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Understanding the letters in the New Testament. How words are used.
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Lecture: Epistles - Part 2
The setting of the Pauline letters and the other letters of the New Testament is one in which, finely worded arguments are to be found. And above all in this kind of genre, we need to know how to progress from the norms of language to the norms of the utterance.
Now with regards to the norms of language, we have a pretty good idea of what they are already. We use the dictionary of some sort and when we are working in the Old Testament, if we are working in the Hebrew, there are Hebrew lexicons that are available for us which would tell you the possibilities of what a word may mean.
Now we always want to know the specific meaning of the word but that is not the job of the dictionary. The job of a dictionary is to give us the range of the possible meanings, the norms of language, not the norms of the utterance.
And of course we have in the New Testament, Greek lexicons and then for the various English translations if that is what we are using for the NIV, we have a modern day American dictionary in English for English – Revised English Bible – it might be good to have a British dictionary. And then of course if you have the King James Version that you are using, you need a dictionary that deals with the English language in the 17th century.
Now – once we know what the norms of the possibilities are – the norms of language – then we want to narrow the possibilities to know what the specific norms of the utterance is for a particular word. And we are going to talk about going to understand the specific meaning of a word, see how those words are used in statements, those statements used in arguments and so forth.
So we want to now, having learned the possibilities of a term, we want to go to the specific meaning of a term and here is where a concordance is most helpful. Now you can’t look up every word in the Bible and do a large study on it. When I was a seminary student, I remember having an assignment of a word study. I really didn’t understand what I was doing then and now I realize why. No one knew what they were doing then.
Word studies don’t make a lot of sense to me simply because words don’t mean thoughts. They are simply individual words. And words don’t always have the same definition. The very fact that in a dictionary, you have a list of possibilities indicates that a word study tells you this is the list of possibilities.
And we should never think that any term really in the Bible is a technical term, that it is always used exactly the same way everywhere it is found in the Bible. The only time you might start doing something like that is if you get a name of some sort, but even then you had people who had the same name.
You say “Well. I will look up Jesus in the New Testament.” Are you sure it is not Joshua that is being referred to in the Old Testament. See even a name can have a variety of meanings. So now when we get to looking at “Well I really want to know what this word means, because it is crucial.” Well, what words do you choose?
I have given up spending a lot of time looking up the word, the in the Bible and in dictionaries. And house doesn’t excite me either. So how do you know which words are the important ones that you want to look up.?
Well for one – frequency. If in a passage a term occurs time and time again, then you have to know what that word means. For instance in the 4th chapter in the book of Romans, the verb, logidzomai – to reckon, is found 11 times. You haven’t seen it in the first 3 chapters. All of a sudden now in chapter 4, the word logidzomai, to reckon occurs, some 11 times. Now, that is an important word.
I think you would have to say, if I wanted to understand what Paul is saying in Romans 4, I have to know what this word, logidzomai means, because of the frequency in which it is found. Another issue is… sometimes a word plays a very important part in the sentence. “By grace you were saved through faith.” But you have to know what grace means. It is crucial. Everything in the rest of the sentence is dependent on by grace. And so here is a word that you really need to know in the sentence to make sense out of it.
Sometimes the author emphasizes a particular word or argument, and therefore if it is crucial, these are the kind of terms that we have to really wrestle with and say, “I really need to know specifically what this word means.”
An author sometimes can define the exact meaning of the term, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:3, when Paul says, “For I delivered to you the Gospel which you believed, in which you were saved.” Well. It is kind of important to know what the Gospel is. Then he finds that “for I delivered to you as of first importance how Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He rose on the 3rd day” and so and he defines what that word means.
So sometimes you have definitions given as to a particular word. Now going from the norms of language to the norms of an utterance. Sometimes people are enamored with what we call etymology. Or the root meaning.
We are trying to find out what the root meaning is … many many sermons in which you hear somebody say, “Now the root meaning of this term is…” Very interesting. This root meaning is being described to you. But let me ask you a question.
Today did you at anytime - today when you spoke, take into consideration what the root meaning of the word is you spoke? No. You didn’t take into consideration. You are not interested in what the root meaning of the word is, you are interested in what people understand the word to mean today. There is only one time I think in life that you may take seriously a root meaning. That is when you are going to have children and you are going to give them a name. And you want to make sure that the word you use for your daughter doesn’t mean dirty, rotten infidel or something like that, right? So you look up root meanings to see what they are. And in names, many times we look up the root meanings of terms. Like in the Bible, many characters are named and the root meaning of that term is very important as to understanding how that name is going to fit and describe what is going on.
But generally, root meanings are irrelevant for us. We are not interested in them. I get some examples in the text for instance like the word, let, l-e-t, well, the root meaning for that comes from the Latin, “to hinder, to obstruct”. I don’t think any of you ever used the word let, last year, meaning to hinder or to obstruct. That’s the root meaning of the term. But that’s not the way you use it because the way people understand that word today means to permit, so the root meaning is quite irrelevant.
