Yes, This IS a Spiritual Battle

“…They [government, media, etc.] will never provide them [the people] with what they truly need. They will never give them that which will fulfill them and enable their emancipation and liberty; that which they have lost; that which they can find again; that which they can rediscover in the midst of this darkness and despair: The Salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“…The truth is the Word, and the Word shall set us free…If you can see the truth of the reality around you—you can recognize evil for what it is—then you have a gift from God, a Divine talent given to you that you must not waste. Those of us who know the truth have an obligation to plant a seed in the minds of other people. And I pray that it helps to grow into a truly global awakening.”

The above words close the vlog below. Dave Cullen provides an excellent synopsis of what is happening today—a culmination of years in the making. Truly, Scripture is being fulfilled right before our eyes.

Note the Biden/Harris campaign’s “Build Back Better” slogan. This has been used by others around the world. Discover the significance of these words below in the “new normal” proposed as the goal for the very future: The Great Reset.

 

Related articles on CrossWise:

Ted Turner’s Math Problem

Climocentrism: The New Geocentrism

“Climate Change” as Religion

Masking…the Truth?

Misplaced Trust, part I

Misplaced Trust, part II

 

The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?

(In this post I had to go into the weeds a bit. My goal is to have trimmed them to a level the reader can see the path I made—to allow the reader to see the forest beyond the weeds. I hope I’ve achieved it.)

Quite a few issues hinder identifying “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7. A fair number of theologians argue for the Holy Spirit in these two verses. And some of these do so based on a questionable pronoun argument. From this shaky foundation the Holy Spirit is imported into the context. This then is used by some as support for the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine.

One shaky foundation upon another.

The Dubious Pronoun Argument

I’ve touched on this dubious pronoun argument elsewhere (Misgendering the Spirit, which has a basis in Another Paraclete?). To briefly identify the issue:

The Greek word for “Spirit” is pneuma, which is neuter in grammatical gender. Because the term is neuter, a literal English translation of the pronouns substituted for pneuma would be “it” or “which” (instead of the personal “whom”). For example, in Acts 5:32, we would translate “we are His witnesses of these words, and so is the Holy Spirit (pneuma), which God gave to those obeying Him [Jesus].” And some deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit simply because pneuma is neuter. But this erroneously imposes English grammar notions upon the Greek.

Some, accepting this error, attempt to counter it by construing (erroneously) a different way to promote the personhood of the Spirit. In John 14:16—16:15 the Holy Spirit is also called another “paraclete” (paraklētos), which is masculine in grammatical gender. In addition, there are a number of masculine pronouns throughout this section. Consequently, some have mistakenly assumed that at least some of these masculine pronouns refer back to pneuma instead of “paraclete”, thus (also erroneously) implying personhood. But it is context that establishes personhood—not pronouns. Moreover, these masculine pronouns all refer back to “paraclete” or to a masculine pronoun substituting for “paraclete”.

An analogy will illustrate the problem with this argument. The term logos, “word”, is a grammatically masculine noun. If we impose English grammar rules upon the Greek here, then every occurrence of logos, would be translated “he” or “him”. This works fine for “the Word” as the pre-incarnate Jesus in John 1:1-14. But it doesn’t work in Mark 4:16, which would be “…whenever they hear the word (ho logos) they immediately receive him (autos) with joy.” This context is about the Gospel message, which should more properly be “it” (not “him”) in English.

The 1977 movie The Car provides a different angle. While the noun “car” in English is “it”—a thing—The Car as portrayed in the movie is a sentient, willful being. So, does The Car have personhood? The Car, which self-drives, certainly has a mind of its own—even mockingly ‘laughing’ via the car horn.[1] Or should we instead say, ‘The Car, who self-drives, certainly has a mind of his own’? ‘A mind of her own’? Do pronouns—whichever we apply—affect the consciousness, the volition of The Car in the movie?

Also consider the many ships named after humans (Queen Elizabeth II; Edmund Fitzgerald). Though we may call them individually “she” or “he” according to name, each is still “it” in English. Unless fictionally personalized as in The Car, none are sentient beings.

Grammar Limits Importing the Holy Spirit into 2 Thessalonians

Those relying on the pronoun argument for 2 Thessalonians 2 do so because there are two different grammatical genders used for “the restrainer”. One is neuter (2:6: to katechon), the other masculine (2:7: ho katechōn). To account for this, Robert L. Thomas argues:

To one familiar with Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, as Paul undoubtedly was, fluctuation between neuter and masculine recalls how the Holy Spirit is referred to. Either gender is appropriate, depending on whether the speaker (or writer) thinks of natural agreement (masculine because of the Spirit’s personality [Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14; cf. Robertson, Grammar of the New Testament, 708-9]) or grammatical (neuter because of the noun pneuma…). This identification of the restainer…is most appealing.[2]

To support his stance, Thomas sources Robertson’s respected grammar. We will critique Robertson’s argument—and by extension Thomas’—with respect to the verses in John after first defining and analyzing “natural [gender] agreement” elsewhere.

“Natural gender” is such that a word’s grammatical gender correlates to the sex/gender inherent in the person the word is referencing. For example, “he” is masculine in grammatical gender, correlating to a male. “Stewardess” implies a woman. Etc.

Below we will challenge the above claim that the Holy Spirit’s “natural” gender is “masculine because of the Spirit’s personality” (personhood).

Defining “Natural [Gender] Agreement”

“Natural [gender] agreement” occurs when a word’s gender correlates to the biological sex/gender of the person it directly refers to (“natural gender”) in distinction from the grammatical gender of its antecedent (preceding reference)—the word it refers back to. Stated another way, instead of agreeing in grammatical gender with its previous reference, the word agrees with the biological sex/gender of the person (“natural gender”) referred to.

An analogy from English should clarify:

A1: Though the player grew weary, the athlete was spurred on by the crowd.

B1: Though the player grew weary, she was spurred on by the crowd.

The antecedent (preceding reference) in each sentence is the player. In A1 the athlete is unspecified as to gender, just like its antecedent. For the sake of this example, we’ll call both neuter in grammatical gender.  In A1 there is the usual grammatical gender agreement (the playerthe athlete). In B1 the natural gender of the person (feminine, she) to whom the word refers is used instead of one matching the grammatical gender (neuter) of its antecedent. In Greek, this dissimilarity would be a case of applying natural gender agreement in place of grammatical gender agreement—a grammatical mismatch.

This sort of thing is also called “construction according to sense”, or constructio ad sensum.

From Mark’s Gospel, Robertson finds an example of natural gender agreement over the grammatical:

In Mk. 5:41 αὐτῇ [autē̦, her] follows the natural gender of παιδίον [paidion, child] rather than the grammatical.[3]  

The applicable portion of the verse is “Taking the child (paidion, neuter) by the hand, He said to her (autē̦, feminine)…” Alternatively, Mark could have chosen the neuter form of the pronoun (autō̦[4]) for grammatical gender agreement between the two words. By choosing “her” (autē̦), he followed “natural gender” instead. Mark went from the general “child” (paidion, neuter) to the more specific “her” (autē̦, feminine)—a grammatical mismatch.

Let’s look more closely at this. In the larger context, Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter. The feminine thygatēr, “daughter”, is used for her in 5:35. Thus, we already knew the child is female rather than male. But the intervening references, up to and including 5:41 (39, 40, 41), all use the more general neuter paidion, “child” as a synonym. Here is the chain of referents:

thygatēr (5:35) > paidion (5:39) > paidion, paidion (5:40) > paidion (5:41) > autē (5:41)

daughter (5:35) > child (5:39) > child, child (5:40) > child (5:41) > her (5:41)

Thus, while 5:41 clearly is an instance of “natural [gender] agreement” over grammatical agreement, the natural gender is determinable by the larger context by a preceding reference.[5]

An Evil Pneuma Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

For our purposes here, Mark 9:20 provides a more fitting example. Its context contains “spirit”, pneuma. Robertson opines that this is another example of natural gender usage:

“…surely this is…treating πνεῦμα [pneuma] as masculine (natural gender).”[6]

But what makes a malevolent spirit inherently masculine in “natural gender”? Is a spirit male?[7] Let’s scrutinize.

