Friday, October 14, 2011

Chloe’s People: Gossip? (I Corinthians 1:11)

In which city did Chloe’s people live? Corinth (I Corinthians 1:11)

While working in Ephesus, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church which he had founded (I Corinthians 16:8). Paul’s letter was topical, addressing conflicts that existed within the church. Paul remained familiar with the Corinthian news as he had informants in the form of “Chloe’s people” (I Corinthians 1:11).

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. (I Corinthians 1:11 NASB)
This is the only time Chloe’s name appears in the New Testament. Any other statements regarding her are speculative.

Paul’s informants were most accurately “Chloe’s “people”. Though this is reflected in many translations (ESV, NASB, NRSV, RSV), it is not the most common rendering. “Family” (CEV), “house” (KJV, MSG) and “household” (ASV, HCSB, NIV, NKJV, NLT) are all used in prominent translations of this passage. Even so, Chloe’s people were likely unrelated to her. Family would customarily be identified through the name of the father (not the mother) even if the father was deceased.

Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) summarizes:

Most likely, therefore, Chloe was a wealthy Asian–whether a Christian or not cannot be known–whose business interests caused her agents to travel between Ephesus and Corinth. Some of them had become Christians and members of the church in Ephesus. (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 54)
Were Chloe’s people correct to tell Paul of the shortcomings of the Corinthian church? When have people informed others of your actions? How did it make you feel?

Paul names his informants. They give validity to his letter. In naming them, Paul brings everything out into the open. Evidently, Chloe’s people proved to be a reliable source.

In a very real sense, Paul relied on gossip. Though gossip has a pejorative connotation, this has not always been the case. The word is from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for godparents.

Richard Lischer (b. 1943) writes:

A gossip was a sponsor at baptism, one who spoke on behalf of the child and who would provide spiritual guidance to the child as it grew in years. A gossip was your godmother or godfather. Gossiping was speech within the community of the baptized...For all its negative assocations, gossip retains something of its salutary function in a small town. (Lischer, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, 95-96)
When is gossip be helpful? When is it hurtful? How do you determine the difference?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

God in the Book of Esther?

Which book in the Old Testament does not mention the name of God? Esther

Many have questioned whether the book of Esther should be included n the Bible. Of all the books of the Old Testament, it was the only one not found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Esther is the story of a woman who plays political power games, uses her feminine wiles and conceals her faith and heritage. She even abandons her Jewish name, Hadassah, in favor of the Persian name by which she is remembered (Esther 2:7).

Esther is also the only one of the Bible’s 66 books that does not directly reference the name of God. In contrast the king of Persia, Ahasuerus, is mentioned 29 times by name in the book. Some have claimed that though the name of God does not appear as a single word in the book, it is encoded into the text as the first letters of four consecutive words in Esther 5:4 reveal the Tetragrammaton, the name of God (יבוא המלך והמן היום).

Not only is God not mentioned in Esther, neither is prayer. The titular character never mentions God nor is said to have prayed throughout any of her trials.

Regarding the absence of God’s name, Jon D. Levenson (b. 1949) summarizes:

Though various explanations to mitigate this anomaly have been proposed, they are all apologetic and unconvincing. As a result, many scholars have pronounced the book to be irredeemably secular. Cornhill, for example, terms it “an entirely profane history” and Bernhard Anderson finds it a “ complete indifference to God.” (Levenson, Esther: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 17)
Do you feel that the absence of the name of God and the book’s secular premise should have disqualified Esther from inclusion in the Bible? Why would the author of Esther not directly reference God?

Many commentators through the centuries have seen the absence of God’s name as a literary device that underscores the theme of providence. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote, “Though the name of God be not in it, the finger of God is, directing many minute events for the bringing about of his people’s deliverance.”

Esther’s guardian, Mordecai even alludes to providence in advising her:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NASB)
Some claim that though not mentioned directly, God is the main character in Esther, the story’s prime mover. Mark Dever (b. 1960) concludes, “He may not be named, but this book is one of the longest sustained meditations on the sovereignty and providence of God in the whole Bible (The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, 454).”

How active was God in the events of Esther? How much do you think God interacts in your life? Do you look for ways God has intervened in your life?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seeking Advice or an Accomplice? (John 12)

To whom did the Greeks say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”? Philip (John 12:21)

Shortly before his crucifixion in Jerusalem, a contingent of Greeks sought an audience with Jesus (John 12:20-22). They enquired of Philip, one of the first disciples (John 1:43-44) and member of his entourage (John 12:21). In turn, Philip relayed their request to Andrew who led the party to Jesus (John 12:22). This narrative aside, though exceedingly short, marks the first time Greeks interacted with Jesus. Interestingly, John does not record the outcome of this encounter. The account is more concerned with illuminating the scope of Jesus’ ministry and perhaps addresses doubts of Jesus’ willingness to engage Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6, 15:22-24).

Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) concluded that the disciples were merely following standard operating procedure: “Note the chain of access here, really a brokerage chain, from Philip to Andrew to Jesus, indicates the status of those core followers who stand between Jesus and the public (Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 212).”

