Word Study #57 — Mystery

June 29, 2010

“Mystery” is a term that has suffered abuse in two different ways.
There have always been self-styled “teachers” who dodge the inexplicability and total lack of Biblical basis for their complex, high-flown “doctrines” by intoning, with an air of solemn superiority, “Oh, that …that is a part of the mystery of God!” These individuals do not even deserve the respect of refutation.
Throughout the course of Christian history, there have also been numerous cycles during which “scholars” claim to have “discovered” links between Christian faith and the Greek and near-eastern “mystery religions”. Although it is possible to find such “links” in corrupted versions of Christian thought and practice, the New Testament, although the word “mystery” does appear there, bears no credible resemblance to any of those observances. In fact, more frequently, it calls for the direct opposite in both belief and practice.

Many, if not most, of the “mystery” cults involved some variety of fertility worship, due to their derivation from the seasonal myths of Demeter and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice, or other underworld connections. Their version of “resurrection” (loudly touted as a parallel) was merely a temporary return from the abode of the dead, repeated yearly, and celebrated with orgiastic fertility rites, or equally temporary asceticism. Communication with the deities was achieved with hallucinogenic substances, strong drink, or, as at Delphi, the noxious vapors of thermal springs.
All of these were very ancient – the Dionysian cult is dated by some historians as early as 6000 BC, the Eleusian about 2000 BC, and the Orphic in the 4th century BC. Although the second century AD writer, Justin Martyr, spoke of them as “demonic imitations of the true faith”, the actual fact was probably more likely the reverse: the syncretistic corruption of the New Testament message by the adoption of magical, secretive overtones of the “mysteries.” I had often wondered how the simple, symbolic observations, instituted by Jesus as reminders and teaching tools, morphed into a notion of magical, inherently powerful “sacraments” (please see chapter 9 of Citizens of the Kingdom). I have to wonder if this transformation was not effected by exactly that syncretism. It certainly does not appear in the New Testament.

Another major contrast is seen in the lack of conflict between the contemporary civil religion (emperor-worship) of the Roman Empire, and the “mysteries.” These were considered supplementary, and did not compete for people’s devotion, whereas commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus (see W.S.#4), which required absolute faithfulness, and refused political compromise, was often a matter of life or death for its adherents.

According to Liddell/Scott, musterion could refer either to secret knowledge imparted only to initiates, to the paraphernalia used in ceremonial rites, to medicinal recipes or remedies, or to military secrets! Interestingly, it is this latter category that was taken over into the Latin “sacramentum”, although Jerome, in the early 5th century AD, used that substitute seven times (Eph.1:9, 3:9, 5:32; Col.1:27, I Tim.3:16, Rv.1:20, 17:7) in his Latin Vulgate translation. I could not discern any pattern to these choices – can you?
By that time, of course, to further confuse the situation, the simple symbols of commitment had long been distorted into the magical notion of “sacrament”, along with several other ceremonies (see above).

The New Testament does use the word musterion, 26 times. In the New Testament, it is not an esoteric secret inaccessible to human minds, but always refers to information that has been revealed, although it does require a degree of spiritual discernment.
The most common (7 x) is the assertion (Rom.11:25, 16:25-26; Eph.3:3-6, Col.1:26-27, 2:2, 4:3) that God’s eternal plan for his people includes both Jewish and Gentile believers. This is typified in the end of Paul’s letter to Rome, “The mystery that from all eternity has been kept secret, has now been revealed…..His revealed purpose is that this plan be made known, so that all the nations [all the gentiles] may come to him in faithful obedience!”
The emphasis on the revelation of things formerly hidden appears another 6 x (I Cor.2:1, 2:7; Eph.1:9,3:3 – expounded in vv.9-12 – and 6:19), including the establishing of the Lord Jesus as the head over everything, and his intentions that his glorious grace, power and wisdom be demonstrated to everyone, everywhere, THROUGH HIS CHURCH!

Musterion occurs only once in each of the synoptic gospels – parallel passages – (Mt.13:11, Mk.4:11, Lk.8:10) when Jesus is explaining to the inquiring disciples the parable of the Sower/Seed/Soil. He characterizes this explanation as evidence that the “mysteries of the Kingdom of God” are being revealed to those who have accepted his call to that Kingdom, not to curious spectators.
Only 5 times is musterion used in the plural: twice here, and three times in I Cor.4:1, 13:2, 14:2. Might this be implying reference to multiple bits of information? The other 21 uses in the New Testament are singular, usually referencing God’s single, over-arching purpose for creation.
Three of the four references in the Revelation (1:20 and 17:5,7) are simply explanations of symbolism, while the other (10:7) refers again to God’s original purpose. This may parallel Paul’s summary statement to Timothy (I Tim.3:16), which basically reviews Jesus’ own history: specifically regarding his true humanity, his vindication attested by his resurrection (“made just …seen by messengers” – please remember that “messengers” may be either human or supernatural – the word is the same), the spread of his message to the gentiles/nations, and his ascension in glory!

