The Washing of Regeneration

“Regeneration” has two distinct and different meanings.  1) The way the Bible uses the term.  2) The way theologians use the term.

2.  Theologians talk about “regeneration” as an equivalent to the term “born again” and by that they usually mean an ontological change in the soul of a man as he is changed from being dead in trespasses and sins, to being alive by the Spirit in Christ.  This is what happens when you come to faith and Get Saved.  You used to be Dead spiritually.  Now you are Alive: born of the Spirit.  That is generally what theologians are talking about when they talk about “regeneration.”

1.  But the Bible doesn’t use the term that way at all.  In fact the word regeneration, (palin-genesia, again-generation) occurs only twice in scripture:

Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [!!regeneration!!], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28 ESV)


Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Tit. 3:5 ESV)

You can see how the ESV translators in Matthew recognized their problem.  The Greek word is clearly “regeneration”, and it is translated that way in all traditional English translations, but the ESV guys knew that the English word has come to mean something that doesn’t fit what Jesus is talking about.  What to do, what to do?  Ah!  Change Jesus’ word!  There.

Or, we could actually submit ourselves to the Bible and retrain our thinking.  We could use the word “regeneration” and learn that in the Bible, it is talking about the new age, the new world that comes after the end, in the resurrection.  In the regeneration, the Son of Man is sitting on his glorious throne.  THEN is the regeneration.  Not when you Get Saved.

So when Paul refers to baptism as the washing (loutrou) of regeneration, he is not saying that baptism effects some kind of ontological change in the soul.  He is saying that baptism marks you, prepares you, for the age to come.  Those who are baptized are marked for life in the regeneration, when the dead are raised, a new genesis, and Jesus sits on his glorious throne.

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After the Temple … sacrifices?

The beingjewish dot com website has an article that answers the question “why don’t we have sacrifices any more if we are following Torah?”

The writer does an unhappy bit of handwaving exegesis:

When the First Holy Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring sacrifices. It was, in fact, forbidden to bring sacrifices, since there was no Temple. We then asked Hashem, how will we attain atonement? Hashem said, through Hosea: “Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all sin and accept the good we do. We will offer prayer instead of animals” (Hosea 14:3).

The problem with that is that when Hosea prophesied, the temple was still standing.  This prooftext had nothing to do with substituting prayer for sacrifices.  Hosea was urging the people to come sincerely, and their prayers were figuratively regarded as offerings, which of course was a common idea.  David talks about bringing the sacrifice of praise in the Psalms and would be astonished if anyone read that to mean he should not also bring sacrifices to priests at the altar.

And that “we will offer prayer instead of animals” translation is terrible.  ‎  וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ׃ There is no “instead of” at all.  “And we will offer the bulls of our lips.”

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Fire and All …

April 26 there was a fire in the Zion building that destroyed part of the north end.  All of the new construction is okay, and 80% of everything else, too, unless you count smoke and water damage, especially smoke, which goes everywhere and ruins everything.  All the stuff in my office was taken away by the restoration company for cleaning and treatment.  Much is not worth keeping and will be tossed.

So I get a new computer.  Which always seems to take days.  I finally got the hard drives out of the smoke pods, and I’m copying files at this moment.  I had a lot of photos from many years on that machine, and they take time.

Downloading and installing must-have apps: Pixwizard, GIMP, and Goldwave are essential.  Roxio Creator is my go-to for the sermon CD’s.  Office 365 lets me deactivate my install from the fire PC and activate it on the new PC.

I like the little $30 CA speaker system I got for this machine.  It has two little stereo speakers plus a woofer box about half the size of a shoebox.  Handy thing is, it has a physical desktop volume knob with an off switch and earphone jacks.  I’m going to need ear buds because our temporary office suite doesn’t have a door on my office.  One of my neighbors likes to listen to talk radio and music during work, which absolutely distracts me.  I have some spare earbuds now, and I’ll bring them.

I got the compleate Shakespeare audio on CD and ripped them to mp3.  The little SanDisk player came with a decent set of earbuds, so I have a spare now.  I’m listening through EVERY play.  I need to be topped up with language and cadence as I point towards the King Saul project on Sabbatical this summer.

And with the fire, that Sabbatical will be easier to prepare for: no VBS, and no adult class preparations while we’re out of the building during restoration.  Looks like it will be the end of the summer, at least.

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Perkins and the Bard

perkins and the bardAs I point towards my late summer sabbatical and my renewed work on The Tragic History of King Saul, I am spending more time with Shakespeare, trying to soak in the language as much as possible.  I am also going to be teaching an early summer class at Zion on the Puritans.  As it turns out, the first one on my reading list is William Perkins, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare.  Good!, I thought.  I will get even more Elizabethan language to soak in, and perhaps some interesting twists and turns of phrase to steal for King Saul.

