Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I have moved

recently I added some older material from an even older blog. I posted this info here.

But I have moved to a new site. Shoot me an e-mail and I will fwd you that new blog site.

pistol packing preacher

i]OK so maybe you have never watched one of teh Godstuff videos which I link to the Webboard, but I strongly encourage you to watch this one. This takes the cake.[/i]

This week we feature those amazing preachers of the light who can also shoot out your lights if'n ya get crossways with 'em! First off we've got Pastor Benny Hinn and his famous tirade about "blowing your head off with his Holy Ghost machine gun," then brother Bob Tilton demonstrates how to chop up the devil, the clergymen at White Dove Ministries shoot Santa, and last but certainly not least… Arnold Murray of The Shepherd's Chapel in Gravette Arkansas confronts an intruder in his studio by "using a 9MM on that boy!" Really.

[url=http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/godstuff/video.html?format=wm&vid=070]Enjoy in Windows Media[/url]

[url=http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/godstuff/video.html?format=qt&vid=070] Enjoy in Quicktime[/url]

on teaching doctrine

George Lindbeck, in his important book, The Nature of Doctrine, defines “doctrine” as “communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question. They may be formally stated or informally operative, but in any case they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”[1] It is a cerebral definition, to be sure, but one that we in the United Methodist Church need to embrace.

Lindbeck makes an important point in stating that doctrine is “communally authoritative teachings.” The second part of this sentence is obvious – doctrines are “teachings regarding beliefs and practices.” Yet we need to understand they are “communally authoritative.” Another important point Lindbeck makes in this definition is that doctrine impacts both identity and practice of a community: “indicating what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”

In a culture which puts high value on individualism this is a problematic definition of doctrine. We, as individuals and as groups, have a difficult time agreeing upon and accepting this communal responsibility. We have been taught to prize our opinions (despite that fact that everyone has one) and autonomy. We do not respond well to hierarchy or authority. We, as humans, desire control, influence, and power. We don’t want someone else telling us “how it is” and “what is what.” Yet, for doctrine to be as effective as it is essential, submission to a communal understanding is crucial. This is part of the problem in the United Methodist Church, not that we lack good doctrine, but that we embrace individuals who refuse to hold them as communally authoritative.

Now, this question from ¶335 forces me to answer questions about “traditional evangelical doctrines.” However, I refuse to answer by offering up “my opinion.” In the end, “my opinion” doesn’t really matter. What should be more important is whether or not Chris Roberts, as a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church, will uphold the communally authoritative teachings… essential to the identity and welfare of the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan tradition. It should be the will of the Church at-large that I, as an ordained minister in the UMC, faithfully uphold that which “constitutes faithful adherence to the community.” I will teach and practice in the churches to which I am appointed less my opinions of various doctrines and more what our church holds as formally stated or informally operative doctrine. The good news is that “my opinions and beliefs” match the “doctrines” of the UMC (and if they don’t then I should not be permitted to continue in this ordination process).



[1] George Lindbeck. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age. (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1984) 74.

random thoughts on violence

I will begin where I last started: with exegesis as understood by Yoder. As I said prior, it is the general rule of proper textual interpretation that a text should be read for what its author meant to say and what its first readers o hearers would have heard it say.

Therefore, the question of Just War in the OT is not a valid question. Whether taking human life is morally permissible or forbidden under all circumstances was not a culturally conceivable question in the age of Abraham or that of Joshua. It is therefore, illegitimate to read the story of the Joshuanic wars as a document on the issue of the morality of killing. Although the narrative of the conquest of Canaan is full of bloodshed, what the pious reader will have been most struck by in later centuries was the general promise according to which, if Israel would believe and obey, the occupants of the land would be driven out little by little (Ex. 23) by the angel or the terror or the hornets of God, or the most striking victories of Joshua over Jericho (josh 6), or Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites (Judges 7) after most of the volunteers had been sent home and the remaining few armed with torches in order not to let Israel think military strength or numbers had brought the victory: To believe meant, most specifically and concretely in the cultural context of Israel’s birth as a nation, to trust God for their survival as a people. This theme then entered into the theologically oriented re-writing of history which we find most clearly stated in the exilic/post-exhilic books of Chronicles.

