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