Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Summer Mission Plans

This summer is starting to shape up. We're haveing a missions fair at church Saturday for which I have put together a two-hour long video slideshow of some of the missions that members at Western Avenue have been involved in. As I thought about it, I actually recieved very few photos relative to the number of missions we have. I have photos for all the larger missions efforts, particularly Venezuela and London Bridges. I also have photos from our activities in Uganda, China and Guatemala. I made a music video of the All For One youth choir including potions of the DVD of the Christmas concert interspersed with photos from their visit with the children at the local children's home. I also have a few photos from the South Yadkin Baptist Association, Campus Crusade for Christ ministry at NC State and a video from the Upper Room, a local ministry for youth. I know I can't remember them all, but I know the missions that I'm missing include a couple to Central America, one to southern Sudan, one to Nepal, a few to lend a hand in the area devastated by hurricane Katrina, and a current one to the US military. There are also regular missions to Cuba and the four corners area of the US as well as associated missions to the Ukraine and Iraq. This doesn't include mission excursions that we can't report on. So my little 2-hours are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

So what is shaping up for this summer for the Pembertons? Ised, the missionary to our sister church in Venezuela is trying to get her visa to come to visit us in the US. We have provided for her care while she is here and have sent letters to the appropriate embassies. If her visa is approved, she will fly here in early April just after Easter. She is slated to stay with Western Avenue for a couple of weeks. Then we will drive her to Kentucky where she will visit with the mission group, Least of These, under whose umbrella she works. They will take her to Tennessee to a couple she has worked with in missions before and they will bring her back to us a short time before she is to fly back to Venezuela in early June. At least that's her general itinerary to date. My wife is planning to take the kids and accompany her back to Venezuela. So far we have two teams slated to go to Venezuela in late July and early August. I plan to go for both weeks and my family and I will return with the last team.


What am I going to do for six weeks without a wife and kids at the house? I have a short list forming:

  1. Finish the mural in my daughter's bedroom.
  2. Fill a few canvasses with some pictures.
  3. Write a couple of pieces of music.
  4. Produce a few more discipleship materials to give the church in Venezuela.

Actually, I'm doing number 3 already. I just had an idea for some more lyrics occur to me Sunday at church and have the start of some music to put them to. I hope I wasn't too obvious: It happened during Pastor Skip's announcements while I was in the choir loft. I shuffled inside my robe to get the pen out of my front pocket and jot a few lyrics on my hand. I didn't see anyone looking at me funny from the congregation, but it's hard to take everyone in. Okay, maybe the situation was only humorous to me...

Anyway, for those of you who will, pray for Ised to get her visa and pray that Venezuela doesn't close her borders to us to see our brothers and sisters there and visit with the people they minister to.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Hebrews: A Human Messiah in Chapter 2

There are many issues briefly addressed in the last verses of chapter 2 of Hebrews that I've been pondering. Paul skips through them like they were nothing. However, they are weighty nuggets and Paul links them together in this context.

To restate, the context here is that Paul is encouraging the Hebrews to grow in their faith in Christ. He is doing so in this part of his letter by revealing Christ through related comparative dichotomies, in that Christ was revealed in the law and the prophets with which the Hebrews were already well familiar. Verse 14 begins with "therefore", but this is hardly the culminating passage of the letter. So, we can take the following passage (vv14-18) as an intermediate conclusion of some sort derived from this first section of the letter.

The first thing I notice is the reference to "flesh and blood." It sounds like he's writing about the Lord's Supper. The "children" are a reiteration of the quote from Isaiah 8:18 in the previous verse and is a reference to the elect, otherwise I would say that the apparent reference is merely coincidental and this has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper.