In the larger context beginning at Mark 9:17, a particular pneuma possesses a man’s son, preventing him from speaking. In 9:18 a neuter pronoun appropriately correlates to pneuma, its antecedent: “…I asked your disciples to cast it (auto) out…”. Correspondingly, in 9:28 the disciples asked Jesus, “Why weren’t we able to cast it (auto) out?”

Yet 9:20 causes a bit of confusion. It contains four different uses of the masculine ‘personal’ pronoun (auton, “him”). Related to this is a grammatical anomaly: the masculine pronoun encoded in the participle “saw” (he). This will take a bit to sort out:

ēnegkan auton pros auton. kai idōn auton to pneuma euthys synesparaxen auton

They-brought him to Him. And [when] he-saw Him, the spirit immediately convulsed him…

They-brought the son to Jesus. And when he-saw Jesus, the spirit promptly convulsed the son…

The proper correspondent for the masculine “he-saw” in this sentence would be “the spirit” (to pneuma). But, of course, pneuma is neuter instead of masculine.[8] The late Rodney Decker explains: “As an adverbial participle idōn [he-saw] should agree [in gender] with the subject of the main verb (pneuma), but this is constructio ad sensum.”[9] Decker then refers to Ezra Gould, whom I’ll quote in larger context:

[S]ince the action of the verb [convulsed] belongs to the spirit, and is occasioned by the action denoted by the participle [saw], it would be the spirit which is described as having seen Jesus. But [the spirit] does this with the eyes of [the son], and hence the masculine form of the participle.

In all these stories [exorcisms], the man and the evil spirit get mixed up in this way. The outward acts belong to the man, but the informing spirit is sometimes that of the man, and sometimes the evil spirit.[10]

In other words, though there is a grammatical gender mismatch, Gould thinks this is due to the mixing of the spirit (neuter) and the boy (masculine). Since the spirit (pneuma, neuter) acts through the son (huios, masculine), a masculine-gendered participle represents the son as the spirit’s ocular vehicle here. The possessing spirit sees through the eyes of the possessed son.

Sometimes the person acts apart from the demon. Sometimes the demon acts through the person. From the evidence thus far, one could consider this a case of “natural gender” agreement (constructio ad sensum) correlated to the son (son/spirit), not the spirit.

Mark 1:23-26 provides a good comparison. The translation below is as ‘literal’ (formally equivalent) as possible. Subscripted brackets identify grammatical number (singular[sg] or plural[pl]) and gender (masculine[ms] or neuter[nt]) where necessary for analysis:

1:23 Suddenly, in their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit! He cried-out, 24 saying[ms sg], “What is it between You and us[pl], Jesus the Nazarene? Have You come to ruin us[pl]? I-know[sg] who You are: The Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him/it[ms/nt sg] [autō̦], saying, “You[sg] be-quiet and you[sg] come-out of-him [autou]!” 26 And the unclean spirit, [it-]violently-convulsing[nt sg] him and [it-]shouting[nt sg] with a loud voice, came-out of-him [autou].

Like 9:20 above, the possessing pneuma acts through its chosen vessel. This is grammatically shown by Mark’s use of the masculine singular “he”, instead of the neuter in 1:23/24. Note that the spirit self-references with the plural “us” once each in the two questions posed. Yet when the unclean spirit reveals that it knows Jesus’ identity, it reverts back to the singular (I-know)![11] In 1:25 Jesus addresses the pneuma either (a) through the man [him, ms], or (b) directly [it, nt], in commanding exorcism. The better of the two would be (b), for it makes the most sense in this context (see next paragraph). In this way, the pronoun refers to the spirit in distinction from its host.[12] And finally, in 1:26 the unclean spirit (nt sg) comes out of the man (autou), freeing him.[13]

Though there are a number of interpretive options, we should reject any notions that the plural indicates more than one spirit possessing the man.[14] Jesus specifically exorcised only one demon. In view of the grammatical evidence of 9:20, at minimum we should harmonize the plural (1:24) with the masculine singular “he”, such that we construe the plural “us” to include the possessed man along with the unclean spirit.[15] Thus, the “I” in 1:24 comes from the spirit, which Jesus rebukes in 1:25. Surely the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus has come to exorcise him from his chosen host.[16] And Jesus promptly does.

If we understand the grammatical anomaly of 9:20 through the contextual lens of the grammar in 1:23-26, Gould’s above comments fall right into line.

In the account of “Legion” in Mark 5 we find a similar thing. Once the man with an unclean spirit is introduced (5:2), there seems to be no differentiation between the acts of the man and the acts of the possessing spirit. These verses, again, appear to reflect the spirit’s actions through the man:

5:6 Seeing[ms sg] Jesus from afar, he-ran and bowed down to-him. 7 In a loud voice he-was-crying-out, saying[ms sg], “What is between me and You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God: Don’t torment me!” 8 For [Jesus]-had-said to-him/it[ms/nt sg], “You-come-out[sg] of the man unclean spirit!” 9 And [Jesus]-had-asked him[ms sg], “What is your name?” He-replied[sg] to-Him[Jesus], “Legion is my[sg] name[sg], for we-are[pl] many.” 10 Then he/it-began-begging[sg] Him further that [Jesus] would not send them[nt pl] out of the region.

11 Nearby, on the hillside, was a large herd of pigs grazing. 12 So they-began-begging[pl] Him, saying[ms pl], “Send[pl] us[pl] into the pigs so that we-may-enter[pl] them!” 13 And [Jesus]-permitted them[nt pl]. So, after coming-out[nt pl], the unclean spirits entered[pl] into the pigs; and, the herd of pigs—about two-thousand—rushed down the steep bank into the lake. And they were drowned in the lake.

Though the actor in 5:6 is the man, in reality it is the possessing spirit acting through the man, as evidenced by its words in 5:7. In 5:8 where Jesus starts exorcising the spirit through the possessed man, the Gospel writer uses a pronoun (autō̦) that could be either masculine or neuter. We might expect neuter in order to grammatically agree with pneuma, as found at the end of this verse.[17] This would concur with the usage in 1:25-26. And this seems the best understanding here.

In 5:9 Mark records Jesus having asked his (auton, ms) name—apparently to the spirit through the man—and the unclean spirit replied, “My name is ’Legion’, for we are many.” This plurality of unclean spirits then (5:10) implores Jesus to not send them (auta, nt pl) away.[18] At first blush the masculine singular at the beginning of 5:10 appears to contradict the analysis above; however, the narrator is describing the singular possessed man’s actions spoken by the one spirit representing them all. It is paralleled with 5:9 in that the narrator records a singular spirit (through the man) explaining its collective existence in the man (“Legion”).

Next, in 5:12 Mark records things from the plurality of spirit’s perspective (“They began begging”). Once again the Gospel writer prefaces their statement with a masculine participle (“saying”), but this time he uses the plural to signify the plurality of demons speaking through the man.[19] Evidence to support this position finds itself in the next verse: “Jesus permits them” (nt pl). Further, we can deduce that when the spirit is self-referencing, the neuter should be understood (“me” and “I” in 5:7; “my” and “we” in 5:9; “us” and “we” in 5:12). This also assists in confirming the analysis above that the sequence “us”, “us”, “I” in 1:24 refers to the pneuma/possessed man in the “us” as compared to the pneuma only in the “I”.

