We Are Like Stones – 1 Peter 2:5

If Jesus is the cornerstone, then the believers are the stones that are laid on the stone in order to build up a Temple. Peter compares the people of God to the stones that make up a “spiritual house.” If Jesus is like the chief cornerstone (in some ways like the foundation and in other ways like the capstone), then those who are in Christ are the other components of that building. This is not too far from Paul’s “body of Christ” metaphor, in which Christ is the head and believers are the members of the body.

Temple StonesPeter describes God’s people with Temple language in verse five. The people of God are a “spiritual house.” The text does not say “temple of the Holy Spirit,” the metaphor Paul used in 1 Corinthians, but it is not quite the same. Any Jewish person hearing the phrase “spiritual house” in the first century would have immediately thought of the Temple in Jerusalem, and even in the Diaspora there was a certain pride in the Temple as God’s dwelling place. Buy not all would agree that the Temple was a real, spiritual house.

There are several well-known critiques of the Temple, including the Temple Action by Jesus just before his crucifixion. Jesus called the activity around the Temple as a “den of thieves” and threatened to tear the Temple down and rebuild it in three days. We know now that he was talking about his body and the coming resurrection, but there were many who saw this as an attack on the Temple itself.

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is often seen as critical of the Temple and the aristocratic priesthood. Stephen claimed that there is simple no need for a “spiritual house” in the present age, and he was lynched for this attack! The Qumran community in particular considered the activity of the Temple to be corrupt.  The community seems to have considered their activity near the Dead Sea as a kind of replacement for Temple worship until the Temple was cleansed by the coming messiah.

In the same way, the original readers would have understood “holy priesthood” in the light of the Temple. In fact, the priests were the only ones who permitted to offer sacrifices at the temple.  Peter describes all believers as a “holy priesthood,: not just those members of the tribe of Levi or the family of Aaron.  The high priest was to come from the line of Zadok, but after the Maccabean Revolt the Hasmoneans served as priest-kings, despite only being from the tribe of Levi. Since they were not Zadokites, the Qumran community rejected them proper high priests.

At the time this letter was written, the high priests were appointed to the office by the Sanhedrin.  The high priest Ananus son of Ananus was removed from office in A.D. 63 because he executed James the brother of Jesus (Josephus,  Antiq., 20.9.1).  The high priest Joshua ben Gamla obtained the office in 64 after his wealthy wife bribed the right people; the final high priest, Phannias ben Samuel, was not even in the priestly line, but was appointed by the Zealots. Josephus said that he was a “mere rustic “and “a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was.” (Josephus, JW, 4.151-158).

The believer is superior to the Temple priest because they are able to bring “acceptable sacrifice to God” because they are offering them “through Jesus.”  Again, if there were some Jewish groups that considered the Temple and the priesthood corrupt, then can their sacrifices be acceptable to God? If, for example, the high priest was not actually holy when he brought the Day of Atonement sacrifice (on the wrong day even!), is it possible that God did not accept that sacrifice?

All of this language sounds like Peter is describing the present people of God as a kind of New Israel, but it is not the case that Peter is saying that the present Church (the Body of Christ) replaces the old Israel. For a Jewish writer and reader this new priesthood and temple service replaces the old one that was ineffective. The believers in Asia Minor in the first century are now all priests that are capable of offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

Book Review: Jim Turner, So-Called Christians

So Called ChristiansTurner, Jim. So-Called Christians: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left By The Church. Greenville, South Carolina: Ambassador International, 2014.157 pages, pb., $11.99   Link

Jim Turner is a pastor with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of church settings. He works with ChurchOneNow, a ministry focusing on “rebuilding unity and restoring relationships” for people who have been hurt and spiritually damaged by their experience in the church. Turner claims that more people have been hurt by the church than World War Two; as many as 37% of un-churched Americans say they do not attend church because of a negative experience.

