.  Yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ understanding attempts to de-emphasize this out of existence.  It is not “God” but just “a god,” and then it was not really even “a god,” but something lesser than that, because according to their belief Jesus is not god.  In short it is pretty easy to see that their translation is trying to get around what the text says, because what it says does not match their beliefs.

    From here the discussion turned to how average Christians can deal with such arguments. After all, few Christians know very much Greek, nor do they need to. God does not expect anyone to become a super-Christian, one who know all the answers and whose walk with God is perfect. This goes right back to the subject of this class.  When dealing with questions, the simplest thing is to be honest.   Answer those questions you know, and when you are not sure, or do not know the answer, or someone raises a point or objection you have never heard before, simply say “that is a good question, and I do not know the answer. Let me look into that and I will get back to you.”

    Everyone has their role to play, and just as not everyone is called to be a pastor, not everyone is called to be an apologist.   So while you may not know the answer, there is probably someone in your church who does, or at least who knows how to get the answer. Your pastor is a great place to start.

    In many ways truth is liberating.  It frees us to go wherever the truth leads us.  We do not have to live in fear that what we believe will be proven wrong. If a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon showed me an error in my understanding of the Bible, I would praise God, because that would remove an error from my understanding and move me one step closer to the truth.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Having said that, as with the example above, I have seen so much error and falsehood in their teachings that I know that they cannot represent the true teaching of the Bible, but I approach them in truth and in love seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    Next week we will start in 2 John 4

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    Footnotes:
    1 Other mss. read the Lord Jesus
    2 Or Christ

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 2 John 1-2

    Sunday, October 16th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Six: Oct 16, 2011

    This week we finished the study in 3 John in an earlier post. Here we will start 2 John.

    2 John

    Outline

    The structure of 2 John is very close to a typical 1st century letter, and thus there is pretty broad agreement on the outline by scholars.

    I.Opening

    a. Address (1-2)
    b. Greeting(3)

    II.Body

    a. Living In Truth and Love (4-6)
    b. Reject False Teachers (7-11)

    III. Conclusion

    a. Final words (12)
    b. Greeting (13)

    Study

    I. Opening

    a. Address (1-2)

    1* – From:1 The Elder
    To: The chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth2, and not only I but also all who know the truth, 2* – because of the truth3 that is present in us and will be with us forever.

    A standard opening of a 1st Century letter. A writing to B, greetings and prayer

    The Elder

    This is same opening as 3 John. For further details, see comments here.

    To: The chosen lady and her children

    - There are three options on who this letter is written to.

    1) This could refer to a particular noble woman and her children. The word for Lady (κυρίᾳ / kuria) is a the female version of Lord. It is possible that this woman was well known to John. Her name would have been on the outside and so here he only needed to refer to her as the chosen lady. It is also possible that her name was Eclecta as in as in “The Lady Eclectra” or possibly Kyria as in “The chosen Kyria.”

    This understanding is supported by a strict reading of this passage as well as others such as v13 The children of your(singular) chosen sister greet you (singular).

    2) This is could be a metaphor for a particular local church and its members. With this understanding, the Lady = the church and could be a reference to the Bride of our Lord. Then the children would be its members.

    This is supported by other passages such as the later part of v1 whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth. This would be a very unusual way for a man to address a woman during the first century. Then there are passages such as v6 Just as you (plural) have heard from the beginning what he commanded, you (plural) must live by it.

    C. H. Dodd suggests that the reason for the metaphor could have been to protect the church from persecution should the letter fall into the wrong hands.

    3) The third option is that this is a general letter intended for many local churches. While this would explain the lack of mention of a particular church, such as the church at ______, it is difficult to account for the specific details within the letter. It is notable that one of the leading proponents of this view, Bultmann, argues that these details are fictitious.

    My view is the second one, that this refers to a particular local church as this seems to be most natural way to understand over all letter.

    whom I love in the truth

    - This could simply mean whom I genuinely love, as in the ISV, but given importance of truth in John’s writings, and in this sentence I prefer the translation of in the truth

    and not only I but also all who know the truth,

    - i.e., the rest of the church. Evidently this church (or woman) was well known and had a good reputation.

    because of the truth that is present in us

    - The truth is not just academic knowledge that we have. It is because of the truth that we love, and love is grounded in truth, which gives it life. Truth is not just something we know it indwells us. See John 14:15-17a: “If you love me, keep my commandments. 16I will ask the Father to give you another Helper, to be with you always. 17He is the Spirit of truth,”

    and will be with us forever.

