Sunday Morning Greek Blog

December 21, 2022

SMGB Indices

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 7:26 am

NOTE: Scroll down past the indices to see the latest articles.

Because the popularity of Sunday Morning Greek Blog has tripled in the last three years, I’m building an index and pinning it to the top of the page. I will add to it from time to time to fill it out a little more. I hope this helps visitors to the blog navigate the over 125 posts and pages I have available on the site. Don’t forget that you can use the search feature for the site as well. If you’re looking for a specific Scripture reference, I usually type out the whole Bible book name in the title.

Top 10 All-Time (as of 12/11/22)

(related articles are bulleted underneath the main post)

  1. “Seer” in Old Testament: A Hebrew Word Study
  2. Take Heart! (θαρσέω tharseō, Matthew 9:2, 22)
  3. Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41 (NIV & TNIV)
  4. “Falling Away” (παραπίπτω parapiptō) in Hebrews 6:6
  5. Called to Suffer? A Quick Word Study of πάσχω in Greek
  6. Speaking in Tongues (γλῶσσα glōssa, 1 Corinthians 12–14)
  7. The Nature of “the Fellowship” (κοινωνία koinōnia) in Acts 2:42
  8. Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?
  9. “I Am” Statement of Yahweh (Exodus 3–6, esp. Exodus 3:14)
  10. When Iron Sharpens Iron, Sparks Fly (Proverbs 27:17)

Gospel of John

Baptism and Forgiveness


Intersection With Cultural Issues

More to come

May 17, 2023

Life in the Spirit (John 14:15–21)

Message preached on Sixth Sunday of Easter 2023 (May 14) at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. I added some technical details about the text for the blog article that I did not cover in my sermon.

Acts 17 is perhaps the most significant event we have recorded from the life of Paul in terms of his ministry. No, that chapter doesn’t recount any of his appearances before Roman rulers in defense of his faith and ministry. Rather, Paul attends a meeting of philosophers at a place called the Areopagus in Athens. It is safe to say that the Areopagus represented the “melting pot,” as it were, of worldviews and ideas on the meaning of life and purpose of humankind. Two of the more prominent philosophies mentioned in Acts 17 are Epicureanism, which originally focused on pursuing happiness, and Stoicism, which originally focused on living according to nature and suppressing one’s desires. Now I say “originally,” because by Paul’s time, Epicureanism had become more focused on sensuality than happiness, and Stoicism had just made its adherents prideful.

But we also learn from Acts 17 that most of the Roman gods and goddesses, or at least the Roman versions of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, were still quite popular still in the day, so much so that Paul comments on and is distressed by the number of idols and other symbols of pagan worship that fill the city. Apparently, the Athenians were even afraid of leaving out a forgotten deity, so they had a statue with the inscription: “to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23).

Paul would use that statue as an object lesson to introduce these philosophers to a God they knew virtually nothing about: the God of the Jews, Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, the One True God. Paul spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, a truly foreign concept to them. He spoke of the Creator God who “does not live in temples built by human hands.” Paul’s message certainly stirred the philosophical pot of thought in Athens, as a several who’d heard him at that meeting wanted more information from him, and an even smaller group actually started following Paul.

In our gospel passage today, Jesus stirs the pot in his own way by talking about someone called “The Advocate.” Sounds like a John Grisham or James Patterson title, right? Jesus introduces his disciples to a familiar concept with an unfamiliar application: the concept of the Holy Spirit guiding each of us, not just the prophets. Let’s take a closer look at the passage, beginning in John 14:15.

Our reading printed in the bulletin is from the New Revised Standard Version. Depending on which version you read, you may see a few different English words in your translation, so I want to help clear that up a bit. These differences by themselves don’t mean that any one version is better than another. Translation committees often will have a certain audience in mind or a certain writing style or worldview that governs the words they choose, especially to translate complex concepts from the source language into English.

Verse 15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It seems that the last part of the sentence naturally follows from the first part. “If you love your kids, you’ll give them attention.” “If you love your mom, you’ll buy her flowers occasionally.” You get the idea, right? But if you were to read it in New International or King James Version, it sounds more like a command: “If you love me, keep my commands.” I won’t bore you with the technical details of why there is such a difference, but the end result is the same in Jesus’s mind: he wants us to obey his commandments. I do prefer the NRSV translation in our bulletin, because it’s closer to what the original language says, and it sounds less authoritarian.

[For my blog readers, I will give you some of the technical details here. First, verse 15 is a third-class conditional sentence. That means, according to Daniel Wallace in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (GGBB)[1], that often, “the condition [is] uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely” (emphasis in original). The third-class condition can take any mood-tense combination in the apodosis (the last part of an “if-then” or conditional statement), and therein lies the second technicality. There are three variant spellings of the verb in the phrase in question. The chosen reading is the future tense form of τηρέω (tēreō, “I keep”), τηρήσετε (“you will keep”), being found in its most prominent witness B. The Aleph (א) witness has τηρήσητε aorist subjunctive (“you would keep my commands”). The witnesses A and D have τηρήσατε imperative (“keep my commands”). Notice, for all three variants, there is a difference in spelling of one vowel, which could have easily been confused in a scriptorium where the copy was read aloud for scribes to transcribe. Metzger says the editorial committee for the UBS text felt the future tense reading best fit the context.[2]]

Verse 16 is where you really start seeing the different ways the description of the Holy Spirit is translated. In our text today, Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [capital A], to be with you forever.” The current version of the NIV, which was updated in 2011, has “another advocate [lower case A] to help you and be with you.” So the NIV uses a phrase to translate the word to uncover a bit of the meaning behind what the role of the advocate is. Notice that the NIV doesn’t interpret it as a title like our current text in this verse, but later in the chapter, they do treat it as a title. Some other translations of this word you might see are “Comforter” (KJV); “Counselor” (older version of the NIV); or “Helper” (ESV, NASB).

If you’ve been in the church for a while, you’ve probably heard the Greek term that is behind these English translations: paraclete. The word is not used in the Greek version of the Old Testament, so we can’t make a connection to the “Wonderful Counselor” in Isaiah 9. In ancient Greece, it carried the idea of a helper or assistant in a court of law. John is the only NT writer who uses the word. He uses it of Jesus in 1 John 2:1–2 to speak of Jesus’s role in advocating for us before the Father: “If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[3]

But the Holy Spirit’s role as the Advocate in our lives is different than that of Jesus’s role before the Father. It opens the door to a new concept: that God’s Holy Spirit would soon be available to all his disciples, and indeed to all believers, once Jesus ascended to Heaven, not just to a select few as in the Old Testament. We see that in the promise of the prophet Joel that Peter cites in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit’s role really does seem to be best described by the word Advocate. The NIV I think does the best job of explaining the role when the translators added “to help you” as a gloss to “advocate.” The Holy Spirit’s role is twofold: First, he is the living representative of Christ and God in us. Verse 17 says “You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” In verse 18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans.” The Holy Spirit’s presence will be a constant reminder that God loves us, just as he loves his one and only son. And it’s because of that love, as John indicates in vs. 15 above and reemphasizes in vs. 21. John also closes out this short section by saying Jesus will show himself to his disciples through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Beyond our passage, we see in 14:26 that our Advocate comes in the name of Jesus “will teach us all things and will remind us of everything [Jesus] said to us.” In saying this, Jesus also says he’ll leave us with peace and assurance that he will come and ultimately rescue us from the evil one himself.

The Holy Spirit’s first role, then, is ultimately to help us mature in our faith. As we spoke about a couple weeks ago when we looked at the “I am the door” passage, Jesus’s sheep know his voice. The Holy Spirit IS the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd, in our lives. The more we love God and Jesus, the more we will come to recognize the Holy Spirit’s voice speaking into our lives.

The second role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about Jesus through us, John 15:26–27. As we begin and continue to grow in our understanding of what life in the Holy Spirit means, we begin to recognize when the Holy Spirit is prompting us to act and to testify about who Jesus is. People will challenge us, and indeed are challenging us today, about our faith in God. According to Jesus in John 16, these challenges to our faith are not new and should not surprise us when they happen. Jesus reminds his disciples in John 16:7–11:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.[4]

John goes on to say that when persecution starts to come our way, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will guide us into all truth. We won’t have to worry about what we’ll say, because the Holy Spirit will be directing us straight from the heavenly throne.

How does this look in real life? I want to close by giving an example from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Five times in that letter, Paul emphasizes that believers on earth have a connection to “the heavenly realms.” In 1:3, Paul says we, that is, the corporate body of Christ, together, have been “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” This comes from the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. I want to emphasize that this a corporate gift, that is, no one person has every spiritual blessing, but as a body of believers, in the aggregate, we have on earth everything God wants us to have to carry out the ministries he’s called us to.

