st. paul

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The “Works” debate

Published May 24, 2017 by thinkinbout

Hi all, lately I have been learning EXPONENTIALLY more than I ever dreamed about the Bible. I am doing this by listening to podcasts on iTunes (Cornerstone Sermons, Leading the Way Radio, The Bible Answer Man Broadcast) and reading books such as How to Read the Bible for all It’s Worth, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, and any and all books and articles from the website reasons.org.  I am going to start a series of blog posts about what I’ve learned that have changed my mind about certain things that I was either taught or thought were correct that I’ve learned aren’t. You’ll see what I mean when I write the entries, but tonight I wanted to give some clarity to the “works” debate.

As a Protestant, I have always been taught that we do not work FOR salvation but FROM salvation.  Good works are an important part of a Christian’s life to bring glory to God and, obviously, to help people, as Christ taught in Matthew 25:35-45. It wasn’t really a “teaching” exactly, or a command, it’s more of an expectation. I cannot speak to the Catholic point of view, but I have the impression that “good works” help in salvation. If I am wrong, please do let me know!

The book of James seems to be a point of confusion, since it seems to say that works have a part in salvation, although elsewhere in the Bible it is clear they don’t (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16). However, James 2:14-26 states:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but dose not have works?       Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food,           and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give       them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have           works, is dead by itself.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show     me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. You believe           that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe-and they shudder.  Foolish man!     Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?  Wasn’t Abraham our               father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith     was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.  So the                     Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for     righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a man is justified by works     and not by faith alone.  And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified     by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route?         For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Now here comes the part where it’s is imperative that we read this and the entire Bible in context. I have blogged about understand context and history before with my entries on:

“Should Christian women avoid wearing jewelry or braids?” (blog 8 of Lent)

“Tattoos” (blog 5 of Lent)

Why sacrificing a child wasn’t odd in Old Testament times (blog 3 of Lent)

Why Paul “prohibited” women from speaking in church (“This is why understanding the context, history, and language of the Bible is important”)

And thankfully my Bible explains what we may not understand regarding this issue. (I use The Apologetics Study Bible, if you’re interested) The foot note in James says this: “Many skeptics argue that a contradiction exists between Paul’s statement that ‘a man is justified by faith apart from works’ (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16) and the teaching of James that ‘a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). However, these positions actually complement each other.

First, Paul and James addressed different situations. On the one hand, Paul refuted a Jewish legalism holding that one must observe the [Jewish] Law’s requirements in order to be saved. On the other hand, James opposed an antinomianism that was twisting faith in Christ so much that no expression of works was necessary.

Second, when Paul used the word ‘justified,’ he meant ‘saved’ or ‘declared righteous,’ whereas James meant ‘vindicated’ or ‘authenticated.’ By “works,’ Paul meant ‘works of the Law,’ whereas James meant works that faith produces.

In light of the above, Paul was saying that one is declared righteous by God apart from the works of the Law. James, by contrast, was saying that a person’s faith produces works that vindicate his faith in Christ as genuine. James used Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and Rahab’s protection of the spies as examples to show that their works authenticated the reality of their faith in God. For James, faith without works was clearly worthless; it must be more than words. Authentic faith will bear the fruit of good works.

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Blog 8 of Lent, and, Why understanding the history, culture and language of the Bible is important!

Published February 27, 2016 by thinkinbout

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This is an important one. This is one that I have often heard twisted maybe more than any other piece of Scripture, and one in which people claim shows St. Paul’s sexism. They couldn’t be more wrong.

First, I’ll copy and paste this email I sent to myself a decade ago (don’t know who wrote it), and then add my thoughts. I have also heard a sermon about this from Michael Youseff, but unfortunately I do not know the title of that sermon. Anyway, the sermon and this piece concur.

“Should Christian women avoid wearing jewelry or braids?