    - Real truth is not temporal. This may also be a reference back to the phase, be with you always found in John 14:16.

    For the questions this week, see the first part of this week’s post.

    Next week we will start in 2 John 3

    If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    Footnotes:
    1 The Gk. lacks From
    2ISV whom I genuinely love
    3 ISV omits because of the truth

    The Cult Question

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    With Romney as the front-runner, the question of his Mormon religion continues to be an issue and came to the forefront recently when a Perry supporter labeled Mormons a cult, which was then followed by calls for Perry to repudiate these comments.

    This is an issue, which if not handled correctly, could blow up in a number of directions. Romney supporters are understandably nervous that if Romney’s Mormon beliefs become an issue, it could cost him the nomination or the election. However, if the defense of Romney is to label any criticism of Mormonism bigoted that could also easily backfire and alienate many Christians who make up a large portion of the conservative base that Romney will need to win.

    One factor that makes this a huge minefield is the general ignorance of the mainstream media when it comes to religion. But the biggest problem in this whole debate concerns the word “cult.” “Cult” is one of those words that has a very large lexical domain (range of meaning) from academic/technical at one end of the spectrum to a derogatory label on the other. Those calling for Perry to repudiate the term clearly see the term in the latter sense. Because of this ambiguity in meaning I do not use the word, and have encouraged others to avoid it.

    While there certainly are some Christians who use the term in a derogatory sense, for many Christians the term cult simply refers to groups who in some fashion claim to be Christian, but who reject one or more of the key doctrines that have defined Christianity. But this gets into a discussion of just what is Christianity. I discussed this issue in my book, Christianity and Secularism.

    On these central beliefs there is very little dispute. In fact, it has been these doctrines that have defined Christianity as a religion. Groups that accept these doctrines are considered to be Christian groups. Those who do not accept these doctrines cannot be considered Christians, at least not in any historical sense.

    Some may consider it to be judgmental and arrogant to say who is or is not a Christian simply because they do or do not accept a particular doctrine or belief. First, let it be clear that we are talking about classifying groups based on beliefs. After all, if there is a difference between being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, does it not mean that Christians must have some distinct beliefs that can be contrasted with these other religions? Second we are not talking about an individual’s relationship with God. This is a spiritual matter that only God can judge, for only He knows what is truly in a person’s heart. We may be able to get a good indication by the person’s actions or beliefs but we cannot judge the heart.

    Groups do not have personal relationships with God. What defines a religious group is the beliefs of the group. If we were to be completely non-judgmental, then we would have to conclude that any group that claimed to be Christian was, regardless of what they believed. This would render the term “Christian” completely meaningless. Should we consider a group that believed in child sacrifice to be a Christian group? Would this make child sacrifice a legitimate expression of the teachings of Christ? Clearly not. So the question is not should a line be drawn that defines Christianity, but where do we draw that line.

    If no line is drawn, Christianity becomes a completely meaningless term that could be applied to any group or any action from the most divine to the most depraved. If, on the other hand, we compose a long and extensive list of doctrines that must be accepted in order for a group to be considered Christian, then we would indeed be arrogant and judgmental, restricting Christianity only to those groups that agreed with us in every little detail. The doctrines that define Christianity should be limited to those expressly taught in the Bible as essential….

    Philip Schaff, in his three volume work, Creeds of Christendom, surveyed the doctrinal statements and creeds of the various Christian churches down through the ages. He refers to their ecumenical creeds as those creeds which contain “the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation.” As to the acceptance of these creeds, Schaff points out that they:

    … are to this day either formally or tacitly acknowledged in the Greek, the Latin, and the Evangelical Protestant Churches, and form a bond of union between them.

    The differences that divide denominations are mostly peripheral issues, such as whether or not some spiritual gifts are available to be used today. (pg 76-7;90-1)

    How this applies to the current debate is that Mormons reject some of these key doctrines. For example, while both Christianity and Judaism believe that there is only one God, Mormons believe that that many gods exist. This does not make Mormons bad people, but it does mean that Mormons beliefs are different from those that have historically defined Christianity.

    It is true that Mormons use a lot of the same terminology as Christians, such as referring to Jesus as the Son of God, but what they mean by this is often vastly different than what Christians have historically meant. Thus when a Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, to name just a few, talk about the nature of God, or say that Jesus is the Son of God, and they all mean the same thing. Mormons talking about these topics may sound similar, but they mean something significantly different.

