The Gamaliel principle

Have you ever heard of the Gamaliel principle? It is based on the account in Acts about a Pharisee in Israel who warned the Sanhedrin to not kill the Apostles, but rather let their movement play itself out to see if it was of God. This is fine of course, until you see how it gets applied these days. Now, certain heretics and manipulators use this idea to mean that if someone’s church or ministry is growing, God is certainly behind it. How can you oppose the LDS Church or Benny Hinn, when he has big crowds or they are building new temples? Certainly their success means they are blessed by God, and therefore anything they may do wrong can be overlooked.

John Span addresses this kind of nonsense in this excellent article. He quotes Abraham Kuyper, among others, on the passage in Acts. Kuyper wrote:

Gamaliel’s advice is bad. It is not true that God destroys forthwith that which is not from him and crowns with success every endeavour of his believers. .. How is it that Gamaliel’s advice, so profoundly untrue, is repeated again and again in life? Could it not be just as well the other way around, that to have no success suggests virtue?… Oppressed, downtrodden, molested—can these not be signs that you are walking on the way of God?”

Generally speaking, if you hear someone throwing around this “principle”, it is a good sign to run away from his church/parachurch/ministry.

Thank you to Leonard’s Books

I had a couple fairly cheap Bibles that were in bad shape. Neither were terribly old, and both text blocks were in pretty good condition, but the covers were in shambles and one was disintegrating. The first was a Crossway ESV Thinline Edition that I purchased in 2005 and carried around for a few years. The text was fine but the cover was scratched, falling apart and in poor shape. The second Bible was a New American Standard Ultra Thin Reference Edition published by Broadman & Holman that I bought my wife in 1997. It was basically unusable due to falling apart. Although the text block was OK, maps were falling out and endpapers were not in good shape.

I decided to send both of these Bibles to Leonard’s Books after reading such glowing reviews of their work and seeing pictures of it too. Today, our Bibles came back in the mail, and Leonard’s did delightful work! Here are some “after” pictures though, and I hope they show you how Leonard’s took some average, cheap Bibles that did not last very long at all and turned them into really solid books that should last for many, many decades to come. Thanks Leonard’s!

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The ESV Thinline
The NAS before the rebind
The NAS was in bad shape!
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The NAS
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Both Bibles showing the yap and ribbons, which are original
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How the NAS opens
Both texts open, NAS on top, ESV on the bottom
Both texts open, NAS on top, ESV on the bottom
For comparison, the Leonard's rebinds on the bottom with the ESV Reader's edition from Crossway, and the ESV Clarion Reference edition from Cambridge
For comparison, the Leonard’s rebinds on the bottom with the ESV Reader’s edition from Crossway, and the ESV Clarion Reference edition from Cambridge

Encouraging Words from Archbishop Beach

I have hesitations about ACNA on many fronts, but one thing that heartens me is the basic love for the Bible that Archbishop Beach displays. The latest example of that love is this post on the denomination’s website, part of which says:

4) Learn them – What does the verse or passage really mean? What is the context of the passage? How does this apply today to my life and ministry? How many of the 10 Commandments do you know? How many of Jesus’s Commandments do you know? Can you explain God’s plan of Salvation? Do you know any of the promises of God which apply to your life now? Can you share any of the miracles which Jesus did? Can you explain any of his parables and what they mean? God’s people need to learn the Word of God. Learning the Word of God includes studying and memorizing it.

5) Inwardly digest them – This means to meditate on them; reflect on them; and think on them. The Hebrew word for meditate is a word picture of a cow chewing its food. How does a cow eat the grass? Chews on it; swallows it; brings it back up; chews it some more; swallows it; brings it back up; and chews it some more. This is what we do with the Word of God. We are to inwardly digest it; think about it.

William Witt on the Justification for Bishops

William Witt has a new post up defending the role of Bishops in the Anglican Communion. He leans on Richard Hooker, and a Biblical basis for having bishops, saying, “Both Puritans and Anglo-Catholics insisted that church order was of the esse of the church; Hooker believed it was of the bene esse. Bishops are part of positive law. They are part of good order, and part of ancient tradition. They are permissible, but not necessary.”