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
—1 Timothy 2:9-10, NIV
These verses might throw you for a loop if your Bible-reading plan calls for an arbitrary number of verses a day. But if you read the Bible a book at a time and you have the ten minutes it takes to read this epistle all in one chunk, you notice two things: First, that the entire second chapter deals with the worship service, so Paul is not talking about how women should dress when they go grocery shopping. Second, that Paul addressed this epistle specifically to Timothy, not to us. We are reading this epistle, so to speak, over Timothy’s shoulder:
To Timothy my true son in the faith
—1 Timothy 1:2, NIV
Therefore, if we apply this passage directly, without taking the context or Timothy’s immediate needs into account, our interpretation isn’t biblical.
Every time I go to the mall and see how the people are dressed, I wonder how we could have had a shipwreck this far inland. But even in this age of fashionable grunge, clothing says a lot about you. For example, it is fairly safe to presume that a man dressed in a tuxedo is probably not on his way to the harbor to unload a ship. And a woman who is standing on a street corner in a bad neighborhood at night in fishnet stockings, a clear vinyl skirt, and too much makeup, is not likely to be a nun. So if I were a modern apostle writing to the pastor of a church located near a red-light district, I would say, “your women should not be wearing fishnet stockings and clear vinyl skirts.” By that I would not mean that if fashion changes and fishnet stockings become respectable, you should still not wear them, I just mean that however the entrepreneurs of the horizontal industry should happen to dress, you shouldn’t.
However, the situation wasn’t quite that extreme for Timothy. In those days, braids and jewelry were ostentatious, beauty-pageant type things. Paul’s concern was not about braids and jewelry, but about vanity and ostentatiousness. It’s important not to turn the worship service into a beauty pageant, because women would spend all their time competing and none of it worshiping. It can send the poor women home in tears and puff the rich women up with pride, and this is not supposed to be the outcome of Christian worship.
So I think we should interpret Paul as giving specific instructions to Timothy that were applicable to his immediate needs and circumstances, from which we should derive the principle that Christian women should dress appropriately—neither too severely, nor too wildly. Paul did not speak of men, not because the principle does not apply to them, but because men’s clothing wasn’t the problem in Timothy’s church and Paul’s immediate purpose was to address Timothy’s needs. We should apply the same rules to men, because the underlying principle is applicable everywhere and to everyone. We should all dress modestly and appropriately, not sticking out in one extreme or the other.
Well, that’s what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:9—what we should not wear. In 1 Timothy 2:10, Paul talks about what we should wear. And this brings to mind the popular saying that you are never fully dressed without a smile. I suppose that would be true for us if we were secular people, because we live in a shallow society that shuns people who are sad. If we are secular people, concerned only about getting ahead, we should always smile, so that we won’t suffer any disadvantage. But if we are Christians, we have something better than cheerfulness—we have the love of God, which is so strong we don’t need to plaster our faces with fake smiles, and we do not need to avoid sad people. In fact, Jesus sent us to seek them out and lift them up.
A doctor is never fully dressed for work without a stethoscope, nor a mason without a trowel, nor a carpenter without a hammer. A Christian is never fully dressed without the good deeds that are appropriate for those who profess to worship God.”

The people who claim that Paul was sexist do not understand this passage, and that is too bad. In fact, in high school especially, this was brought up and flung in my face to make me doubt my faith, or to show me that my religion was one of oppression of women. But they didn’t understand the times. They didn’t understand that these particular women to whom Paul was writing were dressing up for one another and that was taking focus off worship. Women like to dress up. If I could wear a ball gown and glitter everyday, I would. But church is not a time for dress up, it is to be a time of focus on God. Attention should be on Him and Him alone.

This is why understanding the context, history, and language of the Bible is important.

Published January 16, 2016 by thinkinbout

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And I have hundreds of examples. Here is just one:

“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
—1 Corinthians 14:26-35, NIV
Many feel that Paul prohibited women from speaking publicly to the congregation. However, if this is Paul’s teaching, this is not the proof text for it.
We must bear in mind that this epistle is addressed ‘to the church of God in Corinth ,’ not ‘to anyone who happens to read this.’ (1 Corinthians 1:2) We are reading this epistle, as it were, over the shoulders of the Corinthian church, to which it is immediately addressed. Any interpretation of this passage that applies it directly to us without taking the circumstances in Corinth into account is faulty and—well—unbiblical.
This passage deals with the general issue of when people are to speak and when they are to defer to other speakers during a worship service. If you are looking for the qualifications for leadership, you have to look in other places, in particular 1 Timothy and Titus.
The women who are ‘speaking’ in this passage are not addressing the assembly in a leadership role, they were talking while the worship service was in progress, disrupting it with questions about the proceedings.
Paul says that the questions should not be asked during church, but afterwards at home.
The Greek verb translated here as ‘speak’ is λαλεω, which indicates the activity rather than the content of speech. (It is the verb that regularly introduces quotations.) Thus, we could better translate this as saying that ‘it is a disgrace for women to talk in church’ and ‘they are not allowed to talk.’
The Greek verb λαλεω appears in the present infinitive, so we could improve on our translation even further by saying, ‘it is a disgrace for women to be talking in church’ and ‘they are not allowed to be talking.’ If Paul had meant to say, ‘it is not permitted for women to preach,’ he would have used a different verb, and would have cast it in the aorist infinitive.
The Greek verb translated ‘remain silent’ means to refrain from talking out of respect, just as we do not chatter during prayers or the sermon or a choir performance.
As for the submission, the most we can get out of the passage at hand is that women, like everyone else, have to submit to the general rules of order and decorum. Decorum in worship is in fact one of the main themes of this epistle. The topic here is order in the church, not the intrinsic value of women, not the qualifications for church leadership, and not ordination.
Since the general context is about speaking out of turn in church, we can only conclude that Paul is saying that it is disgraceful for women to disrupt the service by asking questions of the other parishioners. They are not allowed to be talking, they should hold their questions until afterwards. Given that the women of Corinth were disrupting the service with their chatter, hardly anyone would disagree with Paul’s advice. Inserting any other meaning is eisegesis, not exegesis; it fallaciously conflates the text.

(I did not write this, and I do not know who did so I cannot give him or her credit, but this is one example (of many!) of misinterpretation. People so causally dismiss God’s word because they don’t understand the mindset, language, history, etc., of the time. People should do their research before dismissing something so important.)