The Truth Suppressed, God is Knowable

Romans 1:18-20
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

This is just a spectacular statement for a man to make, even for a non-scientist, a theologian like Paul. This is before such 19 and 21st century scientific thought like Special Relativity, Quantum Physics, black holes, the “God particle,” “dark energy” as detected by the Hubble telescope, and so on. A simple declaration is made first thing in Romans to lay a foundation for the rest of Paul’s premise, God was knowable by everyone. Why was He knowable? Because God Himself made Himself evident! He wasn’t the watchmaker who wound up the watch and left it to run and then hid on His creation. No, He made Himself evident. He let His creation become the evidence for His existence. And not just for His existence but for His own personal characteristics as well. His invisible attributes! Paul understood there is something about the spiritual and emotional makeup of mankind that is perceptive enough to detect the eternal and the divine nature of God through creation. And these things about God are seen clearly. It isn’t some foggy notion or a puzzle, or some convenient notion that man makes God in his own image, it is a clear part of human nature to comprehend that there is an eternal, divine God who created all things.

But very sadly, Adam’s fall changed the original paradigm drastically. [Adam had the privilege to walk and talk face to face with God (in the form of Jesus).] While still able to understand all of this, mankind chooses to reject this information to one degree or another. History is proof of all that. How awful has been the impact in the life of all cultures – the rejection of this truth. The history books are filled with the awful tales as mankind spiraled downward to the worst forms of evils, as the Book of Genesis details graphically, though there have been bright spots in humanity here and there. So Paul could justly summarize his world and it applies just as much today in verse 21 and 22:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools

It is wonderful to hear some scientists today expound on the awesome discoveries made daily and give God the glory for the things fearfully and wonderfully made, but this is rare. More often one hears of the scientist who praises the god of evolution for deciding to take some particular path in development and declare how this is such a wonderful step in progress. Isn’t it great how Evolution brought us out of the slime to the lush planet we presently love and live. Yes, isn’t Evolution a fabulous sentient designer that can form all these species and adaptations and make all these decisions? Professing to be wise, they became fools indeed!

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The big lie. What makes more sense, that this huge, seemingly infinite, unimaginably complex universe, from the building blocks of subatomic particles to giant galaxies, would be a random accident of a non-designer, or stranger yet, a non-sentient evolutionary concept, or if a real Designer/Engineer was responsible for everything we see and sense? What if I told you your car just slowly appeared on its own eventually standing in your driveway fully formed ready to drive? How about the city you live in, that years ago it appeared fully formed with all the sub-structures, electronics, sewer, rail lines, streets, stores, everything you see, evolved ready for use; would you believe that story? Or would you say that designers and engineers had to be involved?

Yes, I thought so. Doesn’t He deserve some recognition for such a fabulous deed?

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Romans, Paul’s Doctoral Thesis

I’ve reached the book of Romans in this year’s journey through the Bible. When you start the trip at the very beginning rather than make a lot of small side trips here and there, which is not to say there is something wrong with that, you inevitably pick up a larger picture, you gain a greater sense of the full structure of the vast history of what God has done in and with creation and mankind. You recall the old story of three blind men touching an elephant in different places, an animal they had never previously encountered and then trying to explain what the animal looked like. Without knowing how God has dealt with mankind, and inversely, how mankind has dealt with God since the beginning, it is most difficult, to say the least, what He is trying to accomplish among us. So the symmetry of the layout of the 66 book of the Bible is a beautiful thing and I love how Romans pick up right after the Book of Acts which ends with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, still given much freedom but under house arrest. Then his letter to the Romans begins even though it was written some years before when he expressed his desire to someday visit them and impart some spiritual gift. (1:11)

In my opinion (and in my meager reading) the greatest book to come out of Christendom is John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. First published as a small tract in 1536 it grew to a fully developed treatise of Christian thought and Theology in its successive publications. Reading the Ford Lewis Battels’ edition (see my Resources page for a link) is an awesome experience in the study of Scripture and how Calvin’s insight of the Word is so remarkable in the sixteenth century. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but almost.

