Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scriptural Obedience - Part 1, Dr. Marvin J. Hudson

Scriptural Obedience. Dr. Marvin J. Hudson. (c2013)

Part 1- Humanity’s Quandary
Two Extremes
Obedience…what a troublesome word. We all have recognized its demands upon our lives at some point. Some of us will recall those dynamic services when minister spoke of obedience and we trembled at our own inadequacy. Others of us may recall being taught that the path of Christ was simplicity and obedience was merely letting go of you in order to trust more in Him.

Perhaps these two understandings of obedience represent polar points, both of which may leave the door open for extremism.  The first tends to lead us toward various forms of legalism as we wrestle with what we perceive to be the demands of a holy God.  We find ourselves confronted by the same quandary that people from Moses to Luther have faced.

On the other hand, God’s Word demands of us a standard if we are to enter into His presence.  Indeed, His very nature requires us to come before Him with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4).  We are faced with a literal “do or die” situation.  Yet, as soon as the Law of God confronts us, we face a terrible reality: we simply do not have the means at our disposal to obey this perfect Law.

Repeatedly we grasp the regulations of the Law only to fall short of their demands.

The frustration we experience at this point often leads to two different reactions: We either struggle even harder to keep this Law of God , and thus become a modern Pharisee, or we may, as Luther stated, fall through despair into even greater sin (Theology of Luther. Althaus).

For most of us, this frustration leads to the former alternative. We monitor our every action to insure that we either become or remain “holy”.   We refrain from any activity which we feel will retard our spiritual progress.

At this point a great danger appears.  As time goes by, many of our decisions as to what will, or will not, retard our progress, becomes dogmas that bind us with a near unbreakable stranglehold.

Nor does the danger stop there, for we tend to believe in these dogmas so strongly that we insist that they apply to others as well.  The result is frustration and surprise.  We are frustrated, because deep down, we are never quite convinced that we are achieving the goal through this form of obedience. In spite of all that we do, we are never quite as holy as we desire.

Secondly, we are surprised because others do not accept our dogmas joyfully; especially younger generations. This should not surprise us, as there is little joy in legalism.

The second of our two approaches mentioned in the first sections of this discussion, at first glance, appear to offer great promise. After all, we have seen that legalism did not work as we may have wished.  Further, we have seen that legalism did not work as we may have wished.  Further, we know that the New Testament teaches that Christ came to set us free from the Old Law of death which was ,in reality, the same system of frustration that many Christians have tried to follow.

This second approach receives eagerly the idea that Christ was and is our substitutionary avenue to righteousness and thus the theme of obedience tends to be deemphasized.  The great danger here is that in this direction we find all manner of incorrect positions ranging from apathy to antinomianism (the denial of any divine Law). Such thinking often leads to apathy disguised as “tolerance” or “broadmindedness.”  No matter what we do or do not do, we have a comfortable “out” in that our theology tells us that we must not expect to be perfect and we may simply continue to pile our actions at the feet of Jesus only to return to the same life-style.

These two extremes  - legalism and license- are two ends of a spectrum and illustrate the difficulty the Church has faced for centuries.  Every Christian will struggle to find the middle road that will ultimately lead to real joy and stability in the Christian life.

The goal of this discussion is to see if that middle road where law and grace are in harmony  meet is mapped as we try to search out the Biblical concepts of obedience.  At the end of the journey, hopefully, will be an understanding of obedience from both Old Testament and New Testament perspectives.  Along the way, an examination of the complementary nature between the obedience  and some to avoid.

God’s Demands, Humanity’s Prerogative
It is significant that the matter of obedience is dealt with from the very first chapters of the creation account. Adam’s relationship to God included the fundamental principle of obedience.  This obedience was enjoined to Adam in the context of Liberty. As early as Genesis 2:16-17 we find the instruction, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of goo and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.”  Here is the tremendous reality: Adam holds within his the potential to obey or disobey. What incredible consequences rest upon simple obedience. How far reaching was the result of Adam’s decision.  The outcome of this historic drama is a key element of basic Bible literacy. Humanity has reaped the results of the fall of Adam ever since.

What is crucial for us to see is that this obedience was a matter of trust and free will. This fact is often overshadowed in our concern with the simple fact of the Fall itself.  While obedience was a component of the relationship of humanity to God, and an essential one, the real heartbeat of humanity’s relationship to God was the principle that we identify by such terms as trust, love, faith and so forth. This dynamic principle was the basis of the kind of relationship God has always desired with His creation.  This relational principle appears repeatedly as one traces the concept of obedience through scripture. It was also dramatically changed by the Fall and the result was catastrophic for humanity.