We learn toward the end of chapter 1 that the heavenly realms are where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and all things have been placed under the rule and authority of Christ for benefit of the body of Christ. A few verses later, in 2:6, we find out that when Christ calls us and saves us, we too already have the blessing of being raised up and seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms.” It is from that vantage point, our souls connected to heaven, and our feet touching the ground, that we can “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In chapter 3 vs. 10, Paul reveals that God’s intent was that as the corporate body of Christ, the church, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Without getting too involved in the concept of spiritual warfare, this speaks to our role of testifying about Jesus to the world as we saw in John 14–16 above. That is our purpose: to speak forth the word of God in both action and deed. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul affirms who we are in Christ and what our exalted position is before him. In the last three chapters of Ephesians, he gives several examples of what it means to live in the heavenly realms, culminating with chapter 6 about putting on the armor of God, where we find his final reference to the heavenly realms:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”[5]

Paul goes on to describe the armor of God, for that is what it truly is. If you were to look up the references to each of the pieces of armor mentioned in the Old Testament, you would find that every one is mentioned in the context of God wearing it or wielding it. That armor isn’t a cheap imitation or a mass-produced copy. It’s the protection and strength of God himself. That’s what Jesus was affirming for us by speaking of our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, coming to dwell within us to teach us, empower us, and embolden us to speak his word.

It seems like the days of evil are fast encroaching on us. Don’t get left behind. Believe in Jesus if you don’t already. Commit yourself to loving him and receive the strength and power of the Advocate for our souls, the Holy Spirit. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!

[1] Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (Logos version).

[2] Metzger, Bruce M. 1971/1975 (corrected). A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart: United Bible Societies.

[3] 1 John 2:1–2. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] John 16:7–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Ephesians 6:10–14a. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 12, 2023

Strength from Forgiveness (Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12–17)

Click above to listen to message.

Sermon preached at Mt. View Presbyterian Church, September 11, 2022. Edited for publication.

There is no price we can pay or effort we can make to compel God to give us mercy or grace.

I think most of us are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba. One evening (we don’t know how late, but the text says David had gotten out bed), David was out on the roof of his palace looking over the city when he saw at a nearby neighbor’s house the beautiful Bathsheba bathing (2 Sam 11:2–5). In that moment, David forgot he was otherwise known as a man after God’s own heart. The key word there is “forgot.” David should have known better. Bathsheba was not some exhibitionist bathing for all of Jerusalem to see. She had in that culture that valued purity and faithfulness a reasonable expectation of privacy. Most likely there were civic codes that prevented you from building your home in such a way as to risk violating your neighbor’s privacy. For example, in some Mediterranean cultures, they had rules that you couldn’t have a window in your house that allowed you to see directly into your neighbor’s house or back yard, especially if such a window was on the second floor. The palace may have been large enough to be exempted from such rules, but the principle existed nonetheless.

Add to this that shame of nakedness in that day would not have been on the one who was naked outside, especially if she had a right to privacy, but the shame would have been on the one who looked upon the nakedness. That is why Noah’s sons had to back into the tent to cover their naked, drunk father after the flood. David should have known immediately to avert his gaze and go somewhere else where such a view was not possible. It may be that David was on the roof of his palace, perhaps trying to get a view of the distant battle or the campfires of the troops or just to take in the cooler air. It would not have been a normal place for him to hang out. David had several opportunities to do the right thing in this situation, but the more he looked, the more he wanted Bathsheba. He could have done nothing at that point except walk away, but he didn’t. Instead, he sent someone to bring Bathsheba to him. He lay with her and got her pregnant.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, he tried to manipulate the situation by first giving Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, a break from the battle in the hopes he would lay with Bathsheba and some might not question the paternity of the baby. But Uriah showed more integrity than David, so David sent him back to the battle with instructions to his commander, Joab, to manipulate the battle in such a way that Uriah would surely perish, and he did.

Of course, we know that David’s sin was exposed by the prophet Nathan, and we see David’s repentant, godly response in Psalm 51.

Read Psalm 51:1–10

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. [1]

So David is busted. Found out. Exposed. It was pointless for him to deny it. And he didn’t live in a culture where such behavior, especially in the political class, would be ignored and swept under the rug. He had to face his maker. And he chose the best path, the only path, really, to put him on the road to restoration. God was giving his anointed a chance to come clean through the prophet Nathan’s intervention, and David accepted. He pleaded with God for mercy and owned up to his mistake.

This word for “mercy” here, (חָנַן ḥā·nǎn), is almost always used in the context of someone speaking, more so than in a running narrative that tells a story. The New International Version tends to translate it based on the perspective of the speaker. In the current passage, and for about one-third of the total occurrences of the word in the OT, if the speaker knows they’ve done wrong and they ask for ḥānǎn, the translators use the word “mercy.” On the other hand, if the speaker has acted justly and feels threatened by the enemy, or is referencing the goodness of God generally, the translators usually use “gracious” or “generous” for the word. That sense of the word represents about half the total occurrences of the word. These two primary meanings represent a modern distinction that some have made between “mercy” and “grace.” “Mercy” is not getting what you deserve, while “grace” is getting what you don’t deserve or didn’t earn. In both cases, it is a gift of God. And in both cases, there is no price we can pay or effort we can make to compel God to give us mercy or grace. We can ask for it, we can search for it, but the “price” for such a gift can only be paid by God, which he ultimately did through Jesus on the cross.

This is where the other key word in Psalm 51:1 comes in, a Hebrew word you’ve most likely heard before if you been in church or Bible studies for any length of time: חֶסֶד (ḥě·sěḏ), God’s “unfailing love.” Of the 245 times this word is used in the OT, well over three-fourths of the occurrences refer to God’s enduring, unfailing love and kindness. And nearly half of the uses of the word are found in the Psalms, including in the praise Psalm 136, where “His love (ḥěsěḏ) endures forever” is a repeated refrain at the end of each of its 26 verses.

As one Bible dictionary puts it, ḥěsěḏ is not a “disposition,” that is, it’s not just a feeling or a certain way of thinking. It is in the end a helpful act of God rooted in his covenant relationship to us, or when applied to us mortals, our helpful acts of love toward family and friends. It is an overflow of his righteousness, mercy, and shalom peace. As a covenant responsibility, David expects to and has a certain level of assurance that he will be forgiven. This is the same assurance we have when we come to Jesus: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As I said above, there’s nothing we can do to earn this, but we can and should respond to it with a ḥěsěḏ of our own. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Not only is this ḥěsěḏ toward God, but toward our family and friends as well.

In vv. 5–6, David gives us a contrast between the way we are and the way God wants us to be. I want to use the English Standard Version translation of these two verses here because I think they’re a little less interpretive of the Hebrew text, and come much closer to what David was trying to convey:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.[2]

On the one hand, David realizes he is a sinner in need of God’s grace. But on the other hand, David knows that only God can transform his inner being into the godly character he desires. God knew David was a sinner in need of his grace, and that David might fall short of the ḥěsěḏ standard miserably at times, but he still chooses him anyway to lead his people. Verse 5 is similar to Paul’s essay in Romans 7 about doing what he doesn’t want to do and recognizing that sin still may try to get a stranglehold on him. But by sending the prophet to David, God is giving David a chance to come clean, to repent, and he does. God doesn’t ostracize or “cancel” his anointed because of one or two or five or ten mistakes. God’s ḥěsěḏ requires our willingness to be taught and to seek his truth to transform our inner being. God is forever the God of the next chance. God’s gift and his calling on our lives are without repentance, “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). So no matter how many times you think you’ve failed or fallen short, know that he has called you for a purpose, and that he is guiding you and strengthening you in his ḥěsěḏ love to bring about his will.

Verses 10–12 give us a glimpse of how we get God’s truth in our inward being and his wisdom in our “secret” heart. After forgiving us and cleansing us, David recognizes that he must immerse himself in the presence of God to experience the restoration and renewal that awaits him. This is not a passive process: David goes on in the psalm to commit himself to teaching others about God’s ways and singing the praises of God aloud.

Verse 12, then, ties into our Gospel reading this morning from Luke 15: Both the shepherd and the woman have lost something of value. In the case of the shepherd, he leaves behind everything of value he does have, that is, the flock, to find the one sheep that is missing. This is what God does for us to bring us back to him.

In the case of the woman, she must clean her whole household to find the missing coin. David asked God to “cleanse” him with hyssop and remove from him all that would keep him from experiencing God to the fullest. Notice that he didn’t pledge to clean up his own life. God doesn’t need to wait for us to do that on our own. He meets us where we are and works with us from that point forward to bring restoration.

For both the shepherd and woman, there is rejoicing for finding what was lost and restoring it to its rightful place. Jesus draws the parallels there with both stories to the heavens rejoicing when one sinner repents. When we know God is with us, we can feel assured of our salvation, our calling, and the power of his ḥěsěḏ love.

Before I wrap up this morning, I want to bring in a passage that shows how this transformation from sin to victory worked itself out in Paul’s life. Let’s look at 1 Timothy 1:12–17:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.[3]

We only need to look at verse 13 to see how far Paul was from the Christian faith. First of all, he calls himself a blasphemer, which by itself would have been enough to get him stoned to death in Israel. But in context here, he’s probably referring to his initial denial of Christ as Lord and his approval of the stoning of Stephen, because the Jews thought Stephen had blasphemed in his final, fatal message. Paul was a persecutor. He thought this new Jesus movement was so dangerous to traditional Judaism that the followers had to be jailed or snuffed out, violently if necessary. He even admits to acting ignorantly and in unbelief, and that he was the worst of all sinners.