When prefacing direct speech—except before words commanding exorcism—Mark uses the masculine to indicate pneuma/possessed person. By contrast, in narration describing the scene the Gospel writer uses, or implies, the neuter (5:10, 12, 13), to distinguish the spirit(s) from the possessed man.

Therefore, all the above best explains the example in 9:20 above. In narration, acts of the pneuma independent of the possessed person are expressed by the neuter. And the neuter is used when the spirit is referenced by another in distinction from the possessed person (9:18, 28). Therefore, it could well be argued that grammatical gender and “natural gender” are the same for pneumaneuter. Or, perhaps better, that a pneuma does not have “natural gender” at all. To add strength to this position, we’ll look at one final account of demon possession.

The possessed slave-girl in Acts 16:16-18 provides a great comparison and contrast.[20] Luke records the girl as speaking what are obviously words coming from the possessing spirit (16:17).[21] The gender of both the pronoun (hautē, “This one” [slave-girl]) and the participle preceding the speech (legousa, “[she]-was-saying”) is feminine, but the words certainly originate from the pneuma. In other words, the feminine grammatical gender is apparently due to the biological sex/gender of the spirit’s mouthpiece—its oracular vehicle.

Thus, harmonizing these accounts with respect to gender—and applying a bit of Occam’s razor—one can make a strong argument that none of these accounts of spirits/demons contain examples of “natural gender” as pertaining to pneuma. That is, pneuma remains neuter. When a masculine or feminine referent is seemingly used for pneuma this merely indicates the biological sex of the possessed person. These examples also cast doubt on any notions of “natural gender” for spirit beings generally. I think we must be very careful not to impose human gender ideas upon spirit beings.

The Holy Spirit Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

Finally, we shall directly engage Robertson’s argument that the Holy Spirit has implied masculine “natural gender”. He asserts, “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit.”[22] The first part refers to 14:26, the second 16:13. In the following we shall see that English grammar notions inform part of his argument on the Greek, which is then contended to indicate the Spirit’s personhood (“personality”).

This is the first part of the grammarian’s argument (Greek replaced with English transliteration):

In 14:26…ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei, the relative [pronoun] ho follows the grammatical gender of pneuma. Ekeinos (“That One”), however, skips over pneuma and reverts to the gender of paraklētos.[23]

Essentially, he is correct, which I will unpack below. First, here’s biblical context for his argument:

14:26 But the paraklētos[ms]—the Holy Spirit[nt], Which[nt] the Father will send in My name—That One[ms] will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I told you.

Robertson is right: “That One” skips over “the Holy Spirit” to agree in gender with paraklētos (advocate, counselor, helper, comforter). This is precisely why I prefer to separate the middle clause by em dashes (—). The neuter relative pronoun “Which” (hos) correlates to “Spirit” (pneuma), while the masculine demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) “That One” refers to paraklētos. This is grammatical agreement. There is no reason to press this further. However, Robertson uses this as background for the second part of his argument:

In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias. Here one has to go back six lines to ekeinos again and seven to paraklētos. It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino[nt] [ED: nt instead of ms].[24]

With respect to the gargantuan effort evident in Robertson’s mammoth grammar, his conclusion “when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino [nt]” is a non sequitur. The chain of referents follows:

paraklētos (16:7) > ekeinos (16:8) > ekeinos (16:13)

paraklētos (16:7) > That One (16:8) > That One (16:13)

After providing a brief synopsis of things to come (16:1-6), Jesus again mentions the paraklētos in this discourse (16:7). “That One” in 16:8 directly refers to paraklētos. The verses following this pronoun (16:9, 10, 11) detail functions of paraklētos; so, the same subject is assumed. 16:12 provides a transition to the next thought. There are neither intervening occurrences of pneuma nor intervening neuter pronouns. Thus, there is no basis to assume a neuter would have been “so easily called for” in place of “That One” in 16:13. In fact, the grammar is against it. Consequently, “That One” in 16:13 directly refers to “That One” in 16:8, which in turn directly refers to paraklētos. Therefore, this is not an implied instance of “natural gender” usage, which would somehow go towards supporting “the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit”.

Note that Thomas extends his argument a bit further (“Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14”). We’ll engage the last reference first, since it is a direct extension of Robertson’s with respect to 16:13. Here’s the text in English:

16:13 But when That One comes—the Spirit of truthHe/It-will-guide you into all truth, for He/It will not speak on His/Its own[ms/nt], but He/It-will-speak only what He/Ithears. And He/It-will disclose to you things yet to come. 14 That One[ms] will bring glory to Me[ms/nt], because He/Itwill receive from Me and disclose it to you.

Since Thomas does not develop his argument—in all fairness, his commentary is part of a larger volume, so was necessarily limited—I can only speculate. Thus, I don’t think it very profitable to ‘read his mind’, so to speak. However, to reduce this down to its simplest, there is ambiguity as to whether the verbiage after “the Spirit of truth” pertains to “the Spirit of truth” or, alternatively, to “That One” (paraklētos). If the former is assumed, then the second em dash should be placed at the end of 16:13. But this doesn’t seem to do justice to the context. In any case, with the presence of “That One” (ms) at the beginning of 16:14, it is clear this pronoun is intended to agree with “That One” in 16:13.

But surely if this were integral to Robinson’s argument above, the grammarian would have included it.

Thomas’ final reference is John 15:26. But this is much like 14:26 in which there is a split between paraklētos and “That One”. Thus, Thomas may include it as a parallel reference with Robertson’s 14:26. But I fail to perceive how this helps the cause:

5:26 “When the paraklētos[ms] comes, Whom[ms] I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth[nt], the One Which[nt] comes forth from the Father—That One[ms] will testify about Me.”

Daniel B. Wallace, in his grammar, engages this kind of argument.[25] After refuting it, he concludes (Greek transliterated):

Although one might argue that the Spirit’s personality [personhood] is in view in these passages, the view must be based on the nature of a paraklētos and the things said about the Comforter, not on any supposed grammatical subtleties. Indeed, it is difficult to find any text in which pneuma is grammatically referred to with the masculine gender.[26]

In a related footnote, Wallace makes a brief comment about 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7, noting that “Holy Spirit” is absent from the surrounding context.[27] Nevertheless, he does think the Spirit is a possible referent for these two verses, though any argument for this cannot rely on the erroneous claim that masculine is the “natural gender” of pneuma.[28]  

Concluding Thoughts

Pneuma is neuter, whether in reference to the Holy Spirit or an unclean spirit.

Yet, isn’t each individual pneuma in the Mark and Acts accounts above in actual fact a sentient, conscious being? Yes, of course. Though each demon (pneuma) uses its chosen vessel as its actor, each pneuma has its own thoughts and will in distinction from its possessed victim. Each is cast out against its will. And doesn’t such sentience necessarily indicate personhood? And shouldn’t this be somewhat analogous to the Holy Spirit? That is, if an unclean spirit is a person in and of itself, how much more should we consider the Holy Spirit to be a ‘Person’ in and of Itself/Himself, regardless of pronoun usage?

We might say “Sally discerned an evil spirt at that meeting” but we understand that it was the Holy Spirit working through her. The difference, of course, is that a Holy Spirit indwelt Christian is not possessed. While an unclean spirit imposes its own will upon its victim, the Holy Spirit allows the indwelt believer a choice. The believer retains complete control yet can allow the Spirit to work through by submitting to His/Its leading. A Holy Spirit indwelt person can choose either to be led by the flesh or led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26).

Too many times it seems theological motives override grammar and context in a misguided effort to bolster a particular position. Sometimes it is needless, for the doctrine in question is secured by other means elsewhere in Scripture. I’m inclined to believe these are motivated by good intentions. I might call these ‘over-interpretations’ and ‘over-apologetics’.

There are other ways to argue for the Holy Spirit as “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2. From my own research thus far, however, I don’t find them persuasive. If the Holy Spirit is deemed not to be “the restrainer”, how might that impact the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine? And how might that impact your day to day life?

