lying by and for god in the bible

We all know that lying is wrong, and we all know that God does not lie. After all, 1Sam 15:29 reads:

… the Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not man who changes his mind. (HCSB)

But is it really true that God never lies? It turns out that the Bible itself records instances where God or Jesus do deceive people and where God’s people lie and are blessed for doing so! So what’s going on? Read on to find out.
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what’s wrong with inerrancy?

The doctrine of inerrancy is a point of contention among many Christians. For some it simply cannot be made to work with the Bible, but for others it is a foundational doctrine without which one’s faith is set adrift and certainty is lost. Rather than address the whole doctrine, in this post I want to consider the role of the autographs — the original documents rather than the many copies of them — plays in thinking about inerrancy. Famously one part of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.1

There are, however, some significant problems which are not generally addressed.
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what’s in a name: name giving in genesis 2

Last week I heard Thomas R. Schreiner speak at Moore Theological College on the topic of “What the Bible says about Women in Ministry.” While briefly making reference to Genesis 1–3 he made a particular point that the man’s act of naming the animals and the woman is an exercise of authority on his part, and hence demonstrates his position of authority over the animals and the woman.

Frankly I’m surprised that appeal is still made to naming in discussions about women’s roles in the church. Read on for my reasons. Continue reading

genesis 1 is not poetry

What can I say? Genesis 1 is not poetry, nor is it some weird hybrid of poetry and prose. Genesis 1:27 alone is poetry, but the rest of the chapter is pretty much stock-standard biblical Hebrew narrative in regards to its syntax. It is not poetry!

Why is this an issue? It’s an issue because debates about Genesis 1 seem to align figurative reading (of some sort) with poetry and literal reading with prose. This is a manifestly false disjunction. It is perfectly possible to have “literal” poetry, and it is quite common to have figurative prose. In other words, the whole argument is daft!
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is agape (ἀγάπη) love specially divine?

This last weekend I heard a talk in which it was claimed that the word ἀγάπη (agapē) was little used prior to the New Testament in Greek and was infused with new and special meaning by the writers of the NT, a meaning that reflects a divine, selfless, love. This is not a new claim, and any search for the term “agape” across the internet will uncover many making exactly this claim. Indeed, if you venture to view the Wikipedia entry on the term agape you will find some similar claims.

From what I can tell, however, the special divine meaning for the term ἀγάπη (agapē) is spurious.
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god and suffering part 2 — individual sin

For previous parts of this series, see:

The supposition that individual sin lies behind suffering pervades a great deal of both biblical (e.g. Ezek 18) and extra-biblical thought. More often than not, however, the biblical material reflects upon the inadequacy of individual sin as a viable explanation for one’s sufferings. The prime example is Job: his friends assume that his suffering is related to some transgresssion and encourage him to confess and seek forgiveness from God, but the prologue is at pains to point(!) out that, whatever the real reason is, individual sin is certainly not the reason for his suffering.
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god and suffering — introduction

Small scream

Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago I heard a sermon entitled “How could a good God allow suffering?” There’s not much that can be covered in the brief time allocated to a sermon, but while (or perhaps “instead of”) listening I set about thinking of reasons offered in the Bible for suffering. This introductory post is simply to list those I could think of before (hopefully) examining each one in more detail. So here are reasons which came to mind:

  1. Human sin in general (e.g. Gen 3; Rom 1; 8:22);
  2. Individual sin (numerous places, particularly in the OT);
  3. Character building (Rom 5);
  4. Discipline (Heb 12);
  5. Preventative (Job 33);
  6. Glorification of God (e.g. John 9:2–3);
  7. “Completing” Christ’s afflictions (Col 1:24);
  8. Persecution (2Tim 3:12);
  9. Escaping evil (Isa 57:1–2)1;
  10. Mystery (Job).

If you can think of other reasons offered for suffering by the Bible, I’m happy to expand on this list.

A couple of brief introductory comments are warranted. First, the items on the list are not all mutually exclusive. Second, aside from (1) and perhaps (3) and (6), it is not really possible to be sure these apply to any specific situation without direct divine revelation (and, conversely, it is not always possible to be sure these do not apply).

  1. This isn’t really an explanation for suffering, at least for those “taken away,” but those left behind would suffer loss.

is everything we do ‘worship’?

There’s a tendency among many evangelicals—at least many of those with whom I’m familiar—to take Rom 12:1 as the basis for arguing that the Bible tells us that all we do should be described as “worship.”1 As a corollary to this, the point is often also made that referring to parts of a church service as “worship” is unbiblical. Indeed, many years ago I preached just one such sermon!
But there are problems with this. For starters, “worship” in contemporary English has specific connotations that do not easily accord with the broader meaning many evangelicals and many English Bible translations try to invest in the term. More significantly, however, it glosses over clear distinctions in the Greek text of the NT which we’re trying to understand. So let’s take a quick look at the Greek terms.

