Preaching the true Israel
There are some subjects I'm always nervous blogging about. I don't want to unnecessarily undermine people's faith and beliefs when they differ from me on secondary issues. But here's one that warrants some thinking – and please, even if you don't agree with me, give it some thought.
So, this post is about preaching the true Israel – I could have entitled it "Why I do not believe in replacement theology". There, that got your attention.
Replacement theology (also called supersessionism) is the belief that the Church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God as God's chosen people. I want to tell you why I believe that to be wrong and unhelpful for every Bible preacher. Perhaps I should start by stating what I do believe.
Jesus is the new Israel.
Not the Church.
I'm not just being pedantic. The kind of preaching that reads Old Testament texts about Israel and assumes they must be about the church is seriously Christologically deficient. Likewise for the kind of preaching that reads Old Testament texts about Israel and assumes they must be about the modern day nation. Here are just two proofs:
- Many studious Jews see the servant songs in Isaiah as being about the nation. That's no accident because, for example, "He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.'" (Isaiah 49.3). We know from New Testament interpretation that the servant songs are ultimately describing the Suffering Servant, Christ Jesus. No Christian denies that! And yet these songs do seem to describe a nation. That 'nation' is the new Israel.
- More clearly still, Matthew takes up the Hosea quote (Hosea 11.1) and applies it to Christ (Matt 2.15). Jesus is the true first born who is called out of Egypt.
Before you start sending me emails, please read the following sentence carefully – this does not necessarily rule out a place for a modern day Jewish nation. That's another moral, hermeneutical and political issue. And Christians who see Jesus as the true Israel will differ on this.
But the point of the post is more basic. As preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ we need to preach Jesus as the true Israel. Too often our preaching launches straight from Israel to the church and not only is this missing out the logic of the Bible, we are hardly preaching Christ in all his glory, goodness and fulfillment. Our task is, after all, to proclaim him (Col 1.28) and what it means to be in him. We're not preaching the church.
How to understand Greek words
It has come to something when the letters pages of the Times carry discussions on the meaning of words. In response to an article from Tom Wright about the Women Bishops vote, a Classics professor from Liverpool responded. Wright had asserted that the word authentein in 1 Tim 2.12 occurs nowhere else in the NT (true) and therefore we must be cautious about building an entire theology on its meaning. The professor – Christopher Tuplin – maintained that the word can be understood from contemporary sources where it is more common. NT Greek, he argued, is not a language in a vacuum. (Tuplin, it should be noted, is no Christian complementarian – quite the reverse).
It's an interesting debate – and one I'm not immediately going to get drawn into. There's enough ink spilt on this already. But it did get me thinking about how we determine the meaning of Greek words. Here are some ideas:
context drives a lot. Most words have a range of meanings and how they are best understood depends on the context in which they are used. peirasmos can mean trials, tests of temptations – and although there is overlap between these meanings, the precise meaning you allocate to each use of the word in, say, James 1, matters a lot.
- NT use of words helps. How is the word used elsewhere? This, again, is a great help. I think we should always try to use internal evidence before external. Are there obvious places where the word is used clearly? Clearly, if words have multiple meanings, then it is not as straightforward as saying a meaning in one place must be the same as a meaning in another, but it can be a help.
- external use of words. How is the word used elsewhere in contemporary literature? A lexicon which covers both NT use and external use is a help here – I use the majestic BAGD (expensive, but a great tool: £99 on amazon, £90 via Logos). By the way, to those who say going externally usurps our doctrine of clarity – that's a serious rewriting of the doctrine of clarity which has always involved ordinary means (see, for example, the Westminster Confession Chapter VII)
- use experts. On the whole, Bible translations are compiled by experts in language. That is a good thing for which we should thank God. They have already done all of the work above – thinking through context, NT use, external use. On the whole, in our English translations, their work is very reliable. Preachers should be cautious of sentences beginning, "I know our Bibles say [ ] but what this really means is [ ]" Am I being too provocative to say, most of the time, you're likely to be wrong?
And, if you're interested in the letter, here it is:
Sir, Much as I should like to believe that I Timothy ii, 11-12 does not refuse to allow women to teach men, I cannot see that “serious scholars” have any excuse for disagreeing about the meaning of the salient part of the text and Tom Wright (Opinion, Nov 23) ought not to suggest otherwise. The Greek text plainly says “let a woman learn quietly and in all submission; I do not permit a woman to teach or to have power over a man”, and it contains no words that “occur nowhere else”. The verb translated as “have power over” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but its meaning is unproblematically established by its use (and the use of its cognates) in other Greek texts; New Testament Greek is not a different language, hermetically sealed from the Greek of other texts and documents. (If one wants a word that really occurs nowhere else, try instead the one translated “daily” in the Lord’s Prayer.) The interesting thing about I Timothy ii is not what it says (which is beyond debate) but the fact that it says it. One does not need to issue diktats against things that one cannot imagine happening. Paul’s pronouncements in favour of female subordination are just another sign that (as Tom Wright points out) the early Church community was inclined to value women and even that, had things developed without hindrance, a different configuration of teaching practice might have emerged more quickly. Meanwhile, the fact that progress can be a very messy and far from unidirectional thing does not forbid the belief that fulfilling the “promise of transformed gender roles” in an episcopal context might be a piece of progress whose time has come.Professor Christopher Tuplin Dept. of Classics and Ancient History, University of Liverpool
Affinity journal on baptism
There are not too many UK publications which are both robust and stimulating. This is one. The new edition of the Affinity's journal Foundations is out and it is focused on baptism. Some really good, stimulating articles, both those you will agree with and those you will not. Worth some time.
