Monday, April 30, 2012

Andrew’s Contribution (John 6:8-9)

Which disciple brought the little boy with his lunch to Jesus? Andrew (John 6:8)

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four canonical gospels (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-14). John, the final gospel written, offers a more intimate telling, including several details not mentioned in the Synoptic gospels’ relatively vague accounts (John 6:5-14). John records Philip calculating the cost of feeding the multitude (John 6:7) and adds that it was Andrew who interjects himself into the conversation to draw attention to an unnamed boy’s meager provisions (John 6:8-9).

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:8-9 NASB)
That the disciples individual personalties are drawn out by the fourth evangelist is not surprising as John is the only gospel to particularize their roles. John gives speaking parts to individuals whereas the Synoptics speak more often of the collective “disciples”.

D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) observes:

Some disciples (other than Peter) who are named play a larger role in John than in the Synoptics. This is particularly true of Thomas (John 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-28, 21:2), but also of Philip (John 1:43-48, 6:5, 7, 12:21-22, 14:8-9) and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:40, 41, 6:8, 12:22). (Smith, The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions: Judaism and Jesus, the Gospels and Scripture, 88)
The narrator unnecessarily reintroduces Andrew as a disciple and as Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:35-42). John repeats the information to emphasize the question and its source. John Painter (b. 1935) coments, “Andrew, who is again introduced as the brother of Simon Peter (John 6:8 and see John 1:40) to remind the reader of the initial quest of Andrew, shows a glimmer of comprehension (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], Critical Readings of John 6 (Biblical Interpretation, 22), 62).”

Andrew’s and Philip’s responses accent the inadequacy of the supplies and the disciples’ inability to respond to such a severe situation. This increases the magnitude of feeding the multitude. Robert Kysar (b. 1934) notes, “Both Philip and Andrew offer statements of the extent of the human need. The little boy...and his tiny lunch pose dramatic contrast with the abundance of food produced by Jesus’ act (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 91).”

Evidently, a young boy was the only person known to the disciples wise enough to bring food to the desert. But he came prepared to feed himself, not an army. John accents the sparsity of the lad’s provisions. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) registers:

Andrew...found a boy carrying a lunch consisting of barley loaves and fish. Like Philip, Andrew had no idea what use that pittance would be. John’s record offers so many interesting observations, not the least of which is that the two fish Andrew found were definitely small. The word apsarion is used only by John, and it emphasizes the insignificance of these tiny sardines. (Gangel, John (Holman New Testament Commentary, 118-119)
Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) adds, “His five loaves are of barley—poor quality apparently. And the two fish are described as opsaria—another double diminutive.(Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 262),”

Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) sees significance in the paucity:

Andrew...locates a young boy (paidarion) who can possibly help. This boy is carrying five barley loaves and two salted fish. Only John mentions that the bread is barley, which is a signal of the poverty of this crowd. Barley was considered the bread of the poor and this lad has five pieces of it—much like five round loaves of today’s pita bread. Luke 11:5 implies that three such pieces might make a meal for one person. These details are important because in II Kings 4:42-44 is another Old Testament miracle, where Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty barley loaves and is assisted by a paidarion or young servant. As with the twelve baskets left after Jesus’ miracle, Elisha had baskets of food left over. (Burge, John (The NIV Application Commentary), 144)
The situation is so bleak that the disciples are reduced to commandeering a child’s lunch, an act we associate with school bullies. And even so, obtaining this donation amounts to asking for loose change to help reduce the national deficit.

Just how Andrew became acquainted with the boy or how he convinced him to part with his lunch is not stated. Leon Morris (1914-2006) speculates:

It is possible that his knowledge of the lad came as the result of a reconnaissance with a view to finding out what food resources could be mustered, for he definitely relates the boy’s supply (evidently provisions for his own personal use) to the needs of the multitude. Or the boy may have offered his food to Jesus. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 304)
Others have surmised that Andrew must have been a people person to have even acknowledged the lad. J. Ellsworth Kalas (b. 1928) boasts:
It was like Andrew, of course, to notice the small boy...Andrew was the kind of person a little boy could approach. While the other disciples were busy with bigger things, Andrew was chatting with a boy, patting him on the head, asking him where he had caught the fish—or did his mother buy them at market? A scruffy lad of no special promise, but Andrew—the brotherly type—visits with him and somewhat ridiculously thinks that his lunchbox will interest the Master. (Kalas, The Thirteen Apostles, 14)
Ancient commentator Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) suggests that Andrew is merely trying to clear his name, showing that he has no plans of hoarding the little food to which he has access:
Andrew said this so that they might not think he was hiding the food for his own use. Indeed, Andrew was right in observing that those five loaves were nearly nothing for that great crowd. And he had no other food. (Commentary on the Gospel of John (Ancient Christian Texts), 61)
Many have seen Andrew’s bringing the lad to Jesus’ attention as indicative of the disciple’s personality. He is presented three times in John’s gospel and each time he is depicted as bringing someone to Jesus (John 1:40-42, 6:8-9, 12:20-22).

William Barclay (1907-1978) deduces:

Andrew is characteristically the man who was always introducing others to Jesus...It was Andrew’s great joy to bring others to Jesus. He stands out as the man whose one desire was to share the glory. He is the man with the missionary heart...Andrew is our great example in that he could not keep Jesus to himself. (Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, 105)
Greg Laurie (b. 1952) exclaims:
How we need more Andrews today! Every time we read of him in Scripture, he’s bringing someone to Jesus...If we had more Andrews, we would have more Simon Peters–one person bringing another to Jesus. So simple. So effective. So neglected. (Laurie, Breakfast with Jesus, 261)
Do you consider supernatural solutions to your problems? Do you take note of children? Why does Andrew bring the lad to Jesus? Who have you brought to Jesus? Who could you? Do we have an obligation to follow Andrew’s example? Is Andrew’s interjection an act of faith or doubt?

There is a natural comparison between Andrew and Philip. Both were from Bethsaida (John 1:44) which may account for why they appear together three times in John’s gospel (John 1:40-44, 6:5-9, 12:21-22). Philip calculates the demand (John 6:7) while Andrew evaluates the supply (John 6:9). Andrew works part to whole; Philip whole to part. Neither factor Jesus heavily in their analysis.

Herman N. Ridderbos (1909-2007) notes:

He [Philip] gets support from Andrew (with whom he is also linked in John 12:21ff; 1:44), who, without bothering himself about imagined amounts of money, limits himself to the actual supply of bread on hand: five loaves, and two (dried) fish. But what could one do with that, given so many mouths? (Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, 211)

Andrew, like, Philip, responds in natural terms which naturally leads to despondency. Gerald L. Borchert (b. 1932) critiques:

Andrew, the helper, tried to solve the problem in another way. He began immediately to search for picnic resources in that barren place, but his search also ended in failure, according to his thinking. All he found was a boy in the crowd who had a lunch with barley loaves (the bread of the poor) and two small fish (emphasis on small, John 6:9). Andrew’s answer was also hopelessness. (Borchert, John 1-11 (New American Commentary), 253)
Despite being with Jesus from the beginning, Andrew and Philip have not yet developed a theology of abundance. They do not consider that Jesus could solve their predicament. Francis J. Moloney (b.1940) assesses:
Andrew joins Philip in pointing to the paucity of their supplies: a lad is at hand with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:8-9). Andrew and Philip have been with Jesus from the first days of the Gospel (John 1:43), but they have not learned from their master’s attempt to draw them beyond the limitations of their expectations (John 1:35-51), in this case the need for a large sum of money to buy quantities of bread. (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 197)
Though they respond similarly, Andrew leaves looking better than Philip, at least making Jesus an offer. Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985) explains:
The barest sketch of Philip and Andrew was given, yet it revealed the temper and faith of the men...Philip was a statistical pessimist...Andrew was an ingenious optimist. Philip’s information was given in answer to a question; Andrew’s was volunteered. Philip produced figures to show what could not be done; Andrew brought food, hoping that something might be done. His faith was wavering, for he added to his offer, “but what are these among so many?” (John 6:9)—but he had faith. Though rather quiet he must have had winning ways. Any man who can persuade a small boy to relinquish his lunch possesses a forceful character. (Tenney, John: Gospel of Belief, 113)
In some ways, Philip serves as a foil to Andrew. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) observes, “As in John 1 an 12, Andrew is Philip’s companion and comes off better than Philip (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts Series), 156).”

Andrew does show some initiative. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus puts out an APB for resources to feed his audience (Mark 6:38), but in John’s account, Andrew need not be asked. Andrew T. Lincoln (b. 1944) notes:

Whereas in Mark Jesus tells the disciples to find out how much food there is, here Andrew, also operating on the merely human level, locates a boy, a further addition to the Synoptic version, who has the five loaves and two fish and then draws the obvious despairing conclusion. (Lincoln, The Gospel According To Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 212)

Both faith and doubt are seen in Andrew’s response. Faith is seen in his initial statement and he would have come off marvelously well had he quit when he was ahead. But he apologetically adds, “but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9 NASB). This lament reveals Andrew’s doubt.

