Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Things New and Old

[July 27, 2014] As you can see from the title, I am only going to focus today on verse 52. Jesus asked his disciples, “Have you understood all these [parables]?” and they said, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old.”

In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus tells the first four parables to the crowds. Then in verse 36 he leaves the crowd and goes indoors and tells the next three parables to his disciples alone. He then asks if they understood all seven parables. They understand but the crowds do not. Therefore Jesus calls them scribes. Being taught (so they understand) makes them scribes.

We tend to associate scribes with the Pharisees because they are often linked together, but actually, scribes described people whose business was texts. Some scribes were administrators (paper pushers), some took dictation, some were secretaries, some were copyists and responsible for the transmission of texts, some were keepers of written records (librarians and archivists), some were scholars, and some were experts in law and precedent (in the gospels, these were usually experts in the Torah, tradition and the Jewish Halakah). The writers of the gospels were scribes, the apostles relied on scribes to write their letters, and the church has existed ever since because scribes have copied and translated our sacred texts. So the word “scribe” does not always have a negative connotation. Their function is entirely necessary.

Traditionally, a scribe is one who opens the treasures of wisdom to others, who passes on knowledge and who adapts the wisdom of the ancients to new situations.

The translation above says “every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven …” Literally it is “every scribe who is taught concerning the kingdom of the heavens.” There is no such phrase in the New Testament as a “disciple of the kingdom of heaven.” The verb, “who is taught” (mathēteutheis), is an aorist passive participle of a word that literally means to learn by instruction. The disciples are those who have been taught, and can understand, concerning the kingdom of the heavens.

A householder is the one who is responsible for distributing the goods of a large household or estate to its members. The storeroom (the “treasure-house”) are where all the provisions—things like produce, grain, wine, clothes, and tools—are kept. The storeroom also means treasure which gives it a further connotation. Jesus says that a person’s treasure is where her heart is (6:21). The disciple’s treasure is in heaven (6:20; 19:21) having given up all other treasures (possessions). “Words flow out of what fills the heart. Good people draw good things from their store of goodness; bad people draw bad things from their store of badness” (12:34b-35). The disciple who has been taught concerning the kingdom of the heavens should be able to bring words out of the treasury of their heart. This means it cannot just be a matter of education but of existential adherence (attachment) and love.

Ironically, healthy spiritual “attachment” requires letting go of that to which (or rather, whom) one is attached in a movement of trust.

“New things as well as old.” The old is the Torah and the Prophets. By “Prophets” is meant the early and later Prophets, basically (but not exactly) the historical books of the Old Testament beginning with Joshua and the literary prophets from Isaiah to Malachi. See Matthew 5:17-19. The new refers to Jesus himself who fulfills the Torah and the Prophets, who is the drawing near of the kingdom of the heavens and who is the fulfillment of all that God has promised to Israel: he is what is new (the new cloth, the new wine). Notice that Jesus places the new before the old. The new redefines the old (see Matthew 5:21-48). There is continuity between the old and the new, but the new becomes the interpretive lens.

Traditionally this text was applied in the church to theologians and Biblical scholars. I think since every Christian is a reader of the Bible (the illiterate are hearers), it applies to us all—especially since we all think we are entitled to an opinion!

The Interpretation of Scripture

This is actually a very important text, because it speaks directly to the crisis in the contemporary church in our polarized society (I am speaking within the context of the United States). There is the right and there is the left and all issues are stacked accordingly with less and less in the middle, as if we were preparing for war. Are we? The two sides can barely—or cannot—understand each other.

The issue has to do with the interpretation of the Bible. Each generation hears the Scriptures differently. What God says to one generation God does not say to another. Yet God still speaks to us through the Bible. How do we recognize God’s voice? Sometimes we become so myopic in our interpretation of the Scriptures that we get stuck in a rut, unable to see over the ridges of our own making. We may be those who strain out gnats and swallow camels! (Matthew 23:24.) It is imperative that we be able to find our way back to the big picture, and not only the big picture but to the heart of what matters.