An excerpt from his post:

The fundamental difference between Richard Hooker and his Puritan opponents had to do with the issue of contemporary application. Both Hooker and the Puritans agreed that Scripture was the final authority for Christian doctrine and practices, but they differed on what that meant for the contemporary application of Scripture. The Puritans subscribed to the “regulative” principle of biblical interpretation: whatever is not specifically commanded in Scripture is forbidden. Accordingly, they were opposed to such practices as the exchange of wedding rings, written liturgies (such as the Book of Common Prayer), hymns (apart from the Psalms), vestments, and bishops, insofar as the Puritans noted correctly that the New Testament makes no inherent distinction between presbyteroi (presbyters) and episkopoi (bishops). To the contrary, Hooker embraced a permissive understanding of biblical hermeneutics: whatever Scripture does not explicitly forbid is permitted. Moreover, Hooker distinguished between matters of doctrine and morals (which are unchangeable), and matters of civil and ritual law (which are changeable by the church). The famous distinction between moral, civil and ritual law is not original to Hooker; it can be found in Thomas Aquinas, in the Lutheran Confessions, and in John Calvin. Hooker also insisted, however, that the distinction meant that churches were free to adopt ecclesiastical practices that were not explicitly commanded in the New Testament as long as they were not forbidden. This included written prayers (liturgical worship, including the Prayer Book), practices such as exchanging wedding rings, and retaining the historic catholic practice of the three-fold order of bishops, priests, and deacons – even if that order is not explicitly commanded or found in the New Testament.

Noah and the Nephilim

I watched Noah last weekend and it led me to re-read the Noah narratives in Genesis. One of the most fascinating (or bizarre) aspects of the movie is the appearance of the Watchers who are from the pseudepigraphal book of I Enoch and who are commonly tied to the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis. When you grow up Dispensational like I did, you are very familiar with the Nephilim, because they are alleged to be behind everything from UFOs to Greek gods. With all this in mind, I read John Sailhamer on Noah from his book The Pentateuch as Narrative. Quotes from Sailhamer’s commentary follow:

Historically, there have been three primary interpretations. The “sons of God” are (1) angels (the oldest view, e.g., Codex Alexandrinus, an early manuscript of the LXX); (2) royalty (also very old, e.g., Targum Onkelos, 1)Onkelos says, “And it was when the sons of men had begun to multiply upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the mighty [or “sons of the rulers”] saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, and took to them wives of all whom they pleased.”  though Levy suggests that these may be “angels” in Onkelos; see also Targum Neophyti I…(3) pious men from the “line of Seth.” The first view has not been widely held since it appears to contradict the statement in Matthew 22:30: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” The commonly accepted view is that the “sons of God” refer to the godly, pious line of Seth. All such interpretations, however, originate from the assumption that 6:1-4 is an introduction to the account of the Flood and is therefore to be understood as the cause of the Flood. If we read 6:1-4 as a summary of chapter 5, however, there is little to arouse our suspicion that the events recounted are anything out of the ordinary. As a summary of the preceding chapter, this little patch of narrative is a reminder that the sons and daughters of Adam had greatly increased in number, had married, and had continued to have children. The impression it gives is that of an interlude, a calm before the storm. For a brief moment we see a picture of human beings in the midst of their everyday affairs “marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Mt 24:38-39).

[…]

The mention of the “Nephilim,” sometimes rendered “giants,” ties these verses to the preceding chapter. The author uses the term Nephilim elsewhere in the Pentateuch to refer to the great men who were in the land of Canaan at the time of the exodus (Nu 13:32-33). Here in Genesis 6:4 the term Nephilim also appears to refer to the great men of antiquity. In the light of the fact that the author has just completed a list of the names of ten great men from antiquity (chap. 5), it is possible that he has these ten men in mind in referring to the “men of name” (6:4). The mention of the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33, however, suggests that they still survived in the days of the Exodus, which would appear to conflict with our taking them as the ten great men of chapter 5.