The debate between sacrament and ordinance is founded on the question, "What is the bread and wine?" On the one hand we have the hermeneutical principle that we should take the Bible literally except where it is obviously figurative. On the other hand, how could Christ have meant it as His literal body at the Feast of Unleavened Bread when He was standing right there? Did He create some meat and blood miraculously that had his DNA in it? Besides, Christ was known to speak figuratively and be misunderstood as speaking literally. On the way to raise Lazarus from the dead, Christ said Lazarus had "fallen asleep." The disciples didn't have a clue because they took Him literally. The fact is, the Bible doesn't answer the question clearly enough. In my mind, that means it's the wrong question. The question should be, "What is the body and blood of Christ?" Paul answers this clearly in I Corinthians 10:3-4;16-17:

and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
and all ate the same spiritual food;

16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ
17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

Compare also Heb 2:18 with I Cor. 10:13:

18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

The underlying truth is that the elect, while made up of individuals, is a corporate entity that shares a failure to resist temptation. We also share the grace whereby Christ came as one of us to be tempted as one of us, but to exhibit divine resistance. He did this to demonstrate His worthiness to pay for our failure on the cross. But Paul jumps over this as though the Hebrews don't need much explanation. This because the context of the crucifixion during Passover was still fresh in the minds of the Hebrews who understood Christ already as the Lamb of God - the only Passover Lamb who could remove sin once and for all. They understood their identity as the ones for whom the token lamb had been slain each year prior.

A curious comment is made by Paul regarding the means by which He rendered "powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil..." I notice it only because we've been studying this in Sunday School. I need to do a study of the Greek to see if this is accurate, but I notice that the English of the NASB is here rendered temporally: "had". If accurate, this means that the devil no longer has the power over death. Paul writes later about those of faith who came prior to Christ. If their faith is accounted to them as righteousness, then the devil never really had power over death. I'll take any insight to the meaning of this. Perhaps Paul merely took a turn to the rhetorical. I'd like to ascribe better accuracy to Paul's comments than that, however.

Another observation is that this appears to be what Christ HAD to do in order to render the devil powerless. It could be that this is simply the way God CHOSE to handle it because it was more fitting to demonstrate His gracious nature than simply denying any of the devil's requests to work ill in the hearts and lives of men.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The use of Occam's Razor to Support Naturalism

I recently read comments by a naturalist who used Occam's Razor to support the basic naturalistic assumption. This assumption is that the natural world is all that can be detected scientifically; therefore scientific explanations for effectual observations cannot contain references to supernatural causes. for those who don't know, Occam's Razor (aka the "law of succinctness") is a philosophical principle relevant to logical evaluation and application that states that "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity". Today's usage can be restated as "the simplest explanation is more likely to be true." With this usage, the principle certainly seems to support the naturalistic assumption.

Originally, Occam's razor applied to the minimalization of assumptions. The understanding is that assumptions, or presuppositions, are necessary in deriving any conclusion. For example, I conclude that in order to walk out of my office, I must walk around my desk and go through the door. I have made the observation that walking through my desk and through the wall simply doesn't work to accomplish the task of leaving my office. These are solid. I am solid. I have concluded that solids do not pass through solids without causing damage to one or both of the solids. I have observed certain continuity to this observation. Therefore, I assume the continuity of my observation. However, it is merely an assumption based on what is most likely.

To demonstrate that this is merely an assumption, consider the act of driving recklessly. On the interstate one can observe many people driving recklessly. Once tried, there is a certain level of recklessness I can drive also without experiencing an automobile accident. I see that a few drivers have accidents. Is this due to reckless driving? Unless I observe it directly, I don't know. It seems likely, so I can assume, that accidents are caused by reckless driving. However, the vast majority of incidences of reckless driving do not result in an accident. Therefore, I can drive recklessly under the assumption that an accident is yet not likely. Yet accidents happen. Therefore, the assumption is not true or false as much as it is a factor of likelihood.

Understanding this, today's usage of Occam's Razor is a different matter. If Occam's Razor were applied to scientific theories under original usage, then the assumption that "supernatural" causes were to be a priori disavowed would be recognized itself as a superfluous assumption. In other words, there is no reason not to consider explanations that do not fit within our current understanding of what is "natural". After all, who is to say where the line is to be drawn between "natural" and "supernatural"? To be sure, the use of radios would surely have been considered "supernatural" to ancient people. The advent of the automobile was certainly looked upon with other-than-natural disdain by many at the time. Until Einstein formulated his theories of relativity, Newtonian physics worked just fine. To be sure, time dilation is yet viewed by many as something beyond the natural pale.

Therefore, if scientific discovery continues to redefine "natural", then how can naturalism omit "supernatural" explanations by assumption without fixed definitions of what is natural and what is supernatural? Indeed, if "natural" is merely according to what we currently understand as "natural" then the flat-earthers may have a point. An orb-shaped earth was once viewed as an other-than-natural explanation. Indeed, it was simpler then to conceive of the world as flat. If science is to progress, it must have access to possible explanations that do not seem "natural".