Yet with all that, God still chose to use Paul to be the main messenger of the faith in the northern Mediterranean region. He humbly gives thanks and praise for all that God has done for him and is doing through him. His life would be the ultimate testimony of the transforming power of God’s grace and salvation.

I want to focus for a moment here on verse 12, because I believe that parallels what David’s desire was in his psalm of repentance: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength.” I guess you could say Paul was “fortunate” enough to have a direct revelation from Jesus to set his life in the right direction. Granted, that was probably a pretty scary situation for him, as it would be for any of us, I imagine. But the attempt to turn a violent and desperate man from his ways required corresponding radical action of God to set him straight. That seems to have been enough, at least initially, to have “strengthened” Paul, because we see very soon after his conversion in Acts 9:22 that Luke tells us, “Saul (Paul) grew more and more powerful (or strengthened) and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” He relates his own story here so that in 2 Timothy 2:1, he can also encourage Timothy to be strong in God’s grace as well. Having the examples of men and women of faith, both in the Bible and in our own lives, will help us stay grounded in the faith and give us strength and endurance for our Christian walk. The author of Hebrews said it well:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[4]

My friends, do not lose heart. Every day, lift up the Lord Jesus in your life through word and deed, and give God the praise and glory he deserves.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.[5]

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 6, 2023

Of Sheep, the Shepherd, and His Open Door (John 10:1–10)

My message from three weeks after Easter, 4/30/23. I’ll add the audio file later.

Nehemiah was a central figure in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Exile. Around the year 444 BC, he had approached King Artaxerxes about returning to Jerusalem to see the city walls restored. Some families had been there for almost 70 years already, beginning to return in earnest after the new temple was completed, but they had no protection from enemies around them because of the decimated walls. Most of us, I think, are somewhat familiar with the big picture of the story of rebuilding the wall. The task was divided up among several different groups, with each group taking responsibility for a section of the wall that contained a particular gate—10 gates are mentioned as Nehemiah details the assignments.

One thing of note in this story, especially as it relates to our passage today, is that the Sheep Gate was the first section of the wall to be assigned. It was on the northeast corner of the Temple mount near the recently rebuilt Temple and adjacent to the Pool of Bethesda, and it was most likely the gate the sheep would come through when brought in for the sacrifices. This particular gate was so significant and so important that Nehemiah assigned the high priest and his fellow priests to be in charge of that section. This would be the cornerstone, as it were, for the rest of the wall. That the high priest was involved let everyone know in Jerusalem that this project was serious business. They would establish the standard and the work ethic for getting this project done in 52 days.

John doesn’t give a lot of details about where Jesus is at when he speaks the message of the sheep and the good shepherd in John 10. I can imagine, however, if he was in Jerusalem, he was probably pretty close to the Sheep Gate. Five chapters earlier, Jesus had healed an invalid of his 38-year disability at the nearby Pool of Bethesda. One might say Jesus had already rescued one of his sheep in that instance, just like the parable of the lost sheep from Luke 15.

This location was special not only to Jesus, then, but also to his followers and to those who had witnessed that miracle. Historically, there has been and continues to be an occasional sheep market near that gate, so it’s special to the shepherds as well. It’s entirely possible that Jesus had this as his backdrop while teaching his disciples.

Now the word used for “gate” here is the typical word that would have been used for the door of a house, or more figuratively, a “door” of opportunity. The Greeks had a unique word for gate that typically implied either the entrance into an outdoor enclosed area that didn’t have a frame save for the fence on either side, or a city gate, which may have been reinforced to withstand attacks. In the context of shepherding, a “door” for the sheep may have referred to a corral that had some sort of sheltered area the sheep entered through and could stay under in bad weather.

Regardless, the purpose of the door or gate was to keep the predators out. Verse 1 makes that plain: “Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber.” In verse 8, Jesus tells his listeners that “all who have come before me are thieves and robbers,” and he finishes off this section by warning them of their purpose: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

That sounds pretty scary, right? But in this story, we also get a glimpse of the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd that has helped the sheep develop a sense of when danger is near so they know when to flee. In verse 8, Jesus says the sheep won’t even listen to the thieves and robbers, and in fact, as verse 5 says, they will run away from the thieves and robbers because they don’t recognize the stranger’s voice.

But they do recognize the shepherd’s voice, and they will follow the shepherd. If they’re out in the field grazing, they know when it’s time to come in. If they get lost, they can listen for the shepherd’s call and follow their voice to get home safely.

I think the parallels here for our own lives are obvious to most people, but they always bear repeating. How do you recognize the Shepherd’s voice? How many times have we caught ourselves saying something like, “I just wish God would tell me what to do!” If you’ve spent enough time reading and studying Scripture, praying to God, and hiding his word in your heart, you probably already have the ability to discern God’s voice. You may not hear an audible voice, but sometimes the Holy Spirit’s promptings are so powerful, you cannot help but pay attention and act accordingly. We’ll talk about that some more in a couple weeks.

Another way to hear God’s voice is to read the Bible out loud for yourself. This same John who wrote this gospel says in the introduction to the book of Revelation, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near[1]” Did you know that reading out loud takes longer than reading without speaking? When I’m reviewing my sermon to put the finishing touches on it, I can read through it on paper in about 5 minutes just in my head. But when I read it out loud, it forces me to consider how my words sound as they come out of my mouth. What seems perfectly normal to me on paper may have a slightly different nuance when I read it out loud.

When we read silently, we typically read in monotone in our minds. When we read out loud, especially if we’re familiar with the passage, we begin to understand where the author may have intended to inflect their voice one way or the other. When we speak, we tend to emphasize certain words by raising our voice, or maybe drop it to a whisper if we want to add some more drama to it. We raise our voice at the end of a question, right? When we’re getting to our conclusion, we tend to slow down a bit to make sure every word is clearly understood. I do love it that we read whole passages out loud here every Sunday. I think that’s important for any church to do that. And those of you do read up here on Sundays do a great job of putting expression and emotion into the passages you’re reading. That brings God’s word alive and gives all of us a chance to learn it and take it to heart even more fully.

Finally, hearing God’s word read or seeing it portrayed in a movie or television show adds extra depth to God’s word, because you can see an interpretation of the historical and cultural setting in which it’s spoken. A few weeks ago, when I spoke on the woman at the well, instead of reading that long passage from John chapter 4, a passage filled with drama, emotion, and suspense, I thought it much better to show you the clip from The Chosen series about that passage. I think I’m a pretty good reader, but my speaking skills just were not up to the task of trying to portray a frustrated, heart-broken, oppressed woman who’s had five husbands. I just can’t do that role justice! Watching a series like The Chosen, or any of the movies depicting the biblical stories like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, can help bring the biblical story to life for us and give us a new and deeper understanding of God’s word. They help us hear God’s voice in a different way.

Another way we can hear his voice is by fellowshipping with one another. Since we’re called to be part of the body of Christ, fellowshipping with one another allows us to share our experiences with each other and learn from each other how God has worked in and spoken in their lives. We are not alone, and I don’t mean there are aliens out there. We have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us to give us their historical perspective through their lives, their written or recorded word, and the fruit of their ministry.

If you’re more of a politically or civically minded person, you might be hearing God’s voice if you find you have a passion for some social justice cause on any side of the issue. It’s not my job to tell you which side to take, of course. This is America, after all, and we’re all free to not only express our opinions and beliefs, but to defend and try to persuade others of our beliefs, in love of course. God’s kingdom has a diverse population, and we can’t always expect that everyone will be on the same page of every issue all the time. But let’s not resort to extremes like “cancelling” or ostracism either just because we disagree with a brother or sister in Christ. Let us speak the truth in love to each other. Even if we don’t agree with one another on something, having a robust discussion on issues of the day helps us to understand one another and develops a certain sense of empathy, even if in the end neither side budges. It helps us to see how God may be moving in others’ lives.

There’s one other aspect of this passage that is worth noting, and this really cuts to the core of what Jesus’s statement “I am the gate” is all about. Look at verse 9 again: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” First notice that Jesus says he is THE gate. He’s not just any old gate, and he’s not one of many gates; he’s the only gate. And what does that gate lead to? The salvation of our souls. It’s interesting, I think, that there is only one other time in John’s gospel where Jesus uses the phrase “through me.” It comes in the sixth “I am” statement of Jesus in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the only way to get to our eternal reward. But what does it mean to go “through” Jesus? It means we become part of the body of the Christ and maintain that connection by being faithful to him. We immerse ourselves in God’s word and surround ourselves with other faithful followers so we have a strong support network. But notice the other part of vs. 9: “The will come in and go out, and find pasture.” Jesus is not saying here that we move in and out of salvation. What he recognizes here is that, as Christ-followers, we can’t avoid being out in the world where wolves and thieves and robbers want to attack us. But we have a safe haven in Christ, where we can enter in and find rest from the struggles of life. Knowing we have that safe haven helps us endure in the “pasture.” In vs. 11, Jesus says he’s the good shepherd. As the good (and perfect) shepherd, he maintains the boundaries of his pen so that we can have that safe place to rest. But he also promises that he won’t abandon us when the wolves come after us in the pasture. He is watching over us, giving us a strong sense of security that he will never leave us nor forsake us. We have a wonderful shepherd, a great high priest who knows what it’s like to be us and can empathize with us in every way.

