A response to Michael Patton on Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. A good post, but I politely disagree with him. I respond to four of his points here — his fifth is outside of my field of experience, and so I won’t overreach.

1. Yes, Christ often spoke in metaphor and riddle. Using the text-critical principle that the most unusual is the most likely authentic, then, we can surmise that the early Christians would not go against that grain and interpret him literally unless there were strong reasons for doing so. Jesus’ statements about resurrection are also mystical statements, but we both agree that those are rather literal.


2. Although God is not time-bound, and theologically speaking the Crucifixion is timeless (at least in my view), let’s do a thought experiment here. Why is Jesus’ blood efficacious for the remission of sins? Is it because the blood is shed/poured out, or because it is pure and given? Likewise: is the body efficacious because it was broken, or because it was offered?


It seems clear that the blood is already efficacious for the purpose of instituting a New Covenant, regardless of whether it is yet efficacious for forgiving sins. Matthew 26:26-:28 says “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.


Verse 28 already associates the blood with the New Covenant, even if the remission-of-sins part is not yet actualized. Yet even if it’s not actualized in the Last Supper, as you say, this does not mean that every occurrence since then is likewise of Jesus’ pre-Crucifixion body and blood.


We have a strong trend in Christian thought of defying time-bound constraints; as I said on the Theology Unplugged Catholicism 7: We “tap into” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection every time someone is baptized. This happens regardless of the fact that Jesus died only once, not once plus once per Christian baptism. Tu Quoque, amice.


Note also that Jesus “gave thanks” (εὐχαριστήσας) – when Jesus did that with bread and fish, it multiplied. Jesus can make things happen to food when He gives thanks. Biblical fact.


3. No, the cup isn’t the New Covenant, the wine/blood is. This is a figure of speech called metonymy, or more specifically, synecdoche.


Metonymy: referring to X by something closely associated with X. Example: “sword” in prophetic speech as a reference to “war” or “destruction”. This example is simultaneously a metaphor, but the two don’ always overlap. “life is a box of chocolates” would be a metaphor that isn’t metonymic.


Synecdoche: using X to refer to only part of X, or part of X to refer to all of X. Example: “this is my body”. Well, technically, his entire body isn’t in there, so that’s only part of His body.


But why one and not the other?” Because the cup-as-contents synecdoche is already well-known in Scripture and can be taken as a given. For instance, Isaiah 51:17: “Arise, arise, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath; thou hast drunk even to the bottom of the cup of dead sleep, and thou hast drunk even to the dregs.” Clearly, the fear is not that the cup itself will be used as a smashing bludgeon. No; it is the contents, the wine, that is scary. God’s 1,000,000,000-proof wine will give one hell of a hangover.


Likewise, Revelation 14:10 spells out that the cup of wrath (material genitive of contents) contains the wine of wrath (epexegetical genitive): “He also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of his wrath, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels, and in the sight of the Lamb.”


From a pedantic standpoint, no, “this is my body/blood” isn’t “literal”. It is synecdotic or metonymic, not “literal” in the strict sense. But if we’re asking specifically “is this a metaphor or not?” then one could loosely reply “no, it’s literal”. Semantics is fun, ain’t it?


4. John leaves out lots of things. Demons. Exorcisms. Most healings. Nearly all of Jesus’ ethical commands. There’s no “love your enemies” or even “love your neighbor as yourself” here. No. It’s just circle the wagons and “love one another”. That command, and the command to “believe” are pretty much the only general commands of Jesus that are explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John. John is not meant to stand on its own, but presupposes knowledge of the other Gospels (or of oral teaching about Jesus). In short: it is not freshman-level material. Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commands.” Which begs the question: what are His commands? It doesn’t anywhere near fully answer that. Also missing from G-John: “Gospel”. The word is not there. Whatsoever.


Besides, John is a very different animal from the other three. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke are biographies (βίος), John is a drama (διδασκαλία). For this reason, it works differently. John also repeatedly has narratives in which the speakers are speaking to truths far greater than the immediate context, and, often, far greater than the interlocutors realize. The woman at the well, for instance, did not understand the depth of *her* need for water and the depths Jesus could give far surpassed the depth of the well of Sychar. Likewise, Caiaphas was likely unaware his politically expedient words were prophetically valid in ch 11.