The word nice, meaning pleasant for us comes from the Latin neccius meaning ignorant. I don’t think anyone here has used the word nice recently to describe someone as being ignorant. You have words that change over a period of time and the etymology of the word is essentially something like this. It talks about the meaning from the beginning to the history of how the term has been used. That’s etymology.
And that kind of an understanding is what we call a diachronic – a diachronic understanding of the word – across a long period of time. But the fact is, we are at this point in history and we want to know what the word means at this point and that would be a synchronic understanding of the word.
How is the term being used at this time?
That is all we are interested in.
~ What it mean back here – that is interesting but it is not relevant. We are not interested in here. We are not interested in how it is used thereafter. When we try to understand the text, we look at the word and say “What were the norms of language at that time for this word?”
Words change drastically. King James Version could be very free and translate James 1 about a man coming into the congregation in gay clothing. You can’t do that today because what gay meant back here in 1611 is not what it means here in 2002.
So what we have to do in modern day translations is use a different kind of terminology. The idea of a person being a square guy in my Dad’s understanding was that he was a really fine person you could count on, a man of character. Now that would be a complement back then. Not a compliment today. So… we are not interested in a diachronic understanding of what the various possibilities of words. We are interested in when that word was written or spoken, what did it mean? What were the norms of language back at that time?
Now you say “Well then, why do we have all this concern about etymologies and things of that nature? Why do people for instance emphasize the etymology of words? Especially in the Old Testament. Why do we read so much in Old Testament studies about etymologies and so forth – the root meaning of a word?”
The answer is we are desperate. We haven’t the faintest idea of what it means. We have nothing to go on. And sometimes if you have no idea of what a word means, the only thing you could do is somehow say, “Well what would the root meaning of a word like this be?”
For example, in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew, we have the petition, “Give us this day, our epiousion bread.” Epiousios artos. Daily bread – what does the word epiousios mean? Well that is simple. We will look it up and see how its used in other references and we find that in the first century and shortly thereafter, there are several other times when that word is used and found. And if we go to the Gospel of Luke, for instance we find it there. And it is found in the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our epiousios artos. Our daily bread.
And there is one other reference sometime written around 75 to 125 AD and it is in the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. And its is found in the Lord’s Prayer. Give us this day our epiousios artos. Those are the three times we find it. Now somebody said they found it somewhere else [hard to hear???] But they can find it anymore and so forth and so on, but that’s not very helpful.
What do we have to do on?
Well there are some other things we could do. You might say, maybe somebody back then who translated the Greek Latin or into Coptic or something, maybe they knew what it meant. And we look at how translations deal with it. And what we have then is the root word and when you put the parts of the root together, what can that mean? But notice how desperate we are? And the root meaning is a grabbing in the dark.
And as much as the New Testament has problems this way, the Old Testament has even more. We have words that we don’t even know exactly what they mean. There is no real close parallel with other ancient Near Eastern languages and we are desperate so we go to root meaning, but whenever you get to root meaning, you are stabbing out in the dark. Root meanings are not that valuable. It is our last gasp at trying to understand the meaning of a word.
Alright let me stop there and see if you… before we go and leave etymology and go how to narrow down from the norms of language to the norms of an utterance. Any comments and question about etymology and so forth?
Student: I have a question. It is a practical question [hard to hear ???] TNIV debate got down there and of course at that time a lot of the King James [hard to hear…???... ] because of the fact that language changes.
Dr. Stein: Well I think that what you could do … the way I would approach it would be to deal with Old Testament and New Testament passages in which the meaning is very, very clearly something different. For instance, I might talk about Romans 1:13, where Paul says … You know one of the problems I had as a young Christian, was that when I read Romans for the first time, Paul said to the Romans, “I would have come to see you sooner, but I was let hither to”
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why if he was he let, why he couldn’t go. ??? I would have come, but I was let. Well if he were let go. And then I would say, but you see the problem that I had was that, this word was being used, back in the sense that it had in 1611 and we don’t use the word that way anymore. Back then it meant to hinder.
Use an example of the Latin [ hard to hear ???] words don’t always have the same meaning. I wouldn’t push it too far. And what we have to do is say, what it meant back then, how would we translate that today. And don’t push it that far. And give some other examples and the like and then as time goes on you might be able to talk to people and say, “Well. You have to realize that King James is a wonderful translation but it was written to people who understood English back in 1611.” Have any of you ever read Shakespeare? Troubles you had […hard to hear ???]
Yeah. Well. Ok. See language has changed since… in almost 500 years now. Shakespeare or 400 in King James and therefore you have to realize that you need to always change words and give some examples like, “Do you remember when the word, square meant something positive?” “Remember when the word queer had something to do with a strange kind of person. It had nothing to do with a person’s sexual behavior in any way?” You see words change.
Last thing we want to do is to be using words in a way, back then which was perfectly legitimate but not today. And see how that would work I would have think. Remember our job it not to show how brilliant we are, but to help lay people to understand the Bible more. To have them know we love them and want to help them in that regard. We are shepherds, not herders. Well.
