Wednesday, 21 February 2018

When a Biblical Text is Misapplied: Ephesians 5:11

     When Paul instructs his readers in Ephesians 5:11 to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, he is not telling them to mark and withdraw from a congregation because their preacher associates with someone who has appeared on the same lectureship with a speaker who is affiliated with a school that is theologically suspect. Irrespective of the congregation, preacher, lectureship, speaker, or school in question, appealing to Ephesians 5:11 to address scenarios like this is to remove the verse from its context and misapply it. Should we stand for truth? Yes. Are we to oppose religious error? Absolutely. But misappropriating a biblical text is itself religious error that must be avoided and opposed.
       Contextually Paul is encouraging his mid-first-century Ephesian readers not to participate in the sinful behaviors of the pagan world in which they live. To obey the directive, we must not engage in “the unfruitful works of darkness,” namely illicit sexual activity and other immoral conduct and speech (vv. 1-7). To extend the application of this text to include situations unrelated to the point Paul is making is to mishandle the word of truth in violation of what the apostle has instructed elsewhere (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:2; 2 Tim. 2:14-16, 23-26). By all means defend sound doctrine, but remember the old adage that a text without a context is a proof-text.
--Kevin L. Moore

*For a more in-depth assessment of this passage, see next week’s post.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Walking Dead

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body [flesh] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).1
     These verses are descriptive of the bad news that makes the gospel [euaggélion] “good news” (1:13; 3:6, 7; 6:15, 19). As one long sentence in the Greek text, the verb (which communicates the good news) is not supplied until v. 5. The former lives of the Ephesians were, for the most part, characterized by pagan idolatry, superstition, and black magic (cf. Acts 19:13-36). Thus they were spiritually “dead.” While physical death is the absence of animated life, being “dead in the trespasses and sins” is to be “destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon 423); see also vv. 5, 12; 5:14; John 5:25; Rom. 6:13; Rev. 3:1; cf. Luke 15:24, 32. Physical death is the separation of one’s spirit from the body (Jas. 2:26), whereas spiritual death (the consequence of sin) is the separation of one’s spirit from God (Isa. 59:2).
     The terms “trespasses” [pl. of paráptōma] and “sins” [pl. of hamartía] could be used interchangeably and probably appear together here for emphasis. The former (see also 1:7; 2:5) means to fall away after being close beside; a deviation from truth and uprightness, thus a misdeed. The latter (its only occurrence in Ephesians) refers to missing the mark; it is self-originated and self-empowered rather than originating from and empowered by God (contrast 1:3-19). It is an error of understanding and/or a bad action or evil deed and is always employed in the NT in an ethical sense.
     This is the typical mindset and behavior in which the Ephesians “once walked.” Note: the walking dead! The Hebraic idiom “walk” [peripatéō] means to live or conduct oneself, used repeatedly in Ephesians (2:2, 10; 4:1, 17[x2]; 5:2, 8, 15).2
     This passage is often used as a proof-text by those with a Calvinistic perspective, wherein the pre-Christian state is described as, “by nature children of wrath.” However, the context shows that being spiritually dead is the consequence of “trespasses and sins, in which you once walked” [not inherited]. Accordingly, the Greek term phusis, rendered “nature” here, is not necessarily indicative of something innate but rather “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon 660). Prior to their conversion to Christ, the Ephesians (like the rest of us) were deserving of God’s wrath because of their habitual practice of sin.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:4-10).
     Grace is a free gift of God (Eph. 2:8; cf. Rom. 3:24; 6:23), but in order for a gift to be of any value, it must be “received.” The Corinthians, for example, had received God’s grace by receiving the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2; 2 Cor. 11:7), to which they responded in obedient faith (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 12:13). They are then admonished “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1) by neglecting God-given responsibilities (5:17-21) or by regressing into their former sinful affections (6:12-18).
     Spiritual life or spiritual death is the choice available to each of us. If we choose the latter by continuing in sin and rejecting God’s gracious gift, we are among the walking dead – void of spiritual life that is purified, illuminated, guided, and invigorated by God. Will you choose to walk among the living, or will you choose to walk among the dead?
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the ESV.
     2 See also Gal. 5:16, 25; Rom. 6:4; 8:4; 13:13; 14:15; 2 Cor. 4:2; 5:7; 10:2, 3; 12:18; Phil. 3:17, 18; Col. 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1, 12; 2 Thess. 3:6, 11.