Anne Graham Lotz (b. 1948) speculates that in the midst of Andrew’s doubts, his faith involuntarily bubbles to the surface:

Almost as soon as Philip came to the conclusion that it was humanly impossible to feed the crowd gathered on the hillside...Andrew...spoke up...(John 6:8-9). While Andrew seemed to agree with Philip about the impossibility of feeding so many, his approach to the need was more positive. Without even realizing it, his faith had found the key to the storehouse of God’s ample supply. When he offered Jesus a few loaves and fish, he was offering Jesus everything he had!...What do you have? Do you have a little bit of time? A little bit of love? A little bit of money? A little bit of faith? Don’t concentrate on what you lack, concentrate on what you have. Then give all of it to Jesus for His use. (Lotz, Just Give Me Jesus, 120)
Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) concurs:
Andrew, by contrast, sees just a little hope and shows just a little faith by coming forward with a little boy and his little provisions...fora little while! And just a little faith is all that Jesus apparently, from all the Gospel reports, ever at first expects from anyone, and so it is all he ever minimally seeks from his always still-very-human disciples. (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 362)

Stephen Farris (b. 1951) instructs that though he demonstrates faith, Andrew need not be sainted for his performance in the desert:

Don’t make Andrew a hero of faith. He offers the fish and the loaves, but almost in the same breath he takes them back verbally, “But what are they among so many people?”...He doesn’t have very much faith. But not very much faith is not the same as no faith at all...He has the faith the size of a mustard seed. He has five loaves and two fish worth of faith. He has faith the size of a small boy’s lunch. That amount of faith, Jesus says, is able to move the mountain they’re sitting on. It may even be enough to feed five thousand. (David Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “The Andrew Option”, Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 23)
Andrew contributes very little to the feeding of the 5.000 and what he offers, he gets from a small boy. He is only a middle man. Andrew brings Jesus much less than is needed. As do we. And like Andrew, though our offerings are not much, they can be significantly multiplied in the hands of Jesus.

N.T. Wright (b. 1948) reminds:

Philip doesn’t know what to do. Andrew doesn’t either, but he brings the boy and his bread and fish to Jesus’ attention. The point is obvious, but we perhaps need to be reminded of it: so often we ourselves have no idea what to do, but the starting point is always to bring what is there to the attention of Jesus. You can never tell what he’s going to do with it – though part of Christian faith is the expectation that he will do something we hadn’t thought of, something new and creative. (Wright, John for Everyone: Chapters 1-10, 73)
What do their responses to the food shortage say of Philip and Andrew? What is Andrew’s contribution? If Andrew had not brought the boy, how would Jesus have fed the multitude? What can you bring to Jesus’ table?

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway... And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!” - Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sceva’s Seven Shyster Sons (Acts 19:14)

How many sons of Sceva were overcome by the man with the evil spirit? Seven (Acts 19:14)

While ministering in Ephesus, God performs miracles through Paul (Acts 19:11-12). Some itinerant Jewish exorcists attempt to replicate the apostle’s success by casting out evil spirits (Acts 19:13-17). Seven sons of a Jewish man named Sceva think that they have mastered an incantation and appeal to “Jesus whom Paul preaches (Acts 19:13 NASB).” They have bitten off more than can chew as the afflicted man questions their authority, famously responding:

And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15 NASB)
The man then proceeds to leave the would be exorcists battered and naked with their physical condition mirroring their spiritual reality (Acts 19:16). The seven sons of Sceva represent the most explicit case of spiritual counterfeiting in the New Testament (Acts 19:14-17).

Sceva is described as “high priest” (archiereus) though he is likely as much a high priest as his sons are exorcists. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) explains:

No person of that name ever was the Jewish high priest. Either Sceva was simply a member of a high-priestly family, or he assumed the title for professional purposes in order to impress and delude the public, since a high priest (or his sons) would have close contact with the supernatural; we may compare the way in which modern quacks take such titles as ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor’. (Marshall, Acts (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 311)
Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) deduces:
We know nothing about any Scaeva, and it is difficult to assess the characterization of him as a “chief priest.” There are two historical possibilities: a) Scaeva was part of a priestly family–he certainly was not one of the Jerusalem priests we know about from other sources; b) he advertised himself as such, the way Mark Twain [1835-1910]’s charlatan in Huckleberry Finn advertised himself as the “Lost Dauphin.” But it is also possible that: a) the Latin name Scaeva could bear some of its etymological weight of “untrustworthy,’ and that b) Luke had no historical information to deal with here at all. (Johnson, Acts of the Apostles (Sacra Pagina), 340)
Some have wanted to legitimize Sceva’s status because the narrative itself gives no indication that his position is fabricated. While Sceva was certainly not the high priest, the term might be broader than typically thought as it is used in the plural in Luke-Acts (Luke 9:22, 19:47, 20:1, 19). It may better be thought of as “chief priest” (Acts 4:23). Ernst Haenchen (1894-1975) claims that the author believed Sceva to be authentic, rationalizing that the story would only be included if the author presumed Paul had triumphed over a legitimate priest (Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, 565).

Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) adds another theory, speculating that Sceva was a Jew who defected to a pagan Roman cult (Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible), 650).

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) concludes that the most likely scenario is that the sons of Sceva are con men perpetuating a fraud:

It is possible that Sceva actually belonged to a Jewish chief-priestly family, but more probably “Jewish chief priest” (or even “Jewish high priest”) was his self-designation, set out on a placard: Luke might have placed the words between quotation marks had they been invented in his day. The Jewish high priest was the one man who was authorized to pronounce the otherwise ineffable name; this he did once a year, in the course of service prescribed for the day of atonement. Such a person would therefore enjoy high prestige among magicians. It was not the ineffable name, however, but the name of Jesus that Sceva’s sons employed in their imitate Paul’s exorcizing ministry. But when they tried to use it, like an unfamiliar weapon wrongly handled it exploded in their hands. (Bruce, The Book of Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 368)
Given their falsely citing Jesus’ name in the story, this interpretation fits the context. When a sin, such as duplicity, is present in one realm of a person’s life, it tends to leak over to others.

Whatever else they may be, French L. Arrington (b. 1931) concludes that the sons of Sceva are misinformed:

Sceva may have been a member of a high-priestly family, or he may have been a renegade Jew who had assumed the title to impress others and deceive the public. The exorcists themselves could have falsely claimed to be the sons of the high priest. Evidently, they do not know much about the life and the ministry of Jesus. These unbelieving brothers are simple magicians, and they fail to recognize that the name of Jesus is powerful only when it is pronounced by His authority and with faith in Him. (Arrington, The Spirit-Anointed Church: A Study on the Acts of the Apostles, 303)
As Jews in Ephesus, the sons of Sceva are far from home both geographically and spiritually. It is possible that they are a religious order and not literal brothers. Presumably, the exorcism industry was substantial enough in Ephesus to support these practitioners. Their competitors were offering something they were not and the sons of Sceva opted to enter the Jesus market.

Acts is likely implying that the sons of Sceva are modeling Paul who had presumably invoked the name of Jesus. David G. Peterson (b. 1944) conjectures:

