Archive for category theology

Words for Love in Biblical Greek

This Sunday, I am preaching on Peter’s restoration from John 21. Since it’s my endeavor to speak on the main point of the passage, i.e. loving Jesus and thus feeding his flock, I will try to abstain from spending too much time droning on and on about the Greek verbs agapao and phileo in the passage. I’ll do a bit of that here instead.

We’ve all heard the well-intentioned sermons that have presented agapao as a sort of ultimate love, while phileo is presented as representing a lower sort of love. Quite frankly, I can’t go along with that distinction, and I don’t think you should either.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Someone just read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and now he has to share!” Granted, Carson certainly nails it in Exegetical Fallacies, advances the argument again in the Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, and then sums it up nicely in his commentary on John’s Gospel from the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. However, I want to point out that rejecting a sharp distinction between the two words isn’t really breaking new exegetical ground. In other words, one does not need to rely on D.A. Carson’s works (albeit incredibly valuable) to come to the conclusion that drawing a significant contrast between the two words is exegetically unwise.

If one does a simple study in the Gospel of John alone, we come to realize that both agapao and phileo are used interchangeably when speaking of the Father’s love for the Son (compare John 10:17; 15:9 in which agapao is used to speak of the Father’s love for the Son with John 5:20 where phileo is used to signify the Father’s love for the Son). In the same Gospel account, John typically referred to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Again, what’s interesting is that he is content to use both agapao and phileo as though they can often be used as synonyms.

Further, the go-to lexicon in Greek studies, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), presents this for John 21 and the use of agape and phileo: 

[Agapao and phileo] seem to be used interchangeably here; cf. the freq. interchange of synonyms elsewhere in the same chapter [boskein – poimanein, arnia – probatia, elkuein – surein].

Louw and Nida agree,

Though some persons have tried to assign certain significant differences of meaning between [agapao and phileo], it does not seem possible to insist upon a contrast of meaning in any and all contexts. For example, the usage in Jn, 21:15-17 seems to reflect simply a rhetorical alternation designed to avoid undue repetition.

It’s my contention that when preaching a sermon on John 21, our congregations would be better served by our preaching the main point of the passage, i.e. the connection between Peter’s love for Jesus and his ministry to Jesus’ flock, than by our coming to the text with unfounded notions (that really have been imposed upon the text) about the Greek words for love and then challenging our audience to muster up some sort of super-charged-super-spiritual love.


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Not Under Law But Under Grace

As I was preparing for a Bible study addressing the meaning of “…for we are not under law but under grace,” I stumbled across my class notes from Exegesis of Romans from back in graduate school. While illustrating the limitations (and even irritation) of the Law, Dr. David Saxon shares the following quote from James Brookes (a 19th century presbyterian pastor and notable dispensationalist):

If you tell a slave to pick 150 pounds of cotton during the day, or at its close you will lay 150 lashes on his back, it will be a hard yoke, and he will be sure not to do any more than the allotted task. But if you pay a great sum for his freedom, and suffer in his behalf nigh unto death, and adopt him as a son into your family, and succeed in implanting within him something of your own generous love, and then tell him that your interests and your honor are involved in securing a large crop of cotton, you have put upon him an easy yoke, and he will strain every muscle, and your kindness will be his song in all the hours of toil.

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T4G, Complimentarianism, Creationism, and the Gospel

The Together for the Gospel articles of faith make the complementarian view of gender roles a gospel-related issue. Article XVI reads:

We affirm that the Scripture reveals a pattern of complementary order between men and women, and that this order is itself a testimony to the Gospel, even as it is the gift of our Creator and Redeemer. We also affirm that all Christians are called to service within the body of Christ, and that God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the church, and the society. We further affirm that the teaching office of the church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings and that men are to lead in their homes as husbands and fathers who fear and love God.

