That you may prosper… together

There is a startling promise in chapter 15 of Deuteronomy:

But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess… (Deuteronomy 15:4 ESV)

No poor among you? Yet this is in the middle of a section that says that there will be poor among the Israelites, and that gives them directions on how to treat those poor.

What’s going on?

We don’t have to wonder too much because the Bible tells us of a fulfillment of this promise.

 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35 ESV).

No one was poor because the poor were taken care of. God promises prosperity and provision, but not a situation where no one needs others and no one needs to help others. He promises a prosperity that involves giving and receiving.

Doug Wilson: You can’t study what you don’t read!

Doug Wilson

Proper Bible study must always be preceded by thorough reading. Most mistakes in interpretation are caused because the context of the passage is neglected. In most cases, the context is neglected because it is not read.

Often new Christians are introduced to certain “narrow” types of Bible study (memorization, Bible study guides, etc) without having any idea of what the Bible as a whole is all about. This causes several problems. First, someone could “study” the Bible for years in this fashion without ever really learning. Secondly, this ignorance is seldom dealt with because it is hidden behind an impressive array of Bible quotes. When a Christian quotes a passage out of Hosea from memory, it rarely occurs to others to wonder if he has ever read Hosea. If he hasn’t (as is frequently the case), he cannot know the context of the passage he quotes. This is because he learned it off a little white card and the card has no context.

What then is the first step in learning what the Bible has to say? Suppose you want to learn the New Testament. (I think it wise for a new Christian to start with the N.T. When you are ready, you should approach the Old Testament the same way.) You should first get a good modern language copy of the New Testament. You are now ready for step one.

Step 1: Read it, cover to cover. Step 2: Read it again. Step 3: Switch to another translation and read it again. Step 4: Go back to your original translation and read it again.

Contrary to first appearance, this is not a gigantic task. If you only read about twelve pages a day (varying with different versions and copies), you would finish the New Testament in a month. Four times through would take you four months.

Read the rest: As Somebody Somewhere Said . . ..

Doing evil that good may come?

One of the problems with trying to understand the Bible is that there are always apparent shortcuts that lead nowhere. Simplifying the message leaves us with a complicated mess.

One such shortcut is to use the simple message of undeserved forgiveness only by Grace to explain passages in Romans like:

    What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:3-8 ESV)


    What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1 ESV)

So by being merciful and gracious to forgive sins, Paul has to deal with the criticism that Christians teach that humans should do evil to bring about good–meaning, sin as they please to magnify God’s forgiveness.

I don’t think this works. For one thing, Paul has many letters discussing the grace of God and free forgiveness and they never seem to envision this objection. If this issue “naturally arises” from the preaching of grace, then why doesn’t it “naturally arise” in other letters?

I have another suggestion that I have been trying to promote for some time. As I wrote most recently in Romans 6.1 in the NCV v. the Horne Thesis | “once more, with feeling”

Compare 5.20 and 6.1 more literalistically:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

And the scope of Romans 5 is all of world history. First Adam was made and then sinned. Then Israel was given the Law to be a light to the nations to increase the trespass to the point of Adam’s original trespass in the original sanctuary. And then in the ultimate trespass, the crucifixion of Christ, God brought salvation to the world.

The issue is not sinning more to rely on more grace. The issue is that God uses evil things to bring about good things.

So likewise, when Paul states, “And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just,” he is heading off a way critics will twist what he has to say later: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).

Paul has learned that all things work together that way because he has seen the results of the crucifixion of Jesus–and thus the results of the sin of Israel.

So it is not simply about forgiveness, it is about how God worked in Israel’s history so that their sin led to worldwide salvation. This tells us that all things work together for good.


Propositions & Stories: Remembering the “mutual” in “mutually interpreting”

Continuing with more thoughts from my last post, here is the video discussion:

Did Jesus Preach the Gospel? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

I think it might be good to remind people that, even though I am relying on them for content in this post, “propositions” are not immediately self-interpreting. They do not always or automatically function as keys to help us unlock the meaning of stories. It can work exactly the opposite way: stories can be the key that allows us to understand propositional sentences.

Paul’s epistles, the other epistles, the visions in Revelation, the stories in the Gospels and Acts–plus all the stories in the so-called “Old Testament,” as well as the riddles, proverbs, and songs therein–are all keys to unlock one another.

They are mutually interpreting. And the reason we need to know all the Bible is because it is the key to better understanding any of the Bible.