Finally, sharing in the “mystery”, which is now revealed, rather than hidden, confers tremendous responsibility upon its participants: no longer under dread oaths to preserve secrecy as in the ancient mysteries, but instructed to make it known as broadly as they can (I Cor.4:1 and 13:2)!
This is also evident in Eph.3:9-12, a portion of which may serve us well as a closing summary. Marveling at the privilege of his assignment, Paul aims to “shed light on what is our responsibility, derived from the mystery ….to make known, now, to the rulers and authorities in heaven, through the church, the many-faceted wisdom of God! This is the plan of the ages, which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord!” And his people are entrusted with its execution!

In short, with an accurate understanding of the word (and the concept) “musterion”, faithful followers of Jesus will abandon their obsession with their “sacred rituals” (borrowed from the ancient “mysteries”), in favor of their sacred responsibility, rightly to represent the King and his Kingdom!

“Oh, the depth of God’s wealth, and wisdom, and knowledge! How (far) beyond reasoning are his judgments, and beyond comprehension his ways! ….
Glory to him forever! Amen!” (Rom.11:33, 36)

Amen, indeed!

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Word Study #56 — The Chosen

June 21, 2010

In the final conflict, with all the forces of evil arrayed against him, “The Lamb will conquer them, because (1) he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and (2) those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rv.17:14).
It is no surprise that the Lord’s identity should be the primary cause of his victory: but how incredibly gracious, that his faithful followers should be not only included, but credited, as well!

A large segment of “Christian teaching”, sadly, neglects to take into account the order of the words describing “those with him.” Its advocates insist that only the “chosen” are ever “called” to be his. The overwhelming evidence of the New Testament, however, as well as the simple vocabulary, yields a very different scenario. Thayer (see Appendix) notes, in his rather ponderous treatment of kaleo, that only those who have responded to an invitation are considered to be among the “called”, or the invited guests. Those who have refused are not included in that terminology. ( See Jesus’ parable in Lk.14:24).
The invitation is exceedingly broad. It is the choice that is crucial, and even after it is made, faithfulness is required. Mt.22:14 and II Pet.1:10, the only other places where “called” and “chosen” are used together, maintain the same order.

The primary words which are translated “choose” eklego, and “chosen” eklektos, are really quite straightforward. Liddell/Scott defines the verb form as “to pick or single out, to select or choose”, and even on occasion “to levy taxes or tribute”, and the noun/participle/adjective as “selected, choice, chosen.” Even in New Testament usage, they frequently refer simply to the everyday choices of life, whether of associates (Ac.1:2, Jn.6:70, Ac.6:5) or of prestigious seats (Lk.14:7). The choice by the KJV translators to change the English word to “elect” in reference to believers, is a reflection of their theological presuppositions, not of the text. The word in the text is identical, in every case.
Paul uses eklektos (Rom.8:33, Col.3:12, II Tim.2:10, Tit.1:1) in a manner almost synonymous with “saints” or “brethren”, as does Peter (I Pet.1:2). It is a “label” of the identity of those who belong to Jesus, and it is used to urge persistence in faithfulness. Peter, likewise, uses it first of Jesus himself (I Pet.2:4), then (v.9) to re-define the concept of “God’s chosen people”, which in turn also becomes an impetus for faithful living.

In the Gospels, the “chosen ones” (the faithful) are singled out for both protection (Mt.24:22,31; Mk.13:20,22,27; Lk.18:7) and responsibility (Jn.15:16-19). Disciples are not “chosen” to sit around and bask in the glory of their “election”, but to get busy about bearing good fruit for the Kingdom, actively loving each other, and enduring any resultant persecution with patience and faithfulness born of their identification with the Lord Jesus! Jesus himself, of course, is identified as “chosen” – scornfully by the Jewish leaders (Lk.23:35), and honorably by Peter (I Pet.2:6), and it is “in him” (Eph.1:4) that we in turn are “chosen.” The deliberate extension of this term to Gentile believers (Eph.1:4, Col.3:12-15) is extremely significant, in view of the prevailing assumption that it applied only to ethnic Jews (appearing in the LXX more than 100 times). Here again, it is essential to bear in mind that a person’s response is the critical factor.