It had thus become a part of the standard devotional ritual of Israel to look over the nation’s history as one of miraculous preservation. Sometimes this preservation had included the Israelites’ military activity; at other time no weapons at all were used. In both kinds of case, however, the point was the same: confidence in YHWH is an alternative to the self-determining use of Israel’s own military resources in the defense of their existence as God’s people.

And so to ask the OT to answer our question is ludicrous! It does not know of our modern times. In fact, when the much of the OT was written, during the exile, there is no way the authors could have know of a source of destruction so great as to wipe out all humanity. Israel was unconcerned with these matters of just war of their military. They were only concerned with obeying God’s command. And as already said by Berman, this is no longer the case for the NT church. And therefore, instead of applying our modern questions and understanding to Just War theory, as Tom has done, is completely inappropriate. The only Just War is war that is conducted and commanded by God.

As for the armed disciples. It only makes sense. Again, let’s not put our modern understanding to the text, instead let’s ask what the readers heard. They heard that the disciples lived in a time in which they believe the parousia would happen sooner than later. The apocalyptic battle, as understood for Jewish Christians would have meant a final battle. It appears that the disciples, especially Matthew, the gospel writer, expected this to happen sooner than later.

The cross becomes the weapon by which the Powers would be defeated. It is the cross we are called to bear. Our baptisms mark us and threaten us, not because of some magical, mystical forces are out to get us, but because we are a threat to the Powers and Principalities as we call them down and name Jesus Christ as our Lord. That is the real threat! The believer’s cross is, lie that of Jesus, the price of social non-conformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of the path freely chosen after counting the costs of discipleship. It is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come. Jesus knew it.

Paul thought so too. Colossians 1:15-17 wrote: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and all things subsist in him.
The word translated “subsist: in verse 17 has the same root as the modern word “system.” The apostle Paul says that this is the share of Christ in creation. In Christ, everything “systemizes,” and holds together for the NIV fans. It is the reign of order among creatures, order which in its original intention is a divine gift. Most of the references to the “Powers” in the NT consider them as fallen. It is important therefore to begin with the reminder that they were part of the good creation of God. Society and history, even nature, would be impossible without systems, order. God provided for that need.

Yet they remain fallen. They are no longer active only as mediators of the saving creative purposes of God; now we find them seeking to separate us form the love of God (Rom. 8 ); we find them ruling over the lives of those who live far from the love of God (Eph.2); we find them holding us under their tutelage (Gal 4). These structures which were supposed to be our servants have become our masters and guardians.

Yet even in this fallen and rebellious state the working of the Powers is not simply something limitlessly evil (in spite of what you thought I believe prior to this statement). The power, despite their fallenness, continue to exercise an ordering function. Even tyranny (Rom. 13) is still better than chaos and we should be subject to it. The Law is even righteous and we should obey it (Gal 4).

Look Romans 13 is correctly interpreted this way:

1) The powers were created by God to bring a network of norms and regularities to offer some semblance of order to the chaos. Since the beginning, according to our Jewish story, God has been concerned with ordering the chaos.

2) The powers, with all creation, have rebelled and are fallen. They claimed for themselves an absolute value and knowledge that attempts to co-opt God. They have thereby enslaved humanity and our history. We are bound to them. We are slaves to them as we are outside of Christ. In both the OT and the NT, slavery is our common language for obedience to either Christ or the powers. The Israelites were never fully free, they would be slaves to Egypt or slaves to God. Today, the same remains. We are either slaves to Jesus and His divine will or we are slaves to the Powers and the culture.

3) Despite their fallen condition, the Powers cannot fully escape God’s prevenient grace and sovereignty. God is still able to use them for good.