So Sailhamer’s point is that the textual division in our Bibles is inaccurate. The portion outlined in blue below should be one unit, but as you can see, our versification and the placement of headings cause us to read the text incorrectly and break it up where it should not be broken. The “Increasing Corruption…” should be placed before 6.5:

1

 

It should be more like:

2

 

Contrasted to Sailhamer’s view is that of James B. Jordan who wrote:

Contrary to Jewish superstitions, the “ sons of God” were not angels who married human women. Nor were they “mighty kings” who grabbed all the pretty girls. In context, they were the descendants of Seth who intermarried with the line of Cain, since Genesis 5:1 – 6:8 is one story designed to tell us how the saints forsook their calling through intermarriage.

The meaning is that when Christians lend their strength to pagans, by any form of “intermarriage,” the result is a strong and powerful pagan civilization. The wicked, being in rebellion against God and His Spirit, can only become weaker and weaker, since they reject the Source of all life and strength.
When Christians lend them our strength, however, they can form a violent and powerful evil civilization.

After David, God’ s people no longer faced giants, but they did face Nephilim, for whenever God’ s people compromised with the wicked, they made the wicked strong. Jesus faced such a situation, as the Jews of His day had made their peace with all kinds of pagan ideas about law and philosophy. And we face the same kinds of Nephilim today.

References   [ + ]

1. Onkelos says, “And it was when the sons of men had begun to multiply upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the mighty [or “sons of the rulers”] saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, and took to them wives of all whom they pleased.” 

Theophilus

Robin Lane Fox provides an interesting take on the addressee of Luke and Acts:

Acts and its companion volume, the third Gospel, were dedicated to “most excellent” Theophilus, who wished to “know more exactly” about the faith “of which he had heard.” Only one other type of person is called “most excellent” in the two books: a Roman provincial governor. The usage of contemporary Emperors and the incidence of the title in inscriptions and the papyri confirm that “most excellent” people were people of very considerable rank and position: Theophilus, then, is the cover name for a highly placed figure in Roman circles. Acts’ abrupt ending is explained if “Theophilus” knew the sequel to Paul’s years of arrest. “Theophilus” had heard of Paul’s trial and execution: perhaps he had attended both. He wished to know the truth of a faith which had interested him but now lay under this recent cloud. Acts and the third Gospel are the first, and greatest, of Christian apologies to be addressed to highly placed pagans.

N.T. Wright Explains the Prodigal Son

Sermons on the prodigal son (Luke 15) often take the tack of contrasting a performance based “salvation by works” attitude on the part of the elder brother with the gracious father who “saves” based entirely on free grace. Is this what Jesus was talking about to his first century Jewish audience?
N.T. Wright says that the story Jesus tells is instead about Israel. He writes:

Consider: here is a son who goes off in disgrace into a far country and then comes back, only to find the welcome challenged by another son who has stayed put. The overtones are so strong that we surely cannot ignore them. This is the story of Israel, in particular of exile and restoration. It corresponds more or less exactly to the narrative grammar which underlies the exilic prophets, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and a good deal of subsequent Jewish literature, and which must therefore be seen as formative for second-Temple Judaism. The exodus itself is the ultimate backdrop: Israel goes off into a pagan country, becomes a slave, and then is brought back to her own land. But exile and restoration is the main theme. That is what the parable is about.

Babylon had taken the people into captivity; Babylon fell, and the people returned. But in Jesus’ day many, if not most, Jews regarded the exile as still continuing. The people had returned in a geographical sense, but the great prophecies of restoration had not yet come true. What was Israel to do? Why, to repent of the sin which had driven her into exile, and to return to YHWH with all her heart. Who would stand in her way, to prevent her return? The mixed multitude, not least the Samaritans, who had remained in the land while the people were in exile. But Israel would return, humbled and redeemed: sins would be forgiven, the covenant renewed, the Temple rebuilt, and the dead raised. What her god had done for her in the exodus – always the crucial backdrop for Jewish expectation – he would at last do again, even more gloriously. YHWH would finally become king, and would do for Israel, in covenant love, what the prophets had foretold. 

The Lutheran “faith vs. works” interpretation of this parable presented by many clergy is not what Jesus was driving at. As Wright puts it:

His (Jesus) welcome to all and sundry, that free commensality of which Crossan writes so movingly, was a sign that resurrection – forgiveness – restoration – return from exile – the reign of YHWH – were all happening under the noses of the elder brothers, the self-appointed stay-at-home guardians of the father’s house. The covenant was being renewed, and Jesus’ welcome to the outcasts was a vital part of that renewal.

