Category Archives: Debates

What is Context?

The other day I had a friendly disagreement with another believer over the interpretation of Romans 8:26 in which Paul said,

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).

Actually, our conversation began with reference to the gifts of the Spirit, particularly that of healing and then moved to speaking in tongues. I’ll spare you the details because neither is the point of this post. Romans 8:26 came into the discussion and my friend assured me that this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us praying since it clearly says that the “Spirit himself” prays.

He claimed that this excludes us from being the ones who pray because it is an activity of the Spirit. I wanted to provide some context for why I disagree with this interpretation. I noted how in Galatians Paul speaks of the Spirit of God’s Son crying, “Abba! Father!” My friend said that he’d need to see this and that he didn’t think that’s what it said. Fair enough. Nobody has exhaustive knowledge of the entire Bible. So we looked at Galatians 4:4-7 and he was satisfied that it said what I claimed.

I then noted that when discussing the same thing (i.e., adoption) in Romans Paul has the believer, who has received the Spirit of adoption, crying, “Abba! Father!” We both agree that Paul is consistent and that he doesn’t contradict himself so my point was that the Spirit cries “Abba! Father” through the believer who has received adoption. Likewise, my contention is that the “groanings to deep for words” (or “inarticulate groanings”) is the Spirit praying through the believer.

He told me that it’s not what the text says and that I’m reading into it. He told me that the number one rule of hermeneutics was to deal with a text in its context and that when we have to leave the context then that means we can’t deal with it on its own. But that’s the point I want to discuss in this post. All of this was setup for me to say that context is much more than what my friend would have us think.

You see, he wanted to look at this singular verse. I wanted to look at this verse within the argument of the chapter and book but also within the context of Paul’s overall theology. I noted that Galatians was one of Paul’s earliest letters; Romans was one of his latest. I wasn’t leaving Romans to run to Galatians. I was reading Paul’s later theology in light of his earlier theology. My understanding of Galatians informs my understanding of Romans.

Context is more than the verse before and the verse after the particular verse we’re reading. Context is knowing the situation of the author and his audience. It’s following the flow of the argument being put forth before us. It’s having an overarching understanding of the author’s theology. As I said, my understanding of  Galatians informs my reading of Romans, no differently than my understanding of Deuteronomy informs my reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:22 or my understanding of Leviticus informs my reading of Hebrews.

But the immediate context of Paul’s very argument in this section of his letter does, I believe, point to the Spirit groaning in our groans but I’ll write about that another time.

B”H

One Brief Thought on the Recent Eternal Functional Subordination Kerfuffle

I’ve typed plenty on the debate over eternal functional subordination over the years. Much of what I’ve said can be found in book reviews. Some can be found in dedicated posts to one point of the discussion or another. I’ll leave it to interested readers to search my blog and find all that I’ve said. But I want to repeat something since I keep reading the word “Arian” being used with reference to those who affirm some kind of eternal functional subordination, or eternal authority-submission structure, or eternal asymmetrical order of relation, etc.

If it’s “eternal” then it ain’t “Arian.” It’s really that simple. Arians believed the Son to be a created being. Plain and simple. Yes, he was created “before” time (wrap your head around that one) but the Father existed “before” that. No one who believes that the Son has from all eternity been obedient or submitted to the Father is an Arian because they all believe that for as long as their has been a Father to obey/submit to, there has been a Son who obeys/submits.

That’s my spiel. And a huge thanks to Seumas Macdonald for his roundup of posts on the recent discussion. It saved me a lot of time and energy!

B”H

Do Christians and Jews Worship the Same God?

Earlier today on Twitter Mike Aubrey offered a friendly pushback to my post about Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God. I’ve just learned that a gentleman named Gavin on a blog called Otagosh has offered the same pushback. Basically, they’ve both responded that if Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God then neither do Christians and Jews.

My response is to ask, which Jews? I have zero qualms about saying that Jews who have rejected Jesus as Messiah and deny the Trinity don’t worship the same God as Christians. But not all Jews fall into this group. Christianity was originally a Jewish movement. It’s founder is a Jew. It’s earliest adherents were Jews. It’s Scriptures were written by Jews.

But the early Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah and wrote about the unique relationship shared between Father, Son, and Spirit were opposed by other Jews. An anti-Jesus Jewish movement grew in the same soil as this pro-Jesus Jewish movement. Both movements grew alongside one another and one became Christianity while the other retained the moniker of Judaism.

My point is, there are Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus, Jewish Christians, and a host of other Jews who do indeed worship the same God that the Gentiles who have been grafted into Israel’s covenant worship. The Church is the “one new man” composed of Jew and Gentile alike, united in its worship of the one true God. But then there are plenty of Jews who don’t worship this God and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

On the flip side, I’m not familiar with any Muslims for Jesus or Muslim Christians. A denial of basic Christian tenets is foundational to their belief and worship of Allah. Their Scriptures say quite plainly that they don’t worship the Son or even believe him to be Son. Ours says that a denial of Jesus as Son is a denial of his Father as well, hence, I stand by my original answer to the question and add a qualified answer when switching the terms.