Saturation is the only way to make sure the whole canon is your canon

A group of Baptist, and some paedo-Baptist, adherents of the Reformed Tradition are dedicating a conference to the question of whether or not Jesus preached the Gospel.

Michael Bird writes:

 despite the affirmation of unity between Jesus and Paul, I still suspect that, presuppositionally at least, Paul is still the canon within the canon that Jesus himself needs to be measured by (though the actual conference may prove me wrong on that!). It still sounds like Galatians rather than Matthew is the default setting for thinking about gospel. … I’m concerned that at the end of the day, rather than being canonically balanced in integrating Jesus and Paul, that it will still be Paul-heavy. Cause I’ve heard sermons that effectively go, “Today we’re preaching through the Gospel according to Luke, Luke is wonderful, he reminds me of Romans, so let me preach to you Luke from Romans.”

Now I’ve cut out some of what Bird writes because he gives his own theological tests, which I don’t want to address here. Please visit his post and decide what you think.

Instead, I would like to propose another reason for suspecting (though not proving!) that Paul has primacy over Jesus:

Not one person at this conference could even imagine worrying if Paul preached the Gospel as we find it in Jesus’ words.

To ask, “Did Paul preach the Gospel?” would feel like asking, “Is water wet?” It is simply unthinkable. And it would be unthinkable to their constituencies. There would be no way to hold such a conference. It is completely taken for granted as beyond question that Paul is the Gospel and every other part of Scripture may be legitimately interrogated for proof that it matches up with him. Even though it is not part of the confessional heritage, being “Reformed” virtually means one never works the other way around.

Furthermore, I think to address this issue as a “theological problem” misses the mark somewhat. It is not a love of Pauline theological constructs that now perpetuates this sort of thinking. Maybe that was how the problem started in the past, but that is not the primary means of transmission now . Rather, it is the custom of constantly immersing oneself in Paul, memorizing Paul, and preaching and teaching from Paul, that makes it seem like common sense to ask the question, “Does Jesus preach the Gospel” rather than ask it of Paul.

My proposal, then, is that much of this might correct itself if we made ourselves and our communities spend as much time in other portions of Scripture. That would not automatically solve all problems, but it would offer us a way forward.

All Scripture is the Word of God. This confession is undermined when we don’t practice it. Customs that treat one portion of Scripture as “more Scriptural” are going to give rise to these sorts of tensions. And they can’t be resolved simply by a conference or a formula. What is needed is a change in practice–new habits of reading and listening.

We need to bind it all to our hands and between our eyes.

Change the stories; change the world! The Bible as the true “myth”

One of the most fun I’ve had was teaching on online course a few years back using the first Omnibus book. It was a live, online “classroom”–no doubt, part of the reason I loved the work so much was because I had truly great students.

But it wasn’t just about teaching; I learned a bit more about the Bible and how to “use” it in the process. The genius of the book is that it makes students read the Bible stories side by side the ancient pagan stories of Near-Eastern and Western Civilization in roughly chronological synchronization.

Far from promoting some kind of synthesis, this format really gives students in Western society an opportunity for “deprogramming.” Homer and Plato get mixed in with Jesus in our cultural milieu. Going back to sources helps us free our minds.

I was thinking about it again recently in a missionary context. I fear (hopefully I’m completely wrong about this) is that many places rarely get much more than some stories about Jesus and a few other verses in the New Testament. For converting people from their gods and spirits to the True God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, this is initially sufficient. But consider what is really involved in the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

The Great Commission is an ongoing project.

And, though Jesus emphasizes training and commands, it requires stories. If nothing else, people already have stories. These stories make “sense” of their lives. Jesus, initially presented, comes to them as a powerful savior. He rescues them from the superstitions of other gods and perhaps spirits or magical forces.

But these stories are still the dominating background. And faith in Christ can take the form of demoting him to a god or magician in a scenario that is not true, but that maintains social and mental power even over Christians.

God gave us other stories. To even read them as embodied “principles” to be applied fails to fully realize their power. (In that understanding, the story is a husk from which proper moral behavior must be extracted; then the story is no longer important.) These stories are meant to be cultural bedrock. They provide a new historical foundation for every culture.

Don’t let the geography fool you. When the Gospel arrives in a nation, it is those people who are emigrating to a new Land. But failing to inculcate and saturate the new Churches with all of God’s word–stories, songs, and wise sayings–will leave them halfway there.

Why “hands & eyes”

It started when I happened to think of two different Bible passages in relation to one another:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

No comment needed, I don’t think. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,… One Book, One Commission.