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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Anticipating Christ’s Return: Alarming, Confusing, or Comforting? (Part 2)

     When the Lord returns and the dead in Christ rise first (1 Thess. 4:16), what happens next? The description continues: “then we the living ones remaining will be carried off together with them in the clouds for a meeting of the Lord into the air, and so always we will be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).1 On the question of whether or not Paul and his companions expected to be alive at the Lord’s return, see Did Paul Believe?; for a response to the rapturist interpretation of this text, see No Room for the Rapture.
     It has been suggested that the employment of the term hárpazō (to “carry off” or “snatch away”) is an intentional play on words, seeing that secular writers often spoke of life being “snatched away” by death or fate.2 The present text, therefore, “may be cleverly inverting a common use of harpazō in referring to death: rather than the expected picture of death or fate ‘snatching away’ to hades those who are living, the living ‘will be snatched up’ so that they do not face the last enemy, death” (J. Weima, Thessalonians 332). A. J. Malherbe states further, “The dead in Christ will rise, and their separation from those who were left is overcome as, ironically, they are snatched up together with them” (Thessalonians 276).
     The ascension will be “in [en] the clouds for [eis] a meeting of the Lord into [eis] the air …” The scriptures do not teach that Jesus will ever step foot on this physical earth again.3 The phrases “in the clouds” and “into the air” – the perceived space between the earthly and heavenly realms – parallel the Lord’s ascension and promised return (Acts 1:9-11). “Clouds” in biblical literature often accompany or signify divine presence4 and thus serve as a fitting arena for such “a meeting.” In the next letter to the Thessalonians this theme continues, “… concerning the coming [parousía] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him” (2 Thess. 2:1).
     All who are in Christ, both living and deceased, “always will be with the Lord.” The natural world is not our permanent home (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-11; Rev. 20:11). God’s faithful ones are to live with him eternally in the heavenly realm (see 1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Matt. 5:12, 16, 34; 6:19-21). There is a rest spoken of that is yet in the future—something promised that remains to be fully realized (Heb. 3:7–4:11). When Jesus journeyed ahead to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:2-3), he went beyond the “veil” and penetrated the holiest place to dwell in the presence of God (Heb. 6:19-20; 9:12). This is none other than “heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24). Accordingly, we now have the confident expectation of entering the very same place (Heb. 6:18-19; 10:19-20, 34). It is heaven wherein our names are registered (Heb. 12:23) and in which we have citizenship (Phil. 3:20), reward (Matt. 5:12), hope (Col. 1:5), and an inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3-4). Unlike Israel’s inheritance of a temporal rest, ours is everlasting (Heb. 9:15).
Encouraging Words
     Here is the stated purpose of the foregoing discourse: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). The aim is not to satisfy curiosity about the particulars of the Lord’s coming, but to provide reassurance about the future of departed loved ones. “The question is, is it any encouragement to us? It can only fail to appear relevant if we approach the passage with a false attitude and with false questions…. If, however, we are to look beneath the traditional superstructure of eschatological imagery, we arrive at the conviction which was uppermost in the apostle’s mind, and which was indeed our Lord’s own concern to show (John xiv.), that those who die in Christ live in Christ …” (W. Neil, Thessalonians 107).
     The most extensive single account in the NT of Christ’s future return (1 Thess. 4:13–5:11) does not attempt to answer all the questions we might have about specific aspects of the event, nor was it intended to spark fanciful interpretations and unending speculations. It is a message of comfort, hope, and reassurance. Let us, therefore, take it no further than its original intent and be encouraged by it.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 See, e.g., Plutarch, Consolatio ad Apollonium 113C; Lucian, Of Funerals 13; Seneca, On Consolation to Polybius 2.1-8; Cicero, de Divinatione 2.25.
     3 Some premillennialists cite Zech. 14:4, “And in that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives …” But applying this text to the second coming of Christ is to ignore its symbolic (apocalyptic) nature and its fulfillment in less than six centuries after the prophecy was made, not long after Christ’s first advent. This is the same “day of the Lord” spoken of by Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14), fulfilled in the NT (Acts 2:16-21); and Malachi (4:1-6), fulfilled in the NT (Luke 1:16-17; Matt. 3:1 ff.). See K. L. Moore, “The Day of the Lord,” Moore Perspective (1 Feb. 2014) <Link>.
     4 Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19-20, 24; 16:10; 19:16-17; Lev. 16:2; Num. 9:15-22; 10:11-12; 1 Kgs. 8:10-12; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 6:1; Neh. 9:12, 19; Psa. 97:2; Isa. 19:1; Ezek. 1:4-28; Dan. 7:13; Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34-35; 1 Cor. 10:1-2. As a symbol of divine judgment, see Isa. 19:1; Jer. 4:13; Psa. 68:4, 34; 104:3; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7; 14:14-16.

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