Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Turn the Other Cheek"

Over the last two of weeks, I have been spending a lot of time studying “The Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s Gospel. I would like to share some of the interesting insights I have gained from this study.

Anyone who has grown up in the church has heard this teaching of Jesus over and over again. I know that I am guilty of reading through this and saying to myself “yes, I know this; this is old hat…move on.” We all read over these passages and have probably highlighted favorite parts of Jesus teaching…but are we listening to what he is saying here?

For example; Jesus’ teaching in what is known as “the Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3-12); this teaching of our Lord stresses humility (v.5) and endurance in the face of persecution because of our faith in Jesus (…on account of Me.” v.11). But note how Matthew arranges Jesus’ teaching towards the end of chapter 5, specifically verses 38-39 where it is written “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

What is going on here?

What is Jesus quoting from when he says “…An eye for an eye…”?

Look at Leviticus 24:17-22 which in my Bible is headed with the title “An Eye for an Eye” and when you read v. 20 it is written “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.” But for the followers of Second Temple Judaism in the day of Jesus’ teaching, could this rule of “eye for eye” have been being abused by persons wanting to be justified under the over 600 extant rules included in the teaching of Torah? Is it possible that in the minds of some of the Pharisees’ they hoped to bring salvation from Rome by their own piety and zeal; over-did rule-following, and committed evil deeds in the name of “eye-for-eye”?

Remember that in Ancient Rome a high priority was placed on one’s honor. But is there any difference in our society today?

What of Jesus’ teaching here; when insulted, (“slapped”) we should allow another insult? (the other cheek?) Really, shouldn’t we “stand up for ourselves?” If nothing else, don’t we get the chance to tell our “side of the story” when others talk badly of us?

Listen to what Dr Craig Keener writes, from his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (1999):

…A disciple must be so secure in his or her status before God that he or she can dispense with human honor. Such a person need not avenge lost honor because this person seeks God’s honor rather than his or her own…If their lives are forfeit when they begin to follow Jesus (16:24-27) they have no honor of their own to lose. (p 198)

And just in case you don’t get around to looking up Matthew 16: 24-27, I’ll write it for you here:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me, For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.”

This idea of honor-shame and losing ones own soul; is not some simple, glossed over teaching of Jesus.

Are we so bound to save our honor that we would lose our souls striving to win the world?

And Paul wrote “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Father in Heaven, these are tough teachings that my fallen nature fights against. When my possible livelihood may be in the balance; I ask that you help me to look to you, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Please give me the strength to take up my cross and follow you…no matter what the cost, take the slap and offer the other cheek. In Jesus’ name I pray; Amen.


Craig Keener (1999) Comentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review: Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis

Douglas Groothuis. (2011) Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

You know, I had decided that this week I would post a quote from Doug Groothuis’ new textbook Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (2011) but I have decided to do more than that; this is a review.

Now I am not yet a professor (though that is my plan) but perhaps as a budding Apologist for the Christian faith, and a lover of the “love of Wisdom” my advice might be useful to others in the positions I would like to someday hold.

This is a wonderful, thought provoking text; and this textbook has been worth the wait…there is chapter after chapter of discussion enabling reading that I believe will enliven any classroom. There is room for nods of agreement and moments of hand-raising questions, and areas of disagreement and continued discussion. I could come up with a host of challenging questions to throw out to a classroom in each chapter…and it highlights areas I’d like to do further reading in my own studies.

And as I planned to, here is a quote from the introduction that will give you a “taste” of what you can look forward to in this text. Douglas Groothuis writes:

What if hope cannot extend beyond human endeavor itself and is never answered by anything beyond it? What if the millennia of human cries echo only into the empty sky and not further? That possibility must be faced if the quest itself is to have any meaning. In the end, hope without truth is pointless. Illusions and delusions, no matter how comforting or grandiose, are the enemies of those who strive for integrity in their knowing and being. Statements such as “I like to think of the universe as having a purpose” or “The thought of an afterlife gives me peace” reflect mere wishes. These notions do not address the truth or falsity of there being purpose in the world or of our postmortem survival, because there is no genuine claim to knowledge: a warranted awareness of reality as it is. A hearty, sturdy and insatiable appetite for reality—whatever it might be—is the only engine for testing and discerning truth. (p.16)

And that gives an idea of the caliber of writing you have to look forward to while reading this text.

Chapters include topics such as: “The Biblical Basis for Apologetics” and “The Christian World View” in Part One, “The Ontological Argument” and “Origins, Design and Darwinism” in Part Two, and finally in Part Three chapters on “Religious Pluralism” and “Apologetics and the Challenge of Islam” and of course a chapter on “The Problem of Evil.”

I have not given you the complete table of contents, but you can get an idea of the topics covered.

