Monday, July 27, 2009

A Text Taken Out of Context Is Only a Pretext

The title of this post simply means, "Words taken out of their context lead the reader to false conclusions." I learned this principle years ago and it has been particularly valuable in properly interpreting the meaning and intent of Scripture verses. Some, however, don't seem to comprehend the importance of understanding context. This principle is as true in Bible interpretation as it is in the study of history. The following anecdote from history shows the power of context and should cause each of us to pause before we dogmatically assert the meaning of a single verse without knowing its context.

Atheists often use the following quote from John Adams to proselyte others to their atheistic beliefs.

"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!

Adams did actually write the above sentence in a personal letter to Thomas Jefferson.

However, when the sentence is placed in its original context, the entire meaning changes:

Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!" But in this exlamation I would have been ... fanatical... Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.

Quite a change of meaning isn't it?

I wonder how many passages in Scripture, often quoted by us conservative Baptists, are taken out of their context, and if we framed the verses within their context, the meaning of the passages themseleves would change in our minds?

I have heard some people say "How can two, well-meaning, sincere, Bible-believing Christians disagree on the meaning of a passage or verse of Scripture?"

That's not as difficult as it might seem. It's all about context.

In His Grace,



Jon L. Estes said...

The issue is deeper than this, IMPO. Two parties reading the same passage may see the whole differently and therefore comprehend the context of what is being said from that light. Does this make either party wrong? Right? Biased? Unbiased?

Even in looking at the context we have ended up with different interpretations. Yet those who see themselves as being honest to the context sometimes say things like...

"You are badly misinterpreting the word of God, and the consequences of your misinterpretation are enormous," Burleson says.

I'd love to see your comment in full context but don't have time this week to research it (due to readying for a mission trip next week). If you are saying what it seems you are saying... you are saying that your understanding of the context is better than the other guys.

Maybe, maybe not.

2 cents.

Ramesh said...

Here the mind is the culprit. Anyone with preconceived notions, can totally distort what they are reading. For their mind is disregarding logic and arguments not in it's favor.

This same thing happens when we interact with another person. We are NOT really interacting with another person, but only of our impressions of that person in our mind. This is the cause of all interpersonal problems and marriage difficulties.

That is why Jesus's teaching are powerful. It focuses on changing the heart and then the mind of the "knower", that influences the perceiving of the "known".

By the way, this whole thing was properly reasoned by the Hindus in their meditation classics more than 3000 years ago. It is all to do with sense perception, knower, known ...

Anonymous said...

I have often encountered fellow believers who would silence all dissent by forbidding anyone to express their personal opinion or conviction. But to disagree is not to attack, and to express one's opinion about another view is not to claim one's view is superior. And it seems that those with the least tolerance for disagreement are the first to criticize others for such expressions. There is an obvious double standard there.

Context is everything, but when we're dealing with copies of an ancient text from a very different culture, we cannot be so naive as to think there won't be disagreements even when context is considered. The key is to remember that (a) we are fellow believers, not enemies, and (b) we should not be so quick to take offense when disagreements are expressed.

Who doesn't think their opinions are right and others are wrong? What else would an opinion be? And who thinks humans do our even should see things all from the same perspective? The wise believer will cautiously study all views and then form an opinion, while the simpleton will turn a blind eye to other views and condemn them anyway.

Anonymous said...

"do our even should "

should read

"do or even should"

Dr. Mark L. Richardson said...

How many times have we heard a pastor or deacon use "wherever two or three gathered in my name..." (Matt. 18) for a corporate prayer gathering?

The Lord's words are a special promise to those two or three who love someone enough to confront them concerning their ongoing rebellious sin after they have rejected the pleas to repent from one person privately.

That's the context!

In Christ,
Mark Richardson

Anonymous said...

Good point, Mark. But I don't think the "two or three" is limited to that context. It begins with "for" or "because", so it is the principle behind the teaching.

In other words, since Jesus is among us no matter how small the gathering, it doesn't take a crowd (or officials) to deal with sin.

Anonymous said...

Like Malachi 3:10. No verse is more abused by pastors than this one.

Lydia said...

Jeremiah 29:11. Very abused by the seeker preachers teaching prosperity from God when it was about Babylonian captivity.

God's plan for your life may be martyrdom. But that teaching does not fill churches or tickle ears.

Christiane said...

Good Morning Everyone,

It's me, L's

I found a wonderful quote from our own Chris Ryan, who now has his own blog. Here is the quote:

" The true wisdom of God cannot be filtered through a lesser wisdom of this world and survive intact."

Chris' idea rather expands the concept of 'out of context'.

It also reinforces the idea that the intervention of the Holy Spirit is vital to our personal understanding of Scripture. So maybe we can see that Scripture, with all its complexities, is not 'just for scholars' whose greater knowledge is less than the 'foolishness of God' ?

Chris Ryan's use of Proverbs 'wisdom table' idea is a reflection on this:
Can the 'simple' among us partake of Holy Scripture with a humble heart, in the light of the Spirit, and receive what they need?
Whereas the scholars of our world 'fight like cats and dogs' over meaning?

Why is this?

Does it have something to do with being 'in tune' with Christ?
And reading the verse with Him in one's heart and mind? The Spirit will not let meaning then depart from a Christ-like context and the reader receives a blessing.

So then, a doctrine which comes from reading in the Light of Christ can never be used to cause harm to others, or to attempt to render the Body of Christ, or to be used to flaunt one's righteousness before the world in excluding others from His Care.

The reason: because Christ was not like that and teachings that flow from a Christ-like interpretation will not contradict the Ways of the Lord.

Much thanks to Chris Ryan for his insights. And may we read the holy writings with our minds focused on the Lord and with listening hearts.

