Thursday, March 28, 2013

Quoting Pagans and Pharisees: I Corinthians 14:34-35

Rachelle and I have recently returned from a trip to Greece and Turkey with forty people from Emmanuel Enid. We visited Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Berea, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicea, Thyratira, Thessalonica and almost every other city or island where Paul traveled during his three missionary journeys. In the photo to the left, Rachelle and I are in front of the ruins of the city of Corinth. In the background of the photo is the very bema where Paul stood before the Roman pro-consul Gallio after Paul was accused by the Jews in the city of Corinth of "persuading people to worship God contrary to the law of God."  The Roman pro-consul Gallio refused to make a judgment against Paul saying, "I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters" (Acts 18:15). Gallio recognized the conflict in Corinth to be a Hebrew religious matter, not a Roman political problem. However, Gallio did nothing as Sosthenes, a convert to Christ and leader of the synagogue, was beaten by the Hebrew mob before the bema (see Acts 18:17). Paul was hurried out of the Corinthian market-place while Sosthenes was being beaten by the Jews. Paul was eventually secreted out of the city by fellow believers because of the Jewish threats against him (see Acts 18:18).

Most Bible-believing Christians have paid little attention to the problems Paul faced during his 18 month stay in Corinth (50 to 51 AD). The Jews sought to imprison him because of his influence among the people. When they failed to have him arrested, the Corinthian Jews beat Sosthenes, the leader of their synagogue for believing what Paul taught. The Roman pro-consul Gallio did not prosecute Paul under Roman law as the Jews wanted, but he was "unconcerned" with the Jews beating those who believed Paul's message (Acts 18:17). Notice, again, the reason the Corinthian Jews gave to the Roman pro-consul Gallio for their anger against Paul - "he is persuading people to worship God contrary to the Law of God."  The Law of God is what we now call the Old Testament and all the Old Covenant traditions of Hebrew worship. A simple principle regarding our worship of Christ can be derived from reading Acts 18 and Paul's time in Corinth:
The more our corporate worship looks like Old Testament Jewish worship (i.w. "a holy building in which to gather, authoritative male priests who rule over others, and a sacrificial system of actions designed to please God, etc...), the more our corporate worship is unlike Paul's and early believers' worship of Christ. (Wade Burleson)
Allow me to give just one example which illustrates the dichotomy between the Law of Old Covenant worship as practiced by the Jews in Corinth and the freedom of New Covenant worship as practiced by Paul. In one of Paul's earliest epistles, he clearly teaches that there should be no difference between males and females in the ekklesia (Galatians 3:28), and he later writes to the Corinthian Christians and says all believers should serve one another as they have been gifted (I Cor. 12:4-11). Paul teaches the Corinthians that members of the assembly, both male and female, should participate in congregational worship (see I Cor. 14:31 and 14:39), and that women should publicly pray and gifted women should teach others in the ekklesia just as men should publicly pray and gifted men should teach others in the ekklesia (see I Cor.  11:5). The entire discourse of Paul's writings to the early churches in Greece and Asia Minor is saturated with the new instruction that God's new priesthood is composed of males and females, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles. In the ekklesia (assembly) of Christ there is to be no separation of people by race, nationality, gender or color. Each of us has been made a priest (Revelation 1:5) and we all form a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9).
The Jews who were worshipping in the syngagogue of Corinth, however, were greatly offended by Paul's teachings. They heard it with their own ears! Paul was "persuading people to worship God contrary to the Law."  This could not be allowed! After the Corinthian Jews dragged Paul before the bema to charge him with a crime and then beat Sosthenes in the public square, Paul escaped to Cenchrea and later Ephesus (see Acts 18:18). He later wrote to the Corinthians and was quite blunt about those Corinthian Jews who caused him trouble and their zeolousness for the Law. He calls them "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (II Cor. 11:13), and he tells the Christians in Corinth to resist their false practices and to stand firm to the new "traditions" that Paul had taught them (see I Corinthians 11:2). Paul's practice of empowering followers of Christ to serve God as the Spirit gifts them--regardless of one's gender, economic status, or ethnicity--was precisely why the Jews in Corinth dragged Paul before Gallio and why Paul had to escape the city. This is the context one should always have in mind when reading the letters of I and II Corinthians.

