About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Genesis 6:1-4...A call to Holy lives!

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, ESV)

Invariably when people find out I have a doctorate in Old Testament studies, they have one question for me: “What on earth is going on in Genesis 6?” Therefore, because I want my blog to be not only devotionally helpful, but also to deal with theological questions that people have, I thought I would spend some time dealing with this matter this week.

Genesis 6 is the story immediately preceding the Flood narrative (or more appropriately, beginning the Flood narrative) in which the sons of God became attracted to the daughters of man and took them for their wives. The passage is indeed one that raises many questions. Bruce Metzger, noted conservative scholar, is said to have once observed that the passage is the closest thing to traditional mythology found anywhere in Scripture.

The primary difficulties in the passage are centered on the terms “sons of God” and “Nephilim.” I will deal with the Nephilim and their identity next week, but I want to point out at this point that the text does not state that the Nephilim are in any way related to these events other than that they were present in those days and also afterward. They are not the offspring of the union between the sons of God and the daughters of men (in fact the basic flow of the Hebrew suggests that the Nephilim were already around when the sons of God decided to pursue the daughters of men). They are not the antecedent to the “these” of verse 4 who were the mighty men of old/men of renown. Their role here simply serves to suggest that an evil class of being (lit. Nephilim means “fallen ones”) existed in the period well before and immediately leading up to the Flood (“in those days, and also afterward”). In other words, they serve to accentuate vividly the dark days in which all of this took place.

The term “sons of God” is somewhat more difficult and much more significant to understanding the passage and how it might be applied. In Hebrew, when two nouns are side by side they are in what is called a genitive relationship. Using the two nouns here “sons” and “God,” three of the ways this can be understood are: (1) possessive - “sons who belong to God;” (2) attributive - “sons who have the attributes of the divine” (3) quality - “sons who are godly.” If one of the first two is intended here, then the individuals in question are some sort of divine or other-worldly beings (viz. heavenly beings). If the third option is intended, then the individuals here are humans who had the qualities of godliness.

The arguments in favor of seeing the individuals as heavenly beings include: (1) potential cross references with 1 Peter 3:19-20; 2 Peter 2:4; and Jude 6, 14-15, largely based upon applying the understanding of 1 Enoch (a Jewish pseudepigraphal [has the name of a famous person, but was not really written by them] book from the inter-testamental period) to Genesis 6 and then suggesting Peter and Jude viewed it this way as well; (2) the most common usage of two nouns together in the Bible is either possessive or attributive; and (3) a potential cross reference with Job 1 where “sons of God” seem almost certainly to be heavenly creatures.

The arguments in favor of seeing the individuals as earthly godly men include: (1) chapters 4 and 5 of Genesis have just put alongside each other the godly line of Seth (Genesis 5) and the sinful line of Cain (Genesis 4). It makes sense that as one approaches the destruction of humanity, that one of the causes of there being only one righteous family (Noah) was that godly line of Seth (godly sons) had intermarried with the ungodly line of Cain (daughters of men), so that on the whole, humanity was now corrupted. (2) There is no biblical evidence of heavenly beings possessing the ability to procreate. In fact, there are verses that imply otherwise (Matthew 22:30). Furthermore, the notion of a spirit-being having physical relations with a human, resulting in a child, seems to go against the very definition of what it means to be spirit.* (3) Finally, the judgment expressed by God is explicitly against mankind and there is absolutely no mention of guilt and punishment of anyone except humanity.

Just judging from a contextual standpoint, there doesn’t seem to me to be any demand to go the more confusing and hard to fathom route of arguing that this story relates a union between the angelic and humanity. This is true because the New Testament passages have too many alternative options for understanding their purpose and intent for us to be able to syncretize them with this passage – especially since they don’t directly refer to the events related in Genesis 6. Also, this understanding is consistent with the grammar present and doesn’t in any way twist any Hebraic rules. Finally, a phrase is always understood firstly by its literary context, not by its usage elsewhere – that Job uses “sons of God” to refer to heavenly beings in no way demands that Genesis 6 is doing the same. Subsequently, the passage to me seems to simply be the recounting of how all of humanity had become so depraved that they were completely unconcerned with the things of God – thus giving justification for the Flood.

Since this is where I come out on this passage, what would I say are some important lessons to be taken away from Genesis 6:1-4?

- It amazes me how much we gravitate toward the fantastical and odd, especially when it supports some theme or understanding of God and our world we would like to believe. Christianity is indeed built of faith and there are some amazing realities that we are called on to accept as part of that faith (miracles and resurrection to name just two). We do ourselves and our witness no good by taking that which were never intended to express the miraculous and trying to turn them that direction.

