Misgendering the Spirit

Language learners should master the concept of grammatical gender. This is especially true for native English speakers. I’ve found many Christians, even some in scholarly circles, who are confused on this issue. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit is sometimes ‘misgendered’.

The problem is birthed from confusion between (and conflation of) grammatical gender and biological sex, as in male and female. From this confusion, faulty ideas arise as to what constitutes personhood.

To state simply: grammatical gender does not necessarily indicate biological sex. Most times there is no correlation whatsoever.

Grammatical Gender en Español

Since Greek has three grammatical genders, it may be helpful to first illustrate from a language with only two. Below are some examples in Spanish, the world’s fourth-most spoken language (after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi).

the cat = el gato
the dog = el perro
the table = la mesa
the bank = el banco
the store = la tienda

Notice how “the” is spelled two different ways in Spanish. The words for “cat”, “dog”, and “bank” have el before them. These words (gato, perro, banco) are masculine in grammatical gender, so the corresponding word for “the” is also masculine (el). Comparatively, the Spanish words for “table” and “store” have la preceding them. These words (mesa, tienda) are feminine in grammatical gender and therefore have la to match.

This use of el in front of grammatically masculine nouns and la in front of grammatically feminine nouns must be maintained. You should never see ‘la gato’ or ‘el mesa’—these are grammatical mismatches, errors.

Now, we would hardly think any table or store is female. Nor would we think any bank is male. And, of course, we would hardly think all cats and all dogs are male.

In Spanish, there is a simple way for designating female cats and female dogs. An extra word is added to el perro and el gato to specify a male:

the female dog = la perra
the female cat = la gata
the male dog = el perro macho
the male cat = el gato macho

The astute student can readily see that the last letter of both perro and gato is changed from “o” to “a” to make it feminine in grammatical gender. This way, the grammatical gender also indicates the female sex of the dog and the cat. But since perro and gato mean “dog” or “cat” generically (without regard to biological sex), adding macho to the end indicates that the dog or the cat is male. In these examples grammatical gender correlates to biological sex.

Below are the final Spanish examples for our purposes:

the Father = el Padre
the Son = el Hijo
the mother = la madre
the spirit = el espíritu
the Holy Spirit = el Espíritu Santo

The only feminine grammatical gender above is found, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. However, when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood, of course.

The word for “spirit” is masculine in grammatical gender. But this doesn’t mean that a spirit has biological sex. To specify “the Holy Spirit”, the word Santo follows el Espíritu. And since the Holy Spirit is part of the Triune God, once again, we don’t construe biological sex.

The Three Genders in the Greek

As noted earlier, Greek has three grammatical genders, adding neuter:

the sun = ho hēlios (masculine)
the earth/land = hē gē (feminine)
the water = to hudōr (neuter)

Like Spanish, the Greek word for “the” must match the grammatical gender of its associated noun. In the examples above, “sun” (hēlios) is masculine, “earth/land” (gē) is feminine, and “water” (hudōr) is neuter. So, correspondingly, the words for “the” are masculine (ho), feminine (hē), and neuter (to), respectively. Of course, none of the words in these examples indicate biological sex.

the world/universe = ho kosmos (masculine)
the land/region = hē chōra (feminine)
the lake = hē limnē (feminine)
the open/deep sea = to pelagos (neuter)
the deep sea = ho bythos (masculine)

In viewing the above, the reader may perceive a seeming randomness to the assignment of grammatical gender. The last three all relate to water, yet each one has a different grammatical gender! In fact, the last two are synonymous.

Once again, none of these can be construed as implying biological sex. And none of these are persons in any sense, of course.

the word/speech = ho logos (masculine)
the word/saying = to rhēma (neuter)

Despite what some Word of Faith (Word/Faith) teachers claim, these two words are essentially synonymous when referring to speech.1 And when referring to speech generally, we do not assume biological sex or personhood, of course.