Paul’s apparent success at healing and exorcism prompted imitation...These itinerant Jewish exorcists, who were fascinated by Paul’s power and influence, recognised that his secret was the name of Jesus. But theirs was a fraudulent activity, since they were not Christians and used the name of Jesus like a magic formula. Although they sought to emulate Paul...they were unsuccessful. The implication is that the name of Jesus was effective to deliver and to heal only when used by those who genuinely called upon Jesus as Lord. These pretenders did not have the appropriate moral or spiritual integrity with which to engage the powers of evil. Luke further emphasizes the incongruity of the situation by revealing that seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 538)
The fact that they claimed connection to the high priest may demonstrate their interest in names. William J. Larkin, Jr. (b. 1945) explains:
Since the high priest was the only one permitted to utter the “unpronounceable name of God” and enter his presence in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, it makes sense that these brothers would use that title as part of their “hype” (m. Yoma 3:8, 5:1, 6:2)...The sons’ syncretistic appropriation follows the time honored practice of piling name upon powerful name so as to create incantations strong enough to require spirits to do one’s bidding. One such conjuration goes “I conjure you by the god of the Hebrews/Jesus, JABA IAĒ ABRAŌTH AIA THŌTH ELE ELŌ...” (Hans Dieter Betz [b. 1931] 1986:96). The name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches is these men’s newest and most potent “power name” (compare Ephesians 1:21). (Larkin, Acts (IVP New Testament Commentary Series), 277)
Ephesus proves a hotbed of supernatural activity (Acts 19:1-41), so much so that the abnormal appears normal there. The supernatural aspects of this text (Acts 19:11-20) has proven difficult for some and many commentaries ignore the episode entirely. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) laments:
In this most difficult of chapters in Acts, readers find themselves with a “John the Baptist Cult,” healing through sweat towels, and now the bizarre account of the seven sons of Sceva. No less a conservative scholar than Sir William M. Ramsay [1851-1939] chokes right at this point. (Gangel, Acts (Holman New Testament Commentary), 324)
The fact that the sons of Sceva are performing a cultic incantation is seen in the use of the Greek term horkizo (Acts 19:13), translated as “adjure” (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NRSV, RSV), “command” (HCSB, MSG, NIV, NLT) and “exorcize” (NKJV) (Acts 19:13). Eric Sorensen (b. 1961) relays:
An important term in later magical texts, ὁρκίζω [horkizo] refers to the swearing of an oath, or putting one under the obligation to say or to do something. It appears, however, only once in the New Testament, in the sons of Sceva episode. When ὁρκίζω receives the intensifying prefix ἐξ we arrive at the basis for our own familiar terminology for “exorcism.” It is a compound, however, that also very nearly eludes the New Testament, with one occurrence of a substantive form (ἐξορκίστής), also found in the story of the sons of Sceva, and a single occurrence of the verbal form which appears in a non-exorcist context. The verbal form, “to exorcize” (ἐξορκίζειν) only begins to gain currency with reference to the removal of evil spirits during the second and third centuries of the Common Era, when exorcismus also entered as a loan word into the Latin language through the influence of Christian writers. Its use in this context in ecclesiological writings from the second century of the Common Era onwards led to its eventual adoption also into English, where it conveys the sense of casting out demons from its earliest occurrences. (Sorenson, Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and Early Christianity, 132)
The sons of Sceva are actually correct in identifying the name of Jesus as critical to Paul’s methodology but they wrongly assume that the name can be used haphazardly. C. Peter Wagner (b. 1930) comments:
The central issue here is the name of the Lord Jesus...As all who minister deliverance on a regular basis know, the use of the name of Jesus is crucial. Jesus said, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). He also said that among the signs that follow believers, “In My name they will cast out demons” (Mark 16:17)... The only authority we have to cast out demons does not reside inside of us naturally; it is delegated to us by Jesus. This is similar to the authority a United States ambassador would have in a foreign country. Ambassadors do not go to other countries in their own names; they go in the name of the president of the United States. And only those whom the president so designates can use his name effectively. If I went to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, for example, and announced that I have come in the name of the president of the United States, they would laugh at me...This is exactly what happened to the seven sons of Sceva. The name of Jesus is no magic formula...Jesus had not authorized the seven sons of Sceva to use His name and, therefore, the power was absent...Because they used the Lord’s name in vain, the seven sons opened themselves to a ferocious spiritual backlash that they would not soon forget. (Wagner, The Book of Acts: A Commentary, 438-39)
The sons of Sceva arrogate the authority of the name of Jesus. If one is not in communion with the owner of the name, she is not in a position to use it. Graham H. Twelftree (b. 1950) notes:
Through repeating the word ’Ιουδαιος (“Jew,” Acts 19:13, 14; cf. Acts 19:17), Luke draws attention to the sons of Sceva being Jews. This is not to be taken in any anti-Semitic sense, for all his major characters are Jews, but in the sense of not being Christians. In particular, in light of what he has just narrated about Paul, Luke is probably condemning these peripatetics in that they are not God or Spirit empowered. Luke describes Paul as letting God work directly through him (Acts 19:11), but the sons of Sceva are said to rely on a thirdhand source of power-authority...Thus Luke draws attention to the importance of the “spirit” identity of the exorcist. Unlike Jesus and Paul of Luke’s narrative, the sons of Sceva are not known in the spirit realm. Therefore, even though, by implication, the spirit would obey Jesus and Paul, their authority is obviated by the intrusion of an unqualified exorcist. (Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians, 150)
Paul produces miracles; the sons of Sceva perform magic. The difference is the authorized use of the name of Jesus. Spiritual liberation comes not from incantations but rather God’s spirit. Without this power source, we are left to battle with our own insufficient strength. As such, Bob Larson (b. 1944) views the story of the sons of Sceva as a cautionary tale:
Be careful not to presumptuously engage in spiritual warfare. If you do, the protection of God’s guidance might be excluded, as it was with the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14-16). These arrogant exorcists tried to cast out demons without the apostle Paul’s knowledge and authority. They didn’t know Christ and acted in self-confidence. Demons attacked them and physically over powered and disgraced them. (Larson, Larson’s Book of Spiritual Warfare), 26)
Bruce B. Barton (b. 1943) reminds that in matters of the spirit, using mere formula is ineffective:
The seven sons of Sceva thought they could manipulate God for selfish ends. If they just had the incantations right, the techniques down, and the process perfected—so they thought—they could “use” God for their own purposes. They failed to realize, however, that Christ’s power cannot be accessed by reciting his name like a magic charm. God works his power only through those he chooses and only at times he determines. Beware of thinking that you can control God by your clever prayers or by precisely following man-made schemes. God is free to do as he likes. (Barton, Acts (Life Application Bible Commentary), 330)
How important are the right words in prayer? Have you ever thought if you found just the right phrase or prayer posture that God would respond as you desired? Conversely, have you ever known someone who said all of the right words but had no substance behind them? Have you ever known someone who tried to play themselves off as something they were not? Why are the sons of Sceva engaging in this activity? Are the sons of Sceva successful?

The sons of Sceva were presumably effective on some levels (Acts 19:13). J. Bradley Chance (b. 1954) realizes:

In some sense, the sons of Sceva do succeed in casting the unclean spirit out of its original victim. The man in need of cleansing is rescued—the narrator does not leave this demon-possessed man, with whom readers are likely to show sympathy, without deliverance. Yet the evil spirit is not conquered—it has found some new hapless victims, persons with whom the reader, however, is presumably not to be sympathetic. The victim is released while the villainous characters get what they deserve. (Chance, Acts (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 347)
Ajith Fernando (b. 1948) analyzes:
As Ed Murphy [b. 1921] points out, this was a case of evil spirits battling each other—that is, the evil spirit in the possessed person battled the demonized exorcists [ The Handbook of Spiritual Warfare, 349]. How can we harmonize this fact with Christ’s statement that Satan will not be divided against Satan [Matthew 12:25-28; Mark 3:23-26]? Demons can expel and attack other demons to enhance the control of demons over people. Such demon-to-demon attacks only increase Satan’s hold over people. (Fernando, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary), 468)
The text’s real issue is the incomparable power of the name of Jesus and ostensibly the believer’s access to it. N.T. Wright (b. 1948) reminds:
The point is of course that Ephesus...was a centre of power: magic power, political power, religious power. And Paul’s ministry demonstrated that the power of the name of the Lord Jesus was stronger than all of them...Luke tells this splendid little tale of the exorcists who thought they could just add the name of Jesus to their repertoire of magic charms, only to discover that the demon they were addressing on this occasion respected Jesus (and Paul as well, as it turned out) but had no respect for them. Here is a vital principle, which Luke has emphasized already in chapters 8 and 13: the gospel does indeed provide power, but it is not ‘magic’. Magic gain that power without paying the price of humble submission to the God whose power it is. But to reject the power, as some (alas) do, because you are afraid of magic, is to throw out the teapot with the old teabags. (Acts for Everyone, Part 2 (New Testament for Everyone), 117-119)
How do you read the supernatural passages of the Bible? Do you believe that there is power in the name Jesus? Are you known in the spiritual realm? Do you wish to be?

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” - Alice Walker (b. 1944)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Blind Ophthalmologist (Matthew 7:5)

What are we first to take out of our own eye? Log or beam (Matthew 7:5)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). In making his case, he invokes graphic imagery:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NASB)
Jesus instructs his followers to take the dokos out of their own eye before assisting someone else. This Greek word is translated alternately “log” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “beam” (ASV, KJV) and “plank” (NIV, NKJV).

Donald A. Hagner (b. 1936) defines:

κάρφοσ [karphos] refers to a small peck of anything (perhaps here “sawdust,” given the meaning of δοκός [dokos]) that may get in a person’s eyes; here it is used metaphorically to indicate some slight or insignificant shortcoming. The repeated reference in these verses to “your brother” indicates that it is primarily the Christian community that is in view. δοκός, “log,” is an intentionally ludicrous exaggeration in its contrast to the speck of sawdust. What is a tiny flaw in another is seen so clearly by a censorious person, while ironically what is an outrageously huge failure in the latter is conveniently overlooked altogether. It is the self-righteous, censorious person who is particularly eager to correct the faults of others. (Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33a), 169)
The illustration emphasizes that one’s own obstruction is far larger than her neighbor’s. R.T. France (1938-2012) analyzes:
This grotesque illustration, drawn from the carpenter’s workshop, exposes graphically the hypocrisy of the sort of criticism condemned in Matthew 7:1-2. The speck (karphos, a tiny splinter of wood or straw; the word is used in secular Greek metaphorically for something minute) and the log (more literally a beam or rafter) in the eye are found also in two Rabbinic sayings, perhaps derived from Jesus’ illustration (Arakhin 16b; BB 15b). (France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 143)
As France notes, the same imagery is found elsewhere. Daniel J. Harrington (b. 1940) surveys:
The fantastic images of the wood chip and the beam illustrate the process of fraternal correction based on Leviticus 19:17: “you shall reason with your neighbor.” The advice is given to the one who offers the correction that he should be of perfect integrity himself and not a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). The same image is used in a rabbinic saying (b. Arak. 16b) but with the roles reversed: “Rabbi Tarfon said: ‘I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who accepts reproof, for if one say to him: “Remove the mote from between your eyes,” he would answer, “Remove the beam from between your eyes.”’” (Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina), 103)
Jesus is depicting the critic as a blind ophthalmologist. Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) explains:
One blinds oneself by rationalizing away one’s guilt (Matthew 7:3-5; also Matthew 6:22-23; cf. Romans 2:1-3; Tert. Apol. 39.14). A splinter or wood chip in one’s eye might render one blind, but a plank imbedded in one’s eye would certainly render one blind. The graphic, even hyperbolic...consider the absurdity of one’s walking around with an thick roof beam protruding from one’s eye (as if either end of it would even fit!), totally ignorant of one’s impossibly grotesque state. Just as one would not want someone blind leading one into a pit (Matthew 15:14, 23:16), one would not want a blind eye surgeon operating on one’s eyes. Only one who sees well is competent to heal others’ source of blindness (cf. Matthew 9:27-31, 20:29-34); thus one must “pluck out” (cf. Matthew 5:30) any impediments to sight. (Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 241)
The image is intended to be absurd and naturally lends itself to caricature. It is an example of Jesus’ humor. Matt Woodley (b. 1960) expounds:
In other words, imagine there’s a man with a huge beam protruding from his eye attempting to perform delicate surgery on your eye. His beam keeps smashing into your face–and everyone else around him—but he’s oblivious to his own problem. It’s funny. And that’s you, Jesus observes, when you perpetuate the cycle of judgment and condemnation. With this illustration Jesus tells us how idiotic we are, but he does it with warmth and humor. He could have shown contempt for the contemptuous and hated those who hate, but that would have accelerated our wretched pattern of judgment. Instead, Jesus threw the wrench of mercy into our hate-filled cycle, causing it to sputter and then grind to a halt. (Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, 90)
Humans often ignore their own shortcomings while maintaining unrealistically high expectations of others. This is why Jesus labels the offender a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). The word and usage are virtually the same in English and in Greek (hupokrites). Strikingly, it is only here that the term is applied to Jesus’ disciples and not his opponents.