 

__________________________

[1] Trivia: the horn blast sequence is the same each time, which is intended to indicate “X” in Morse code: dash-dot-dot-dash. (Technically, the second “dash” is too long—should be the same length as the first—and the space between the first “dash” and the “dots” is a bit too long.)

[2] Robert L. Thomas, 2 Thessalonians, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Ephesians ~ Philemon; Rev. Ed., D. Garland & T. Longman, Gen. Eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), pp 470-71; underscore added. (A typographical error in the page number references to Robertson’s Grammar [“208-9”] was corrected.) The bracketed portion was moved from the second set of parentheses to the first, given that it seems to be more accurately apply there (“masculine because of the Spirit’s personality”), which becomes evident below when Robertson is critiqued on this.

[3] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p 684.

[4] But, then again, since the neuter is the same as the masculine in the dative (and genitive), this could possibly have caused confusion!

[5] The original reference to the girl comes in 5:23, in which she is introduced by thygatrion (little daughter)—the diminutive form of thygatēr—and this term is neuter though clearly referencing a little girl by its definition. This illustrates that even when the very definition of a term indicates the sex/gender of the person described by the term this does not necessarily mean it will also correlate to the person’s “natural gender”.

[6] Robertson, Grammar, p 436.

[7] Bear in mind that Robertson’s work was written in the early 1900s, well before any modern ideas of gender.

[8] On the surface, this is a grammatical error. A rough equivalent in English would be, “When the boy saw Jesus, the woman…” in which ‘the woman’ is the same person as ‘the boy’ at the beginning. But I think Mark was quite purposeful here. In light of his previous accounts (1:23-26; 5:2-13)—which we’ll investigate below—the Gospel writer intended to more sharply show the distinction between the possessing spirt and its host.

[9] Rodney J. Decker, Mark 9—16, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2014), p 17 (Greek transliterated). I very much respect the late Decker, recalling his words from the Introduction in the BHGNT here explaining his selection of commentaries sourced for his two-part volume: “My choice to engage these writers beginning with the old ICC volume by Gould (1896)…is an attempt to give writers their due. Sometimes more recent commentators are simply a collection of snippets from older works, with or without credit” (p xxiv).

[10] Ezra P. Gould, The Gospel According to St. Mark, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), paragraph 5185 (at 9:20). Craig A. Evans, in his WBC (Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001]), disappointingly, at best merely indirectly addresses the grammatical issue, if at all: “The spirit is said to have seen Jesus, and it is the spirit that is said to have convulsed the boy. The symptoms may have been those usually associated with epilepsy, but the Markan evangelist makes it clear that it was an evil spirit, something distinct from the boy himself, that caused the illness” (p 52, emphasis added). But even this is better than the others consulted which didn’t mention the grammatical issue in any manner.

[11] Gender is not specifically expressed here, but neuter is implied from its use in both participles in 1:26.

[12] Interestingly, in my software the NA28 is tagged neuter, while the GNT is tagged masculine. There is no textual variant here.

[13] Though autou is ms/nt in both 1:25 and 1:26, these obviously refer to the man as distinct from the unclean spirit.

[14] Such a faulty notion can come from the plural “the unclean spirits” (to pneuma to akathartos) in 1:28, but this is unnecessary. An exclamation in the plural for one singular surprising action is not uncommon in English: Upon discovering your seemingly non-mechanically-inclined neighbor had replaced the brake pads on his car you respond, “I didn’t know you worked on cars!”

[15] Contra, e.g., Robert H. Stein (Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament {BECNT} [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008], who specifically asserts, “The ‘us’ refers not to the man and the unclean spirit, but to unclean spirits as a group” (p 87). Couldn’t it be both/and? See next note.

[16] This comports with the local context here. Thus, the verb “destroy” (apollumi)—rendered “ruin” here—in 1:24 is likely intended polysemy. On one level the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus will separate it from its host. This is reflected in the second entry in Frederick W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009): “’experience disconnection or separation’—a. lose with focus on what one has or possesses” (p 47). Though Danker specifically places Mk 1:24 in his first entry (“’cause severe damage’—a. by making ineffective or incapable of functioning destroy”, p 47), I think both apply. More specifically, the latter (destroy) applies both singly to the possessing spirit here and collectively for all demons in the new eschatological age Jesus inaugurated. See Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1—8:26, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989), pp 58-60.

[17] Gould, St. Mark, states: “Only the man had been mentioned before, which would lead us to refer this [ambiguous ms/nt pronoun] to him. But the command is evidently addressed to the demon. This confusion is due to the identification of the two” (para 4631 [at 5:8]; emphasis added).

[18] The Textus Receptus has the masculine plural pronoun rather than the neuter. Gould thinks this is original (para 4640 [at 5:10]). In view of overall context (to include 9:20), I’m inclined to disagree with Gould, though the manuscript evidence is far from definitive—from what little I know, admittedly. Yet it’s curious that neither Metzger nor Comfort (New Testament Text and Translation Commentary) make note of this variant, for there seems legitimate cause to question the proper text. The NA28 (Holger Strutwolf, ed., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th, Accordance electronic ed. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012], p 119) lists the following in the apparatus:

αυτους αποστειλη D ƒ13 28. 565. 700. 1424. (ƒ1 2542) 𝔐 ¦ αποστειλη αυτους A 579. 1241. ℓ 2211 it ¦ αυτον αποστειλη ℵ L (⸉ K W 892) lat syp bo ¦ txt B C Δ (⸉ Θ).

It may not matter much in translation, but it might be worth discussion by specialists.

[19] The opinion of Gould, Mark, is nuanced somewhat differently, “Here the subject changes from the man speaking for the demons to the demons speaking through the man” (para 4646).

[20] See I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), pp 285—87.

[21] F. F. Bruce (The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary; 3rd rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990]) sources Plutarch’s De defectu oraculorum (9.414E) which “calls such soothsayers…ventriloquists who uttered words not only apparently, but really, beyond their own control” (p 360). Cf. Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament [BECNT] (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp 535 note 2, 535—37.

[22] Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709. Here is the complete quote in its context, with transliterations in parentheses after the Greek: “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit. In 14:26, ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει (ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei), the relative ὅ (ho) follows the grammatical gender of πνεῦμα (pneuma). Ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos), however, skips over πνεῦμα (pneuma) and reverts to the gender of παράκλητος (paraklētos). In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias). Here one has to go back six lines to ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) again and seven to παράκλητος (paraklētos). It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ἐκεῖνο (ekeino) [ED: neuter (instead of masculine)].”

[23] Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709.

[24] Robertson, Grammar, p 709.

[25] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332,

[26] Wallace, Grammar, p 332; cf. p 338.

[27] Wallace, Grammar, p 332, ftnt 44.

[28] Wallace, Grammar, p 332. Wallace does not, however, advance any sort of argument.

Enlarging Your Enquiry

The larger the context, the better the understanding.

This morning while reading (and exegeting) Scripture for an upcoming blog post, I initially focused on one small section. This section contained the one word I wanted to connect to another book of the Bible via that word. Upon reading a bit further, I noticed a stronger contextual connection I’d not perceived before. And this was in a portion of Scripture I thought I knew pretty well.

The lesson? Always read the larger context. And keep reading the Scriptures so as to allow the Spirit to illumine new things.

Gonna Be a Great Weekend!

I just received two items I ordered. The first is a multi-author book on John 6. I’ve been looking for additional material pertaining to a portion of this chapter to ponder over for a projected blog post. The second item is a new (for me, but previously released except one cut) disc of jazz music from the late sixties.