Fallen Humanity: The Crippled Creation
It would be easy to become destracted in exploring the how and why of Adam’s fall in the garden, but it is the result s of that Fall where our focus should turn.  All that follows through the Old and New Testament rests on the actions subsequent to that decision to not obey.

In brief, humanity received disfellowship from God. Humanity no longer enjoyed the benefits of the Garden life described in Genesis.   Indeed, when God came to walk in the Garden, Adam and his wife found they were unable to stand in His presence (Genesis 3:8). The perfect trust was destroyed and the human relationship with nature was negatively affected, where once all had been available as easy bounty, now all was to be obtained by hard toil (3:17-19).

Most importantly, humanity changed. From an estate of innocence, humans discovered they were driven by base desires that warred with their better selves.  Over time it became clear that the first human’s initial inclinations were often their worst inclinations.

Paul expresses this condition of the fallen human in Romans 7:19: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which would not, that I do.”

Theologians have referred to this as a “depraved” nature, meaning that as humans we are firmly caught in a trap from which we cannot escape.  It is the trap of God’s demand for perfection and our inability to achieve it.

We may summarize humanity’s situation. We are the Fallen Man and Fallen Woman.  We have all sinned against God and deserve the penalty of our rebellion, which is death. There are no resources at our disposal to pay this ‘debt of sin’ and reconcile ourselves back to God. Further, we are consistently powerless to change our course of conduct. We are guilty and we are continually becoming guiltier.  We stand in the rain of a fallen world, hands raised, and scream through the ages, “O wretched man that I am! WHO will deliver me?”

Who indeed….
To be continued

Friday, August 30, 2013

God: Bigger Than We Think

God: Bigger Than We Think [Draft]  /Marilyn A. Hudson, MLIS (c2013)

All language about God is metaphor.  It has to be because we cannot understand God. Our languages are all limited to our understanding of our world. This is illuminated by current and reoccurring discussions about the proper language to use when referring to God (inclusive or exclusive). How should one proceed? Does it matter if images and language always refer to God in the masculine? What, moreover, does the Bible actually say on the matter? 

We see, and  understand, only a small part, and do that imperfectly, but with great confidence in our own perceptions. Plato understood this when he write his Allegory of the Caves.  What we think we understand is often merely the shadows of what is real.

Like those people staring the shadows, we define our understanding of God in a feeble and limited manner.  Our hubris is a need to define things, measure, describe, and classify.  In this process, we assume control of the surrounding chaos of unknowing.  All our attempts to characterize our world, our God, and ourselves are really only our attempts to control.

What we control we think we own.
What we own we seek to dominate.
What we dominate we often abuse.
What is abused is without value.

The origin of the word ‘definition’ refers to limiting or ending something.  Thus, when we define we limit further understanding by drawing a boundary around it.  We humans sit back and define.  Then, we expect our definitions to be final. We also tend to view our definitions, our understanding as the only understanding. 

Our finite conceptualizations predominate. The difficulties of new ideas finding a purchase in the scientific realm underscore this process. Once defined, changes in thinking are hard to shift or even be reconsidered.
All of these lines of thought lead back to the multi-gendered image of God found in the Bible.  This, however, is also, where the problems are compounded through that layer of language.  In that process of interpretation and reading the language ambiguity, misunderstanding, and sheer human ego intersect with understanding.
Take, for example, Deut. 32:18 where Moses told the people that they had neglected the “Rock” who had ,in KJV language, “begat” and in other versions (such as the NLT) “fathered” the people and the God who had “formed them.”  The NLT is symbolic of the very process involved in the topic of this paper.   The Hebrew term for “begat” is often used to explain lineage…but it can also be used to refer to a midwife.  It does not necessarily signify the male parent.  In a similar vein, the passive phrase of ‘had given birth’ (pg. 367) hides the Hebrew term used that refers to a twisting as in writhing with pain as a woman struggling to give birth from her essence.   The emphasis on the translation is a male God who is a rock who fathered and allowed their birth to occur.  Is this, however, what the text intended to convey?  That must always be the issue.  The term for rock is a figurative word inferring shelter.  The issue of meaning is further confused by the ‘study notes’ used in the NLT noting the “rock” is an expression drawing attention to “God’s reliability as Father.” Now, to recap…

In looking at the Hebrew translation ‘begat’ refers to lineage but also to midwife. The term for ‘forming’ or ‘given birth’ refers to a term meaning twisted, as in writhing in pain such as experienced by a woman giving birth.

Look earlier in v.11 God is compared to an eagle that “rouses her chicks and hovers over her young” in a familiar image of a protective parent.   Strangely, in the NLT this verse is not commented on, which is a familiar situation encountered in far too many ‘study’ books about the Bible, especially in reference to any verse suggesting a broader frame of reference in our understanding of the nature of God.