So, I haven’t really used this blog in forever. I’ve been thinking of starting it up again. While running through my dummy email and clearing out the inbox, lo! A request for one of the worship songs I mentioned on another blog. In other news, it’s awesome that Daniel Streett is blogging again; I found his blog and read from beginning to end only to find that he had stopped blogging before I had started reading him, haha!

Here you go, Paul!

Ἐπῳδή α´ Verse 1
ἀλλάσσω τὴν λύπην μου I’m trading my sorrow
ἀλλάσσω τὴν αἰσχύνην I’m trading my shame
παρατίθημι εἰς χαρὰν Κυρίου I’m laying [them] down for the joy of the Lord

ὰλλάσσω τὴν ἀσθενείαν I’m trading my sickness
ἀλλάσσω τὸν πόνον μου I’m trading my pain
παρατίθημι εἰς χαρὰν Κυρίου I’m laying [them] down for the joy of the Lord

Χορός Chorus
λέγομεν ναί, Κύριε, ναί, ναί Κύριε We say yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
ναί, Κύριε, ναί, ναί Κύριε yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
ναί, Κύριε, ναί, ναί Κύριε, Ἀμήν. yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, Amen.

Ἐπῳδή β´ Verse 2
ἐν παντὶ θλιβόμενοι, We’re pressed on all sides,
ἀλλ’ οὐ στενοχωρούμενοι yet not crushed,
οὐ μὴ ἀπολλύμενοι certainly not destroyed
μακάριοι ἀντὶ ἀρὰς Blessed beyond cursing
ἐν ἐπαγγελίᾳ αὐτοῦ in His promise
ἡ χαρὰ αὐτοῦ ἰσχυρώσει ἡμᾶς His joy will strengthen us
μενῇ δὴ ὁ πόνος νύκτι Though the pain last for the night,
ἡ δὲ χαρὰ ἔρχεται πρώϊ His joy comes early in the morning

Credit for the original English lyrics (not my back-translation shown here) go to Darrell Evans, as far as I can tell. I translated this on my own, and it’s mostly grammatical as well as metrical for musical purposes.

Some songs I have done are reworked versions from Louis Sorenson. I’ll go ahead and point out his materials.

ἡμεῖς πιστεὐομεν, διὸ δεῖ ἡμᾶς καὶ ᾄδειν. (

I haven’t written any notes in a while. Really, I’ve just been too busy working on things to find something to say that really needed to be said to so many people. But I’ve learned recently of a rather disturbing piece of legislation that needs to be addressed, I think.Have you heard of the National Defense Authorization Act? It’s the bill that’s set the budget for the Department of War (now, Dept of Defense) for about 50 years now. Every year it’s renewed with different proposals for the budget and perhaps with different provisions in other areas. One provision this year is just downright disturbing.

This provision gives the President the authority to detain US citizens in military prison indefinitely and without trial. This is blatantly unconstitutional and not right. The senate had a chance to get rid of this specific provision, but they failed to do so. Both Texas senators and both Oklahoma senators (looking at you, Coburn!) voted to keep this horrendous provision within the Act. The previous link provides a list also of every senator who voted for or against removing that particular provision.

Only seven out of one hundred chose to oppose the bill’s final form, after the provision was kept. Here is a link to the entire bill. Or, if you just want to read the provision in question, it’s Section 1034, paragraphs 3 and 4.


Congress affirms that–

(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;

(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);

(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who–

(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or

(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and

(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that this reflects a “compromise”. Yet according to govtrack.us, this wording has remained unchanged. It wasn’t in the original introduction into the House on Apr 14th, but the Final (House) form on May 17th had it exactly like this. This “agreement” is apparently opposed by the Obama administration, and thankfully I believe he is serious on his veto threat. [Update: the compromise refers to the amending of other provisions in the bill, though this part was apparently not compromised. Our First, Fourth, and Fifth amendment rights, however…]