Let’s go on. How do we go then to narrow the possibilities from the norms of language to the norms of utterance? Well. I am going to go the long way around and then I will tell you after we have done this which theoretically makes more sense to do it this way, that we will reverse the order because of the shortage of time in doing these things.
For instance one of the things that caught my interest very early in my teaching career, was an article I read about the drinking of wine in Biblical times. And what surprised me so much was that the word wine, oinos in the New Testament is the same word that was used in classical Greek, and my understanding of the word was quite clearly different than the understanding of the people in Greek times and in New Testament times, for instance, wine as I know it and as we know it in America today is, a beverage that contains about 11 to 12% alcohol. It is fermented and at a certain stage after it reaches about 11% alcohol, the alcohol content is such that it can’t … the yeast dies off and it cannot go any stronger.
But that also allows the fruit of the grape to remain for a long period of time and not get rotten. So how do you preserve grapes, when you have a big grape harvest? Well. You can sit down and eat a lot of grapes, but there comes a time, you just can’t eat anymore. But if you make it into a beverage, well ok, grape juice. Well without refrigeration it doesn’t stay very long, even with refrigeration it doesn’t stay very long.
But, the fruit of the vine that would be made into wine would preserve for a long period of time. But they referred to the final product of that wine. They always referred to wine as that product mixed.
I remember once going into the archaeological museum in the city of Athens and when we were there, we saw these big bowls, which were called kraters. And, what fascinated me was that these were mixing bowls and wine would be brought from where it was stored in what were called amphori – these kind of big jugs that had kind of a pointed bottom, and then they would mix water with it so they could drink it.
And there was discussion as to what is the ratio that you usually use when you mix this water and what we would call wine. I remember a man by the name of Athenais wrote a book called The Learned Banquet. He was the Martha Stewart of the day and tell you how to give a good banquet.
And he quotes for instance from Aristophanes “Here drink this also, mingle 3 and 2, Demas. But it is sweet and bears the 3 parts well.” The poet Unius around the 5th Century B.C. writes, “The best measure of wine is neither much nor very little, for tis the cause of either grief or madness. It pleases the wine to be the fourth mixed with three nyms.” In other words, one part wine and three parts water. So you have a mixture of water and wine.
There are other ratios mentioned. Hesiod 3:1, Alexius 4:1, Diocles 2:1, Eon 3:1, Nicochorus 5:2, Anaquion 2:1. Sometimes the ratio goes down to 1 part water and 1 part wine. And yet that mixture is specifically referred to as strong drink. Not regular wine but strong drink.
And drinking wine unmixed was looked down on as a Scythian or barbarian custom. Athenias quotes another man, Nessius of Athens, “The gods has revealed wine to mortals to be the greatest blessings for those who use it aright, but for those who use without measure, the reverse. For it gives food to them that taketh and strength and mind and body. As medicine it is most beneficial. It can be mixed with liquid and drugs and brings aid to the wounded. In daily intercourse to those who mix it, then drink it moderately, it gives good cheer. But if you overstep the bounds, it brings violence. Mix it half and half and you get madness. Unmixed, bodily collapse. So what you have here is an understanding of wine as being a mixture of water and wine.”
Plutarch: “We call a mixture wine although the larger of its component parts is water.”
In the Old Testament there is a distinction between wine and strong drink. And the Jewish encyclopedia suggests that strong drink is unmixed wine. In the Lord’s Supper we have Jesus passing a cup which is called wine and this is during the celebration of the Passover. Now in what we call the Talmud, there are various books or tractates dealing with various subjects. One like Sanhedrin talking about the rules of the Sanhedrin, but there is also a tractate called the Pessahim, which deals with the Passover celebration and it talks about the mixing of water and wine and the normal mixture is said to be two parts water to one part wine.
So that if this is the normal drink of “wine” in the Passover, that was probably the kind of drink that Jesus and His disciples shared.
The book of 2 Maccabees, “to drink wine alone or again to drink water alone is looked down upon. Drinking wine mixed with water makes it both sweet and delicious.”
Then you go to the early Church Fathers and they refer to the Lords Supper and how the drinking of wine in the Lord’s Supper involves this mixture.
Justin Martyr, “Bread is brought and wine and water.”
Hippolytus says “We bless first the bread into the presentation of the flesh of Christ and the cup mixed with wine for the antitype of the blood which was shed for all those who believe in Him.” So you have a number of references.
Now from this large understanding of Greek literature, where wine is always referred to as a mixture, it is debated as to the exact percentage of the mixture, but it is always a mixture. It seems quite clear that unless otherwise designated, the term oinos would have been understood by the Romans, by the Galatians, by the Ephesians and those who read the letters of the New Testament as a mixture of water and wine.