We deny that the distinction of roles between men and women revealed in the Bible is evidence of mere cultural conditioning or a manifestation of male oppression or prejudice against women. We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful ministry in Christ’s kingdom. We further deny that any church can confuse these issues without damaging its witness to the Gospel.

In particular, Ligon Duncan argues here that:

The denial of complementarianism undermines the church’s practical embrace of the authority of Scripture (thus eventually and inevitably harming the church’s witness to the Gospel). The gymnastics required to get from “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” in the Bible, to “I do allow a woman to teach and to exercise authority over a man” in the actual practice of the local church, are devastating to the functional authority of the Scripture in the life of the people of God.

He continues:

Two, and following on the first point, the church’s confidence in the clarity of Scripture is undermined, because if you can get egalitarianism from the Bible, you can get anything from the Bible.

I agree with Pastor Duncan and T4G on this one.

My question is: if complimentarianism is a gospel issue precisely because it devastates the functional authority for the people of God, why is creationism not a similar issue (esp. since his argument is based in part on a literal reading of Genesis 1)?

If succumbing to an egalitarian view does injustice to “I do not allow a woman to preach…” then how do they justify divergent views on “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…and the evening and the morning were the first day?”


Consistency in Hymn Selection

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who suggested that we should get some guys together and go through the hymnal (Majesty Hymns), discarding songs that don’t reflect our theology as well as songs whose melodies should really be buried in a large hole and then covered vigorously with dirt, lots of it.

The first one on my list is The Church’s One Foundation. One of the last verses mentions the Church’s “mystic sweet communion.” I’m really not sure what this meant at the time of writing, but am pretty sure I don’t believe what it means now!

How about you, which songs would be on your list and why? Be sure to include the perspectives you’re writing from (Dispensational, Covenant, Arminian, Calvinistic, etc).


NT Wright on Hell

Dan Phillips has an excellent post this morning on NT Wright and his view of hell and eternal judgment.

For several years now, many in the Emerging Church have been looking to Bishop Wright to draw up some trickery for their Emerging-play-book.

Some of Wrights comments about hell sound eerily similar to some of Rob Bell’s. See here and here. Is Coach Wright calling the plays in from the sidelines?

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Intimidation, Accommodation, and Creation

A while back, I pointed out that I was disgusted with Rob Bell’s calling Genesis 1 a “creation poem.”

I took flack for that — for being on a witch-hunt against Rob Bell. I just want to clarify that this is wrong teaching, coming from either side of the aisle. If emerging folks teach this nonsense, it’s wrong. If fundamentalists do (really big “if” here), it’s wrong still. If this heresy comes from the Mecca of reformed-conservative-evangelicalism, it’s wrong.

So it makes sense that in like manner, I was disgusted by the study notes in the ESV Study Bible in that they sent the clear message that six-day creationism was just one choice among “faithful” interpretations. I am equally disappointed that in a recent Christianity Today article, Tim Keller is put on record as identifying Genesis 1 as a poem, indicating that “its six ‘days’ may be poetically long.”

I’ve yet to see it demonstrated cogently that these divergent views arise from faithful exegesis and not from a spirit of accommodation that arose out of modernism and so-called “science.” As I read Genesis 1, the only way I can arrive at a non-literal approach is by reading it through an “intimidated” heremeneutical lens, an unhealthy fear of man that wonders what the intellectual community will think of my interpreations.

In this regard, I was thrilled to hear that John MacArthur’s opening session at this year’s Shepherd’s Conference was entitled “Why Every Self-respecting Evangelical Should Affirm Literal Six-day Creationsim.”  

Like MacArthur, we should not back down on this issue. By definition, science is limited to that which is repeatable and observable. Since evolutionary theories are based upon neither, we should not be bullied by pseudo-scientific rhetoric that is foundationally ill-equipped to weigh-in on this issue. It’s time for evangelicals who supposedly believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant to stand up on this issue, even if it’s not popular in our intellectual communities.