The scary thing is that this bill does not specifically state that U.S. citizens are exempt for this unconstitutional treatment. There was another time in history — at least one — when the US chose not to defend the freedom of speech of political dissidents. The Sedition Act of 1918 made it criminal to hinder recruiting efforts or criticize the government/military during war time. Try reading a NY Times article from Christmas Eve, 1921: “HARDING FREES DEBS AND 23 OTHERS HELD FOR WAR VIOLATIONS. Page two mentions Thomas Carey, a pacifist, put in prison for refusing to submit to the draft. Several Socialists (members of the I.W.W., the Industrial Workers of the World) are likewise there. Although some are listed as advocating armed resistance, others were simply vocal critics exercising their First Amendment rights. According to the article, these 24 prisoners may have been released, but they never had US citizenship reinstated. Another from 1917 details a man being arrested for suggesting to two young men not to register for the draft. Another documents a restriction on printing any political commentary in other languages — German, in particular — without providing an English translation. Untranslated political commentary is forbidden to even be carried or mailed. Another documents the arrest of then-somewhat-famous writer Cleveland Moffett for making a street corner speech that criticized Wilson. Another, well… I’ll just quote the mayor of New York:

This country is at war with Germany. Public denunciation of the action of the United States Government in co-operating with other Governments in fighting a common enemy is calculated to give aid and comfort to that enemy.

This mindset was here less than 100 years ago, folks. Criticizing the government publicly was at one point illegal, subject to fines and imprisonment. I shudder to think that this mindset may return. Honestly, I fear that it already has. Remember those 9/11 patriotic songs? Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (Toby Keith). Love it or Leave (Lynyrd Skynyrd). My tired mind cannot think of others at the moment.

What can we do? Write the White House? Call our congressmen? These things may help. I support prayer as well. America is definitely in disarray beyond just the economy. May God watch over those who trust in Him. May He be present, and grant us a spirit of solidarity to replace fear. I pray that He would have mercy. Lord, come quickly!

In a blog post about whether ὑποτασσω (hypotasso) in Ephesians 5:21 means “submit”, “respect”, or something else, a commenter by the name of Sue made the point that she rejects women’s submission the same way she rejects slavery, given that both slavery and marriage are within Ephesians 5. I responded that I don’t think those two parallel well. The Bible both regulates and perpetuates marriage and the model of marriage, yet the Bible only regulates slavery without perpetuating it. I wrote:

But these do not parallel. … There is nothing in the Bible that demands slavery or seeks to perpetuate it, though the Bible does regulate it. The Bible does, however, seek to both perpetuate and regulate marriage.

To which Kurk replies:

Gary, with your first statement here (your “nothing” one), aren’t you overgeneralizing to the extent that your making an assumption that cannot really be proved? Many preachers up to and during the Civil War in the USA would have strongly disagreed with you. Are you better able than they were to parse out what you see as the problem in Paul’s text (i.e., the regulation of slavery which only seems like a perpetuation of slavery) while retaining what you see as its solution (i.e., the perpetuation and regulation of marriage)?

In this post I seek to answer his question of why I believe the pro-slavery argument is not as credible, and can’t be paralleled, regardless of any similarities between the two conservative arguments. I also briefly respond to the other issues he raises.

In all three scenarios (marriage, parenting, employment), much has certainly changed between biblical times and now. Yet gender is a constant part of one’s inherent physical identity, while social standing and age are dynamic.

I believe we are all in a better position to evaluate the backgrounds of Scripture from a historical and archaeological standpoint (e.g. at what age people married, whether slaves were literate, whether having sex with a slave was permissible) specifically because we have the shoulders of more giants to stand on. This does not grant absolute certainty that we are right and they are wrong, however. We all have confirmation bias, and perhaps the worst thing any of us can do to fall pray to the Zeitgeist is to think we are beyond it.

While I accept my own fallibility, I do not think that complementarian arguments can properly be paralleled to pro-slavery arguments. Whatever other arguments there might be for slavery (the Bible doesn’t forbid it) or for comparing compism to slavery advocacy (Jesus was a slave -> church is bride of Christ), the strongest case for perpetuating either marriage or slavery is to be found in either A. a clear declaration by God, or B. an etiological explanation within the primordial history narrative. Marriage, particularly as something done by a man’s initiative, is enshrined as an instance of A within B (“for this reason…”).

The crucial slavery text within Genesis 1-11 is 9:18-29, in which Noah curses Canaan and says he will serve Shem. This is taken to mean that the Africans will serve the S(h)emitic European race. Yet this is when God stops speaking and the narrative morally degrades at a rapid pace. The first thing Noah did when God turned around was fall into debauchery, and he (drunkenly?) cursed his grandson for something his son did. Everything within the primordial history is to be taken as having epic repercussions, but that does not mean that God endorses a drunken man’s anger as normative. The extent to which God enforces Genesis 9-10 is debatable.