Please remember to pray for Rex Ray and his wife Belle, who is ill. He has requested prayer.

Much love, L's

Anonymous said...

Can the 'simple' among us partake of Holy Scripture with a humble heart, in the light of the Spirit, and receive what they need?
Whereas the scholars of our world 'fight like cats and dogs' over meaning?

By "scholars" I hope you mean man-made philosophy. Otherwise this would be a slam on anyone who uses God-given talents and education to do their function as a "part of the Body".

And Proverbs has quite a bit to say to the "simple".

My point being, all are needed, from the "simple" to the "scholar". We all have a contribution to make.

Christiane said...


At the risk of mangling Chris Ryan's first post, by taking it 'out of context', I would say that Chris speaks to us of the dangers of ALL extremes that lead us away from Christ at the center: scholarship built on the extreme forms of fundamentalism, post-moderninity, and liberalism.

He is opting for a Christ-centered approach in scholarship. He does point out that our 'western-thinking' gets in the way of that, but let me quote him for you:

" For, indeed, to the ancient mind, by which the Bible was written, truth was found not in the proposition, but in the paradox. It is not merely in a statement that ultimate truth resides, but in the tension between that statement and its contradiction. And though it sounds crazy to the thoroughly Western-modernized mind, it is upon the paradox that many basic tenants of classical Christianity are built. The paradox of the incarnation: here the immortal is made mortal, the deathless dies, and He who had no sin becomes sin for us. The paradox of the sacrificial lamb who fulfills the function of the scapegoat. And ultimately upon the paradox of the cross and resurrection, wherein death yields life"

Paula, if you click on Chris Ryan's name and go to his profile, you will find the name of his new blog. So far, he has two entries.
I like his sense of balance and his Christ-centered thinking.
I think you will like it, too.

BTW, did that Judaic site I gave you help? I hope it did.

Love, L's

Christiane said...

Here is Chris Ryan's new blog site:

Anonymous said...


Next time Chris posts I'll try and remember to click on his name and read his words myself.

In the meantime, I'll just say that I don't see "the thoroughly Western-modernized mind" (whatever that is) as somehow inferior to whatever its opposite is. A truly balanced view would consider both (or however many) kids of "minds". Paradoxes are not mutually exclusive with "western" thinking at all.

(Re the Judaic site: I wasn't looking for "help", but I did read through it. It makes some good and familiar points on predestination, but also references the Kabbalah, which is way off the Biblical path IMHO. Mysticism, in whatever "tradition", is never mentioned in a good light in the Bible. Just my observation.)

Christiane said...


I think that Chris's reference to paradox is in the 'tension' between two apparently opposites, and how the 'throughly Westernized mind' has trouble grasping this concept.

In my own tradition, there is a rift of sorts between 'eastern' and 'western' wherein the Roman tradition differs from the Eastern Rites in some ways of looking at theology. Western thought based on Roman and Greek logic went in one direction, the eastern rites went in a more spiritual and mystical direction, emphasizing seeking God more through the spiritual experience than the logical.
This difference in emphasis is reflected even in the liturgies of the Catholic Eastern Rites which are in communion with Rome. They are profoundly spiritual and mystical in their worship services. And yet, there is room for both eastern and western emphases within the Catholic faith, the one balancing and enriching the other.

As for the 'Kabbalah', even the Jews are cautious with this tradition and it is often said that only the most mature among them (of a certain age) should ever attempt to engage it, for fear of mis-interpretation.
You might say it is the Judaic counterpoint of Christian mysticism, which is out of reach for many who cannot understand it.

Love, L's

Anonymous said...


I still strongly disagree that this alleged "thoroughly Westernized mind" has trouble grasping the concept of paradox. Isaiah 53 absolutely drips with it, and us lowly, unspiritual western thinkers never had trouble grasping its profound paradox.

I also take strong exception to this statement: "... Christian mysticism, which is out of reach for many who cannot understand it."

Disagreeing with a teaching is not failure to understand it. I've studied "Christian mysticism", and read the writings of those who were deep into that. Some were raised in Hinduism but left it when they got saved and are horrified at how much Hinduism is now permeating the churches. No one can claim they don't understand mysticism, yet they warn against it as a great spiritual danger.

I don't view spirituality for the Christian as a buffet where we sample whatever appeals to us. I begin with the revealed Word, since it came from God and is no less authoritative or spiritual on that account. It is the measuring stick for all claims to truth.

Chris Ryan said...

Paula and L's,

Thanks for your interaction on my ideas, even if I wasn't around.

Paula, I don't think that either L's or I are opposed to scholarship or intelligent conversation on the meaning and application of scripture.

And when it comes to the paradox, I do not mean to imply that the western mind cannot grasp scripture or that the paradox is completely foreign to it. Rather, the western mind is more comfortable operating within a propositional context and the eastern mind is more comfortable operating within the paradoxical when trying to arrive at truth. I think that a great many of our problems with scripture interpretation would disappear if we were quicker to look to the paradoxical tensions than battling out propositional platforms. If we were willing to say "both sides have part of the picture (we are looking at a paradox). How do we fit them together to a more faithful picture of biblical teaching?" then we could work past some of the impasses of current scholarship.

Anonymous said...


Paula, I don't think that either L's or I are opposed to scholarship or intelligent conversation on the meaning and application of scripture.

Good to say, but the overall impression I had of your article is that if it isn't opposition, it's obvious that you strongly prefer the "eastern mind". And I really was responding to what L's said, not trying to critique your whole article here in Wade's blog. ;-)

As for the "western mind" being "unable" to grasp mysticism, I was responding to what L's wrote.