The book features contributors from diverse (including multi-national) perspectives: Paul N. Anderson, Johannes Beutler (SJ—Germany), Peder Borgen (Norway), Dr. R. Alan Culpepper, Dr. Robert Kysar, Maarten J. J. Menken (Netherlands), Francis Moloney (SDB—Australia),  Gail R. O’ Day, John Painter (Australia), Ludger Schenke (Germany), and Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The music is led by the relatively unsung Charles Tolliver (trumpet, composer of all tunes here). Rounding out his quartet—augmented by Gary Bartz (alto sax) on four of the seven tracks—are Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (acoustic bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). All great musicians. At the time, Hancock and Carter were two-fifths of the Miles Davis quintet—rounded out by Wayne Shorter (tenor & soprano sax) and Tony Williams (drums)—the greatest band ever assembled in any music idiom. That’s not just opinion, that’s fact! Not debatable. Also note that both Bartz and Chambers would end up playing with Miles later.

I received one item from NW USA (Oregon), the other from NE USA (Connecticut). And I’m in between the two, though much further South (Texas). What a great country!

This Labor Day weekend let’s consider the wonderful diversity of this great country and not let the media, politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and sports icons divide us.

Freedom and diversity of thought and expression. Freedom to think independently. But let’s labor to give grace to others with their own independent thoughts and different opinions—except regarding the best band ever, of course.

Addendum

Upon reading the Preface to the book above, I think Culpepper’s remarks are quite appropriate:

One suspects that [the contributing authors’] civility and collegiality even in the midst of sharply conflicting points of view–which could be a model for scholars in many other disciplines–is probably borne of their perennial brooding over the depths of the Gospel of John.

A Welcome Trend

One of the things I’ve noticed recently on local Christian radio is a trend towards preaching and teaching on holiness, repentance, and the fruit of the Spirit. This is even from individuals whose teachings I didn’t much care for previously. Those with preaching that was a bit light, shall we say.

May this current continue to flow. And may it widen to more hearers.

Re-Assembly Required

What does “church” mean to you? Would it surprise you to learn that the underlying Greek term we translate “church” in most Bibles is much more accurately summoned assembly or congregation? The term in its original New Testament (NT) context referred strictly to persons called to a specific assembly (Christ-following)—not to a physical structure, much less to some hierarchical, institutional structure.

The word “church”—and the capitalized “Church”—is weighted down with too many misleading and negative connotations. Consequently, like an Olympic shot putter, it’s high time we hurl it into the field!

But how did “church” get applied if that’s not even what the word means?

What Do You Mean That’s Not What it Means?

The word translated “church” is the Greek ekklēsia. It is formed by the preposition ek, which means “from” or “out of”, plus klēsis, a noun. Klēsis means some sort of special call, calling, invitation.1 Thus, in a general sense, ekklēsia is defined as a group summoned from a larger group, an assembly called out of a larger people-group.

But does the word itself connote some special significance in the NT? More specifically, does the term refer exclusively to Christ-followers? To answer this, we’ll need to look at how this term and its cognates are used in the NT.

The NT records klēsis only eleven times. Each use refers to either the calling of Christ or a calling of God: Rom 11:29; 1Cor 1:26; 7:20; Eph 1:18; 4:1, 4; Phil 3:14; 2Th 1:11; 2Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1; 2 Pet 1:10. In this sense, it bears special significance.

Its adjectival form, klētos, is used ten times,2 in somewhat similar fashion: Matt 22:14 (in a parable); Rom 1:1, 6, 7; 8:28; 1Cor 1:1, 2, 24; Jude 1:1; Rev 17:14. Thus far, the evidence could go towards supporting Christians as exclusive ‘called-out’ ones.

Jesus summoned his first disciples (Matthew 4:21 [cf. Mark 1:20]) using the associated verb:

kai ekalesen autous
…and He-called them.
…and He [Jesus] called them.

The root of the verb used above is kaleō, which means to call, summon, invite, call by name. This is a very common verb, found 140 times (in its various forms) in the NT. Though it is used for the calling to Christian discipleship, this verb also applies to the naming of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:13), identifying the name of a city (Luke 7:11), etc. Thus the word is not purposed exclusively for summoning Christians.3

But maybe we should focus strictly on ekklēsia?

Calling the Ekklēsia

The LSJ, the most comprehensive lexicon for Ancient Greek literature, defines ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία) generally as an assembly duly summoned. The term is found in Homer and other ancient Greek writings well-predating the NT. It can refer to political, legislative bodies governing the populace for example (see Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 43.4). Though some have seized upon this latter meaning, attempting to apply it to Christianity, this is clearly not how the term is used in the NT. Scripture gives no indication that Christians are to rule over non-Christians. On the contrary, Christ-followers are to be servants. In any case, given the usage of the term pre-NT, the word clearly wasn’t coined specifically for Christians.

The term is used 93 times in the LXX (aka Septuagint)—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh, the Old Testament (OT). Though many times ekklēsia refers to Jews in religious contexts in the LXX, it is not used solely in this way. It also references: a group of Jews in a political sense (Deut 18:16), a specific assemblage of returned Jewish exiles in distinction from the larger group of Jews generally (Ezra 10:7-8), and even a pack of evildoers (Psalm 26:5 [LXX 25:5]).

The NT records the term 111 times. The very first usage is in Matthew 16:18, in Jesus’ words to Peter:

kai epi tautȩ̄ tȩ̄ petra̧ oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian
…and upon this the rock I-shall-build my the ekklēsia
…and upon this rock I shall build my ekklēsia

Putting aside any discussion of the enigmatic “upon this rock”—which is beyond the scope of this present article4—what does ekklēsia mean here? [The extra ‘n’ at the end of ekklēsia in the Scripture is to denote the accusative form, direct object.] Might Jesus mean my ‘called-out’ ones? Let’s investigate further.

The Apostle Paul uses this term in the beginning of some of his epistles. An example is found in 1Thessalonians 1:1: …to the ekklēsia of the Thessalonians. The ekklēsia at Thessalonica. In Acts 8:1, which speaks of the aftermath following the stoning of Stephen, there was great persecution against the ekklēsia at Jerusalem—against the group of Christ-followers in Jerusalem. Yet, before this persecution, Stephen, in the midst of his speech to the Sanhedrin, recalls Moses who was in the ekklēsia in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38). This latter usage clearly refers to Jews in an OT context, not NT Christ-followers. But that’s not the only instance of the term referring to a group identifiably not Christian.

In Acts 19, three successive applications of this term clearly do not refer to followers of Christ: an assemblage of pagans brought together by Artemis the silversmith in opposition to Paul and “the Way” (19:32), some sort of official legislative body (19:39), and Artemis’ group once again (19:40). These three instances, plus Acts 7:38, indicate that this word in and of itself is not some special term used exclusively for Christians in the NT. As with most words, context determines meaning.

The final definition of the term in the LSJ lexicon well-explains its application in the NT as it relates to Christ-followers—as well as its later expanded usage:

in NT, the Church, as a body of Christians, Ev.Matt. 16.18, 1 Ep.Cor.11.22 ; ἡ κατ’ οἶκόν τινος ἐ[κκλησία] Ep.Rom.16.5 ; as a building, Cod.Just.1.1.5 Intr., etc.5

In other words, the LSJ indicates that the term is applied in the NT (except the four exceptions above) to “the Church” collectively as a body of Christians, using Matt 16:18 and 1Cor 11:22 as examples. However, the term was later used as a building, as in Codex Justinianeus (Code of Justinian), from circa early 6th century AD. To this latter meaning we will return further below.