And so, if our lostness implies a subjection to these rebellious powers, what does it mean to be part of Christ? Subordination to these powers is what makes us human, for if they did not exist there would be no history nor society nor humanity. If then God is going to save his creation in their humanity, the Powers cannot simply be destroyed or set aside or ignored. Their sovereignty must be broke. This is what Jesus did, concretely and historically. The cross is a victory, the confirmation that he is free form the rebellious pretensions of the creaturely condition. Differing from Adam, Lucifer, and all the Powers, Jesus did “not consider being equal with God as a ting to be seized” (Phil 2). Now, a restored humanity is possible. For the first time we are shown the example of what it means to overcome the powers… not being a slave to any law, or custom, culture, value, theory, or Power.

Now, we get the Church involved in this. Now the people of all ages, races, and nations are coming together in Christ’s fellowship and this is a proclamation to the Powers that their unbroken dominion has come to an end. (See Berkhof, Christ and The Powers). The very existence of the Church is a threat. We are not called to armed violence either by Paul or by any of the rest of Scripture. We are simply called into existence. Being the Church is our primary task (which is why I love Derek’s music). Therefore, any attempt to become lords of the state only compromises our very task. Instead being separate and calling the Powers to task today’s Christians are seeking to overtake the Powers. This is not at all what Scripture calls for.

Let’s consider the Eye for an Eye passages in the Sermon on th Mount.
This is from one of my old sermons, so I apologize if something doesn't come out quite right.

First, let’s consider the audience. “If anyone strikes you… wants to sue you… forces you to go an extra mile…” In all three examples the listeners of Jesus are not the ones who initiates hitting, lawsuits, or imposing forced labor. The followers of Jesus are those who would be subject to this dehumanizing treatment. Now that we know that let’s look at some details. Walter Wink in his book Engaging the Powers gives us the specifics about what this passage may be telling us.

Why the right cheek? To slap someone on the right cheek you would use your left hand. But in that culture the left hand was only used for unclean tasks. One would never use their left hand for such important business. Also the intent hear is not to injure but humiliate. Furthermore, to hit with the fist is to acknowledge your foe as an equal. So how would you hit someone lower than you. You can only backhand slap with your right hand. And the backhand slap was the usual way of admonishing inferiors. But what if one turned to you the left cheek? Can you backhand slap me with your right hand? You would be forced to use your left hand for the back slap.

As Ghandi taught, “The first principle of nonviolent action is that of noncooperationwith everything humiliating.” By turning the left cheek the inferior has forced the hand of the superior. Unable to use the left hand, if the superior hits with his fist he makes the other equal in the argument, acknowledging him as a peer. The point of the back of the hand was to reinforce institutional inequality. Now, the superior has been stripped of his ability to place shame on the subordinate.

The second example Jesus gives is set in court of law. Someone is being sued for their outer garment. Wink’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible states that these types of lawsuits were usually about outstanding debts that were owed. Now, only the poorest of the poor would have only their garments to give as collateral for the settlement of a lawsuit. Now imagine in public a wealthy land owner is suing a homeless man for an outstanding debt. The poor man not only gives the outer garment but also the inner garment. This leaves the poor man standing naked in the court.

Again the tables have turned. Now, the shame falls on the wealthy creditor who is standing there with the outer garment in one hand and the inner garment in the other. The poor man had no hope of winning the case but now the poor man has transcended the wealthy man’s attempt to humiliate him.

Nakedness too was taboo in Judaism, but the shame would have fallen less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness. The debtor parades that nakedness in prophetic protest against the system that has deliberately render him destitute. Are you starting to see how this works?

Let’s look at the final example, go an extra mile. The previous two examples were ways to shame the Jewish system of oppression. Now it is the Roman’s turn. According to Roman law, a Roman soldier could levy forced labor onto the common person. However, there were Roman laws that limited the amount of work a Roman soldier could force a commoner to do. Consider Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross in the Passion narratives of the Gospels. There are historical accounts of whole Jewish villages that were forced to help transport military supplies from one town to another for the Roman army.