In the case of ho logos the difference comes in the preexistent Jesus Christ, “the Word” (John 1:1—14). Certainly, we recognize the personalization—the ‘Personhood’2—of “the Word” here. However—and this is an important distinction—the masculine grammatical gender of ho logos does not indicate personhood in and of itself. Nor does it indicate biological sex—God is not intrinsically a sexual Being. It is the flesh (human) aspect of Word-become-flesh (Jesus the Christ) that indicates biological sex. Jesus is a biological male in virtue of His human nature, not His Divine nature. In His pre-earthly existence as “the Word” He was not even a biological being.

the Father = ho Patēr
the Son = ho Huios
the mother = hē mētēr
the spirit = to pneuma
the Holy Spirit = to Pneuma (to) Hagios

Not surprisingly, the first three above parallel the Spanish in terms of grammatical gender. The only feminine occurs, appropriately, in “mother”. Similarly, both “Father” and “Son” are masculine. And again, as in Spanish—or any translation of Scripture—when referring to God biological sex is not to be understood.

But when compared to the Spanish word for “S/spirit” grammatical gender differs. In Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. Consequently, confusion results among many. To some apparently, the neuter grammatical gender necessarily construes a non-being, a thing. And from there it would follow that non-beings are non-persons. But this conflates distorted notions of grammatical gender with biological sex/gender in the English and imposes them upon the Greek.

Christendom, We Have a Problem

Confusion manifests in two ways, with one mistaken notion following the other. Because the word for “Spirit”, pneuma, is neuter in grammatical gender, some interpreters wrongly assume:

(a) this must mean that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘person’, since the Spirit is neither masculine (misconstrued as “male”?) in grammatical gender nor feminine (misconstrued as “female”?);

(b) however, because one section of Scripture (John 14:15—16:15) uses the grammatically masculine paraklētos (“counselor”, “advocate”, “comforter”) to refer to the Spirit, then this makes the Holy Spirit a person.

Now, to be clear, I absolutely affirm that Scripture declares the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. But this is not due to the masculine grammatical gender of paraklētos. More on this further below.

Generally, the Got Questions site explains Christian concepts adequately (if a bit simplistically at times). But their page for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit, Is the Holy Spirit a person?, contains the errors identified in this blog post. To unravel, I will analyze one sentence at a time. First the text, from the second paragraph at the preceding hyperlink:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing. First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.” The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit. The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement. Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14). Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

Error begets error. Beginning with the first sentence:

The Bible provides many ways to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is truly a person—that is, He is a personal being, rather than an impersonal thing.

This is true.

First, every pronoun used in reference to the Spirit is “he” not “it.”

Though this may be true in English translations, this is absolutely untrue in the Greek New Testament. This will be clarified as we go.

The original Greek language of the New Testament is explicit in confirming the person of the Holy Spirit.

In the original Greek language the word for “S/spirit”, pneuma, is neuter, as stated earlier. But this has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the Holy Spirit is an impersonal thing any more than the masculine kosmos (“world”) indicates that the world is a personal being. It’s not the Greek language that establishes personhood; it’s the contexts describing the Holy Spirit that establish it.

The word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is neuter and would naturally take neuter pronouns to have grammatical agreement.

This is absolutely true. And it absolutely does in the Greek.

Yet, in many cases, masculine pronouns are found (e.g., John 15:26; 16:13-14).

Three masculine (demonstrative) pronouns are used in these cases (and one more each in 14:26 and 16:83) because they refer to the noun paraklētos, which is a masculine noun! Moreover, this is hardly “many cases”, as these are only found in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:16—16:15) when the pronoun refers to paraklētos. The Farewell Discourse is also interspersed with neuter pronouns in the Greek when referring to pneuma. For example, in John 14:17, the neuter relative pronoun hò is used once and the neuter ‘personal’ pronoun auto is used twice as substitutes for to pneuma at the very beginning of the verse—though all three are translated as the masculine “him” in English. This is to indicate personhood in English. To reiterate, these three neuter pronouns are translated as masculine pronouns in English solely to signify personhood for English readers. This is an issue in translation, not in Greek.

Grammatically, there is no other way to understand the pronouns of the New Testament related to the Holy Spirit—He is referred to as a “He,” as a person.

I cannot know if the author is being dishonest or is obtusely conflating issues. As noted just above, the English translations generally use “he” when a pronoun is substituted for the Holy Spirit. But the Greek pronouns here agree in grammatical gender with their antecedents, their referents. And in the Greek New Testament any pronoun which refers to pneuma is also neuter to match in grammatical gender.