  1. What is ‘worship’ (προσκυνέω)?

    Underlying this term is the notion of prostrating before a ruler or deity. It is thus an expression of submission motivated out of respect/fear and/or gratitude.
    These issues are discussed in David Peterson’s book, Engaging With God. Peterson does engage in a generally useful study of the terminology. When it comes to the meaning of προσκυνέω, I think the title to the section which examines the term is perhaps a useful definition in itself: “Worship as homage or gratefull submission” (although I would add the notion of fear/reverence as well.) I think this is correct:

    In the Old Testament, bowing down or bending over could simply be a respectful greeting, but more often than not it was an expression of inferior status and subservience to another person. Sometimes this obeisance was an indication of gratitude and sometimes it was associated with supplication or entreaty. Whatever the situation it was a recognition of the total dependence of one party on another for the provision of some need.2

    ISTM that this defines what we do when we ‘worship’. Being so restrictive, however, is not to say that this description defines all aspects of our relationship with God. Other aspects of our relationship, however, are better described with different terminology.

  2. What is ‘service’ (λατρεία)?

    In the LXX the term is not common, but is usually tied to some form of cultic (in the technical sense) action, so the rehearsal of the passover is λατρεία, for example. As Peterson says:

    … the Septuagint gave it special prominence, using it to refer exclusively to the service rendered to God or to heathen gods, and especially service by means of sacrifice or some other ritual.3

    As such, Paul’s use of this term in Rom 12:1 in association with being a ‘living sacrifice’ is eminently appropriate. This is our equivalent of the OT service which took place in the precincts of the temple. The word is also used in Rom 9:4 which the NASB nicely translates as ‘temple service’ (contrast the ESV and its predecessor the RSV which simply use ‘worship’ in this instance).
    There are only 3 other uses of λατρεία in the NT. Heb 9:1, 6 refer to service in the temple, and John 16:2 uses the term in reference to a perceived ‘service’ to God, again probably in a technical sense.
    In summary, all uses of λατρεία are technical and refer to service of a deity (often in the specific context of the temple or high place or whatever), and in the NT when not applied to OT cultic activity, it remains tied to the sacrificial language. So perhaps the translation ‘service’ itself is too vague for this term, and it should be translated along the lines of the NASB in Rom 9:4 with ‘temple service.’

The danger in collapsing distinct terminology, terminology which is not strictly synonymous, into a single English term is that it obscures the meaning of the different texts. If ‘service’ and ‘worship’ are different in meaning but we translate them using the same term, we lose sight of the distinction and can feel free to import the meaning from one context into another.
This is, in fact, basically one of the arguments the ESV employs in favour of its approach (although it does not employ the methodology when it comes to this terminology!).
It is also at this point where I depart from Peterson, who writes:

‘Bowing down’ to God in the Old Testament, however, is ideally an expression of one’s desire to ‘serve’ him. It is therefore necessary to recognize that, from a scriptural point of view, worship involves specific acts of adoration and submission as well as a lifestyle of obedient service. To make this point, it may be helpful to translate words indicating service to God as ‘worship’. There is always a danger, however, that readers of the English text will then understand such worship purely in cultic terms! The problem for translation and for theology is that the English word ‘worship’ is generally used too narrowly.4

In response:

  • While I would not suggest a complete disjunction between notions of ‘worship’ and ‘service’ in biblical terminology, I would not want to associate them quite so closely as Peterson. His identification of texts where השתחוה and עבד appear together seems to imply they function almost as a hendiadys, but he fails to note that they frequently appear as part of a list of different actions associated with relating to God, such as making oath (cf. Ex 23:24; Josh 23:7). This observation means that the case for such close identification of these two aspects of relating to God from various possibilities is weakened (IMHO).

  • It is surprising that he is able to conclude that English uses a word too narrowly when the Hebrew and Greek used terms equally narrowly and did not themselves have a single term which encompassed all the meanings Peterson would like ‘worship’ to encompass. According to his own observation, English ‘worship’ is a good semantic match for προσκυνέω and השתחוה, but does not inherently encompass λατρεία. Surely the logical conclusion is that English translators should seek other English words for other terms which are currently (mis)translated as ‘worship’.

So, Peterson at least acknowledges that the common English understanding of ‘worship’ works best only as a translation of the terms השתחוה/προσκυνέω, which is essentially my point. On further reflection, I don’t think this can be reduced to a subset of ‘service’, at least when that service is reflective of the semantic range of λατρεία.
I think these are all aspects of how we relate to God. My beef is with the practice of conflating distinct meanings into one overarching term so that the distinctions are lost. I do not think this enhances our understanding of the text, but instead obscures or confuses it.

1. For example, Don Carson writes “[y]ou have Romans 12:1–2, for example, where cultic sacrificial language is used to say that the offering of our whole selves is at the heart of Christian worship” (see here). See also The Sola Panel article by Sandy Grant.
2. David Peterson, Engaging With God, 63.
3. David Peterson, Engaging With God, 64.
4. David Peterson, Engaging With God, 70.