I was going to go into an analysis of the difference between the original usage of Occam's Razor and the current usage. However, it would contain dry logical technical verbiage inaccessible to most. The previous paragraph nicely makes my point, I think. As a Christian, I certainly believe that there are both physical and metaphysical (spiritual) realms. Since there is a relationship between the two where the metaphysical affects the physical, then I believe the metaphysical to be detectable to a degree. While we cannot see the wind, we can see the leaves move. Therefore, the wind is detectable. The metaphysical is likewise detectable. With regard to what is to be considered "natural" and "supernatural", I believe the ability to detect one over the other to be a false distinction. Both the physical and the metaphysical are natural.

God Himself has a nature. The nature of God is the stuff of theology. Theology for the Christian evidential apologist is no less scientific than any other scientific discipline that evaluates empirical data against theoretical criteria. It is perhaps more rigorous because of the exceptional philosophical challenges and the demand for public debate, both of which require in-depth study and disclosure of presuppositional dispositions. The fact is that God is reasonable. While we cannot understand Him fully, he has given us minds and enough information to know Him better than we do. And our savior, Jesus Christ, is the "Word" (gr: logos, the "logic") of God.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Narrative Context of Paul's Teaching to the Hebrews

One comment that has always plagued me on composition papers is my utter lack of examples. Perhaps ther reason is that too many examples in other people's writing bore me. Too many nonfiction books written these days for the general reading audience can be condensed into a few paragraphs. That's all I need. Instead, what I find are books of seemingly endless anecdotes as though such accounts constitute proof that the conclusions are true. Certainly, the use of storytelling can be persuasive. However, it lends itself to the current state of anti-intellectualism in which our ideas are propogated.

That said, there is a place for narratives.

Textual critics of the Bible have as their purpose the undermining of the foundation of orthodox Christian doctrine. However, nearly all such theology is derived from the historical narrative of the Bible. Often the Pauline theological applications, gospel accounts, pre-Mosaic narratives and a key prophet or two is generally held under the highest scrutiny. The part of the Bible most left unadulterated by the foolish speculations of the textual critics are the bulk of the narrative.

Hebrews, like many other Pauline texts, contains extensive references to the Hebrew scriptures. The quotes here are usually from the prophets, but the prophets and their prophesies are found in the historical narrative which lend itself hansomely to appropriate context. The Jews to whom Paul wrote would have understood this.

God, however, doesn't offer anecdotal evidence as proof of the the claims made through Paul's teaching. Instead, the history provides incontrovertible substance within which the narrative of God's redemption of His creation through Christ plays out. Therefore, history is not a mere example, it itself constitutes the revelation of Christ. In turn, God's prophets within the historical context spell out the revelation for us.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Her Name is Genesis!

The little girl I'm holding in the Maracaibo city dump is who I'm referring to. My avatar, at the time of this writing, is cropped from this picture taken by Jeff Gross, who happened to have his little camera out and ready to snap:

I knew her name was pronounced "HEN-eh-see", but I was sure I didn't have a good spelling for it. Just now I was IM-ing with Ised, a missionary we are associated with in Cabimas. She has worked with the people in Maracaibo in this area before. I mentioned that I blog and sent her a couple of links. I pointed out my avatar and typed in "Hennessee" for her name and mentioned that the spelling was probably wrong. Ised typed back ,"Her name is Genesis."

The moment captured in this photo was perhaps the most poignant for me of the whole trip that year. When Genesis and her mother, Maria, chanced upon us on the dump, Maria constantly praised God for all that He does for her. Genesis had been deathly ill a year earlier and He healed her. Both of them gave each of us warm hugs and welcomed us to their...

...neighborhood... their home.

I'm not ashamed to type that my vision (physically) is clouded by addition moisture as I type these words.

Genesis: What a fitting name for such a lovely child in such a place that so many would call "God-forsaken." The gospel has been brought here. Maria, Genesis and many of their neighbors are now numbered among my brothers and sisters in Christ. Genesis' home is anything but God-forsaken.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Compatibilism in Hebrews 1 & 2

Hebrews 1:14:

14 Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?