This also sheds much-needed light on the complicated, much-debated schemes that people have concocted concerning Paul’s “arguments” (actually, explanations) in Romans. Reading chapters 9-11 in the light of understanding the importance of one’s response, reveals, not some sort of divine “shell game”, but simply the affirmation that regardless of one’s ethnicity, his response to God’s call is the critical component of his “chosen” status. Neither Jew nor Gentile has been categorically either excluded or included. “All Israel” has been re-defined as all who embrace Kingdom citizenship. Please notice the conditional clauses in 11:22 “if you keep on staying in his generosity”, and 11:23 “if they do not keep on in unfaithfulness.” The calling has not changed, nor been rescinded (11:29), but it IS conditional.  People’s responses can and do change.
I am well aware that folks prone to proof-texting can string together disconnected “verses” from these chapters to make elaborate systems (usually to exclude someone), and conflicting claims. But our brother Paul did not write “verses” to be rearranged like puzzle pieces. He wrote a letter, and at least to this translator, it is neither complicated nor exclusionary, if viewed as a whole.

The same principle applies to those who find in-group vs. out-group “destiny” in Romans 8. Read the whole paragraph (18-30). Paul’s point is to encourage the brethren to remain faithful, in the midst of severe opposition. He reminds them of the glorious prospect of the consummated Kingdom, of the Spirit’s gracious provision and intercession in our weaknesses and ignorance, and the ultimate power of God to use everything to which life subjects us for eventual good – both his and ours! V.29 is an encouragement, not a threat! These hassles do not catch God unawares: he knew it all along, and is quite capable of using everything for the benefit of those he “predestined” – NOT, please note, to be “saved” or “lost”, but to be “conformed to the image [likeness] of his Son”! It it these whom he chose, called, made just, and glorified! All four verbs are cast in aorist tenses (see grammatical information in Translation Notes), denoting action that is already accomplished in/by the Lord Jesus! Accomplished, in the same, all-too-human people who still need the Spirit’s intercession and instruction, and each other’s mutual support! This is the impetus for the paean of praise with which the chapter closes.

Regarding the “destiny” aspect of “choice,” as noted in W.S.#48,  proorizo, only once associated with choice, appears only 6 times in the entire New Testament, and two of them are in the passage just cited. The others are Eph.1:5 – we are “destined” for adoption as sons of God, and Eph.1:11 – to be a part of God’s glorious plan for all his creation! In the frightened disciples prayer in Ac.4:28, they saw the circumstances of Jesus’ death as pre-determined (notice that we are not told if that was an accurate assessment or not). In I Cor.2:7, Paul again emphasizes God’s plan for his people to share his glory!

This is the sum-total of New Testament references to “predestination”!

All who have answered the “call” and enlisted in the Kingdom, are “chosen”, and “destined” to be with the King! These are the called and the chosen!
May we also prove faithful!


Word Study#55 — Following Instructions

June 16, 2010

OK, this is not technically a “word study”. It is more a topical survey: but it is so closely related to the previous post, that it deserves our attention. We saw in our study of “calling” that that designation primarily applies to one’s inclusion in the Kingdom, and his participation in the transformed life to which we are all “called”, together. There are occasions, however, when a person is handed a very specific assignment: and this can occur in a number of ways.

Jesus, of course, personally chose twelve of his disciples, and later 70 more, to whom he delegated the responsibility to “preach the Kingdom” ahead of his own arrival (Lk.10:1). After Pentecost, his methods were more varied.
Sometimes, as with the early (Ac.3 and 4) accounts of Peter and John, it was simply a case of acting faithfully when an opportunity arose, on the instructions they had been given years earlier (Lk.9:2, 10:9).

In Ac.6:1-6, the congregation perceived a need, and were instructed to suggest godly individuals to take care of it, who were then “appointed” by the apostles. Interestingly, at least two of these quickly “outgrew” their original assignment, with Stephen (ch.7) becoming a powerful advocate for “the Way”, and subsequently being martyred, and Philip (ch.8) becoming an itinerant evangelist.

Philip‘s case is interesting. His trip to Samaria may (or may not) have been on his own initiative, but after his successful mission there (8:26), a messenger instructed him to head for the Gaza road, and (v.29) the Spirit directed him to the Ethiopian’s chariot, and then (39-40) even “carried him off” after the assignment was completed! Perhaps in order to receive a “specific assignment” we need to be busy at the tasks we already perceive!

