Sunday, 24 February 2013

Pauline Amnesia

     Having recounted the names of certain individuals he had personally baptized at Corinth, Paul candidly admits, “I do not know whether I baptized any other” (1 Corinthians 1:16b NKJV). Despite his vital contribution as an apostle of Christ and the divine inspiration that guaranteed the inerrancy of his writings, evidently Paul was not omniscient. Yet his inability to remember reveals something even more notable. It appears that the apostle did not deem it necessary to keep a personal record of all the people he won to the Lord. Why is this significant?
     Paul clearly understood the importance of baptism, as seen in his own experience (Acts 9:18; 22:16) and teaching (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27). However, it seems that whenever possible he refrained from immersing converts himself to avoid the kinds of problems exhibited at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Understandably he would not want to leave the impression that he was baptizing in his own name or that the ones he immersed could somehow feel superior to those baptized by someone else. Paul’s priority was to proclaim the gospel, which necessarily included instruction on baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; 15:1-5; Acts 18:8), and when people responded to the message he preached, the responsibility of baptizing was apparently delegated to others.
     Paul’s lack of recall illustrates his conscientious desire to give glory to God. He was never heard saying, “This is what I have accomplished in my work,” or “I baptized this many people during our recent campaign.” The reports of the humble missionary were consistently about what God has done (cf. Acts 14:27; 15:4; 21:19). The apostle certainly had a crucial role to play and he worked diligently in the Lord’s service, but he was always willing to acknowledge his own limitations and his firm conviction that it is “God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 3:5-7).
     Preachers, missionaries, and all other Christians need to learn to speak in the passive voice. Rather than saying, “I taught and baptized so and so,” or “I have baptized this many people this year,” wouldn’t it be better to simply announce, “So and so was baptized,” or “This many people have obeyed the gospel,” or “God has added this many souls to his church in our area this year!” The customary approach of Paul was to take the emphasis off the teacher and off the baptizer and to place it on the divine message and those responding to it. In so doing the Lord is glorified.
     If asked, "How many souls have you helped bring to Christ?," how wonderful it would be if every member of the Lord’s church could honestly say, “I don’t know.” This would indicate that we were all fulfilling our evangelistic duty, that countless souls were being won to the Lord, and that credit for the conversions was exclusively given to God. It is admittedly a great honor to serve Christ and to minister to people and to be used as the Lord’s instrument, but when souls are saved through (despite!) our humble efforts, let us rejoice in what God has accomplished.
     While the church may not be entirely where she ought to be in fulfilling the Great Commission (but praise God for all the good works that are being done!), we as individual disciples can at least work on our attitudes, perspectives, and involvement. May we all be so devoted to the Lord’s cause that we develop “Pauline amnesia” and give the glory to the One to whom it is due.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

What Does Koinônia (“Fellowship”) Really Mean?