As I have found with Doug’s other books; this is a challenging, but enjoyable read…which is rare in a classroom textbook.

And if you were wondering, no I haven’t finished reading the whole text…at 731 pages at the end of the bibliography; I can’t read that fast…but I will finish the whole thing…promise.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Call of Levi, Part Two.

Luke 5: 33-39

33 And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same; but Yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? 35 But the day will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” 36 And He was also telling them a parable; “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins 39 and no one after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says ‘The old is good enough.’”

So we left off with Jesus pointing out to the outraged Pharisees he would call a “Tax collector” to be a disciple…so now they make another “call out” to Jesus on his faulty administration of his followers by pointing out the bad example they set; not even acting like his cousin John’s disciples, nor their own disciples by following prescribed fasting periods. So what is going on here? Let me see if I can clarify a bit.

First of all, who were the disciples of John the Baptist? These were people who were seeking forgiveness by repenting of their sins publicly and receiving baptism to symbolically “wash away” their sins in “living water.” Any water that was running was considered “living” and in purity circles was able to render the penitent “clean.” Remember that followers of John the Baptist were those who had fallen into the “cracks” of Pharisaic Judaism who were trying to find forgiveness of their collectors, prostitutes, and other un-desirables.

When we see the reference to the followers of the Pharisees here, what were they looking for in their fasting? It seems they may have been looking for justification of their adherence to Torah, the earned right-standing before Yahweh in the great Temple; could they have been looking for an “at-a-boy” for their following of the Mishnah (the interpretation based on rabbinic teaching) and comparing themselves to John’s disciples?

Let me give you an example from Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner ( 2007) of Mishnaic teaching examples:

Mishnah-Tractate Shabbat 16:8

A. A gentile who lit a candle—
B. an Israelite may make use of its light.
C. But [if he did so] for an Israelite, it is prohibited [to do so on the Sabbath].
D. [If a gentile] drew water to give water to his beast, an Israelite give water to his beast after him.
E. But [if he did so] for an Israelite, it is prohibited [to use it on the Sabbath].
F. [If] a gentile made a gangway by which to come down from a ship, an Israelite goes down after him.
G. But [if he did so] for an Israelite, it is prohibited [to use it on the Sabbath]. (p.189-190)
Do you see the ‘hair-splitting’ going on here? Now I understand I can’t give the full scope of the Mishnaic interpretation of the Torah here, but I can give you a glimpse of what was going on with the Pharisee’s party of believers? They wanted to justify their own behavior and to compare themselves to the disciples of John the Baptist.

Of course Jesus makes clear that as the long awaited Messiah (the bridegroom) now is the time for celebration, not fasting and mourning…but he foreshadows  that this will come later, after his Passion.

Jesus then begins to clarify by using parables to teach the listening crowd of this new time at hand by first illustrating how not to handle his new teaching of the Kingdom of God. The example given first is the faulty method of repairing an old garment by tearing a patch from a new garment. As Jesus point out in v.36 both the old and new would be ruined. John Noland (1989) writes:

In both parables…the focus is on what is (not) to be done with the new. And in each case the point is made that the new must be allowed to have its own integrity…it is not to be reduced to a patch on the old; nor is it right to attempt to contain the new within the constraints of the old. The apparent absurdity of such a method of repair needs to be placed in the light of v.39 to come: the high value set on the old may indeed lead to inappropriate attempts to preserve it. The Lukan parables, however, do not address themselves to what is to be done with the old in the light of the presence of the new: their attention is restricted to what is (or is not) to be done with the new. (p. 249)
So Jesus is teaching followers of the old Torah something entirely new; and he is not offering a ‘band-aid’ fix. This is truly the ushering in of the New Covenant.

And finally, the old wine/new wine parable with the odd wording in v 39 “And no one after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’” Let me explore this a little more…

Have you ever been to a wine tasting? The best education in how to understand and appreciate wine comes from lessons in what you taste, and how to understand the complexity of a great vintage. But anyone wanting to invest in a cellar wine understands that you are not looking for an established old (and very expensive)wine, you want to find a young wine with potential. This is a skill; to be able to “taste” the future. Can you taste a young wine and get a hint of the future complexity and flavor that with aging in your cellar will be the next great old vintage?

Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were not willing to “taste” the future, they were content with the “old wine”, and were going to miss what was to come…the New Wine of later exceptional, priceless worth…the vintage that will be shared with us in the fulfilled Kingdom.

Yes, they preferred the old wine~ to their eternal loss.


Jacob Neusner & Bruce Chilton (2007) In Quest of the Historical Pharisees. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.
John Nolland (1989) Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35A, Luke 1-9:20. Dallas, TX: Word Books Publisher.