Michael J. Wilkins (b. 1949) pinpoints:

The real problem is that the accuser is a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus uses the singular vocative, “You hypocrite,” here, which personalizes the accusation, implying that the hypocrisy is detected among Jesus’ own followers. As earlier (cf. Matthew 6:2, 5, 16), hypocrisy means to perform external acts of righteousness that mask, perhaps even from oneself, one’s own inner corruption...On the one hand, the hypocrisy may be a remedial sin that the disciple can eliminate through self-examination and confession (Matthew 7:5). On the other hand, the hypocrisy may reveal a more terminal sin. Throughout Jesus’ ministry certain people attached themselves to him, but they never truly believed. The primary example is Judas Iscariot, but there were many others who once called themselves disciples, yet never truly believed (e.g.. John 6:60-66). (Wilkins, Matthew (The NIV Application Commentary), 309-310)
Leon Morris (1914-2006) notes that “hypocrite” is especially apropos in this setting:
The word is singularly appropriate here where someone with a large fault is pictured as offering to help another whose disability is the most minor that could be imagined. Jesus is drawing attention to a curious feature of the human race in which a profound ignorance of oneself is so often combined with an arrogant presumption of knowledge about others, especially about their faults. (Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 167)
John Nolland (b. 1947) contends that the offender is oblivious:
Here the hypocrite is not actually conscious of the misrepresentation, but the label indicates that he or she is responsible, nonetheless: the self-blindness is a result of culpable failure to perceive how things really are. (Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 320-321)
Lloyd John Ogilvie (b. 1930) suggests that not only is the log significantly bigger than the speck, but that the judgment itself is an even greater problem than the plank:
The sin in us is more serious to God than the sin in another that we criticize. The sin of negative judgment, in God’s eyes, is larger than the sin in the person we criticize. It is easy to criticize if we have never comprehended how deadly a sin this is. It eats away at us and breaks down not only our relationship with the people, but with God...The point of this pithy parable is that if we busy ourselves with the plank in our own eye, we will have less time and inclination to criticize. If our sour minds are sweetened by God’s forgiveness, we will have less negativism about others. (Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life: A Classic Daily Devotional, 21)
This type of judgment is often an egotrip whereby we tear someone else down in order to build ourselves up. As the discourse illuminates, the sin we hate so much in another is often something we hate about ourselves. In his novel Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth, Herman Hesse (1877-1962) writes, “When we hate a person, what we hate in his image is something inside ourselves. Whatever isn’t part of us can’t excite us (Hesse, 73).”

Psychologists have termed this common phenomenon projection. Both Jesus and Paul addressed the subject (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 2:1-3, 21-23). Frank Minirth (b. 1946) and Paul Meier (b. 1945) inform:

Many “loners” will imagine that other people do not want to get close to them. In reality, they are rejecting the intimacy of others. But in their imagination they blame others because they do not want to become aware of their own irresponsibility. This defense mechanism is known as projection, because they are “projecting” their own rejecting behavior onto others in much the same way that a slide projector projects the slide within itself onto a screen. Matthew 7:3–5 is an excellent description of projection and its hypocrisy. (Minirth and Meier, Happiness Is a Choice: The Symptoms, Causes, and Cures of Depression, 55)
Myron S. Augsburger (b. 1929) sees judgment as evidence of one’s own ignorance of her true nature (Romans 3:23):
Respect for others is an indication of one’s own self-understanding. The awareness of the complexity of our own lives and the limitations of our own nature should help us to be more considerate and understanding of others. This does not mean that, by an attitude of acceptance towards others, we are thereby endorsing their practice. But we can be discerning without being judgmental. The approach of love is to use personal power or privilege to benefit another. And the sanctity of service is realized only as we serve another in the way which that person wishes to be served, else, in serving in the way we wish to serve them, we are actually determining or controlling their lifestyle. In fellowship with another we affirm the worth of the other personality without copying or subscribing to his total life pattern. Hence, to build the community of the kingdom, Jesus asks His disciples to avoid censoriousness, to avoid prejudgment or prejudice, to refrain from stereotyping persons which thereby limits their possibilities for fulfillment. (Augsburger, Matthew (The Preacher’s Commentary), 90)
Do you think the original audience found Jesus’ macabre image offensive? Who do you hold to higher standards, yourself or others? Can you think of an example of projection? Have you ever judged someone harshly without realizing that you were guilty of the same sin? Is their actually fault in the brother or is the issue simply wrong judgment? Is Jesus informing that Christians are entirely prohibited from judging?

R.T. Kendall (b. 1935) examines:

Matthew 7:5 is surely saying at least one of three things: No one ever gets rid of the plank; therefore, no one can ever judge...We can get rid of the plank and then—and only then—can we judge another person...The best situation occurs when one focuses on his or her own plank, and then self-effacingly offers correction to another in a way that will be most welcomed...What is our Lord’s purpose in these words? He wants to help us in the difficult situations we confront in life and bring a balance between a godly, forgiving spirit and an attitude of judgmentalism. (Kendall, Total Forgiveness, 127)
Like most of Jesus’ teachings, some have taken this admonition against judging to the extreme. N.T. Wright (b. 1948) relays:
This does not mean (as some have thought) that no follower of Jesus should ever be a magistrate. God intends that his world should be ordered, and that injustice should be held in check. Jesus is referring, not to official lawcourts, but to the judgments and condemnations that occur within ordinary lives, as people set themselves up as moral guardians and critics of one another. (Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (New Testament for Everyone), 69)
Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940) asserts:
The disciples are not to judge because any judgment that needs to be made has been made. For those who follow Jesus to act as if they can, on their own, determine what is good and what is evil is to betray the work of Christ. Therefore, the appropriate stance for the acknowledgment of evil is the confession of sin. We quite literally cannot see clearly unless we have been trained to see “the log that is in [our] eye.” But it is not possible for us to see what is in our eye because the eye cannot see itself. That is why we are able to see ourselves only through the vision made possible by our participation in a community of forgiveness that allows us to name our sins. (Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 85)
David E. Garland (b. 1947) counters:
The crucial phrase is “first cast out.” Jesus is not directing disciples never to judge others but stressing that their first responsibility is to purify themselves. They have not been called to be moral or theological watchdogs over others (see Romans 14:4). A cartoon typical of Semitic humor warns against trying to remove a sliver from a brother’s eye without first doing the logging on oneself. The order is judge oneself first, then one can see clearly to help, not condemn, another. One is also to remember that the brother’s sliver is just that, a sliver. The real danger of a judgmental spirit is not simply that one will get back what one dishes out to others (see Matthew 18:35), but that it strangles the love for the other. (Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel, 84-85)
Citing contextual evidence, Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) agrees:
The hypocrisy is pretending you have no faults as you look down on someone else and criticize them. While many have interpreted this to mean you should not judge at any time, that clearly does not fit the context, for Matthew 7:6 in many ways is a judgment as to whether an individual is worthy of the gospel...It is obvious here that once you have dealt with your problems, you will have “clear” sight to help others with their difficulties. (Osborne, Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 203)
W.D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison (b. 1950) concur:
In Matthew 7:3 one simply sees (blepein). In Matthew 7:5 one sees clearly (diablepein). In the latter instance one sees in order to help. The stare to find fault becomes the genuinely friendly eye of a brother or sister who is a servant. Some commentators fail to discern in Matthew 7:3-5 any instruction concerning fraternal correction. For them, the text prohibits judging altogether. But Matthew shows a special concern elsewhere for the proper procedures of dealing with sin in others; see Matthew 18:15-20. (Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 106)
Ulrich Luz (b. 1938) adds:
The admonition to think first of the log in one’s own eye is—like the admonitions to forgo the use of force (Matthew 5:39-41)—an exemplary illustration of the principle of Matthew 7:1. Thus the verses by no means want to limit the principle of not judging only to the admonition to see first the log in one’s own eye when one deals with the neighbor. Rather it is a specific example in the area of interpersonal relations. The sharpness of the verses lies not in the fact that the ego of the judging individual is put in a new light. The judging one becomes one who is judged. The tangible power of the metaphors is impressive. The hyperboles of the splinter and the log are “a blow struck at the heart of the man who know good and evil.” The listener is questioned, is startled. The direct address with “you” (singular) intensifies this effect. (Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary (Hermeneia: A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible), 417)
Douglas R.A. Hare (b. 1929) writes that the passage speaks to judmentalism not judging:
The word “judgmentalism” does not appear in all dictionaries, but it names a phenomenon we know all too well. Judgmentalism is a social sin; it is the habit of constantly finding fault with what others say and do. It is a disease of the spirit. The critic arrogantly assumes a superiority that entitles him or her to access the failings of others...It is in response to God’s overwhelming mercy that we renounce the habit of harshly judging others. Matthew is well aware of this connection, as is indicated by his later inclusion of the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23-25). Just as we forgive because we have been forgiven, so we are generous in our judgment of others because God has dealt generously with us. (Hare, Matthew (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 76)
Michael Green (b. 1930) concludes that being judgmental should never be one of the defining qualities of a Christian:
Instead of the critical spirit, disciples should be known for their humility, recognizing their own shortcomings. They should also be known for their helpful spirit, wiling to alleviate the troubles of others by practical help rather than adding to them by carping criticism. (Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven (Bible Speaks Today), 106)
When do you judge others? When you judge someone else, do you remember to inspect yourself first? What planks do you need to remove from your own eye?