So, the startling prohibition of I Corinthians 14:34-35 seems discordant and unconnected to Paul's stay in Corinth and the entire first letter of encouragement he writes to the Corinthians.  Paul writes:
"The women are to keep silent in the assembly; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to even speak in the assembly." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)  
There's a reason these text above seems discordant and unconnected to Paul's stay in Corinth-- it is. I will show below how these two verses are a quotation of what the Corinthian Jews taught about women in the assembly, not what Apostle Paul taught. In the very next verse (v. 36), Paul powerfully refutes what the Jews in Corinth were teaching about women. How do we know I Corinthians 14:34-35 is a quotation of the Jews that Paul refutes and is not Paul's own views about women in the ekklesia? There are at least five solid, hermeneutical reasons:

(1). As already mentioned, these two verses are antithetical to everything Paul writes about women throughout the New Testament, especially his teaching regarding women in I Corinthians. These two verses (vs. 34-35) are almost jarring because they represent a position that Paul has already torn apart in his previous writings.

(2). These verses are very consistent with the Law of God in the Jewish Scriptures and traditions. The Jews in Corinth accused Paul of persuading people "to worship God contrary to the Law" (Acts 18:13). If the above two verses actually represented Paul's beliefs, the Corinthian Jews would have hugged and kissed Sosthenes and Paul, not dragged them before the bema in Corinth in order to imprison them and/or beat them.

(3). Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians in Greek. The written Greek language does not use "italics" like we do in our English to identify a quote. To know that something is a quotation: (a). The author must identify that what he is writing is a quotation (something Paul does elsewhere), or (b). the quotation must be so familiar to the audience that no indentification of the quote is necessary, or (c). the author uses a Greek eta after the quotation to then refute it.  I believe the latter two ways are precisely how the Apostle Paul identifies he is quoting someone else in I Corinthians 14:34-35.

(4).  The Jews in Corinth, like all orthodox Jews in Paul's day, believed women were not qualified to be learners in the synagogue, much less teachers, because the Law and the talmudic literature forbad them from learning. A woman's presence in the synagogue was tolerated, but women were to be unobtrusive and silent, never interferring with the work of the men. The Jews believed when a woman desired to ask a question in order to learn, she was to maintain her silence in the assembly and wait to ask her husband after leaving the synagogue and returning home. The Jews believed the husbands were to be the source of their wives' learning. The Corinthian Jews were "zeolous for the Law" and constantly opposed Paul's promotion of women as equal to men, including Priscilla and Acquilla, the couple with whom Paul stayed in Corinth and who both later teach Apollo "the way of God more accurately" in Ephesus (see Acts 18:26).  The quotation in I Corinthians 14:34-35 is consistent to the law of the Jews in Corinth, but it is absolutely contrary to the teaching and the practice of the Apostle Paul.

(5). Paul REFUTES the Jewish quotation in I Corinthians 14:34-35 twice in the very next verse (v. 36) by using the Greek letter eta. Go look in your interlinear Greek/English Bible and find the stand alone Greek letter eta in v. 36. You will see the eta twice in that one verse. It looks like this: η    The Greek eta has two possible markings that cause it to be translated with either the English word "or," or with the English equilavent of what we mean when we make a sound with our mouths  like "PFFFFFFFFFFFFT!" This means "That's ridiculous!" or "Are you kidding me?" or "Nonsense!"   This latter meaning, in my opinion, is precisely what Paul is saying (twice) in I Corinthians 14:36 in response to the Jewish quotation he has just given I Corinthians 14:35-36. The original Greek text has no markings, so the translation of η must be made by translators based on other facts than the markings of the Greek letter. I believe the context, the culture of Corinth, and the radical nature of New Covenant worship taught by Paul (and resisted by the Corinthian Jews zealous for the Law) demands the η be translated with a "PFFFFFFFFFFFT!" instead of "or" (as is done in the NAS).  So, let me translate I Corinthians 14:33-36 using the proper translation of η:
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the ekklessia of the saints. (Would you like an example?) "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If women desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in the church." PFFFFFFT! Such nonsense! Do you Jews who practice this believe the Word of God comes from you only? PFFFFFFFT! Do you believe the Word of God comes to you only? If anyone wishes to think himself a prophet or spiritual, let that person recognize that the things I HAVE WRITTEN TO YOU (not what the Jews zealous for the Law are teaching) are the Lord's commandment. 
The Apostle Paul quotes the pharisaical Jews in Corinth the same way he quotes the pagan poets when he was in Athens. In Paul's famous message on Mars Hill, he says:
God is not far from each one of us; for in him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, "For we His offspring." Being the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. (Acts 17:27-29). 
 Are you familiar with the pagan poet Paul quotes from as he addressed the Athenians? Probably not. His name was Disoemeia, and he was a native of Paul's hometown of Tarsus. He was a Greek poet the Athenians loved to quote. He was also a worshipper of Zeus. I give you Robert Browning's English translation of Cicero's Latin version of Disoemeia's ancient Greek poem Divine Signs from which Paul quotes.