For example, in the Old Testament there are animal sacrifices which become questionable. More and more such sacrifices were confined to the Temple in Jerusalem, and when the Temple was destroyed, they stopped—for the Jews—altogether (well, pretty much). In the Torah God gave instructions for the Tabernacle but David laid down plans for the Temple, which his son built, and the worship at the Tabernacle ended. The Davidic covenant, in fact, changed other things as well. According to the Torah, David himself should have been excluded from the worship of the Israelites, having descended so recently from a Moabitess. By the time of the church, polygamy became frowned upon and eventually abolished, something that was perfectly accepted in the Old Testament. In the last two centuries the concept of monarchy has come into disrepute and democratic (republican) government is universally approved. Yet no such thing existed in the Bible. Intermarriage was once frowned upon, but in the modern world it is—and should be—perfectly accepted. Slavery was once seen as an acceptable institution that was “enshrined” (or at least well established) in the Scriptures. Now it is abhorrent to all Christians everywhere and slave-owners of the past, once respected, are perceived as monsters. Patriarchy is also enshrined in the Scriptures. Yet more and more Christians are realizing that that too is a monstrosity and completely incompatible with the heart of Christianity.

How did these changes come about? Were we being faithful to YHWH and to the Messiah when we made these changes? Were each of these changes an accommodation to culture? Or was it not that what was old was what was cultural and that the salt of the gospel changed our cultural awareness? Was it not Christianity itself that forced the end of slavery? (It definitely had a part; economically it was the rise of industrialization—wage labor—that forced the issue.) How did this happen when slavery was such an accepted institution in the world of the Bible? How is it that what seems only right now is so different that what was acceptable in the world of the Bible and even in the world of the New Testament?

Is not the concept of the rights of humanity grounded in the Christian worldview, a worldview that was born in Christianity (which was the primary influence that spread throughout the world what was originally a Jewish concept) and that developed in the medieval world as the human person was perceived more and more to be in the image of God? I would contend that it was the Franciscan worldview that most exalted the dignity of every human being (just as it was the Franciscan world view that gave birth to modern science).

Because as a child I felt such a strong sense of alienation, I was drawn to a sectarian view of Christianity. There were those on the inside and those on the outside. It seemed so obvious. Yet my view was skewed. In fact, the kingdom of God is at work in the whole world, and the seeds of the Gospel are everywhere at work. Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jesus, yet was no Christian. And this was true of countless humanitarian leaders. Even though we can hardly call the people of the Western world Christians anymore, the values of Western society have been formed in large part by Christianity (for good and ill; the values of the Hellenic, Latin, and to some extent the Islamic world also played a part). The liberation of the oppressed has been deeply inspired by the Bible, and especially by Jesus, even though many of its proponents are not Christian believers.

So before we immediately jump to the conclusion that everything progressive or liberal is an accommodation to paganism, we might consider that it might be the seeds of the Gospel itself (or at least the kingdom of God) that has brought some light into our cultural awareness and that that is why the pagan culture itself has changed. (Though this change has to be qualified: paganism has depersonalized most of what were once Christian institutions.) It would be a shame if Christians resisted God’s move while those who do not believe followed it. What if the nonbeliever is more righteous than the believer? Can it happen? Modern cultures change constantly, and some of these changes are alarming. But what if some seeds of the Gospel were finally bearing fruit, even if it be a “post” Christian society (or perhaps a society on vacation from the church—they got sick and tired of us). Meanwhile, we Christians are stuck in the past.

What does it mean when society often identifies Christians as “the haters” and characterize us as judgmental and intolerant? For some people, this is our reputation! Would Jesus have ever been perceived that way? What does that tell us?

Interpretations of the Bible change. We can read commentaries of the Bible from ancient times to modern and it is very humbling to see how what is obvious to us was not obvious to our ancestors and what was obvious to them no longer makes any sense to us. What was literal to Augustine we would consider highly metaphorical and what is literal to us he would consider childish. Modern Christians seem not to be aware of this.

This does not mean, however, that our interpretations are random, arbitrary or irrelevant. They are always influenced by culture, yes, and therefore have to be understood in their own context. But it is not a futile endeavor, and because the Bible is so influential, interpretations are critical. However, we must also be critical about our interpretations, interpreting our interpretations (the field of hermeneutics). If it was the evangelical movement that led the movement against slavery, we do not want to simply dismiss the self-perceived adherence to the Gospel of that older generation of evangelicals.