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” - Wayne W. Dyer (b. 1940), You’ll See It When You Believe It: The Way to Your Personal Transformation, p. 267

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Time to Hate? (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

Complete: “A time to love, ___________________.” And a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

After being put into lyrics by Pete Seeger (b. 1919) and popularized in 1965 by The Byrds in the song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There is a Season)”, the third chapter of Ecclesiastes is the most recognizable portion of the book. The famous poem, whose author is commonly referred to as Qoheleth, presents a series of opposites unified by the thought of there being a time for each. The unit begins with birth/death and ends speaking of war/peace.

Sidney Greidanus (b. 1935) determines:

The poem uses the word “time” 28 times (4×7), distributed over 14 lines (2×7). Since 7 is the number of completeness (think of the seven days of creation), the author, without naming all possible times, intends to depict the complete number of different times humans may encounter in their lifetime. This is also evident from the first pair, birth and death, which “marks the extreme limits of human existence itself and so by anticipation defines the scope of the whole list.” (Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons, 72)
The closing stanza uses a word often frowned upon - hate.
A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:8 NASB)
The Hebrew sane’ conveys the same intensity as the English “hate” as the term is meant to be contrasted with “love”. The text moves from these personal feelings to the socio-political conditions that they produce, peace and hate.

James L. Crenshaw (b. 1934) sees the poem’s ending as bringing it full circle:

The final pair of opposites concentrates on human emotions, on the personal level and in the wider sphere of international relations. After “there is a time to love and a time to hate” one expects the sequence to read “a time to make peace and a time to wage war.” Qohelet varies the poem’s structure and its syntax, and in doing so he reaches a forceful conclusion. The correspondence between the first infinitive of each pair disappears in this verse, as do the infinitives in the last half verse. The first infinitive (love) is parallel with the last noun (peace), and the second infinitive (hate) corresponds to the third item, the noun (war). The result is a chiastic structure for the whole poem (birth/death: war/peace), and in Ecclesiastes 3:8 taken alone (love/hate: war/peace). (Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 96)
Regarding war and peace, Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) notes that, “According to the Midrash, this pair sums up several of the others, namely uprooting/planting, seeking/losing, tearing down/building up, slaying/healing, ripping/sewing, and hating/loving (Midrash Koheleth Rabbah) (Fox, Ecclesiastes (The JPS Bible Commentary), 22).”

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) asserts that, “It is important to emphasize that the poem does not advocate these emotions/states/actions, but simply describes them as parts of the full spectrum of human experience (Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 117).”

Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) concurs:

The text is a masterpiece of wisdom poetry. J.A. Loader [b. 1945] observes that the verses move back and forth among desirable and undesirable aspects of life, and he correctly notes that the book is not telling the reader how to attain the former and avoid the latter. Nevertheless, he like others, wrongly supposes that the point of this text is that an arbitrary deity manipulates human affairs and that the only appropriate response is resignation to fate. Ecclesiastes is not concerned about questions of “cyclic” verses “linear” time. These verses concern not divine providence or abstract notions of time but human mortality...The poem concerns life “under heaven.” It is not so much a theological statement as an observation on human life in the human world. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 297-298)
Perhaps counterintuitively, there are no Bible passages which condemn war and no one doubts war’s reality. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) lament:
Much of human history has shown that the time for love is short and the time of hate much too long. As for war, it is still an unfortunately attractive means for settling disputes. Peace is the ideal to be hoped for. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Kohelet: A Modern Commentary on Ecclesiastes, 25)
Is hatred ever acceptable? If so, when is it time to hate?

For Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943), the determining factor in deciding whether it is a time for love or hate is context:

It would be easy to conclude from the bulk of proverbial wisdom that some forms of behavior are inherently evil and are never appropriate. But Qohelet makes a radically different claim. He says that circumstances determine whether a given action is good or bad. Even war and hate might be appropriate in certain contexts. Like the wise who listed totally opposite pieces of advice one after another in Proverbs 26:4-5, Qohelet implies that a given action can be either right or wrong, depending on what else is going on when it is done. (Farmer, Who Knows What is Good?: A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (International Theological Commentary), 161)
William P. Brown (b. 1958) reminds, “Qoheleth’s vision of time does not stray far from the tenets of conventional wisdom, whose message frequently is not so much ‘know thyself’ as ‘know the time’ (Brown, Ecclesiastes (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 41).”

Craig G. Bartholomew (b. 1961) asserts that hatred is not inherently wrong:

Hate need not imply something wrong and sinful; in Deuteronomy 12:31, for example, God is referred to as “hating” the ways in which the Canaanites worshiped their gods, and the example is given of child sacrifice. (Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 165)
Similarly, Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) deduces that hatred cannot be evil in and of itself as God hates:
God is not either/or; he is both/and, depending on what time it is. According to God’s schedule, there is both “a time to love, and a time to hate.”...many people like to think of God as love without considering the reality of his wrath. But the hatred of God is one of his perfections. It is right and good for God to oppose every wicked deed and to bring evil to judgment. We see this is the Second Commandment, where the holy God tells us that he will hate idolatry to the third and fourth generation, while at the same time showing love to a thousand generations of people who love and keep his commandments (see Exodus 20:4-6). We also see it in Proverbs, where Solomon tells us seven things that the Lord hates...(Proverbs 6:17-19). (Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word), 82)
As to what the Christian is to hate, Douglas B. Miller (b. 1955) claims that evil should be both hated and battled:
There are things that followers of Jesus should hate (what is evil, Psalm 97:10; Proverbs 8:13; Amos 5:15), and there is a certain kind of warfare that should be engaged (Ephesians 6:10-17). The New Testament writers do not spiritualize the issue but take a position of the tactics of this battle; evil is to be overcome with good by using divine weapons (Romans 12:20-21; Ephesians 6:10-18). (Miller, Ecclesiastes (Believers Church Bible Commentary), 80)
The key is hating what God hates, a sticky predicament as, in deciding, one must assume the will of God. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:
Ecclesiastes 3:8 addresses emotions and their larger social consequences...the verse could seem morally jarring. Even if one grants the necessity of war in a fallen world, in light of occasionally justified killing (→Ecclesiastes 3:3), what about hate? The text does not specify other people as the object, while the rest of scripture does suggest that hate is appropriate with respect to sin...Still in context, the hatred is not violent emotion leading to vicious behavior; to the contrary, it is personal, prayerful alignment with the will of God in judgment. The only sense in which we properly hate the wicked involves prayerfully anticipating judgment in God’s time and refusing to cavort with God’s enemies as if we were simply friends and their opposition to God were no barrier between us. It is never appropriate to hate God’s image-bearers in themselves and as such, or to appoint ourselves as their moral superiors aside from divine grace. But it is necessary to hate evil in such a way that those persistently characterized by opposition to God leave us distraught until we take into account the end of their behavior (Psalm 73:17, 27). (Trier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 154)
Jill Briscoe (b. 1934) sees a correlation between hate and love:
We know there is always a time to love, but is there ever a time to hate? I believe there is a legitimate case for hating whatever it is that spoils love...There is definitely a time to hate that which destroys love. If we hate sin enough, we might be motivated to seek God’s help to turn from it...Yes, there is a time to hate. The problem comes when our love does not contain the element of hatred. False love allows anyone to do anything to anybody regardless of the consequences. False love even loves what God hates!...True love hates what spoils it. (Briscoe, The One Year Book of Devotions for Women, 125)
David George Moore (b. 1958) also lauds a connection between hate and love, advising that even the Christian’s hate should be rooted in love:
Love is a defining character quality of the Christian. The believer is to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39). He is even commanded to love his enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). But love is more than silly sentimentalism. In our therapeutic age, we must remember that it is not antithetical to the Christian virtue of love to show anger (see Ephesians 4:26). When Jesus cleansed the temple (John 2), he did not stop being a loving God. Rather, the manifestation of his love took on a different look. In the same way, our willingness to hate at times is a manifestation of love. If we do not get angry at sin and its effects, do we really know the full truth about God’s love? (Moore and Daniel L. Akin [b. 1957], Ecclesiastes, Songs of Songs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 42)
How important is context in determining the appropriate response to a given situation? What is the relationship between love and hate? Is hate the opposite of love? When and what should we hate? Is it ever appropriate to hate another human being, hating the sinner as well as the sin?

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” - Anne Lamott (b. 1954), Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, p. 22

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Horse of a Different Color (Zechariah 6)

In Zechariah, what colors were the horses that pulled the four chariots of divine judgment? Red, black, white and gray (Zechariah 6:2)

The biblical image of four horses of disparate colors did not originate with the famed four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1-8) but rather the book of Zechariah (Zechariah 6:1-8). Zechariah, the eleventh of twelve minor prophets, was written during the time that the Jerusalem temple was being rebuilt (520-518 BCE).

Zechariah begins with a succession of eight visions (Zechariah 1:7-6:8). The final oracle proves the most obscure and climactic and of the lot (Zechariah 6:1-8). In it, the prophet sees four chariots emerging from bronze mountains (Zechariah 6:1-3). Each chariot is powered by a horse of a different color: red, black, white, and gray or dappled (Zechariah 6:2-3).

With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot strong dappled horses. (Zechariah 6:2-3 NASB)
The first three horses’ pigments are relatively straightforward while the last has generated discussion (Zechariah 6:3). The steed is described by the Hebrew barod (Genesis 31:10, 12; Zechariah 6:3, 6). This word is translated variously as “dappled” (ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV), “gray” (CEV), the combination “dappled-gray” (NLT, NRSV, RSV) and “grizzled strong” (ASV, KJV).