B”H

Beware of Overnight Experts

A coworker has recently become enamored with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. I blame myself. My cousin had been urging me for weeks to watch an interview that Farrakhan did with Jamal Bryant on the Word Network. I finally put it on at work and it caught my coworker’s attention. Since then it’s been nothing but Farrakhan on YouTube for him. The problem is that he has uncritically accepted without examination most everything that Farrakhan says about anything. My cousin is the same way. In fact, it’s exactly like talking to my cousin. Same script, verbatim.

I’ve tried to talk to my coworker where I can but he’s not ready to hear anyone but Farrakhan right now. Yesterday, for example, he assaulted us with a shotgun argument in which he talked about everything from how King James, who ruled the world, rewrote the Bible, to how Christianity is the white man’s religion and was used to control slaves, to how Islam was the original religion, to how the Qur’an has never been changed, to how black people invented science and math (none of which is true, for the record). There was much more in between but this was what I could remember being spit out at me in something like 30 seconds. I tried to focus on one thing at a time but I kept getting talked over. So I just ignored it. I know that now is not the time for him to hear me.

But I did tell him that I’m worried that he’s become an expert very quickly. He told me that he’s always known this stuff but has just ignored it. Nonsense I say, nonsense! There’s a reason that the Nation of Islam targets “the black man in America,” and that’s because many of them feel alienated, disenfranchised, oppressed, and maltreated. And in many cases that’s unfortunately true. The NOI gives them the outlet to feel justified in their anger. The same can’t be said of the black folks around the world that haven’t shared similar experiences. And I say this to say that my coworker is angry and has found a voice for this anger. He hasn’t studied what is being said, he’s just accepted it on face value.

Now me, on the other hand… I’ve been exposed to the Nation of Islam since I was 10 years old. From 16 to 21 I devoted a lot of time and energy into its teachings. I read Farrakhan’s speeches and watched VHS tapes of him before there was a YouTube to watch them on. Same with Malcolm X. I’ve read Elijah Muhammed’s books. I once had an entire filing cabinet full of Final Call newspapers. I’ve known NOI members for years. The point is that I’m not new to this. There was a time when I believed this stuff to be true. And then God saved me and I devoted a couple more years to studying this stuff from a critical perspective. So it’s not revelatory to me. I’ve been there and done that. I have the answers to his arguments but nothing I say will be received.

My bare disagreement with these views is enough to deny anything I say as true. His newfound expertise trumps my years of exposure and study because I’ve boughten into the white man’s “made up religion” while he’s come to the “knowledge of self.” So my task over the coming weeks isn’t going to be to argue and debate with him—he’s not ready—but to provide good information to my other coworkers who are exposed to his newfound views. I don’t claim expertise in anything, but I’m confident in the time I’ve spent on these subjects, and when it’s all said and done I’m really just interested in God being glorified through what I say and do, so my prayer is that however it goes I’ll be able to maintain my composure and speak the truth in love.

B”H

Sacred Name

I was asked to comment on a Facebook post last night by a friend and fellow elder. The topic of the post was Jesus’ name. The writer said that the reason people aren’t seeing results to their prayers is because they’ve been calling on the wrong name. You see, his name isn’t Jesus, which is manmade, it’s Yahweh. If we call on Yahweh rather than Jesus we should see results.

The comments that followed proceeded to call Jesus “Yahshua” and take Hosea 4:6 out of context, suggesting that if people continued to call him Jesus then they’d perish for their lack of knowledge. A couple of people from my church were arguing that it doesn’t much matter what variation of his name we use so long as we know him. I just came in and added a little background to that claim.

I noted how the Hebrew name is Yehoshua. How in the Aramaic bits of the Bible we read Yeshua. How in the NT—which I’d think would be paramount in such a discussion—it’s Iesous. In Latin it’s Iesvs. And finally English translates it as Jesus. We’re English speakers. Why wouldn’t we use the English name? If we were speaking Italian we’d say Jesu. If we were speaking Spanish it would be Jesús.