Jesus says, “go an extra mile.” Imagine the surprise of the Roman soldier when they reach that second mile marker and the Jew refuse to give back the pack. Now the Jew has taken the initiative. The oppressed has taken back the power of choice. Just picture a Roman infantryman arguing with a Jew to give him back his pack so he could carry it. The humor of this passage and this scene escapes us but to those disciples listening to Jesus they would have understood.

This is Jesus’ Third Way. Jesus was not saying simply be a pacifist. He was not teaching his disciples just to lay down and be beaten. Instead he was teaching His disciples to find a way to regain control… to show the oppressor, the violent aristocrat, the creditor, the Roman soldier, that they were not superior… they were equals. Jesus also did not say fight back. Jesus did not want evil to be returned for evil – to use the Words of St. Paul. No, Jesus encourages His disciples to take the initiative and show the oppressors the shame of what they are doing. The point is to find non-violent means… to turn the tables and respond to the evil that is dished out by the evildoers.

random thoughts on women in ministry

Now, let’s consider several different scholar’s work regarding this topic and, of course, to answer the other question (which I will do further in another topic post) I will support all of this with Scripture (even if I think it is not completely necessary):

Genesis 1:26-27
Paul Jewett, using Karl Barth, explains this about the “imago dei”:
…now comes what may be called the first great surprise of the Bible… Genesis 1:27b (“male and female he created them”) is an exposition of 27a (“in the image of God created him”)… God created Man male and female. The primal form of humanity, then, is the fellowship of man and woman.”

A task Force of the World Council of Churches:
Genesis, chapter 1, describes God’s creative act in entrusting dominion over the creation not to man in the singular but in the plural. The plural is used in verse 26b, even before the mention of “male and female” in verse 27. Note also that their common mission is primarily to rule, while their fruitfulness… is described as God’s blessing upon them…. [This fruitfulness] is placed under… joint authority which characterizes the mission of man and woman.

Perry Yoder, agrees, and argues that “Adam” should be translated “humanity” since both sexes are included. A plural verb is used in “let them have dominion” (verse 26), and a plural pronoun occurs in “male and female he created them” (verse 27).

Neither is given priority over the other and neither is more godlike. The fact is that they are both created in the image of God which bestows inestimable worth!

Genesis 2:18-25
The Hebrew Word (thank God for Hebrew class) for “helper” is ezer. And this does not support the notion of inferiority or subordination. Ezer is found 21 times in the Old Testament. It is used to designate YHWH (in 9 different places). In 16 cases the word indicates a superior who “assists” us. In the other 5 verses it has no hierarchical sense. If the word ezer is to be interpreted as “an assistant or inferior” this would contradict its constant use in the OT.
In King Jimmy’s Version, the word “helpmeet” comes from the Hebrew word neged. Neged is a preposition meaning “before,” “in the presence of,” or “adequate” to meet all man’s needs for physical, intellectual, and social commission might be better translations for the Old-English “meet.” Meet in the Old-English means “fit” or “suitable.”
Yoder notes that the formula, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” binds men and women together in all things. This should all emphasize the interdependence of men and women.

Genesis 3:16
Here I seems obvious that the Fall has caused this male domination. Phylis Trible explains that up to this point, as explained above, they are equals. Now, after the Fall, having been totally deprived the man asserts his domination. He names Eve asserting his rule over her. Don’t you see it is a curse.

Throughout the rest of the OT, women play important roles in leading the people of Israel, including being a Judge!
As already noted, once we step into the NT, we see Jesus and his care and compassion for women. He makes them equals without regard. He shows no prejudice. Women sat at his feet in places of high position. In the Resurrection narrative his first disclosure of His victory was to women. His relationship with women is distinct form the prevailing culture and the curse of male domination.

Now to Paul.
Gal. 3:28
I disagree with Berman. Richard and Joyce Boldrey regard this verse to be a manifesto of Christian freedom, mainly from sin and law, but also from the limitations of creation, since the phrase “male and female” follows the technical formula of Genesis 1:27. The two terms of the pair are not joined with “nor” as are the terms in the other two pairs, but with “and” (kai), thus showing dependence upon the Genesis formula. So Paul is saying that “in Christ.” Relationships between men and women should transcend the male-female division created by the Fall.