    This is not an unusual circumstance. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share a lot of beliefs. In fact they all believe that there is only one God. But they also have key differences. Thus we refer to them as different religious movements. While there are a large number of Christian groups with differing beliefs, they have historically shared a core of beliefs that has defined them as Christian. Mormons reject this core of beliefs, so the easiest thing to do is to likewise consider Mormons a different religious groups. This is not said in a derogatory sense, but merely an attempt to be accurate and precise.

    So how does this apply to the election? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The constitution is pretty clear that there should be no religious test for office. The office of the president has no religious function, and therefore the religion of the candidate should be largely irrelevant. It would only become relevant if the candidate chose to make it an important part of their campaign, but this would in and of itself raise red flags. But Romney has not done this, and nothing in his career would indicate that he would. So as a bottom line, when it comes to Romney, while I do not believe he is a Christian, I am looking for a President, not a pastor. Thus I will be much more interested in his polices than his religion.

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 3 John 11a -15

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Five:  Oct 9, 2011

    This week we finished the study in 3 John picking up in verse 11b.   We also started 2 John, but I will start that in another post.

    II.  Body

    b.      Commendation of Demetrius (11,12)

    11b – The person who does what is good is from God. The person who does what is evil has never seen God.

    -          Some see this as a tough verse.   While this sounds good at first, as Paul writes in Romans 3:23 “…all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s glory and so no one would be from God and everyone would be the category of those who have never seen God.     Just how do we understand an atheist who helps the poor?  What about Christians who do evil?  Just what is this verse saying? As in all issues of interpretation the context is key. John has just encouraged Gaius to imitate the good, and so this is part of the exhortation to do good and not evil.

    It is also important to keep in mind that there was tendency in  first century Jewish culture to put things in stark black and white terms.   For example, in John 15:23 Jesus does not talk about belief and disbelief, but says that, The person who hates me hates the father.” Luke 14:26 is probably the best example of this when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother… he can’t be my disciple.”  Few would take this literally, and most see this as emphasizing that we must put Jesus first to be a disciple.

    -          So when we come to this passage, we must understand that it is in the context of encouraging Gaius to imitate the good and is presented in black and white terms.   John cannot be saying that Christians never do evil.  For he say in 1 John 1:8 “If we say that we do not have any sin, we are deceiving ourselves and we’re not being truthful to ourselves.” So what he is saying is that when looking for examples to imitate, we should look to those Christians (the context here is within the Church) whose lives are marked by doing good, and avoid those who are doing evil.

    -          So then what does this say about Diotrephes?  One option is that this is a general statement and should be seen as an exhortation to Gaius.  The other option is that this has a broader context and directly contrasts Diotrephes with Demetrius in the next verse. In short that Diotrephes has never seen God.    I believe this should be understood in terms of the former.  The discussion has moved away from Diotrephes and onto Gaius. If this were a judgment of Diotrephes, it would be a severe one.  We will see in 1 and 2 John that John is not reluctant pass judgment when needed.  Thus if he was going to make such a judgment about Diotrephes it is more likely he would do so in a  statement directly about Diotrephes, rather than in one where the connection to Diotrephes must be inferred from a statement about how Gaius should act.

    12 – Demetrius has received a good report from everyone, including the truth itself. We, too, can testify to this report, and you know that our testimony is true.

    -          Demetrius means belonging to Demeter, the Greek Goddess of fruits and crops.  This would indicate that he was of pagan origin. If his parents were Christian, they most likely converted after he was named. He apparently was unknown to Gaius, and thus the introduction included here.
    He is almost certainly the one who delivered the letter. If Demetrius lived near Gaius, he would have been known and no introduction would have been needed. If he was traveling and not yet there, the letter would have mentioned his coming.  Some suggest that he may have been one of those rejected by Diotrephes. I see this as possible but beyond what the evidence supports. This could conflict with his being unknown to Gaius depending on the assumptions about Gaius in verse 9.  He was probably there for more than just the delivery of the letter and had been sent to help Gaius with the problem of Diotrephes until John could arrive.

    received a good report from everyone

    -          In context, this is all Christians.   That this is mention abruptly following the exhortation to not imitate evil but good indicates that Demetrius is being held up as an example of the good that Gaius is to follow.

    including the truth itself

    -          Exactly what John is revering to here is unclear.   It could refer to Truth personified, i.e., that if truth could speak, it would give a good report for Demetrius.   Another option is that this is a reference to God as in John 14:7 I am the Way the Truth and the Life.   Finally it could be truth as the reality of his walk with the Lord.  In other words, that the way Gaius lives in the truth,  as John says about Gaius, (v3) testifies about him.    It is hard to say which of these John intends.

