Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27

OT: Isaiah 51:1-53:12

"Do you understand what you are reading?"
"How can I, unless someone explains it to me?"

This exact exchange happened in Acts, concerning this section. And even before I got to the passage which Philip and the Ethiopian discussed, their words popped into my mind. As I have mentioned several times already, I feel ill-equipped to comment on Isaiah, b/c I just don't really understand the background. Thus, I don't get what it is saying. It goes around and around on the issue of God's wrath v. God's restoration, and I wish I knew exactly what it was talking about. Is it always talking about the same situation? Or are these prophecies about several different occurrences? Is it just the Assyrian threat and then the Babylonian threat and exile? If so, why go around and around like that? One thing I remember from my Isaiah class is that my professor had written a book on Isaiah, and I wanted to get it. I'm thinking I need to...

And I've got to say, we owe a debt of thanks to Philip, who explicitly connected Isaiah's suffering servant prophecies to Christ. I think it is his connection, using chapter 53, that empowers me, for better or worse, to project Isaiah's prophecies far into the future. Depending on the prophecy, I can read it as referring to Isaiah's immediate historical context, referring to the coming of Christ and the advent of Christianity, referring to the end times and the fullness of the kingdom of God, or some combination of those. Philip's interpretation (along with several other NT allusions to Isaiah) really widen the scope of the implications of the book.

And, of course, I love Isaiah 53, which has long been my favorite Lord's Supper reading.

A couple other little things that I liked today involved the reaction to threats and suffering. In Isaiah 51: 12-13, God says,

"I, even I, am he who comforts you.
who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?"

These verses talk about the skewed perspective that causes us to fear. If I believe that I serve an all-powerful God who loves me and wants the best for me, if I believe that my life is but a vapor and a prelude to eternity with Him, then why am I scared of things on this earth??? Why do I worry and stress??? More and more, I realize how faithless I am when I let my circumstances freak me out. Talk about a lack of perspective!

I also like the interaction between 51:9, 51:17, and 52:1. The first part of the first one says,

"Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the Lord."

And the first part of the second one says,

"Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath."

And the first part of the third one says,

"Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourselves with strength."

First, there is the plea to God, a plea that is essentially answered with, "Why are you afraid?" Those verses I just discussed, about not fearing mortal men, fall in this section. Then with the second command to "awake," it almost seems like God gives them reason to be afraid, b/c he talks about how they are about to suffer from His wrath. In the last repetition of the command, He essentially tells them to "man up" b/c He is going to save them. I think this progression is supposed to be comforting b/c it takes external fears and threats out of the equation. There is literally no one to fear but God Himself. He is the One in control. And though He might bring suffering, He ultimately brings salvation to those who seek Him. Thus, even though the road might be rough, we can take comfort that it was made by a Being who loves us and wants the best for us.

NT: Ephesians 5:1-33

Holy moly! I just talked about verses 1-2 today in Sunday school, in reference to my dad. These verses always make me think of my parents, and specifically of my brother and dad. My brother and I were dearly loved children, and the natural response of one dearly loved is to imitate the one who loves them. My brother did so to my dad to a comical degree, always wanting to look like him and even talk like him. But what their relationship showed me is that love is a very powerful motivator. And the more aware we are of the love God has for us, the easier it should become to imitate Him and live lives of love ourselves.

In Isaiah today, we read a command to God's people (and apparently to the priests and Levites specifically), which said,

"Depart, depart, go out from there!
Touch no unclean thing!
Come out from it and be pure,
you who carry the vessels of the Lord" (52:11).

There is a lot that has changed with the coming of Christ and with the grace that now covers us, but one thing that hasn't changed is the need for God's people to be holy, to be "set apart." If anything, that need has intensified, b/c now, we not only carry the vessels of the Lord, we are the vessels of the Lord (2 Cor. 4:7). Thus, today, Paul tells the followers of God in Ephesus to avoid "even a hint of sexual immorality," as well as obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, impurity, greed, and drunkenness (3-5, 18). In fact, we are to "have nothing to do" with such things (11).

I also take very much to heart the idea that we must "be very careful, then, how [we] live--not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (15-16). I am trying more and more to use every day as a gift, to use it fully and not to waste any part of it. Every day is an opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.

In verses 21-33, we have probably the most famous instructions on marriage in the Bible. My main impression from reading it is that a marriage that truly followed these guidelines would be amazing. After all, a man who truly loved his wife just as much as he loved his own body, a man who loved his wife as Christ loved the church, would be a wonderful man to be married to. And it wouldn't be very hard for a godly woman to respect and submit to such a man. I know I say it a lot, but I really do think my husband fits this bill about as well as I've ever seen a man fit it. I feel so loved and respected by him that it is easy to love and respect him in return. I submit to him, yes, but in the bigger picture, we both "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (21).

Psalm 69: 19-36

David continues to cry out to God, sometimes with bitter wishes against his enemies. After one particularly harsh request, in which he wishes strongly and with surprising eloquence that his enemies be damned (26-28), he gives what I view as an explanation for his vitriol:

"I am in pain and distress" (29a).