So how do we Biblically establish the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit? Murray J. Harris in his exegetical commentary on John’s Gospel provides some helpful introductory apologetics here (the author translates paraklētos “Helper”):

The fact that the pronouns referring to the Spirit…are neuter no more establishes the impersonality of the Spirit than the masculine pronouns ekeinos in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13-14 and auton in 16:7 [ED: referring to paraklētos] prove the personality of the Spirit. In each case the gender of the pronouns is grammatically conditioned…The personality of the Spirit should be established without appeal to the masculine pronouns in the passages cited above. (One can argue, for example, that since Jesus as Helper [implied by allos, “another” in 14:16] is personal, one would assume that the Spirit as “another Helper” is also personal. And the other personal roles attributed to the Spirit, such as teaching and reminding [14:26], testifying [15:26], guiding [16:13], and informing [16:14-15], would certainly be strange if the Spirit were simply an impersonal force).4

In short, it’s not the Greek grammar that argues for the ‘Personhood’ of the Holy Spirit. It’s the contexts describing Him. A few other contexts in this regard:

  • The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
  • The Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), which is tantamount to lying to God (Acts 5:4).
  • The Holy Spirit is sent jointly by the Father (John 14:26) and the Son (John 15:26; 16:7) and is received by believers (1Cor 6:19, etc.), in whom the Spirit performs some of these personal functions.
  • The Spirit’s Deity finds affirmation in the sharing of the one Divine Name with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19). If the Father and Son are ‘Persons’, then it most likely follows that the Holy Spirit is, as well. Though equality of ‘Personhood’ cannot definitively be established by this one verse, it’s this verse in concert with other verses that help make the case. As another example of such, Jesus is called paraklētos (1John 2:1), while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘another paraklētos’ (John 14:16).

No Good Apologies for Bad Apologetics

Using bad apologetics can harm the Christian cause. Anyone who is against Trinitarianism specifically or Christianity generally can use that bad pronoun argument against the Christian faith. Such bad arguments can make us seem like the ignorant and unintelligent (or intellectually dishonest) people that many non-believers accuse Christians of being.

Such faulty arguments used in attempts to bolster a theological position undermine proper Christian apologetics. Let’s endeavor to do better. I know we can!

______________________________________

1 But logos has a more expansive range of meanings. For those unaware, many Word/Faith teachers assert (among other things) the false dichotomy that rhēma denotes the ‘higher’ word from God for believers only while logos indicates the written Scriptures as a whole for everyone, including non-believers. Not only is this reductionistic, it fails to account for the fact that the verbal form (legō) of logos is used quite often preceding speech (so-and-so said [legō], “…”). A good example to refute this dichotomy presents itself in Matthew 12:36: But I say (legō) to you that every idle word (rhēma) that men speak (legō) they will give account/reckoning (logos) for in the day of judgment. Moreover, rhēma is found in only 65 verses in the New Testament as compared to over 300 for logos, while the verbal form legō occurs over 2000 times.

2 I always place single quotes around ‘Person’ when referring to individual hypostases of the Father, Son, or Spirit in order to indicate a distinction between modern ideas of personhood and those of Trinitarianism. The Father, Son, and Spirit should not be reduced to such secular notions.

3 These five occurrences of the masculine demonstrative pronoun (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13, 14), plus one masculine personal pronoun, are the only stand-alone pronouns in this entire section referring to paraklētos. There are some others implied in verbs (all finite verbs encode person and number, but not gender), though some are ambiguous as to their intended referent (see previous article Another Paraclete?, especially endnote 10). There are also neuter pronouns—specific and implied—referencing either the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of truth in the Farewell Discourse.

4 John, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), p 261 (Greek transliterated). And see note 3 above and my previous article related to this subject.

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.

John Arranges Things Differently

The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Markedly so, in some areas. John’s Gospel contains things the Synoptics lack, yet omits content they have. But even the overlapping content is somewhat different in John.

It’s similar to Claudio Abbado as compared to Rudolf Barshai conducting Bartók.

Or like John Coltrane’s rendition(s) of “My Favorite Things” compared to Julie Andrews’ vocal version in The Sound of Music. Like Miles Davis’ cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”.

Or like R.E.M.’s cover of Wire’s “Strange” (or the fact that early R.E.M. borrowed a bit from the sound of The Byrds).

Or like Public Enemy’s (and others’) sampling of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”—specifically, the great Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s drum intro—in their “Don’t Believe the Hype”.[1]

Quoting P. Gardner, F. F. Bruce suggests John’s Gospel is a transposition into a higher key.[2] Continuing the musical analogies, John doesn’t so much harmonize with the Synoptics as provide counterpoint. Similarly, John resembles Ravel in taking his own six movement piano solo suite Le Tambeau de Couperin and later transforming into four movements for orchestra. Some elements are the same, colors and shades are added, some notation is omitted.