Also, I don't think there will be any breakthrough on "current scholarship" simply by looking harder for paradox. Those who are labeled as having a "western mind" are quite capable of studying, understanding, and considering other viewpoints. And they are no less likely to do so than is the "eastern mind", which has its own issues to deal with.

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...


There is this to think about:

" But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. "
St. Paul
1 Corinthians 2: 6-14

In the 'spirit' of a teaching by Thomas a Kempis:
with Christ as the center of our being, all reason is then
'transcended by inflamed love'.

Do we understand the mysteries of our faith? Only in part. Some more a special part of it, than others, perhaps. So sharing is good, like Chris said, we each of us have a piece of the puzzle. We
each of us light our separate candles from the Light of Christ and when we come together, we can see more clearly.

Love, L's

Anonymous said...

Hi L's,

Paul defines what this mystery is in vs. 8: that the Messiah would come to be the sacrificial lamb. This mystery was revealed after He rose from the dead. Again in vs. 10 Paul speaks of it being revealed, and in vs. 16 he describes this spiritual understanding as "having the MIND of Christ". This is nothing at all like the mysticism of the Gnostics or Hindus or the Kabbalah.

The spiritual depth Paul is talking about is not a mystical "unknowing" but a knowing based upon faith in the risen Jesus. We know Him better as we continue to walk with Him, speaking to Him in prayer and studying His words written for our benefit. He uses our experiences as well and the people around us. Instead of emptying ourselves we are filled with the Spirit; instead of clearing our minds we are to fill them with that of Jesus and His words (Rom. 12:2).

We realize we cannot fathom all there is to know about God, and much is learned without words. But this is no different than the way we get to know each other; there is no higher "special part" that can only be reached via mystical practices. Scripture speaks of the Christian journey as a process of maturity, which comes about through time and study and prayer. All that we need to reach this maturity is in the pages of scripture, which as I've said, is no less "spiritual" than if God were speaking audibly today.

Often, the proponents of a mystical practice come across with a "holier than thou" attitude, even if they are unaware of it. They speak of their mysticism as "higher", "special", "enlightened", etc., which implies that those not practicing this are "lower", "ordinary", and "ignorant". It is a kind of elitism, just like the proto-Gnosticism Paul and John warned against in the NT.

Instead, I greatly value the level playing field I see in scripture, where the faith of a child is no "higher" than the faith of an elder, where nothing is hidden or concealed. We are to grow and strive, to renew our minds, and when that happens our outward behavior will change as well.

linda said...

Paula--we may butt heads a lot but your comments on this post are wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Tanx Linda! :-)

Ramesh said...

I would encourage people to check out the previous blog post on Barbara Bradley Hagerty's Fingerprints of God. Excellent Chapter 1. I have heard Barbara over the years on NPR and her voice is very familiar to me. I will soon buy this book.

Ramesh said...

I agree with the premise of this post to search the context of The Word, but I would like to differ in some ways ...

When I read The Word, I have a bad habit of immersing myself as part of the narrative. For people who are used to reading lot of books, both fiction and non-fictions, sometimes this is a curse. I seem to relive the experiences.

So though the context of the text is of a different era, it somehow speaks directly to me, as I experience it. At least, it seems to speak powerfully to me more intimately that way, rather than as an objective viewer or observer. It is hard to describe it, but for anyone who is lost or immerse themselves in books will know what I am talking about.

Anonymous said...

I don't think immersing yourself into the text is such a bad thing, ThyPeace. In fact, it's a great way to really grasp the context.

In other words, objectivity is not necessarily dry and technical, but one valid aspect of understanding. It's the same principle I keep talking about, where "spirit and truth" work together, each one keeping the other from straying.

For example, when Paul talks to the Corinthians about women keeping silent in the meetings, the typical "dry" rendering is like this:

"Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If any think they are prophets or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. Those who ignore this will themselves be ignored." (TNIV)

But I think Paul was really doing one of these:

Outrageous! Did the Word of God come from you? Outrageous! Were you the only ones it reached? Whoever presumes to be a prophet or to be spiritual must realize that what I write to you is a directive from the Master. The ignoramus who said this should be ignored!

When you get to know Paul, as much as is possible from the writings, you begin to see a much different picture than what is often more like a specimen on a table in a science lab.

See? Even us lowly western thinkers can step out of the box! ;-)

Benji Ramsaur said...

Yes, a text can be taken out of context. However, if one only accuses another of doing this WITHOUT SHOWING HOW IT HAS BEEN TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT, then the accuser has not proven his or her assertion.

Alan Paul said...


I felt it important to come here knowing you would be here to let you know that I just saw your response on Debbie's blog to my post and wanted you to know you are misunderstanding me. I have posted my reply and hope you take the time to go read it.


Christiane said...

Thank you ALAN.

I appreciate that. I am sorry if I misunderstood you. At Lenten Season, I made a vow of repentance to 'try to be more understanding of others'. I'm not there yet, and I am still trying.
Bear with me.

P.S. I did already read it and I did respond. :) Thanks again. Love you dearly, L's

Tim Marsh said...

Thy Peace,

I think that you are right on the money with your practice of immersing yourself into the narrative of the text.

Again, it is no accident that much of the Bible is narrative!


I don't want to speak for Chris Ryan, but I do believe that as a reader of scripture who trusts that the Bible is divinely inspired, I think that it is important to acknowledge tensions in scripture. I don't know if that is where he is going, but the Bible is narrative and not propositional truth. Some tensions are hard to reconcile. But false reconciliations lead to interpretations that I cannot accept, namely the subjugation of women.

Anonymous said...


I would say that **some** scripture is narrative, but not all. Paul's letter to the Romans is one giant chiasm, building to the central point of unity between Jew and Gentile and back again. It is deeply theological and rhetorical, technical and pedagogical, arguing a case as a lawyer might do. On the other hand we have deeply personal letters like 2 Timothy or Philemon or Philippians.