I suppose we can say that our church family is our “sheep pen.” I do hope that you all feel that sense of security and belonging being here on Sunday mornings and whenever else you gather to make quilts or carry out your other ministry activities. The church is the place where that should happen. I also hope you know that your church family can be a valuable source of support for you in times of trouble, darkness, and even despair. Even though this congregation is small in numbers right now, I have seen the impact of your ministry. I am one of the results of the ministry of this church from 50+ years ago. Many of you have been faithful to this ministry for even longer. I know the good shepherd looks down on this part of his flock and smiles, and I pray you will continue to lead others to gates of heaven, just as you have been doing. Amen.

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Assurance, Hope, and Power: The Disciples’ Resurrection Rebound (John 20:19–31)

Click the Play button below to hear the recording of the message.

My message from 4/16/23, the week after Easter, at Mt. View Presbyterian Church in Omaha.

I learned a fancy new ten-dollar word this week. “Denouement” (day new MA). If you’re into literature or are a member of book club, perhaps you already knew the term before today. It’s a French word that’s made its way into English that refers to what happens in a story after the climax or high point of the action has occurred. The meaning of denouement is “untying of the knot.” An English equivalent, at least in the context of literature, might be “resolution.” How does the story “resolve” or work itself out after the climax.

Why am I starting my message this morning with a vocabulary lesson? (Don’t worry, no quiz at the end!) Well, you may have already guessed where I’m going with this. The crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the climax of the Gospel story in the New Testament. Like the Gospels, the Christian liturgical calendar begins with the “prequel” of the Advent, the birth of Christ, beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving; passes through several “seasons” in which we see the nature and work of our servant-savior; and leads up to the crucifixion and resurrection.

We’ve now entered the “denouement” of the liturgical seasons, the time between the Resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday, and Pentecost, 50 days following. After that, aside from the first Sunday after Pentecost being “Trinity Sunday” and the last Sunday of the liturgical year being “Christ the King,” the rest of the liturgical calendar is officially “proper,” or the nth Sunday after Pentecost. That’s doesn’t sound near as exciting as all the stuff at the beginning of the liturgical year.

Of course, the Gospel is a compelling and engaging story regardless of the season, month, or day in our liturgical or regular calendars. It is made so, in part, by the way you and I live out our faith in the places we find ourselves in this world. As disciples of Christ, we have been charged with being light and salt in an increasingly dark and bland world. But it’s hard to do that if we’re not convinced and assured that the resurrection of Christ has secured that hope for us.

That is where we find ourselves in the early stages of this denouement: Jesus had appeared to the women who came to the tomb, and even to two unnamed disciples on the road to the Emmaus, but the 11 remaining apostles had not yet seen him and, according to the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, they didn’t believe either of those reports from earlier in the day. But on the evening of that same day Jesus was resurrected, Jesus literally drops in on them in the house where they were staying; the door was locked.

All the apostles (“the Twelve”) except Thomas (and of course Judas) were there for the first visit. It’s likely that others were there as well, but the text is silent on that detail. Jesus shows his disciples his pierced hands and side and even asks his disciples to put their fingers in the holes. The disciples are not only convinced, but the text says they are overjoyed as well. Something else happens here that I think gets overlooked in the Gospel story. Jesus essentially commissions the disciples—we don’t know if this meant only those of the Twelve who were present or everyone—by giving them the Holy Spirit in advance of the day of Pentecost. He also gives them authority to forgive sins or not forgive sins. Jesus was granting them a portion of divine authority here, collectively, so that he could have an official complement of representatives to prepare the world for the coming of the Holy Spirit to believers and birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.

This is important for a couple reasons. First, just as plant seedlings are often nurtured in the controlled environment of a greenhouse or a baby is born in sterile conditions in the hospital, so too did the church need a perfect or near-perfect spiritual environment to get started and to grow. I believe the authority Jesus gives them, again collectively, included the knowledge of the perfect, untainted Gospel on which Jesus wanted to found the church. Their proclamations were considered authoritative, and as a group, they could hold each other accountable for that perfect doctrine, instead of having all of the authority for the church rest in one person. Eight days later, Thomas would be added to that group when he finally got to see Jesus and had every doubt erased. He would be able to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” after seeing Jesus for himself.

On the other hand, having a group of leaders thus empowered and commission would also help with the stability of the local, usually house, churches that would begin to form after the day of Pentecost. With so many hearing the Gospel in their own language that day, it would be important that someone with that kind of authority could be sort of a regional overseer for the fledgling churches and communicate officially on behalf of the apostles whenever questions arose. We see some hints of that in the middle chapters of the book of Acts. I think it’s safe to say the apostles didn’t want 3,000 new converts going back to their respective homelands without some kind of help from those who had first-hand experience with Jesus and the apostles.

Getting back to Jesus’s first appearances to the disciples, they had assurance of what we read in our passage from Psalm 16 this morning. Here’s verses 9–11 from the New International Version:

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

11 You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.[1]

The apostles realized that Jesus was the “faithful one” who did not see decay, and by implication, those faithful ones who had died before had also been safe from that decay. Paul tells us in Ephesians that Christ, upon his resurrection, led an army of captives out of the “lower earthly regions” into the heavenly realms. Peter would use this passage from Psalm 16 in his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost because he had realized and experienced its truth for himself.

Peter would later write in one of his two letters about the living hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. He says this in the opening chapter of his first letter:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [2]

Thomas had the luxury of seeing Jesus on his second appearance to the group and finally believing he had risen, even though he refused to believe his closest friends after Jesus’s first appearance convinced them. You and I will probably not have that luxury of seeing Jesus while we dwell on earth, unless he comes again in the immediate future. We would fall, then, in the second category: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

As disciples of Christ, we have a wealth of resources available to us as we live and serve in God’s kingdom. We have a new birth, or as Jesus told Nicodemus, we’re “born again” of the Spirit. The old has gone; the new has come! The past no longer controls us. We have a living hope affirmed by the resurrection. The faithful in the Old Testament probably could not have even conceived of what the New Testament has revealed to us about eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. Our inheritance is permanent! No moth or rust can destroy it!

We’re shielded by God’s power (and his armor) through faith, and we have the hope of his second coming and the eternal salvation that will be ours to claim. We have this assurance even in the midst of the trials and griefs we suffer corporately and individually, for it is in standing firm through these trials that our faith is tested, purified, and proven true. Paul says in Ephesians that when we put on God’s armor, we can stand firm in the faith. We can know in part here on earth that joy we will fully know in heaven!

Even though Easter is the climax of our liturgical year, our denouement need not in any way diminish the joy and excitement of living for Christ in the hope of our resurrection and our salvation. Each and every day can be an adventure with Christ as we read his word, serve those who need an extra measure of his grace, and walk in faithful fellowship with one another. Those first few weeks after the resurrection, the believers had a lot of knots to untie to figure out their part in growing the early church. Of course, the Spirit was calling people, and that couldn’t be stopped. But they had to move quickly. For us today, we could use this season to think about how we do our own ministries. How can we use the excitement of celebrating Jesus’s resurrection to channel that energy into “untying the knots” that may be holding us back from doing more for God’s kingdom or for the local church or community? Are there others we could reach? Are there others we could invite? Are there others who need our help? Who could I talk to about my doubts and fears? These don’t have to be grandiose, but I do think the answers should be just big enough to require some faith in and reliance on God to get them done.

As we move through this season leading up to Pentecost, remember that Christ has given us assurance of his resurrection and our own, the hope of eternal life in an imperishable kingdom, and the power to minister in his name and encourage those who also need that assurance and hope. Peace to you! Amen.

[1] Psalm 16:9–11. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] 1 Peter 1:3–9. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 28, 2023

8 ÷ 2(2 + 2) = 1: Why PEMDAS Alone Is Not Enough

I recognize this is off-topic for my blog, but I love math. And I also discovered that Greek grammar has some features of math properties or laws, so it’s only mostly off-topic.


I know this is a Greek language blog, but math uses Greek characters sometimes, so there’s at least a tenuous connection. And all truth is God’s truth, even in Mathematics, for which God created the principles, properties, and laws. Being a former high school math teacher myself, I was disappointed at the lack of knowledge of fundamental laws and properties in math that led to many people thinking Expression 1 did not equal 1 in certain viral social media threads. In an effort to restore some truth to people’s mathematical knowledge, I present the following proof that the answer to Expression 1 is ALWAYS AND FOREVER 1.

