Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Will the earth last forever? (Psa. 104:5; Eccl. 1:4)

     The English word “forever” essentially means “without end; ever-continuing.” However, the Hebrew word ‘olam, from which it is translated, has various shades of meaning and must therefore be understood in light of the context in which it is used. Sometimes it carries the same sense as the English word (see Psa. 29:10; 45:6). In the largest number of its occurrences, however, ‘olam merely denotes simple duration. In this sense it can mean “day by day” or “continually,” as in Psa. 61:8: “So I will sing praise to Your name forever [‘olam], that I may daily perform my vows” (NKJV). It can also mean “in olden times,” as in Gen. 6:4: “the mighty men who were of old [‘olam]…” It can be used to signify “for a long time,” such as Isa. 42:14: “I have held my peace a long time [‘olam]…” It can carry the idea, “into the indefinite future,” as in Deut. 23:3: “to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever [‘olam].” It sometimes means “as long as one lives,” such as 1 Sam. 1:22-28: “then I will take him, that he may appear before the Lord and remain there forever [‘olam]…. as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord” (cf. Ex. 21:6; Deut. 15:17; 1 Sam. 27:12).
     When ‘olam is used with reference to temporary things, it clearly carries the idea of that which lasts its allotted amount of time. For example, the Levitical priesthood was to abide “forever” (Deut. 18:5), yet the priesthood was subsequently changed (Heb. 7:12). The same idea is found with reference to the Israelite land promise and circumcision (Gen. 17:7-13; Ex. 32:13), the Passover (Ex. 12:14-17), the tabernacle’s lampstand (Ex. 27:21; Lev. 24:3), the priests’ trousers (Ex. 28:43), heave offerings (Ex. 29:28), ritual washings (Ex. 30:21), the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17), grain and drink offerings (Lev. 6:18-22; Num. 15:15), offerings to the priests (Lev. 7:34-36; 10:15), annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-34; 23:31), feasts and offerings of firstfruits, Pentecost and booths (Lev. 23:14, 21, 41), ceremonial bread (Lev. 24:8-9), trumpet blowing (Num. 10:8), sacrifice of purification (Num. 19:10), the memorial stones (Josh. 4:7), Caleb’s inheritance (Josh. 14:9), Israel as God’s people (2 Sam. 7:24), the temple (1 Kgs. 9:3), Jerusalem (Psa. 48:8), et al. Since the earth is not permanent (Psa. 102:25-26; Matt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10-12), whenever the Bible speaks of the earth abiding ‘olam (“forever”), it simply means that it will last as long at it was intended to last – until Christ returns.
--Kevin L. Moore



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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

“Hearing of Faith”

“This only I want to learn from you: did you receive the spirit out of works of law or out of hearing of faith? Are you so senseless? Having begun [in] spirit, are you now being perfected [in] flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3).1
     The readers had apparently discounted much of what they had originally learned from Paul, so now he (sarcastically) wants to “learn” from them. The questions asked (in view of what is said later in the epistle) indicate they had been led to believe that in order to be spiritually “perfected,” one must submit to the Jewish rite of circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1, 5, 24; Phil. 3:2-3), along with other ritualistic “works of law,” like food restrictions (2:12) and special days (4:9-11). Paul considers such an idea absurd. 
     He wants them to remember the beginning of their Christian experience (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13). What did circumcision (or any other “works of law”) have to do with it? Their initial reaction to the gospel is described here as akoē pisteōs (“hearing of faith”). Unfortunately, the significance of this expression is all but lost in English translation. Surely more than merely receiving audible sounds is in view (cf. Matt. 13:13-17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Jas. 1:22-25).
     The sense is much clearer in light of the parallel idiom in Romans 1:5 and 16:26, hupakoē pisteōs (“obedience of faith”). Both akoē and hupakoē (hupō [‘by’] + akouō [‘hear’] = to give ear, hearken, obey) reflect the Hebrew sense of שָׁמַע (shema), i.e. “responsive hearing” (cf. Ex. 24:7; Deut. 31:11-13; Rom. 10:16-17).2 The idiomatic phrase “hearing of faith” is clearly an allusion to receptive and responsive hearing, i.e. obedient faith.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Author’s own translation. In the absence of qualifying prepositions, an important question here is how to understand the use of the dative nouns pneumati (“spirit”) and sarki (“flesh”). Often the dative of means is inferred and translated as “by the Spirit” and “by the flesh” (ESV, NASB), assuming pneuma is in reference to God’s Spirit. However, other uses of the dative are just as plausible, e.g., the dative of reference (“with respect to spirit/flesh”), or the dative of sphere (“in the realm of spirit/flesh”), or the dative of rule (“according to spirit/flesh”). In view of the repeated contrast in Galatians between the spiritual and the physical (3:2-5, 14; 4:6-7, 23-31; 5:5, 13, 16-25; 6:1, 8, 12-15), these datives are taken here as representing the dative of manner, conveying the way in which the verbal action is performed and answering the questions: how have you begun and how are you being perfected? (See D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics 153-71; R. A. Young, Intermediate NT Greek 49-51).
     2 See W. Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies 211-12; J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Galatians 360-61 n. 107.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