Sandwiched between the two definitions in the LSJ (the Church, as a body of Christians; and, as a building) is a reference to the usage in Romans 16:5. Providing proper context for this verse, to include the two immediately preceding verses:

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus 4 —who, for my life, risked their own necks, for whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the ekklēsiai of the Gentiles 5 —and the ekklēsia in their house6

The basic sentence above is Greet Prisca and Aquila…and the ekklēsia in their house. Here the ekklēsia must be a particular group of Christians who gather at the house of Prisca and Aquila. Thus, a small subgroup of Christians. In verse 4 Paul pluralizes ekklēsia, indicated by the final iota (i): ekklēsiai. By its context, these multiple ekklēsiai are other individual gatherings of Gentile Christians meeting in individual homes in Rome.7 Considering the example of 1Thessalonians 1:1, we can infer that if “all the ekklēsiai of the Gentiles” (16:4) were to be combined with the one ekklēsia at Prisca and Aquila’s house (16:5) this would comprise one larger ekklēsia. In other words, each small subgroup (meeting in a home) is an ekklēsia, and the combination of these individual ekklēsiai (meetings in homes) logically would make up one larger ekklēsia. Every individual gathering of Christ-followers comprises an ekklēsia—no matter how small or large—and adding all these ekklēsiai together would constitute one ekklēsia in Rome.

And we can extrapolate further.

This all-inclusive ekklēsia is the meaning of the first definition in the LSJ above: the Church, as a body of Christians. In the context of 1Cor 11:22 Paul calls the ekklēsia at Corinth “the ekklēsia of God”. Note that, though Paul is writing to the Corinthians, this usage of ekklēsia is not specifically limited to those in Corinth. Like the implication in the opening of this epistle (1Cor 1:2), here in 11:22 (“Or do you despise the ekklēsia of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”) the phrase intends the entirety of the ekklēsia of God, to include Christ-followers outside Corinth. Stated another way, though Paul was addressing the ekklēsia in Corinth, he intends all Christ-followers in existence collectively—not strictly the Corinthians—evidenced by the additional modifier of God.

Thus, extrapolating even further, the one all-inclusive ekklēsia at Rome was to be included in the one all-inclusive ekklēsia at Corinth, both comprising a part of the one larger ekklēsia of God. And this should be expanded even more. Yet no matter how far geographically we broaden the scope, there is only one all-inclusive ekklēsia. Obviously, the larger we broaden it, the greater the number of people making up the ekklēsia. But, to reiterate, it is still one collective ekklēsia. This can even be expanded temporally to include all NT-era ekklēsiai (at Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, etc.) in combination with all the ekklēsiai today (in North American, South America, Europe, Africa, Orient, etc.). All together these constitute the many-peopled one ekklēsia.

Now, in returning to Jesus’ words “my ekklēsia” in Matthew 16:18, we have a clearer idea of his intention. We would hardly think Jesus was referring to his ekklēsia as opposed to, say, Prisca and Aquila’s. Obviously—just like in 1Cor 11:22—Jesus was referring to all Christians collectively, rather than some group of Christians uniquely his own over against some other group or groups of Christians. An individual is either part of Jesus’ ekklēsia—the ekklēsia of God—or is not part of Jesus’ ekklēsia. And each and every ekklēsia individually is included in the one ekklēsia of Jesus—the entirety of Christ-followers collectively.

This collective, all-inclusive meaning stands behind the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 (Ni-Con). The Ni-Con updated the earlier Nicene Creed (325).8 More importantly, Ni-Con defined the ekklēsia. Following is the pertinent portion:

[Pisteuomen] eis mian, agian, katholikēn, and apolstolikēn ekklēsian
[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic ekklēsia.
We believe in one, holy, universal, and apostolic ekklēsia.

The word “apostolic” refers to the fact that the ekklēsia dates back to the first century Apostles. Even the first person plural “we” embeds the all-inclusive intent. The only caveat is that each individual in the group must follow the tenets of the Creed (Trinity; Incarnation; Virginal conception/birth; Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension; the Second Coming; one baptism).

The Ekklēsia Housed in Confusion

But somewhere along the way, post-NT era, ekklēsia shifted to “church”. This resulted in the understanding of the underlying NT word to mean “house” or “dwelling”, among other things. This conflation of ekklēsia as a body of Christians with its subsequent mutation as a building (for Christians)—or the fusing of the two—has created not a small amount of confusion. To illustrate the complexity of the issue, consider this meaning of ekklēsia as a building alongside the other multiple modern meanings of “church”.

In the 1983 unabridged Webster’s Dictionary definition for church is the following etymology:

Middle English chirche, cherche; Anglo-Saxon circe, cyrce; Late Greek kyriakon, a church, from Greek kyriakē (supply dōma, house), the Lord’s house, from kyriakos, belonging to the Lord or Master…9

In other words, “church” is not even derived from ekklēsia at all! It’s from kyriakos instead. Thus, this definition of “church” for ekklēsia is an anachronism by way of convoluted etymology. Stated another way, a word (“church”) from a much later time period, is transported to the NT era (via kyriakos) and applied to a completely different word (ekklēsia) cargoing its multiplicity of modern meanings, and these meanings are almost entirely foreign to the original contexts.

To put mathematically: ekklēsiachurch! And, kyriakēekklēsia.

Undoubtedly, this problem leads a reader to understand ekklēsia as any or all of the range of meanings found in “church” today (building, congregation, building with congregation, denomination, the entirety of Christians living and dead, clergy). In reading 1Cor 1:2 (to the church of God that is in Corinth), a modern reader might envision a large building on the corner of Main and 1st Streets with an accompanying marquee proclaiming “First Episcopal Church of Corinth”, where all Episcopalians living in Corinth would gather. But that’s far from historical accuracy.

If we go back to the NT usage of the relevant Greek words in the etymology above, we may be able to find the root of the problem. The Greek adjective kyriakos means something that pertains to the Lord (Jesus).10 It is used only twice in the NT. In the first instance (1Cor 11:20), the context specifically concerns the Lord’s Supper.11 In the second instance (Rev 1:10), the Lord’s Day,12 it refers to Sunday.13 The important thing to note is that the term kyriakos itself essentially means of the Lord, or the Lord’s.14 But the definition above uses the feminine form (kyriakē) rather than the masculine (kyriakos [also note: in the above etymology kyriakon is the neuter nominative form or masculine accusative form]). This use of the feminine form may relate to another possible connection just a bit below.

The parenthetical note in the etymology above (supply dōma, house) apparently indicates dōma is to be added to kyriakē in order to yield ~ the Lord’s house. But the word dōma means “housetop” or “roof” in the NT (Mt 24:17; Mk 13:15; Lk 5:19; Lk 17:31; Acts 10:9). Thus, it appears the two different meanings were fused together to form the one chirche, cherche, or “church”.

Another possible connection is the use of kyria—the feminine form of kyrios (Lord)—in 2 John 1:1 and 1:5. In the NT era, kyrios is used for a person having authority and would be rendered either “lord” or “master” (or, of course, “Lord” or “Master”). An equivalent for a female would be “lady”. In 2 John 1:1 the term is combined with eklektē—“chosen”, “elect”. In that context, it is to the elect lady and her children. It is possible (though impossible to confirm or disprove) to construe this as a figurative circumlocution for the bride of Christ.15 This may (or may not) go towards providing a basis for the etymology above in its use of kyriakē.

Even still, none of this answers why or how ekklēsia became “church” exactly. Like Darwinism, there’s something missing in the evolution.

There is one other possible connection. The Greek word for “a building”, “a structure” is domē.16 Though it does not occur in the NT, it is found in its verbal form in the compound word oikodomeō immediately preceding “my ekklēsia” in Matthew 16:18. This verb is a combination of the noun oikos (“house”, “dwelling”, “household”, “family”)  and the verb domeō (“to build”, “to construct”). But in the context of Jesus’ words, this surely refers to a metaphorical building/constructing, not the building of a physical structure. Jesus was declaring he would ‘build’ a people-group by summoning from the larger group of all people.

And Jesus is still building it!