As the roles of men and men fractured in society into dogmatic opposing pieces, kept separate through social structures, biological uniqueness, and beliefs of sexual superiority, translation often was less than unbiased.
Women were viewed as ‘something less’, inferior and suited only for reproduction, child care, and sexual gratification. Here ‘sphere’ was the home and hearth.  As such, women were relegated to having, caring for, and teaching the children.  It is this role, however, that God occupies in Hosea 11:3 “I  have taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand…”  This nurturing, female only, role is one frequently used in the Bible but one which is so often overlooked or mis-interpreted.

In Isaiah 6:6, God describes his holy city, Jerusalem, symbolic of the presence and relationship of the divine with the people, as a midwife/mother giving birth to a people (v.8f) and later he comforts as a mother (v.13). 
In Job 38:28 God challenges Job with questions reflecting God in both father and mother roles in the creation and maintenance of nature.

In Isaiah 42:12-14 God is likened to BOTH a might warrior and a woman panting in labor.  Matt. 23:37 (Luke 13:34) which mirrors Deut. 32”11-12 with its imagery of the mother hen seeking to protect her chicks. 

Despite these many instances of the image of mother in relationship to God, concordances such as the one found in the NLT list “mother” only 15 times and “father” 58 times.  Dictionaries will ignore the use of the female, mothering and birthing images when describing God’s nature or gloss over it without study or detail.
In Hosea 13:8 God is likened to a mother bear, in Psalms 131:2 as a mother and Luke 15:8-10 as a woman searching tirelessly for a lost coin (symbolic in the parable of God’s efforts to gather his sons and daughters.)  
These female related symbols or metaphors are just as valid and important as the images of God in strictly masculine terms. For most of Christian history, however, there has been a superiority at work placing God in masculine terms and hiding the female images.  Some early church writers (Augustine, Knox, Calvin, etc.) will use the term of “master” to refer to their wives and to women in general.   The paradigm that developed was one of hierarchy, of inferiority, or skewed human value in both church and society.  Hosea is significant for an important statement made by God in the second chapter.  God wanted, he told the people via his prophet, to no longer be called ‘master’ but to be called ‘husband’.  It is a clear indication of the intimacy sought by the divine with his creations.  It is also clear how far the human construct fell from the divine ideal.  If God no longer wanted to be called “master” but wanted a deeper relationship why did human males in Christendom fall so short in describing their male-female relationships?

What, ultimately, is the result of excluding, minimizing, or ignoring those “other”  images of God?  There is the suggestion that we have moved into that sphere of human pride where we define God as ourselves.  It reflects the weaknesses and limitations of ourselves, and our social units, as part of God and infers values based on gender where no privilege of gender exists.

When the imagery we adopt for God is solely reflective of one gender, the gender assumes the role of defining God.  It becomes an example of that tendency to control through definition or limitation to one particular way of understanding.

As an example, if I describe the perfect garden and I feel strongly as to the superiority of roses, I will  ignore the mums, tulips, daisies or other blooms.  They do not fit my notions (preconceptions) and biases.  I believe this is the process used by too many scholars over time.  Their biases about the value or role of people will influence their understanding and the subsequent definitions created.

Definitions set limits, create boundaries, and establish or finalize comprehension.  Definitions are turned into accepted standards that then preclude other views or ways of thinking.  When we define who and what God is, we are limiting understanding of God to that single definition.  It fossilizes meaning into an unwieldy construct. Yet, we do not, we cannot, begin to truly grasp the magnitude or nature of God.  We see but glimpses, through a waving darkened glass, and without meaning most of the time. Thus, the simple and ordinary metaphors employed by scripture (often from the very mouth of the Lord).  In Job, God asks “shall he contendeth with the Almighty, instruct him?” (Job 40:2) and demanded, “who is it that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).  This coming after a series of very wise, educated, spiritual people advised the luckless Job.  Here, God vividly points out how unqualified humans are to know the extent of God. From this, comes the clear message that human understanding falls short of total comprehension and is unable to ‘define’ God.

The diversity of images used BY GOD to explain his nature is ignored to support our particular – and limiting – grasp.   Our inferior grasp of those images – and their significance – defines the meaning, the form, and values influencing the very structure of the life of faith.   Over the centuries, there have always been those who recognized this truth of the incomprehensibleness of God.  They could echo the words of Thomas Aquinas that “since our mind is not proportionate to the divine substance, that which is the substance of God remains beyond our intellect and so is unknown to us.”  

 It is time to revisit the totality of the profile of God given in scripture and discover the immensity of the Creator of the universe.  To submit pride and privilege based on gender to the God who is beyond our ken. To strip away the debris of centuries and find the God who is bigger than we think.