The goal of So-Called Christians is to meet the suffering caused by the church head-on and offer some healing to people who have genuinely been damaged by Christians. The first two chapters of the book describe the problem of the church as an “autoimmune disease.” By this Turner means the Church is destroying itself. He uses to 1 Cor 1:10-13 and argues the Church today destroying itself with schisms. He jokingly “translates” 1 Cor 1:13 as “Is Christ divided? Was Charles Stanley crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of John Piper?” (34). Later in the book he calls this “doctrinal snobbery.”

In contrast to the divisive nature of the Church today, Jesus’ prayer for the Church is unity (John 17). In chapters 3-5 Turner describes the biblical idea for the church. Paul’s ideal for the Church is having one mind, unified around the idea of Jesus. Turner therefore examines the virtues in Col 3:12-14 as traits of Christ that would promote unity in the church if they were consistently practiced. He also examines the unity resulting from having the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2) and draws several applications to relationships within the church.

In Chapters 6-7 Turner begins to deal with the boundaries defining “Christian.” He makes a distinction between a “matter of conscience” (drinking a beer or smoking a pipe), a “doctrinal distinctive” (local church government, sign gifts, day of worship), and “essential Christian doctrine” (clear moral absolutes and defining doctrines of the faith). Anyone reading this book will likely fill in their own issues in each of those categories, but the idea that there are some things a Christian must reject and must accept is clear. It is the middle category (“matters of conscience”) where judgment and division happen.  He uses the example of contemporary worship here and advises we not “argue over opinions” (citing Roman 13). It is important, however, to accept the fact that my liberty might be a stumbling block to another Christian. A person who “exercises their liberty” in a matter may need to limit themselves so that they do not cause a brother or sister to stumble (85). This is an excellent point, but I wonder how far Turner is willing to push his principle of not judging in “matters of conscience.” The examples he gives are fairly straightforward, but there are other issues that are much more difficult and culturally sensitive.

Chapters 8-10 discuss the doctrinal lines defining Christianity. For the most part, Turner is a conservative evangelical and includes a twenty-four page article from Norman Geisler on the essential doctrines of Christianity. He has a summary of “essentials” drawn from the classic Christian creeds. Following Geisler, he divides these between items necessary to be saved (Trinity, human depravity, deity and humanity of Christ, necessity of grace and faith, Christ’s atoning death and his resurrection) and items that are not necessary (virgin birth, ascension, Christ’s present service and his second coming). Lest you think he is some sort of Rob Bell, Turner is clear that Geisler’s list is correct, but he would not separate from a brother in Christ for misunderstanding the virgin birth or the second coming. His point in this section is that a “loving defense of the truth maintains unity” (122).

There are several things missing from this book. First, I would have liked Turner to be even more forthright about the real problem facing the church today.  Like the church at Corinth, the real heart of our divisive spirit is sin and pride. Since he is writing to people who have been hurt, I suspect that he avoids calling disunity a sin, but that seems to be what Paul would have said to Corinth.

Second, and more perhaps critically, the book does a great job dealing with the solution, but Turner does not deal with any specific, controversial issues. For example, I agree many people stop attending church because they were “judged” by people in a local church. But in my experience, doctrinal issues are rarely the problem. In the modern American church it is very easy to find out what a church believes, simply check their website and you will likely get all the mission statements and doctrinal affiliation information you need. The people I meet who have been wounded by the church are people who have a lifestyle that just does not work in the typical evangelical church. The teenager with several tattoos and piercings who attends a typical church wearing his Slayer t-shirt and a dog-collar is going to be judged by the homeschool kids in youth group. I know of several situations where parents did not want their kids attending youth group because “those kids” were in the group, so this scenario is not far-fetched at all.

Third, sometimes hurt Christians have deep personal sins resulting in a harsh attack by the local church. The book does not address the hurt people have when they are attacked by a well-meaning (or just mean) person over a sinful lifestyle. For example, there are homosexual Christians who are in fact judged harshly by some churches and made to feel so uncomfortable they walk away from the church entirely. How can a church “love the sinner” while “hating the sin”? This is a real problem in contemporary American churches, but this goes beyond Turner’s stated goals for this book. Nevertheless, the harsh attitude towards sinners from the more conservative branches of the American Church need to be addressed and there was opportunity for Turner’s book to do just that.

