Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Sunday Collection

     “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I ordered the churches of Galatia, so you do also. On the first day of every week, let each of you by himself store up whatever he is prospered, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).1
     The perí dé (“now concerning”) formula in 1 Corinthians draws attention to Paul’s answers to questions these brethren had asked in their earlier correspondence to him (7:1, 25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1, 12). The current response, pertaining to “the collection for the saints” (v. 1a), presupposes their previous knowledge of it.2 Even though Paul is issuing an apostolic “order” or “command” (diatassō) (v. 1b), it is not to be regarded as burdensome (2 Corinthian 9:7; cf. 1 John 5:3). 
     The same directives had been communicated to the churches of Galatia (v. 1c),3 and the Macedonian churches were also involved (v. 5; cf. Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:7).4 Paul goes on to reference the churches of Asia (v. 19), who apparently participated as well (Acts 20:4), plus all the churches in the province of Achaia (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 9:2) that would have included Corinth, Cenchrea, and potentially Athens (Acts 17:24; 18:18, 27; 19:21; Romans 16:1).5  Throughout 1 Corinthians the readers have consistently been reminded of what is taught and practiced everywhere in all the churches (1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33).
     “On the first day of every week” – katá mían sabbátou (v. 2a) – indicates a regular occurrence on a specific day each week. The implication is that the Corinth church and her sister congregations in various places were assembling weekly on this particular day (cf. 11:17-26; 14:23, 26; Acts 20:7). The first day of the week (Sunday) marks the historical juncture when our Lord conquered death (Mark 16:9), providing the cornerstone of the Christian faith (Romans 1:4; 6:4-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 12-22; 1 Peter 3:21). Thereafter it was this day of the week on which the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples (John 20:19, 26),6 the Lord’s church was established (Acts 2:1; cf. Leviticus 23:15-16; John 19:31), and early Christians assembled together to commemorate Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-26; 16:1-2).
     “Each of you by himself” (v. 2b) describes a personal responsibility (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7). The expression “let him store up” (thēsaurízōn) (v. 2c) means to treasure up or store up in a common treasury. Just as the observance of the Lord’s Supper involves both individual and collective components (11:20, 26, 28), so too does the contribution. The qualifier “whatever he is prospered” (v. 2d) is clearly not a set percentage (in contrast to the old covenant tithing system).7 Contributions stem from each one’s ability or level of prosperity (cf. Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:3). When Paul says, “that there be no collections when I come” (v. 2e), he implies a communal church treasury as opposed to separate, individual gifts; note the singular “gift” in v. 3. Their mutual “gift” at this time was to be delivered to help meet the needs of their Judean brethren (vv. 3-4; see also 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; Acts 20:4; 21:17; and compare Acts 11:29-30).
     This benevolent aid that was intended for a particular situation does not negate the broader implications of how the work of the church is to be financed. These verses constitute an apostolic command issued to multiple congregations in various locations to be regularly observed on a specified day each week. Was the giving to stop when the present need was met? Beyond this explicit injunction, there are numerous examples of the Lord’s work funded through the free-will offerings of Christians collected in a common treasury (cf. Acts 2:42, 44, 45; 4:32, 34-37; 5:1-2; 6:1-4; 11:29-30). The churches of Macedonia, apparently under the same directives as the churches of Achaia and Galatia (2 Corinthians 8:1–9:7), also contributed to evangelistic efforts (2 Corinthians 11:7-9; Philippians 4:15-20). Moreover, a one-time benevolent opportunity was not the only work the Corinthian and Galatian brethren were expected to support (1 Corinthians 9:11-14; 16:6; 2 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 6:6).8
     No other method of financing the Lord’s work is biblically sanctioned beyond the intentional and generous giving of members of the local church. “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God indeed loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 For additional information on this particular collection, see Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-28, 31; and 2 Corinthians 8–9.
     3 Cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23; Galatians 1:2. These are probably the churches in the southern region of the Roman province of Galatia, including Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14, 16), rather than the North Galatia territory. Note that Gaius of Derbe and Timothy of Lystra were part of the delegation that carried the funds to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). Unless Paul had sent a letter or a representative that we do not know about, the last opportunity he would have had to communicate this information to the Galatians was nearly three years before 1 Corinthians was written (Acts 18:23).
     4 Macedonian cities where churches had been planted were Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:9–17:14). Representatives of the Thessalonica and Berea congregations helped deliver the funds (Acts 20:4), and Luke may have represented the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12; 20:6). The generosity of the Philippi saints is further highlighted in Philippians 1:5-7; 2:25-30; 4:10-19.
     5 A summary of the churches potentially involved include those in the Galatia cities of Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium; the Asia cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Colosse, and Troas; the Macedonia cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; the Achaia cities of Athens, Corinth, and Cenchrea; and possibly more.
     6 Christ’s second appearance to his disciples, according to John’s testimony, was “after eight days” (John 20:26), an idiom signifying “a week later.” John is writing to a Gentile audience, and it was not uncommon for the ancients to count any portion of a day as a whole day. If the counting began on the previous Sunday (John 20:19), then eight days later would be the following Sunday. Compare Matthew 17:1 (written from a Jewish perspective) and Luke 9:28 (written from a Greek perspective). Note also John’s allusion to “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10. He employs the adjective kuriakos, and the only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament is in reference to “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), which was to be observed as often as these Christians assembled together in one place (vv. 17-34), which was apparently every Sunday (16:2).
     7 See my article on Tithing.
     8 The qualifiers “if you might approve” and “if it is suitable” in 1 Corinthians 16:3-4 indicate some degree of flexibility. We could also include the churches of Rome and Asia in this discussion (Romans 12:6-8; 15:24; Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 6:17-19). Furthermore, Jesus and his immediate disciples received donations (Luke 8:3) and maintained a collection of funds to finance their needs as they carried out their public ministry (John 12:6; 13:29).