In fact, in Biblical times if you wanted to refer to our wine, you had to describe it as unmixed wine, because wine by itself was assumed to be mixed. We have an example of that in the book of Revelation, where in Revelation 14:10, the writer speaks of “the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of His anger.” In other words, this wrath of God that is coming at the end time is not the normal kind of wrath. It is unmixed wrath. It is not diluted. It is the unmixed wine of God’s wrath.
So what we then have is by looking through all the Greek literature, we come to some understanding that wine was a mixture of water and wine.
Student: Just out of curiosity what proof of ??? alcohol is safe ???
Dr. Stein: When I wrote this article by the way, it was interesting, I got criticism from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and I got criticism from the Liberated Evangelical. The one thought I was liberal. The other said I was too conservative. And I thought, that must be right then. If everybody from both sides hated me, I must be somewhere in the middle.
What I am trying to say is … not about anything with regard to implications of this yet, maybe we can deal with it shortly. But what I want us to do, is when we look at this word, wine in the New Testament, it is a mistake to simply assume that what we call wine and what they call wine is the same this.
And here we have a mixture. A mixture which by the way could be diluted 2:1, sometimes 3:1. I made a comment at the end of the article that, if you were drinking in a situation like that, long before your mind was affected by this beverage, your kidneys would have been.
There is a lot more water here and the result is that if somebody really wanted to become intoxicated this way, it would be so apparent that something is wrong here. It is one thing to drink three glasses of wine, it is another to drink 12. It becomes part of a meal mentality, not a bar and how do we get out of our minds here. It is a food and it is understood as a food.
A lot of people who come from Europe, drinking alcohol is part of a meal, or drinking a glass of beer. A lot of … when they come to America, don’t teach their children anymore to do that, because in Europe a lot of people drink at a meal to “enjoy” the wine.
Americans, especially younger Americans drink to get drunk. It is supposed to be a great experience. I remember when I was in college, a guy was coming in at midnight, throwing up, drunk as can be, saying, “I will never do this again.” What is the enjoyment in that? Fun? Is there something about vomiting that brings out a real delightful experience, so in America I would never want to encourage my children to drink. It is just such a bad context in America, I think.
And none of my children do drink and I am very happy about that. I recommend total abstinence as a lifestyle. I do it without any embarrassment. I don’t try to say, that this is the only way Christians can live. But I bet, when we appear before God’s day of judgment, there will probably be a few more people who have chosen to drink, who will repent of that lifestyle, than those who said, “I never did drink, and I am really repentant over that.” Think for a minute. How many people are going to feel sorry for that.
Well anyhow. Now, when we taught our children, we taught by way of example. We never said, you will burn in hell if you drink a glass of beer.” We never said that.
And one time we were really in a very embarrassing situation. My wife and I went to my father’s hometown in Germany and his niece and her husband entertained us. Now Germany was in really terrible condition after World War II and my father and mother sent 20 pound food parcels to them regularly, with food, clothing, medicines - all sorts of things. And when I came in 1975, they remembered that. They honored the son and his wife because they wanted to honor my father. And they treated me royally, because I was Willy Stein’s son. They always remembered what Willy Stein had done.
So I went to a distant cousin, Hansen Gertrude’s home, and we had this glorious meal, and afterwards, Hans comes and brings a bottle of wine in. I say, “Oh. It’s the wrong year.” And he goes back and brings a different bottle of wine. And he said, “Uh. Bob and Joan, this is the best bottle of wine we have in Germany since World War II. I saved this bottle, knowing that you were coming.” Now this is all in German. And my German is not that great. I can get along, but not great. And my children are looking, with eyes about ready to pop out.
And so he poured Joan and Me a glass of wine and we drank it. And he said, “Wie schmeckt es?”, “How does it taste?” I said “Hans. It’s the best wine I have ever had.” It really was. It was the only glass of wine I ever drunk.
So. He was happy by it. And that night I went to bed and just before we did Julie who was probably about 11 at the time, said, “Mom and Dad. You drank wine tonight.” And I said, “That. That’s is right. We thought it would be the kindest thing for us to do for Hansen Gertrude. They wanted to do something very special for us, and I don’t think they would have understood my broken German that we don’t drink wine and so forth. So we just, Mom and I just thought we would drink it and not say anything.” And she looked at me and she said, “Ok.” That was it. That satisfied her. And I think that kind of an understanding approach carried over. And now they are teaching their children to abstain from alcoholic beverages.
I think it’s a wise policy. I recommend it to you. I make no embarrassment of being a teetotaler in that regard.
But in the text, when the text talks about wine, the one thing we should realize is that it does not refer to our wine. It refers to a mixture of water and wine. And there may be something to the fact, that the ancient Greeks, not the believing community, but the ancient Greeks who drank wine all the time in their meals, said that drinking half water and half wine could bring absolute bodily collapse.
And to drink wine straight is a barbarian custom. Now just think about the practices we have. We don’t merely drink wine straight, we distill it, so instead of being 11, 12 % alcohol, now you have 50% alcohol. Well would you think the Platos and the Aristophanes of the ancient world would think of that practice? So it is not just a religious matter, but it is a common sense approach they had back then.