Further evidence of the confusion finds itself in all the modern dictionary meanings of ecclesia, ecclesial and ecclesiastical. It’s past time we reclaim the proper NT meaning!

Reconvening

Given the enquiry here, how should we translate ekklēsia? Negatively, as noted in the beginning, I propose we heave “church” to the linguistic landfill. Positively, I suggest we substitute congregation in all places “church” is currently found in Scripture. The three Acts 19 occurrences could be assembly, in keeping with most versions’ current use of the term there.

Using congregation instead of “church” might go a long way toward alleviating both confusion and denominational divisions. True Christ-followers comprise one ekklēsia. Separate, individual congregations, but one universal (catholic) ekklēsia!

Just like we meet (verb) at our meeting (noun), we congregate at our congregation. And we are not a congregation unless we congregate. Assembly required!

We congregate when we attend services or when we attend Bible studies—whether at a ‘church’ building, in someone’s home, or any other place. It could possibly be understood that we assemble when speaking on the phone with a Christian brother or sister. Or maybe even when conversing via email.

Postscript

I began writing this article well before the current health issue and the resulting socio-political environment surrounding it. Thus, I am not intending to make any sort of socio-political statement with this. However, in light of the current situation, I think it might be best that every individual ekklēsia proceed as led, considering local regulations and recommendations in balance with Hebrews 10:25, Romans 13:1—8 and 1Peter 2:13—17.

Godspeed.

__________________________

1 See “κλῆσις” in F. W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2009), p 202.

2 The Textus Receptus—the Greek text underlying the KJV and NKJV—includes the term at Matthew 20:16, appending the verbiage found in Matthew 22:14: πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσι κλητοί, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί, polloi gar eisi klētoi, oligoi de eklektoi, for many are called but few are chosen.

3 Though the main reason for the title of this section is to refute “church” as a meaning for ekklēsia, a subsidiary reason is to debunk the notion that ekklēsia is some exclusive term made up of its prefix and the verb kaleō, as if the term were coined strictly for Christians. Such an understanding seems implied by R. C. Sproul, someone whose teachings I generally enjoy: Ekklesia: The Called-Out Ones. We must do better than this. Tangentially, in view of the contents at the link, I might have asked Sproul about Judas Iscariot: Was he not part of the Twelve? Does this not imply he was one of the called (klētos)? How do we square Sproul’s doctrine of ‘election’ with Matthew 22:14 (and Matthew 20:16 TR—see note 2 above)?

4 Though inferences can certainly be drawn from its conclusions.

5 The Greek of Romans 16:5 (the 2nd sub-definition) is actually τὴν κατ᾿ οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν, tēn kat’ oikon autōn ekklēsian. In paraphrase, the LSJ changed it to the nominative instead of the accusative and the personal pronoun (αὐτῶν) to the indefinite (τινος).

6 My own translation, as all here.

7 Likely founded by Paul’s missionary efforts (cf. Romans 16:10-11).

8 To include a defining of the Holy Spirit, which had barely been mentioned in the 325 version.

9 Jean L. McKechnie, Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged,  2nd ed. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p 324. I am unfamiliar with Late Greek, but in the NT, kyriakon is the accusative form of kyriakos (as found in 1Cor 11:20; see below), but it’s also a neuter nominative form (not used in NT). Kyriakē is the feminine nominative form (again, not used in NT).

10 “κυριακός”, in W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago, 2000), p 576.

11 In the accusative/direct object case: kyriakon deipnon.

12 In the dative/indirect object case: tȩ̄ kyriakȩ̄ hēmera̧.

13 David Aune, Revelation 1—5, Word Biblical Commentary, Gen. Eds. D. A. Hubbard, G. W. Barker (Dallas, TX: Word Books), pp 83—84.

14 “κυριακός” in Danker, p 210.

15 See “κυρία” in Danker, p 210; cf. Judith M. Lieu, I, II, & III John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp 240—42, 248—52.

16 Maybe the Webster’s “dōma” in the etymology above is in error?

Passing the Examination

In a bygone era, far removed from today, I served a brief stint in the US military. No regrets, but with the time to reenlist approaching, I had already made up my mind to separate from service rather than continue. It simply wasn’t the life and career for me.

With a few months remaining in my service commitment, I was also approaching the time to take a test for promotion to the next grade. This exam was scheduled before my upcoming separation. Passing the exam would provide a salary increase along with the promotion. A wage increase would be great; however, should I pass, the grade would not be awarded until after my intended separation from service. Thus, to my mind, it made little sense to take the test. So, I asked to be excused.

Yet I was told I must take the examination. “What if you pass?” I was asked. That would make no difference to me, for I was firm in my decision. I was definitely going to separate, no matter the outcome.

So, on the morning it was scheduled, I took the test. In record time. I simply took the Scantron and penciled in a next to the first question, b for the second, and so forth, till I got to the fifth question in which I penciled e. I repeated this pattern until I was finished. Then I handed it to the surprised facilitator and walked out of the room.

I had to sit for the test. But I didn’t have to test well. I didn’t have to pass the exam, but I couldn’t pass on sitting for the exam.

I have no idea how I scored. Given my methodology, it would have been pure luck had I actually qualified for the promotion.

Qualifying for a Higher Grade

Much later, after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, I discovered that, as Christians, there’s an exam we must take. Similar to my earlier test, it is not optional. Yet the stakes are much higher. This is one we must pass. Continually:

2Corinthians 13:5—6:

5 Examine yourselves if you be in the faith. Approve yourselves! Or do you not discover for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in youunless you be unapproved? 6 Yet I trust that you will realize that we are not unapproved.1

For background, the Apostle Paul is frustrated with the ekklēsia (“church”) in Corinth. The words above should be seen as the culmination of what Paul stated in 2Corinthians 10:7. Paul implies that the congregation(s) had been seduced by other “super-apostles” (11:5) who had been preaching “another Jesus”, as received by “a different spirit”, and that they accepted this “different gospel” (11:4). Paul goes on to describe these seducers as “false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13), suggesting they are servants of Satan himself (11:14—15). Apparently, these “super-apostles” spoke disparagingly about Paul (12:11), contributing to the Corinthians’ doubt about Paul’s Apostleship (13:3—4). And even doubting Paul’s own faith.2

In response, Paul instructed them to examine themselves to determine if they were really in the faith. In the first two sentences of verse 5 “yourselves” is italicized to match the emphasis implied in the Greek text. Paul truly is concerned that some had apostatized, that they had fallen away from the faith. So, his words are a call to repentance for those needing it. But he provides encouragement: surely they will find out they are true Christ-followers—or they will be convicted of their fallen state and repent. Yet at the same time they will realize that Paul really is in the faith and truly is an Apostle.

Paul’s concluding sentence (v 6) magnificently puts all his thoughts together. In it, he uses three different pronouns to great effect. The “I” speaks of his authority, yet the verb associated with it shows his empathy, his desire (“I trust”). The “you”, of course, is the Corinthians, who, after their individual self-investigations (v 5), should either: (a) be further encouraged in their faith, or (b) be persuaded to repent. His final “we” indicates both: (a) his desire for their further encouragement or their repentance (accordingly), and (b) his implied assertion of his own status in the faith, along with the newly-repentants’ realization of Paul’s true faith—“we” (the Corinthians and Paul) are “not unqualified”.

All this provides an object-lesson for subsequent readers, for us. Are we really in the faith? Continual self-assessment is not optional (Matthew 24:13).

Elsewhere Paul provides means for self-testing, using the example of Timothy:

2Timothy 2:15:

Strive to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed laborer correctly applying the word of truth.

The verb for “approved” here is the same as the one used in 2Corinthians 13:5. The only way you can know for certain you are in the faith is to have a good knowledge of the truths of the faith (John 8:31—32)! And this requires obedience, which is made evident by your fruit. A great self-check for fruit-bearing is found in Paul’s words to the Galatian ekklēsia. The passage compares living by the Spirit to living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:16—25:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit, so you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit contrary to the flesh. For these oppose one another, so that you may not do as you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 And those belonging to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, to the Spirit we should also conform.