It seems more clear that God backs the texts of Genesis 2-3, or at least the blessings and punishments therein, given that God actually appears as a character and himself delivers said blessings and curses.

If we do a compare and contrast of Genesis’ overall tone towards slavery and overall tone towards women, we find something interesting. There are episodes where a slave comes through an entire episode as a good character (Abraham’s servant, ch 24), and there’s even an episode of role reversal where a mere slave becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

But with women, there’s only two positive role models:
1. Sarah, who called Abraham her lord in the middle of scorning disbelief in God’s promises. Recording this as her redeeming quality is at best a backhanded compliment to her.
2. Unmarried Rebekah in Genesis 24. Rebekah simply goes downhill after that, not back-and-forth like her male counterpart.

Women deceive. They engage in sexual exploitation. They usurp authority. And, granted, male figures do all these things in Genesis, too, but male figures have more redeeming qualities to balance them out. There is no instance in Genesis of a woman taking initiative in place of her husband where something fully good results. Yes, Jacob gets the Blessing as God intended, but it required deceiving and grieving a dying old man who did nothing to deserve it. That was a woman’s idea, lest we forget.

Slaves do engage in actions of their own initiative, sometimes with mixed results as for Hagar (who thought to abandon her child), and sometimes with good results, as with Joseph. In Joseph we find a primary example of emancipation from slavery; Eliezar of Damascus, at least in theory, stood to gain control of all of Abraham’s estate, had he not fathered an heir (15:2).
Yet there is no Amazonesque example of throwing off patriarchy as a sign of divine redemption from brutal oppression, unless Gen 3:16 is taken in an unusual direction.

And so, if the primary text to visit is Genesis 1-11, and if the rest of the book’s stance of women and slaves should inform our understanding of how Genesis 1-11 views the status thereof, then we are left with a more clear impression of slaves gaining emancipation than women doing so. To use this text to back up slavery is to assume that God endorses the anger of a drunken man’s curse, which is debatable. Meanwhile, to use this text to support complementarianism is to assume that God supports his own words in Genesis 3, if nothing else. Slavery does not seem to be a permanent institution, nor necessarily life-long, whereas marriage is assumed to be lifelong and a natural social construct.

Allegedly, abortion is only 3% of what they do. Or so they’ve said. They’re doing a sleight of hand here. A breakdown of the numbers from their own site is more illuminating.

You will find the claim on page 3 of the linked report in the now-famous (skip to 1:30) pie chart.

On page 2, they report 7,021 “Prenatal clients” [not receiving abortions] and 332,278 abortions. “Prenatal clients”, presumably, means “pregnant women receiving services other than an abortion.” Whereas abortions refer to “pregnant women upon which we performed an abortion”.

Pregnant women visits, total: 339,299 (They do not provide this statistic; I had to derive it myself.)
Pregnant women visits, abortion: 332,278
Pregnant women visits, non-abortion: 7,021
Total services performed: 11,383,900

So, the question remains: in the case where a pregnant woman comes in for services, what are the chances that they will perform an abortion? Well, that’s easy:

You see, they don’t count the 332,278 visits as also being “prenatal clients” because then you’d put the numbers together and discover how often they perform abortions on pregnant women. I did the math, and it comes to: 332,278/(332,278+7,021)=0.9793073365969248 in my calculator, or, 97.93% in short. To find out what percentage of their services are abortion, all you have to do is divide 332,278 into 11,383,900. You get 2.9%.

So, you might be wondering how they could manipulate the data to make it seem that abortion is just a minor detail performed on the side. Answer: statistics can be manipulated easily by choosing what data to show and what to not show. It is deceptive, but sadly common, for people to arrange the data without actually fudging the numbers. This is what they did.

While it may be true (as far as I know) that only 3% of their total services were abortion procedures, that isn’t as much of statement as they make it out to be. If you are a scared 15-year-old girl and you go in with your 22-year-old boyfriend for an abortion, you may be offered a free HIV test, breast exam, pap smear, and a pack of condoms for the road. On paper it is made to look like abortion was only 20% of your reason for visiting rather than 100%. And hey — if they provided you with the pregnancy test two months ago that helped you find out in the first place, then that pads the numbers even better. Only 16% of your involvement with Planned Parenthood, as far as the numbers show, was for abortion in this hypothetical situation. Yet in reality, it was your main motive for going.

