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”

With the spirit and with understanding: Tongues part 2

This is part two of a series on “speaking in tongues.” In part one I looked at the idea that there’s an angelic language, and those who speak in “tongues” might be speaking in the language of angels. There really wasn’t any good evidence that St Paul thought that way. However, most of what he wrote about speaking in other languages appears in 1 Corinthians 14, so that’s where we’re going to look in this article. I’m going to walk through part of that chapter here. Some people think that St Paul described speaking in tongues as the gift of speaking in a spiritual language that we do not understand, as a way of building ourselves up spiritually. Those who think this way, I maintain, need to read Paul a bit more carefully. Continue reading “With the spirit and with understanding: Tongues part 2”

St Paul Quoted the Gospel of Luke

As far as I can tell, St Paul quoted from the written Gospel of Luke. And since St Paul died in AD 67 or thereabouts, the Gospel of Luke must be younger than that. I’ve also reached the conclusion that what “critical scholars” say to overturn this observation is a whole lot of not very much based on even less.

Continue reading “St Paul Quoted the Gospel of Luke”

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”

Tom Wright and James White on Paul and Justification

Back on the 9th of February 2013, Tom Wright and James White discussed / debated the issue of justification in the writings of St Paul on the Unbelievable? Radio show, hosted by Justin Brierley. The discussion was titled What did St Paul Really Say? Thanks to the efforts of my friend Roy Soliman who transcribed this, the transcript of that discussion is now available here at Right Reason.

The transcript is in the articles section.

And you can listen to the episode over at Unbelievable?

Enjoy!

Paul, Genesis and Gender

How did St Paul read the creation story?

There are a couple of ways of reading the two creation stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Actually there are probably quite a few ways, but I’m interested in two ways just now. I’ll call these two ways the “literal” way and the “didactic” way, as one of these ways treats the creation stories as primarily serving the function of recounting literal history just like modern historians do, and the other way treats the main function of the creation stories as teaching truths about God, God’s relationship to human beings and our place in the world, using the story as a medium of doing so.

Continue reading “Paul, Genesis and Gender”

Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep

He’s right about a lot of things, but soul sleep isn’t one of them.

Tom Wright’s scholarly writing on the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the dead is praiseworthy for a number of reasons. He has alerted the evangelical community to the unfortunate way in which popular theologies of “going to heaven” are eclipsing the biblical hope of the resurrection to eternal life. But he does have one major weak spot, in my view, and that is the rather poor treatment of the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the view that people do not experience any conscious intermediate state of waiting between death and resurrection. They are wholly dead until God steps in and raises them back to life. Continue reading “Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep”

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.