But Paul’s letter to the Romans is the penultimate Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is quite fitting that this letter begins the Epistles section of the New Testament, and to come immediately after the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. This dissertation of the theology of Christianity, foundation, in all it nuance, how faith works, and the works it performs, is the cornerstone of Christianity itself. From this letter all the other Epistles in the New Testament gain a foothold in the mission Jesus gave His disciples before ascending into Heaven:

“These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:45 – 49

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18 – 20

In this letter Paul pours all the great learning amassed in his Hebrew days and those days after the road of Damascus when he went away for fourteen years, no doubt to study the Scriptures in minute detail to see how they all applied to Jesus Christ.

So Romans is a catechism on steroids, it is the primer for the new Christian. It is a textbook for the advanced studies student. It is brilliant! It is one of the best books to learn by outlining. If you want to know what Paul meant in the verses around 7:13 – 7:21 if he was talking about the before salvation person or that after born again person, outline the book and it will be obvious. That’s just one of my favorite examples.

Romans should be a letter all Christians should read often and cherish. It is the book Martin Luther read that captured his spirit, salvation by faith alone. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Read it and learn the real purpose of the Law. Read about one big beautiful promise because of which people from all nations of the earth could be blessed through Abraham, not just Israel. Also read and wonder about God’s own choice like the potter making the jars to keep and discard if you have ears to hear. This is an awesome book.

While I recuperate from surgery I’ll try to post some thoughts on topics from Romans that strike me as important to the church and the world.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Why Ignore the Greeks?

John 12:20-22
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast;
these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip *came and *told Andrew; Andrew and Philip *came and *told Jesus.

I’ve wondered at this verse, because Jesus never replies to the statement to all appearances. And it is confusing since it would seem as if Jesus would want to take His message to as many people as He could. He shared the Word with the Samaritan woman at the well when His disciples were flabbergasted that He would stoop so low to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman at that.

But instead of commenting to Andrew and Phillip’s statement about some Greeks wanting to speak to Jesus, He launches into another parable about a grain of wheat and and bearing fruit.

What gives?

Then it occurred to me what time it was. It was Passion Week. Jesus’ ministry was winding down. After a couple years of walking all around the Judea and Israel preaching and healing and driving the Jewish leaders crazy, He was finally heading up to Jerusalem for the final confrontation. It was just a few days before He was going to be handed over to the powers of darkness and scourged and crucified and be killed. The time for the giving of workshops and PowerPoint presentations were over. Jesus was getting a bit more worked up with the knowledge of exactly what was in store for Him. This intensity culminated in the mighty tension as He prayed in the Garden and the sweat dripped from Him like drops of blood. Luke 22:44 Looking forward to the torture of the Roman cohort was not pleasant as you can imagine. Even during the week leading up to the crucifixion surely had an effect on the Lord as a fully human being.

So that is why He didn’t greet the Greek delegation. He just didn’t have any time left. He had little time left to do all the things He had to accomplish before His departure. He couldn’t spend it on the Greeks who loved, as Paul found out decades later, to debate lofty philosophical ideals. Jesus had more important things He needed to concentrate His energies and prayers. And He devoted them to His disciples and to final teachings in the Temple. And reading the final chapters of His soliloquies, they were stunning deliveries, golden gifts of the Spirit from the Father to ears who were so dulled by this time. I’d have loved to have been there!

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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The Weaker Vessel

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman
1 Peter 3:7

A thought occurred to me as I read this verse. No doubt one will occur to you as well, “why would he write about such a divisive topic?” But that wasn’t my thought. Certainly though, if you mentioned this statement among a group of women today imagine the civil discourse that would ensue! You would probably only be able to imagine, as perhaps all civility may be abandoned.

When this verse of Scripture was written the place of the sexes was not much questioned in society, at least vocally or publicly. The woman being the weaker sex was probably understood since the men worked outside the home hunting/gathering/ warring and women worked inside, childbearing, caring for the family. But reading this verse today can’t be understood in those terms because society changes, times change and God’s Word has to be applicable forever.

So what really did Peter mean by the use of the phrase? Or is this one of those impenetrable sayings that Peter attributes to Paul “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) though he has a number of his own? (Like verses nineteen and twenty in this chapter or verse six in chapter four!)