The question really is, how do we navigate our way into the future? How do we recognize the voice of God so it can guide us? How do we know that we are really hearing God’s voice?

What Is at the Heart of the Scriptures?

So, what is the treasure stored in our heart? What has really been revealed to us? Is it not Christ himself? And through him the truth of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the union of the Three? Yes. That is denotatively what has been revealed. What about connotatively? Who is God? The Hebrew Scriptures reveal God to be just and merciful and faithful. The essence of the Christian perception of God is that God is love. Ilia Delio says it thus (speaking as a Franciscan): “God is outward-moving love, deeply in love with creation.” This is what we learn from reading the New Testament, and the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. This is the thing that deeply touches our hearts; that has drawn us to Jesus in the first place. It is axiomatic of everything else. Before we go anywhere else, we need to grasp this.

The Bible also reveals who we are. We are deeply impressed by the fact that we are sinners. But there is something before this that is even more important that we need to grasp. Ilia Delio (again) says it thus: “Humanity is good and uniquely loved by God, bearing the divine image and likeness and an inviolable dignity from the moment of creation.” This puts our sinfulness into perspective. Without this, the consideration that we are sinful completely distorts the reality of the situation. This too is axiomatic.

One of the things that guides our interpretation of the Scriptures is the denotative revelation of the Triune God and of the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Son of God. The other is the connotative revelation of the goodness of God as one who is deeply in love with us, we who have been created by God and bear the divine image and likeness and are dignified by that in our every moment. There are no people who are exempt or excluded. We are not good because we do anything but simply for being ourselves. All things created by God are good in-and-of themselves. No one is evil by virtue of their creation; no one is created evil. Nor is anyone created neutral, but every human being is one who is good for being who they are and is loved by God.

Notice, we are not good by what we do. That is the story of sin. We constantly try to break away from who we are in many diverse ways.

If we analyze the Bible microscopically, it is very easy to see individual pieces that may appeal to us in one way or another (sometimes our pathologies attract these pieces like magnets) and miss the role they play in the whole, and for translators it is possible to mistranslate for the same reason. A word may not mean what we assume it means. In choosing a word there may be options available, but we do not see the correct option because of our assumptions. So we pull a verse out of Leviticus that seems to us to have a clear moral connotation but actually we are ripping it out of the fabric to which it belongs. It may have no meaning apart from the fabric of which it is playing a particular role. And because we do not see it within its proper context, we badly distort its meaning. Does that mean that only Bible scholars can interpret a text? Sometimes, until the work of the Bible scholar succeeds. That is, until she is able to teach others the proper way to consider a text and they can see it for themselves. Romans 1:27 does not require a scholar to interpret it, but most unpracticed readers see it by itself instead of in the context of Paul’s argument, and the way Paul argues as a Rabbi, and misunderstand it by applying it “literally” to a modern situation that has nothing to do with what Paul was talking about.

It may be that we have formed many assumptions that we think are clearly taught in the Bible but upon closer examination, and in light of a broader understanding of the Bible, disappear from view. Suddenly it is not there anymore where once we thought it was pervasive. The substitutionary doctrine of the atonement is like this. (Surprise, surprise!)

Paul’s argument in Galatians is an example of Matthew 13:52. In that epistle he does not by any means repudiate Judaism. It is part of a debate within Judaism—about whether gentile adherents of Israel’s Messiah need to convert and become Jews. The way Paul proceeds is to bring out the new and the old: to show what the old means in the light of the new. The new is Christ, whose faithfulness to God justifies gentiles who adheres to him, even though the gentiles be “ignorant” pagans. These gentiles do not need to be formed by the Halakah when they have Christ. Indeed, any intermediary can only get in the way and, as Paul says, put a gentile on a false basis.

A Modern Application

So the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) allows its pastors to conduct same-sex weddings, or in other words, to celebrate same-sex marriages. It also amended its Book of Order to recognize that a same-sex couple can in fact be considered “married” (something that still needs to be ratified). This is certainly a radical break with tradition. But were these decisions a betrayal of the Gospel or did the General Assembly act in faithfulness to the Gospel?

Marriage is a particular covenant that two people make to each other that the church and the civil society recognize and celebrate. From the point of view of the Gospel, must the couple be “a man and a woman”? Some argue yes and some argue no.