But so far, Perkins is, well, pretty *regular*.  Sometimes reading Shakespeare, I get the impression that the vocabulary and language have just changed *so much* since his day.  But reading Perkins, I realize that the vocabulary and language have not changed *all that much* — it’s just that Shakespeare had such a broad command of the language, his word gardens are so thick, it can be overwhelming.  Only part of it is the distance in time.  Most of it is the marvel of Shakespeare.

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“… that they may boast in your flesh.”

This time through Galatians, I have been thinking about the motives that Paul attributes to the circumcision party.  They have visited Paul’s gentile churches and have erroneously taught that in addition to believing in Jesus as Messiah, gentiles must also be circumcised and commit to Torah.  After all, they (evidently) argued, the covenant to Abraham was an everlasting covenant with an everlasting covenant sign, so to enter fully into that covenant and be an heir of Abraham, you must accept the everlasting covenant sign: be circumcised. Thus these guys could preach Genesis 17, and evidently they were persuasive. That seems to be something like the logic that the circumcision party was using.

The thing that has puzzled me has been the idea that these false teachers have two motives for their mission: 1) not to suffer persecution, and 2) to boast in the gentile Christians’ circumcision:

12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Gal. 6:12-13)

It is not entirely easy to answer “persecution from whom?” and “make a good showing before, and boast to whom?”  The Romans weren’t persecuting any Christians yet.  You couldn’t boast to the Jews in the synagogue next door; they would not be happy that the gentiles were circumcised unless they also took their place in the synagogue with other gentile God-fearers.

I’m now of a mind that the circumcision party were Jerusalem Jewish Christians who were currying favor with the Jews of power and prestige in Jerusalem who had come into the church.  Acts 21 tells us that there were a LOT of Torah-observant Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, for whom circumcision was an important deal:

And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. (Acts 21:20-21)

Moreover, Acts 6.7 tells us that a great many of the priests were converted.  So there evidently was a significant number of highly respected, perhaps wealthy, influential Torah men in the Jerusalem church.  These were the kinds of guys you wanted to impress favorably, and that you did not want to offend and make your enemies.    In their zeal for Torah, such men would withhold table fellowship from gentiles, and want to see gentiles be circumcised and come under Torah.  Paul knows these guys, because he was one of them — or actually he was advanced in Judaism beyond them all.  And now, even Peter is afraid of the trouble these guys can cause, so Paul is about the only one who isn’t afraid at all of what they think of him and his ministry:

 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)

The Jerusalem wannabe’s took the circumcision and Torah message to the gentile churches in order to curry favor with the Jerusalem Important Guys.  They may have been sent and sponsored.  If they go and come back with a report that the gentiles are being circumcised, they are celebrated.  But if they refuse to go on such a mission and stand up in Jerusalem saying, “No way, man!  Torah is OVER!”, they would pay.

I sure don’t envy James his job pastoring a church dominated by these guys.  And I wonder if this is part of Paul’s poor opinion of the Jerusalem apostles “those who seem to be something.”

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Why have you left me?

tenebraeWorking on Psalm 22/Matthew 27 last week, I was struck by the connections between David’s psalms of trouble and Deuteronomy 31

they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?'(Deut. 31:16-17)

David’s psalms of trouble are full of that language; especially Psalm 22.

So it seems that when David was in trouble, he laid out his life next to Deuteronomy 31 and compared. He began his career with a rocketing rise of success. Scripture says, “David had success is all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him.” So later, when things go wrong, David has to reconsider. Why did God leave? Was it something David did?

Sometimes his self-examination results in a psalm of repentance, because he realizes his sin. But sometimes he doesn’t see how his deeds have deserved this trouble. “judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” (Psalm 7) That’s Psalm 22. It is the Psalm of a righteous man who suffers while God hides his face, and somehow that is all in God’s plan.

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Jerusalem Council Stipulations

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21 ESV)

James/Jacob concludes the deliberations of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 by deciding against the circumcision party: gentile converts to Christianity need NOT be circumcised and commit to living by Torah.  So far so good.  But it causes much puzzlement to the reader today that he then adds four conditions.  Gentiles must abstain from:

  • things polluted by idols
  • sexual immorality
  • what has been strangled, and
  • blood.

Uh, okay.  Whuh …?

First, it has been pointed out that Leviticus, which is all about Israel, priests, sacrifices, feasts, days, clean&unclean, and holiness laws — all specific to Israel — also has four laws that apply to the gentiles who live in the land.  Leviticus 16 and 17 have The Four Gentile Laws, and, what do you know, they match up with the stipulations that James/Jacob makes at the conclusion of the Jerusalem council.  The section begins in 17:8 and ends in 18:26:

  •  17:8 “And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people. ..
  • 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.

And in between 17:8 and 18:26 are a series of laws and statutes that can be summarized by the four categories that James/Jacob names.