Expression 1

8 ÷ 2(2 + 2)

Conventions vs. Laws

Many people in the social media chains trying to tackle this problem were claiming that following the order of operations they learned in and impressively remembered from grade school was the correct way to approach the problem:



Multiplication/Division LTR

Addition/Subtraction LTR

This order is commonly known in American math as PEMDAS and recalled by the sentence “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” I do not deny the importance of PEMDAS, but the reality of the problem is, any basic math problem like this can only have one correct answer. It’s not and never a matter of personal interpretation. Otherwise, the foundations of mathematics would crumble into oblivion, and not even Common Core could save us (not that it ever did anyone any good). This is math; it doesn’t care about and is never affected by your feelings about it.

PEMDAS is only a tool for organizing the operations in the problem, but by itself, it is not sufficient to solve the problem correctly. In fact, PEMDAS isn’t a mathematical law at all. It is merely an agreed-upon convention to work “linear” math problems. Math does have many laws or properties that come into play and must be considered in the PEMDAS process, and PEMDAS is subservient to these laws. Nothing about the correct solution I’m about to show you violates PEMDAS, provided you correctly interpret the forms of the individual expressions within the larger expression and how the various laws and principles apply.

If you think back to your primary school math lessons, you may have a vague memory of a set of laws[1] about the relationships of numbers in certain types of expressions. For example, the Associative Properties of addition and multiplication say that no matter how you group the numbers in their respective equations, the sum (addition) or product (multiplication) will always be the same. The Commutative Properties for these two operations are similar; the order of the order or arrangement of the elements in an expression does not affect the value of either expression. These Associative Properties are represented in Expressions 2 and 3, while the Commutative Properties are in 4 and 5:

Expression 2: Associative Property of Addition:

(a + b) + c = a + (b + c)

Expression 3: Associative Property of Multiplication:

(a * b) * c = a * (b * c)

Expression 4: Commutative Property of Addition

a + b = b + a

Expression 5: Commutative Property of Multiplication.

ab = ba

The expressions on either side of the equal sign in the respective equations above reveal another principle of math, that of identical expressions. They look different, but regardless of the values assigned to each variable, they will always be equal. This is also called an identity.[2]

The other important thing to know is that PEMDAS, unlike the Associative and Commutative Properties, is not a law! It is merely a convention for solving a problem that is subject to these laws. PEMDAS does NOT usurp these laws. This is where people are getting tripped up on solving Expression 1 or similar expressions for that matter. I will demonstrate how the correct application of these laws within the framework of PEMDAS will ALWAYS yield the answer of 1, NOT 16 or some other number.

Solving the Expression

One other law must be brought to the fore to solve this expression: the Distributive Property. This is slightly different from the other four laws, in that it involves both addition and multiplication, and it establishes a common equation form that must be worked the same way every time it is found within an equation. Wolfram Research is considered one of the premier math knowledge platforms in the world, so I will draw on their examples of the Distributive Property to make my point. If anyone wants to challenge me on my conclusions drawn from this source, you’ll have to do better than a cheesy homework help Web site. The Wolfram Web sites have two different ways of writing the Distributive formula. BOTH equations are identical expressions and should be solved the same way every time regardless of where they fall in an equation.

Expression 6: Distributive with intervening multiplication operator

a * (b + c) = ab + ac (and of course, if you’re using all real numbers, combine like terms).[3],[4]

Expression 7: Distributive without intervening multiplication operator

a(b + c) =ab + ac (and of course, if you’re using all real numbers, combine like terms).[5]

Whether the expression has the multiplication operator or not, you would treat both as an expression to be solved BEFORE leaving the P step in PEMDAS. The actions UPON the parenthetical result must be completed BEFORE leaving the P step.

For purposes of demonstration later on, we can also apply the Commutative Property of Multiplication to the Distributive property form. We have two “factors” (the a and the (b + c)), so we can rearrange them and still have the same result. In the case of the current form, if we put the a term to the left as written in Expression 7 above, this form of the expression is said to be left distributive (i.e., the a multiplies through from left to right). If the a term is to the right of the parentheses, then the form is called right distributive.[6] See Expression 8 below. The right distributive form of the expression is an identical expression to the left distributive form. I will use this to demonstrate that PEMDAS is not consistent if you don’t first solve the expression in distributive property form.

Expression 8

(b + c)a = ba + ca (and combine like terms if using all real numbers).

Are you with me so far? Maybe you see where I’m going with this? The expression to the right of the division sign must be processed as and simplified to an individual, inseparable term, because it is in the form of a Distributive Property expression. It has parentheses after all, so it must be dealt with before being divided into 8. So here’s the explanation of solving the equation as written:

Expression 9

(2 + 2)2 = 2(2 + 2) = (2 * 2 + 2 * 2) = (4 + 4) = (8)

This then leaves you with the final expression (Expression 10) to be solved:

Expression 10

8 ÷ (8) = 1


Why the Answer Is NEVER 16 or Any Other Number

I am going to offer several proofs or citations that demonstrate why PEMDAS is not sufficient by itself to solve this problem. The first citation comes from a 1935 textbook for advanced algebra. 7 Here is what the authors say:

“If the multiplication of two or more numbers is indicated, as in 4m or 5a2, without any symbol of multiplication, it is customary to think of the multiplication as already performed.

Thus 4m2 ÷ 2m = 4m2/2m, not (4m2/2)m.”

This equation (original to the authors’ text) has the same basic form of Expression 1, with the only difference being all real numbers are used in Expression 1. I’m guessing that all of you agree that the expression to the immediate right of the equal sign in the example above is the correct way to interpret the expression on the Left. And of course, the expression on the right simplifies down to simply 2m. The other form, which you get if you do strict PEMDAS without any other consideration, simplifies to 2m3. You all know the 2m is correct, right? That’s the way we all learned how to process variables with coefficients. So if m = 2, we should expect an answer of 4, not 16. 4(4) ÷ 2(2) = 16 ÷ 4 = 4. If you do it the strict PEMDAS only way, then you get 4(4)/2 * 2 = 16/2 * 2 = 16. Wrong answer, therefore the wrong method to solve.

Let’s make the expression in question look a little more like the example I just gave, and remember, that is from an advanced algebra book written by a couple math professors from Columbia U and the U of Southern California. For the expression in question, let m = (2 + 2) and substitute it into the expression, giving us Expression 11.

Expression 11

8 ÷ 2m

You Sixteeners should see right away the error of your PEMDAS-only ways. We don’t break the coefficient away from the variable, so we wouldn’t break it away from what we substitute into the variable. It works both ways. Just like the problem from the textbook, we can clearly see that the answer to “simplified” expression is not 4m, but 4/m. Since we let m = (2 + 2), 4/(2 + 2) = 4/4 = 1. QED.

If that historical example isn’t enough to convince you that PEMDAS alone isn’t correct, consider the following based on my discussion of right- and left-distributive above. As the original equation is written, I’ve already thoroughly demonstrated that the part of the main expression right of the division sign must be treated as an inseparable expression. But for the sake of argument, let’s consider the contention that PEMDAS alone applies without calling on the Distributive Property. As many Sixteeners have demonstrated, this works out to (8/2) * (2 + 2), or 16. However, if we substitute the right-distributive form of the expression in question for the left distributive form, we get Expression 12. Remember, whether right or left, the two expressions are considered equal, or identical.

Expression 12

8 ÷ (2 + 2)2

Expression 12 is, by definition, identical to Expression 1, so we should expect the same answer, right? However, if you apply the PEMDAS-only method on this form of the equation, you get (8/4) * 2, or 4. This PROVES that PEMDAS alone is not sufficient to solve the whole expression, because you get different answers for identical expressions! That is logically impossible in a first-order math equation with real numbers. NOTE: Because I demonstrated that the expressions are themselves equal or identical before solving them, you can’t turn around and say they’re not identical because they get different answers with PEMDAS-only. Distributive property is a law; PEMDAS is a convention. Law trumps convention.


A Quick Note About Your Calculators

Most basic calculators don’t typically recognize the Distributive Property from what I’ve seen. In fact, if you read the manuals of most scientific calculators, you’ll find them admitting that you may need to use parentheses to force it to act according to the laws of mathematics in some instances. So don’t trust your calculators. In fact, I’m willing to bet whoever submitted that problem in the first place most likely knew that about calculators and is rolling on the floor laughing their butts off that many were fooled by the calculator, thus resulting in the social media melee over the problem.

A Comparison to Greek

Since this is primarily a blog about interpreting the Greek New Testament (and occasionally the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament), I couldn’t help but notice that the Commutative and Distributive Properties apply to Greek adjectives and nouns. In Greek, if the definite article is with the adjective and the adjective modifies a noun, then it doesn’t matter which comes first. The phrases are still translated the same way (article+adjective+noun = noun+article+adjective). The same goes for the noun. If the article is with the noun, then the noun is the subject of the phrase and the adjective is the predicate: (article+noun+adjective = adjective+article+noun). The grammatical case, number, and gender of the noun (subject, object, possessive, etc.) distribute through the article and any adjectives associated with it. Who knew solving a math problem would lead me to discover that Greek grammar has some mathematical logic to it!