"From Zeus we lead the strain; he whom mankind
Ne'er leave unhymned: of Zeus all public ways,
All haunts of men, are full; and full the sea,
And harbours; and of Zeus all stand in need.
For we are His offspring: and he, ever good and mild
Gives favouring signs, and rouses us to toil.
Calling to mind life's wants: when clods are best
For plough and mattock: when time is ripe
For planting vines and sowig seeds, he tells
Since he himself hath fixed in heaven these signs."
Paul quotes both pagan poets and proud Pharisees in Scripture. Just because you are quoting a passage from the Bible does not necessarily mean you are revealing the mind of God. Serious, Bible-believing Christians recognize that no individual verse or passage of Scripture can be correctly interpreted outside of the textual context and an understanding of the cultural climate of those to whom the letter was initially written.

As my father has written:
"Someone is going to say 'The Bible means what it says." But that may be the problem. I don't think the Bible means what it says as much as it means what it means and some interpretation must go into understanding its meaning. This would certainly indicate that we need to recognize the possible fallibility of our understanding of Scripture to stay away from the heat that sometimes happens in discussing it."

The issue of womens' function and roles in the church generates much heat in the evangelical church. Those of us who believe in the infallibility of the sacred text should be very careful before using one's views on this issue as the standard for Christian orthodoxy. Truth is, those who urge women to be silent in the church may have more in common with pagan poets and proud Pharisees than Paul and the principles of sacred writ.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'Let Us Be Like the Gods' Always Conks

Every empire seeks world dominance. The Sumerians, a people living in the "land between the rivers" of the Tigris and Euphrates (a land called Mesopotamia) were the first to seek world dominion. They were eventually supplanted by a larger and more aggressive people called the Hittites. The Hittites were then conquered by the  Assyrians , who were conquered by the Babylonians, who were conquered by the Persians, who were conquered by the Greeks, who were conquered by the Romans, who were conquered by the Turks, who were conquered... well, you get the picture.

Every kingdom eventually collapses. No empire reaches or sustains its goals. In the end, emperors become liars and empires grow lame. Isaac Newton, in his brilliant work The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, reveals how kingdoms have historically exaggerated their histories and their accomplishments for the sake of national pride.

Newton, probably the greatest scientiest to ever live, spent his lifetime tearing down the lies regarding ancient civilizations, particularly the intentional deceit certain civilizations (Babylonian, Egyptian, Grecian, etc.. ) have existed for tens of thousands of years. Isaac Newton believed nothing in ancient history--when properly understood--conflicts with biblical history. The Chronology of Ancient Kingoms Amended represents his lifetime of work in the historical chronologies of empires.  Newton used his brilliant intellect and unsurpassed knowledge of science, the classical languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, etc...) and human logic to trace the world's earliest kingdoms from one common family.

Newton, like my dear friend George Ella, believed great human cultures and superior human languages de-evolve, never evolve. The oldest languages, like those of the ancient Sumerians and Hittites--and most importantly the language of a Shemitic tribe called Hebrews--are highly complex and inflected languages. The Greek language did not evolve from grunts and groans and cave drawings to Homer's Illiad. Neither did The Song of Solomon. Hebrew love poetry from Solomon is eloquent and extremely complex, surpassing the literature of today. Where are the Solomon's of today? Where are the Homer's of today?

They have all gone the way of ancient kingdoms. They are gone. The thorn in the side of man is the belief that man is evolving into something better, reaching higher and farther than ever before, becoming "like the gods." The truth is far more sobering. Man is devolving. Man is corrupting. Man is dying. We are devolving in our languages, our cultures, and our civilizations. You object with: "But look at our scientific advancements!" I respond: "If the ancient Egyptians had our technology, they would have flown to another universe by now." We continue to devolve as mankind.

C.S. Lewis gives the reason why mankind shoots for the gods and devolves into the dung:
"The reason why man can never succeed in in this is because God made us; He invented us as a man invents an engine. A car made to run on petrol would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no no other.
That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about Him. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
This is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended--civilizations are built up--excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few years, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. This is what Satan has done to us humans."

Amen, Mr. Lewis. Amen.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Apostle Paul and the Oracle of Delphi

"The greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven sent." - Socrates on the Oracle of Delphi.

