Monday, September 28, 2009

When "Head" Doesn't Mean "Source"

A blogger I follow closely is John Hobbins.  He posted an intriguing (and controversial) blog post about the meaning of kephalē (κεφαλή, “head”) as used by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 and Eph. 5 on his blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  He calls (by citing the NIDB article by Max Turner) for a meaning of "head" instead of "source" which has tended to be the way for contemporary society (whether egalitarian or complementatian or anything in between) to avoid the issue and make Paul say whatever they want to hear him say instead of allowing him to say whatever it is that he actually said.  It is refreshing to read such posts and also a challenge to not make the biblical writers say what we want to hear, but to hear what they say.

Note the comments on his blog where people happily attack this proposal! :-)  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Before You Pray...

I found it amazing to read Karl Barth's "Prayer" and find that he does not begin his discussion of prayer with the "how," "why," or "what," (as important as those matters may be) but with the answer!  This was shocking to me (though in all honesty it shouldn't have been).  What does he mean by stating that we begin with the answer and not with the questions?  Well, our questions (more often than not) are actually not straightforward questions, but attempts to skirt the heart of the matter.  When we question God (which I believe Scripture teaches clearly that God welcomes while also confronting this) we must be willing firstly to hear the answer.  And the answer is 'YES!' 

But this 'YES' is the 'YES' to the question posed (and necessarily answered) by God Himself (2 Corinthians 1:19-20).  It is the 'YES' that is found in Christ Jesus, but it is also an emphatic 'no' to our sins and our sinful and deceitful nature.  The 'YES' and the 'no' are bound up in God's Self-giving Love: incarnation, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and coming again.  Thus, his 'YES' (and 'no') is only to be identified in Christ Jesus.  This is what is meant by "praying in Jesus' name" (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26), instead of simply as the conclusion often thoughtlessly tacked onto the end of our prayers.

In Jesus Christ, we find all our prayers answered with this YES (or AMEN if you prefer to sound more spiritual :-).  In Jesus Christ, prayer is offered according to God's good and perfect will and not according to our own desires and plans.  In Jesus Christ, all our questions are taken up in the question He poses to us, "Who do you say that I am?" and we must answer with Peter (being led by the Holy Spirit), "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:15-16).
In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, he begins with "Our Father..." (Matthew 6:9), because all prayer that is genuine prayer begins with the 'YES' of Jesus our Lord and Savior.  The relation of God as "our Father" is not accomplished except through faith in Jesus His One and Only Son.  Our relation to the Father is only as our "Father" because of our relationship with (and 'in') Christ.  We can pray in faith with assurance, because Jesus prayed (and continually prays) for us...and not only does he continue to make intercession for us, but His Spirit does so in and through us (Romans 8:26-27, 34).  His Spirit testifies that we are indeed in Christ and therefore are heard and the answer is...YES!  Praise His Glorious Name!!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sneezing as a Testimony

This last Sunday I gave a testimony in church that may seem a little unusual (but hey...that is kind of my M.O.).  I thanked God that I sneezed this last weekend.  Everyone kind of laughed probably thinking (as you do) that thanking God for sneezing is silly.  It's not...let me tell you.  The reason I give thanks for sneezing is because I haven't sneezed in over a month.  The end of July I fractured my nose and dislocated my septum (by punching myself in the face...long story and if you really want the details email me and I'll give them to you).  I then had surgery to fix my nose, which by the way leaves a person in extreme I can't recommend anyone getting a nose-job just for vanity, but I must admit my nose looks good now :-). 
Anyways, I was not allowed to sneeze while my nose was healing and I certainly wasn't going to sneeze before this (not that we usually have any choice about the matter, but you get the gist).  So I hadn't sneezed in a month and last week I had my final check-up for my nose and got the good report that everything looks good.  Then this weekend while driving home from Minneapolis (went to a Vikings game where they lost it in the last couple minutes) suddenly...I sneezed!  And it didn't feel hurt.  It was just a little discomforting.  YAY for sneezing. 

Why do I bring this up here?  Because there is even a story in Scripture where a sneeze (7 to be precise) was a testimony to healing.  In 2 Kings 4 there is an account of Elisha who visits a Shunammite woman whom God miraculously gives a son.  Then the son one day suddenly has a pain in his head, is carried to his mother, where he dies in her lap.  The mother sends for Elisha, but Elisha sends his servant Gehazi on ahead with Elisha's staff to place on the boy and bring about the boys healing.  It doesn't work.  Elisha arrives and when he does he shuts himself in with the dead boy, prays and even lays himself on top of the child...the child "warms", but is not brought back.  Then we read the following:
Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes! (2Ki 4:35 NLT -- emphasis mine)
The boy is raised to life and this is testified to by his sneezing!  So I've discovered that sneezing can indeed be a wonderful testimony.  Again...PRAISE THE LORD FOR SNEEZING!

Monday, September 07, 2009

We Confess What We Do Not Know

Yesterday I shared in church about the failure of our confession of Who God is and the glory that is due Him and then today when I checked my email I found a wonderful article by John Armstrong about the limitations of our knowledge and explanation of God.  Whatever it is that we affirm concerning God must include what we deny.  Gregory Nazianzen rightly proclaimed, "how do you describe the Essence of God? Not by declaring what it is, but by rejecting what it is not."  St. Basil echoes the same sentiment when he writes, “We confess that we know what is knowable of God and yet what we know reaches beyond our comprehension.”

