Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey

I backed out of writing this series about those biblical passages about women in ministry not too long ago. It wasn’t because the evidence is hard to find or interpret, but it was partly because I had so little hope of anybody listening. They’d agree, I assumed, if they already held an opinion that they saw me affirming, and they’d disagree if they saw me affirming a view they didn’t already hold. The evidence rarely seems to really matter on this issue. People will find a way – any way – to make it fit an ideology. What would be the point of writing about this? But here I am, venturing into that series.

After a cautionary introduction post on what I am about to do (which I insist you read before you read this blog post), this is the first of my blog explorations of the contentious biblical passages about men and women in the church. Any comments you make on this post or any posts in this series must conform to the guidelines I gave in that cautionary post. Talk about the evidence and the issue strictly defined by the blog post. That’s all I’m prepared to allow. Behave or I’ll kick you out. I’m deliberately being boring so as to discourage the elements that make this issue frustrating.

Why would I want to be boring? Here is why: You will probably have seen people who get caught up sharing exciting links on social media about scientific issues. Vaccines cause autism! The earth is flat! Homeopathy cures cancer! Climate change isn’t happening! Quoting what people have said, citing anecdotes, attributing evil motives, citing cultural or traditional pressure, complaining about vested interest – these are all the sorts of things that fly thick and fast in discussions about theories like these. What is less common is the boring approach of slowly, slowly, slowly checking every relevant piece of data. It is not sexy. It does not make for good Buzzfeed articles. But if you want to know what is true and what is false when it comes to the theories that should only be formed after the ponderous work has been done, this is how you do it. The boring way. I am going to write several blog posts about the meaning of one Greek word, kephalē. Fun times.

Alright. Here we go.

Continue reading “Kephalē in the New Testament: A survey”

Jesus, Son of Joseph, Son of David

With Christmas nearly upon us, here’s another foray into the birth of Jesus. How was he the “Son of David” if Joseph, the descendant of David, wasn’t really his father?

Biblical prophecy foretold that a descendant of David would rule on his father’s (David’s) throne and rebuild the fallen tabernacle of David. From the beginning, the Christian movement has claimed that this descendant is Jesus, who was miraculously born to Mary, a young virgin, and her betrothed husband Joseph.

Here is the lineage of Joseph from the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. We’ll start with King David, since the issue here is Jesus’ relationship to David: Continue reading “Jesus, Son of Joseph, Son of David”

Vengeance is Mine: A Biblical smackdown on vigilante justice

When confronted with repugnant crimes against other people – especially those we care about – is it right to take matters into our own hands and violently repay those who have wronged us or those we care about? Is there a particular answer to this question that we can call biblical? Continue reading “Vengeance is Mine: A Biblical smackdown on vigilante justice”

St Paul and Premillennialism

If St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is all true, then premillennialism is false.

My non-religious readers may have no idea what I’m talking about. I can sympathise. I think (but I could be wrong) that this might be the first time I have ever written about this subject at the blog. I stopped thinking about arguments over things like the “millennium,” the “rapture,” the “great tribulation” and the like some time ago. It’s interesting in a way, don’t get me wrong, but after thinking about theology for some years now those things just feel like they belong in the toybox of Christian theology. That’s not to say there are no truths associated with them, it’s just that they remind me so much of sensational books and relatively pointless squabbles between seminary men in tweed jackets with patches on the elbows in journals like Bibliotheca Sacra in the 70s and 80s (not that I was around when these things happened – I was born in 1975). And yet, it’s a serious subject within Evangelical theology and deserves to be taken seriously when coming to terms with Evangelical theology.

The subject of premillennialism was raised in a recent discussion, and I made the comment that I think St Paul’s view expressed in the first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15), if true, would rule premillennialism out altogether. Somebody asked me why I thought this, and here you are, reading my answer. I’ll unpack the terminology as we go. Continue reading “St Paul and Premillennialism”

The Tongues of Men and Angels: Tongues part 1

“Speaking in tongues”? It may sound like gobbledygook, but some people think they are speaking in the language of angels, whatever that is. Are they right?

The last century (give or take a couple of decades) saw the birth of a new movement within Evangelicalism. The Pentecostal phenomenon is now ubiquitous in world Christianity, including within the mainstream churches (where it is more often called a “charismatic renewal,” with the term “Pentecostal” used to describe denominations marked by charismatic practice and theology). I have commented on some aspects of the movement before, in particular its belief in the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I’m going to write a couple of articles on the distinctive Pentecostal / charismatic phenomenon of “speaking in tongues,” regarded with suspicion by some within the wider church, with amusement by those outside, but widely viewed as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit by insiders. It seems all the more appropriate that I should publish the first instalment in this series today, on Pentecost Sunday! Continue reading “The Tongues of Men and Angels: Tongues part 1”

Nuts and Bolts 014: Relational Subordination Within the Trinity

In this instalment of the Nuts and Bolts series I thought I’d offer an outline of an issue that I was reminded of by some articles suggested to me recently. That issue is the Trinitarian notion of the subordination of the Son to the Father.