The key is knowing which kind we're reading.

Ramesh said...

How to make catholics uncomfortable in blog comments? Head on over here, and read the comments. Of course, the goal is for Catholics to become Christians. I always thought they are already Christians. The difflcult question then is "Are the Christians really Christians?" I am currently struggling with this question. But Pastor Wade's sermons series on 1 John is excellent for this.

Ramesh said...

BTW, the question there is more for me, than for others :-)

Tim Marsh said...


You are write that not all of the Bible is narrative per se, yet narrative undergirds much of Paul's logic in Romans. Not only does the Abrahamic narrative play a central role in Paul's thought in Romans and Galatians, how Paul re-tells the narrative is key to his theological argument in these two masterpieces.

He is not merely alluding to the narrative, or prooftexting, but doing theology in what he highlights in the narrative. Scholars, such as NT Wright and Richard Hays, are making the narrative substructure of Paul's letters the focal point of their research. Paul's genius is more than merely knowing the OT.

I have read your arguments regarding women and I think that serious study of the narrative substructure of Paul's work would aid your arguments, rather than basing your arguments on the propositional grounds of grammatical exegesis.

I appreciate your comments...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tim. But can you give an example of something I've argued that is missing this narrative perspective? I've read a little of Wright, and his views on NPP (new perspectives on Paul) seem to have changed over the years.

Rex Ray said...

Paula and Tim Marsh,
You’ve mentioned Romans and Galatians as showing Paul’s writings in different circumstances.

What do you think if I described some of Second Corinthians as a running gun-battle between Paul and preachers that carried long recommendations?

Have you ever wondered who wrote their recommendations?

A clue to what these preachers were teaching is Paul saying: “We do not tell them that they must obey every law of God or die; but we tell them there is life for them from the Holy Spirit. The old way, trying to be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives them life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 Living)

It looks like Paul’s words were written about seven years after the first Church Counsel that decided how Gentiles were saved. OR DID IT? Because it seems the Scripture above is about the same argument in Acts 15 where a sect of Christian Pharisees demanded the law of Moses be obeyed and Peter saying all were saved by the gift of Jesus.

Did these preachers get their recommendations from the same group that gave recommendations to those carrying the results of the Jerusalem Counsel to the Gentiles? Hummmm?

Were these preachers like the ones in Galatians 2:4 & 4:29? “…false brethren…who came to spy as to whether we obeyed the Jewish laws or not.” “We who are born of the Holy Spirit are persecuted by those who want us to keep the Jewish laws.”

Yep! Sounds like Act 15 again, again, and again.

Sorry if I have a one track mind.

We were told not to make the hand signals of your post in Japan as they were homosexual signals.

Tim Marsh said...


Can't think of what you are alluding to. Wright can be wrong. He has some confusing aspects in his reading of Paul. It does not surprise me that his views may change over time. Would love to hear your thoughts, though.

Rex Ray,

I am not sure that I agree with the Living Bible's paraphrase of the works of the law or old covenant as "keeping the ten commandments."

I agree that Paul is giving an energized, emotional defense of his ministry. I would have to dig more into your proposal about the background of 2 Corinthians.

God bless!

Chris Ryan said...


Please forgive my ignorance, but in what way would a supposed "preference for the eastern mind" inhibit my ability to appreciate or engage solid Christian scholarship?

And let me fully agree with you that the eastern mindset has its own problems. No paradigm for establishing truth is perfect save for the mind of Christ.

I do not wish to imply that the eastern mind is in any way superior to the western, or that the western is superior to the eastern, only that the Bible was written by easterners to be heard (originally) by easterners. I think that if we were more willing to set aside some of our Western (especially Enlightenment) presuppositions, and try for a time to hear scriptures as they would have been heard by those who first heard it, we will arrive at better understandings of what was being said and will thus be better able to translate these thoughts into practice in a Western culture.

Tim Marsh said...

Chris Ryan,



Scholarship is not about saying certain interpretive strategies are superior to others. Rather, scholarship not only seeks to provide historical-critical readings, but also narrative readings, rhetorical strategies, reader-response strategies, etc.

Scholarship seeks to understand the presuppositions that various Christian traditions bring to the text to understand how they read the text to create certain doctrines.

I am not sure that I understand your objections to Chris's position. Do you have interpretive strategies that you understand as normative?

Anonymous said...

Sure was a lot of posting while I was sleeping!

Rex Ray,

I presume that by "first church council" you're still referring to "the Jerusalem council", is that right? If so, I don't see that council as talking about "how Gentiles were to be saved" but how they should ***be considerate*** of the Jewish culture. Paul would later elaborate on this principle in Rom. 14 and elsewhere. That legalists hounded Paul for his entire ministry is beyond dispute, but the "official" determination of the Council is not to blame for that.

Tim Marsh,

I've only read bits of Wright's teachings online, but what I have read was confusing, as you mentioned. I don't doubt his intelligence or education but he seems unable to clearly state his position.

Also, I'm not sure why you're telling me in your second comment what I've already said: that scholarship involves many different views. What I'm saying to Chris is only that the way he presents the two "minds" is decidedly unequal.

Chris Ryan,

I don't recall saying that ***your*** "preference for the eastern mind" was inhibiting you in some way, only a general statement about neither "mind" being without it's weaknesses. But if you're not implying that eastern is better than western, it would help if you were to describe them more equally. The impression I got from reading your article was that you greatly preferred the eastern mind. Even here in you comment you speak of what the western mind needs to do, but not the eastern, under the presumption that the people of Paul's time had no Greek (western) minds at all. But this seems counter-intuitive to me since the NT post-dates Alexander the Great et al. Paul spoke to philosophers in Athens as well as Jews.