J. Carl Laney (b. 1948) presents the dominant interpretation:

Zechariah..observes that each of the four chariots were drawn by a team of horses—the first chariot by red horses, the second by black horses, the third by white horses, and the fourth by a team of strong, dappled horses. “Dappled” suggests white spots on a dark background. (Laney, Zechariah (Everyman’s Bible Commentaries), 70)
Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) analyzes:
This last term is problematic as the Hebrew texts reads sûsîm běruddîm ’amuşşîm. The term běruddîm apparently refers to “spotted” horses as the root brd is related to the term for “hail” which suggests the general shape of stones or spots. The term ’amuşşîm, however, creates difficulties because it is derived from the root ’ms, “to be strong,” and appears in Zechariah 6:7 as an apparent reference to the “strong steeds” that pull the chariots. Although some scholars maintain that the term has been misplaced here from Zechariah 6:7 by scribal error or that it is a textual corruption for ’adummîm, “red” (cf. Zechariah 6:2) that is designed to suggest spotted red horses, the term can be read as a reference to the “spotted strong horses” of the fourth chariot. (Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, Volume Two (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 625)
The horses are differentiated and defined by their colors. Many have tried to find further significance in their hues. George L. Klein (b. 1955) acknowledges:
Zechariah never explained the symbolism of the colored horses. Consequently, any conclusion one might reach concerning the horses’ colors remains tentative. One approach holds that the colors function solely to distinguish the horses, having no further importance. Alternatively, others attempt to determine precisely what the colors might signify. A particularly popular view associates the horses’ colors in Zechariah 6 with the colors of the horses in Revelation 6:1-8. Following this approach, Merrill F. Unger [1909-1980] suggests that white indicates victory (Revelation 6:2; also Revelation 19:11, 14), red stands for bloodshed (Revelation 6:4), black represents judgment (Revelation 6:5-6), and the dappled color signifies death (Revelation 6:8). Unger fails to demonstrate the accuracy of his association with the diverse colors of horses and concepts such as judgment. Neither does Unger prove that the colors of the horses in Revelation 6 rest on that of the horses in Zechariah 6...The interpretation that the colors signify geographical regions might have merit, but it also lacks certainty. Much like the symbolism in the prophecy in Daniel 7, the ancient rabbis believed that the colors of the horses symbolized world kingdoms. Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome represented probable candidates. However, any association between the colors and world kingdoms must remain tentative at best. (Klein, Zechariah (New American Commentary), 186-187)
Some have tried to link the horses in Zechariah’s final vision (Zechariah 6:1-8) with the steeds in his first oracle (Zechariah 1:8). David L. Petersen (b. 1943) examines:
The horses of the first chariot are bay; those of the second, black; those of the third, white; and those of the fourth, dappled. Only two of these four colors, bay and white, occurred in the description of the horses in Zechariah 1:8...Much ink has been devoted to a comparison of the first and last of Zechariah’s visions, since they both include detailed descriptions of horse colors. Most instructive, however, are the contrasts within this similarity. In the first vision, there are an indefinite number of horses of each color. In the final vision, there are almost certainly eight horses, two per chariot. In the first version one horse has a rider. In the final version all belong with chariots. In the first version we see the horses rest in the divine corral; in the final version we see the horses at an opening that leads into the domain of human affairs. In the first vision the horses have just come from surveying the cosmos, whereas in the second they are about to set out to roam over the earth. In the first vision the colors seem to have no rationale, i.e., there are three colors, two of which are almost identical. In the final vision there are four distinct colors and/or patterns, which, so the interpretation goes, point to the four major points of the compass. The distinctive colors provide the basis for the interpretation of the final vision. Such was not the case in the initial vision. (Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 268-269)
Petersen evaluates another theory as well:
Perhaps the most comprehensive explanation of the colors of the horses is that used most recently by Gerhard von Rad [1901-1971], Friedrich Horst [1896-1962], Joyce G. Baldwin [1921-1995], and others. They maintain that the colors of the first vision are those of the sunset, those of the end of a period, and those of the eighth vision are those of the early morning, those of a new dawn and day. Intriguing and apt as this suggestion is, it is difficult to see how the “dappled” designation is more appropriate for dawn than sunset. Further, I suspect that though this suggestion might explain the origin of the colors, i.e., signifying the temporal frame of Zechariah’s night vision, it does not function importantly as a statement about the interpreted significance of the visions. (Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 269)
There many be no symbolism entailed. Mark J. Boda (b. 1962) notes that each of the horses’ displays a naturally occurring pigmentation:
The colors identified for the horses are the normal range of colors found in nature. The Hebrew tern for “red” (,adom) can be used for a deep brown horse or a chestnut horse, for the chromatic range of this word includes brown (animals), yellowish-brown (lentils), deep red (blood), wine color (wine) and pink (flesh). The Hebrew term behind “brown (saa roq) should be translated “sorrel,” a color combining red and white that produces a pinkish tone and is found among horses. The final color, “white” (laban), regularly occurs among horses. There is no need then to attach symbolic meanings to the colors of the horses in this scene. (Boda, Haggai, Zechariah (The NIV Application Commentary))
Pamela J. Scalise (b. 1950) speculates that the colors say more about their owner than of the horses themselves:
The variety of colors emphasizes the owner’s wealth. In the ancient world, kings and emperor’s owned chariots and used them to exert their military power in war and their authority over conquered territory. These horses and chariots suited their purpose, for all of them were powerful. Israel’s most powerful enemies had used chariots against them—Egypt (Exodus 14:25, 15:4) and the Canaanites at Hazor (Joshua 11:6, 9) and Tabor (Judges 4:5, 5:28). Kings of Israel and Judah had owned chariots, but in postexilic Yehud the only chariots belonged to the Persian emperors. (John Goldingay [b. 1942] and Scalise, Minor Prophets II (New International Biblical Commentary), 239)
Have you ever experienced a vision? What meaning, if any, do you attach to the horses’ colors? Why are these horses, unlike those in other oracles (Zechariah 1:8; Revelation 6:1-8), pulling chariots? What is the meaning of the vision?

The horses are sent in directions as different as their colors. Barry G. Webb (b. 1945) notices that none goes east:

The chariots with the black horses go north; those with the white ones go west, and those with the dappled horses go south. Only three points of the compass are represented, and only three colours (of horses) instead of the four of Zechariah 6:2-3. Furthermore, Zechariah 6:6 opens (in Hebrew) with a connecting word which normally occurs only in mid-sentence. All this taken together seems to indicate that the opening part of Zechariah 6:6 has been accidentally lost in transmission, and that in the original form of the text all four points of the compass were covered. In any case, Zechariah 6:8 makes it clear that the chariots went everywhere, to enforce God’s kingship in every place. (Webb, The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come (Bible Speaks Today), 104)
The narrative concludes by focusing on the black horse traveling to the north (Zechariah 6:8). Mark Allen Hahlen (b. 1959) and Clay Alan Ham (b. 1962) comment:
Of the three directions depicted, the movement of the black horses to the north is emphasized; these horses are named first and again in Zechariah 6:8. North is a place with ominous connotations for the Hebrews (Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6, 6:22; Ezekiel 1:4). From there, enemies of Israel and Judah have entered the land (Jeremiah 10:22), and to the north is the land of the exile (Jeremiah 3:18, 6:22, 16:15, 23:8). Although other nations besides Babylon may be included in the designation “the north” (Isaiah 41:25; Jeremiah 1:15, 46:10, 50:9), Babylon is surely the focus here. (Hahlen and Ham, Minor Prophets, Volume 2: Nahum-Malachi (College Press NIV Commentary), 394)
William P. Brown (b. 1958) delineates:
Between the bronze mountains come four chariots, drawn by different colored horses. Their mission is identical to that of the horses found in the first vision, namely to “patrol the earth” (cf. Zechariah 1:10-11). The two bronze mountains, nowhere else mentioned in scripture, likely mark off the boundary between heaven and earth. The image of the chariot represents the presence of God (Habakkuk 3:8). Indeed, a common title for God was “rider of the clouds” (Psalm 68:4). As the four winds, the chariots are commanded to scatter in all directions (cf. Jeremiah 4:13). The winds were traditionally conceived as messengers of God (Psalm 104:4)...Since it is not mentioned in the list of directions (Zechariah 6:6), the first chariot, with red or bay horses, is the one, presumably to fly eastward. Yet it is the second chariot (with black horses), which heads towards the north, that gains the spotlight. It is through the black horses that God’s spirit is set at rest. The land that lay to the north, which included the land of Shinar (Zechariah 5:11), was traditionally regarded as the land of the enemy of Israel. To claim that God’s spirit is at rest in the north is tantamount to claiming that the superpowers that have plagued Israel throughout its history have been subjugated once and for all. (Brown, Obadiah through Malachi (Westminster Bible Companion), 156)
James E. Smith (b. 1939) summarizes:
The cycle of visions comes to a close with a symbolic portrayal of worldwide judgment. In the first vision the angelic reconnaissance force found the world to be at ease and the people of God humiliated. Now divine wrath is unleashed against those oppressors. The security of Zion, the people of God, is thus achieved. (Smith, The Minor Prophets (Old Testament Survey), 553)
Zechariah’s message is one of hope. Elizabeth Achtemeier (1926-2002) interprets:
Various colored horses...pulling war chariots symbolic of God’s sovereign might, come forth from the entrance to heaven, which is here symbolized by the two impregnable mountains of bronze (cf. Jeremiah 1:18). The horses and chariots are said to represent the four winds of heaven (Zechariah 6:5, contra RSV; cf. Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2). That is, they are the messengers of God (cf. Psalm 104:4). Impatient to leave on their mission, they are dispatched by God all over the earth, symbolizing that his sovereignty is worldwide. This is explicitly stated in the oracle of the Lord in Zechariah 6:8: God’s spirit is at rest in the north country; nothing further needs to be done before the Lord can bring his Kingdom. (Achtemeier, Nahum--Malachi (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 129-130)
Peter C. Craigie (1938-1985) adds:
The vision of the departure of horses and chariots on worldwide missions of military intervention establishes not only a central part of the meaning of all eight visions, but also a chronological perspective within which to interpret the prophet’s words. The restoration of the temple and of leadership in Judah presupposed a renewal of the Kingdom of God in the world; it intimated that more lay in the future than simply a refurbished temple and a rejuvenated government. Only when foreign nations were overthrown could the chosen people be truly free once again...Although the words are concerned with Zechariah’s immediate present, with the temple and government in Jerusalem, time is collapsed in the vision to join the present to what was a more remote future. What was happening anticipated in a mysterious fashion what was yet to happen. And though we may find the visionary words as difficult to grasp in detail as did the prophet’s first audience, we may share with them the absolute conviction of the prophet’s central message. God was and is sovereign in human history. (Craigie, Twelve Prophets, Volume 2 (Daily Study Bible Series), 186)
Israel’s enemies assume that Yahweh is another god they had vanquished like all the others. Zechariah’s final vision (Zechariah 6:1-8) affirms that Yahweh is a horse of a different color.