Ananias, on the other hand, (Ac.9:10-19) is introduced simply as “a certain disciple” – just one of the folks in Damascus. But the Lord spoke to him directly, in a vision. And although at first he argued about it, his obedience gifted all the rest of us, down through the centuries, with the ministry of Paul! We never hear of Ananias again. He was just listening when the Lord needed to recruit someone.

Peter also was busy (Ac.10) when the Lord directed (by means of a “messenger”) Cornelius to send for him. Knowing that the assignment would give Peter cultural problems, the Spirit designed an object lesson, as well as explicit directions to respond to the summons. Wisely, Peter included other brethren as witnesses, who aided in responsibly reporting to questioners, later.

Barnabas (Ac.11:22-26) was sent by the apostles to Antioch, to check out the gathering there. He had already established a reputation for gracious faithfulness (4:36, 9:27). He seems to have recruited Saul on his own initiative (v.25).

We are not told how Agabus (Ac.11:28, 21:10) became known as a prophet, but his word was taken seriously by the group at Antioch, who immediately organized famine relief. Paul later refused his counsel, but his prophecy proved to be correct.

Then of course, there is Saul/Paul. It is important to note that not all of his instructions were as dramatic as his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (Ac.9). I don’t know why so many folks seem to think that is the one that should be normative. After he was committed to the Lord, it did not require such drastic measures to get his attention! The congregation at Damascus (9:24-45) sheltered, accepted, and nurtured Saul, and helped him escape the city. Barnabas enabled his acceptance by the other apostles (v.27). The Holy Spirit spoke to the prayer meeting in Antioch (Ac.13), to commission their first journey, and they were sent out by both the group (v.3) and the Spirit (v.4). During the trips, however, the “leading” seems to have been more a matter of necessity! When they were run out of one town, they went on to the next! The account of the second journey is interesting. The second trip was undertaken at Paul’s own initiative (Ac.15:36-41), and the Lord is neither blamed nor credited for the argument with Barnabas that resulted in their separation.

Wouldn’t you like to know how they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” to preach in Asia, and howthe spirit of Jesus would not allow” their next attempt, to Bithynia? It was only after these frustrations, that Paul “saw a vision” and his group “concluded that God had called” them to Macedonia. Interestingly, we are told that it was simply Paul’s annoyance (16:18) that precipitated the healing of the fortune-teller.
Later, another vision reassured him of the Lord’s protection in Corinth.

Honesty requires the conclusion that there are more questions than answers in the latest account. After two years in Ephesus (19:21), Paul “set out in the Spirit” to go through Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem. Both of those are in the opposite direction from Jerusalem. He was warned of trouble by many brethren (20:22, 21:4, 21:10), but consistently rejected their counsel. Yet he took the advice (21:18-26) of the elders in Jerusalem, which resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. Please note that in no case is either of these decisions attributed to “God’s will”! It is presented simply as narrative. Those who claim to explain it as “God’s plan”, cannot draw any direct evidence from the New Testament. It is clear, however, that the power of God was entirely adequate to use what may have been mistakes, or even just stubbornness, on the part of his devoted servant, for his good purposes. This should be an encouragement to us all!

Other disciples did allow themselves to be “led” by the counsel of brethren. Paul recruited Timothy (Ac.16:3), who was highly recommended by his home congregation, as an assistant and apprentice, and Silas, (Ac.15:40) who shared his second journey.
Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders” (Ac.14:3) in every new congregation, and urged Titus (Tit.1:5) to do likewise.
From Corinth, where he had met and worked with Aquila and Priscilla (Ac.18:1-3), Paul took them along to Ephesus, (18:18), where they in turn corrected the teaching of Apollos, preparing him for more responsible service, to which the Ephesian brethren subsequently recommended him.

So where does all this come out? The mandate (“call”), as we saw in #54, is to faithful Kingdom living. During this process, specific guidance can come in many ways: from the Lord himself, a vision, a messenger (heavenly or otherwise), brotherly counsel by either congregations or individuals, or merely through circumstance and opportunity.
Our job is simply to follow the instructions we already understand, remaining alert to more specific guidance through any of these sources.

May we do so faithfully!