Paul here breaks down all barriers between the sexes (and races, social status). John Neufeld notes that while the early church did not succeed full female liberation from the curse, we should not use that cultural accommodation as a principle (cf. Slavery). Gal. calls us to a fully liberation reality.

I will save the discussion on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:34-36 for the other thread. And so moving on…

Timothy (all Pastoral Epistle references)
Most scholars agree that this was a local situation in which women’s teaching exacerbated heretical developments. In viewing 2:11-15 within the context of the book’s wider teachings, one scholar notes that the congregation was threatened by various heresies (1:6-7, 4:1, 6:20) in which women played significant roles – leading worship and even teaching—which their newfound faith, in contrast to Judiaism, allowed. And so women were supposed to learn not teach because they needed to be instructed before they were qualified to teach.

The one wife qualification possibly is more about polygamy, but more likely about divorce. Divorce seemed to be a concern for Paul, as it was for Jesus… but unfortunately is not for us today, as we have many divorced pastors in all of our churches.. even the SBC.

And let’s get serious about all our cannons in the Canon. Why do we focus on Paul’s call for women to learn in silence and overlook what was stated just before it. I mean how many women will follow Paul’s instruction to “dress modestly.” How many women will worship with braided hair? How many will wear their gold wedding bands? How many wear pearls? How many have on “expensive clothes” (as if this isn’t subjective)? We ignore these, unless we are some form of Fundamentalists, and focus just on the silence part. And if that is true then why are so many women Sunday School teachers or worship leaders? Are they exercising authority over men in those position, or do we have to put some modern interpretation into Paul’s words regarding how we worship and teach children and small groups in the 21st century? We must be hypocrites.

Or maybe, more of you interpret scripture like me than you think. (again see my other thread about Scripture).

Yoder on Romans 13

5 points are to be made, thanks to JH Yoder.
(Point 4 is specifically about the death penalty, for those comnig here from that thread)

1) The New testament speaks in many ways about the problem of the state; Romans 13 is not the center of this teaching.
The best example is that of the temptation of Jesus in which Jesus did not challenge the claim of Satan to be able to dispose of the rule of all nations. So first, we should be reminded that Romans 13 was written about a pagan government. Of course, the above argument from Paul about the Powers and Principalities should make this point crystal clear. I also direct your attention to Revelation 13 in which we find the image of government as persecuting the true believers; the same is true for Peter and James. Now, you can reject what the Scripture is saying but you cannot ignore it.

2) In the structure of the epistle, chapters 12 and 13 in their entirety form one literary unit. Therefore, the text 13:1-7 cannot be understood alone.

Chapter 12 begins with a call to non-conformity, motivated by the memory of the mercies of God, and finds the expression of this transformed life first in a new quality of relationships within the Christian community and, with regards to enemies, in suffering. The concept of live recurs in 13:8-10. Therefore, any interpretation of 13:1-7 which is not also an expression of suffering and serving love must be a misunderstanding of the text in its context.

The beginning of the unit of the text (12:1) ties its thought firmly back to the “mercies of God” as the theme of the previous portion of the epistle. These “mercies” included the unmerited calling of the Gentiles to the new life in God (chs. 1-5), the unmerited renewal of even the “body” through the Spirit (chs. 6- and the continuing unmerited redemptive concern of God for ethnic Israel (chs 9-11). The continuation of our passage (13:11-14) looks forward in hope of salvation so concretely imminent and historical as to be “nearer than when we first believed.” It issues in a new quality of concern for the “weak” (14:1-15:21) and in the gathering of financial and spiritual resources to support one another (15:26-29) and Paul(15:22-25, 30-33). The entire text thus sees non-conformity and suffering love as driven and drawn by a sense of God’s triumphant movement form the merciful past into a triumphant future. Any interpretation which makes 13:1-7 an expression of a static or conservative undergirding of the present social system would therefore represent a refusal to take seriously the context. Any interpretation in which God’s mercies are not seen as overcoming hostilities through the creation of community, reaching even to the nuts and bolts of financial sharing and missionary support, has covered over the meaning of each part of the text by not seeing its whole.