Sources (In process):
Thomas Aquinas.  De Potenia. Westminister, MD: Newman Press, 1952.
Robert K. Barnhart. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. New York, Harper, 1995.
Elizabeth A. Johnson. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroads, 1993.
O.T. Hebrew-English Translation, based on the Massoretic Text and the King James Bible    at
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology,  edited by Thomas P. Flint, Michael Rea
Plato. “Allegory of the Cave”, The Republic, Translation and commentary by Desmond Lee.  New York: Penguin Books. 1974.
New Living Testament. Nashville:Tyndale House, 2008.
Karl Rahner: Theologian for the Twenty-first Century  edited by Pádraic Conway, Fáinche Rya

One Flesh

Russian stacking dolls
ONE FLESH. A mystery hidden within a mystery that has been under explored and under appreciated as a revelation about the nature of relationship between humanity and God, Christ and His Church, and between husbands and wives.

In the beginning, God was in essence ONE FLESH, the God of Creator-Redeemer-Comforter called variously the Trinity or the Godhead or the PARENT-CHILD. This ONE FLESH GOD said "let us make humans in our image : male and female...." They were created and then immediately the Bible says "for this reason."...a man shall leave his family and cling to his woman...a woman will move from the allegiance of her birth family to this new unit....they shall be "ONE FLESH". The one flesh was the standard - the concept of the reuniting of separates that were unique in and of themselves but whose completeness was best realized in a reunion of the halves to make a new whole.

In the New Testament, Jesus reaffirms the importance of this marital relationship by repeating that they shall be "ONE FLESH". Why? Because that ideal, that concept, was fundamental to His own relationship to "GOD" and the relationship he wanted to have with his "BRIDE" - the followers who would become the Church.

Paul indicates this with his own repeated imagery of the "Body" with its parts all working in coordinated harmony. He indicates it with his discussion of husbands and wives. He indicates this with his imagery of the 'ev Christos' of Galatians 3.27-29. There he paints the picture of moving from one sphere of existence into a new, totally different sphere. In that new spehere is where the believer merges, integrates, blends, disappears into, becoming the new creation of Jesus Christ. All a consistent imagery reflecting that same ONE FLESH revealed since the creation account.

-- [from Those Pesky Verses of Paul by Marilyn A. Hudson, used by permission]

The Russian stacking dolls are an excellent imagry of the process of becoming one flesh -- everything becomes one.  This process of reuniting that which was divided is crucial to understanding the manner in which God wants to interact with humanity.  How do we reconcile, however, a superior and inferior role in a merged new entity?  How can one half of the one flesh than seek to control or negate the other half?  Hard questions but ones which demand our exploration and thought.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is Our Translation Bias Showing?

I was leading a discussion the other day on Biblical research and the topic of personal bias came up. If I hold
a position or have only been taught a certain way, won't I translate or read meanings from that biased perspective? Do I need to guard against interpreting scripture from by perspective instead of from the meaning of the text?

Since this dovetailed with previous work in my book, Those Pesky Verses of Paul,  I turned the discussion to 1 Cor. 11.16f as an illustration of just that tendency in action. After the statements of Paul on the issue of headcoverings, praying and who was created first, he finally concludes the issue by saying that if anyone has any problems and wishes to contradict him, well the simple truth is the churches have no other view than the one given. 

Is that, however, true? The text presents several views and deciding which view Paul meant or is referring to, can be as clear as mud. Some things are clear: Paul was responding to complaints, he frequently quotes what factions are saying, and then gives his pronouncement as the guiding religious leader. 

The truth is that in that particular section of text the Greek word utilized is the guide. The word is toioutos and it is best translated as 'no such' and the passage best reads the churches have no such rule or view.  Arguments that Paul is referring to being contentious seems a stretch off topic in the context and a tad bit obvious for Paul to conclude a discussion on a volitile topic with a simplistic caution against disagreeing.

Many, many Bibles and commentaries, however, will translate it in violation of the meaning of the word as 'no other'. The notes in the NIV Study Bible infers the two terms are synonomous, The Interpreter' One Volume Commentary  of the Bible infers the same, Mounce's Interlinear for the Rest of Us (2006) translate's it as 'other' as do works like Green's Interlinear Greek New Testament (1988), and Berry's Interliner Greek-English New Testament (1969) and the EVS Reverse Interlinear New Testament (2006). The implication is clear and their bias evident. 

There is a big difference in one small word.... 

The churches have no other view....this is the rule, the standard, the law 


The churches have no such view....there is room for diversity and liberty 

One word can mean a lot.

--Marilyn A. Hudson, author of Those Pesky Verses of Paul