My Disappointments with the ESV Study Bible

So far, the ESV Study Bible has been a huge success for Crossway; the last I heard, they had sold out and the Bible was only available via 3rd parties that hadn’t sold all their copies. I was hoping that the ESVSB would be a helpful resource that I would be able to recommend to hungry Christians within my church.

My Background with the ESV

Since I first picked up an ESV in 2006, I’ve enjoyed it. My first reading of it corresponded with my second year of Greek, and the combination helped the New Testament to come alive again for me. Since the ESVSB came out, I have enjoyed reading through parts of it as well. The background information, especially for less-familiar OT books, has been helpful, even more so than some of the exegetical notes. The charts, maps and pictures are simply amazing and are a great tool for Bible students.

However, this brings up a couple interesting questions. What is the target audience for a study Bible? What is the target audience for this particular study Bible? Is it designed for pastors with a seminary background, for Sunday-school teaching lay-people, for all believers, for new believers, for Reformed and non-Reformed, for liberal and conservative, or for all the above? 

My observations below may outrage some. However, I hope it will serve as a friendly heads-up for those who may want to use it in their church, but would be uncomfortable endorsing this study Bible for the following reasons: 

Observation #1

Although opposing views are usually noted and presented with fairness, the notes are “in-your-face-Reformed.” When I say Reformed, because of the impact of our pop-theology-blogging culture, many immediately think, “Calvinism, he’s upset because it’s Calvinistic.” Let me just state that’s not what Reformed means; it refers to a specific hermeneutic that equates Israel with the Church and often leads to the denial of a future for national Israel in a literal 1,000 year Millennial reign. For example, John MacArthur’s study Bible is Calvinistic and dispensational, but not Reformed. There’s a difference.

To illustrate my main point, I was reading through 1 Peter recently, notes compiled by Thomas Schreiner, the New Testament scholar from Southern Seminary. Concerning 1 Peter 1:1-2, Schreiner notes,

Since the recipients of his letter were primarily Gentiles, Peter explicitly teaches that the church of Jesus Christ is the new Israel — God’s new chosen people. Emphasis mine.

It’s not that I have a problem with Schreiner’s taking this view (although I strongly disagree); it’s that he says this text explicitly teaches replacement theology. Then, in the bottom of the note, there is a parenthetical which acknowledges another position, the dispensational one. It reads: 

Another view is that these verses show that the church is like Israel but that the ultimate fulfillment of these OT prophecies pertains mainly to future ethnic Israel rather than to the church…

If the text explicitly teaches that the church is the new Israel, then why the need for a note that shares an alternative position? Perhaps the above note was a bit overstated? 

Observation #2

The notes make it appear that a literal, six-day creation does not really matter. In a note entitled “Genesis and Science,” we read:

Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the ‘calendar day’ reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the ‘day-age’ reading); or as God’s ‘workdays,’ analogous to a human workweek (the ‘analogical days’ view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the ‘literary framework’ view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, ‘the earth was without form and void,’ describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the ‘gap theory’). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common. Emphasis mine.

Observation #3

The notes give too much credit to redaction criticism. For instance, in the Deuteronomy notes the author comes to an excellent conclusion, valuing the internal claims of the text more than any secondary sources. However, I’m uncomfortable with the time and space given to liberal views:

If Moses is the author, then the two issues are more or less the same. However, another widely held view is that the book should be dated long after Moses. Some would date the book to the time of King Josiah in the latter part of the seventh century B.C…

If you don’t want to waste time in your personal devotions interacting with liberal scholars who want to discredit the inerrancy of the text, and if you certainly don’t want your average church member to spend time weeding through this stuff, then the ESVSB is not for you or your church. Honestly, I’m more interested that church members know what the text means and how it applies to their lives than whether or not they are aware of the alternate views to the authorship of the Pentateuch. 


There is much to commended in the ESVSB within an academic context; its notes are compiled by scholars who, in the big picture of Biblical Studies, are quite conservative. However, for the above reasons, I could not recommend it for use in the context of my local church.