- We need to be careful in actually arguing from what the Bible says, not what we assume it does. One common point that is made in arguing for the angelic understanding is, “How could the union of just men and women result in the birth of giants or creatures such as the Nephilim?” As I have already pointed out though, the text nowhere says that the Nephilim were the offspring. The interpreters in this case started with a presupposition then went back and bent the text to meet it. This is by no means an isolated case (see my arguments on systems such as Calvinism elsewhere in this blog). I am not arguing that those who take an angelic interpretation of this passage are irresponsible interpreters (some men and women I hold in the highest regard take that view). But what I am saying is that on the road to the conclusions we draw, let’s make certain we are actually arguing the evidence.

- We need to take personal responsibility for the choices we make. It is far too easy for us to attempt to push the blame of our sin off in some other direction (“Satan made me do it.”) This passage illustrates how devastating our decisions to not guard our hearts and to not maintain holiness can be to our future and to the future of our children.

I certainly don’t believe I have solved the issue satisfactorily for everyone involved…the debate on Genesis 6 will continue. But I hope I have answered some questions that some may have and that I have reminded us all (myself most of all) how important the decisions we make about the lives we live are.

Jesus prayed, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-19, ESV)”

* Alluding to Mary in the New Testament will not help in this case: God’s interaction with Mary is in no way described as intercourse (Mary is still a virgin according to the text), and God, unlike Angels, has creative power.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Letting Go...In Parenting and Discipleship

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6, ESV)

In my opinion, I had a pretty extraordinary dad. He certainly wasn’t perfect – he could lose his temper fairly easily and he wasn’t what I would call “warm” in the area of emotions – but he taught me a lot about the importance of common sense, working hard, and taking personal responsibility for your actions. He also taught me something through the liberty he allowed me to have as a teenager – something that I believe has real implications for believers we lead to Christ and mentor.

Recently, one of my church members posted some pictures on facebook of their seventh grade daughter having a “date” to a school social/dance. Even though I was familiar with these type of activities around here and how well chaperoned and almost restrictive they are in what they let the kids do, my initial mental response was, “Are you kidding me…she is too young for that!” But as I thought about that response, the first thing that came to mind was the realization that I had attended dances at that age (dances that were not as well chaperoned I might add) and in fact had already had my first kiss and girlfriend. This realized hypocrisy, then led to the second thing that came to mind; a conversation I had with my dad somewhere in my teen years (I don’t remember exactly when, but I am pretty certain I was approaching driving age). I asked him how he decided what I could be a part of and what I couldn’t. He said he took into account my track record of behavior, the inherent potential for danger in the activity (how likely was I to get into serious trouble at an event is how he put it), and the need for me to start growing up. What I took away from that exchange is that a big part of the skill of parenting is found in the ability of remembering to let go and knowing when to do that.

The passage quoted above is probably one of the key passages of Scripture related to child-rearing. I believe the basic lesson I learned from dad is implicit in its message. The passage makes clear that there is a point in which the child makes the choice to depart from the path or not. No, I don’t believe the verse to be a promise. Like all proverbs it is an observation about how life generally works. There are all sorts of influences on a child that the parent has no control over, not the least of which being the child’s own choices. But because it is a biblical proverb, it is not an optional step to take for the faithful parent. The first part of the passage is a non-negotiable instruction for all believing parents – train up your child in the way they should go! Such training requires oversight, punishment and reward, guidance, making them do things they don’t want to do but need to do, and letting go and letting them become adults at appropriate intervals.

As believers we are not called to make converts, we are charged with the responsibility of making disciples. Like parenting, this involves taking a level of responsibility for that person’s spiritual well-being, feeding them, instructing them, and even holding them responsible for their actions. But it also includes letting them go, letting them experience the “risk” of sharing their faith; letting them take the lead when possible; letting them discover their Spiritual gifts (sometimes through trial and error); letting them learn how to trust in God (in good times and in bad). It means helping them to understand that we are all responsible to carry our own burden, even as we carry each other’s (Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. [Galatians 6:1-5, ESV])

I wish I practiced this particular part of parenting as well as I remember my dad doing so. I pray that I learn how to challenge those in my spiritual care to “grow up” effectively in the days ahead.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

That Looks Nothing Like Where I Started

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15, ESV)

Each week I place in the worship folder at my church a note highlighting the subject for that week's sermon and giving an overall illustration/application in order to get people thinking about the message before it even begins. Sometimes, however, in making the insert, my own views are challenged or changed. That was the case this week.

I usually introduce the note with a quote at the top of the page that I jump off from (similar to how I use the verse at the top of each blog post). While doing some research for this week's note, I learned some things about the quote I was going to use that spoke to me quite vividly and that took the note in a different direction than I had originally intended.

Here is the note:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing! 

For many people the above quote first came into their consciousness when John F. Kennedy spoke it in 1961, citing Irish statesman Edmund Burke as its originator. The quote is indeed a powerful statement of the ability of evil to infiltrate any part of our reality if we fail to respond when it first makes its appearance. That, in and of itself, illustrates much of what the message today focuses on. But there is another aspect of this quote that I find interesting and relevant to our discussion – that there is no evidence that Edmund Burke wrote it as it appears today.