My opinions are my own, but my well-reasoned conclusions are indisputable!


Addendum (added 5/14/23)

PEMDAS is shortsighted. It ignores mathematical properties (that is, laws), which take precedence over order of operations like PEMDAS (an accepted convention, not a law or property). I would suggest the “P” in PEMDAS should not only stand for Properties first, but secondarily for Parentheses. Properties are to PEMDAS what the U.S. Code is to subregulatory guidance in legislative speak. Subregulatory guidance has no authority without the force of law behind it. PEMDAS has no power without the force of mathematical properties behind it.

If you use strictly PEMDAS without recognizing the Distributive Property, you wind up with the following, as the sixteeners are interpreting this:

8 ÷ 2(2+2)


8 ÷ 2(4)


8 ÷ 2 * 4

But let’s not stop there. This becomes, using the multiplicative inverse to change from division to multiplication:

(8 * 1/2) * 4

And applying the Associative property of multiplication, this becomes

8 * (1/2 * 4)

Substituting back in the original parenthetical expression

8 * (1/2 * (2+2))

Look at what happens to the last half of the equation: You’re now dividing (2+2) by 2 when the syntax of the original expression clearly indicates they should be multiplied together using the Distributive Property. The sixteeners have fundamentally changed the syntax of the original expression, which is a violation of the whole process of solving the equation. That’s why 16 is incorrect!

You can’t simply dismiss the Distributive Property here. A property is a law of math that essentially requires no proof. It is superior to and has precedence over PEMDAS, which is not a property at all and, to my knowledge, has never been proven to account for all things could be going on in an expression. That’s why Property should come before parentheses in PEMDAS.

Why You Can’t Trust Graphing Calculators

Look at how Wolfram Alpha handles the basic form of the expression in question as we gradually add information. All images grabbed from Wolfram Alpha on 5/14/23 around 10:30 pm CST). NOTE: I have an acknowledged request to Wolfram Alpha to investigate why the following is happening.

Now provide the values for x, a, b.

Substitute in 8 for x.

Add parentheses with the substitution; same result; solution is 1.

Then put in the 2+2 directly. Solution again is 1. Note that it’s NOT (8/a) * (2+2)

But when I directly enter a value for a, the logic changes.

And the expression as written behaves similarly.

So clearly PEMDAS by itself is not sufficient to process the problem, because you can see that even some of the best graphing calculators don’t process the basic form of the equation consistently. Arguments from your graphing calculator don’t cut it for me. Those are just AI. This is a real demonstration of faulty logic in certain formats. You can’t have two different answers to the same expression. The answer 1 is right; 16 is wrong.

Still Not Convinced? (Added weekend of 5/20/23)

What happens to the way you solve the problem if you change the 2 to a negative sign?

8 ÷ -(2 + 2)

Because the negative sign implies that what is inside the parentheses is multiplied by-1, would you PEMDAS-only proponents then have (8 ÷ -1) x (2 + 2) = -32? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Even the Sixteeners have to admit that the problem should be read as 8 ÷ -4 = -2, thus proving my point that what is outside a parenthetical expression (in this case, -1) and multiplied by implication must be solved first to fully deal with the parentheses.

Or how about if the problem is 6 ÷ 3!? The expression 3! represents an implied multiplication relationship, just as 2(2+2) is. So if it’s implied multiplication, is it then deconstructed to 3*2*1 or 1*2*3? Do you see the problem if you deconstruct it like that? Which order?!? According to the logic of the Sixteeners, it should be. But of course that’s silly. You wouldn’t break up the factorial, just as you shouldn’t break up the two factors of 2(2+2) and make one a divisor.

Making It Real

Here are a few examples of how applying PEMDAS-only to real-world formulas could potentially be disastrous. I posted the following examples on a Facebook post dedicated to one of the viral equations and got no end of criticism for proving PEMDAS wasn’t relevant to solving the problems, because the values now had units of measurement applied, which automatically groups the expressions without the need to resort to extra parentheses or brackets. (I cleaned this up a bit because of the limitations of responding on an iPhone that doesn’t have ready access to the obelus symbol that I’ve found.)

What is the context of the equation? Is it a velocity formula, where v= d/t with d = 36 miles and t = 6(2 + 2 + 2) hours = 36 hours? Then v = 1 mile/hour. Going 36 miles in 36 hours does NOT yield a velocity of 36 miles/hour!

Is it a density formula, where D = m/V with m = 36 kg and V = 6(2 + 2 + 2) cubic cm = 36 cubic cm? Then the answer is 1 kg/cubic cm. Who says the obelus doesn’t have grouping powers!

Johnny, Freddy, Rita, Ginger, Gary, and Nancy each have two apples, two oranges, and two bananas to share with their classmates. The class has 36 people including themselves and the teacher. How many pieces of fruit may each person have? 36 classmates ÷ 6(2 + 2 + 2) classmates*pieces of fruit/classmate) = 36 classmates / 36 pieces of fruit = 1 classmate for every 1 piece of fruit. It’s not 36 pieces of fruit for each classmate!

The resulting equations are PEMDAS-naive, proving that PEMDAS is not always necessary to solve these types of expressions.

[1] Reitz, H. L. & Crathorne, A. R. College Algebra, Third Ed. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1929, pp. 4–5.

[2] Ibid., p. 18

[3] If the parenthetical part of the expression has an exponent, you would follow PEMDAS process the exponent before distributing the a through the result (e.g., a(b + c)2 = a(b2 + 2bc + c2) à ab2 + 2abc + ac2.

[4] See the definition at Distributive — from the MathWorld Classroom ( (accessed 04/27/23), where Wolfram also indicates the concept is part of 5th grade math standards in California. The fact that it is a 5th grade standard may explain why the multiplication sign is used.

[5] See a more detailed description at distributive – Wolfram|Alpha ( (accessed 04/28/23). This more detailed description includes both expressions, with and without the multiplication sign.

[6] Op. Cit., Wolfram|Alpha.

[7] Hawkes, Herbert E., Luby, William A., and Touton, Frank C. Second-Year Algebra, Enlarged Edition. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1935, p. 19.

April 13, 2023

Some Thoughts on Inerrancy

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.[1]

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.[2]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.[3]

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”[4]

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[5]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.[6]

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.[7]

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.[8]

The other night, just before I was ready to turn in, a long-time acquaintance and friend, Terry, IM’d me and asked me about biblical inerrancy. I hadn’t really given that much thought since seminary because I’ve been pretty settled on the issue for some time, but I thought I’d put down a few of my thoughts that came to mind as he and I briefly chatted.

  1. I believe 2 Timothy 3 that God’s word is inspired, that is, God-breathed. However, I also believe he speaks it both directly and through his fallible servants in a fallen world. He did this through his prophets in an authoritative way, but I don’t doubt that they may have added “local color” to their prophecies.
  2. I believe Jesus commissioned his apostles (and perhaps a few of their successors) with an ex cathedra authority, tempered by mutual accountability, to establish the primitive structure of the early Christian communities, the core doctrines of the faith, and vital practices to share and spread that faith. I do not believe this ex cathedra authority survived past the first or second generation of believers.
  3. I believe the historical books of the OT, from Genesis through Kings and Chronicles, were collated from extant copies of original writings and official journals. Some of these texts have obvious signs of an editor long after the recorded events took place (e.g., 2 Chronicles 20:26).
  4. I believe the Hebrews had in place a diligent process to copy their texts to ensure their accuracy and fidelity from one generation of texts to the next.
  5. I believe the NT autographs (original letters and Gospels) were without error doctrinally and textually. However, since we can be relatively certain that none of these have survived the ravagees of time, this statement has qualified significance. As the letters were copied in scriptoriums, human error inevitably made its way into the successive copies.
  6. I believe the science of the study of textual transmission is more than sufficient in most cases to identify when and where these errors entered into the text and which of the variant readings are the most reliable. I do not believe any of the disputed variations affect any doctrine of Scripture, especially since most doctrines do not rely solely on any one single text. The eclectic Greek text is the best modern version to use, as it takes into account the opinions and research of several qualified scholars.
  7. I believe “the Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one”[9]; the differences we see among and within denominational traditions are reflections of the diversity of God’s kingdom. If we can appreciate the diversity in God’s creation, with hundreds of different varieties within each species, then why should we expect that the local manifestations of the church be copycats? I do not believe that such diversity, by itself, disqualifies the Scriptures in any way.
  8. I believe that anyone who can hear or read the Word of God translated into their own language, regardless of version, can understand and respond to the Gospel at its most basic level. The study of the Word of God in its original languages adds depth and color to the story and may convince some who think the principles taught therein are archaic, pedantic, or irrelevant.
  9. I believe that above all else, love for one another founded in the love God has shown and is still showing us is the highest virtue for the Christ-follower at least, and for all humanity generally, regardless of their belief. Love is necessary for the survival of the human race; faith and faithfulness are necessary for salvation; hope is necessary for our security in the faith and our strength to love one another. All other arguments pale in comparison to the power and testimony of faith, hope, and love.