In the Twenty-first century there is little doubt that men and women are about as equal as they can be across the spectrum of society in many ways. And that the Scriptures call each gender to be held equally in honor and respect and love is undeniable. And that some societies need to raise the bar concerning the treatment of women with equity, like equal pay for equal work, is also undeniable. There are also the obvious differences between men and women, child bearing, emotional and psychological differences. Do any of these have a bearing on the debate surrounding the “weaker vessel” issue of this text? Or is this one of those issues best left to the end of the age when the Lord returns and we stop seeing through “a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Personally I’m going to love the “Sunday School” class Old Testament Explained, taught by our Lord Jesus, which was begun on the road to Emmaus when the two disciples met and didn’t recognize Him, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) What a fantastic course that will be!

But back to the thought I had when I read this verse from Peter. A “weaker vessel” as many translations have it, or “someone weaker,” or “most delicate partner,” or “the weaker partners.” My mind went back to the Garden of Eden when it was just Adam and Eve. God had told Adam, before Eve was around, not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or in the day he ate its fruit he would die. We don’t know how much time elapsed between the time Eve was created until the time the Serpent tempted her at the Tree. But why did he tempt Eve and not Adam? He had to have had a rationale for selecting Eve instead of Adam to discuss how it would be beneficial to consider this particular Tree, pulling a fruit from a branch and taking a bite. Why not Adam? What did he see in Adam that made him think he would not make a successful temptation? What did he see in Eve that made her a better choice?

Maybe it was that Adam was the direct recipient of the command and Eve was not around. Eve was dependent upon Adam telling her the information second hand. We are lacking a lot of information about their relationship. This is frustrating. We wish they had left their diary behind for us to read so we would have more insight. But the details are sketchy for a reason I think. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. We need to trust in God, not be spoonfed all the answers. It’s frustrating, yes, but that’s how babies grow up to be adults. Maybe the information Adam gave Eve was not as accurate as it could have been. Or maybe he gave her the command God gave him verbatim, but she remembered it wrong. Or maybe she was confused by the argument presented by the serpent. Perhaps the dialog in Genesis is not the entire sequence of events. Maybe it is just the salient points, the Readers Digest version. In any event, we know that Eve told the serpent incorrect information about the commandment from God (He didn’t say they couldn’t touch the tree) and I think this is what the Serpent was looking for, the wedge he could use in his negotiation to sin. Did he somehow know she was “the weaker vessel” and he took advantage of this in his manipulation of the facts??

On a side note of this temptation scene I should mention, if you wonder how could anyone possible make such a monumentally simple yet horribly tragic mistake like this I suggest you read a C.S. Lewis book, Perilandra, It is book 2 from his science fiction trilogy. There is a scene in chapter 9 which portrays a temptation that makes the Fall completely understandable and you’d see that you too would probably fail the test.

Perhaps the “weaker vessel” is the result of this temptation, Eve eating the fruit, and leading Adam in the deed that results in women being saddled with this label. Maybe it is just a part of the whole Curse problem.

Or maybe the real explanation is that there is no weaker gender, no stronger gender, as may be implied in the text. After all what exactly does the text say? “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker . . . .” You have to notice that it doesn’t say that anyone is actually weaker. It just says that the husband is to live in such a way as if the wife was weaker. The precedent for this reasoning is a similar passage from Paul concerning husbands and wives, in Ephesians 5:22-33. Verse 25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .” How does the “weaker” concept come into play? Well, definitely humans, inside the church or out, are weaker than Christ. Existing in the form of God, Christ left His glory and became man and gave Himself up to death to pay the penalty for our sins. That was living with a weaker people in love, and He left us this example for husbands to behave towards their wives. Quite a high bar to set, right? But it is behavior to be expected of husbands according to Paul and Peter. Probably rarely seen, but expected none the less. If you think I’m joking read the rest of Ephesians chapter 5 that ends with “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself. . . .” And verse 28, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” If that sounds impossible its probably because we have become pretty selfish in our society. And that sin is still too prevalent in our lives doesn’t help either.

The reality is that both husband and wife are complete equals in God’s sight. There are roles assigned to each, God has assigned to the husband the “head,” but we see that has no bearing on how the wife is to be treated or with what attitude the husband is to have toward her except to mimic the love Christ has for the church, and we see what He did for her. What could be the result of such a thing as this but complete marital bliss? That and the normal tensions children, money and careers bring to every marriage.