Ok. We want to go on to some other words and some other approaches. Let me just stop. Comments? Questions? In that regard?
Dr. Stein: Excuse me. The article can be found in revised form in Difficult Passages in the New Testament. It also found in 1975 in Christianity Today.
Student: When you spoke of it, it sounded like almost impossible to get drunk…
Dr. Stein: No. No no no. It is certainly not.
Student: How do you bring in Ephesians 5:18? [hard to hear???]
Dr. Stein: When it says “Be not drunk with wine”, it is evident that you can get drunk. On the other hand, he doesn’t forbid it. He forbids drunkenness. And if you say that its grape juice, how much grape juice do you have to drink to get drunk? It must be something alcoholic about it. So I think, my understanding is that it is a diluted wine that surely you can get drunk on, and that is forbidden.
But let me ask a question. Do you think that was a problem in the Early church? We shouldn’t so romanticize the early church that there is this impossible to ever be like them group out there. That were so noble, never sinned, all died as martyrs, all were personal evangelist and lead 432 people a day to Christ and so forth.
These were human beings who had frailties and even though someone might drunk at Communion and even though some of them didn’t get along with one another and had arguments with each other, they are still God’s people and God’s love for them despite their sin is the same love He has for us.
So we are not perfect. We are on the way to perfection. It is a long way to go. We are going to fall but probably more important than ever thinking we are not going to fall is to remember to get up again and continue on our pilgrimage and so forth.
Now – Greek classical literature – a monstrous amount of work. Well could we narrow this and let us not read everything in the world that has been written in Greek to find out what this world means in the New Testament. Who thinks more like Paul in the New Testament than Plate and Aristotle? I mean they were using classical Greek.
Well you know there is a group of people called the Early Church Fathers. They also wrote in Greek and maybe they can help us to understand what the New Testament is saying in these places because the people here, the Early Church Fathers, think more like the Biblical authors than the classical Greek writers.
And we are trying to understand what the Biblical authors meant and therefore if we can get closer to them and to read the works of people who think more like them, this is more likely to help us in understanding their specific meanings with regard to certain words.
So we go to the Early Church Fathers. But you know there is another group out there. That is the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. They translated the Hebrew Old Testament into what we call the LXX or the Septuagint. LXX is the Roman numeral for 70. The Septuagint was supposedly written by 70 translators, all who translated the whole Old Testament independently and when they compared them, all 70 had everything in the Old Testament exactly word for word. They didn’t differ, one from another.
Nice story. I don’t believe a whit of it. But… that’s what it is.
But these people have a mind and a terminology and vocabulary that is probably even closer to Paul and to 1st John and 2nd Peter and so forth than the Early Church Fathers. Now we are getting like a funnel, more and more specific to people who think more and more like the Biblical authors.
Now if we are trying to understand what Paul means in a particular letter, I know somebody that thinks like Paul, for instance in – if you write something in Philippians – I know an author who thinks more like Paul in Philippians than the Early Church Fathers. His name is Paul. And maybe what we should do is try to see where else in the rest of Paul’s letters he uses this word.
For instance in Philippians 1:29, turn with me if you have the New Testament in the Bible. Philippians 1:29. Now just by understanding how Paul uses this particular word, will have a great insight in regard to how to interpret this word.
Philippians 1:29, Paul writes in the RSV:
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”
In the King James and who has the King James? 1:29. What is the word usedz?
“For unto you it is given…okay?”
Now I remember reading that as a young Christian:
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake…”
In other words it is required of us by God not just to believe in Him, but also we are going to have to grit our teeth and suffer for Him. That is part of the cost of being a Christian. But is that the way Paul uses the word?
Here is the verb: echaristhe (ἐχαρίσθη τὸ)
It passive, has been given, aorist passive, the root form, charidzo, the noun, charis. How does Paul understand these terms? What is our translation in English?
Does our understanding of how Paul uses this word elsewhere give a different kind of understanding of this verse?
“For unto you it has been graced, that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
Paul sees suffering from Christ, not as an ordeal to be borne, but as a grace from God. Very very different approach. But that is how he uses this term.
“For unto you God has graciously given the honor not only of believing in His name but also for suffering for His sake.”
Granted is the way, the RSV, the New English Bible, the New American Bible, the Roman Catholic translation, the New American Standard, the New International Version translates it. The New RSV translates it, graciously granted. The New Living Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible, granted the privilege. Okay?
And I think the latter two probably gets a sense even more close to this Greek term, “for unto you it has been graciously granted the privilege not only of believing in His name but also of suffering for His sake.”
And the Early Church picked that up. They thought that way. Who was the elderly Church Father that is brought to Rome where he is going to be martyred? Comes all the way from the modern day Turkey, Asia minor? Anybody know?
Dr. Stein: Yeah. Polycarp. When Polycarp comes to Rome, he writes the Church and says, “Please don’t try to keep me from being martyred. I can’t wait to into the arena to feel the breath of the beast on my neck.”