Christiane said...

Good Morning PAULA and CHRIS,

It's me, L's

That reference to 'eastern' and 'western' traditions was NOT a dichotomy, just a matter of 'emphasis'. You must remember that it was difficult for people to travel and communicate long ago.

And, in my Church, the traditions are not in competition with each other. May I explain a little bit about the history for you?

A liturgical "rite" is a complete tradition - the unique way that a particular community of the faithful perceives, expresses, and lives its Christian life with the Catholic Church.

There are six main Rites of the Catholic Church: Alexandrian, Antiochean, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, and Roman. However, language and national customs have made subdivision of each of them so that we can now say there are over 20 different "Rites."

In the essentials of Catholic Faith, there is unity. In the expression of the Faith - in liturgy and customs, there is liberty.

Christianity spread from the city of Jerusalem - in other words, from the East. From Jerusalem, Christianity spread to Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople.

All Eastern Catholics are descendants of the Eastern centers (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Constantinople).

All Western Catholics are descendants of the Western center, Rome, WHICH UNTIL THE FIFTH CENTURY, OBSERVED THE EASTERN 'RITE' OF JERUSALEM."

My god-mother is Ukrainian Catholic as her people came from Russia. I am Latin-rite (Roman) Catholic, as my father's people came from France into Quebec, Canada. Love, L's

Anonymous said...

You must remember that it was difficult for people to travel and communicate long ago... May I explain a little bit about the history for you?


Why do you presume I am ignorant of these things?

Rex Ray said...

You said, “I don’t see that council is talking about ‘how Gentiles were to be saved.”

“Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved! But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this CONTROVERSY.” (Acts 15:1-2 Holman)

“When they arrived at Jerusalem…some of the believers from the PARTY of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses! (Acts 15:4-5 Holman)

Peter confirms the subject of the debate was how Gentiles were saved:

“On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are.” (Verse 11 Holman)

Who were these “men from Judea”?

Answer one: “Because we have heard that some to whom we gave no authorization went out from US and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts,” (Acts 15:24 Holman)

Answer two: “For he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the CIRCUMCISION PARTY.”

Could it be that the “party of the circumcision” were the same men as the “party of the Pharisees”?

So Paula, I believe you were right that James’ letter to the Gentiles were rules to “be considerate of the Jewish culture”, but they mistook it for salvation rules as seen by their actions in Galatians.

Did the circumcision party pat themselves on the back for being right after Peter’s words were omitted from the letter? Hummmm

BTW, I’ve been in Baptist churches 77 years and I’ve heard only two sermons on Acts 15 and they contradicted each other

Could it be that pastors don’t like to preach the Bible that shows controversy among early Christians so they don’t study the controversy?

Tim Marsh,
I like your attitude to “dig”.

Christiane said...


Excuse me. ?

I don't understand. Love, L's

Anonymous said...

Rex Ray,

I was referring to the council's conclusion, but it appears that you are only talking about the preceding discussion then, right?

Anonymous said...


See the words in italics, which I quoted from your earlier comment? They are statements about teaching someone what they do not know or have forgotten. So my question is, why do you presume that I either never heard of those things before or have forgotten them? Just a question.

Christiane said...


Well. I think I know WHY I wrote that way. But it will surprise you. It surprised me, when I recognized the 'pattern'.

I am a retired teacher. It is in my blood. Second nature.
Everytime I went to explain something 'new', I would first 'review' a little with my students: something they knew already, with a reminder of it, like a tie-in, or a 'bridge' into the new info.

Either that is the reason I wrote it that way, or I need that third cup of coffee before blogging. :)

Certainly no disrespect to you or to Chris was intended. I admire your scholarship tremendously and your willingness to share with us.
Your work on behalf of women in the Church is wonderful to see.

Love you dearly, L's

Anonymous said...

Thanks, L's, for your kind words and clarification.

Chris Ryan said...


Yes, by the time of the NT, Greek logic was prevelant in many European cultural centers (even that logic was not near so "Western" as much of our approach has been since the Reformation and later the Enlightenment). But that way of thinking was entirely foreign to the OT. Story telling to convey truth (i.e. the Gospels) is far more in keeping with the Eastern than the Western.

Paul best bridges the gap between the two: he structures his letters by Greek rhetoric, but his content (especially his employment of the OT narratives, as Tim pointed out) is still very Eastern. Paul preached to Athenian philosophers, but he spent a great deal of time in Jewish synagogues, too. He seemed able to employ both logical propositions and narrative and paradoxes in order to better arrive at a complete whole.

Because we have focused nearly entirely on the logical propositions for the last 300 years, my approach may seem unbalanced, but that is only because there is more work to be done to hear the Eastern mind of the Scriptures than there is to hear the Western mind.

PS. You said before that you didn't think that any current impasses could be worked through by looking more for paradoxes. Having slept on it, I do not think you are correct. Wright (who you are thus far finding confusing, and I understand, it took me a while to learn how to read him) has done an excellent job of moving past the Calvinist/Armenian impasse by positing a church that is truly both predestined and free (a paradox). If you try his new book, Justification, I think he very clearly elucidates his positions there.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I agree that Paul used both. But I think if you could provide an example of how this eastern viewpoint radically changes the meaning of a text, in a way that the western viewpoint cannot, it would be much easier for people to see what you're saying.

Rex Ray said...

Wow! Did you read my second comment and reply within two minuets, or did you make your comment without seeing my last comment?

First of all, would you agree the devil loves confusion?

I believe “the preceding discussion” was the council’s conclusion, but James’ judgment created confusion.

The whole debate of the Counsel from start to finish was how Gentiles were saved. Verse 6 tells of a ‘private meeting’: “Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.”