Eden as Temple

William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely compare Eden to the Tabernacle and Temple:

The same Hebrew word, hithallek, used to described God “walking to and fro” in the Garden, also describes his divine presence in the Tabernacle (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14). The same word God used when he commanded Adam and Eve to “work” in the Garden – avodah – is used to describe the “service” of the Tabernacle performed by the priesthood. The precious onyx stones mentioned in Eden decorated the Tabernacle and were worn on the shoulders of the high priest (Exod. 25:7; 28:9, 20).

Intinction (Should Go)

One practice in urgent need of reform in liturgical churches in intinction (dipping the communion bread into the cup of wine prior to eating it). I suspect that most people haven’t really thought through why they do what they do in communion, and pick up what they do by habit. I have never heard any teaching on the subject that I can remember, and yet what we do in these rituals is vitally important. In my parish and every other Anglican parish I visit, intinction is widely — and in some cases almost exclusively — practiced.
Many of us have recognized that using grape juice for communion is absurd and a relic of Prohibition. We can see that crackers are not bread and grape juice is not wine. Many have also recognized that yes, Holy Communion is to be celebrated weekly, not quarterly or annually. These things are good, and they are advances over where a good deal of evangelicals still are today. However, when it comes to the method of reception, we are all over the map, and for no good reason. Jon Barlow wrote an exceptional article on intinction in 2011, and you should read it all here. I will quote part of his conclusion:

Intinction implies that the order of the ceremony is not in the most central place. It also implies that true eating and drinking are not as central as some other aspects of the rite. 

Order in rites is something God takes very seriously. We know this from the book of Leviticus where we see God’s taking pains to teach the people the proper way of approaching him through a series of different kinds of sacrifices. And inside of each sacrifice, God does things in a particular order – animals are slaughtered on tables, drained of blood, then the blood is sprinkled here and there and certain parts are put on the altar fire, etc. God shows himself to be the kind of God that when he gives a ritual, he expects it to be performed in a certain order. Or, put more positively, God shows himself to be a teacher wanting to take his students through a particular story over and over, and he wants them to get this story right so they don’t get the wrong idea about him. I’m not sure exactly how moving all consumption to the end of the rite of communion changes the story, but my uncertainty about that gives me pause when considering whether or not to depart from the example given by Jesus. 

As for eating and drinking, we are not gnostics, as Christians. We believe that our bodies are important and the things we do with them are important and the order in which we do them is important. And so eating with our jaws, and drinking with our lips – these are really meaningful activities. Intinction changes the relationship of the human body to the elements from the original celebration’s example. This is not trivial.

Alan Stibbs makes the theological point that intinction is a bringing together of what our Lord commanded to be served separately, and it presents a confusing message about the nature of Christ:

In the third place, in order fully to follow the pattern of our Lord’s institution, and to preserve the vivid witness to His death which we thus dramatically remember, the bread and the wine ought deliberately to be kept apart and administered separately, first the bread to all, and later the cup to all. This again is a use already common in many non-Anglican congregations; and so, by becoming ourselves more scriptural in practice, we should make fellowship with others at the Lord’s table more easy to realize.

Such proper scriptural practice of administering the separated elements singly makes the association of the localized presence of the glorified humanity of Christ in or under either of them unthinkable. For the present living Lord cannot be thus divided. `This bread’ and `this cup’ speak of His death. Also, such awareness of the true character and meaning of the sacrament which our Lord ordained makes intinction (or the administration of both kinds together by the dipping of the bread into the wine first) theologically undesirable; and it makes administration in one kind only completely improper.

In addition to the Biblical and theological reasons for not allowing intinction, on a practical level it is very gross for those of us who do not use intinction. Drinking from a cup full of bread is not pleasant.
Getting rid of intinction is something that I would ideally love to see ACNA tackle, but it is also something that I think has about a zero percent chance of happening. Getting agreement on the issue would be a first step, attempting to pass that agreement on down the line to the local parishes sounds hilarious to me, as we don’t even come close to using the same liturgy right now. Nevertheless, it is a key reform in getting our practice in line with the Scriptural mandate.