When the ancient peoples around the Mediterranean Sea basin wanted wisdom from the gods they went to oracles. An oracle was a person who spoke (orated) for the gods in various temples. During the time Israel was in Babylonian captivity (6th century B.C.), a ruler in Smyrna, Lydia (modern Turkey) named King Croesus wanted to find the best oracle in the world, one with powers to divine the future better than all others. So in 560 B.C. Croesus sent his emissaries on a 100 day journey to the seven most popular oracles in the world with a question: What is King Croesus doing today?

Croesus kept a diary during those 100 days and when his messengers returned to Smyrna, he compared notes in his diary to what the oracles said. Of the seven oracles consulted, only the Oracle at Delphi (Greece) accurately described what Croesus was doing on the day the question was asked. The Oracle of Delphi said:
"I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea; I understand the speech of the dumb and hear the voiceless. The smell has come to my sense of a hard shelled tortoise boiling and bubbling with a lamb's flesh in a bronze pot: the cauldron underneath it is of bronze, and bronze is the lid." 
To eat turtle soup mixed with lamb's meat prepared in a bronze pot was exactly what Croesus was doing on that particular day. This dish was not typical cuisine for kings, especially one as rich as Croesus. Amazed at the Oracle of Delphi's prescience, Croesus sent emissaries back to Delphi with gifts of gold and silver for the oracle and they asked additional questions.

For the next one thousand years (560 B.C. to A.D. 371), the Oracle of Delphi would serve as the most prestigious and revered fortune teller in the world. Her answers guided the civilized world for the timing of wars, the establishment of new settlements, and wisdom to appease the gods.

The Spartans consulted the Oracle before the Battle of Thermopolae, a turning point in the war between the Greeks and Persians, expertly portrayed in the recent Hollywood motion picture 300. Alexander the Great traveled to Delphi to consult with the Oracle before he set off to conquer the world. Socrates often went to Delphi from Athens with his students. The Oracle once declared Socrates the wisest man among the Greeks. This led Socrates to say, "This one thing I know: I know nothing." Yet the Pythia's pronouncement made such an impression on Socrates that it propelled him into a lifetime of learning by asking questions of others, something we now call the Socratic method of learning. Every major Greek and Roman leader, soldier, or politician would either personally travel to Delphi or send emissaries to Delphi to consult the Oracle. The influence of the Oracle of Delphi only dissipated after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and the Roman world adopted Christianity as the official religion of the state.

The Oracles at Delphi Were Women

Delphi (pronounced Delphee in Greek, not Delph eye) is a community in the mountains 100 miles northwest of Athens. Greek mythology declares that Zeus let loose two eagles to find the most beautiful location on earth. The eagles circled the lands and collided at Delphi. The Greeks believed Delphi to be the center of the world (naval), around which the universe revolved.  They built a temple to the god Apollo at Delphi, and within that temple, they placed a chamber where the Oracle of Delphi greeted guests on only one day a month - the 7th day, Apollo's favorite number.

Apollo was often called Pythian Apollo because he allegedly killed a giant python snake at Delphi and took the Oracle of Delphi as his bride own. The women who served as the Oracles at Delphi were given the title of Pythia in honor of Apollo's heroic feat. Two great stone pythons guarded the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and those who wished to have their futures foretold would enter the Temple of Apollo and go to the Oracle's room in the southwest corner of the Temple.

The Pythia were a common women from the village of Delphi who had been chosen by the priests of the Temple to serve as the Oracle. The word common defines ancestry, for some of the women from Delphi who served as Pythia were slaves. The word common, however, does not define their physical beauty. Greek and Roman historians often commented in their writings on the striking beauty of the Pythia at Delphi. This beauty seemingly was a prerequisite for being chosen as a Pythia. In her divination room would be the naval stone (omphalous) which marked the Temple as the center of the world, a golden tripod upon which the Pythia would sit as she greeted guests, and across the room from where the Pythia sat was the alleged tomb of Dionysius.

The Temple of Apollo was built on inersecting geographical fault lines at Delphi. The Pythia would sit on her golden tripod over two interesecting crevices in the earth which seeped ethelyne, ethane, and methane--a cocktail of non-addictive but highly hallucinogenic gases. Contemporary Greek historians recorded a strong, sweet smell filled the Oracle's chamber, the tell-tale sign of ethylene, one of the world's first aenesthetics.