Particularly when we speak of the very essence of God, we must also recognize that all our descriptions fall far short of His Glory.  Sometimes I fear that we in the church have created such neat and tidy theologies that we forget that the God of Whom we speak is indescribable and beyond comprehension.  The LORD does not fit into a nice little dogmatic statement (though we rightly confess the historic creeds with all the Church), we must never fail to recognize that every confession must entail a confession of falling short of His Glory.  It is such a wonderful thing that the LORD of all should condescend to make Himself known through the record of His covenantal relation to and with humanity (and particularly Israel) and not only that...He took on flesh and became one of us...Immanuel.  Praise His Name!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Maacah the "mother" of Abijah and Asa

The Problem
Recently I was chatting with a fellow who proposed that there may be an error in the Scriptures.  So in the course of the conversation he shared what he thought was the error and I've worked through what I think are some possible solutions to the apparent error (being someone who loves a challenge, believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and just plain old loves to study the Bible).  So I thought I'd blog my thoughts about this...for whatever its worth.

Here is the problem: 1 Kings 15:2 says Maacah was the "mother" of Abijah and 1 Kings 15:10 says Maacah was the "mother" (depending on what English translation you look at because some say "grandmother") of Asa--Abijah's son.
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah.  He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:1-2 NAS) 
So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah.
And he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:9-10 NAS)

Option 1- The term for "mother" may also mean "grandmother" since there are no other words available for referring to a grandmother.

The term in the Hebrew (אֵם) for 'mother' has a wider possible meaning than simply 'mother', it can also be applied to the matriarch of the family (grandmother, etc.), just as the Hebrew for "father" can also be applied to an ancestor that stands in the lineage of the family without being the specific/anatomical birth-father of the individual named (immediate context and the wider Scriptural context will normally shed light on which it is).

Besides of which, there does not appear to be a Biblical Hebrew word for "grandmother" besides אֵם which means just means "mother", but has (only in this immediate context) the wider meaning of "grandmother". So unless it can be demonstrated that the Hebrew of the Old Testament era has another specific word for "grandmother" I would say that אֵם is the appropriate term to refer to each -- mother and grandmother.  This works just the same as אָב means "father" "grandfather" "great-grandfather" etc. There is only this one word for "father", "grandfather" in the OT Hebrew (so far as I can tell). So context is the only possible aid in helping to know just what is being meant by the single word which appears to have been the ONLY word possible.

Thus, there are translations which reflect "grandmother" in 15:10 (NIV, NLT, NET) -- understanding אֵם to mean "grandmother" in this context.  But there are others (KJV, NAS, NRSV, ESV) that retain the reading as "mother" and choose to not try to resolve the possible difficulty posed by Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and Abijam's son Asa.  So perhaps other options should be considered as well.

Option 2 - The name of Asa's "mother" was Ana and not Maacah.

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) in 1 Kings 15:10 actually lists the 'name of his [Asa's] mother' as "Ana daughter of Abishalom" instead of "Maacah daughter of Abishalom" which is what the Hebrew Masoretic text reads.  All the English translations (ESV, KJV, NIV, NRSV, NAS, NET, NLT) I've looked at take the former (Maacah) reading for 1 Kings 15:10...thus believing that the Masoretic text (being the more difficult reading and therefore the easiest to explain the smoothing towards changing the name to "Ana" found in the LXX) is the preferred reading...whether they chose "mother" or "grandmother" the idea would be that the Masoretic text preserves the original text here (which is most likely and would also be in agreement with the Masoretic and LXX reading of 2 Chronicles 15:16 with the name 'Maacah' as the "mother" of Asa).  The fact that the LXX only changed the name in 1 Kings 15:10, but not in 2 Chronicles 15:16 speaks more to questions (at least for me) about the texual tradition of the LXX than it does about the dilemma at hand.  So I would say that the suggestion that "Ana" was the mother of Asa is to be rejected and we are still left trying to resolve Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and his son Asa.

Option 3 - Maacah actually raised Asa as her son (even though he was her grandson by birth) because the mother was out of the picture for some unexplained reason. 

This is actually not a strange option, since everyone would agree that even a child who is not biologically a son or daughter may be adopted by someone and therefore have a new "mother" or "father".  Joseph being the "father" of Jesus is a perfect example.  So perhaps Maacah acted as the "mother" of Asa and therefore held the rightful name of "mother".  all adoptive parents understand that being a "mother" or "father" of a child is far more than biological.

Option 4 - Maacah was his birth mother, thus the writer of Kings would be implying that Abijam (Asa's father) slept with his own mother, got her pregnant and she ended up giving birth to Asa. 

Thus, she would physically/anatomically be the "mother" of each of them. Often the writer of Kings records activities without offering any specific critique of the rightness or wrongness, but simply reports certain incidences and allows the light of the Torah (Lev.18:6-7) to declare the rightness or wrongness of something.  This may indeed be one of those cases.


Option 2 seems to betray a difficulty in the text of the LXX concerning the transmission of Kings (since Chronicles retains the reading of Maacah as "mother" of Asa) and therefore should be rejected out of hand.  Options 1, 3, and 4 are actually--in my opinion--viable options given the nature of the text and authors and the lexicography (semantic possibilities) of words.  I did at one point leans towards option one (with option 3 as slightly less likely), but currently find option 4 to be the most probable...given the way that the author of Kings has again and again offered the readers a story reflecting the sinful ways of Judah and Israel (and may give further justification for the removal of his "mother" Maacah from a place of prestige and authority beyond her public support and financing of idolatry -- see 1 Kings 15:13).

Perhaps there are even other options which I've over-looked.  If so please feel free to comment on that.  Also, I'd be interested in any thoughts on this subject whether positive or negative.  Or perhaps you don't care and you are thinking, "Rick has WAY too much time on his hands"... :-)