    We, too, can testify to this report

    -          Demetrius is personally known by John and he adds his testimony to the rest.   This three fold testimony is an indication of the trust that could be placed in him and the importance of his mission.

    and you know that our testimony is true

    -          Finally this is a subtle indication of authorship  – see John 21:14  “We know his testimony is true.”  This seems to be phase that John would use.

    III. Conclusion

    a.      Final words (13-14)

    13 – Although I have a great deal to write to you,1 I would rather not write with pen and ink.

    -          This is a serious matter and there is a lot to do, but John does not want to write. He has already mentioned that he will be visiting soon (v10) and has probably given more detailed instructions to Demetrius.

    14 – Instead, I hope to see you2 soon and speak face to face.

    -          Again John mentions that he is coming soon.  I always find it interesting the way idioms change from language to language.  This is literally: Mouth to mouth

    b.      Greetings (15)

    15 May peace be with you!3 Your friends greet you.4 Greet5 each of our friends by name.

    -          John closes with a standard greeting.

    May peace be with you

    -          Traditional Jewish greeting, which was frequently used by Christians.   This is the greeting used by Jesus in locked room following Resurrection  (John 20:19)

    Your friends greet you.

    -          Gaius evidently had friends who were with John and they send their greetings

    Greet each of our friends by name

    -          John sends a personal greeting to his friends who are with Gaius.  John want each specifically greeted, as opposed to a general greeting to all. These friends could be in Gaius’ household or in his church.

    Questions:  The questions this week centered on the intersection of Love and Truth.  Love asks us to be accepting.  Truth demands that we maintain standards.  How does one do both?  One question concerned how this applied to the Presbyterian Church-USA ordination of a homosexual minister in Madison, Wi?   Clearly that church was focusing on the acceptance that stems from love.  But what about truth?  The Bible’s position on homosexuality may not be politically correct, but it is clear.   But this goes to a deeper problem concerning the authority of God’s word.  Will we follow what the Bible says, or will we follow the current trends of political correctness?

    Those opposed to the message of the word of God, frequently present such issues as conflict between reason and/or science and faith, where faith seems to be defined as that which is false.  But this is far from the case.  In fact the evidence, while frequently ignored, is pretty clear.  The closer that one follows the teaching of the Bible the happier and more fulfilled will be their lives and longer they tend to live.  For the Christian, this is not too surprising.  The Bible is not an arbitrary document.  It rules were not given so that we could be punished.   Like the Sabbath, the Bible was given for help us.  The primary message concerns the reconciliation with God and our eternal life, but much of the Bible also deals with how we can life better lives here and now.

    Some of the Bible consists of thou shall, and thou shall not.  But not all the instructions of the Bible are as clear cut as you should not murder or you should not steal.  Much of the teachings of the Bible consist of balancing competing interests.  That is the one of the focuses of John’s letters, just how do we balance competing interests of Truth and Love.

    Again I will have a follow up Post to start 2 John.

    Next week we will start in 2 John 3

    If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    Footnotes:
    1) Lit. you (singular)
    2) Lit. you (singular)
    3) Lit. you (singular)
    4) Lit. you (singular)
    5) The Gk. verb is singular

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 3 John 10-11a

    Monday, October 10th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Four: Oct 2, 2011

    This week we continue the study in 3 John picking up in verse 10.

    I. Body

    a. Criticism of Diotrephes (9,10)

    10* – For this reason, when I come I will remind him of what he is doing1 in spreading false charges against us. And not content with that, he refuses to receive the brothers. He even tries to stop those who want to accept them and throws them out of the church.

    - Most translation have, “if I come” but the Greek grammar here assumes a probably future. So John is planning to come and deal with this issue. In modern parlance, this would be the equivalent to saying “Lord willing…”

    - John plans to come and to deal with this.

    I will remind him of what he is doing

    - The ISV and many translations have “call attention to.” The Greek word here (ὑπομνήσω / upomnēsō) mean to remember. The translation of “Call attention to” seems strikes me as implying a more public venue, whereas to remind could be private or public. I have no doubt that John planned to follow the biblical model of first confronting Diotrephes privately.

    - John’s determination to come and deal with Diotrephes is not only proper it is good. There is no question that the improper exercise or rejection of authority is wrong and this would sum up Diotrephes. But a failure to exercise of proper authority is also wrong.

    in spreading false charges against us.

    - The Greek word here (φλυαρῶν/phluarōn) means “to speak in such a way as to make no sense, presumably because of ignorance of what is involved.” (Louw-Nida) This is in the present tense, as with the rest of the verse, indicating that this was an ongoing problem, not just something that had happened.