Behind the argument against the permission to conduct same-sex weddings is the conviction that sexual relationships must only be between a male and a female and that homosexuality—whether between men or women—is sinful and immoral. It violates the order of creation, and the order of creation is spelled out in Genesis 1 and 2. The assumption is that “male and female” in 1:27 has not only to do with being fruitful and multiplying, each species after their own kind (for which a male is—at least was—necessary for the female to procreate), but is the only way in which human beings can couple in order to form a family or household. Furthermore, the fact that God made for the adam (the androgynous human creature) a female, thereby distinguishing a male and a female human, and they were united as one flesh, is assumed to mean that that is the only kind of attractive sexual union permissible, and the only union in which the flesh of two can become one. Various theological reasons are given for this, such as the analogy marriage forms to the union of Christ and the church (which it does; though of course the abhorrent institution of slavery is also used as an analogy of our service to Christ). However, such overlays—if we are creative enough—can be formed for whatever scenario we consider. By the way, Genesis 2:24 favors a matriarchal household in which the husband becomes a member of his wife’s household instead of the patriarchal pattern that we typically see in the Old Testament.

Another assumption also has to be made: that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons were not created that way. It is assumed that who they are attracted to is (or was at some point) voluntary and chosen, and because it is a choice, it violates the goodness of their created nature. It is therefore assumed that heterosexuality reflects the image of God and that homosexuality does not. One is created by God and the other is not. The other is chosen, and therefore comes under moral scrutiny.

Yet modern science can no longer sustain this understanding. People are not all born heterosexual. Whether it is genetic or natal, at least some homosexuals are born that way. Their physical brains are actually wired that way from the time they are born. This is not an arbitrary determination. How must Christians understand the doctrine of creation in their case?

Some people are also born intersexed. They are both male and female or neither, but for social reasons were assigned one or the other and sometimes change when they are older. Are not they also created by God and therefore good and made in God’s image and likeness? When they grow up and marry, is their relationship heterosexual or homosexual? With transgender people it is even more complicated, yet medically the weight of the evidence is that they were born this way (at least a good number were). When they marry are we assigning gender on the basis of the genitalia with which they were born, or with that of which they neurologically identify, or something else?

We now realize that all these categories—gender, sexual orientation, etc.—are not so cut and dry. Things have always been in this murky way but we have been in denial of it, insisting on the binary categories of a patriarchal society. Yet we have been enlightened. Things are not so. Must the church change to accommodate this new and undeniable insight?

If we change, we would have to admit that we have treated people with great cruelty and inhumanity in the past. It is not unlike finally recognizing that slavery is a heinous crime against humanity.

If we do not change, the future church (and society) will look upon us as “haters” and see us with the same disdain that we now look upon those who were slave-owners in the past. Just as it is hard for us to take seriously the Christianity of a slave-owner, so it will be hard for those in the future to take seriously our own Christianity.

If God created a person as lesbian or gay, then is it not the commandment of God that they just be who they are? And if we cause a little one to stumble, would it not be better for us to be “drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round [our] neck” (Matthew 18:6)?

When we consider what marriage is, perhaps we should keep this in mind. If we err, would it not be better to err on the side of charity and compassion? So Calvin had advised us. Love covers a multitude of sins, and mercy is shown to those who show mercy. Otherwise, the consequences upon us can be fatal.

9 comments to Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Things New and Old

  • Pastor Strand, I love the way you explain the Gospel. A lot of words you teach are words I felt I received from Father. I have been speaking these things for years, but, not as clearly and intelligently as you. I must admit I sometimes have to have a dictionary handy. Continue the good work. Dora

  • Indeed, this gets to the heart of why it is such a blessing to have God’s word available to us, and yet at the same time so difficult to come to agreement within the body of Christ.

    On the one hand, we need to be open to the movement of God in our life and in our society as we deal with things not dreamed of in Biblical times. On the other hand, not every new thing that comes along is of God. If we follow every new teacher that comes along, we might find ourselves in Guyana drinking Kool-Aid (figuratively speaking, of course).