      The English word “fellowship” generally conveys the idea of friendly association or a mutual sharing of something in common. People talk about the various religious organizations as this or that fellowship, having fellowship meals, assembling with other Christians for fellowship, withdrawing fellowship from an erring member, and whom we should or should not fellowship. But when one limits his understanding of Christian fellowship to its common usage in the English language, the full significance of this term, as depicted in the Greek NT, is not sufficiently grasped.
      The focus of this study is on the noun koinônia,1 found no less than twenty times in the Greek NT, used in a variety of ways, and variously rendered fellowship, communion, sharing, partnership, contribution, and participation. Sometimes it is used in the sense of generosity or selfless giving (2 Cor 9:13; Heb. 13:16; cf. Eph. 3:9), or a gift or contribution (Rom. 15:26), or a participation or sharing in something (2 Cor 8:4; Phil. 1:5; 3:10; Phlm. 6; cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 10:16). But in all its uses it carries the idea of a close relationship. In secular Greek koinônia was used to describe the common type or bond of life that unites certain people together, and it was a favorite expression for the marital relationship as the most intimate between human beings (BAGD 438). In this sense koinônia is used in the NT to describe the close relationship Christians have with God (1 John 1:3, 6; cf. 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 13:14; Phil. 2:1) and consequently with one another (1 John 1:3, 7; cf. Gal. 2:9). Sometimes this is described as “vertical” and “horizontal” fellowship, and only the former makes the latter possible. 
      One of the best ways to define a biblical term is to use the Bible itself. In 2 Cor. 6:14-16 six words are used interchangeably: heterozugountes (unequally yoked or matched; bound together), metochê (a sharing, partaking; partnership), koinônia (communion, fellowship), sumphônêsis (unison, agreement, concord, harmony), meris (a portion in common, a share), sugkatathesis (accord, alliance). With these synonyms in mind, it is apparent that koinônia involves much more than just “external association.” It requires a relationship that has agreement, unity of mind and purpose, certain things in common, etc. In this passage Paul is not simply addressing physical union or calling for spatial separation (“since then you would need to go out of the world,” 1 Cor. 5:9-13; cf. 7:12-13; 10:27), but the focus is on spiritual, mental, and participatory alliance (cf. Col. 3:2; 1 John 2:15). In this sense, therefore, the reality of fellowship (koinônia) is unaffected by whether or not people actually spend time together or engage in mutual activities.2
      It is a mistake to think of “fellowship” merely in terms of social activity without considering the spiritual relationship koinônia entails. When the idea of “fellowship” is considered, many have in mind a special type of association, and that’s probably why the term “disfellowship” is often used to describe the latter stage of church discipline. However, neither the term “disfellowship” nor the phrase “withdraw fellowship” is ever used in the Bible. Koinônia is not something we withdraw from someone, nor is it something we simply do, but it is something we either have or do not have based upon our relationship with the Lord.
     Inevitably there are some Christians, initially having koinônia with God and God’s people, who become unfaithful (2 Pet. 2:18-22; etc.). Unless they penitently return to the Lord, their koinônia with him is at some point lost or destroyed (1 John 1:6; 2 John 9; Rev. 2:5; etc.). This simply means that, because of the sinful lifestyle they have chosen, they are no longer in agreement, unison, communion, and accord with the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16). When this occurs, the koinônia with God’s faithful children is automatically severed, even if the association happens to continue for a time. The Lord calls upon the faithful to seek to restore the erring by way of teaching, admonishing, etc. (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; etc.). But if that does not work, stronger measures are to be taken. At this point the words “withdraw fellowship” or “disfellowship” are inserted by some into the process, but in none of the scriptures that address church discipline is the word “fellowship” (koinônia) ever used! The reason is, “fellowship” is not something that is withdrawn from errant Christians, but the faithful are to withdraw themselves or their association from those who have already broken the fellowship (koinônia). Again, fellowship is a spiritual relationship we either have or do not have based upon a relationship with God, but it is not something we simply do with each other, nor is it something that we can take away from another person. Koinônia (agreement, unison, accord) cannot be withdrawn if it no longer exists!
     What happens when a non-Christian attends one of our worship assemblies (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-23)? He sits among the brethren, bows his head during prayers, sings the hymns, listens to the sermon, puts money in the collection basket, and maybe even partakes of the bread and grape juice. Does this mean, therefore, he has had “fellowship” with these Christians or that he is “in fellowship” with them? It would appear so, if we limit our understanding of fellowship to its English connotation. But when we understand what koinônia actually means, we realize that despite going through the same motions, this non-Christian has not met the biblical requirements for having koinônia with God (e.g. Rom. 6:3-18; 1 John 1:6-7; 2:3-5), and therefore, no matter what else he might do, koinônia is not shared with the people of God.
     Koinônia is something shared by all faithful Christians (world-wide), even though each personally associates with only a comparatively small number of fellow-Christians. And the beauty of koinônia is that when the unfortunate mistake is made of withdrawing (association) from someone who happens to be in fellowship with God (e.g. Acts 9:26), the existence of koinônia is unaltered. A faithful Christian who is isolated from all others still has koinônia with God and all of God’s people.3 
     To put it another way, koinônia is something a person automatically has with God and other Christians as a result of his obedient faith and consequent forgiveness, reconciliation, etc. But when a child of God persistently “walks disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6), koinônia is automatically broken with those who are not walking disorderly, even though some degree of association might continue for a time. Faithful Christians are instructed to withdraw from, not keep company with, turn away from, remove, put away, and not associate with those who persist in disorderly conduct (1 Cor. 5:2-13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; et al.), and the primary reason for this is because koinônia has already ceased to exist.
     When the term “fellowship” is perceived as a synonym for mere “association,” or even for a special kind of “association,” the NT concept of koinônia has been missed and confusion and miscommunication prevail. It is important that biblical terminology be used to describe biblical concepts, which in turn must be understood in a biblical way. Only then will koinônia be fully appreciated and recognized.
--Kevin L. Moore