    - It would seem that to justify his rejection of John’s authority, Diotrephes was making statements that were untrue. It is not clear if he was lying, but he certainly was not telling the truth. Some may be confused by this distinction, stemming from a general confusion about the meaning of lie. Saying something that is untrue is not necessarily a lie, as it could just be an honest mistake. On the other hand a carefully phrased statement may be technically true, but it can still be used to deceive, and it is that deception that is at the core of a lie. In short, a lie is anything said with the intent to deceive.

    Thus it is possible that Diotrephes was not attempting to deceive, but rather in his attempt to justify himself, he was not as careful as he should have been. This is something that we should all be wary of. In fact he was so uncritical in his charges against John that he drifted into claims that were evidently internally inconsistent to the point of nonsense. So whether he was actively lying, or just spreading untrue statements, it is clear that Diotrephes did not love the truth.

    - This is the question that we should ask ourselves: Do we love the truth? When we speak, particularly when we speak about others, are we sure about everything we say? This really becomes important when we are in a dispute. When we are in a dispute which is more important to us? Being completely truthful, even when it does not help us? Or is it winning? Probably most would say being truthful. But what if we rephrase that slightly? Unless one is a lawyer, winning is normally not the main concern, but rather winning for a reason. What if we, for the sake of argument, assume that we are completely correct, and in fact have been wronged, such that our side is the side of justice? Now which is more important, truthfulness or justice?

    Here I think the Gospel of John and the Epistles give a pretty clear answer: truth is a more important value than justice. Jesus did not say in that he was “the way, the justice and the life.” Consider this, as sinners, do we really want to demand complete justice?

    This really comes home when we consider how often we tend to cast things in terms of motives and compared with how well can we know motives? We can speak about motives, after all John said that Diotrephes wanted to be first, but we had better be very sure about what we said.

    And not content with that, he refuses to receive the brothers

    - Not content with saying things, Diotrephes moves on to actions as well. What we say can be bad, what we do is worse. While Gaius was praised for receiving the brothers, Diotrephes refused. Again there is no indication that the problem with Diotrephes was doctrinal. Perhaps he was them as a challenge to his authority? Or perhaps it was because they were associated with John and to accept them would be to accept John’s authority, but either way he did not receive them.

    tries to stop those who want to accept them throws them out of the church

    - Not only did he not receive them, he tried to stop others from receiving them as well. Throwing them out of the church should not be thought of in terms of formal excommunication. That would imply a more formal church structure than probably existed at the time. Rather this would be a breaking of fellowship. This indicates that the break with John was to some extent public and that Diotrephes had supporters within the church. These members may not have had the full story, as we have seen false statements about John played a role in all this. But Diotrephes did have supporters, and so John was coming to set the records straight.

    b. Commendation of Demetrius (11,12)

    11a – Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.

    do not imitate what is evil, but what is good

    - With another a personal appeal, John marks a change in subject

    - The commentators I read saw this as John telling Gaius to resist any pressure put on him to follow after Diotrephes. But, with all the praise of Gaius to this point, this simply does not strike me as correct, and it was not how I read this. Instead I saw this as John telling Gaius not to respond in like fashion. As we saw in the previous verse, Diotrephes was speaking ill of John, and putting pressure on member to follow him. Gaius should not respond in like fashion. He should not speak ill of Diotrephes, and put pressure on member to support John.

    So how should Gaius (or we) respond? The two hallmarks of John’s teaching here have been truth and love. Modern culture responses to the love part of this pair easily. But truth, does not fare as well. Yet for John, truth, which is mentioned 6 times in letter, is very important. Love is mentioned once, beloved four times.

    One other question is why does John say imitate (μιμοῦ / mimou)? For many, it is the heart that matters, and if your heart is not in what you do, it is meaningless. Yet the concept of imitating implies actions based, not on our heart, but on something outside of us. It is doing things even when our heart is not in it, or even against it. Yet, we learn and become better at what we do by imitation. If you want to learn a musical instrument or a language you must practice, and the practice is more important than where their heart is. Likewise, if we want to be a better Christians we must practice. This also touches on the modern distrust of ritual, as stale and dead. Yet many Christians have found that ritual can get them through periods where they “don’t feel it” and help rekindle faith. Now with a musical instrument it is easier if you have a teacher to imitate. Again the same is truth for Christians, and our teacher is Jesus.

    Next week we will start in 3 John 11b

    If you have question about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the version ISV. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    Footnotes

    1) ISV: I will call attention to what he is doing