Putting the earlier words of Bruce in context:

If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone ‘transposition into a higher key’ [as compared to] the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit’s enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public…[3]

Following this, Bruce provides a Shakespearean analogy.

The day following Julius Caesar’s assassination is recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Brutus. Plutarch provides the account of Mark Antony reading Caesar’s will to the public. When the audience heard that, among other things, the dictator had willed 75 drachmas to each citizen, they grew sympathetic. Sensing this, Antony adjusted his speech and tone, taking Caesar’s bloodied gown in his hand and graphically pointing to the knife and sword cuts into it. At this, the crowd grew angry at his assassins. Chaos ensued. Some insisted that those who had slain Caesar should be killed.

Shakespeare paraphrases and amplifies this account. However, he also reorders it. The writer situates Antony holding up the tattered gown and showing Caesar’s bloodied corpse before reading the will. Moreover, he ‘quotes’ Antony using words not even recorded in Plutarch’s account.[4]

Bruce calls this

a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare’s genius enables him to put just the right words into Antony’s mouth…‘to give the general purport of what was actually said.’*

What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing readers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today…—that is the work of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’;** and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognize in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus.[5]

John is different. I like that. I can’t wait to meet John on the other side.

__________________________

[1] Unrelatedly, tangentially: Is Public Enemy (PE) original in coining the idea of “fake news”? Witness these lyrics from “Don’t Believe the Hype”, relating to how the music press distorted PE (in their view):
Chuck D.: False media, we don’t need it, do we?
Flavor Flav: It’s fake that’s what it be to ya, dig me?

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 15. Bruce here quotes Gardner’s The Ephesian Gospel (London, 1915), p 284.

[3] Bruce, p 15.

[4] Bruce, pp 15-16.

[5] Bruce, pp 16-17. *Here Bruce cites Thucydides’ History 1.22.1. **Here Bruce quotes Temple’s Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London, 1939), p xxxii.

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 Energion Publications 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.

Not One Parousia, But Two

When the time arrives, be sure you’re following the right parousia.

Some readers may immediately think, “Sure. But what’s a parousia?” Glad you asked. This term is used in the technical (and not-so technical) literature for Jesus’ Second Coming, aka the Advent, and is most often capitalized (Parousia).1

This particular word is used in this way, because it is found in a number of New Testament (NT) texts in reference to Jesus’ return. Seventeen to be exact. These include Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount of Olives, aka the Olivet Discourse:

…when shall these things be and what is the sign of your parousia, and of the end of the age? (Matt 24:3)

For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the parousia of the Son of Man (Matt 24:27)

However, there are other occurrences of this term in reference to other persons. One refers to the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17). Two others refer to the arrival of Titus (2 Cor 7:6—7). Comparatively, there are three occurrences of the term referring to Paul’s physical presence (2 Cor 10:10; Phlp 1:26; 2:12). As can be observed, the term has shades of meaning. And some translations interpret the shades a bit differently in the contexts cited here.

Except for one usage, the occurrences of parousia for Christ refer to His forthcoming arrival or presence in person again. But even this exception points to what underlies the understanding of the Advent. In 2 Peter 1:16 the term refers to the Transfiguration:

For it was not by following cunningly contrived fables we made known to you the powerful parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ; rather, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

The term had been used in antiquity for the fanfare surrounding the arrival of a king, ruler, or dignitary (see definition A2 here). The ISBE records how parousia was found in various inscriptions, noting specifically its application to the Greek god of medicine:

In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC…‘Parousia’ is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius [Aσκληπιός Asklēpiós]. Consequently, the adoption of Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.2

In Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian ekklēsia (“church”), he uses the term with this sort of regal backdrop. These epistles contain six of the seventeen total uses referencing Jesus: 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8. This is obvious in 1 Thess 3:13 (…at the parousia of the Lord Jesus with His holy ones3), but especially in the magnificent usage in 2 Thess 2:8:

And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of His parousia

However, this is contrasted with the one remaining use of parousia, which is found in the very next verse—the parousia you do not want to follow. For, 2 Thess 2:9 describes the pseudo-parousia. This is best seen in context with 2:8 & 10:

8 And then the lawless one will be revealed—whom the Lord Jesus will cast away with the breath of His mouth and extinguish by the radiance of His parousia9 which is the parousia according to the working of Satan, with every kind of power and pseudo signs and wonders, 10 and in every manner of unrighteous deception, for those perishing…

For readability, English translations smooth out Paul’s words a bit. For the moment, if we remove the portion in the em dashes (—), the text would be more like: And then the lawless one will be revealed, which is the parousia according to the working of Satan, with every kind of power and pseudo signs and wonders, and in every manner of unrighteous deception, for those perishing….  