Others have speculated that the Greeks chose Philip because he was a disciple with a Greek name. His hometown of Bethsaida (John 1:44, 12:21) also had a significant Gentile population. Of all the disciples, Philip was mostly likely to grant their request. Coincidentally, Andrew was the only other disciple with a Greek name.

Philip seemingly did not know what to do so he consulted his peer, Andrew.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Who do you go to for advice? How do you select your advisors?

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) wrote, “Most people who ask for advice from others have already resolved to act as it pleases them.” As such many people choose an advisor whom they know will deliver advice that corroborates their direction. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) claimed that to choose an advisor is to already have decided.

Andrew never prevented anyone from seeing Jesus. In fact, each time Andrew is seen by himself, he is leading another to Christ (John 1:41, 6:8, 12:21). As Andrew first led his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:41) and later introduced the Greeks to Christ (John 12:22), it has been said that Andrew was both the first home and foreign missionary. It is doubtful that Andrew would have rejected someone’s petition to encounter Jesus.

Do you think Philip picked Andrew out of convenience (he happened to be there) or because he already knew what Andrew would do? When you choose advisors, do you pick those whose advice you can already surmise?

“The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” - Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dirty Diana (Acts 19:28)

What female goddess was the “patroness” of Ephesus? Artemis [or Diana] (Acts 19:28)

Paul stayed two years at Ephesus during his “third missionary journey” (Acts 19:10). Near the end of his sojourn, as was often the case in Paul’s ministry, he faced significant conflict (Acts 19:23). He was challenged by a silversmith named Demetrius whose occupation was creating shrines for the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:24). The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (pictured). Paul’s monotheism severely threatened the local economy. In modern parlance, Paul went from preaching to meddling.

Artemis was one of the most widely worshiped Greek gods (Acts 19:24, 27, 28, 34, 35). In Greek myth, Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin of Apollo. She is a virgin huntress and is frequently depicted carrying a bow and arrow. She was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and young girls, and bringing and relieving disease in women. The Roman equivalent is Diana though this name never appears in the Bible. The temple of Artemis had been at Ephesus for centuries before Paul challenged its authority and would stand until 401.

Though people in the western world seldom worship a pantheon of gods, they do often put other things before God that become false idols.

What idols do people worship today? What do you put ahead of God? Does your religious belief system affect your purchasing patterns? When do you feel preachers go from preaching to meddling, overstepping their bounds into your comfort zone?

Demetrius was able to enlist support in his crusade against Paul and delivered a stirring speech:

“Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” (Acts 19:25-27 NASB)
The plea was effective and a riot ensued (Acts 19:28) before being quelled by the town clerk (Acts 19:35-40). Helmut Koester (b. 1926) speculates that this clerk was perhaps the most powerful Ephesian of his day (Koester, Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia, 130). He was able to restore peace and the incident would prove to be Paul’s final battle against a pagan religion as a free man.

For Demetrius the issue was simple: “our prosperity depends upon this business (Acts 19:25).” Whether Paul spoke truth was not a primary concern.

What would you do if you felt God asked you to change professions? What if God asked you to give up your “prosperity”? What goal do you seek, truth or prosperity?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quarantining the Gospel (Revelation 1:9)

Which New Testament character was exiled on an island? John

A Christian named John wrote the Bible’s last book, Revelation, while on the Island of Patmos.

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NASB)
Which John penned Revelation and the circumstances during its writing are debated as the book does not explicitly say.

John does not claim to be exiled on Patmos, only that he was there “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 1:9 NASB).” These words echo those spoken at the breaking of the fifth seal (Revelation 6:9) which clearly speak of Christian martyrs. As such, it has been deduced that John, too, was persecuted.

Tradition claims that the author was exiled on the island. Chuck Swindoll (b. 1934) colorfully compares Patmos to Alactraz (Letters to Churches … Then and Now, 3). There is no concrete evidence to justify this analogy. John Philip McMurdo “J.P.M.” Sweet (1927-2009) counters that there is “no contemporary evidence that it was used as a penal settlement” (Sweet, Revelation (TPI New Testament Commentaries), 64).”

Assuming John was exiled at the time of his writing, the reader is left to wonder why the pastors of the seven churches to whom he was writing were not also exiled. If the author is John the Apostle writing during Nero’s reign, the reader must wonder why he was exiled instead of executed.

Historically speaking, who do you think of when you think of exile? Why would a government exile someone instead of executing them? Would it change the interpretation of Revelation were its author not exiled when it was penned?

Whether exiled or not, John wrote from a remote location. Patmos is a rocky crescent shaped Greek island in the Aegean Sea near the west coast of Turkey. It is relatively small, spanning only 5 by 10 miles. Revelation 1:9 marks the only time Patmos is referenced in the Bible.

If John was exiled, the intent would be to isolate him to reduce his influence. If this was the case, it did not work as the letter John wrote there is still impacting the world centuries later. The Gospel cannot be quarantined.

“Only the misfortune of exile can provide the in-depth understanding and the overview into the realities of the world.” - Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), a Jewish novelist who fled to Austria when Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) rose to power