We cannot just pass on this. Each must habitually ask himself or herself, “Am I really in the faith?”

Do I meet the qualifications? Am I approved?

____________________

1 In my translation here, I aimed for functional equivalency to the extent possible (nouns for nouns, similar verb types for similar verb types, etc.), leaving out as many English helping words as possible (e.g. “to see if you be in the faith”). With this goal in mind, I sought to retain Paul’s words as I think he intended to his original audience, thereby showing his exceptional rhetorical skills. All negatives are translated as per the Greek text, including words negated by an a– prefix. In this way, the reader can see his dichotomies, his juxtapositions, as well as his plays on words (“approve” > “unapproved” > “not unapproved”). Otherwise, in my opinion, his tone is smoothed over. This includes the italicizing of “unless” since εἰ μήτι is stronger than εἰ μή.  In similar fashion, “yourselves” is twice italicized, since it has emphatic placement in the Greek (first in the sentences). The overall intent is to make the parallels and contrasts a bit easier for the English reader to perceive.

2 Most of this entire paragraph sounds eerily similar to the leaders and individuals within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

Traversing the Via Dolorosa with Shostakovich, Vasks, and Schnittke

Different people grieve differently. Some busy themselves with busyness. More productively, some write. Some write music. Some listen to music that some have written as catharsis for their pain.

And some enjoy listening to such heart-rending music—even when not necessarily in distress. That would describe me. When grieving, I concurrently feel the composers’ agony. When I’m not, it’s as if I’m empathically sharing in their burdens (Galatians 6:2).

One of my favorite ECM New Series releases, Dolorosa features—as the title suggests—themes of death, sorrow, and lamentation. It includes one work each by Dmitri Shostakovich, Pēteris Vasks, and Alfred Schnittke—all from the former Soviet Union. The title of the release appears to be truncated from Vasks’ own “Musica Dolorosa”, with perhaps a nod to the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “sorrowful way”), Jesus’ route to crucifixion. I make these speculations since it is convention to use doloroso (“o” instead of “a” at the end) in musical direction.

Dolorosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolorosa – Shostakovich / Vasks / Schnittke
Dennis Russell Davies, cond.; Stuttgart Chamber Orch.

 

These three works for string orchestra are appropriately somber, though at times dramatic, adequately expressing the subjects’ range of emotions.

The disc begins with Rudolf Barshai’s (1967) adaptation of Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet. The composer himself approved of Barshai’s arrangement, agreeing to rename it Chamber Orchestra op. 110bis. I much prefer the orchestral version to the quartet, as it adds weightiness to the original, better conveying its inherent bleakness. Shostakovich dedicated the composition “[t]o the memory of the victims of fascism and war”. At the time the original quartet was written (summer 1960), the composer had succumbed to persistent pressures to join the communist party, causing great inner turmoil, according to musicologist Isaak Glikman, as per the accopanying liner notes. Apparently the composer’s dedication included himself as a victim.

At just under 25 minutes, this rendition is one of the longest. DRD conducts the second movement, Allegro molto, slower than all other versions I’ve heard (3:38 long), which I find more appropriate, given the inscription and the overall tenor of this arrangement.

The impetus for Vasks’ “Musica dolorosa” was the death of the composer’s sister Marta. Vasks’ grief evidences itself in the climactic section beginning at around 5:50 of the single movement piece. The pain conveyed becomes almost unbearable until about 8:00 when the discordance begins to subside, seguing into a dark melancholy. This subsequently gives rise to what seems to be a reluctant acceptance of this tragedy. As much as I like the Shostakovich, this is my favorite piece on the disc.

Closing the set is Yuri Bashmet’s orchestral arrangement of Schnittke’s String Trio (1985), rebranded Trio Sonata (1987). This work is the least somber of the three, for the Alban Berg Foundation commissioned the original string trio for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Berg’s birth. However, within a few weeks of the string trio’s premiere, the composer would suffer his first of many strokes, thus curtailing his activity for the remainder of his days. Of the piece, Gerard McBurney opines in the liner notes: “It is music which strongly suggests an elegiac farewell to the past, as though the composer knew he were facing impending and radical change…” Schnittke would die one year after this disc was released.

Listening to this recording can be cathartic, as it is for me many times. I suppose, though, that the listener’s experience would pale in comparison to the emotions felt by the composers at the time of writing—or shortly thereafter in the case of Schnittke’s revision by Bashmet.

Keener Faith

This is a fantastic account of faith in action! I don’t wish to dilute its strength, so I’ll let Craig Keener tell it in his own words in less than two minutes:

Oh, if I could have that kind of faith and that kind of outcome!

Part of the reason I’m posting this—and I’m a bit uncomfortable stating the following—is that four different individuals have assumed that I (Craig, the writer here at CrossWise) am Craig Keener. In a way, I suppose I should take that as a compliment, for he is a scholar whom I greatly respect. (One particular insight of Keener’s was integral to help support my case in this article on Pilate’s inscription above Jesus’s cross.) But in another way I have a feeling that I’ve somehow misrepresented myself, giving readers here the wrong impression. I’m not sure how, for that was never my intention. Quite simply, I wish to retain a certain amount of anonymity. That’s all. With all this in mind, I’ve made a very small change to my CONTACT tab, adding the phrase “a self-studying layman”. To be completely clear, I have no formal seminary education or theological training. And I state nowhere on this site anything to support anything of the sort. I’m just a (kinda) regular guy on a journey seeking Christian truth—wherever that leads.

I do find this mistaken identity a bit curious though. For, besides Keener, there are other Christian scholars sharing the same first name, such as Craig A. Evans (check out his layman-friendly Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels), Craig R. Koester (see, e.g., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community), and Craig L. Blomberg (see, e.g., A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis).

In any case, I’ll direct you to Keener’s blog. I appreciate not just his work, but his brand of off-beat humor, as exemplified by this cartoon for a new illustrative Bible glossary.

Independent Thoughts

Just now as I was perusing Greek professor Dr. David Alan Black’s unblog, I was struck by the following from his Friday, July 31 entry:

As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don’t know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo (bold added).

Amen! This idea was one of the thoughts undergirding yesterday’s Consider the Source post.

For Black’s thoughts on what a New Testament ‘church’ (ekklēsia) should look like, see his booklet Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages.

Continuing Black’s words:

Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don’t know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I’m a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don’t make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter — to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject! (bold added for my emphasis)

It’s as if he took the thoughts right out of my head and filtered them through his own experiences!

I’ve long been frustrated with the way ‘church’ has become a “dull, mindless, conformity”. Where’s the true vibrancy of Christian fellowship? It’s too often a Sunday-only thing, with the rest of the week consumed by secular concerns. Bible study? That’s many times relegated to whatever time is left after all other ‘obligations’. And, of course, that typically means no time at all.

I differ a little bit, though, as I do enjoy reading commentaries for points of view I’d not considered. Or points of view that are not commonly promoted. In a post I’ve been working on for a while (taking MUCH longer than I’d anticipated!), after wrestling with the Greek text, I turned to a few commentaries for clarification on matters. Most, of course, parrot the same line; but, there were a few with some different lines of enquiry. Now, that gets me thinking! It doesn’t mean they are right, and there are times when I’ll reject a particular line of thought. But there are other times when the insights of the writer provide astute illumination to the text. In response, my heart and spirit overflow with joy: “Yes!” How wondrous is his word!

Yet, I constantly struggle with this thought: Am I reading/studying/thinking for my own intellectual curiosity, or is there a higher purpose? Am I pleasing God or myself—or both? I hope it’s both.

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