I believe Peter gave the conclusion of their meeting in verse 11: “…we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

I believe the ‘private meeting’ of the apostles and elders reached the correct conclusion of the counsel that Peter gave in his speech that subdued the multitude to silence.

I believe the devil used James’ “judgment” to confuse both sides they were correct in their thinking.

I believe if Peter’s words were given to the Gentiles the Jewish Christians would not have been bragging they were “zealous for the law” in Acts 21:20.

I believe the confusion of James' judgment started the roots of Catholics.

I’d be interested in knowing why you believe the majority started baptizing babies for salvation in 251 AD if all early Christians were ‘Baptist thinking’ to start.

Chris Ryan said...


I'm not so good with the specific passages, but rather with larger pictures (thus why I prefer systematic theology), but per your request let me point you in the direction of Wright.

As I mentioned previously, by trying to view the scriptures in more of an Eastern light, he has arrived at conclusions that are considerably different from both Calvinist interpretations and Arminian interpretations. And not only are the conclusions different, but Wright is able to use the language of both sides without compromise.

The New Perspective on Paul is certainly a radical change from what has heretofore been believed in the Western world.

Paul's use of the Abraham story both in Galatians and Romans is illuminating if you realize that Paul is not proof-texting but is trying to bring to mind the whole story by citing a part of it. When the whole of the Abrahamic experience is brought into the picture, the passages begin to make more sense (at least they do to me).

Anonymous said...

Rex Ray,

Your comment appeared in my email when I happened to be in my email client, so I responded right away. Yes I did read what you wrote.

As for confusion, you can read a lot between the lines but I see the council's final decision as merely asking for a concession, while granting that the Gentiles are not to carry the burden the Jews never could carry either.

And I think you're giving the devil way too much credit.

As for your final sentence, I have no clue what you're talking about.

Christiane said...


I am wondering this: how much of the early Patristic Fathers are read by Southern Baptists? And, if so, which Fathers are consulted for reference?


If we are talking about 'context', are we talking strictly about 'within the phrase' where the verse appears in Holy Scripture'?

Or is 'context' widened to include the 'concordance' that ties OT verses to the NT verse, to establish meaning ?

Or is 'context' also to include knowledge of the archeology, the laws and customs, the society structures, geography (of that time), languages, outside influences (such as Greek philosophy), on and on ad infinitum? (Example: what is learned from the wall writings and carvings in the catecombs of early Christians and does this have bearing on the meaning of the verse in question?)

Is there a way of looking at the verse in the context of the INTENT of the author(s) which is expressed with consistency (purpose) and with reliability (internal cohesive structure of the message)?

Is the context widened to include historical independent references such as the letters of Josephus?

And then, is the context widened to include the commentaries of the early Christians which are NOT listed as 'apostolic writings'? (Some do show a formative process in the clarification of doctrines such as the Holy Trinity and the Nature of Christ as developed in the early Church)

FINALLY, and MOST IMPORTANT: is the 'context' of the verse matched up against Jesus Christ: His Words, His Teachings, His Prayers, His Actions, His Sacrifice, His Resurection, His Laws, His Commissions, His Wishes, His Will?

Please note: it would be sad if a verse of Holy Scripture was interpreted with no consideration for the Words and Actions of Jesus: that could lead to 'doctrines' that harm people and break the Laws of Charity.

Questions??????? When you explore the 'context', it is a good idea to establish the boundaries of that context to be explored, so as to know what has and has not influenced interpretation of the verse. :)

Love, L's

Anonymous said...

Context, IMHO, is whatever can affect the meaning of any given piece of writing. People don't write in a vacuum, and they don't consider how many ways their words will ever be taken by cultures and languages of the present and future.

Even in blogs like this we see how difficult it is to communicate, but at least we can ask for clarification. So when we're talking about writings from long ago and far away, our task is much more difficult. So we look for any clues we can find, that might possibly have bearing on our understanding.

But that's the beauty of the "body" arrangement Jesus set up. We each bring a piece of the puzzle to the table, we each have a unique perspective. But we can only get a clear picture of scripture if we work together.

That is why yes, we need scholars. And theologians. And new believers. Etc. etc. etc.

So next time someone says "Oh, so we can't read the Bible without YOUR help!", I'll say "That's right! And neither can we read it without YOUR help either."

Ramesh said...

I would encourage everyone to read this post. This is pivotal.

Fbc Jax Watchdog > The Transformed Media Landscape.
Maurilio Amorim has an excellent blog post about how the Internet and its new social networking tools are radically changing communication - both between humans and how humans interact with organizations. Maurilio embedded a very thought-provoking video presentation by Clay Shirky, an expert on social impacts of Internet technologies and author of "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations". Shirky's talk starts off explaining the current explosion of Internet social networking and how it fits into the historical context of the old style communication that we all have grown up with in the 20th century.
I am going to share some thoughts about this video, and in this and a few upcoming articles I want to discuss some of the points Shirky makes about how organizations respond to this media transformation.

Tim Marsh said...

Thy Peace,

I believe that the internet and blogging have become for the church the equivalent to Martin Luther's tracts that sparked the Reformation. Without the printing press, the Reformation would never have gotten off the ground.

Pastor Wade's blog is an example of a constructive use of blogging as an agent of conversation and change.

Ramesh said...

Amen, Tim. What is happening on this blog is being repeated millions of times around the world in various ways through the internet. We are still in the early stages of grasping what this is all about.

Rex Ray said...

I like what you wrote: “So when we're talking about writings from long ago and far away, our task is much more difficult. So we look for any clues we can find, that might possibly have bearing on our understanding.”

The most important question in the world is ‘how is man saved?’