Conclusion. Turner’s book was written from his personal experience in the Church and his commitment to being the Church as it is described in the New Testament. This is not a scholarly book filled with detailed exegesis; it is a heartfelt reflection on the Word of God as he observes the destructive power of divisions in the church.

NB: Thanks to Jim Turner for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review – Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide

Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide. Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012, xxxiv + 467 pp. $35.00, paperback.  Link to Eerdmans

EarlyJudaismThis volume is reprint of 13 major essays originally appearing in the first part of the Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism ( Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010).  This Dictionary was a major contribution to the study of Second Temple Period Judaism when it was released two years ago, but with a list price of $95, most readers were unable to afford the book. The editors comment in their introduction that this reprinting allowed for corrections and emendations as well as some expanded bibliography. A five-page chronology of the period is included (538 B.C.E. – 200 C.E.), as well as 13 maps. There are 71 black and white photographs in the center of the book. I am not sure if all of these maps and photographs appeared in the original Dictionary, but the few I checked did.

The description “early Judaism” is used to describe the period of development during the Hellenistic and early Roman period. The term “Second Temple Period” was too broad. Since that period is usually defined as 520 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., it would include most of the writings of the Hebrew Bible. For this book, “early Judaism’ refers to the period from Alexander the Great through the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 C.E.).

The essays in the book are not broken into sections, although there is a general pattern to the book. After an introductory essay on “Early Judaism and Modern Scholarship” by John Collins, three essays appear charting the history of the period. Chris Seeman and Adam Marshak describe the long period from Alexander the Great to Hadrian, the historical boundaries of Early Judaism. This is a very brief overview (forty pages for 400 years?) The next two essays describe “Judaism in the Land of Israel” (James VanderKam) and “Judaism in the Diaspora” (Erich S. Gruen). Both essays briefly comment on the literature produced in the Land and in the Diaspora, although these are covered elsewhere in the book. The two chapters are excellent when read together. VanderKam describes the critical importance of the Temple to those dwelling in the Land while Gruen describes the importance of synagogue to those in the Diaspora. Gruen has several sections of interest for students of the New Testament, including Gentile attraction to Judaism and the “boundary markers” used to maintain Jewish identity.

Seven of the essays deal with the literature of the period. This ought to be expected since there is a great variety of literature produced during this long period. Eugene Urlich describes the move from texts to Scripture to Canon in his “The Jewish Scriptures: Texts, Versions, Canons.” James Kugel (“Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation”) comments on the interpretation of Law within the Hebrew Bible itself as well as the trajectories found in extra-canonical texts like Jubilees. Loren Stuckenbruck contributes an article on the “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” This article was somewhat frustrating in this format of the book because it is not able to treat any given book in these broad and imprecise categories with anything more than a line. If I was reading the article in the Dictionary, I could easily turn to the articles on Tobit or Enoch for a more in-depth introduction.

Eibert Tigchelaar has a nice introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls which steers clear of archaeological controversies and focuses on the texts. Katell Berthelot’s essay on “Early Jewish Literature Written in Greek” treats some literature which might be categorized as Apocrypha, others that are Pseudepigrapha. Her summary of themes in this literature is excellent, concluding that “this literature documents a remarkable attempt to embrace Greek culture while maintaining a distinctive Jewish identity” (249).

Dictionary of Early Judaism

Two essays were added to this collection with appeared as entries in the original Dictionary. The chapter of Philo compiles the Dictionary articles on Philo (Gregory Sterling), Allegorical Commentary (Maren Niehoff), Apologetic Treatises (Gregory Sterling), Exposition of the Law (Maren Niehoff), Philosophical Works (Annewies van den Hoek), and Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus (David T. Runia). The order of these sections is different than the original Dictionary and Sterling’s concluding paragraph is placed at the end of the chapter. That each section is not identified by author is a minor frustration. While this is mentioned in the introduction, it would not have been very difficult to include a “signature” at the end of each section.