     The verb koinôneô simply means to “share” (Rom. 12:13; 15:27; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 5:22; Heb. 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:13; 2 John 11), and the noun koinônos means “partner, sharer” (Matt. 23:30; Luke 5:10; 1 Cor. 10:18, 20; 2 Cor. 1:7; 8:23; Phlm. 17; Heb. 10:33; 1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:4). Similar terms include sugkoinôneô, meaning to “participate with someone or be connected with something” (Eph. 5:11; Phil. 4:14; Rev. 18:4), and sugkoinônos, meaning “joint-partaker, co-sharer” (Rom. 11:17; 1 Cor. 9:23; Phil. 1:7; Rev. 1:9).
     Three notes of clarification: (1) While the nature of an activity may be indicative of an existing koinônia, the activity itself is not koinônia. (2) The potential good or bad influence of one’s associates (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33) is not the topic of discussion here, but rather what constitutes “fellowship” in the biblical sense. (3) The regular assembling of Christians (Heb. 10:23-25), while important and somewhat related, is a separate issue.
     3 Three more notes of clarification: (1) This is not an excuse for someone to willfully forsake church assemblies (Heb. 10:23-25). But Christians assemble together because of the koinônia already shared, not vice versa. (2) This is not a justifiable reason to sever ties with fellow Christians over petty differences. The “body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:14), and any Christian’s inability to get along with and work with others must be overcome with much humility and selfless concern for the Lord’s church. (3) This is not to suggest that koinônia is shared by a wide variety of religious people, irrespective of their teachings and practices (cf. Matt. 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-30; 2 John 9-11; et al.).                 

First appearing in The Exhorter 5:3 (July-September 2000): 1-2.

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Sunday, 10 February 2013

The First Missionary Journey: Doctrinal, Chronological and Missiological Implications