You know some people go a little weird on some of this stuff. I am not quite there yet. He thought of the joy and privilege of dying for Christ sake. I think he understood Paul. He thought it was a gracious privilege of so doing for Him.
Now how do we come to that understanding? How does Paul himself use that term elsewhere in his writings? And that is far better than to read everybody else in Greek literature that has ever used the term. It is far better to follow Paul here than to see what classical Greek uses it or Early Church Fathers or the Septuagint. Paul is by far the best interpreter of Paul here. Very very helpful.
Another example in that same book is 2:12. There Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ...”
Now that first drove me nuts as a young Christian, because we are told we are saved by grace, not by works. And here Paul seems to say, “therefore work out”, here is the Greek term, “your own salvation with fear and trembling”.
Following through what I just talked about, where should we go to understand what Paul means here?
The rest of Paul – doe he ever use this word? Yeah. He does.
In Romans 15:18, Paul says, “I will not boast of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.”
2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you.”
Now, none of these words can refer to earned or to merited. You can’t say, “except where Christ has merited through me. It doesn’t make any sense.”
You don’t talk about the signs of a true apostle were merited among you. They were manifested. They were shown. They were demonstrated. And therefore the way this term is used elsewhere in Paul, lets apply … therefore demonstrate, carry out to its fulfillment your salvation with fear and trembling.” The word doesn’t mean earned, doesn’t mean merit and interestingly enough, in all the places where Paul talks about “not by works, but by grace”, he never uses this verbal form.
The verbal form he uses ergadzo, not katergadzo. So this word is never used in that context of meriting your justification through your deeds or the like. So here Paul clearly understands that this word has nothing to do with earning or meriting. It has to do with manifesting – carrying out your salvation with fear and trembling.
And so Paul is the best interpreter of Paul and elsewhere in his own letters, he uses this term in a very helpful way to describe what it means here in Philippians 2:12 as well. Now with regard to understanding of Paul, we have gone to other books here in 2:12 but sometimes instead of going to other books, the same book uses the term in a way that helps us.
For instance, at the beginning of the semester we talked about the role of the Holy Spirit in the interpretive process and the verse we looked at was 1 Corinthians 2:14. There Paul says, the unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him. He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
What did we do to understand what the word folly means?
Well we said where else in 1 Corinthians is this found? And we found in 1 Corinthians 3:19, “for the wisdom of the world is folly with God.” Well it makes no sense whatsoever to say, the wisdom of the world is not understandable, not perceivable to God.” He can’t figure it out. Makes no sense at all.
Even those for instance who have openness theology would never say the wisdom of this world is not understandable to God. This is a value judgment. And following Paul’s use of this same term elsewhere in the same book, it is clear that it doesn’t mean “cannot be understood” or that they can’t get a correct mental grasp, but that they judge this negatively as being foolishness or folly. And so following it in the same Pauline book is very helpful this way.
Other times we can go to the chapter and find out in the chapter itself how this term is being used. I am going to go on and not deal with the chapter but I am going to go and deal more specifically with a very paragraph within a chapter. And we want to look here at the issue of James and Paul and the apparent conflict between them. The issue of Paul and James seems fairly clear. If you look at those passages it sure looks like we are talking about opposing understandings of how one is justified.
Paul: “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law…”
James: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Paul: “If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God, for what does Scripture say, ‘Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’
James: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?”
It is understandable why Luther who is so strongly in the debate as to how one is justified and arguing for the doctrine of justification by faith, thought that the book of James was a right straw epistle, and in his New Testament, he places it in a different order towards the very end, the very very end because he does not like James.
Now, is it possible that we can make some sense out of this, and I think it is. I think, one of the things we have to say is alright. When people use the same word, people in the Bible use the same word, do they always mean the exact same thing by that word. Or does the word have a range of meanings?
Alright, norms of language. If you look up the word, faith - pistis, works – ergon in a lexicon of the New Testament, you don’t see one meaning here. You have a list of possibilities and lets just talk about faith with regards to how we understand it.
A semantic range of faith can include all sorts of things. When we talk about faith, we can talk about the name of a woman. It can refer to intellectual assent. Confident belief in the truth. Wholehearted trust. What faith you belong to? “Oh. I am a Baptist.” Denomination.
“And thereto I pledge you my faith.” That was part of my oath and promise at my wedding ceremony. A system of religious belief. What kind of faith do you have – what is your faith system? “Oh. I am a Calvinist. I am an Arminian.” Or something like that. It can refer to loyalty – have faith in someone. Confidence. He has great faith. Allegiance. A belief in God. Faithfulness. A pledge.
Now in the norms of language, these are all possible. None of these are illegal. The word can mean any of these things. The question then is, when Paul talks about faith, when James talks about faith, do they mean the same thing. Well, lets look for a minute in James as to the faith that he talks about that cannot save.