    This is nothing new just as we are told that there is nothing new under the sun. There are only modifications to what has been and will be again. The early church had to deal with these issues almost as soon as the church began to spread and certainly when it came time to decide what to do when Gentiles began to convert, and then convert en masse. So on the one hand, the church leaders had to deal with those who were hidebound to the past and tried to bring the Gentiles under the law from which they had no reason to compelled to. For example, we see Paul marveling that the Galatians were so soon falling away from the Gospel to those who wanted to put them in bondage to circumcision and other such laws. On the other hand, we also see within Scripture that some new ideas being added in were not of God and condemned as heresies (for example, Antinomianism).

    In the same way, and speaking from the perspective of a person who embraces her female identity as a person also identified as a transsexual, we have to be careful with the idea that being born a certain way automatically means acceptable in God’s sight. (It is similar to the belief that some have that everything natural is good for you, but fail to consider natural substances like belladonna that are quite harmful to humans.) We also have to be careful with the idea that if we are born a certain way, that God made us this way. After the fall in Eden, corruption entered into the world and affects how we are born.

    So someone like myself may be born transsexual. My nature is to act female, generally speaking while being aware that this covers a wide range of behaviors and should not lead to a stereotype. But to act female is not sinful. If it were, roughly half the planet would automatically be sinning doing so, even every woman who is saved. On the other hand, while there is no sin in being born alcoholic, being given to strong drink is a sin (and also recognized as an unhealthy lifestyle). While being born a certain way, whether caused by God or not, does not make one a sinner, behaviors associated with being born that way may or may not be sinful.

    Indeed, one of the arguments that some Christians use in opposition to transsexuals who transition is that we are contending against God and the way He made us. I, on the other hand, believe that if I and others like me should have gender confirming surgery, we are merely correcting a birth defect. It is no different than correcting a congenital hole in the heart, a cleft palate, a club foot or (as my father had) a congenital hole in the spinal cord. There is no sin in correcting a birth defect. Unfortunately, there are still many Christians who believe that either this is a matter of choice or delusion on our part (as was once the prevailing scientific opinion), or that we have been led astray by Satan in his spiritual warfare against the body.

    What do we do then when these questions come up? Do we automatically reject anything new like the Amish reject electricity and motors? Do we automatically accept everything and fall for every false belief that comes along? New Age? Why not, it’s spiritual and they believe in some form of God and even use ideas from Christianity, right? Church of Scientology? Who am I to argue if it works for you?

    What then? We have to do the heavy lifting of testing the spirits, put our ideas out into the marketplace of the Church, and continue to dialog, remembering that our speech is to be “grace seasoned with salt”. Too often, we act toward one another with salt – and if we look closely a hint of grace in there somewhere.

    And yes, if we are to judge, let us remember two things: first that we need to take the log out of our own eye before criticizing the speck in the eye of our brother or sister; second that judgment begins with the Church. Too many of us are beginning our judgment with the non-Christian world. No wonder so much of the world does not know we are Christians by our love. Yet if the early Church could suffer extreme persecution while being steadfast in their faith and so loving at the same time that terms such as “agape” (Greek) and “caritas” (Latin) were applied to them, then so can we in this country where we still possess a great deal of religious freedom. Sometimes we may be mocked and taunted, but we are not being crucified or thrown in with the lions.

    As Randy Alcorn writes about in his book, The Grace and Truth Paradox, “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17b). As humans, it is difficult to keep both in mind at the same time. So we either defer to all Truth (legalism) or all Grace (ecumenicism, universalism, etc.). As Christians, we are called to be mindful of both at all times. It is the means by which a Christian is able to mourn the murder of a loved one, knowing that murder is a grievous sin, and still be able to forgive the murderer.
    In Christ, Lois Simmons