Of course, this list is nowhere close to exhaustive, but I pray that it gets you, the reader, thinking about what you believe about Scripture and the testimony you bear as Christ-followers. Peace to all!

My thoughts are my own, and annotated when borrowed from elsewhere.

NOTE: If you have some other Scriptures you’d like to add on the reliability of God’s word, feel free to add them in the Comments section. I’d love to hear from you!


[1] Deuteronomy 8:3. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Psalm 119:105. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Luke 21:33. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] John 20:21–23. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Romans 1:16–17. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] 2 Timothy 3:16–17. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[7] Hebrews 4:12. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[8] 2 Peter 3:15–16. The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[9] Campbell, Thomas. Declaration and Address.

April 11, 2023

Guest Post: Addressing Wells’ Contextual Gaffes on 1 Corinthians 6:9–11: Contradiction 434 Debunked

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 11:04 pm

Note: This is a guest post since presently I am overseas. This is by Scott Stocking. Scott is no stranger to some of you who read this blog. His blog…

Guest Post: Addressing Wells’ Contextual Gaffes on 1 Corinthians 6:9–11: Contradiction 434 Debunked

March 30, 2023

The Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians as Background for Understanding 1 Timothy 2

[If you like this article, please check out the curated lists at the top of my home page.]

Who are the “women” Paul is writing about in 1 Timothy 2 & 3? This is an important question to ask and answer if someone is just going to look at the surface text and make unfounded claims about the Bible contradicting itself about the role of women in the faith, as Steve Wells does in The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. A basic understanding of the context and setting of this epistle will clear up many of the contradictions he alleges. Let’s dive in.

Setting and Context

Paul wrote two letters to Timothy that survived to the time of the codification of the New Testament. If you follow Timothy’s ministry through the New Testament, you will find that Timothy was not only a close companion to Paul, but that he also seems to have been acting in the role of an apostle. Paul has seemingly appointed Timothy to succeed him after 2 years of successful ministry in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a major trade and port city in western Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) at the time and featured the Temple of Artemis (Greek; in the Roman pantheon, she was equated with Diana), a fertility goddess. The temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the Greek goddess Artemis, at least according to the depictions discovered in Ephesus, “was portrayed as a more mature woman. Her robe is draped in such a way as to expose her bosom, which is covered with multiple breasts, depicting her gift of fertility and nurture.[1]” The ceremonies were conducted by eunuch priests and virgin priestesses.

Being a priestess in ancient Greece was one of the few things a woman could do to have power and influence. Otherwise, the women typically had few rights in Greece. These priestesses and the laypeople of Ephesus may have had a lot of knowledge about their goddess, but the tenure of a priestess of Artemis of Ephesus was typically short; they would typically transition from a virgin priestess to wife and mother while they were still young enough to bear children.[2] Although little to no evidence exists of any temple prostitution in Ephesus,[3] the rituals surrounding the worship of a fertility goddess and the attire and adornment of the priestesses may be part of what Paul is addressing in 1 Timothy 2. One must keep in mind, unlike Mr. Wells, that these epistles were written in a specific cultural context to a specific demographic group, so the specific statements may reflect cultural nuances without violating the underlying principles of Scripture.

One other thing to keep in mind here, at least from my perspective. The King James Version was a valuable translation in its day, but with the advent of more source materials and a better understanding of textual transmission principles over the centuries, not to mention the evolution of the English language in the 400+ years since it was first translated, these factors may cause some to misunderstand the nuances of certain terms, because they may not mean the same in 2023 as they did in the late 19th century, when the last update to the official KJV was published. With that in mind, then, let’s look at the text in 1 Timothy 2, specifically in regard to the passages on women.

Parallel Structure of 1 Timothy 2

General Exhortations (2:1–7)Directed Teachings to Leaders (2:8–15)
1–2a: Paul urges prayer for all8a: Paul wants men to lift up holy hands in prayer and thanksgiving
2b–3: peaceful and quiet (hēsychios) lives; good (beautiful) and pleasing to God8b–12: without anger or disputing; modesty, propriety, good (moral) deeds; learn in quietness (hēsychia)
4–6: wants all people to be saved13–15: analogy: women “saved”/“kept safe”  through childbearing
7: Hinge verse describing Paul’s purpose3:1 Hinge verse to discussion of formal leadership positions

“Women” Generally in 1 Timothy 2 and 3

In 1 Timothy 2:8–10, Paul is giving a parallel set of instructions for men and women generally, and he puts them on the same level by using the adverb ὡσαύτως (hōsautōs, “in the same way”). This adverb typically implies a similarity of position or status, both with the people that are modified in the comparison and the actions or sometimes the settings associated with those people thus compared. So in vs. 8, Paul “desires” or “wishes” that “men in every place” to pray without contention. The use of hōsautōs in vs. 9 compels us to take the indicative verb from vs. 8 (Βούλομαι, boulomai) as governing the predicate in vs. 9. (If there’s any question about this, the same thing happens in the very next chapter for three groups of leaders.) Paul “desires” or “wishes” the women to “adorn” (κοσμέω, kosmeō) themselves in “appropriate [κόσμιος, kosmios] clothing” (notice the similar semantic root for both words). The same adjective is used in 3:2 of the overseer, but is translated “good behavior.”

Another character trait Paul expects of the women in vs. 9 is the noun σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē), which is translated “sobriety” in the KJV, but “propriety” in the NIV. The word can also mean “sound judgment,” “self-discipline,” or “self-control.” The adjectival form of that word, σώφρων (sōphrōn), is used of the overseer in 3:2. At this point, it’s safe to say Paul had similar expectations of men and women generally that he had of those identified as “overseers,” a seemingly formal leadership designation in the New Testament.[4] Of course, there are certain stereotypical behaviors (at least in Paul’s day) that were thought to be gender specific, so we shouldn’t expect Paul to have the exact same set of behavioral expectations for men and women.

Now that we’ve looked at the terminology, let’s apply this to the cultural situation in Ephesus, specifically with respect to the priestesses who served in the Temple of Artemis. The Ephesians, especially the women, would have most likely looked up to these priestesses as examples of holiness, so it’s reasonable that the women would have wanted to dress like them as well. One only need to search for images of “priestess of Artemis” to see that these priestesses wore braided hair, pearls, and gold jewelry. Paul didn’t want these Christian converts, some of whom may have been former priestesses or temple workers themselves, to appear like pagan religious leaders. In today’s world, Paul might encourage women not to dress like some of the “Real Housewives” or other Hollywood stars who aren’t afraid to flash their flesh and their wealth.

Wells considers verse 9 “misogyny and insults to women” according to the symbol he used, but as I’ve shown, nothing could be further from the truth here. Paul expresses similar standards for men and women, so he’s treating women as equals. This will be further demonstrated as we analyze the next two verses.

Paul Addresses Church Leadership (2:11–12)

Paul follows up these general exhortations to men and women to a particular discussion on how to address the teaching of women in Ephesus. On the surface, the passage admittedly appears to have some misogynistic undertones, but a look into the background of the Greek text considering the cultural setting, we will again see quite the opposite. Let’s look at vv. 11–12, my translation:

A woman must learn in an orderly manner in all subjection; I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to have inappropriate authority over a man, but to behave in an orderly manner.

First, Paul shifts from talking to “women” in the plural in vs. 9 to about “a woman” (anarthrous, i.e., without the definite article) in vs. 11. Is this just a stylistic difference? Perhaps. But I think what is more likely here is that Paul is referring to “a” or “any” woman who wants to learn about the Gospel of Christ, and perhaps even to be a leader in the church at some point in the future (see, for example, 1 Tim 3:11).

These women very likely could have included women who were transitioning out of the Artemisian priesthood into civilian life. They had knowledge of a goddess, but of course this goddess was nothing like Jesus Christ or his father, the one true God. I think a reasonable assumption here is that Paul didn’t want to run the risk of them introducing pagan beliefs into the pure Christian Gospel Timothy was appointed to teach and proclaim. It was about maintaining order and decorum in the educational setting, not turning it into an Athenian Mars Hill philosophers’ debate! It’s also highly likely that these women were being taught by widows or older women already established in the Christian faith, and not by men, so the “subjection” may not have been to men (cf. 1 Timothy 5:9–16; Titus 2:3–4).

You probably noticed in my translation that I didn’t use a form of the word “quiet” for ἡσυχία (hēsychia), but rather used the phrase “in an orderly manner.” (Both times it is a prepositional phrase and is not a command, as some translations make it at the end of vs. 12.) I think this translation better fits the context here.[5] The adjective form of this noun is used in vs. 2 to speak of Paul’s desire that everyone “live peaceful and quiet (or ordered) lives in all godliness and holiness.” Paul doesn’t want these women teaching right away or trying to take over in the educational setting, nor does he want them usurping the authority of the man who is overseeing the teaching. This is the only time in the NT this Greek word (αὐθεντέω authenteō) is used for authority, so it’s apparently the type of authority that Paul himself would never use or claim.