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Responding to Socinianism (e.g. Christadelphians)

The view briefly stated:1

“Christadelphians claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is false; that God is one only; that Jesus Christ is His Son born 1900 years ago, before which he had no corporeal existence; and that the Holy Spirit (rend. Ghost in many Bibles) is the power of God …. to believe in what most churches teach concerning the Godhead is to believe an impossibility, a contradiction” (G. E. Mansfield, ed. “The Godhead Explained,” in Herald of the Coming Age 35:1 [May 1989]: 2-3).

Arguments Considered:2

“Jesus is not eternal and did not exist prior to his conception and birth because he is ‘the only begotten’ Son of God (John 1:14; 3:16).” The word monogenēs is a combination of monos (“only”) and genos (“offspring” or “kind”). The fact that all humans are God’s offspring (Acts 17:29) shows that Jesus is not the only one of these. Seeing that genos also means “kind” (cf. Matt. 13:47; 17:21), monogenēs actually refers to “unique; only one of a kind.” The emphasis is on “unique” rather than begetting. In fact, the term gennaō (“beget”) is not even part of this word, thus the English “only begotten” is a potentially misleading translation. Note that in Heb. 11:17 Isaac is called the monogenēs of Abraham. Since Abraham begat more than eight offspring (Gen. 16:15; 25:1-6), this cannot mean that Isaac was the only one “begotten” of Abraham. However, it does mean that Isaac was the only son of promise and thus the only one of his kind.

“Jesus must have had a beginning in time because God says concerning him, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee’ (Psa. 2:7).” In the biblical record this messianic psalm is not applied to Christ’s birth or supposed creation or the beginning of a Father-Son relationship but rather to Christ’s resurrection and exaltation (Acts 13:30-34; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). The crucified Christ was metaphorically “begotten” or brought forth from the tomb, declaring him to be the Son of God (cf. Rom. 1:4).

“Since a father always precedes a son in time, and Jesus is the Son of God, it must be the case that God the Father is antecedent to Jesus and that Jesus therefore had his origin out of the Father.” A futile attempt is being made here to explain God with human, biological terms and concepts. Certainly God communicates spiritual truths by means of words and ideas we can relate to and understand, but defining deity is not always as simplistic as some make it out to be. In Acts 13:33 the word “begotten” is used in a sense other than biological procreation (i.e. Jesus was ‘brought forth’ from the tomb). In 1 Cor. 4:15-17 Paul argues that he is a “father” of many because he had “begotten” them (through the gospel), and that Timothy is also his “son.” A literal (physical) interpretation cannot be forced on these words. One would have to affirm the nonsensical notion that Paul never converted anyone older than himself if a father always precedes a son in time. The Father-Son relationship within the Godhead is relevant only to Christ's incarnation (cf. Luke 1:31-35) but does not alter what the Bible says concerning his pre-existence and eternality.