Further there are specific cross references which link 12 and 13. 13:8 begins with a verbal echo of 7. The submission to the Powers in 13:1 is motivated and exposited by the hope of 13:11-14. Verse 10, by expositing verse 8, also gives a definition of the “good” in verse 3, whereby the behavior of Christians under government is guided.

The is also a very specific dialectical interplay around the concepts of vengeance and wrath. Christians are told (12:19) never to exercise vengeance but to leave it to God and to wrath. The authorities are recognized (13:4) as executing the particular function which the Christian was to leave to God’s sovereign control. It is inconceivable that these two verses, using such similar language, should be meant to be read independently of each other. This make clear that the function exercised by government is not the function to be exercised by Christian. However able an infinite God may be to work at the same time through the sufferings of his believing disciples who return good for evil and through the wrathful violence of the authorities who punish evil, such behavior is for humans not complementary but in disjunction.

3) The subordination that is called for recognizes whatever power exists, accepts whatever structure of sovereignty happens to prevail. The text does not affirm, as the tradition has it, a divine act of institution or ordination of a particular government.

In Romans God is not said to have created, instituted or ordained the Powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, sovereignty to tell them where they belong, what is their place. It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and God made government through a new creative intervention; there has been a hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. Its exercise has involved domination, disrespect for human dignity, and real or potential violence ever since sin has existed. Nor is it by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what Government does. Nor does God take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious “Powers that be” or for their shape or identity; they already are.

That God orders and uses the power does not reveal anything new about what government should be or how we should respond to government. A given government is not mandated or saved or made a channel of God’s will; it is simply lined up, used by God in the ordering of the cosmos. It does not mean that what individuals in government do is good human behavior.

The immediate concrete meaning of this text for Christian Jews in Rome, in the face of official anti-Semitism and the rising arbitrariness of the Imperial regime, is to call them away from any notion of revolution or insubordination. The call is to a non-violent resistant attitude toward the tyrannical government. This is a subversive text!

4) The function of bearing the sword to which Christians are called to be subject is the judicial and police function; it does not refer to the death penalty or war.

The sword (machaira) is the symbol of judicial authority. It was not the instrument of capital punishment, since the Romans crucified their criminals. It was not the instrument of war since it was but a long dagger. Like the pistol worn by traffic police officers or the sword worn by a Swiss citizen-officer, it was more a symbol of authority than a weapon. This is not to say that the roman government was mild or that this weapon was only a symbol. But what it symbolizes is the way a given government exercise dominion over its subjects by appeal to violence, not the execution of capital offenders or the waging of war against other nations.

It is time we take this Scripture seriously with correct exegesis, instead of simply carrying on with our interpretation based on “Christian” authority since Constantine. This pattern has so shaped our hermeneutics that we have a difficult time thinking like first century Christians as opposed to 21st century Christians. If we can read the text for the time and ask our questions about issues of violence in the context of Romans 12 and 13 appropriately only then would we realize how inappropriately we have treated this text.

5) the Christian who accepts subjection to government retains moral independence and judgement. The authority of government is not self-justifying. Whatever government exists is ordered by God; but the text does not say that whatever the government does or asks of its citizens is good.

“The authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.”
What is the grammatical construction of the participle “attending” (proskarterountes)? Most translations consider it a simple further predication: “the authorities are minister of God and they busy themselves with this very function.” But this is from a grammatical viewpoint not the most likely meaning o such a particular construction. It is more likely that the participle represents an adverbial modifier of the previous predication.