In James chapter 2, James describes this faith that is of no value. In chapter 2, verse 14, he describes this faith:
“What does it profit, my brethren,
if a man says he has faith but has
Now this is the faith that has no works. Alright. Now the question that we are going to ask shortly is what the word, works means. Let us hold off on that. This is a faith that has no works. It is a faith that he describes as, “not being able to save”. It is a faith that does not save.
There are some interesting things here that we will have to look at here in a minute.
In 2:17, it is a faith that’s by itself has no works and is dead. Here again, 2:18a, it is a faith that has no works. 2:18b, it’s a faith that is apart from works. In 2:19a, it is a faith that believes that God is one. In other words, check what you believe. Check your faith and you have this Gallup poll. Do you believe that God is one? True. False. Check it off. True. That is the faith that we are talking about. Do you believe God is one? Yeah. I checked true statement on that one.
Even the demons believe and shudder. Now think. James in saying that demons have faith. Same word used here. The word pistuo. This is faith that demons have. Now you have to ask yourself the question, when Paul writes by grace you were saved through faith, like demons have, does that make sense to you? Or can you see right away that we are talking differently. That is not what – James is not talking about what Paul means by faith here. Because it is very unlikely that Paul would say, “Yes. I believe that demons have faith.”
Then you go on 2:20, faith apart from works is barren. 40:24.?. A faith that’s alone is described. Faith that is apart from works and that is ultimately dead. Then he talks about the kind of faith that saves.
2:18. By my works, I will show you my faith. It is a faith that has works associated with it.
2:22. It is a faith that is active along with works and is completed by works.
2:23. It is the faith that Abraham had.
Now, the faith that saves looks very much like Paul’s understanding, the faith of Abraham that saves. The faith that does not save is not a kind of faith that is at all associated with what Paul believes. That is not the kind of faith that Paul talks about. The semantic range of works. Works can mean physical or mental effort. It could mean a deed of some sort. A job. What kind of work do you do? Well. I teach.
In James works are described as clothing people who are naked. Work can be keeping the law. It can be an action. It can involve keeping the Sabbath. That is the way Paul talks about works. Feeding the hungry is a work that James talks about. Acts of love. [Hard to hear???] can be called a work. An accomplishment of some sort or an occupation. Acts meriting God’s favor.
Paul is arguing against. Engineering structures are sometimes called works. Circumcision in Paul is referred to as works. In dry goods, New York city. Peace works. And you get paid for work. For me, it meant relish, mustard, onions and ketchup. And anything else that was free that you could put on my hotdog.
Works can mean any of these possibilities. Alright well. Let us look at how James views works. In 2:15 and 16, the works that James sees as associated with salvation are as follows. If a brother and sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace. Be warmed and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So the works James talks about are not the works of being circumcised like the Judaizers are telling the Gentiles, “Unless you are circumcised you can’t be saved”. It is not about keeping certain laws or being – keeping the Sabbath – certain days. It is clothing the naked, and giving daily food to those who are hungry. Those are the works. Acts of loving compassion are the works he is talking about. In 2:21, it refers to Abraham’s willingness to give Isaac on the altar.
James 2:25, the works being referred to there involve Rahab the harlot, receiving God’s messengers and protecting them and sending them another way.
But now lets look at the works that Paul talks about that are not able to save. In Romans 4, verses 2 and following, you have works described this way:
“If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about but not before God.”
Works here are something that allows you to boast before God. Something that places God in your debt, like verse 4:
“Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. “
Works that Paul talks about that cannot save are those which allow one to boast and place God in debt to them. Romans 4:9-12 involve the issue of being circumcised in order to achieve salvation.
Galatians 2:16, “Man is justified, not by works of the law, but by faith in Christ.” Not by works of law. Not by works done to keep the specifics of the law.
4:10, works refer to here to observing days, months and seasons. The obedience to a religious calendar in order to achieve merit before God.
And then 5:2-6, very important: “Now I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision that Christ will be of no advantage to you.” The act of being circumcised, this work to achieve favor before God.
“I testify again to every man who has received circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You were severed from Christ. You who would be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith we wait for the hope of righteousness.”
And then in 5:6…
Does this sound like Paul or does it sound almost like James?
“For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. Show me your faith apart from your loving acts of kindness like feeding the poor and I will show you my faith by those works.”
Paul says, the only thing that really saves is the faith – but one that works through love. Not one like the demons that is one of mere intellectual assent. Not one that is simply a checking off on the Gallup poll, “this I believe”, but a wholehearted trust in God that leads to a life of obedience and faith.
Now I am not saying that we resolve the whole issue of faith and works between Paul and James. What I think I am trying to tell you is that, the problem is far less evident than most people think it is, because they are not talking about the same faith and then talking about the same works.
The faith that cant save is the faith that has not acts of loving compassion associated with it. The faith that can’t save is the simple kind of faith that the demons have, that God is one. By the way, on any Systematic Theology exam, the faith of demons will come out better than yours. They will get better grades. They are supernatural. They know a lot more than we do. Doesn’t save them.