  • Peter

    I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Lois. I would just clarify that, from at least a Franciscan point of view–though I believe this is orthodox–the goodness of creation is axiomatic. That does not mean that I should not correct my vision with contact lenses and glasses, nor does it mean that a transgender person should not elect to have surgery. For though creation is good, it suffers from the affects of sin. Moreover its present state is one of frustration. It is God’s intention to transfigure the entire creation when all things are headed up in Christ. Creation has a built-in longing for this fulfillment.
    My point, then, is that no one is created sinful. Being created transgender is not a sinful state! Creating an alignment between body and mind by electing to use hormones or undergo surgery or by cross-dressing is not a denial of one’s creation or the goodness of one’s creation, nor is it sinful behavior. It is simply behavior that seeks to obtain wellbeing, and sometimes is necessary for survival, both of which are acts that affirm creation.
    Sin is a matter of the soul, not the body, and a matter of the will. The matter of our inclinations is complicated, as you point out. I may have a genetic inclination to drink. That does not mean I should drink. But the genetic inclination itself is not sinful. Overcoming it is the right thing to do, because that kind of drinking is destructive of body and soul. But that is altogether different than the behavior of a transgender individual who is trying to become healthy by transitioning. You agree?

  • Peter, I agree with most of what you wrote. And yes, I agree that if I am born with a cleft palate or gender incongruity or with a gene that makes me prone to alcoholism, that in itself is not sinful. Now if (hypothetically speaking) I use my cleft palate as an excuse to think vain or covetous thoughts, or if I use my transsexualism as an excuse for sexual immorality, or if I use my alcoholism as an excuse to be given to strong drink, my actions are sinful. But merely the way I was born does not make me sinful, whether my creation was perfect, or good, or corrupted in some way.
    As far as the goodness of creation being axiomatic, that is confirmed by Genesis 1 in which God surveys all that He has created and declares each step to be “good”, and upon completion on the sixth day, “very good”. However, we need to add that once mankind sinned by disobeying God and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. corruption has entered into the world, tainting that creation, even unto the very nature of our birth. Otherwise, we cannot make sense of verses like: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5); “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15); and “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 portion)
    So whether one looks at our conception as good or tainted by corruption, there is no sin in trying to become healthy, made whole or freed from infirmity, no different than Paul’s counsel to the slave (1st Corinthians 7:21) that if a slave is saved from Satan’s bondage, he may also seek to be free from man’s bondage (though he should not be anxious if he is unable to do so).
    On a more personal note, I am aware that we live fairly close to each other, and perhaps we have connected through our association in some way with a group that meets monthly (except during the summer) at one of your neighboring churches. So please feel free to e-mail me privately. Perhaps we will meet someday at that group or on some other occasion (like TDOR) or even if you would like to meet sometime for more discussion.
    In Christ, Lois

  • Peter

    Thank you Dora, and I’m glad to hear that we are on the same “page” on these things.

  • Peter

    Yes, I would like that, Lois. I know the group to which you refer. Let’s try to get together.
    I think we are mostly in agreement. I agree that the creation is in bondage to corruption and is subject to futility on account of humanity’s alienation from God. I do not think that that takes away from creation’s intrinsic goodness. Even though creation suffers, and even though it is changed as a result of what it suffers, it is still inherently good (and therefore loved by God). I, for one, agree with the doctrine of total depravity and that each of us, by virtue of being part of humanity (we are born into the world), has inherited our inclination to sin. This inheritance, however, is something that we cooperated in. I disagree, however, with those who say this inclination to sin is our nature. It was originally a choice that we participated in, even if that choice made us the slaves of sin (which it did, thereby imprisoning our will). The distinction I make (and I believe I got it from Karl Barth, but it agrees with Calvin) is this: what we are is good; what we do is evil. One is our being (which is good); the other is the direction we choose to go. I think it is important to make this distinction in order to avoid the early heresies that imagined that matter itself, or at least certain forms of matter, was evil. This was the heresy that Augustine gave up (Manichaeism) when he became a Christian. It is also why he insisted that sin is always a matter of the will.
    I am not so sure about this idea of there being a paradox between grace and legalism. I would have nothing to do with legalism. The Law of God is God’s command, and that is inseparable from God’s grace; there is no paradox here. If we have been forgiven (i.e., redeemed) and have that special relation to God of being the Father’s children, then our love of the Father–inherent in having received God’s grace–subjects us to the Father’s claim on us. It is always the will of Father (with whom we are in relation) that we obey, not any independent rules that are binding on us, or are even intelligible, apart from that relationship. We can describe what that looks like (our obedience, that is), and Jesus does this, for example in the Sermon on the Mount, but essentially it is a matter of the new life that is in us and not a matter of our outwardly conforming to particular rules (though a definite change in our behavior occurs). Bonhoeffer discusses this in the beginning of The Cost of Discipleship.
    When we understand why the Bible says a particular thing, we can understand how it applies to us. This kind of understanding derives from our existential relationship to the triune God, not from our scholarship–this is the hermeneutic that matters–and makes the Bible intelligible in its textual context and audible to us as God’s command to us in our own situation. However, if we do not have a relationship with God on the basis of God’s grace, a veil lies over our heart and we can only misconstrue what we hear. We know God’s grace by the call of God in the Gospel which reveals to our hearts the reality of the Person of Christ. The Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel of Christ and opens our hearts to receive the revelation of Jesus Christ and believe into him by giving ourselves to him as his disciple.
    I did not mean to say so much. I apologize if I am not clear and beg your forgiveness if I obscure any light. It is only my intention that we love Christ more.