     The first missionary tour of Paul and Barnabas is recorded in Acts 13–14, and near the end of this evangelistic campaign, elders were appointed in each of the newly established congregations (14:23). While most scholars postulate that the entire journey lasted only about two years or less, a major question arises. How can this be reconciled with what Paul later writes in 1 Timothy 3:6, that an elder is not to be a neophutos (a “novice” or “recent convert”)? 
Chronological Challenges 
     The problem is further complicated when one considers the amount of time that was required just for traveling. The entire journey covered a distance of about 1,400 miles or 2,240 kilometers. Realizing that rates of travel depend on variables such as road and weather conditions, terrain, and mode of transportation, what would be a reasonable approximation of how long it would have taken Paul and Barnabas to travel from Syrian Antioch, through Cyprus and southern Galatia (across the Taurus mountain range), as far east as Derbe, and then back again? A conservative estimate of travel by foot would be around 15-20 miles (20-30 km) per day, and under favorable conditions a sea voyage would cover 112-168 miles (180-270 km) per day. Assuming the missionaries made optimal time as they journeyed by land and by sea, the amount of time required merely to travel this distance would have been approximately two months.  
     The next question is, how long was needed for congregations to have been established and organized (with qualified elders) in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra? This, of course, does not count Derbe, where “many disciples” were made but elders may not have been appointed at this time.  Neither does it count the city of Perga or the various communities in Cyprus or the “surrounding region” of Lycaonia, where the gospel was proclaimed with no definitive record of church plantings at this time. The frequently asserted less-than-two-years estimation, minus two months of travel and minus the time spent evangelizing in other areas, then divided among the three Pisidian and Lycaonian cities, seems to squeeze the allotted time (only a few months in each place) beyond realistic possibilities. I would suggest that the problem has been created not by the biblical record but by narrow human “guesstimations.” The apparent dilemma crumbles if the brief period commonly allotted to this missionary endeavor is seen as an unwarranted and unfortunate miscalculation. 
Historical Markers 
     A more reasonable timeframe can be determined by considering the historical markers that stand on each end of the journey. The 12th chapter of Acts concludes with the death of Herod Agrippa I (v. 23), which we know from secular history occurred in early March AD 44 (Josephus, Ant. 19.8.2). Luke’s account then gives the impression that Barnabas and Paul departed for their first missionary campaign around this time or shortly thereafter (12:25–13:3), providing a relatively sure starting point.
     After their evangelistic tour, the next major event was the meeting of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15), which occurred a pretty long time (v. 7) after what was reported in chaps. 10–11. There has been much discussion among scholars about the date of this conference, with most suggesting 48 or 49, although few attempt to explain why this particular date is given. By proceeding further in the biblical record, however, and noting more of Luke’s historical information and then calculating in reverse, the Jerusalem council should actually be dated later than what is commonly assumed.
     According to Acts 18:11, Paul spent at least eighteen months in Corinth. His arrival was sometime after the edict of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome (v. 2), and his departure was before the end of Gallio’s proconsulship (v. 12). We learn from extrabiblical sources that Claudius issued his decree around 49 (Orosius, Historiae 7.6.15-16) and that Gallio began his one-year office in Achaia in the summer of 51 (based on an inscription discovered at Delphi and published in 1905). From this evidence and other chronological data, we can determine that Paul arrived in Corinth around autumn of 50 and departed in spring of 52.