We would then read: “they are ministers of God to the extent to which they busy themselves’ or “when they devote themselves” or “in that they devote themselves” to the assigned function. In the strictest sense we might take this adverbial modifier restrictively: “they are ministers of God by virtue of their devoting themselves” to it. In any case, which ever of these be Paul’s intent, all of them assume that there are criteria whereby the functioning of government can be measured.

And so we can judge and measure the extent to which the government is accomplishing its ministry by asking namely whether it persistently (present participle) attends to the rewarding of good and evil according to their merits. To be “minister to you for good” is a criteria, not a description.

Further we have to examine “they are.” Who is “they” which “are”? Generally we assume that the rulers of verse 3 and the powers of verse 1 and 3 are somehow all merged together in one grammatical subject, which may either be feminine singular or masculine plural and always have the same meaning. This is, however, a very unusual way to disregard the keys to interpretation that gender and number provide. It is more appropriate to ask concretely what plural noun can be subject of “they are” in verse 6. The most recent such plural noun referring to the realm of government was the “rulers” in verse 3, but that is rather far back to reach for an antecedent. Thus some serious scholars, including Marcus Dibelius, have argued that it is more likely that “ministers of God” should itself by the subject.” Then it would read: “The ministers of God are there for the very purpose (as they persist)…”

Then we must further choose between two meanings of the noun “ministers” (leitourgoi). TheGreek usage of the time translated ministers to mean government functionaries, like those who gathered tax money. Since the preceding sentence referred to the vocabulary payment of taxes, it would make sense. But the most current biblical usage of the word, like its near synonym diakonos, refers to the priest or the Christian who “serves” God in the sense of worship and sacrifice. There is nothing in the text to make sure that Paul does not intend ‘ministers of God” to refer to Christians. This would also fit quite smoothly in the context: The Christian is subject for the sake of conscience; Christians pay taxes because Christians also devote themselves to the end that the good of government be approved and evil is reprimanded.

All grammatical interpretations of the verse must be subject o the risk of probability; the main thrust of our present paragraph is not dependant upon anyone eof the above hypothesis. This grammatical detour, should however, have permitted us at least to overcome the naïve sense of self-evidence with which the reader of the English text has often heard it being said as a simple affirmation that, whatever government does, it is serving God and therefore what it is doing is a ministry which the Christian should always share.

Let’s also consider that verse 7 says “render to each his due” and verse 8 says “nothing is due to anyone except love.” Again, we cannot divorce 13:1-7 from chapter 12 or 8 and on.

Further, it is not by accident that the imperative of 13:1 is not literally one of obdience. The Greek language has good words to denote obedience, in the sense of completely bending one’s will and one’s actions to the desire of another. What Paul calls for, however, is sub-ord-ination. This verb is based upon the same root as the ordering of the powers of God. Subordination is significantly different from obedience. The conscientious objector who refuses to do what government demands, but still remains under the sovereignty of that government and accepts the penalties which it imposes, or the Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but still permits Caesar to put him to death, is being subordinate even though not obeying.

The imperative and the ennoblement of this subordination are found not in the fear or in the calculation of how best to survive, but, as state above, in the mercies of God (12:1) or in “conscience” (13:5). And, as we witnessed last week (Holy Week) we can see that our subordination to the government and the willingness to suffer for the sake of love, even to love our enemies, is to participate in God’s victory over the rebellious Powers and Principalities. We subject ourselves to government because it was in so doing that Jesus revealed and achieved God’s victory for us, as the first o submit to the authorities and yet overcome them and their grip on humanity.

That is what it means to have salvation in Jesus Christ, to have our debts canceled and our wounds healed. It is that we are no longer in their dominion but in God’s dominion over and against the Powers of evil.

Yoder on interpreting scripture

Now, I want us to consider the following which is highly influenced by J.H. Yoder’s book The Politics of Jesus and so war will be the case study.

When modern Christians approach the OT with the question of war in mind, our attitude tends to be a legalistic one and the questions we ask tend to generalize. We ask, “Can a Christian who rejects all war reconcile his position with the OT story?” If the generalization that “war is always contrary to the will of God” can be juxtaposed with the wars in the OT which are reported as having been according to the will of God, the generalization is destroyed.