Hebrews 1:14 contains a phrase that Paul writes as though it were a forgone conclusion: "touß mellontaß klhronomein". Translated: "That shall inherit" or "those who will inherit". From Robertson:

"...common idiom of 'mellw' (present active participle) with the infinitive (present active here), 'destined to inherit'..."

If I read this correctly, it's not a future tense indicating a future act of will, but it is a present fact for some that refers to a future state. However, look at the verses that follow in the first part of chapter 2.

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty,
3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,
4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

If predestination precluded all sense of free will, then these verses couldn't be true. Paul sweeps through this in the context of revealing the Messiah through a comparison with the angels and uses it to encourage his Hebrew readers toward faith. If autonomous, libertarian free will precludes predestination, then 2:8 doesn't make sense:

8 "...YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET" For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

While things do not appear to be subject to Christ, they already are. All that the angels do is "for the sake of those who will inherit salvation." While this is not obvious or apparent to us, it is true. Christ reigns now. While we exhibit free will, this free will is not autonomous, but is subject to Christ.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hebrews: The Messiah in chapter 1

Paul's purpose for the letter to the Hebrews is to encourage them towards a more mature faith. The first chapter is the first of a series of comparisons designed to establish a dichotomy that illustrates that the Mosaic Law is a visible demonstration of the promised Messiah who is now not physically available to satisfy our faithless yearning for a visible sign. In this vein, Paul starts by pointing out some very Jewish concepts like the Messiah, prophets and angels.

When Paul mentions prophets and angels. Prophets are significant in a Jewish understanding of revelation. While the Hebrew scriptures contain such as history and wisdom literature, they typically referred to the whole of divine scriptural revelation as "the Law and the Prophets." The word "angel" simply means "messenger". In this context it implies the spiritual beings created to bring God's message to the world. As such, it is understood that the prophets heard from, were ministered to, and were protected by God's angels.

Paul's comparison between the Messiah and Prophets indicates Christ's role and permanent office as the divine prophet. In verse 3, Paul also aligns himself with the teaching of John in his gospel. The word translated "word" is the Greek "rhema" instead of "logos" as John uses. However, the meaning of the context from verse 2 follows the meaning of the first few verses in John 1. Beyond this, Paul points out Christ's relationship to the Father and directs us to his comparison to the prophets of old as one who is a direct representative of the Father. This is found later in John's gospel quite clearly. In John 5:37 we see that Christ was sent as was the prophets. In the first half of John 14, Jesus carries on a discourse with his disciples where He expounds on His relationship with the Father as one who has come as His representative. He also quite clearly claims divinity with the Father.

But the comparison with the prophets of old is impossible beyond this. As if to answer the question that the messiah was simply an angel, Paul draws a comparison of the relationship between the Messiah and the Father and angels and the Father.

The big question I have at this point is of verse 4 where Paul uses the phrase, "having become as much better than the angels..." I need to do a word study of "become" and check some commentaries on this passage. I'll do so and update later with what I find...

If any who read this have some insight on this passage, feel free to comment.


Yes, folks, Andie (from Xanga) wins the theological trophy! "Became" refers to Christ's work in His incarnation, namely the atonement. The reason I say this is because his name means "salvation". We know this name was given to Him because He inherited it. But He also earned it because He did suffer according to its value.

This brings up an issue that I was discussing this past week with a friend. I once posted a brief analysis of the logical incongruity between eternity and temporality within the context of the origins debate. You can read it here:


I added some focus specifically on the philosophical origins of the scientific method in my class on the origins debate this past fall. That material can be found in these two articles:


I won't reiterate all this except to say that eternity is more than simply infinite time. God is eternal and as the creator of time is not subject to it. The point it that Christ is eternal, but He entered into the temporal as a representative of the Father ultimately to accomplish the work of salvation. When He did this, He was subject to scrutiny by temporal minds and the word "became" can be applied to what we saw of Him.