  • Dear Peter – Thank you for your private e-mail to which I have responded in kind. I read that before I read your newest comments here.
    Yes, I would also say we are mostly in agreement in the area of total depravity and yet at the same time “God so loved the world” and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That indeed is amazing love.
    The title of Alcorn’s book is not describing a theological paradox. Indeed, if both grace and truth come from Christ as stated in John 1:17, they must be able to harmonize with one another. Rather Alcorn is saying that in our human nature, we tend to wrestle with being able to live both concepts simultaneously because they appear to be contrary. Thus, the paradox. I rarely recommend Christian books because I usually end up turning to the Bible to explain the commentary anyway. But Grace and Truth Paradox is a book I recommend most highly. It also happens to be an easy read for something so profound and it is a short book.
    As to another point you made, the converse is also true. While the truth of God’s word is eternal and unchanging, as our life experiences increase, so does our understanding of how the Bible applies to us. Then we have greater understanding of why the Bible says a particular thing. I can remember listening to a pastor explaining about the Bible to a seeker. The pastor used the example of the story of Jepthah in the book of Judges. He stated that he studied that account and felt that he had a good theological understanding of what it was saying. Then his first child, a daughter, was born. Now he saw this story from a new perspective.
    I wonder if one reason that some Christians simply do not get what the Bible says about being transgender is that most people cannot grasp what it is like to have gender conflict between mind and body. It is rare enough that it is a totally foreign concept to most people, Christian or non-Christian. It would be like me trying to understand something written or spoken in a foreign language with which I am totally unfamiliar.
    Finally, I see no need for you to apologize. You make your points well. And if anyone should apologize for length, it is me. Since this is your blog, you have an inherent right to speak as long as you need to make your point. And your intention to love Christ more (and indeed He is most lovely), is wonderful. May all who read here respond with a greater love for Christ. ~~ Lois

  • Peter

    Thank you again. My problem is not length but time. These days I write (and think) in a hurry and I worry that what I say may be inadequate or easy to misunderstand. Some of the points you make here I explore a bit in my next post. Hopefully I can get it uploaded before Friday. Specifically I speak about how it is difficult for us to accept that someone else really experiences life differently than we do (I wrote about sexual orientation because a pastor with whom I was speaking and who shared this thought with me was referring to this, but I think it applies–and he agreed–just as much to the transgender experience. A transgender person “feels” differently than the cisgender person, but the cisgender person is often unwilling to accept this. In my post I tried to make clear that *this* different experience is not based on a choice. For transgender persons, they came into the world feeling the way they do; they never chose it (albeit, it takes a long time, and sometimes a considerably long time, to figure out what accounts for it, that is, before they can understand themselves). Augustine made the point that our hermeneutic of the Scriptures should always be guided and informed by the two commandments: love of God and love of our neighbor. If we cannot accomplish this, we are probably on the wrong track. I think he is right. I so appreciate this dialogue we’ve been having.

  • I can certainly empathize with the need to communicate versus all the other demands on our time. How many of us were born independently wealthy or have been able to find either a patron (do such still exist) or a significant other who is wealthy enough to give us the luxury of abundant time?
    I agree whole-heartedly with Augustine’s opinion stated above. How can one go wrong interpreting the Word of God based on our Lord’s answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Indeed he answered that the first is the greatest, the second is like the first and all the others hang on these two. Sounds like a road map to me: a God Positioning System, if you will.

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