Doing the Math
     Counting backwards from late autumn 50 (as travel would have been more restricted in winter), how much time would be necessary to get Paul back to where he started? Notice that he appears to have been in Athens, Berea, Thessalonica, and Philippi only briefly, not due to planned strategy but because of a general lack of receptivity in Athens and forced departures from the other places (Acts 16:12–18:1). Although we do not know exactly how long the apostle spent in these locations, allowing up to a month in each of the above cities, estimating travel time from Jerusalem via Syrian Antioch, and including preaching stops along the way, the Jerusalem conference can readily be dated in early 50. Moreover, this timeframe is consistent with other chronological data if the three years of Galatians 1:18 and the fourteen years of Galatians 2:1 are added consecutively.
     With relatively fixed dates on either end of the first missionary journey, what conclusions can be drawn? Acts 12 closes with events that occurred in the spring of 44, and the opening of Acts 15 can reasonably be dated early 50, therefore Acts 13–14 accounts for about six years. This establishes a more reasonable timeframe for the first missionary tour, and it also accords well with information recorded elsewhere of Paul staying extended periods at mission points where he was not compelled to leave (cf. Acts 18:11; 20:31).
     Matters of Pauline chronology notwithstanding, the alleged discrepancy between Acts 14:23 and 1 Timothy 3:6 is more apparent than real. That a new convert could realistically acquire the qualifications of an elder in just a few months is unlikely (cf. Hebrews 5:13-14), but a few years (as seems to have been the case in Acts 13–14) is evidently possible.
     We also learn something about the missionary strategy of Paul and Barnabas that is quite different from what is sometimes practiced today. When they reached Derbe, the end of their evangelistic trail, it would have been much shorter, quicker, easier, and safer for them to have carried on eastward, through the passes of the Taurus mountains to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, boarded a ship for a brief voyage to Seleucia, where it was only 16 miles (25 km) further to their home base in Syrian Antioch. There they could have successfully reported the number of baptisms that had resulted from their concerted mission. 
     Apparently, however, the baptisms were not meant to be the sum total of this outreach effort. Rather, the evangelists returned to the cities where churches had been started, despite the difficulties and hardships previously encountered, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:21-22 NKJV). Further, as has already been noted, “when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (v. 23).
      Six grueling years of preaching the gospel, making disciples, and establishing autonomous churches: this sums up the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. And the report given to their sending congregation did not focus on what the missionaries themselves had accomplished but on “all that God had done with them ...” (Acts 14:27). This serves as an exemplary model for missionary activity today. The Great Commission is not fulfilled when people are insufficiently taught, prematurely baptized, and then left to fend for themselves because Christian workers are in too much of a hurry to get back to the comforts of home. 
     The first missionary journey, like those that followed, was an extensive church-planting mission. We see what the Lord can accomplish when the initial saving of souls is accompanied by sufficient follow-up work, i.e. an investment of the necessary time and energy that ensures the establishment of faithful, growing, self-sustaining communities of believers. As we continue the noble task of seeking and saving the lost, realizing that missionary work has never been easy, let us avoid the allure of short cuts that only produce the temporary appearance of “success.” Rather, may we learn from and utilize biblical methodology – tried and tested by the first Christian missionaries and clearly validated by the Lord of the harvest.    