Importantly, observe from the text of 2 Thess 2:8—10 that this pseudo-parousia precedes the true parousiathe parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This also means Satan is well-aware of Jesus’ forthcoming parousia, and he plans to perform a parody of it, to the extent it will fool many. The enemy has been busy in this diabolical plan. Evidence for this is found, for example, in the occult works of Alice A. Bailey. Bailey was the conduit by which the following words regarding this false Christ  and pseudo-parousia were channeled in 1919 :

Eventually, there will appear the Church Universal, and its definite outlines will appear towards the close of this [20th] century…This Church will be nurtured into activity by the Christ and His disciples when the outpouring of the Christ principle, the true second Coming, has been accomplished. No date for the advent do I set, but the time will not be long.4

Assuming we are all here at that time, be sure to await the real, true parousia, not the one described just above. Your spiritual life depends on it.

_________________________

1 As an aside, interestingly, even my version of MS Word defaults to capitalizing this word. It is also found in online dictionaries this way. This is because the current technical meaning of the term as Christ’s Advent is assumed.

2 Burton Scott Easton, “Parousia”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st Ed. (1915), prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.4, para 43388

3 The words translated “holy ones” (hoi agioi, here in the genitive tōn agiōn) are the same words used elsewhere in the NT many times for Christ-followers, i.e., human ‘saints’. But it is unclear whether this is the correct interpretation here. Paul specifically states that Christ will be accompanied by angels in 2 Thess 1:7. Moreover, in 1 Thess 4:16 a shout of an archangel and a “trumpet of God” herald His return (alternatively, the shout of God’s archangel ‘trumpets’ Christ’s return). Also, in apocalyptic literature of the OT, “holy ones” refers to angels (Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps 89:7-8; Dan 4:34; 8:13{?}; Zech 14:5{?}). On the other hand, the context of Dan 7:18 seems to refer to glorified human saints, while Dan 8:13 and Zech 14:5 are a bit ambiguous. Thus, it is possible that 1 Thess 4:16 and 2 Thess 1:7 are not meant to exclude human saints (though, importantly, 1 Thess 4:15 indicates dead saints precede those still alive). Therefore, it is possible that both angels and glorified humans are in view here.

4 Alice A. Bailey, The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis Publishing Company, NY, 6th printing (Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 1981), p 510; bold added for emphasis. While the book was not first published until 1957, most sections within the book have corresponding dates of initial writing, or, more accurately, transmission.  The portion quoted here looks to be from 1919 (see page 502 and intervening text), which would then be some of the earliest writings of Bailey in partnership with Djwhal Khul, aka The Tibetan or Master D. K.

A Self-Transformational Tool, Not a Club

While scouring various works to provide grounding for an upcoming article, I unearthed the following nugget. A perhaps unusual place to discover such riches, it was found in the Preface to—not in the commentary proper of—the revised edition of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary series.

The Bible was not written for our information but for our transformation. It is not a quarry to find stones with which to batter others but to find the rock on which to build the church. It does not invite us to simply speak of God but to hear God and to confess that his Son, Jesus Christ, is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Php. 2:10).

– David E. Garland & Tremper Longman III
General Editors

 

Bob Dylan’s New Christian Themed Album

After releasing his first new material in quite a while with “Murder Most Foul”—a nearly 17 minute track about the assassination of JFK—Dylan subsequently announced a forthcoming full-length release. Now available, the album Rough and Rowdy Ways contains only new material written by him.

The way I interpret the record, Dylan has rekindled his Christian faith. Though there are what seem to be overt lyrics in this regard, there are other more opaque references.