Word Study #54 — Your/Our Calling

June 14, 2010

Many a faithful follower of Jesus has agonized over the concept of “God’s calling” on his life. This concern is exacerbated by the common declaration, “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” which is too frequently followed by threats about the dire consequences of an individual’s failure to find and follow a hypothetical, predetermined outline in precise detail. “Missing one’s calling” is a pervasive fear among many sincerely devoted disciples. This is another case where a careful survey of New Testament teaching provides both challenge and comfort.

There are seventeen different Greek words that traditional translators have occasionally rendered “call.” Seven of these refer exclusively to “naming” a person or place, or describing its characteristics. Five are simply summoning a person, or gathering a group, and one, epikaleo, describes appealing to or calling upon either God or some person in authority. Only four – and these not exclusively – are used concerning a call from God.
Kaleo (and its passive form, kaleomai), classically, was quite broad. Liddell/Scott lists “to call or summon, to invite to one’s home, to summon to court, to demand or require, or to call by name.”
Klesis, the noun form, could be simply one’s name or reputation, but also a summons, an invitation, or an invocation. L/S notes that only in the NT is it used as a “religious calling”, and in most instances, that is open to interpretation.
Kletos, the participle or adjective, refers to “anyone or anything that is invited, welcomed, called, or chosen.”
We will confine this study to the minority of references that are specifically designated as relating to God.

One of the most common references is to the Lord’s gracious invitation to join his Kingdom. Almost exclusively addressed in the plural, it nevertheless deals with one’s initial conversion. Rom.9:24,25 reminds us that this call extends equally to Jew and Gentile; and a lengthy section of I Cor.7:15-20, as well as I Cor.1:26, stresses that it reaches across all social barriers, the effects of which are summarily erased by that supreme commitment. Peter’s Pentecost sermon also opens the promise to “you, and your children, and those who are far off, whoever the Lord shall call” (Ac.2:39). Rom.1:6 includes “all who belong to Jesus”, and I Cor.1:9 speaks of being “called into (eis) the community [fellowship]” of God’s Son.

Other references highlight the expected effects of that calling:
Gal.5:13 – We are called into a liberty that excludes both bondage to the Law and the excesses of licentiousness.
Col.3:15 – As God’s chosen people, we are called in one Body, to peace (this statement follows a detailed description of the resultant life).
Heb.9:15 – By the provision of the New Covenant, which the writer compares to a duly executed will, the “called” receive a promised inheritance.
I Pet.3:9 – We are “called” to return blessing for cursing, and I Pet.2:21 – to endure patiently whatever suffering results from deliberately following Jesus’ example.
Those who are “called” simply see things differently (I Cor.1:24): they operate in a different sphere (Eph.4:1), with different standards. The life of those who are “called” is one of constant effort toward the goal of conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus (Phil.3:14), continually urged on to greater faithfulness (II Thess.1:11), taking care to become “neither lazy nor unfruitful” in the Kingdom (II Pet. 1:10).

It may surprise you to discover that in only 5 instances are any of the “called/calling” words applied to a single individual! Notice, please, that this count does not include Rom.1:1 and 1:7, or I Cor.1:1 and 1:2, where there is no verb in the text. Translators completely violated the meaning of those phrases when they inserted “to be” in each case, when the grammar of the text simply indicates naming – “called an apostle” and “called [saints] God’s people.”
The only places where a “call” is directed to a single individual are:
Heb.11:8 – Abraham was “called to go out”, and he obeyed.
Ac.13:2 – The Holy Spirit instructed the group at Antioch to send Paul and Barnabas out “for the job to which I’ve called [assigned] them.”
Ac.16:10 – After being “forbidden” to go several different places, and experiencing a vision, Paul and his companions “concluded that God had called us” to Macedonia.
Gal.1:15 – Paul recognizes that it was God’s call that halted his career of persecuting the church.
I Tim.6:12 – Paul urges his young apprentice to “grab hold of the eternal life (see W.S.#28) to which you were called.”

So yes: specific, individual “calling” does happen: but it is by no means the norm. Clearly, there are also other instances of specific instructions being given to individuals; but they are not labeled “calling” in the New Testament. We will look at some of these in the next post.    Please also see W.S. #12, “God’s will”.

But meanwhile, be encouraged! Your “calling” is to live faithfully as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom!
I Pet.2:9 – He has “called you all out of darkness, into his amazing light!”
I Thess.5:24 – “The one who is calling you is faithful!” and will enable us to live faithfully (v.23).
Rom.8:28 – “We know, then, that for those who keep on loving God, he keeps working everything together for good, for those who are being called according to his plan.”
II Tim.1:9 – “He delivered us, and called us with a holy calling … before time began!”