Note that their by the numbers page claims that only 12% of their clients receive abortion services. Once again, this is an obfuscation without directly lying (as far as I know); they do not say what percentage of their pregnant clients receive abortion services. This failure to specify is not an uncommon tactic among those who use statistics for their own agenda.

I will ask the question again: in the case where a pregnant woman comes in for services, what are the chances that they will perform an abortion? Planned Parenthood seeks to answer this question by saying “3% of our services are abortions”, or “12% of our clients receive abortion services”. This is a sleight of hand, as I’ve already said, because they provide the right answer to a question other than the one pro-lifers/sympathizers are asking. The answer, by their own numbers, is 97.93%.

They made less than 1,000 adoption referrals in 2009, by the way. But then again, parents seeking to adopt would actually be planning parenthood. If Planned Parenthood were about family planning, they should focus on adoption and not abortion. Then their name would be ingenious rather than disingenuous.

2 Cor 2:5-3:6


My co-teacher, Brandon, did a lesson on this section almost three weeks ago. I was out sick, unfortunately. I’m, obviously, behind in my blogging. We’ve been using 21st Century Christian’s Life Links to God study materials for this class. I personally give it no more than a cursory glance and prefer to let the text speak to me on its own. Yet, sometimes the study aid does indeed come in handy.

Now, here’s my exposition of the NIV2011 text, courtesy of biblegateway.

Forgiveness for the Offender

5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

It helps to remember that the text doesn’t come to us in neatly packaged chunks. Right before this, Paul had explained that his reason for not visiting as he had said he would is because he didn’t want to dampen their morale in his own gloom. Yet, he reaffirms how much he loved them just in 2:4. I repeat the ending of the previous lesson in saying how amazing it is for him to overcome the selfishness that usually comes with despair and instead focus on sending a letter to focus on the needs of others. This in and of itself is quite remarkable.

Now, this section raises a few questions about the background of the letter: Who is the guy who is causing grief? Perhaps the guy sleeping with his stepmother in 1 Cor 5? Is this the one whose grief-causing made Paul decide to not visit in person, or was the grief in Asia Minor the only issue? What was the majority’s reproving response to the guy’s grief-causing?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But, to look at Paul’s phrasing in verse 5, he seems to be downplaying the offense by saying “if anyone has”. I sincerely doubt that the troublemaker is the guy from 1 Cor 5, even though 5:2 specifically mentions grief and then talks about a sufficient punishment: “handing over to Satan”. I would take a guess that this means temporary exile, but that is only a guess. Whatever happened to that guy, Paul took the matter fairly seriously. His tone is quite different in 2 Cor 2, so I suspect it is a different matter.

Who it was and what he did is not something Paul focuses on. His focus is on the church’s proper response to the guy’s (assumed) repentance. Whatever punishment was given, likely a public rebuke and temporary exile, is enough. I say this is the punishment likely, because I think “the majority” would likely punish through some social barrier rather than through something that could be done by only a few.

Now that the punishment is over with, it is time to forgive [lit. “show grace”] and to comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by [lit. “drown in”] sorrow. Paul reiterates that it is now time to love him back into the fold. The offense and its punishment were not worth mentioning by name, nor was it necessary to point out who the offender was; Paul’s focus is on the man’s redemption.

Verse 9 carries its own question: which letter is Paul talking about when he says he wrote to them? If this is the guy from 1 Cor 5, then he is saying that his motive in writing that part of that letter was to test them and see whether or not they would hand out the discipline he prescribed. But, if this is a different person, then he is saying that a partial motive in writing 2 Corinthians was to test and see whether they would forgive. Honestly, disciplining someone you care about is a difficult task, and it’s tempting not to. And paradox or not, it’s also hard to forgive someone you care about. This could go either way.

Paul says that he will forgive as they have done, “if there’s anything for [him] to forgive.” Once again he downplays the offense and its severity/reality. Assuming that this is a real offense, that is a sign of graciousness. Paul says that he forgives for their sake in the face [perhaps meaning “sight”, “presence” through prayer, or “imitation”] of Christ. The purpose of forgiving is ultimately to be on guard against Satan and his well-known schemes. Satan would not want for the church to discipline someone who has gone astray, nor would he want for the church to practice forgiveness. Both actions foil his schemes.