The Pythia would removed a cap from the naval stone (see picture to the left) that sat beside her chair, releasing the hallucinogenic gases that had collected underneath the naval stone which sat on top of the X of the fault lines. As the gases released, the Pythia would enter into a conscious trance as she considered the questions presented her. Swaying back and forth, she would eventually utter her answers.  The priests did not invent answers from uncipherable utterances of the Oracle, but faithfully recorded what the Oracle said. The Oracle would give a lucid, sometimes crytpic answer, in either poetry or prose. Plutarch called the Oracles of Delphi "inspired maidens." The answers to the questions posed to Oracle would be given to the supplicants, who considered the poetic responses Apollo's direction for their lives.  Entire nations would wait with baited breath for an answer from the Oracle at Delphi. It is not an exaggeration to say that a woman's words ruled ancient civilization.

Paul and the Pythia

When the Apostle Paul visited Philippi (51 A.D.) during his second missionary journey, he and Silas were followed by a young girl for many days who kept crying out to the people of Philippi, "These men are servants of the Most High God who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation" (Acts 16:17). Many Christians have a hard time understanding what Paul did next. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!'And it came out at that very moment. (Acts 16:18).

The only way you can understand why Paul did what he did is to realize the biblical description of this young girl. The English versions of the Bible say she had "a spirit of divination" (Acts 16:16). The literal Greek word used to describe this woman is Pythia. She could have served in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, or she could have been a lesser oracle. What we do know is she had the spirit of divination. She followed Paul and Silas and spoke of them as being spokespersons of Zeus, the Most High God, and said the people should listen to their words of deliverance in the same manner they listen to the words of an oracle. Of course, the Pythia was misrepresenting Paul and Silas. She was possessed by a demonic spirit and Paul delivered her. Michaelangelo would later paint the Pythia of Delphi on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but the Apostle Paul showed no such reverence to the Pythia he met in Philippi. One should always remember that all that glitters in organized religion is not gold.

When the Pythia's masters saw their hope for profit in Philippi was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities and demanded the disciples of Christ be imprisoned. Paul and Silas were thrown in jail where they would later lead the jailor to faith in Christ (Acts 16:31). The story of the conversion of the Philippian jailor and his family is a vivid reminder that God orchestrates all events (like the Pythia's actions at Philippi) for His glory and the ultimate good of His people (like the Philippian jailor).

Nothing much has changed in the world in the last 2,000 years. People still revere what God considers evil. People still persecute those who preach the gospel. But in the end, God always wins.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Culture of Abuse Built on Pastoral Authority

Julie Anne at the Spiritual Sounding Board blog pointed me to an essay summarizing the recent problems at Sovereign Grace Ministries. It is nauseating to read details of some of the physical and sexual abuse that has taken place in a few SGM churches. The victims will soon have their day in court, and I predict SGM has already begun a slow path of decline to eventual non-existence. SGM will either eventually change their name or will be absorbed into another non-profit entity. In the first comment after the online essay, Michael Camp makes this statement: "I think it's important to try to identify the root reasons why such churches develop a culture of abuse. In my experience, it's not just a few bad apples, or one hyper-control-freak who lords it over others, but a whole system of warped theology..."

I agree Michael.  T.F. Charleton, the writer of the essay, states her reason for "a culture of abuse" within SGM churches. She writes, "If purity culture is a rape culture, the submission culture that exists in many conservative evangelical churches is abuse culture." I would agree with Ms. Charleton and add one caveat. Nobody demands submission unless they deem themselves an authority.

Of the over 1300 posts I've written, the statistical leader in terms of the number of readers, excluding my Cozumel prison experience, is a post entitled Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism. That post struck a chord with a thousands of people in various churches. In that post I wrote:
Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an "office" of authority in the church, like that of the office of "President of the United States," simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of ever believer. 
Michael, the culture of abuse in SGM churches revolves around a warped view of authority. There are pastors, elders, leaders in SGM churches (all male) who have placed themselves above all others and shouted "Stay in your place!" The only way a SGM pastor can create an environment where a child obediently takes off her clothes so the pastor can spank her bare buttocks, and for the pastor to perpretate that same practice as the child grows into womanhood,  is for the pastor to use his position of authority to manipulate and intimidate. Not all SGM pastors are predators by any means. But when a predator pastor fills a pulpit at SGM, it may be easier to secretly and criminally manifest sexual, psychological, and personal dysfunctions because of the culture of authority.

SGM is not alone. Any church or organization that emphasizes male authority over women and children fosters a culture of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. It is only when Jesus turns a male pastor into a selfless servant, a person who cares and loves for those around him, will that pastor create a climate in the assembly that is conducive for health and spiritual growth. This is why the subject of authority in the church is an important one. The future of healthy evangelicalism rides on us getting our views of spiritual authority right.