One thing I learned in psychology classes is that "Pain leads to Attack." To demonstrate this principle, my professor asked us to picture a cat hanging from a tree branch, tied to it by its tail. If you were to go and try to help that cat, what would be the cat's immediate response? It would be to swipe at you, to claw or bite you. When an animal is in pain, its instinct is to attack. That's what I think David is doing here. He is in a great amount of pain, and he is thus lashing out bitterly against his enemies. He is being very honest before God.

Proverbs 24:7

"Wisdom is too high for a fool;
in the assembly at the gate he has nothing to say."


  1. Out of curiosity, do you refer to the author of Ephesians as Paul because you reject the scholarly opinion that Paul was not the author? If so, why?

  2. That's a good question, Erika. I honestly haven't thought about it for awhile. But let me say this about Biblical scholarship. I view Biblical scholarship as a wonderful tool in helping us understand the Bible. Indeed, I depend upon it often while I study. At the same time, I do not imbue that scholarship with total authority. As I have studied the scholarly methods of examining Biblical texts, I have found that they are working with far less puzzle pieces than I thought they were. So much is based on conjecture, and because there is so much guesswork involved, people's biases (either toward or against faith) come into play much more easily than they do in more concrete fields of inquiry.

    So...when I hear that "scholars say" that Paul didn't write Ephesians, part of me rolls my eyes b/c "scholars" dispute the authorship of just about every book of the Bible. That said, because of your question, I looked up Ephesians in my Writings of the NT, and sure enough, the authorship is more widely disputed than some other Pauline letters. The author of this textbook does make a case for Pauline authenticity, though, based on the similarities between other letters, particularly Colossians. He acknowledges that people dispute the authorship of Colossians, too, but says that that position is a bit more tricky. For one thing, Colossians would have to be "a deliberate forgery, using the information derived only from Philemon to certify its authenticity, even though Philemon is a private note." He goes on to highlight the problems that come with then figuring out how the two books came to be, since they were both forgeries. He walks you through different scenarios, presenting the difficulties with each one.

    Now, do I necessarily trust that what this guy says is right? No, not necessarily, but neither do I necessarily trust Harris or any other author who tells me that this or that conclusion is the most logical. And so the end result is usually that I just shrug my shoulders and say, "Eh. We'll go with Paul." Maybe in heaven Paul will come tell me he didn't really write which case I'll tell him that it's a shame b/c Ephesians is my favorite:).

  3. There's also the little business that right at the beginning, the author identifies himself as Paul. So, if he's NOT Paul, then it's pretty hard to declare Ephesians (full disclosure, also MY favorite) "the inspired word of God." I know it gets into circular logic a bit, but I decided a long time ago, after lots of study and lots of prayer, that everything between those bonded leather covers was True (capital T intended). That doesn't necessarily mean literal*, or written according to modern standards, but I'm committed to the "True" part. So when some academic makes claims contrary to the exact words of scripture, I tend to give more weight to the Good Book.

    *This is not meant to be a fudge-factor or weasel-word that covers up errors or contradictions. I mean that some passages are symbolic, poetic, allegorical, apocalyptic, etc., and that others describe "mysteries" too big for temporal man to fully comprehend. I have said before that I do believe that there is a great deal of space between the binary extremes of 100% Biblical literalism and modern mushiness. But if I had to choose just one, my vote goes with the fundies every time.

  4. Yeah, that's why I ultimately go with Paul as the author. The only reason I would even open the issue up to debate is b/c it is my understanding that "pseudonymous literature" was more common back then and was not considered to be dishonest. It's like how Jefferson totally plagiarized that English guy when he talked about the majority of men not being born booted and spurred with saddles on their backs in his writing for the 1826 July 4th celebration. Today, we would say, "Thief!" but back then, it was no big thing. And so today, we would point to the claim of Pauline authorship and say, "Liar!" but back then, it was totally acceptable.

    That said, I would like to reiterate my distrust for the scholarly methods used to determine "authentic" and "inauthentic" Pauline writings. I just read Luke Timothy Johnson's discussion on the topic in my Writings of the NT, and I'm even more convinced that it is silly to try and say whether Paul wrote this one or that one. There is so much conjecture involved, and like you, Larry, I tend to go with the Bible over conjecture.

    In closing, I will share a passage on Johnson's discussion of the authorship of Ephesians that I found particularly helpful:

    "Trying to decide authorship on the basis of style is always tenuous, as the endless disputes concerning the real Shakespeare attest. Subjective judgments are inevitable, particularly on issues such as how much range an author is allowed or what circumstantial factors are to be considered. For instance, is the "Laws of Plato" to be considered as authentic as "The Republic,," even though the dialogical form is almost nonexistent and the style flat? We are fortunate that we are not called on to decide the genuineness of Lucian's "On the Writing of History," having as a standard of comparison only his more scurrilous dialogues and tales. One factor often left out of this discussion is that ancient rhetorical training cultivated using and adapting a wide range of styles in to match particular rhetorical occasions" (408-9).

    He goes on, but the point for me is that, in the face of such subjective "scholarship," I tend to go with what the Bible plainly says.

  5. It's not an unreasonable position you take, but I do think that you lose a lot. To me, Ephesians is much more interesting as a commentary on what was considered to be most important in Paul's letters and as an early attestation of the importance of Paul's writings than as just another letter going over the same ideas in a different way.