But we really can’t escape the next phrase in the New American Standard. This version translates the text, which I’ll underline here as “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman;” Other translations do not translate the Greek συνοικοῦντες (gynaikeio) in the manner of “since she is a woman.” You can see here how the Greek and English get translated in this interlinear view. I wonder why they omit this reference since it does seem to be implied in some way in the text? Is there some fear of raising charges of sexism? In the context of the statement there seems no issue of sexism nor degradation. The Greek word σκεύει translated as “vessel” is generally meant as the body, and it is recognized that women are generally weaker physically than men. A simple explanation of this argument is explained here.

And let us not forget the entire gist of this paragraph. Which is that honor is to be showered by the husband on the wife, and this attitude of the spouses toward each other is loudly and frequently preached in the New Testament, I’ve only briefly touched upon it above.

So regardless of what Peter may have meant by his mysterious “weaker vessel” statement, if we can’t know for certain in this life, what we can know with certainty is that we need to love one another. That commandment is never in any doubt. And the rest will be explained in the New Creation, and I will bet that the class The Old Testament Explained will be standing room only, just like its companion course, The New Testament Letters Explained.

[Last edited 11/1/2014]

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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No Hometown Hero

Luke 4:22-24, 28,29
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'”
And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;
and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

This is how every priest, preacher, prophet, and shepherd dreams his ministry would begin, with enraged listeners rushing him to the top of the nearest cliff to heave him over. This scenario would be a little less incomprehensible had it occurred among strangers, but in your home town, among your own family? Those with whom you grew up? What a bizarre response from the congregation!

Here Jesus comes back to Nazareth to start His ministry and begins reading from Isaiah and somehow some of the things He says angers the crowd. Just prior they were quite impressed. They initially flattered Him. He had not yet said anything to them though that challenged their lifestyle, their behavior, their mindset, their practices. He just quoted a fabulous verse from Isaiah, the promise of the culmination of prophetic history, and He told them it was completed in that very hour! That would have got their attention.

But He knew what was in their hearts. It isn’t revealed in the text what exactly that was. We aren’t shown just what got Him riled up, what initiated the verbal attack, though the hints are there with the references to their wondering how He could speak so graciously, and their knowing He was merely Joseph’s son. But sternly upbraids them Jesus does in verses 23 and following. “Physician, heal yourself.” “You think you’re better than we are, we know you, we’ve known you since you were in diapers, you want to heal us? Heal yourself!”

There is a related saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and some of this may have come into play in Nazareth. But in speaking before family and friends the tendency of many may be to tone down, moderate, not offend. But Jesus was not about to coddle. He was not on this earth to mince words. He was going to speak the whole truth in love. To His family, to strangers, to royalty, to everybody. They were all just His creatures. All in need of healing. All in need of His love and needing to hear the words that would bring salvation to the broken soul. He couldn’t afford to mince word, their eternity hung in the balance.

Jesus knew He was going to be a rock of stumbling, that people would take offense at the things He was going to have to say. People were doing things that, should He say it, were not Godly. Just read the Scriptures. All throughout the Old Testament, His own people never failed to do the wrong thing. Now He finally came to Earth, to walk among them to show them how it is done, to tell them how it is done. Of course these things are not going to be easy to hear. That’s why He so often said “he who has ears to hear.” To everyone else the Gospel was offensive. He preached the word anyway. It didn’t mean He hated the sinner, far from it. No one felt compassion like Jesus. But even though strangers or family did not understand and took offense at His message He still told them God’s message per chance they might be saved. And some did come around. James, His brother became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. But for now they were quite puzzled.

Shortly after, His family came to Him, still not understanding Him or his objective, thinking He had lost His senses, Mark 3:20, 21 but He told His listeners, “whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 So He continued day after day to speak the words the world needed to hear. He never minced words. He spoke directly when it was required, in parables when needed, the Scribes and Pharisees understood His barbs and jabs perfectly clearly. The poor understood the power of His miracles more than words could show. The hypocrites remained confused by His parables. But sadly He was never able to go back home. He had another Home waiting, in Glory. Where He is going to receive many, many of His mothers and sisters and brothers. And they won’t be misunderstanding anything He will be saying in that Hometown.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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