So that answers part of the question.  But it raises another.  Is this council decree perpetual?  It sure satisfied the apostles and all the assembly, so does it have some continuing force in the church today?  I mean, the sexual immorality bit makes total sense, but at what point is eating a nice, rare, juicy steak “eating blood?”  And according to the Internet, “Blood pudding, also sometimes known as “black pudding,” is a type of sausage made with animal blood.”  Does that mean no blood pudding for Christians?  Should the church today be diligent in teaching these restrictions?  I don’t know any that are.  On what basis do we ignore an apostolic ruling?

Happily, in his concluding statement, James/Jacob may help us see something like an expiration date or a limit to these four restrictions. He says, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”  This seems like an odd way to conclude this dispute.  Why does he state the very obvious, and what is the connection with the business of the council?

The answer may be that these four restrictions have in view the tension in those days between the synagogue and the church.  In most cities, the churches got their core group from the synagogues, and subsequently the leading opposition to the churches came from the synagogue.  So the idea here may be that the synagogues, reading Moses every week, would come to the four gentile laws of Leviticus and have at least some of their hostility reduced seeing that the gentiles in the church next door are at least behaving like Moses said they should.

I suppose this policy would make the most sense in Judea, The Land, though most of those churches would not have a large gentile membership.  But even in the diaspora, gentiles who respected Torah as gentiles should, would be good policy.

Then the whole arrangement would disappear with the destruction of the temple and the very very end of the whole levitical and priestly system.

So blood pudding may be served at the church potluck.


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Velocipede, 1869

600My great-grandmother Ellen Broadhead, a country girl from Kansas, spent a year in New York state in 1869.  She was 17 years old and went and lived with cousins in order to get a New York Teachers Certificate, which was the certificate you wanted if you wanted to teach.

She kept a journal during the year, which my sister Martha eventually deciphered and transcribed.  One of the events she records is a visit to their town by a velocipede salesman.  This was an event worth attending.  She writes

After dinner went down to see the velocidepes (sic).  There were four in action.  They have two wheels and a sort of saddle to sit in.  Then they guide it with the feet by kicking them on things which are fastened to the hub of the forward wheel and which turn in a manner similar to the handle of a coffee mill.  That is the only way I can describe it.

So how do you describe something you have never seen before.

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ESV niggling

unrighteousstewardApart from the AV, the ESV is my go-to English translation.  They usually get it right.  So I was dismayed to see their choice of vocabulary in Luke 16.

Luke 16:8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. (Lk. 16:8 ESV)

The “dishonest” manager?  I had always remembered that as the “unjust” steward, or the “unrighteous” steward.  So, … “dishonest”?

Let’s go check.  Yep.  ἀδικίας.  Unrighteous.  As in Romans, But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? (Rom. 3:5).  And as in 1 John “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9)

Okay, ἀδικίας has a range of meaning that is arguably wider, than “unrighteous”, so there will be times when “unrighteous” may not be the right choice for the translator.  But Ghormley’s Rule says that you must use the same English word for the same Greek word in translation as often as possible.  And I think the ESV missed it here.

The thing at stake is the way we think about right/just and righteous/justified, which is no small concept.  Unfortunately, we have almost forced a narrow meaning onto “righteous” that makes it akin to “absolute moral perfection”, because that’s where our theological discussion takes us.  But we do ourselves no favors by mistreating the vocabulary so.  And the more often our translations challenge us to reconsider, the better.

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Prayer for the Persecuted Church

You don’t have to look far on the web to find news and reports of the persecuted church.  I keep meaning to make this a regular part of my prayer life, but haven’t done much.  I like to use the Book of Common Prayer, and as good as it generally is, it really doesn’t have any good ones for the persecuted.  So this one is going to be taped in:

Father of all mercy, we pray for those who are persecuted for the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Wicked and cruel men have plundered the sheep of your hand, the flock under your care. They have done violence to your beloved ones, those called by your name. Kings and princes have been silent and looked away, and there is none to deliver. Hear our cry and attend to our prayer. How long, O Lord will the enemy prevail and boast himself in the blood of your people? Let not the wicked prosper. Confound his ways and may he fall in the snare he himself has set. Bring all his plans to naught. Give all who suffer for Christ the strength to endure what must be endured. Give them boldness to hold their faith to the end. Supply them in their need, relieve them in their distress, comfort them in their sufferings, confirm them in their testimony.  Let them never fail to confess and hope in Jesus Christ, the one who suffered the death of the cross for our redemption and showed us how much we may be called on to suffer for his name. In the end, crown their faithful witness in the place Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for them.  Let all these things work to his honor and glory in all the earth so that all may see and hear and know the power of God in Christ Jesus, at whose name every knee shall bow, and who rules in righteousness and holiness with Thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, to the ages of ages and forever. AMEN

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