I'll use the illustration I came up with as I conversed with my friend last week. I indicated a chair that sat next to me and explained that the chair was a finite, discrete entity. As it is, it had a beginning where the tree was cut and the craftsmen formed the chair from the wood. It will have an ending in a fire or dump or some such thing. As it sits here, we can see that the chair doesn't exist in all directions infinitely in space. There is a point at the ends of its legs where it ceases to exist and the floor begins to exist. However, the existence of the chair itself is an indisputable fact that will never change. We know it exists. After it has ceased to exist, it's existence here at this time will still be a fact. Long before the tree grew from which the chair was made it was a fact, albeit unknowable to us at the time, that the chair would exist. Therefore, while the nature of the chair's existence is temporal, the fact that it exists is eternal. Christ's incarnation was temporal. His existence does something incomprehensible. He is God, therefore the nature of His existence is eternal. However, by condescending to our need in the incarnation, He assumed an existence of a temporal nature without losing His eternal existence.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why Do the Poor Persist?

I need to make a little aside from Hebrews. Bear with me - there's a Christian application here that's important.

I like to read this little rogue cartoon called Savage Chickens. The author has this creative approach by drawing the cartoons on these little yellow sticky notes. Today's cartoon is not his normal humorous fare. It reflects the poor reasoning afforded by "common sense" economics. The flaw in this reasoning is the belief that there is a finite amount of money available for people to have. This leads to flawed conclusions. For example, many people believe that if some people have too much money, then there's not enough left over for all the poor people.

Today's Savage Chickens cartoon has two business chickens (probably in sales), standing across from a robot holding a board with a nail in it. The robot is a character called "PROD3000" often used by Doug Savage in his cartoons. The PROD3000 is often crass and demanding and provides fodder for some of Savage's humor.

One of the chickens says "You ask us to increase sales EVERY quarter! How much money is enough for this company?"

The PROD3000 replies, "Ideally, we'd like all of it."

The cartoon can be viewed here.

I work in manufacturing. I do production control in one plant of a company that has a few plants in one location. My plant is one of the smallest plants and while we share some resources with other plants, there is no shared resource that does specialized analysis for my particular plant - my plant doesn't constitute the company's "meat-and-potatoes" as it were. We're more like the green beans and parsley. As production controller, I'm also the production reporter. It's a natural function that if we need any analysis done for our segment of the industry, I'm the one with all the information. I offer here my analysis of the flawed economic reasoning that drives today's cartoon - as well as many of the comments:

Recent manufacturing marketing trends favor smaller margins and shorter lead times. That means that competition is hot and heavy in today's burgeoning economy. In order to maintain good investment returns, increased sales means an increased volume of work the plant needs to do. This means more work done at improved productivity (given I can adapt our processes to new capacities fast enough) at a lower variable overhead. (That's accounting jargon for "we make more things, but pay the same light bill, therefore we have a lower light bill cost for each thing we make.") Enough of a sales increase means I can hire more people.

Does anyone want a job?

If we don't have the sales, it means it's time we develop a new product that WILL sell - so we can continue to pay everyone from the lowest associate to the highest investor. It's foolish to protect a product in the market that is no longer economically viable. Either the government says you can't make it anymore because it's a bad product and penalize you for making it, or enough customers say they don't want it anymore and stop buying it. The goal is to adapt faster than your competitors to a changing market so that your business remains fresh. For the economy, it is not necessarily a good thing to put your competitors out of business. Some competitors need to be put out of business, but good competitors make the economy healthy. Without a healthy economy, even good businesses can fail. It is therefore incumbent on business to protect their long-term interests by keeping the economy strong.

The way money and the economy works is that money represents work done over a period of time. If I go out and build a house for my neighbor who grows potatoes, he may promise me part of the potatoes he expects to have grown by the end of the summer. He can give me a note saying that he owes me those potatoes. What am I going to do with all those potatoes? I can go to town and get a haircut and pay the barber with a note for part of the potatoes. I can go to the grocery store and buy some bread with part of the note for the potatoes. Eventually, I may end up with anything BUT potatoes. If I decide I can live on potatoes and work hard to get all the potatoes for myself, all someone else has to do is grow their own potatoes and there is no potato shortage. My potatoes are going to go bad because there will now be so many potatoes that all the potatoes I worked for will not be worth what I worked for them. If I work hard for potatoes and turn around and trade them for nice things, I have more according to the work I did.

