Lecture 30: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 30: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 2)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Epistles (Part 2)

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?

Student: Polycarp.

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?

Students: Paul

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
not works?”

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.

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