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Lineage of Jesus Christ According to Matthew

     Seeing that the first book of the New Testament displays such a strong Jewish orientation and cites more fulfilled Old Testament prophecies than any other Gospel, it should come as no surprise that Matthew begins with a genealogical record of Jesus Christ (1:1-17). If we put on our first-century Jewish glasses and examine Matthew from the vantage point of the original audience, notable features stand out that would probably be missed otherwise. But how many have been tempted to just skip over these less-than-interesting and seemingly irrelevant opening verses to get to the “meat” of the narrative? Reading this Gospel from a twenty-first-century western perspective leaves one susceptible to overlooking important details that are essential to the overall message.  
     Though by no means peculiar to Judaism, genealogies seem to have been of much greater significance to the Israelites. Careful attention to hereditary lines was necessary in view of such issues as land divisions, separation from the pagan world, religious duties, royal succession, and messianic hope, all of which were based on divine expectations and promises.
     In contrast to Luke’s report, which follows Christ’s biological descent all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38), Matthew stops at Abraham – the father of the Jewish people. Jesus is immediately linked to God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:3; 22:18), while the lineage is traced through Isaac (not Ishmael), through Jacob (not Esau), and through Judah to whom the prophecy was made: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10 NKJV). Moreover, as “the Son of David” Jesus is further recognized as the long anticipated messianic king (Matthew 1:1; 2:2; 9:27; 21:5; etc.).  
     Consistent with the attention to detail one would expect from a tax collector, Matthew shows an affinity for organizational patterns. This is clearly seen in these opening lines, where the Lord’s ancestry is neatly divided into three sets of fourteen generations apiece. The expressions “son of” and “begot” were commonly used not just to indicate immediate parentage but also for remote lines of descent (cf. 1 Chronicles 6:3-11; Ezra 7:1-5). As was typical in long genealogical tables, some names are omitted by Matthew no doubt to maintain this symmetrical balance (cf. 2 Kings 8:24; 1 Chronicles 3:11; 2 Chronicles 22:1). Having been written in a predominantly oral culture where few would have had the opportunity to own a copy of the text, this arrangement makes it easier for memorization.
     The first section traces the family line down to David, the great king of Israel (Matthew 1:6a), highlighting a period of the nation’s prominence and dignity. The second section leads to the Babylonian exile (v. 11), a time of humiliation and defeat. The third section brings us down to Jesus the Christ (v. 16), the culmination of Israel’s messianic expectations. It is interesting to note the corresponding parallels to the history of mankind, originally crowned “with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), then plunging into the bondage of sin (Romans 5:12; 6:20), and ultimately granted the opportunity to gain freedom and victory through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 8:34-36). 
    The nine names listed after Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:13-15) are not recorded in any other literary source. These individuals lived during the intertestamental period: the four centuries between the close of Old Testament history and the beginning of New Testament history. Thanks to Matthew these names have been preserved, demonstrating how God continued patiently working to fulfill His noble purpose even during these “silent” years.
     Perhaps the most striking aspect of Matthew’s opening paragraph is the fact that five women are included in the family record. This is a highly unusual feature in a Jewish genealogy and stands in stark contrast to Luke. Even though women figure more prominently in Luke’s writings, not a single female is named in his description of Christ’s heritage, not even the Lord’s own mother!   
     Luke writes with a different purpose. While adhering to the ancient custom of excluding the names of women, he seems to be presenting the family tree of Mary. Having already established that Joseph was not biologically related to Jesus (Luke 1:26–2:7) and having reminded his readers that it was only “supposed” that Jesus was his son (3:23), what purpose would it have served to then give Joseph’s ancestral record? Luke is establishing the intrinsic connection between Christ and the human race through Adam. If the clause, “as was supposed the son of Joseph,” is parenthetical, it is Jesus who is the “son of Heli,” not in the sense of immediate descent but a veiled reference to His maternal grandfather.  
     Matthew, on the other hand, writing from a Jewish perspective to a Jewish audience, understood that in keeping with Jewish law, to be considered a legitimate heir, a legal relationship had to be established with the male parent. It was important to his readers that the recognized father of the messianic king was of Abrahamic and Davidic descent. Nevertheless, when Matthew references “Joseph the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (1:16), the pronoun hēs in the prepositional phrase “of whom” is feminine, a subtle allusion to the virgin birth expounded upon later in the chapter.
     The other women mentioned in Matthew’s account are not those, like Sarah, Rebecca, or Rachel, one might expect. Rather, he includes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, i.e. a temptress (Genesis 38:13-18), a harlot of Jericho (Joshua 2:1), a Moabite (Ruth 1:4), and an adulteress (2 Samuel 11:3-4). What was Matthew thinking?!
     The Talmud prescribed that a Jewish man offer the daily prayer: “Thank you God for not making me a Gentile, a woman, or a slave” (Menachot 43b-44a). Moreover, it is only in the First Gospel that the apostle Matthew is labeled “the tax collector” (10:3), even though tax collectors were particularly despised among the Jews of his day (see 5:46, 47; 9:10-11; 11:19; 18:17). Evidently Matthew knew what it was like to be detested and disparaged as an outcast in orthodox Jewish society and yet to be loved by the Lord anyway. It is only through Jesus, with such a remarkable family tree, that the walls of separation and discrimination are broken down.
     In the genealogy of Christ as recounted by Matthew, we find quite an assortment of unlikely characters with whom God has chosen to carry out His redemptive scheme. There are Gentiles and Jews, nomads and kings, the enslaved and the liberated, and imperfect men and women, all in serious need of divine forbearance and forgiveness. Jesus is both the culmination and the embodiment of a long history of God’s merciful kindness demonstrated toward His beloved human creation. Matthew’s Gospel begins with “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (1:1), and it ends with a call to “make disciples of all nations . . . baptizing . . . teaching” (28:19-20). What a fitting document to place at the beginning of our New Testament!
     “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).
--Kevin L. Moore

First published (in modified form) in Gospel Advocate 153:1 (January 2011): 38-39.

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