The overt references include these from “Crossing the Rubicon” (for those unaware, this phrase is a metaphor for point of no return):

I feel the Holy Spirit inside
See the light that freedom gives
I believe it’s in the reach of
Every man who lives
Keep as far away as possible
It’s darkest ‘fore the dawn (Oh Lord)
I turned the key, I broke it off
And I crossed the Rubicon

Plus the following from “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”:

If I had the wings of a snow white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

This whole song can be read as the songwriter rededicating his life to Jesus Christ. The lyrics can be found at AZLyrics (The line I hope the gods go easy on me I interpret as I hope men deeming themselves gods go easy on me.) And by scrolling to the bottom of the AZ link, you can find lyrics to the remaining pieces on Rough and Rowdy Ways.

The album finds Dylan pondering his temporal life, his faith, his mortal end, the end of all things generally (which I think he believes is imminent), and immortality.

Starting from the beginning of the album, “I Contain Multitudes” finds the writer admitting he’s a man of contradictions. Aren’t we all, if we’re honest. This sets up two tracks in which Dylan narrates in the first person  as (A) a false prophet (“False Prophet”), though claiming he’s not (I ain’t no false prophet), and (B) as Satan describing how he’ll fashion the antichrist (“My Own Version of You”). While an initial reading of (A) I opened my heart up to the world and the world came in could be autobiographical, when interpreted in view of the whole, Dylan speaking from the perspective of a false prophet makes the best sense.

“My Own Version of You” has appropriately repulsive imagery to match the concealed ugliness of the subject—the yet to be revealed antichrist:

I’ve been visiting morgues and monasteries
Looking for the necessary body parts
Limbs and livers and brains and hearts
I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do
I’m gonna create my own version of you

The following lines make his meaning clearer (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Revelation 13:11-18):

I’ll bring someone to life, someone for real
Someone who feels the way that I feel

That Dylan thinks the false Christ’s time is nigh may be gleaned by this line borrowed from Shakespeare: Well, it must be the winter of my discontent.

The sequencing of the songs appears to be quite on purpose. With the first one admitting his own contradictory nature, the second posing as the false prophet, the third as Satan fashioning the antichrist, the writer seems to be reflecting his own notion that the end times are near. With all this in mind, a rededication to Jesus at this juncture makes sense. Thus, the fourth track is “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”.

The fifth track, “Black Rider”, finds Dylan pondering death itself. At times he’s pushing death away (My heart is at rest, I’d like to keep it that way / I don’t wanna fight, at least not today), other times he’s ready to give in:

Black rider, black rider, tell me when, tell me how
If there ever was a time, then let it be now
Let me go through, open the door
My soul is distressed, my mind is at war

Ah, those contradictions.

After two tracks of what I think are ‘living in the world but not of the world’—“Goodbye Jimmy Reed” and “Mother of Muses”—the songwriter begins “Crossing the Rubicon” with my favorite of the non-overt Christian lyrics:

I crossed the Rubicon on the 14th day
Of the most dangerous month of the year

This is most certainly a reference to Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar—the first day of the Jewish Passover, corresponding to the day Jesus became the Paschal Lamb (Passover Lamb), according to John’s Gospel (and 1 Corinthians 5:7). That is, the day Christ was crucified. I think these lyrics signify Dylan’s (re)dedication to Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean Dylan metaphorically “crossed the Rubicon”—gave his life to Christ—on Good Friday, though it could.

Each verse of this song ends with the words And I crossed the Rubicon. Surely “crossed” here is a double entendre, referring also to accepting the Cross of Christ. This is evident in the lyrics beginning the second verse:

Well, the Rubicon is a red river
Goin’ gently as she flows
Redder than your ruby lips
And the blood that flows from the rose

This “red river” must be the blood of Christ, redder than…the blood that flows from the rose.

The final track (excluding “Murder Most Foul”, which is placed on a disk by itself in the cd release) “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” makes the island a metaphor for the journey to paradise (‘Abraham’s bosom’) —the hereafter. This is my favorite piece both musically and lyrically.

Dylan frames it with US President William McKinley’s assassination. The piece begins:

McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
Doctor said, “McKinley, death is on the wall
‪Say it to me, if you got something to confess”

Then near the end of the song Dylan writes I heard the news, I heard your last request / Fly around, my pretty little Miss. This appears to be Dylan using the president’s wife’s words to her husband at his deathbed, she wishing to go with him, to which he reportedly replied: “We are all going, we are all going. God’s will be done, not ours.” However, perhaps more important to the song here are the accounts that either McKinley or his wife sang the lyrics to the Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

The closing chorus thematically ties it all together:

Key West is the place to be
‪If you’re looking for immortality
‪Stay on the road, follow the highway sign
‪Key West is fine and fair
‪If you lost your mind, you will find it there
‪Key West is on the horizon line

A fitting finale. Make up your mind, make the commitment, cross the Rubicon. Stay the course, follow the Spirit. You’ll reach Key West, immortality. It’s right there on the horizon. At least it’s on Dylan’s horizon.