I hope we can walk away from this section with a desire to use church discipline properly. Church discipline is very difficult in an age when the reprobate would be welcomed in a different church just down the street that affirms that behavior. Church is too easily replaced in our consumerist society. So, what we need to do is develop a proper sense of fellowship that is so deep and mutually affirmed that throwing it away is unthinkable. Proper church discipline will drive the offender to his/her knees instead of to the synagogue of Satan. Proper church discipline will cause tears for everyone involved, and will have the expressly spoken intent of showing the severity of the offense. Only if the world outside the church is so much darker than the world inside will temporary exile seem like being “handed over to Satan.”

12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

Apparently Paul was worried for Titus’ well-being. It seems that they split up in Asia Minor and Troas was their arranged meeting place. Though Paul had an opportunity presented [lit “door opened”] to preach, he didn’t have peace of mind without Titus. It was for this reason that he went straight to Macedonia by a detour and avoided Corinth & Athens. Surely, concern for the life and well-being of a dear brother in distress is a valid concern for changing plans without warning. If that’s not a good reason, I don’t know what is.

Verse 14 feels quite sudden in its transition; one moment he’s worrying about life and death, and the next minute he’s praising God for victory in Christ. (Sometimes Paul is spontaneous, jarring his readers with sudden transitions.) The text says that God leads us in procession, but is not specific as to whether Christ is the general, and we are the other soldiers receiving a victory parade, or whether we are the captives. Due to the paradox of being a sweet smell of victory and also a foretaste of the world’s doom, it is more likely the NIV text is correct in specifying that we are lead “as captives”.

Paul seems to have in mind that through our endurance in hardships, we are as captives as well as being slaves/servants of Christ. Yet our captivity is to God the sweet smell of Christ’s victory. Christ’s victory-scent makes us the potpourri “from life to life” [from Christ’s sacrifice to our eternal life?] for those being saved, and “from death to death” [from Christ’s death to their inevitable death?] for those who are perishing. I dislike how the NIV simplifies these concepts. Christ is the general who leads us as captives through the streets, with a company of priests burning sweet incense. This incense, to some on the sidelines of the procession, calls them to become Christians. To others, it is indicative of their ultimate destruction. This incense is the Gospel or the faith in the Gospel (see Philippians 1:27-28).

Paul again interrupts his own flow of thought: “and who is capable of such a task?” This suddenly slams the brakes on his previous line of thought: who is capable of spreading the aroma of Christ? While we are at once both the captives and the priests within the procession metaphor, the question still remains: what qualifies us to be anything more than condemned prisoners? Paul proceeds with a partial answer: “For we [Paul, Timothy, Titus, Silas] are not like the many who peddle the Word of God for profit: we don’t speak due to selfish ambition; rather, we speak due to God, before God, in Christ.” I translate it this way to show you Paul’s rhetorical flourish in repeating “we don’t speak due to – rather, we speak due to”. It is not selfish ambition that drives Paul, as some claim but are themselves guilty of; it is God’s action in his life that motivates Paul. God is not just his motive for speaking, He is the content Paul speaks of, and this is something that takes place in Christ.

2 Corinthians 3

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

At this point, Paul realizes what he just said could be taken as a bald assertion of divine authority. He could be accused of hubris for it. So he doesn’t retract his point, but he does switch the angle of his approach to the question of his validity. The early churches used letters of recommendation to vouch for someone traveling from one congregation to another. This link provided an easy way to prove ones identity to a new congregation. However, it could perhaps be forged or otherwise abused. While the system was imperfect, Paul doesn’t seem to criticize the practice as is.

Rather, it seems that the false teachers at Corinth had letters of recommendation (forged or otherwise). Paul himself is above the need for such things among the Corinthians, since he is not foreign to them. The letters of introduction are for new people, not for an old friend like Paul. Even if the false teachers have such letters, that means nothing in comparison to how acquainted Paul was with them in person.

In place of having a letter of recommendation, Paul considers these churches to be the letter, with Christ as its author vouching for Paul, the letter-carrier. Paul is the messenger, Christ is the Author of the Message, and the Corinthians are living proof of the Message’s truth. In view of this, a physical letter of recommendation is a rather weak qualification.