Why do you think none of the horses is explicitly said to travel east? How does your perception of God’s sovereignty affect your life? How active is God in history? In your life?

“There’s only one of him and he’s it. He’s the Horse of a Different Color, you’ve heard tell about.” - Guardian of the Emerald City Gates (Frank Morgan, 1890-1949), The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Must Work For Food? (II Thessalonians 3:10)

Complete: “If anyone will not work, let him not ___.” Eat (II Thessalonians 3:10)

II Thessalonians addresses people who act parasitically by taking from the church without making any contribution (II Thessalonians 3:6-13). Paul commands the Thessalonians to not be idle and reminds them of the example set forth by he and his fellow ministers (II Thessalonians 3:6-9). He then mentions a policy he had implemented when he was ministering in Thessalonica (II Thessalonians 3:10).

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. (II Thessalonians 3:10 NASB)
These are Paul’s harshest words on the subject. Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007) paraphrases: “No loaf for the loafer (Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background Growth and Content, 221)!”

Jon A. Weatherly (b. 1958) comments:

This command should have been familiar to the idlers from the beginning, as it constituted a memorable part of Paul’s oral instruction...The content of the command is deliberately terse and parallel, probably to make it easier for the Christian converts to remember. “Will” here does not indicate the future tense but translates θέλω (thelō), indicating a willingness to do the action mentioned. So Paul’s original oral instruction specifically censured the refusal to work, not the inability to work. The sanction placed on such people is that they “shall not eat,” a phrase translating an imperative verb which might be translated “must not eat.” Clearly the church could not stop the idle from obtaining bread from other sources, so the point is that the church should not subsidize those in their fellowship who refuse to support themselves when they have the means and opportunity. All the verbs in this command are in the present tense and emphasize continuing action, so the instruction might be translated, “If anyone continually does not want to keep working, he must not keep eating.” (Weatherly, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The College Press NIV Commentary), 296)
Leon Morris (1914-2006) adds:
The saying emphasizes the will — “If anyone won’t work, refuses to work...” The concluding clause is not a statement of fact, “he shall not eat,” but an imperative, “let him not eat.” Paul is giving the clearest expression to the thought that the Christian cannot be a drone. It is obligatory for him to be a worker. (Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 256)
The command appears to have been a slogan during the author’s ministry in the area. Gene L. Green (b. 1951) speculates:
The author makes no mention of the teaching about work that they had briefly included in the first letter (I Thessalonians 4:11-12), reminding them rather of the oral instruction that, according to many Roman and Greek authors, was more potent than written communication...This instruction came in the form of an authoritative command (II Thessalonians 3:4, 6, 12; see I Thessalonians 4:11): “We gave you this command” (NRSV; parēngellomen). The verb is in the imperfect tense, which suggests that the teachers had given this command on various occasions during their rather short stay in Thessalonica. (Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 349)
Though unwritten, the command has both biblical and theological roots. Beverly Roberts Gaventa (b. 1948) explains:
The language employed is quite emphatic, referring to the presence of the apostles with the believers and using the language of command. Neither the Gospels nor the Pauline letters contain any such “commandment,” and it may be that the writer draws on proverbial wisdom that has developed from Genesis 3:17-19 (see also Psalm 128:2 and Proverbs 6:6-11). The Didache, an early Christian manual of instruction, reflects a similar wisdom: “[N]o Christian shall live idle in idleness. But if anyone will not do so [i.e., work], that person is making Christ into a cheap trade; watch out for such people” (12:4-5; author’s translation). (Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching) , 130)
Theologian Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) probes:
The first point that we must make from an ideological standpoint is that work belongs in every sense to the order of necessity. If God gave it to man as a means of survival, he also made it a condition of survival. This is what Paul has in mind when he says that if a man will not work, neither should he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). Work is no part of the order of grace, liberality, love, and freedom. Confusion must be avoided in this regard...In Christ the order of necessity is by no means abolished. There is victory over it...But death, evil, and the powers still exist. They constitute the order of necessity in which man is always set...Work has to be accepted in a sign of our creatureliness and our sinfulness. (Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom, 505-506)
John Piper (b. 1946) summarizes, “Able-bodied people who choose to live in idleness and eat the fruit of another’s sweat are in rebellion against God’s design. If we can, we should earn our own living (Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 147).”

It is uncertain why the Thessalonians were not working. Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) interprets:

The “surprise” element for the later reader is the fact that Paul had had to make such a ruling, apparently in an ongoing way, when he and his companions were present with them...Although we have no hints in the text itself as to why this had been a matter of concern even from the beginning of his ministry there, there can be little question that the issue is not a recent one, one that had come up after the apostolic trio had left Thessalonica. Both Paul’s opening clause “when we were with you”) and his putting the verb in the imperfect “we used to give you this command”) indicate that something was not quite right among them from the beginning. (Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 332)
Some have seen the Thessalonians’ lack of diligence as the result of perceiving the second coming as so imminent (I Corinthians 7:31) as to make work futile. Brian D. McLaren (b. 1956) and Tony Campolo (b. 1935) relay:
The Apostle Paul-who expected the imminent return of Christ–had to warn the Christians of his day to get in about their business, for apparently some were spending all their time waiting for Christ’s return instead of working and earning a living for themselves and their dependents. No freeloading, Paul declared (II Thessalonians 3:10) (McLaren and Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, 62)
This theory posits that the church at Thessalonica was so convinced of the second coming that they stopped everything to wait. The opposite is often true now as contemporary churches do nothing to demonstrate that they are actively anticipating the second coming.

The belief that the Thessalonians refused to work while waiting is not the only view of the situation in Thessalonica. Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) explicates:

Much of Paul’s eschatological teaching in II Thessalonians makes it clear that some people are thinking that the parousia is extremely imminent or has actually passed (see especially II Thessalonians 2:2). Not working is then related to the assumption that this life or present world-order is on the verge of vanishing. But increasingly, scholars are agreeing more that a sociological problem is more likely in view here. Paul never explicitly connects the Thessalonians’ idleness with his teaching about the parousia, but there is much in the Greco-Roman practice of patronage and benefaction that could have led to the problems described here. If a significant number of the Thessalonians before converting to Christ had been clients who worked only sporadically and relied on the gifts of their wealthy patrons...then it is understandable that they might have expected well-to-do leaders in the Christian community to treat them in a similar fashion...But Paul will consistently challenge the conventional system of patronage throughout his epistles. (Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (New Studies in Biblical Theology), 180-181)
G.K. Beale (b. 1949) sees problems with sociological considerations being the rationale behind the Thessalonians’ slothfulness:
This may have been an encouragement not to support those who refused to engage in some self-supporting livelihood, perhaps recalling the command of II Thessalonians 3:6 and anticipating the similar imperative of II Thessalonians 3:14. Some scholars exclude any connection of the problem of work with eschatalogical error and see it related only to a sociological problem in the Hellenistic world. For example, Ronald Russell locates the “idle” against the sociological background in the average Hellenistic city, where opportunities for work were often limited and there was widespread unemployment and a diverse social class of poor people. Sometimes such people were able to come into relationship with a patron or benefactor who would support them in exchange for various forms of service. Russell contends that some of these poor in Thessalonica who became Christians formed client relationships with Christian benefactors in the church but then took advantage of the context of Christian love and did not feel any obligation to reciprocate with appropriate service. Since such reciprocal service was an expectation in the culture, the populace at large would have taken a dim view of the church if it allowed the new Christian converts to sponge off wealthier Christians. Consequently, Paul wanted to avoid such a bad witness...The sociological approach, however, is likely not an exhaustive explanation of the situation. Maarten J.J. Menken [b. 1948] rightly concludes that, while such a sociological view explains the reason church members were unemployed, it does not explain “their unwillingness to work”...Rather, the false teaching that the final resurrection and Christ’s parousia has come explains their desire not to work. (Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series), 255-256)
Ernest Best (1917-2004) speculates:
Such teaching would have been necessary in view of the Hellenistic dislike of anything other than intellectual labour for free men; Christians, taught that they were free, would have run the danger of thinking they ought to cease manual work; this is more probable than that they would think themselves too pious to work (Adolf Schlatter [1852-1938]) or too ‘spiritual’ (cf. Walter Schmithals [1923-2009], Robert Jewett [b. 1933]). The danger was probably inflamed by the apocalyptic atmosphere of the Thessalonian community and so became an acute problem for it; lacking this atmosphere Paul did not need to take up the point in other letters; the initial teaching was sufficient to control the situation. (Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 338)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) summarizes:
Most interpreters regard the attention given to disruptive idleness as evidence that our author knows it to be a problem in Christian circles (cf. Wolfgang Trilling [1925-1993] 1980, 152). There is less agreement, however, about why certain believers were no longer willing to work. Some offer a theological explanation, attributing it to the (perhaps fanatical) belief that the day of the Lord had already arrived, from which it was concluded that mundane responsibilities were no longer important (e.g., Paul-Gerhard Müller [b. 1940], 2001, 294). A variation of this view holds that those who regarded the Kingdom as Paradise restored were rejecting as obsolete the decree of Genesis 3:17-19 that humanity must sustain itself through the arduous tilling of the soil (Maarten J.J. Menken [b. 1948] 137-141). In fact, however, the author himself neither specifies nor even implies that the problem of idleness has its roots in an erroneous eschatalogy...Sociological explanations of the problem, even when they are plausible, are also hard to substantiate from what is actually said...Because the author’s whole discussion of this matter is couched in such general terms, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions about the situation that may have evoked it. Indeed, some have questioned whether the author even had a specific situation in view (e.g. Willi Marxsen [1919-1993] 1982, 100). Perhaps he has simply imagined a situation that allows him to emphasize very concretely...the vital importance of adhering to apostolic tradition. (Furnish, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 177)
Whatever their reasons, it is likely that members of the church at Thessalonica were slacking and that their behavior necessitated the reminder. As such, the policy does not speak to unemployment in general but rather to those who have options to work and choose not to take them.