Eph.1:18 – “(I pray that) the eyes of your hearts may be flooded with light, so that you may know the confident expectation [hope] (that proceeds from) his calling!
If you are committed to Jesus’ Kingdom, and to faithfulness to him as King, you have not “missed your calling”! We just need to learn to follow instructions.
And as we saw in the last two posts, we have an excellent teacher for that effort.
Thanks be to God!


Word Study #53 — Spirit (Part 2)

June 8, 2010

Correcting some Misunderstandings

Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn.3:8), “The spirit [wind] blows where he [it] wishes; you hear his[its] voice [sound], but you don’t know where he [it] comes from and where he [it] is going.” So it should come as no surprise that some confusion should arise about the Spirit’s activity. Why else would John, later, as an old man, have deemed it necessary to give such careful instructions about discerning the provenance of things attributed to “the spirit” (I Jn.4:1-6)? There is no true spirit from God that does not acknowledge the Lord Jesus! This is the acid test.

With this in view, we will first consider several aspects of the Spirit’s assignment that Jesus himself introduced. In Jn.14:16, Jesus refers to the Spirit of Truth as a parakletos, which, unfortunately, was traditionally translated “comforter”, conjuring up the image of a fuzzy, “security-blankie” that will “make everything ok.” This is NOT what Jesus, (who, please remember, was soon to suffer torture and death), had in mind.  (See #138 for a more detailed treatment.)
The verb, parakaleo, from which the term is derived, refers to “calling or summoning a friend for support in a trial; to exhort or encourage; to demand or require; to intercede;” as well as “to comfort or console.” The noun, then, must refer to anyone so summoned. Parakaleo is worthy of a word-study on its own – which exercise I commend to you. After an exhaustive review of its more than 100 New Testament uses, one student remarked, “That sounds like my basketball coach!” He explained that the best coach for any sports team has an excellent knowledge of how the game should be played, and also knows his players. He trains them carefully, sometimes with a hug, and sometimes with a kick in the pants, whichever is appropriate for the the occasion! That has been one of my favorite images of the job of the Holy Spirit ever since. The Christian life is not about “how I feel”, or “where I end up.” It’s about learning to play faithfully and well, on the winning team!

The same passage contains the promise (v.17), “He is staying beside you, and will be en [in, among] you all.” The English translation, lacking a plural form of the word “you,” (see the introduction to The Pioneers’ New Testament, and W.S. #142), has led to a very privatistic interpretation of the “indwelling Holy Spirit,” completely ignoring the fact that in both cases, the “you” is plural. The same thing is true of Paul’s statement in I Cor.3:16, 17, and even more vividly in I Cor.6:19, where “body” is singular, but “your” is plural. This very likely indicates that the reference is to the composite Body of Christ, as much if not more than to an individual’s physical body. If the individual members of a group are intended, a different form, hekastos humon (each one of you) is used. Were we properly to appreciate the primacy of the Body of believers, as described in the New Testament (and chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom), I think we would have fewer problems with people claiming private “revelations” and going off on tangents. This is why I prefer the translation “among” to “in,” when the object is plural.

John’s report of Jesus’ discourse, continued in chapter 16, includes two more misused passages. We are frequently told that the Holy Spirit’s job is to “convict us of “sin.” Are you aware that Jesus never said that? Look carefully at v.8. “The world” is the object of that sentence. And Jesus goes on to say that it is because they are not faithful to him! Far too many sincere, but very mistaken people, take upon themselves the job of trying to “convict the world” – which is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility – and berate their fellow “believers” if the Holy Spirit hasn’t made them feel sufficiently “sinful”! (Please see Word Studies # 6, 7, and 121 for more on this subject.) This part of the Spirit’s work does NOT apply to those who are seeking to follow Jesus, but to the uncommitted.

His work with respect to faithful disciples is outlined in 16:13-15. Here, it is the preposition that is misunderstood. He is to lead us “in (en) all truth(fulness).” En has no directional implications. It has a dative (static) object. Please see #182 for more detail on this distinction.The directional kind of “in” [into] is represented by eis, which requires an accusative object. Jesus is talking to people who are already committed to him, who are already “in the truth” (and we have seen that Jesus himself is equated with that truth (W.S.#26). The rest of the paragraph presents the “course syllabus” for the Spirit’s teaching. “Signing up” is the beginning, not the end. There is much for the believer to learn.