The works that can’t save are works of circumcision – of keeping specific laws in order to achieve merit before God and place Him in your debt. But the works that do save are the works that stem from the life of obedient faith. And that kind of work goes with faith and that brings about a faith that does save.
So I think, if Paul read James in that perspective, he would probably say, “Yeah well. That’s exactly what I am saying. Circumcision – that will never save anybody. But faith that works through love – that does save.”
Faith that works through love, that sounds like James in chapter 2. So I don’t think that they are that far apart as many people make them.
Alright. I’ve talked pretty much straight on at this time. Questions that you have with regard to how we are trying to understand what an author means by looking at this same paragraph now and see how is this term faith described in this paragraph? How are the terms works described in that paragraph?
Student: Could you plug in some dates [hard to hear ???] what do you mean by Septuagint?
Dr. Stein: Septuagint is the Greek Old Testament completed probably around 2-300 B.C., but it is the Bible that Paul and the Early Church are enmeshed in. They think very much like the writers of the Septuagint. Their vocabulary comes out of the Septuagint. Their grammatical clauses have come out of there.
So if you try to understand what Paul means by this expression, if the Bible he is reading all the time has the expression, that might affect things pretty well.
Student: I am wondering if an earlier occurrence of a word would have more relevance than one after the time that Matthew wrote it because Matthew was influenced hard to hear???]
Dr. Stein: Yes. You are right. The trouble is there is none earlier and there is none immediately later. But very very later you have it.
Student: [hard to hear???]
Dr. Stein: Because the words that occur afterwards would generally reflect the usage found in the Biblical author. Whereas words found earlier, that which reflect what the Biblical author is thinking in his mindset.
Now notice, logically we should go from the largest, get more specific. The classical Greek writers, they don’t think as much like Paul as the Early Church Fathers. They don’t think as much like Paul as probably the translators of the Septuagint which preceded Paul but Paul is in their mindset. But the one who thinks most likely, like Paul would be Paul himself.
I would suggest that between you know – if you wanted to become more and more specific. I put the other New Testament writers after the Early Church Fathers, just before Paul. In other words, I think the writers of 1st, 2nd John, 1st Peter, Hebrews and things like that think more like Paul than the Early Church Fathers.
So you are getting more specific with the rest of the New Testament. But then when you get to Paul himself, he thinks more like himself in other letters, than the New Testament does. The Paul in the same book, even more specific. The Paul in the same chapter, the same paragraph, the same sentence and so forth.
All of these are more and more specific. Now if you had eternity, this would be nice. Anytime you look up this word you go through all of this and if it takes a couple of millennia, it really doesn’t matter a great deal. But preaching every Sunday makes it a little more difficult. So here I would reverse the order and go from the specific sentence to the paragraph to chapter to the book to other Pauline letters and work my way out to the rest of the New Testament, the Septuagint or the Greek Old Testament, the Early Church Fathers and so forth.
As you proceed up this list, the chance of becoming more and more sure of the specific meaning that you are looking up becomes less and less. The more you go up this route, the less likely it is for you to become really sure of the meaning of the Apostle. The more you go down this list, the more specific it would get. Well that makes sense and lets start from here and work our way outward.
Logically coming this way down the funnel makes sense but practically because of the shortage of time we go from this and work our way upwards, the other direction.
Student: How does this work with authors who don’t have as many books as Paul does?
Dr. Stein: Well. You still have sentence, paragraph, chapter and specific book. But if you had Luke in his Gospel, you do Acts. But you don’t have that from Matthew. And you don’t have that for Hebrews, so here you jump then and this is missing but you still have the rest of the New Testament. And in general the writers of the New Testament, as a group think more alike than its authors and the Greek philosophers and so on.
But you are right. The more you have available, the better it is. Mark – who do we have? We just have Mark. John – Well you have 1st John. That helps. But for a number of the others, you don’t have anything like that.
Student: When we were discussing Philippians 1:29, we went from a Greek verb for granted down to its cognate …
Dr. Stein: The noun, yeah.
Student: How is that different from finding the root meaning of the word? [hard to hear ???]
Dr. Stein: Notice I didn’t ask how this word is used in 1000 B.C., when Greek comes into existence. All I did was to say, how does Paul use this word elsewhere? That is not a root meaning. That is his contemporary usage of the term.
Student: So the key element is time and usage. Paul used both of those terms concurrently and they are related, so we could use those to understand one another.
Dr. Stein: Well. It is not just time of usage, because you could have a Greek writer like Josephus. It is pretty close to Paul’s time. Maybe couple of decades later. But his mindset is not the same as Paul’s other letters. Well, time wise they may be very close. So most specifically, who are those people who think this way and it will help me understand Paul’s way of thinking?
And of course it is Paul but not Paul in his other letters, as much as Paul in this letter and not so much Paul, four chapters later but Paul in this chapter and in this paragraph and this verse. We get closer all the time.