[See the related Tangled Up in Quasi-Truth.]

The Cost of Freedom

Here in the USA as we celebrate the independence we enjoy, let us also consider the efforts of our forefathers and the ultimate price some paid for them.

May we also reflect on those in shackles—literal or figurative—in various ways, whether this is by unjust or even just jailing, through oppressive regimes or ideologies, etc. Let us remember and pray for all not yet free.

As Christians, let us also rejoice in the freedom we have—through God’s grace—in Christ. Let us remember and pray for those who have yet to experience their own freedom in Christ.

Let us never forget that freedom isn’t free.

Let us never take for granted the price paid for eternal salvation. The price paid for all.

Redemption

From the hands it came down
From the side it came down
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground
Between heaven and hell
A teardrop fell
In the deep crimson dew
The tree of life grew

And the blood gave life
To the branches of the tree
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood

From the tree streamed a light
That started the fight
‘Round the tree grew a vine
On whose fruit I could dine
My old friend Lucifer came
Fought to keep me in chains
But I saw through the tricks
Of six-sixty-six

And the blood gave life
To the branches of the tree
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood

From his hands it came down
From his side it came down
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground
And a small inner voice
Said you do have a choice
The vine engrafted me
And I clung to the tree

————-

Written by John R. Cash
Published by Song of Cash, Inc. (ASCAP)
© 1994 American Recordings /℗ 1994 American Recordings. 2100 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404

 

Looking Past the Future

Looking at the present, the immediate future is uncertain. But of this I am sure: a much brighter future awaits us.

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the arrival of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27).

And the culmination of this future may resemble our distant past. Our very beginning. Before we fell into darkness.

In the Apocalypse—the book of Revelation—John the revelator describes the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2, 10). A Throne is its centerpiece, its Sanctuary is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (21:22). Light radiating from them obviates the sun, eliminates the night (21:23, 22:5). A Tree of Life is flanked by a life-giving river and a golden street (21:21), one as transparent as the other:1

1 Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, springing forth from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In between the city’s great street and the river stands a Tree of Life2 producing twelve fruits, corresponding to each month of the year, yielding one fruit per month. The leaves of the Tree provide healing for the people. 3 No longer will any curse be. The Throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. 4 They will see His face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will no longer exist: They will have no need of lamplight or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them. And they will reign forevermore (Rev 22:1-5).

No curse! No night, no darkness! I have long championed the slogan “Water is life”, a maxim all the more true in the New Jerusalem.

May I endure to the end (Matthew 24:13), thereby finding my name included in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27). I sure could use some of those healing leaves.

Behold! I am coming soon” (Rev 22:12).

____________________________

1 What follows is my own translation.

2 This first part of the verse proved very difficult to translate. The Greek is:  ἐν μέσῳ τῆς πλατείας αὐτῆς καὶ τοῦ ποταμοῦ ἐντεῦθεν καὶ ἐκεῖθεν ξύλον ζωῆς, en mesō̧ tēs plateias autēs kai tou potamou enteuthen kai ekeithen xylon zōēs. Translating as literally as possible: in middle/midst of-the great-street of-it and the river from-here and from-there tree of-life. There is no finite verb in this entire verse—something not uncommon in Scripture. The first clause up to “of-it” is a dative, but does it go with the main verb of 22:1 (“springing forth”) or are we to assume—and thus add in—a verb in 22:2? For me, it seemed nonsensical to envision a river flowing down the middle of a street (and with a tree or trees in the middle of it), so I looked for other options. I found the International Standard Version’s translation to make the most sense: the dative clause was to be applied to verse 2 rather than 1. The key for me was understanding “from here and from there” as helping to explain—as a rephrasing of—“in the midst”. In this way, the verse is understood in the middle of the city’s great street and the river, from here [the river—the focus from v. 1] and from there [the great street] (stands) a Tree of Life. From this understanding, I decided to omit “from here and from there”, thus rendering the first two words “in between” as a compromise.

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