This approach hides from us the realization that for the believing Israelite the Scriptures would not have been read with this kind of question in mind. Rather than reading with the modern question in mind, whether it confirms certain moral generalizations or not, the Israelite read it as his or her own story, as the account of his or her own past throwing light on who he or she was. A story may include a moral implication or presuppose moral judgements, but it does not necessarily begin at this point.

One of the traits of the OT story, sometimes linked with bloody battles but also sometimes notable free of violence, is the identification of YHWH as the God who saves [God’s] people without their needing to act. When we seek to test a modern moral statement, we are struck by the parts of the story that do not fit our modern pattern; but the Israelite reading of the story was more likely struck by the other cases, where Israel was saved by the mighty deeds of God on their behalf…

(In references to Moses and Joshua’s response to the Amalekites) When Israel uses the sword, in a most fearful and destructive way, the victory is credited not to the prowess of the swordsmen or the wisdom of the generals [or the President’s and Pentagon), but to the help of YHWH…

It is the general rule of proper textual interpretation that a text should be read for what the author meant to say and what its first readers or hearers would have heard it say. Whether taking human life is morally permissible or forbidden under all circumstances was not a culturally conceivable question in the age of Abraham or that of Joshua. It is therefore, illegitimate to read the story of the planned sacrifice of Issac or of the Joshuanic wars as documents on the issue of morality of killing...

If with the cultural empathy that is the elementary requisite for honestly understanding any ancient documents, we measure [Jesus’ or The Bible’s] meaning not by what we can possibly conceive of as happening but by what his listeners can have understood, then we are forbidden to filter the message through our modern sense of reality, of the uniformity of nature and the inconceivability of the extraordinary.

OK having quoted and re-phrased all of that, I think it is safe to say that while the case study is war we should apply this method to all of our theological and hermeneutical issues. We too often try to read Scripture and apply to today before we have even given it any kind of textual consideration (or consideration of our own interpretation methods). To ask The Bile to answer our modern questions regarding specific issues like women in ministry, spiritual demons floating around and impacting our world, women and their veils, slavery, or even wonder what God’s call on my life is this year is completely and utterly irresponsible.

Furthermore, I am just as guilty, as I pointed out in my women in ministry post that we are all guilty of reading Scripture in a way that suits us. We all ignore and explain away the parts that don’t fit our presupposed patterns of living and understanding. We all come to the table with differing experience, tradition, and reason regarding our interpretation. What we have to do, is not be literal in our understanding, but seek to find major themes within that will help our modern sensibilities. (another great example is who we in the church have disregarded the literal Biblical understanding of divorce.)

For example, can we consider what Paul has to say about gifts, hope and faith without considering what he has to say about Love. Love seems to be THE overriding theme throughout the NT, and the entire canon. All of you Calvinists who are trying to teach me the Doctrine of Grace should know this much is true. Grace and love are the only eternal. Consider Paul in his letters to the Corinthians and how he discusses with them their problems and arguments of the abuse of Spiritual gifts and authority. Paul says what is most important? Love. The gifts will all fade away. Authority is temporary. Even faith and hope have their limitations. Love lasts forever. It is above all else. So to follow Jesus command to “love the neighbor as the self,” “to love enemies” is one theme that stands out above all of the little stuff that will all fade away (and has faded away according to our little cannons). Another theme is community. As is pointed out above in AC’s question, what do we do with the selling possessions bit from the beginning of Acts. We consider it in the entire context of The Bible. We ask what it meant for the author and the readers. And we come together and try to make some sense of it for us today. To me, it points, not to a literal selling of goods in order to be communistic, it emphasize the role of the community of faith. The purity and unity of God’s Community is a theme from Genesis to Revelation.

When interpreting Scriptures in our modern age (or post-modern age) we have to be careful as to how we understand Scripture itself. Is it a mirror or window or something altogether different? The diversity of our interpretations is not a liability, it is a strength!
Cost of the War in Iraq
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