The Message of the Gospel has brought permanent change and is inscribed on their hearts by the Spirit. What is written with ink is temporary and fades; what is written with the Spirit remains. This is part of Paul’s thought in this section, and he will continue along that vein very soon. But for now, he says in 3:6: “[God] also qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not by the writing, but by the spirit/Spirit; for the writing kills, but the Spirit/spirit gives life.” This statement can be taken two ways.

First, if we interpret pneuma to mean the Holy Spirit, then it says that this new covenant which involves the pouring out of the Holy Spirit gives life, while the covenant that involved a written law gives death. Paul follows that line of thought in a moment. Secondly, pneuma also means “breath”, and could instead refer to a message delivered personally in oral form rather than textually in written form. This would mean that Paul is saying that regardless of the power of a written letter of recommendation, writings are not always so great. What is given personally in talking face-to-face is far superior. That second meaning for pneuma would be unusual and awkward, but Paul acts as an expert in rhetoric in this book, and I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility.

In the next section, Paul will converge both of those meanings with what he had said earlier:
1. The writing fades, but the Spirit remains.
2. The writing kills, but the Spirit gives life.
3. The covenant inscribed in writing kills, but the covenant given orally gives life.

This is the first text-unit covered in our 13-week class. I’m co-teaching with a friend on Sunday mornings, and I delivered this lesson on March 6th (along with the preliminaries). This post will be a bit more detailed, and I am using the NIV2011 courtesy of Biblegateway.com here. In class I used the CEB because I had an advance NT copy handy. I had spent two hours trying to work my own translation, but there are issues in the text I cannot rightly address without more time and resources, so defaulting to the NIV is my natural choice. We’ll take things one piece at a time.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The author, obviously, is Paul. Timothy is acting as his secretary. He’s writing to primarily the church in Corinth, but this chain letter is intended for the entire province of Achaia/Achea, which would also include churches in Athens, if there were any.

Note Paul’s greeting. “Grace” sounds very similar to the normal Greek way to say hello, and then “peace” is a traditional Jewish greeting. It’s genius how Paul takes a Hebrew greeting and a slight pun on a Greek greeting to make a uniquely Christian theological greeting.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

This section is Paul’s opening prayer. For him, it is not a mere formality. Whatever you may think Paul’s letter is about, you can probably find the main theme within his prayer. It is a key for unlocking the whole letter. In this case, the words “comfort”, “trouble”, “distress”, and “sufferings” leap off the page. In vv 3-4, the “we” refers to all Christians: God is worthy of praise because he comforts us in any and every trouble, and he pours out so much comfort that it spills over. When we are full of all we need, we give the same comfort to others that we have received from God. Psalm 23:5 comes to mind: “my cup overflows.” This is how God comforts us, and for this he deserves praise.

Paul switches gears in verse 6. Here the “we” refers to Paul, Silvanus/Silas, and Timothy: whether we experience trouble or comfort, it’s for your [Corinthians’ and Athenians’] comfort. Paul views the fate of all his churches linked with his own fate. If he goes through a hard time and experiences opposition for the sake of the Gospel, then he’s going to stand firm and provide a heroic example. Paul will pay any price for the Gospel. Every time he is forced to prove that, he gives “comfort” by providing a confirmation of the truth of the Gospel. He wouldn’t pay any price if he wasn’t 100% convinced in the resurrection of the dead. Brave examples provide encouragement. And, if he manages to catch a break, then that should provide confirmation that God does indeed watch over his people. Either way, what happens to him should provide comfort to the Corinthians and Athenians. His comfort reminds them that they too will receive comfort in anything they suffer. Hence, it encourages them to stand firm and endure hardship.

Verse 7 builds rapport with the readers by restating the point that their fates are intertwined with Paul and co. They share the same sufferings and the same comfort, both of which are on account of faithfulness to the Gospel.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Now Paul moves on to reporting on his recent events and current circumstances. This is a pretty typical thing in a missionary’s letter. Verse 8 and the first sentence of verse 9 establish a sense of foreboding, then verse 9 explains the reason for this distress: Paul was stretched beyond his ability so that he would learn to rely on God’s ability. This included believing he would die, and quite likely, Paul had to learn to “let go” of the churches and accept that they could continue without him. We should not gloss over the specific attribute Paul names: God is the one who raises the dead. Paul knew that his death would not be the end, either of the churches of or Paul.