A holy number series
Maths homework with my Year 4 daughter. Ugh. It's really, really hard. And often poorly written. The questions are ambiguous etc etc. Still, enough griping. This week it was number series. What number comes next in this series? We decided, over a family meal (I know, I know, meal times at the Reynolds household are a hoot, aren't they?) to create our own holy number series. This is what we collectively came up with:
1 , 3 , 7 , 10 , 12 , 24 , 40 , 70 , 77* , 500 , 144,000
Nice. We rejected 3½ on the basis that we were only dealing with integers.
*some dispute about whether this one should make the list
CCEF coming to London – Feb 2013
For those who have benefitted from CCEF material (and those who haven't yet), you may be interested to know that a few of our friends have got together to invite Tim Lane and David Powlinson over next year. They've organised a day in London on Saturday 23rd Feb at Westminster Central Hall running from 10.00am through to 5.00pm. The cost is £28 for the full day. The Good Book are handling tickets and you can book online here. Sounds like it will be a great and useful day. This is Christopher's commendation:
I am delighted to commend this conference and the work of CCEF. There is a theological robustness in CCEF which rescues 'counselling' from being just secular therapy baptised with a thin Christian veneer. They help us see that it is precisely the gospel of Christ (and not some mysterious 'add on' to the gospel, known only to experts) which we need to cure our souls. And they help us make he connection between the gospel of Christ and present-day Christian experience. Having been grateful for some years to CCEF for their resources at a distance, I am very glad about the launch of this network in the UK.
John Chapman’s memorial service
Chappo's memorial service took place last weekend. It's online here and the order of service is available here. We've got one or two Chappo nuggets on the PT website – two talks from the 1991 EMA on "Evangelism every Sunday" here and here and one from the 2000 EMA here. Enjoy and give thanks to God for this remarkable man.
Exaggerating to make a point
Or, as we call it, hyperbole. It's a key Biblical idea – used, for example, by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 6.6). But preachers should use it carefully because if people don't get it, it can give entirely the wrong impression. There's a fine line between hyperbole and overstating the case and we need to make sure our listeners get the difference. For example, this weekend past I read (in the paper and online) three statements -all of which are overstated:
- Christians against women bishops are misogynists
- Supersessionsm is a form of anti-Semitism
- Being against homosexuality is the same thing as homophobia
Such overstatement generates headlines, of course. But – and this is only an anecdotal observation – I think our society is less able to critically assess such statements (or perhaps, more accepting of them). The result is disastrous – with no one trusting anyone.
So, if a preacher is going to deliberately overstate his case in order to make a point – in other words to employ some kind of hyperbole, he needs to exercise great care. I'm not saying don't do it – but think to yourself – how will people hear it. Will they understand what I am saying? Will they understand the overstatement. Perhaps, in a more oratorical society, we wouldn't have to be so careful. But today, I think we do.
Christmas is coming around again. Had you noticed? That means that the choral societies are out in force with their Messiah's. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I love Handel's Messiah. The text is all Biblical and was chosen by Charles Jennens. We can't be sure exactly about his motive, nor his faith. True, he was a "devout Anglican" but quite what this means is not entirely clear from the various analyses of his life. What we can be sure about is that his libretto has given us some profoundly Christ centred Biblical theology before anyone even knew that term. You can read the complete list of texts here.
The reason for blogging about it is that I think it presents Christians with an underestimated evangelistic opportunity. It would be an easy event to take people to. And to get into a discussion about. It's even worth listening to yourself. Calvin Stapert's book is excellent for that, published by Eerdmans. I'm sadder – I follow along in a score – either a mini score (£7), a choral score (£6.70) or a large full size orchestral score (£12.50).
Roger Carswell even has an evangelistic tract on the Messiah (just 15p).
Listen. Soak in the Scriptures.
IX Marks Journal
The new IX marks online journal is available and this latest issue is about lay leaders. The focus is on lay elders (as you might expect). Nevertheless, there is useful wisdom here for lay leaders in the church whatever your ecclesiology. You may, of course, have to do some sifting. But the IX marks journal is always stimulating. Read more here. And a reminder that Mark Dever is one of keynote speakers at next year's EMA@The Barbican. Booking is open now.
Marriage and Ministry
In 2011 we started running 24 hour stopovers for married couples in ministry. This was born out of a belief that strong marriages are essential for those who are both married and in ministry and that Christian ministry places unusual pressures on marriage which many couples are ill equipped to deal with. So far these have been received as a really strong initiative. We'd love to invite you to the next one with Wallace and Lindsay Benn on 19/20 February 2013. "We thought it was brilliant. Spot on. Exactly what we needed" said one couple. "A perfect mix of stretching biblical theology on marriage (some of the best we have heard) and really useful practical help for day to day application. So much to chew on" said another. More information and booking here. The stopover is deliberately small and intimate, so places are very limited. Do pass the invitation onto someone who might benefit from it,