If I work to make a chair with my own wood and trade it for potatoes, I will have more potatoes than if I worked to build a chair with someone else's wood. They sell the chair for the same number of potatoes, keep some of the potatoes for their trouble and give me the rest of the potatoes. I have fewer potatoes than if I would have used my own wood. However, if I have no wood to start with, then using someone else's wood may be the only option I have.

If I can independently make one chair per day and another fellow can also independently make one chair per day, then we can make one chair per person per day. However, if another fellow comes along and has the smarts to organize myself and this other fellow together to make four chairs per day between us, then the one who organized us can pay us for more than one chair per day and also keep the lion's share for himself. His smarts have earned it. Expand this concept to a large corporation and one can begin to understand the sizeable incomes top executives make.

The United States, through capitalism, has been particularly good at engendering employment opportunities for everyone. Consequently, we have very few homeless that are such aside from some mental condition. There are people who are willing to donate to organizations dedicated to helping homeless people without forcing work and homes upon them. The least of those who are willing to work in the US live like the wealthy of most other countries in the world. Our "middle-class" live like the very wealthy and our wealthiest exceed lives of most kings around the world.

Through our national government, we send billions to poor nations to help them feed their poor. Through private endeavors, we send billions more.

If wealth was finite and we give so much of it away, why do the poor around the world persist? To begin with, wealth is not finite. Wealth happens as long as people work. People are poor because they don't work. They don't work for a number of factors. I imagine people would work if they could. The big reason behind all the factors contributing to a lack of work is because this is a fallen world. Sinful rulers vie to keep their people under subjection by force, law, or economic repression instead of through moral courage. Temptations lure many people to their own demise in such as bars, casinos and brothels.

While Christians may be accused of trying to force morality on others, it is morality that will solve the problem of widespread poverty throughout the world. Morality is a result of salvific faith, not a cause of it. While Christians go to feed people, it is foolish to believe that simply feeding someone today will make them wealthy tomorrow. People come for food for their stomachs. A good missionary will give them food for their soul: the gospel of Christ. Only after understanding grace will morality begin to follow.

Even then the wise Christian missionary understands that poverty may not end. Christ said that He was with us for only a short time, but that we would always have the poor. I suspect that God gives us the poor to see if we will vie to care for them. Their ministry to us is to need what we have in abundance. To fail to try to meet this need is to fail in one aspect of our own sanctification.

To God be the glory.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hebrews - An Overview

I am admonished by great sermons from great preachers who use great passages from the Bible of generally no more than a chapter. I hear great expositions from great expositors expounding on key words from a single verse. I hear great lessons from great teachers that will take similar verses or passages from all over the Bible and tie them together. I've sat in classes in a Bible College and have received great summary sentences to describe entire books and have had single passages relate back to that context. What I have never heard is an analysis of the flow of thought through a book.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers to encourage them in their faith. but the reasoning that Paul uses to encourage them is often left unexamined. I notice through a casual scan of the letter that Paul spent much time expounding on the way that Christ fulfilled the law. This fulfillment is the same stuff as faith. What does that mean? Let's scan the book and see how Paul reasons:

Chapter 1:
Paul starts by comparing how God once spoke through the prophets to how he now has spoken to us through His Son. He uses a healthy dose of scripture reference to bring to light the divine nature of God's revelation through Jesus Christ. Paul reminds me of the great Bible teachers I mentioned above in his use of scripture.

Chapter 2:
Paul continues to exhort the Messianic Jews to heed what God has revealed in Christ. Again, more scripture reference. At the end of the chapter, Paul starts a comparison between Christ as God made flesh and Christ as the High Priest.

Chapters 3 & 4:
This comparison is something more than simply appealing to what the Jews would understand from their background in the Mosaic law with Levitical priests. It follows the earlier comparison between the prophets of old and Christ that establishes a dichotomy that Paul builds on for the purposes of encouraging the faith of the Messianic Jews. As Paul discusses Christ as High Priest, he also indicates that assent to the activities of this priesthood is something that happens immediately. In other words, action is an immediate activity of faith. Where the activies of priests of old were of a faith in that which would be effective in time yet to come, Christ's activity is not a mere picture. It is effective immediately.

Chapter 5:
While now we have Christ, at the end of chapter 4, Paul talks about how the Levitical activities prior to Christ were under the law merely according to obedience. As such, now in chapter 5, the Levitical priests were of men, but Christ is of God. Men glorify themselves, but Christ is glorified by God.