In one of these articles (by Ben Witherington), the writer denied that Christians ever believed in the eternal submission of Jesus the Son to his Father until 1977, when this “novel” suggestion was first made. I had to look twice to make sure I was reading it right! But there it was, this claim that simply flies in the face of historical fact. In context it was patently obvious that the goal of the article was not actually to explore or explain historical theology, but to make a claim for a position on a hot-button issue about gender and church (the claim was made that this doctrine was invented in 1977 to justify the oppression of women). The horse was before the cart, and theology in general was being re-read for the sake of a modern conflict. It’s the kind of thing that troubles me greatly, when people appear to approach an issue in theology with one eye looking back over their shoulder at a cultural issue where they feel obliged to come out on the “safe” side of an issue in the modern world, and the cultural pressure they are facing ends up controlling the theological outcome they reach. In light of the fact that such things go on all the time, I thought it would be a good idea to say a word or two to explain the historically orthodox view of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Whether you believe it or not is another matter, as is the question of what implications you think it has, but all I really want to do here is to explain that it really is a historically orthodox perspective, and has very plausible biblical support.

Continue reading “Nuts and Bolts 014: Relational Subordination Within the Trinity”

Episode 038: Zeitgeist

At the request of a couple of listeners, this episode is a response to the documentary: Zeitgeist.

As I promised in the episode, here are a few links.

First, a link to some astronomical illustrations: http://www.tracer345.org/zeitgeist.html

And here are the links to my three part blog series on evidence for the historical Jesus outside the New Testament, as promised:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You might also find it helpful to check out my previous blogs on copycat theories about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

A non material body?

Here’s an argument I’ve seen from time to time in theological circles, but it never becomes more plausible, no matter how many times I see it.

One of the apparently embarrassing doctrines of Christianity is the resurrection of the dead. That dead people could return to physical life by a miracle of God is utterly absurd to many. Apparently it’s absurd to a number of people who say they believe the teaching of the New Testament as well. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example say that they believe in an immaterial invisible “spiritual” resurrection. Mind you, they only had to start teaching that when Jesus failed to return in 1914 as the WatchTower society predicted, so they had to start saying that He did…. invisibly! But what about the resurrection that was supposed to happen? Well, they said, that is happening too. Invisibly.

Then there is a wee group called “full preterists,” who also believe in an invisible, immaterial resurrection, that started happening in AD70 or thereabouts. We will never again have a physical body, say these people, and we will be better off as non physical beings forever.

But how do people like this who claim to adhere to the teaching of the New Testament get around what the New Testament says, namely that there will be a bodily resurrection? Well, here’s one way. They point out that 1 Corinthians chapter 15 says that we currently have a “natural” body, but at the resurrection we will have a “spiritual” body, showing that we will be immaterial.

This view of the biblical teaching has literally nothing going for it. In the first place, a body that is not physical is not a body, just like a drink that’s not liquid is not a drink.

But secondly, this view involves importing highly dualistic concepts into texts that really don’t contain them at all. The assumption being made is that the word “spiritual” just means “immaterial.” But in the writing of the Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians, we know this is just not true at all. In fact, we can see this in 1 Corinthians itself. have a look at 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

The natural (psuchikos) man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual (pneumatikos) man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.

The Greek words for “natural” and “spiritual” here are psuchikos and pneumatikos, respectively, the same words used in 1 Corinthians 15 when talking about the present natural body and the future spiritual body. Notice that the Apostle Paul is talking about living people in 1 Corinthians 2. What is the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man? Is one physical, and the other immaterial? This is clearly not what is meant. But if this is so, why should we assume that “spiritual” means “immaterial” when it comes to the resurrection?

The contrast in 1 Corinthians 15 is not one of physical and immaterial. It is one of “mortal” and “immortal.” “Corrupt” and “incorruptible.” Spirituality is about being right relation with your creator, not about being made of different stuff.

James, the brother of Jesus and son of Joseph

Call me slow, but until today I had never heard of the ossuary of James. The what? It’s an ornate box that contains pieces of bone from deceased love ones. This one dates to around AD sixty something, and features the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

It’s fairly obvious why this ruffles some Catholic feathers. Mary, Joseph’s wife, is said to have been a virgin her whole life by the Catholic Church, and James, one of Jesus’ “brothers,” is said to have been a cousin. Some Catholics have chimed in with anyone who says that it is a forgery, but the evidence doesn’t look good for them here, and here the claim of a forgery is debunked. I guess Mary’s first name isn’t “The Virgin” after all. But then, a lot of people have been saying that for a while. They’re called Protestants.