Finally, consider the many accounts recorded in Acts of disciples being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” to put to rest once and for all the arguments about whether this is a single occurrence at conversion, or if it happens with baptism, or at some subsequent time. The evidence leads to the choice “all of the above” – and more! It should be obvious that at least some of the group “filled” at the prayer meeting described in Ac.4:8 had also been present at Pentecost. Had they been “missed” the first time? I don’t think so. They needed help with another challenge. For the folks in Samaria (Ac.8) it was subsequent to their conversion and baptism. For Cornelius and his group, it was before they had been baptized. In Ephesus, Paul apparently sensed something missing, and the gift came even later (Ac.19). Peter and Stephen both seem to have received an extra “booster shot” several times when needed.

It is past time for God’s people to stop trying to program the Holy Spirit to fit their theological or denominational agendas, and welcome him whenever, wherever, and however he shows up! And the more the better! We’ve been graciously given instructions for recognizing him when he comes, and for avoiding the counterfeits that are still rampant in our world.
Jesus has triumphed, but his team still needs coaching, until the final “whistle.” He has provided a “Coach” who knows the game plan very well.

(Did you know the “game” even has an umpire? The only use of brabeuo (classically, “to judge or act as umpire”) in the New Testament, is in Col.3:15: it is the “peace of Christ” that holds that position among his people!)

Our job is to learn from the Coach – welcome the rulings of the Umpire – and give all our energy to the game!

All glory and honor to King Jesus!


Word Study #52 — Spirit (Part 1)

June 8, 2010

A General Survey

Arguably the most profound discovery in our years of working on the word “spirit” can be summed up very simply: “There is no easy, succinct summary!”
The classical uses of pneuma are varied. Its earliest appearance in literature, according to Liddell/Scott, is in the ancient tragic dramas, where it referred to a blast of wind. Later, Thucydides used it of both a breeze, and an influence. Hippocrates and other physicians used it for the “breath of life” (at either the beginning or the end), for ordinary respiration, and even for flatulence! Others referred to any odor, to the “breath” (grammatically) with which a Greek vowel is pronounced, an immaterial being (including people who had died), or the rhetorician’s declamation of a sentence in a single breath.
The LXX used it of both the “spirit of God” and the “spirit of a man”, and Plato of divine inspiration.
Bauer adds that in non-Biblical literature the reference was to “what lives after death in the underworld,” or what one “gives up” at death. It was considered the source of insight, feelings, and will – a part of the human personality separate from either sarx (flesh) or soma (body). Both Bauer and Thayer then launch into lengthy descriptions of theological disputes, but these have nothing to do with the etymology of the word, or its usage in the New Testament. They are later interpretations.

The New Testament uses pneuma in three primary ways: the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, and evil or unclean spirits. There are also a few references (Lk.24:37, 39; Heb.12:23, I Pet.3:19) that could be interpreted in a more “ghostly” fashion.
Most of the references to evil or unclean spirits are in gospel accounts of Jesus banishing them (at least 29 times), or entrusting his disciples with the authority to do so, and similar situations in Acts (at least 7), although several epistles also warn against “seducing spirits” (I Tim.4:1), “deceptive spirits” (II Thes.2:2), “another spirit” (II Cor.11:4), and a “spirit of bondage” (Rom.8:15). John (I Jn.4:1-6) gives careful instructions for determining the validity of “spiritual” claims, which folks today would still be wise to heed, with regard to all the “spirituality” talk going around: “Any spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus, is not from God”! In the Revelation, reference is also made to spirits connected with the “animal/beast” that opposes God. The most important thing to derive from all of these is the proclamation – and demonstration – that none of them is capable of standing against the Lord Jesus or his representatives!!!

All too often, people want to sort everything into an influence or activity of either the Holy Spirit or evil spirits, forgetting that it is often necessary to deal simply with the human spirit (about 40 times in the NT), which may, but need not, be influenced by either one. It is simply a part of human individuality, and people must choose, many times throughout life, to what sort of spirit they will subject their own! Paul speaks of “serving God with my spirit” (Rom.1:9), of being “present with you in spirit” (I Cor.5:3), of having his “spirit refreshed” (II Cor.7:13) by the faithfulness of brethren. He admonishes his readers to be “fervent in spirit” (Rom.12:11). In I Cor.2:11, he refers specifically to the “spirit of man”, and there are many more such instances. Many refer to people’s attitudes, inclinations, or dispositions (I Cor.4:21, I Pet.3:4, Gal.6:1), or simply to the end of their lives (Mt.27:50, Jn.19:30, Lk.8:55, Ac.7:59).