Chapter 6:
Therefore, the Levitical law is about doing good works to glorify oneself before God, which is infantile. But maturity is about reliance on He who is greater.

Chapter 7:
Although Melchizedek has been mentioned, his role becomes clear here as Paul gives us another comparison as an example of the dichotomy he is establishing.
Paul compares Christ to Melchisedek, where Melchizedek was outside of the Levitical priesthood, no one knowing from whence he came.

Chapter 8:
Paul gives us the main point in that where what Christ has done would be otherwise incomprehensible to us, God has given us the example of the priesthood to understand what important thing Christ is doing although we cannot now see Him. We can know that the old covenant, althought imperfect, serves to show us the new covenant since we do not have a High Priest who is visible to all.

Chapters 9 & 10:
Paul continues to compare the old covenant to the new as yet another example of his dichotomy. He adds the observation that while the old is a picture of the new, the principle of righteousness that makes the old a picture of the new is still a factor in our faith.

Chapter 11:
The classic "definition of faith" given in the first verse is actually one aspect of faith inasmuch as it applies to Paul's Hebrew dichotomy for the purposes of explaining faith through the comparison of the Mosaic law to the new covenant. Just as the law gives us a picture of Christ, our faith is a faith of certainty. We have a picture given to us that we can see so that we can understand what we cannot see: the covenant of Christ that has been written on our hearts. As examples of this faith, Paul offers us the historical accounts of individuals in the Bible who have demonstrated this faith. There is no other reason for these demonstrations except that what Paul tells us is true.

Chapters 12 & 13:
Paul concludes with a smattering of what our response to Christ should be. He writes, "Therefore..." and summarizes the more basic applications of a righteous life of faith.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hebrews: An Introduction

I'm reading Hebrews right now, so I thought I'd comment on some of my greater observations as I go through it. In mind are some of the more common passages. I've noticed that familiarity often breeds laziness in Bible study. This could be a personal confession, but when it comes to contemplating the meaning of certain passages, I always wonder if they mean what I've always been told they mean.

And it's not as though I'm limiting myself to just the common passages. On the contrary, many of my observations tend to be made with respect to the logical flow of thought that provides the context for any given passage itself. For this, I may mention less common passages as exemplary of the flow of thought.

In preparation for Hebrews, I've investigated the authorship. Hebrews was written without mention of the author. Paul's pattern is typically to include his name when he writes a letter. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Paul, with perhaps some input from Luke, is the writer. The Greek style is more reminiscent of Luke, but the locution is more that of Paul. It has been suggested by some that Paul wrote it in Hebrew and Luke translated it. One may note, however, that the quotes from the Old Testament are generally from the Septuagint, which is evidence that a significant portion of the intended Jewish audience were Greek readers. It's still possible that Paul wrote originally for Jews schooled primarily in Hebrew and that Luke wisely used the Septuagint for the OT references. However, it would seem that a primarily Hebrew text would have limited Paul's audience to those well schooled in Hebrew. I speculate that most Palestinian Jews were primarily speakers of Aramaic with some fluency in Greek for trade. Hebrew was learned only as a religious requirement.

The first thing I note from the text of the letter itself is that this is a general epistle and not one written to a specific church. This may also explain why Paul doesn't start with a "To - From" type clause that would indicate his authorship. In fact, his audience isn't mentioned until chapter 3: "...holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;" "Holy brethren" makes me think he's talking to fellow Christians. "Consider Jesus" makes me think he's not. If he's not talking to Christians, "holy brethren" may be a reference to his fellow Jews as he understands their place in the old covenant although they have not received Christ as the Messiah. As it is, the message being to Jews has been understood since the early church.

We know, also, that he is talking to messianic Jews because he says so a few verses later in verse 13ff: "But encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end..." We also read in 4:3, "For we who have believed enter that rest..." and in 4:12, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." It should be clear by this verse, that not only is Paul writing to fellow Messianic Jews, but that these followers of Christ have not stood firm in the teaching of the gospel of Christ. This letter, therefore, is a reiteration of the Messianic faith that spells out the things needed for these particular believers to grow in their faith. It is fruitful to study, because it give us today the same teachings whereby we may encourage each other in our faith.