The chapter on Josephus compiles the Dictionary entries on Josephus and Antiquities (Steve Mason) Against Apion (John Barclay) and Jewish War (James McLaren). As with the chapter on Philo, these sections are edited without indicating which author wrote the section. Steve Mason’s article on Josephus is interrupted after his discussion of Vita, the sections on Apion, Antiquities and Jewish War are inserted at this point. Mason’s original article picks up again, treating the reception and interpretation of Josephus.

While not precisely a form of literature, Jürgen Zangenberg’s article on “Archaeology, Papyri and Inscriptions” provides an overview of this massive collection of data that is often ignored by scholars studying the period. Since there are so many books from this period, it is easy to overlook this sub-form of literature. Zangenberg’s article is handicapped by trying to cover too much, each of his sub-sections could have been a full chapter.

The final three chapters of the book cover Jews and “others.” Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev describes the usually tempestuous relationship of the “Jews among the Greeks and Romans.” Her article describes controversies in Rome, Asia Minor, Syria and other regions. Daniel Harlow contributes a stimulating article on “Early Judaism and Christianity.” It is almost impossible for someone to write on this topic without interacting with E. P. Sanders and the developments in scholarship since his Paul and Palestinian Judaism. After surveying Jesus, the earliest Jesus followers and Paul, Harlow comments that the essential pattern of “covenantal nomism” looks very much like Paul’s view. Harlow sees Paul’s view of the Law as very complex, even “convoluted” compared to the other writers in the New Testament.

Finally, Lawrence Schiffman treats “Early Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism.” This chapter is very brief (a mere 14 pages) and attempts to show that the sectarianism of “Early Judaism” was at odds with the Pharisaic-rabbinic Judaism which develops after 200 C.E. Part of the problem is inadequate documentation of the development from the pre-70 C.E. documents to the rabbinic texts which begin to develop after 200 C.E. The unwritten tradition of the Pharisees is the “real basis of rabbinic Judaism” (434).

Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide is an affordable, handy collection of essays which would make an excellent college or seminary textbook. It is not overly technical, providing the scholar with necessary details without sacrificing readability. While I was occasionally frustrated by the brevity of the essays, this does not distract from their usefulness as an introduction to broad topics.  Each essay concludes with a short bibliography to encourage the reader to pursue these topics further.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for a copy of this book to review.

Romans 12:1-2 A Living Sacrifice

Paul uses a metaphor for the Christian life in this verse:  we are to be a sacrifice to God. What is unique, however, is that we are to be a “living sacrifice.”  This vivid image would have been clear to anyone in ancient world since everyone has witnessed a sacrifice at some point, whether Jew or Greek.  The sacrificed animal was no longer the possession of the one making the offering, but it became God’s possession.  A sacrifice is a gift to a god, if we are living sacrifices, we are to be gifts wholly given over to the service of God.

To be a living sacrifice one must not “be conformed” to the world (8:2).  The noun (συσχηματίζω, susxematizo) means “to be molded into another form” or perhaps guided by something else (BAGD).  The pattern that Paul warns the believer to not be conformed to is the “pattern of this world,” or the lifestyle of this evil age.  While the word is rare, Plutarch uses it in his essay “Virtue and Vice” (2.100f) to describe the insidious way that vice conforms itself to the attitudes of others, suppressing its own impulses to become like others.

Rather than conformed, Paul states the believer is to “be transformed.”  Like the verb “conformed,” the word μεταμορφόω (metamorfoo) can refer to both outward physical changes (such as the transfiguration, Matt 17:2) and inward spiritual changes (BAGD).  It is used of the change of the physical body in glory (2 Cor 3:18.)  But here in Romans 12:2 it means an inward spiritual change of the believer by the power of the spirit.