I don’t know how many thousands of ways have been believed since time began, but we agree that the Son of God said, ‘No one comes to the Father but by Me.’ (“Some through the water • Some through the flood • Some by the fire • But all through his blood.”)

Among Christians there has always been an argument what “by Me” means. Back in Paul’s day it was “You must be circumcised” and today some say “You must be baptized.”

And to be good enough to be accepted by the SBC. you must be baptized a certain way, pray a certain way, no female pastor, believe inerrancy, so much overweight, and a dozen other rules. Hey! They haven’t reached the Pharisees’ 600 plus rules, but give them time…Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Paula, back to your “clues… [for] understanding.” I believe you are a hard person to convince there was a lot of politicking going on in Acts 15.

I believe the book ‘Birth of Christianity’ p. 466 says it very well:

“James was the authoritative leader of the Jerusalem mother-church, which was operating two major missions, one to the Jews and one to the pagans. In a combined community, such as that at Antioch, Christian Judaism had to prevail over Christian paganism. Peter and Barnabas presumed that kosher regulations were no longer important. Before James’s intervention, they ate with the pagans like pagans.”

James relationship with Pharisees was expressed by the original ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs written in the 1500’s. James’ Nazirite position was: “To him only was it lawful to enter into the holy place…”

The Pharisees asked James: “Persuade the people that they be not deceived about Jesus, for all the people and we ourselves are ready to obey thee.”

I don’t know if James believed Calvary eliminated his job as a ‘go-between God and the people or if he didn’t quit his job because he liked the prestige, but in Acts 15 he knew the conclusion of the ‘private meeting’ that was expressed by Peter’s speech.

His “judgment” could have been ‘Peter is right…period’, but he said, ‘Peter is right, BUT…’ And here James switches the topic from ‘being saved’ to ‘being accepted by Jews’.

The “party of the Pharisees” believed James was still on topic, and everyone left the meeting happy…believing just like they did before the meeting.

Anonymous said...

I believe you are a hard person to convince there was a lot of politicking going on in Acts 15

On what basis? I'm not denying that politicking went on. Haven't I said that Paul had to deal with these legalists the rest of his life? All I'm saying is that when the Gentiles heard of the official ruling of the council, they were happy, because the legalists had lost that round, establishing the fact that Gentiles did not have to first become Jews. This doesn't mean the legalists stopped trying; I don't know why you thought I said such a thing.

You seem to be waging a personal war against James, and I am not interested in joining.

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rex Ray said...

Hi, Christiane,
Yes and no about Martin Luther. I knew very little history when I wrote Truth of Acts in 1994.
Ten years later after I studied history I wrote a ‘revision’ of Truth of Acts. I’ve never quoted Luther or his belief of the Book of James being a Book of straw. His belief did not influence me but was more of a confirmation of my belief.

I could never understand how/why James’ “judgment” took place. I mean how did he get to be the ‘judge’ over the Twelve Apostles?

He was a scoffer and missed three years of being taught by the greatest teacher of all time. James’ education was the Old Testament. He was ingrained with the laws of Moses, Jewish customs, and traditions. In fact, the reason for his “judgment” was baste on tradition as he said in (Acts 15:21):

“For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city of every Sabbath for many generations.”

I know that some traditions are good, but not if they are against God’s Word. (Like so many of the Jewish man-made traditions were.)

Jesus expressed what he thought of these traditions: “You are trampling under your feet God’s laws for the sake of tradition.” (Mark 7:9

Rex Ray said...

You said, “…we look for any clues we can find…”, but now you said, “You seem to be waging a personal war against James, and I am not interested in joining.”

Let me ask you, ‘how many clues can you find if your head is buried in the sand?’ I’m not waging war, but looking for truth.

Do you have the same attitude of the second Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius?

He wrote to John: “I desire to see the venerable James, who is surnamed Just, whom they relate to be like Christ Jesus in appearance, in life, in method of conduct, as if he were a twin-brother of the same womb. We ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.” (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Wheaton College)

Hey! Can you get any more Catholic than that? This guy lived in Paul’s day. Was he ‘appointed’ to Antioch to change those Christian pagans into thinking like Christian Judaism?

Paul had a battle on his hands as he said, “Many…say that ‘all Christians must obey the Jewish laws’…it blinds people to the truth, and it must be stopped.” (Titus 1:10)

Titus was some 15 years after the first church counsel, but it was the same old argument as Acts 15 because the decision of the elders and apostles that Peter explained was NOT given to the Gentiles.

In my opinion, James was more interested in keeping his Jewish congregation happy than he was in keeping God happy, so he switched the counsel topic of how man was saved to what it took to please the Jews.

Paula, you said, “…the legalists lost that round…”, but I see them ‘getting their foot in the door’. How long after James was martyred do you think it took the party of the Pharisees to add a P.S. to the ‘Gentiles’ letter saying, ‘You can’t commit murder, blab, blab, blab’

Paula, can you guess why the Just didn’t quit his job after the veil of the Temple was torn? Maybe James was the one that stitched it up. :)

Speaking of James’ death; the cry of all Jews was so great King Agrippa fired the acting High Priest that ordered his stoning, and many believed the slaughter of the Jews in a few years resulted from God’s anger.

Can anyone tell me why the revision of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs description of James could pass as a Baptist preacher?

Anonymous said...

Let me ask you, ‘how many clues can you find if your head is buried in the sand?’

That was uncalled for, Rex. It's bad enough for you to be so obsessed with vilifying James, but to do the same to anyone who dares to question your diatribes is just petty. Seeking truth? No, you're seeking support.

Go on with your quest, but leave me out of it.

Tim Marsh said...

Paula and Rex Ray,

Acts 15 is about salvation. But I think that it is an oversimplification to say it was legalists vs. grace at work.