“In John 1:1-14 the Logos was not actually the pre-incarnate Jesus but was simply God’s thought, purpose, and promise of Jesus to be generated in the future (cf. Jer. 1:5; Isa. 45:1).” One problem with this interpretation is the numerous masculine personal pronouns used with reference to the Logos: “he,” “him,” “his” (vv. 2-18). If it is asserted that the Logos is merely personified, this would seem very misleading since the same pronouns are used with reference to the Logos both before and after he “became flesh.” An added difficulty is the numerous other references to Christ’s pre-existence (e.g. John 1:15, 30; 3:13, 31; 6:62; 8:58; 13:3; et al.). The examples of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5) and Cyrus (Isa. 45:1) are not equivalent to the accounts of Jesus. Both of these examples are one-time statements made about these men, whereas the numerous references to Christ’s pre-existence are mostly claims he made about himself.

“When John the Baptist said of Jesus, ‘he was before me’ (John 1:15), this means rank not time.” John did not say, “he is…” but rather “he was…” = a reference to time. Moreover, every other occurrence of the word prōtos in John’s Gospel is a reference to time, not rank (1:41; 5:4; 8:7; 19:32; 20:4, 8).

Further Observation:

     The pre-existence of Jesus is clearly affirmed in the New Testament: John 1:1-3, 30; 3:13, 31; 6:62; 8:23, 58; 13:3; 17:5; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10; etc. The repeated and cumulative nature of these biblical statements cannot reasonably be ignored or explained away.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Socinianism, denying the triune Godhead and the deity and pre-existence of Christ, is a view that maintains Jesus did not exist until he was conceived by the virgin Mary. This theological concept is named after the 16th-century Italian theologian Fausto Sozzini (Lat. Faustus Socinus) and was popularized in Poland. Modern-day proponents of this view include the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (also Poland and England), the Christadelphians, and the Church of God General Conference.
    2 Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from the NKJV.

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Friday, 13 March 2015

Responding to Arianism (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses)

The view briefly stated:1

“Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to the earth. But was it as one of the persons in an almighty, eternal triune Godhead? No, for the Bible plainly states that in his pre-human existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God. Neither the angels nor Jesus had existed before their creation …. to worship God on his terms means to reject the Trinity doctrine” (Watchtower, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” [1989]: 14, 31).

Arguments Considered:

“Jesus is not God because Colossians 1:15 states that he is ‘the first-born of all creation,’ i.e. the first one to have been created by Jehovah.” To conclude that the term “firstborn” here has reference to the first to have been created is to ignore the biblical usage of the term. The Greek word is prototokos, which signifies priority or superiority (cf. Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:15-17). The future tense of Psalm 89:27 shows that “firstborn” is a title of preeminence, not a reference to origin (applied here to David, the youngest son of Jesse). Ephraim is called the “firstborn” (Jer. 31:9), even though he was the youngest brother (Gen. 48:14). In Colossians 1:15 Christ is called “firstborn” because he is superior or preeminent to all created things (cf. Rom. 8:29). Why? “Because by him all things were created …” (v. 16). If Jesus had been created, yet he created all created things, he would have created himself! Further, Paul goes on to say that Jesus is “the firstborn [prototokos] from the dead” (v. 18b), not that he is the first to have ever risen from the dead (cf. Matt. 11:5; John 11:44) but “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (v. 18c; cf. Rom. 6:9).

“Jesus is a created being, not God, because Revelation 3:14 refers to him as “the beginning of the creation by God” (New World Translation).” This verse is mistranslated in the NWT. The instrumental “by God” is not the original wording of the text, rather the genitive “of God.” The term translated “beginning” is the Greek word archē, meaning “origin” or “first cause.” This passage actually says that Christ was the moving cause of God’s creation, which parallels John 1:3 and Col. 1:16. In Rev. 21:6 God is described as “the beginning [archē] and the end.”