Paul is confident that God will continue to rescue him both in life and through resurrection. Yet the prayers of the Corinthians and Athenians is worth mention in this rescue, too. The many who prayed for Paul’s well-being will also be able to give thanks because the prayer was answered. For Paul, it is an accomplishment in and of itself to get people to praise God and give thanks together. Unity is a central goal, and if it has to be unity in prayer to save Paul from distress, then it’s worth the distress that he has to endure. When that prayer is answered and there is unity in thanksgiving, it is all the more sweet. Paul never draws attention to his own ability in this section.

12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Now Paul begins to get into the meat of the letter. He takes pride in his clear conscience about conduct among these churches. He’s always been completely open and transparent with them. While he could have been “smart” about how to deal with people, he chose to be honest instead. If you choose to be honest rather than crafty, then God’s grace is all you’ve got going for you.

Verses 13-14 explain that Paul thinks his message should be pretty clear about his intention to come visit them (see below). While on the subject of understanding Paul, he hopes that at the very least they fully understand how they will be able to take pride in him on the Day of Christ, just as he takes pride in them. Rarely do discussions between Christians today revolve around the Day of Christ, but for Paul it is a pivotal moment that unites all Christians and it pops up in his discussions frequently. He takes pride in his churches’ growth in Christ and their endurance of suffering, and they likewise can take pride in him.

15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?

Paul has just expressed his confidence that there will be mutual pride and a strong comrade-bond in the Day of Christ, and now he explains that this bond is why he had intended to visit them, not only once, but twice. Paul expects that common sense will give his readers the answers to the rhetorical questions of verse 17. Obviously, His intent to visit them twice was not arbitrary, and he doesn’t change his mind like a girl changes clothes.

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

And now Paul switches gears. He lets those pointed rhetorical questions remain as the only defense of his own integrity, and now he focuses on God’s integrity. Paul’s own integrity is linked with the integrity of what he preaches. And he preaches Jesus Christ, God’s son. There is no pussyfooting around when we talk about Jesus — the answer is a consistent “yes”. If God is faithful [=consistent], and Paul preaches God’s son, then surely Paul considers consistency such a high virtue that he would seek to be consistent in his own promises, too.

It is through Christ that the early Christians spoke the “Amen” [=”yes”] at the end of each prayer or act of praise. It affirms that God is real, and that they really mean their prayers. Paul here explains that they say the “Amen” in Christ because Christ is God’s “yes”. Since Christ is faithful, it is simply fitting that we say “yes” to God through him. After all, it is in him that God’s promises have their “yes” to us, also. Christ, then, acts as the “yes” bridge both ways between us and God.

Paul’s defense of his own integrity is utterly fascinating and mind-blowing because he turns it into a lesson on God’s faithfulness and (successfully, I might add!) turns self-defense into an act of God-praise.

21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 23 I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.

Paul just spent a considerable amount of time explaining that God is faithful, and now he says that God is the link between him and the Corinthians: it is the same God that makes them stand firm in Christ. If that’s true, then God’s faithfulness links them. Paul then lists several things God has done: he put his stamp on us and gave the Spirit as a down payment of everything we will someday have. It is this faithful and giving God that Paul calls upon as a witness on his behalf (who could be a more faithful witness than God?). He swears by his own life, with God (who sets the standard for faithfulness and honesty) affirming it, that Paul’s reason for not visiting the Corinthians was to spare them the heartache of seeing him as an emotional (and physical?) wreck.

2:1 So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

Paul then elaborates on why he decided not to visit them after all. “If I’m down, and I go and bring you down, then who’s gonna cheer me up since I just brought you down?” He decided instead to write them a very important and personal note. It’s much easier to keep your composure in writing than in person, especially back before electronic media. Every note took a few hours to a few days, so any emotional bursts could be erased before sending the final draft.

Yet because of his love for them, he wanted to write them and not simply leave them in the dark. If he loved them enough to want to visit them twice, yet he doesn’t visit at all, he must be pretty darned distressed. And if he’s willing to write them despite his distress, then he must really love them. He chose not to become self-absorbed in his pain, but instead focused his concern outward toward those who mean the world to him.

We could certainly learn a lot from that.


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