In any event, I did note that we’d never call him Yahshua for reasons I didn’t want to bore anyone with. But readers of this blog don’t mind being bored. In short, people have this weird penchant of finding out that the Hebrew name for God YHWH and its shortened form YH exist and all of a sudden they want to insert it where it doesn’t belong. It’s not that Yah never appears in Hebrew names; it just never appears at the beginning of them. For example:

Ma’aseYah = Maaseiah (Neh. 12:42)
MichaYah = Micaiah (Neh. 12:42)
Z’charYah = Zechariah (Neh. 12:42)
MalkiYah = Malchiah (Neh:12″42)
AzarYah = Azariah (Neh. 12:33)
Sh’maYah = Shemaiah (Neh. 12:34)
MatanYah = Mattaniah (Neh. 12:35)
SherevYah = Sherebiah (Neh.12:24)
ChashavYah = Hashabiah (Neh. 12:24)
BakbukYah = Bakbukiah (Neh. 12:25)
OvadYah = Obadiah (Obadiah 1:1)
AchazYah = Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:50)
S’raYah = Seraiah (2 Sam. 8:17)

At times Yah also appears in combination with hu making the form Yahu as in:

YeshaYahu = Isaiah (Salvation of the Lord)
YirmiYahu = Jeremiah (The Lord casts)
EliYahu = Elijah, and (My God is the Lord)
YoshiYahu = Josiah (The Lord rescues me)
Chizkiyahu = Hezekiah (My strength is the Lord)

Now when the shortened form of YHWH does appear at the beginning of a personal name it’s used in combination with a verb and we see Yeho, not Yah, so:

Yehoshua = Joshua
Yehoachaz = Jehoahaz (2 Kings 10:35)
Yehoyachin = Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:6)
Yehoyakim = Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34)
Yehoshafat = Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 17:3)
Yehochanan, which is a longer form of Yochanan = John (Neh. 12:42)
Yehoram = Jehoram (1 Kings 22:51)
Yehoyada = Jehoiadah (2 Sam. 818)
Yehotzadak = Jehozadak (1 Chr. 6:14 [1 Chr. 5:40 MT])

But the point is that the “Sacred Name” movement is built on some bad information. And more to the point, the referent is more important than the name by which he’s referred. As long as he knows us and we know him then he’ll answer however we call. Jesus is as much Lord over language as anything else.

B”H

Slight Overreaction

Okay, so here’s the situation. Stephen Young wrote an article on “Protective Strategies” in “Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship” and Christopher Skinner predicted that responses would be forthcoming. Steve Hays then responded to the article. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I’m not familiar with either Young or Skinner. I’ve heard Skinner’s name in the blogosphere and on Twitter but I haven’t read any of his work or interacted with him personally. I’ve not heard of Young before this. Hays on the other hand I know (inasmuch as I can “know” someone whom I’ve never met in person). But we’ve interacted aplenty over the past few years.

I said all that to say this: I think that perhaps Skinner has overreacted to Hays’ response to Young. I haven’t read Young’s original article so I can’t comment on it. I have read Hays’ response and Skinner’s impressions of Hays’ response. I don’t know if Skinner has a personal or professional relationship with Young. He did call him a “very bright Ph.D. candidate” so at least he holds him in some regard. Hays on the other hand was unknown to Skinner before his response to Young’s article. But it becomes clear that he doesn’t hold Hays in nearly the same regard.

Skinner refers to Hays’ response as “rambling, mostly incoherent” as well as “ludicrous” and “disturbing.” He says that he “shudder[s] to point readers to [Hays’] site for fear that this poster will experience a rise in his daily stats and thereby believe that he is reaching the masses…” Again, I don’t know Skinner or his relationship to Young, but when I read this I wondered why he felt so incensed as to employ that kind of rhetoric. I assumed that he was simply taking up for a friend. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But then I skimmed Skinner’s original post where he first mentions Young’s article and saw that he was “someone who once clung tightly to the trappings of the evangelical inerrantist subculture and ultimately found that narrative both deficient and oppressive…” He said that it was “empowering to have someone put a name to the ways in which this subculture continues to exercise its influence over the lives and beliefs of so many.” So Skinner has been affected, for the negative it seems, by Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship. That helps to make sense of his rhetoric, which reads as someone lashing out against someone who has hurt them.

I didn’t discern anything incoherent, ludicrous, or even remotely disturbing in Hays’ response. It was all very well laid out and reasoned. That’s generally a mark of Hays’ writing. If I were to fault him on anything it would be the not too infrequent typographical errors that make their way into his posts. I’d also add that I was at once slightly amused and annoyed by Skinner’s comment that he didn’t want to spike Hays’ blog stats by linking to his post. Amused because Triablogue has been around for more than a decade and is one of the more popular blogs covering the subject matter it covers. Annoyed because it came off as hubristic.

In any event, read everyone involved and judge for yourselves.

B”H

24 Hour Creation Days?

Justin Taylor has a fantastic article on the Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods. I personally don’t think that they were but I’ve never put a ton of weight on one interpretation or another. One thing I hate about discussing the topic is the way that people who believe them to have been 24-hour days treat those who believe differently as if they’re unbelievers, or ignorant of Scripture, or deceived by science, or interpretive acrobats. Taylor lays out a number of well-reasoned biblical arguments for doubting that the days were 24-hour periods and he does so as a devout believer and a biblical inerrantist. Well done!

B”H