The only quote of Burke’s that comes close to this statement is from a book he wrote calling for the organization of good men together to battle the presence of organizations who have more nefarious designs on the culture (1777). This quote reads, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Over the years this statement was shortened, restated, and combined with another by John Stuart Mill to become the better known quote found above. By the early twentieth century the quote had taken its present form, attributed solely to Burke. By the middle of the twentieth century, even the respected reference work Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations said the saying originated with Burke.

What I find interesting and relevant about the citation is how different the end result is from the beginning and how the journey it went on to get there was virtually unnoticed because it was so gradual. Too many lives in shambles have taken a very similar path. I have encountered believers and unbelievers who find themselves in a really bad place and when asked how they got there, their response is, “I don’t know. I woke up one day and I was here.” Small poor choices, feelings of invulnerability, and not taking care of their own spiritual health all came together to gradually bring them to their present sorry state.

I find the whole process fascinating...I was writing a note about how ignoring sin can lead to bigger sin. My research revealed that the quote I was using had undergone a shift in appearance and even purpose through various slow changes in its content. This added knowledge then led to a shift in the direction my note was going and it ended up appearing very different than what I had in mind when I started. The pile-up of different examples in this journey of how little decisions and bits of information can lead to a big change caught my attention.  I came to be reminded that few things happen suddenly, most change is a gradual transformation - for good or for bad.

It is my prayer that we guard our hearts to avoid the slow path and little decisions that lead only to real damage taking place. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life...Proverbs 4:23, ESV.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Best Known Verse in All the Bible

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 ESV

Matthew 7:1 may be the best-known verse in all the Bible. On any given day, in any number of different conversations, you will encounter people who haven’t opened a Bible in years quote its basic message: “Do not Judge.” Christians will usually, in turn, respond with “You’re taking that statement out of context,” or “that is not what that means.” But are they always?

Certainly, the context of Jesus’ command is much more nuanced than the blanket application used by those who simply throw it out to stop any sort of correction. Jesus Himself goes on in the passages that immediately follow to suggest that when you have dealt honestly with your own sin, you can then see clearly to deal with someone else’s (7:5) and that one can know the authenticity of others by the fruit they produce (7:16). Neither of those is even remotely possible if we are not exercising judgment between what is right and wrong. Add to these passages Jesus’ calls to us to confront those who have wronged us (Matt 18:15-20); Paul’s guidance regarding how to treat one who refuses to repent of sin (1 Cor 5:5); and John’s advice to evaluate the source of received words in order to evaluate their authenticity and you have clear biblical commands instructing us to identify and speak when sin is present. Indeed, the very nature of the Good News (Gospel) is first dependent upon the realization of the bad news of our lostness (Romans 1-3).

But I also believe that Christians, perhaps more often than not, find ourselves on the wrong side of the matter of judgment when we are interacting with people. Why? Because we ignore the heart of where Jesus is going with His command in Matthew 7:1.

Jesus has just expressed what authentic discipleship looks like in terms of our own personal relationship to God – give, pray, fast, and live with thoughts solely on our relationship to the Father (Matt 6). Now He begins to express what discipleship looks like when practically lived out in a world full of darkness, culminating with “The Golden Rule” in Matt 7:12. His instructions in Matt 7:1-12 can be characterized as call to avoid judgmentalism, avoid hypocrisy, remember that apart from redemption people won’t hear what you are saying properly and so practice wisdom in what you say and when/where you say it, and remember that all you have is the result God’s gracious gift. In other words, treat others as you would have them treat you, remembering that the only good in any of us is present because of God’s grace.

And that is where I think we as believers too often miss the mark. The goal of every judgment rendered in the instructions from Paul, John, and Jesus is redemption and restoration. Too often our motivations are merely condemnation or an attempt to communicate our own holiness (often our judgment involves things that we have attached to Scripture, rather than the Scripture itself). In truth, although we are not as blatant in our self-appreciation as he is recorded as being, we are more like the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14 in our attitude than we care to admit.

But we can’t just remain totally silent. We are called to speak the truth in love and to shine light into the darkness. So, what can we do to help avoid the type of judging Jesus prohibited while still addressing sin? We can:

- Evaluate our mentality: it all starts with the recognition that apart from God’s grace, we are all sinners. Grace then should guide our words.

- Evaluate our motive: Are we seeking to restore and redeem, or simply make certain everyone “knows the truth?” “Truth without love is brutality!” (Wiersbe)

- Evaluate our message: Are we communicating truths that are clearly outlined in Scripture or are we more about our own way of doing things?

- Evaluate our method: Are we speaking to someone the way we would want to be spoken to?

It is not love to ignore sin, but neither is it love to point out sin without mentioning the possibility of forgiveness. And we can only mention the possibility of another’s forgiveness properly when we do it with a spirit that acknowledges the high cost that was paid for our own forgiveness by God.

God’s grace is not just transformative of our past mistakes; it is transformative of our present interactions.