The KJV translators tried to solve the ambiguity problem by (usually, not always) changing the word to “Ghost” when it appeared with hagios (holy). In the instances where pneuma appears with only the definite article (“the”), the context usually makes the reference fairly obvious. These provide descriptions, definitions, and demonstrations of the Holy Spirit.

Descriptive designations usually include a genitive case which denotes the source or possession of the spirit. They include: “The Spirit of God” (at least 19 times, including Mt.3:16, Rom.8:9,14; I Cor.3:16, 6:11, 7:40, and references to “the seven spirits of God” in Rev.1:4, 3:1, and 4:5); “the Spirit of Jesus” (Phil.1:19); “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom.8:9); the Spirit of the Father (Mt.10:20); “the Spirit of the Lord” (Lk.4:18); and “the spirit of the living God” (II Cor.3:3). Others reflecting his activity include “the spirit of life” (Rom.8:2), “the spirit of adoption” (Rom.8:15), “the spirit of truth” (Jn.14 and 16); “the spirit of wisdom” (Eph.1:17), and “the spirit of promise” (Eph.1:13).

Jesus provided several definitions, including Jn.4:24 “God is spirit”, Jn.6:63 “The spirit makes alive”, “the words that I am speaking are spirit and life”, and “the Spirit of truth” in Jn.14 and 16. Paul echoes a similar understanding in Rom.8:10, “the Spirit is life”. In II Cor.1:22 he explains that the Spirit is a down-payment, or guarantee, of the believer’s inheritance, and states plainly in II Cor.3:7, “the Lord is the spirit.” These together give clear indications of the intimate connection of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, as Peter explained in his Pentecost sermon (Ac.2:33). This is not to provoke trinitarian arguments – for one perspective on that subject, please see chapter 2 of Citizens of the Kingdom. I am not sure that most such arguments contribute much to faithful living.

We glean the best idea of the Spirit’s nature and intentions by observing demonstrations of his activity. Although the Holy Spirit was active in the ancient prophets (see Stephen’s sermon in Ac.7),the agent of Jesus’ birth (Mt.1 and Lk.1), the sign to John the Baptist of Jesus’ identity (Mt.3:16, Mk.1:10), and Jesus referred to his “anointing” in his “inaugural address”(Lk.4:18), he was not readily available to most people while Jesus was on earth (Jn.7:39). Jesus promised his coming, and explained the purpose as (Mt.13:11, Lk.12:12) to provide necessary words of testimony when on trial, and (Jn.14:26) to teach and remind disciples of all that Jesus had said. The over-riding purpose (Jn.16:14) is the glory of Jesus!
After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit really got busy! He (Ac.2:4)– “gave the disciples things to say”, (2:17-18) — enables all God’s people to prophesy, (9:2 )– gave specific instructions to Philip (and even carried him off once – 8:35!), (10:11) — coached Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, (11:28 and 21:11) – sent messages through Agabus, (16:6,7) – changed Paul’s travel plans, (4:8) – empowered Peter’s speech before the council, and much more.
The epistles explain some of the activity in greater detail. In Rom.8, we learn that in addition to providing evidence that we belong to Jesus (also II Cor.3:6 and Eph.1:3), he is available to (Rom.8:4-13) empower and regulate the Christian life (v.4 – enabling behavior far beyond mere human capability). This is also documented in I Cor.6:11, II Cor.6:6, and Eph.3:16. He creates unity in the brotherhood (Eph.4:3 and Phil.2:1) – even uniting Jew and Gentile, which “everybody knew” was impossible (Eph.2:18) – and provides “gifts” (see W.S.#25) for its maintenance and growth. He expects us to work at that job as well, exercising those gifts (I Cor.12:4-13) for the benefit of all, and teaching one another (Eph.5:18).
It is only by his power that a believer can stand before Caesar – or any other gods of nationalism – and declare his superior allegiance to Jesus and his Kingdom (see W.S. #4), even when it may cost him his life (I Cor.12:3).
He fills the hearts of his people with the love of God (Rom.5:5), and reassures us that we belong to him (Rom.9:1), creating “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom.14:17).
His presence transforms life, gradually removing all traces of the old ways (I Cor.6:11), and recreating it in the image of Jesus (Gal.5:15-25).

He enables continual prayer (Jude 20), and when we are at a loss to know how to pray, steps in and does it for us (Rom.8:26)!
He creates, enables, and sustains our life in Christ!

Thanks be to God!