“John 1:1 should be translated, ‘the Word was a god.’ When the Greek word theos appears with a definite article (‘the’), it should be rendered ‘the God’ or ‘God.’ Since there is no indefinite article (‘a’) in Greek, in the absence of the definite article, theos should be translated ‘a god.’” This is not a legitimate rule for the use of the article in the Greek NT.2 Of the 282 occurrences of the anarthrous theos (without the article), the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is 94% unfaithful to their own rule. In the first chapter of John alone, theos appears five times without an article (vv. 1, 6, 12, 13, 18), yet the NWT translators render it “God” in every instance except in v. 1, where it clearly refers to Christ! Further, if the Bible teaches that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4) and if Jesus is “a god” (i.e. an additional one), the advocates of this view are advocating polytheism.3

“Jesus can’t be God or equal with God because he is inferior to God (John 14:28).” A fundamental error undergirding this and similar arguments is the false assumption that a subordinate role is equivalent to an inferior nature. All Christians have been directed to submit to one another (Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5) yet remain equal in essence or worth (Gal. 3:28). Despite this equality, however, different functions have been allocated to the various believers, e.g. wives submit to husbands (Eph. 5:22), members submit to leaders (Heb. 13:17), etc. There is a clear distinction between substance (equality) and function (subordination). The contrast within the Godhead is functional, not one of nature or essence. When the one we know as Jesus “became flesh,” he took on an inferior role and could thus say, for instance, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The word “greater” refers to position, whereas the word “better” would be applicable to nature (cf. Heb. 1:4). All passages dealing with Christ’s subordination (1 Cor. 11:3; etc.) refer to his role in the flesh but do not detract from his divine essence. Moreover, his temptations, visibility, subjection to death, etc., merely relate to his subordinate role that began when he took on human flesh. The descriptive expression, “the Son of God,” signifies both subordination (of position) and equality (of nature). See John 5:17-18; 10:17-33; etc.

“Jesus cannot be God because he referred to the Father as ‘the only true God’ (John 17:3).” This statement, like all other scriptural affirmations of divine exclusiveness, is in contrast to the false gods of polytheism and has nothing to do with Jesus allegedly denying anything about himself. If there is no Savior besides Almighty God (Isa. 43:11), would the deniers of Christ’s deity dismiss Jesus as Savior? (Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:10; etc.). If Jesus is the “one Lord” (Eph. 4:4; Jude 4), does this mean the Father cannot be Lord? (Matt. 11:25; Luke 1:32; Acts 1:25; 2:20, 25, 39; 4:24). These exclusive statements merely eliminate those outside, not within, the Godhead.

Further Observations:

     Jesus is called “My Lord and my God” in John 20:28. The designations “Lord” and “God” are translated from the Greek words kurios and theos, and whenever these words are used together in the NT, they are equivalent to the Hebrew terms Yahweh (“Jehovah”) and elohim (“God”) (Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:68; 10:27; Acts 3:22; cf. Ex. 20:7) and always refer to the Supreme Deity (Acts 2:39; 4:24; 7:37). Moreover, the designation “the Alpha and the Omega” is a clear reference to God that is equally applied to Jesus (Rev. 1:8, 17-18; 22:12-13, 16; cf. Isa. 44:6).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Arianism is the view that Jesus the Son was created by God the Father and is therefore inferior in essence to God the Father. Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336) is the first on record to have espoused and promoted this view (thus “Arianism”). In modern times a form of this doctrine is held by religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and various Unitarian sects.
     2 In the Greek NT, word order is used for emphasis and the article distinguishes the subject from the predicate nominative. The only legitimate rendering of kai theos ēn ho logos in John 1:1 is, “and the Word was God.” The emphatic position of theos stresses essence or quality, and the absence of the article avoids the conclusion that the Word is the Person of God [the Father]; the word order shows that the Word has all the divine attributes of God. If the order and/or employment of the article were different, ho logos ēn ho theos (“the Word was the God”) = Sabellianism (Jesus is the Father); or ho logos ēn theos (“the Word was a god”) = Arianism.
    3 The typical Jehovahs Witness response is to point out Jesus words in John 10:34-35, where human judges are called gods.” But this is the Lords response to antagonistic unbelievers, in stark contrast to passages like 1:1 and 20:28. Jesus is quoting Psa. 82:6, where the plural elohim (Hebrew) and the corresponding plural theoi (Greek) essentially refers to mighty ones.” Nowhere in the New Testament is the plural theoi ever applied to God the Father or Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus customary approach when responding to his enemies was indirect and ambiguous (cf. 8:3-9, 21-29; 9:39-41; 10:1-6, 24; 18:19-21, 33-34; 19:9; also Matt. 12:1-8; 13:10-15; 21:23-27). In John 10:30-39 Jesus does not deny their inference but simply quotes scripture to show their inconsistency; he does not give in to their devious request to tell us plainly (v. 24). Neither John 1:1-3, nor 20:28, nor comparable passages, equate to the dispute in John 10.

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