To say that James was for circumcision does not 'vilify' him, although I don't think that James' epistle is a contradiction of Paul.

Galatians 1 - 2:14 sheds light on this contraversy. Also, scholars suggest that Romans be read in light of the circumcision contraversy.

First: this is a contraversy regarding continuity and discontinuity with traditional Judaism. Peter and the disciples did not cease their Jewish practices following Jesus' resurrection and commissioning.

Second: The disciples and Paul did not understand Jesus to have begun a new religion. They saw Jesus' death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God's covenant with Israel, not as a new religion.

Third: The only reason that this contraversy began is that the apostles experienced the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit without undergoing circumcision. The Holy Spirit was the seal of the covenant in their minds. This would be like Christians disregarding communion or Baptism altogether. Imagine how awkward that would feel?

I imagine that it was a struggle for many faithful 'Jewish-Christians' to accept Gentile conversion without practicing the Jewish law (not legalism or earning their way to heaven, but the religious customs that demonstrated the people's role in God's covenant, namely circumcision, which was the seal of the covenant).

I believe that it is right to notice the contraversy going on between the circumcision faction and those who believe that evidence of the Holy Spirit was enough (Paul).

However, I do not like Luther's move with James' Epistle. I think James was countering a mis-understanding of Paul, and not Paul's gospel itself. I don't think that the early church would have preserved the epistle if it did contradict Paul.

However, I do not believe that to say James may never have agreed regarding circumcision is to vilify James, or to contradict Paul.

Galatians is very passionate while Romans is written in a calculated manner. These epistles argued for what really salvation is, not just how to 'get saved' but what it really means - faithfulness to the Jewish Covenant, or faithfulness to the one who raised Jesus from the dead. The Holy Spirit, not circumcision, became evidence of salvation, and even more so, the Spirit-led life is salvation.

Anonymous said...

Tim Marsh,

I think James was countering a mis-understanding of Paul, and not Paul's gospel itself.

James' epistle was the first one written, according to current scholarship. He never mentions the Jerusalem council or gets deep into theology. It is a practical letter which appeals to sensible behavior in light of Jesus' teachings. But I agree that James' epistle does not contradict Paul's writings.

And I wouldn't call the circumcision group a mere "faction" but what Paul called them: "false brothers" (Gal. 2:4). James was a believer and therefore not false.

As for vilification, I referred to Rex Ray's attitude and continuing crusade, not the mere labeling of James as being "for circumcision". Remember the context in which I used that term.

Lastly, Paul did in fact understand that Jesus began something "new"; did he not write many times about a "new creation", the "new man", "neither Jew nor Gentile..."? Did not Jesus say "neither here on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and truth"?

Paul rebuked Peter for slipping back into Judaism, and the few instances of continuing Jewish practice were, in context, concessions, just like the Jerusalem Council's request for sensitivity to Jewish culture.

So I strongly disagree that Christian Jews were to keep practicing Judaism for all time (God does allow time for transitions), or that the disciples didn't know Christianity was "something new".

But I will not keep marching in Rex's crusade.

Rex Ray said...

You say I’m obsessed with vilifying James, but I’m really obsessed with finding how Catholics started.

Do you have any ideas or information from Scripture and history why early Christians did not stay Baptists in their thinking? (If the majority ever were?)

James and elders told Paul to take their advice to avoid being killed by their congregation (my opinion): “Then everyone will know that you approve of this custom for the Hebrew Christians and that you yourself obey the Jewish customs and are IN LINE WITH OUR THINKING in these matters.” (Acts 21:24 Living)

Paula, I agree with you saying, “Legalists hounded Paul for his entire ministry.” And I believe in the Scripture above, Paul is dealing with the ‘head honchos’.

I believe they’re the ones that wrote the “long letters of recommendation” for the preachers that Paul battled in Second Corinthians.

I believe legalists caused Peter to withdraw from Christian Gentiles because he was afraid of the party of the circumcision:

“We understand that some believers from here have upset you and questioned your salvation…” (Acts 15:24 Living)

“When some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists…would say.” (Galatians 2:12 Living)

Paula, I try to use Scripture for my reasoning; why don’t you try the same?

Anonymous said...

Paula, I try to use Scripture for my reasoning; why don’t you try the same?

I don't insult you like this, why don't you try the same?

Enough of this, Rex. Insult someone else.

Christiane said...


I will not give you any specifics. But I will say this:

focus on what is shared among Christians, not on the 'differences' or 'different emphases'.

It is said that Christian unity is not something we can create; instead, it is something to be 'discovered'.
Perhaps you are looking for the time when Christians wandered from one another. And why.

I admire your search and I understand it. I too have searched early Christian history, but in a wider pasture:
In the discoveries of writings and drawings on the walls of Christian catecombs, in the writings of the Patristic Fathers, some of whom studies under the Apostles themselves, in the writings of 'the saints' as they understood their relationship with Christ, and also in the writings of the Eastern Orthodox, a tradition so often overlooked by westerners, but one rich in the ways of Alexandria and Antioch where Christianity flowed out from Jerusalem to the East.

There is much to 'discover'. I think you will be surprised to find that not all of it is alien to Baptist beliefs. I myself know this now, since I have come to visit on this blog.

There is within the unfolding of Christianity, a core of unity that was protected and not destroyed. It needs to be 'discovered' again.

Here is the secret and the safeguard:
look historically for that which keeps its focus on Jesus Christ. It is there that you will find some of the answers that you seek.

A request: try to make peace with Paula. We need her.

Love, L's

I am praying for Belle daily, that she will remain peaceful in the loving care of Our Lord.
Love, L's

Anonymous said...

This principle is as true in Bible interpretation as it is in the study of history.

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