The key to this metamorphosis is the “renewing” of our minds.  I think that Paul is saying that the one who is in Christ is in fact a new creation (2 Cor 5:20), but that this new creation is an ongoing process, leaving behind one world-view and changing our thinking to conform to a new world-view.  Thinking back to the situation in Corinth, the church did not seem to have embraced this change in thinking.  They still were “conformed” to the pattern of this world and had not progressed very far in “being transformed” by the renewing of their minds.  They still thought like the world.  But here Paul says that the one who is a living sacrifice thinks differently, and therefore is different from the “pattern of this world.”

I think that perhaps this is what is wrong with a great deal of what passes for Christian thinking these days.  There is a tendency to adopt secular business principles and put a thin veneer of Christianity on then, somehow making then acceptable for organizing the Church and doing ministry.  My local Christian book store has piles of books with titles like Seven Principles for Church Leadership which are standard leadership material drawn from corporate American, illustrated with a Bible story (usually with a Sunday School understanding of the text cited!)  This is not transformed thinking, but worldly thinking masquerading as biblical principles.

What would the church look like if it was really composed of people who had been “transformed by the renewing of their minds”?

Romans 7:14-25 – Who is the Wretched Man?

When Paul talks about the struggle to do what the Law requires in Romans 7, is he reflecting his own experience as a Jew?  Alternatively, Paul may be speaking of his post-conversion struggle with sin. It is even possible that Paul speaking hypothetically, not using his own experience as a guide at all.

Cranfield (Romans 1:344) lists 7 possible interpretations of the “I” in chapter 7:14-25:

  1. That it is autobiographical, Paul is describing his own present Christian experience.
  2. That it is autobiographical, Paul is describing his own past Christian experience.
  3. That it is autobiographical, Paul is describing his own pre-conversion experience in the light of his current Christian faith.
  4. That it presents the experience of a non-Christian Jew, as seen by himself.
  5. That it presents the experience of a non-Christian Jew, as seen through Christian eyes.
  6. That it presents the experience of a Christian who is living at the level of the Christian life which can be left behind, who is trying to fight the battle on his own strength.
  7. That it presents the experience of a Christians generally, including the very best and mature.

Cranfield sets aside the second possibility as impossible in the light of Philippians 3:6b and Gal 1:14.  The fourth possibility is rejected because it is contrary to the view of the Jewish “self-complacency” described in chapter 2.  The use of the present tense tends to argue against the second and third option.  The present tense to too sustained throughout the section for this to be an historical present for vividness.  The order of the sentences argues against 2-6.  If verse 24 is the cry of an unsaved man, then all of the preceding material ought to be before salvation as well.

The Wretched Man

There are problems with thinking that the “Wretched Man” is Paul’s pre-Christian experience based recent studies of Judaism by E. P. Sanders and others.  This “New Perspective on Paul” argues that Judaism was not a “works for salvation” religion and that “rabbi Saul” would not obsessed about his lack of perfection in following the Law.  I suppose  it is possible that Paul was a particularly obsessive follower of the Law, but it is also popular scholarship reads Luther’s own struggle into the passage.

The problem, for Cranfield, in accepting either the first or seventh option is that they present a dark view of the Christian life, and one that seems to be incompatible with the concept of the believer’s liberation from sin as presented in 6:6, 14, 17, 22, and 8:2. But it is important to understand that the very fact that there is a struggle indicates that the Spirit of God is present in the writer’s life, for without the Spirit he will never realize that he is in sin and struggle to remove himself from that state.  He notes that it is “relatively unimportant” that we choose between the first or seventh option since they are virtually the same thing.  If it is autobiographical then Paul, as a very mature Christian struggled with sin.  Is that possible? While we might think a mature Christian has risen above the wretched struggle, that is simply not the case.

What is the significance of this passage to the believer?  We can learn from this passage, it is clear that if Paul himself struggled with sin, then we should realize that we too will struggle with sin.  In fact, I think there is more danger in “not struggling” than being contented in your walk with God.  The sin of Complacency is far more dangerous than we might think!

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