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) distinguishes:

It is refusal to work that is reprobated here...Comparable sayings are quoted from Jewish and early Christian literature. Rabbi Abbahu is cited as saying, “If I do not work, I do not eat” (Genesis Rabbah 2.2 on Genesis 1:2). In a non-Pauline area of the early Christian world the Didache instructs its readers how to deal with visitors who come to them in the Lord’s name: “If he who comes is a traveler, help him as much as you can, but he shall not stay with you more than two days or, if necessary, three. If he wishes to settle down with you and has a craft, let him work for his bread...But if he has no craft, make such provision for him as your intelligence approves, so that no one shall live with you in idleness as a Christian. If he to do, he is making merchandise of Christ...beware of such people” (12:2-5). (Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 45), 200-201)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) concurs:
The command that the person isn’t to eat who doesn’t work because he doesn’t want to work—this command means that his fellow Christians shouldn’t feed him. Hunger may teach him to work for his own food. His fault lies in a lack of desire, not in the job market. (Gundry, Commentary on First and Second Thessalonians)
Also in agreement, Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) advises:
Be careful not to use this verse on those who are willing but unable to work. It is easy to glibly dismiss the difficult conditions of those with disabilities, lack of job training, or lack of job availability. Paul’s harsh words are for people who are unwilling to work when they have both the ability and the opportunity. This phrase should used to hammer the poor. (Osborne, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Life Application Bible Commentary),146)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) notes that this guideline was presented in such a way as to make it foundational to the functioning of the community:
He conveys this as a rule of fundamental importance (note the emphatic “this” and the imperfect tense [=continuing past action]): “This is what we were commanding you: ‘If someone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10b, author’s translation). Formally, this command is typical of regulations that stipulate how particular situations should be dealt with in the life of a particular community...Moreover, its linking of eating to work reflects the view, expressed in many ancient sources, that providing for one’s own livelihood is a responsibility that must not be shirked, and that there will be serious consequences when it is (e.g. Proverbs 6:6-11; cf. Proverbs 10:4. 12:11; Pseudo-Phoculides, Sent 153-54; Dio Chrystostom Or. 7 [discussed by Hock, 1980, 44-45]). (Furnish, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 176)
With this in mind, many communities have institutionalized this rule, including the first permanent English settlement in America, Jamestown. Robert Jewett (b. 1933) notes that North America is not the only continent to create rules based upon this Scripture:
The only quotation from the Bible in the constitution of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is the famous line about not being fed without working. It is curious that it played a larger role in a communist state than it has in mainline churches around the world, where it is occasionally cited as a warning against laziness but it is never included in the founding instruction of church members as indicated by II Thessalonians 3:10. Could this and other passages in the Pauline letters disclose a tradition of voluntary communalism that has been buried by our dominant interpretive tradition? (Jewett, Paul the Apostle to America: Cultural Trends and Pauline Scholarship, 73)
This mandate often sounds harsh to modern readers as, in some ways, society appears to be moving away from this principal. Kenneth Minogue (b. 1930) chronicles:
I take my bearing from what Bernard Williams [1929-2003] wrote when the Social Justice Commission (of which he was a member) published its report in October 1994..Inequalities, he argued, must be eliminated as much as possible, and ‘everyone is entitled, as a right of citizenship, to be able to meet their basic needs of income, shelter and other necessities’. We are clearly some distance from St. Paul’s ‘if any would not work, neither should he eat’. (David Boucher [b. 1951] and Paul Kelly [b.1962], “Social justice in theory and practice”, Perspectives on Social Justice: From [David] Hume [1711-1776] to [Michael] Walzer [b. 1935], 263)
Still, beneath II Thessalonians’ argument is the premise that work is inherently good for humanity. Henry Cloud (b. 1956) speculates that work’s responsibility is actually empowering:
People who don’t obey this law of cause and effect, who don’t own their behavior and the consequences for it, feel enormously powerless. They become dependent on others who encourage their irresponsibility to maintain their dependency. They have no confidence in their ability to cause an effect. This is why Paul says in II Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat..” He knows that there is dignity and joy in good behavior. (Cloud, Changes That Heal: The Four Shifts That Make Everything Better...And That Everyone Can Do, 101)
D. James Kennedy (1930-2007) sees compassion in the rule given to the Thessalonian church:
Most people feel a twinge of guilt when they hear those words, as if they were without compassion. But this is the most compassionate statement on the subject of economics that has ever been uttered. Were that dictum not followed to a large degree, famine and starvation would plague the world. So let it be proclaimed to a deaf culture committed to a form of socialism that scholar Rousas Rushdoony [1916-2001] calls “the politics of guilt and pity”; if one will not work, nether let him eat. (Kennedy, How Would Jesus Vote?: A Christian Perspective on the Issues, 103-104)
What are the benefits of working? Do you view work as a blessing or a curse? Why were the Thessalonians idlers? What is the connection between working and eating? How does this passage speak to modern welfare programs? Should II Thessalonians 3:10 be a foundational principal for governments? When have you seen someone take advantage of charity? How should Christians assist the unemployed? At what point does one move from helping to enabling? Does Paul add stipulations to Jesus’ mandate in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:42)?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:42 NASB).” Interpreters often focus on either II Thessalonians 3:10 or Matthew 5:42 and ignore the verse that does not suit their purposes. For instance, social activist Shane Claiborne (b. 1975) never addresses II Thessalonians 3:10 in either of his first two books on being an “ordinary radical”, The Irresistible Revolution (2006) or Jesus For President (2008). In contrast, ultraconservatives seldom mention Matthew 5:42 when lauding the benefits of enforcing II Thessalonians 3:10.

Feeding the needy is a critical issue at the heart of Christianity. Michael W. Holmes (b. 1950) records:

Human beings, Jesus reminds us, do not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3), but neither do they live without bread. Work is the means by which humans acquire “bread,” that is, the necessities for life (food, clothing, shelter). In the biblical tradition, people who are able to work do so in order to provide for themselves and their families. They also work in order to provide for those who, for whatever reasons, are unable to work (Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28). Indeed, “in the Bible and in the first centuries of Christian tradition, meeting one’s needs and the needs of one’s community (especially its underprivileged members) was clearly the most important purpose of work.” (Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (The NIV Application Commentary), 283)
Knowing when and how to help feed someone’s needs is not always clear cut. Gary W. Demarest (b. 1926) acknowledges:
Wherever the gospel of Christ has truly taken hold of the lives of people, difficult questions arise with regard to the poor and needy. The initial impetus of the Bible, New and Old Testaments alike, is the responsibility of the better-off to help and care for those in need. But having said that, the questions must still be raised as to why they are in need. Sometimes it is a matter of tough luck, sometimes a matter of circumstances, sometimes a matter of physical or mental limitations, sometimes a matter of geography and/or politics. The reasons are many and complex...Here, the only people to whom the proverb was applicable were those who were quite capable of working and for whom work was available, but who persisted in their refusal to work. (Demarest, 1,2 Thessalonians, 1,2 Timothy, and Titus (The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol. 32), 143)
R.A. Torrey (1856-1928) answers:
Matthew 5:42 undoubtedly teaches that the disciple of Jesus Christ should give to everyone that asks of him, but it does not teach that he should necessarily give money. When Peter and John were appealed to in Acts 3:2-4 by the lame man at the Gate Beautiful they gave to him, but they did not give him money–they gave him something better. Paul distinctly says in II Thessalonians 3:10: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” This does not mean that if a man is a tramp we should not give him when he asks, but it does mean that we should use discrimination in what we give him. (Torrey, Practical And Perplexing Questions Answered, 64)
Using discernment instead of creating a blanket rule regarding giving to the needy is wise counsel.

What do love and justice require with respect to the distribution of wealth and income? Under what circumstances should we give money to those in need?

“Work is not man’s punishment! It is his reward and his strength, his glory and his pleasure.” - George Sand (1804-1876)