     In the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of “visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1) and briefly describes a remarkable heavenly experience (vv. 2-4). He then confesses, “that I should not be exalted by the surpassing excellence of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me …” (v. 7a).1 It is depicted here as a “messenger” [aggelos] of Satan, the purpose of which, “that it might maltreat [kolaphizō] me that I should not become exalted” (v. 7b). Paul pleaded with the Lord three times that it might be taken away (v. 8), yet it persisted.
     A “thorn” [skolops]2 signifies a sharp affliction, while “flesh” is indicative of something physical (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18). This follows the lengthy account of Paul’s vexations that included beatings, imprisonments, stoning, and various perils (11:23-26). As Satan’s aggelos, readers are reminded of the preceding warnings about “false apostles” (11:13) exposed as masquerading “servants” of Satan (11:15), who himself masquerades as an aggelos of light (11:14). Moreover, these troublemakers were prone to violence (11:20), and the word used here for the maltreatment inflicted on Paul is kolaphizō, which literally means to “strike with the fist” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:11).3
     Contextually, therefore, Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” seems to be a veiled allusion to the incessant opposition he was facing, particularly “persecutions … for Christ” (12:10; cf. 1:8-10; 7:5; 4:8-12; 6:4-9; 11:23-26). This interpretation is consistent with similar imagery in the OT (Num. 33:55; Josh. 23:13; Ezek. 28:24) and is confirmed by what is known about the persistent challenges he endured throughout his ministry (see Acts 9:16, 23, 29; 13:8, 45, 50; 14:2, 5, 19, 22; 15:1-2; 16:19-24, 37, 39; 17:5, 13, 32; 18:6, 12; 19:9, 23-31; 20:23, 29-31; 21:11, 27-33; 22:22, 25; 23:2, 10, 12; 24:27; 25:2-3; 26:21; 28:17, 30; 1 Cor. 15:30; Gal. 5:11; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:14; cf. Rom. 5:3; 8:35-36).
     Other suggestions have included some type of physical malady (cf. Gal. 1:13), such as headaches, malaria, epilepsy, poor eyesight (cf. Gal. 1:15; 6:11), or a speech impediment (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-4; 2 Cor. 10:10); perhaps a psychological disorder. At the end of the day, the observation of P. E. Hughes is worth noting: “the plain fact is that it is impossible to escape from the realm of conjecture, which is by its nature the realm of inconclusiveness. Presumably those to whom the Apostle wrote knew well enough the character of this particular infirmity with which he was afflicted, but there is an absence of any firm tradition which might enable us to identify it” (Second Corinthians 442).
     “And [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for the power is perfected in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9a). In the Lord’s response to Paul, the verb arkeō (“suffice”) in the Greek text is the first word of the sentence, placing emphasis on the sufficiency of divine grace. Though employed with a variety of nuances, “grace” has a heavy emphasis in Paul’s writings, particularly in the letters sent to Corinth.4 As he has stated earlier, “But [by the] grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been worthless, but I labored more abundantly than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God that [was] with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
     “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ might dwell upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9b). This “boasting” started at 11:16, in response to unjustified attacks, and “weakness” was introduced at 10:10 as an insult from antagonists. But Paul has shown it to be a virtue in the Lord’s service (11:21, 29, 30; 12:5, 9, 10; 13:3, 4, 9). Divine power is more clearly evident in the face of human frailty (see 3:5; 4:7; 6:7; 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
     “Therefore I am well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, and difficulties for Christ; for when I might be weak, then I am strong” (12:10). This strength-out-of-weakness paradox clashes with man’s infatuation with achievement, prosperity, status, notability, power, and success. Nevertheless, adversity is inevitable for everyone in this imperfect world, and especially for servants of Christ (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). Paul, through his “thorn in the flesh,” teaches us that humility and greater dependence on God are constructive benefits to be appreciated and utilized. Let us be thankful, therefore, no matter what challenges we face, that we still have access to the same source of comfort and strength!
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 This is the only occurrence of the word skolops in the NT. It refers to anything with a sharp point that causes pain, like a stake, thorn, or splinter. See Num. 33:55; Ezek. 28:24; Hos. 2:6 (LXX).
     3 The present tense indicates ongoing abuse (see also Matt. 26:67; 1 Pet. 2:20).
     4 Charis (“grace”) appears 156 times in the Greek NT; 100 times in Paul, and 28 times in the Corinthian correspondence: 1 Cor. 1:3, 4; 3:10; 10:30; 15:10; [15:57; 16:3]; 16:23; 2 Cor. 1:2, 12, 15; [2:14]; 4:15; 6:1; 8:1, 4, 6, 7, [16], 19; 9:8, 14, [15]; 12:9; 13:14.


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