“Saved Through Childbearing” (vv. 13–15) Reconsidered

In the last part of chapter 2, Paul uses the Creation account to make his summary point on what he’s discussed in chapter 2. Verses 13 and 14 give a true account of what happened in Genesis 1–3, but Paul stops short of saying that Adam also ate of the fruit. I admit that this could be a bit of “she did it first” mentality, but Paul is generally not that petty. Why does he point out that Eve was deceived and not Adam? Perhaps the better question to ask is, “Why was Eve deceived when there was a direct command from God not to do what she did?” Is God responsible for Eve’s deception? I think not. In the Creation narrative, Adam received the command from God before Eve was created as his helper. So, is it possible that Adam failed to teach or warn Eve about the forbidden fruit? It’s hard to imagine he didn’t tell her everything. Even so, the point of the passage is that Eve was the one who violated the sacred order, so God’s mitigation was the restoration of that sacred order, that the male would be the head in the relationship. There’s nothing there to indicate the rule was authoritarian or absent of genuine love in any way. The woman only had to endure pain in childbirth. Man’s “rule” came at the expense of doing the hard labor to work the land and provide a living for them both and their descendants.

Adam had given up his place of authority God had established in the created order and followed the woman’s lead instead of God’s lead when it came to the forbidden fruit, and the results were disastrous for all of humanity. Is this the usurpation Paul is talking about in verse 12? It may very well be. Based on that, then, I would like to put forth that Paul’s argument here implies that part of the male’s redemptive task is to recapture the original design for him to be a teacher. This isn’t to say women can’t teach; it’s clear from other Scriptures they can. But again, this may be to counter some of the influence that the (former) priestesses may have had, at least until they could be established in their newfound Christian faith, so that order can be maintained.

The final verse about women being “saved through childbearing” would seem to take on whole new meaning when contrasted with the virgin priestesses of the Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians (see “Additional Note” below). For those women, their virginity was their form of holiness for however many years they served in the temple. It may have been difficult for some of them who were transitioning into married life to adapt to the idea that they could still be considered “holy” and “saved” when they started having children. Verse 15 was Paul’s way of saying that, even in their new lives, they were still important members of the body of Christ. They had traded in a certain degree of autonomy as a priestess for the domestic life of a wife and perhaps a lesser member of Greek society, but Paul’s statement in vs. 15 is intended to elevate them in the Christian society to a critical role in fulfilling the creation mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.”[6]


Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I set out to address some of the alleged contradictions and misogynist statement in Steven Wells poorly researched The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, especially in the much-debated passage about men’s and women’s roles in 1 Tim 2:8–15. I don’t have space to deal with the petty contradictions where he’s comparing apples to oranges. He identifies three instances of misogyny in 2:9–15, all of which I have addressed above. The issue of modest dress was to contrast with the cult and culture of the priestesses in the pagan Temple of Artemis of Ephesus. The same adjective about propriety is used of both women and the overseer in 3:2. I’ve shown that the “in silence” was not necessarily muteness, but has to do with maintaining a proper order in the church, and that it was used of both men and women. The prohibition on teaching is likely a cultural stopgap measure until the Ephesian women, some of whom may have been priestesses of Artemis at one time, are firmly grounded in their newfound Christian faith. The reference to Adam and Eve in chapter 3 is not intended to be a first-century version of keeping the women at home barefoot and pregnant, but a reminder that Adam and Eve both had consequences for violating God’s only commandment. Even though Eve sinned first, Adam got the more strenuous of the two punishments: his “rule” over his wife was accompanied by working the land by the sweat of his brow daily to provide for his family.

I do hope you’ve found this rather lengthy article helpful when it comes to 1 Timothy 2. If you like it, I would encourage you to check my earlier article on 1 Timothy 3 with respect to women in leadership, which I now have to review to see if any of these new thoughts require an update. As always, my thoughts are my own, except where I give credit to those whom I cite. Peace to all.

Scott Stocking

Additional note (added 3/31/23): I came across the following reference in Apollodorus 1.4 (English translation edited by Sir James George Frazer; Perseus Tufts edition) and an accompanying footnote: “But Latona for her intrigue with Zeus was hunted by Hera over the whole earth, till she came to Delos and brought forth first Artemis, by the help of whose midwifery she afterwards gave birth to Apollo.” The portion of the footnote that is of interest addresses the statement that Artemis was the midwife for the birth of her twin brother! The footnote states, “The quaint legend, recorded by Apollodorus, that immediately after her birth Artemis helped her younger twin brother Apollo to be born into the world, is mentioned also by Serv. Verg. A. 3.73 and the Vatican Mythographers. The legend, these writers inform us, was told to explain why the maiden goddess Artemis was invoked by women in child-bed.” Could it be that Paul’s statement about women being saved through childbirth was meant to ensure that Ephesian women in that culture who may have called on Artemis while giving birth after they converted to Christianity would not be guilty of blasphemy or some other sin?

Reference (added 4/1/23): I just found an excellent series of articles looking at the influence of Artemis Ephesia in 1 Timothy 2. I’m glad I found it after I published my own article, because I consider that independent confirmation I’m on the right track. We have slightly different conclusions, and the author takes into account some Gnostic influences in the article, but overall, we have a very similar take on how to understand 1 Timothy 2 in a way that respects the equality of women in God’s kingdom. It’s a five-part series, with this link being the final part, but it has links to the first four articles at the end.

[1] Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, and Trent C. Butler, eds. 2003. “Artemis.” In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 121. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Claus, Patricia. Priestesses Among Few Women Who Had Status, Power in Ancient Greece. The Greek Reporter, December 5, 2022, accessed 03/29/23

[3] Cult Prostitution In New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal by S. M. Baugh, accessed 03/26/23.

[4] This conclusion is further demonstrated by comparing the terms used to describe the three classes of leaders (overseer, deacons, and women) in 1 Timothy 3:1–11, and even with the terms describing the widows in 1 Timothy 5.

[5] In 2 Thess 3:12, for example, the noun is used in contrast with those who would be “busybodies.”

[6] Paul’s mention of the man being created first here may in fact be a reference to the entire Creation narrative, so he wouldn’t have just the childbearing piece in mind, but everything that comes after that, including the offspring of the woman (Jesus) crushing Satan’s head. This is not uncommon for a NT writer or speaker to “economize” their words. Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin being with child to call to mind the entire Messianic section of Isaiah 6–11; Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross to remind people that much of what is written in that psalm is coming true in his crucifixion.

March 12, 2023

A Woman, a Well, and Worshipping God (John 4; Romans 5:1–11)

I preached this message on March 12, 2023, Third Sunday in Lent, at Mt. View Presbyterian Church. The Gospel text was pretty much the entire chapter of John 4, so instead of reading all that, I showed a clip from The Chosen, Season 1, Episode 8, where Jesus encounters the woman at the well. Unfortunately, I forgot to record the message, so I do not have an audio file to share with you at this time.

Someone might think John was trying to create scandal from the very first words of his Gospel. In the first couple verses, he claims Jesus is God and was present at creation. The Jewish leaders would have considered that blasphemy. John the Baptizer, who is NOT the same John who wrote this gospel, goes on to claim he is the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, and upon Jesus’s baptism, John declares him to be the Son of God.

Then, instead of picking the leading religious rulers of his day, Jesus chooses a few fishermen and other average, everyday men to be in his band of disciples. After that, instead of his first miracle being a healing or exorcism, he decides to make about 180 gallons of premium wine so the party can keep going at the wedding. Then John throws in a story about Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers and about how he’ll be able to rebuild the temple in three days if it’s destroyed. In John 3, he declares that belief in him ensures eternal life. Again, probably grounds for blasphemy if he were just an ordinary man.

And so we come to John chapter 4, and the scandalous behavior continues. How dare he travel through Samaria! His disciples would have rather walked the extra distance around Samaria rather than soil their sandals with the dust of that land. How dare he talk to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask her for a drink from Jacob’s well, especially when the rest of his followers aren’t around. Don’t you know, Jesus, that we’re not supposed to even touch the Samaritans let alone eat and drink with them?

Many of you know that the Gospel of John is unique in that it has many stories about Jesus’s ministry that are not reflected in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Many think that John may have organized his Gospel theologically rather than chronologically. For example, the story of Jesus clearing the temple, which is found in chapter 2 of John’s gospel, is placed in the last week of Jesus’s ministry. It’s not clear whether this is the same story, or if there were two different episodes when Jesus cleared the temple.

Jesus is in the land of his ancestors, so it seems fitting, at least to John, that Jesus would want to reveal himself first to his ancestors.

For the sake of argument, then, I’m going to assume there’s a theological message John is trying to get across here: He establishes Jesus is fully divine and that God is his Father. Since he’s God’s “only begotten” on Earth, Jesus then is the primary authority in the Temple, which the Jews believed was home of God’s presence. Finally, Jesus, having been established as the authority for the Jewish religion, essentially abolishes the long-standing prejudice against Samaria by going to the place where his ancestor Judah’s father, Jacob (renamed Israel) first established himself in the Promised Land after returning from Laban’s home. I think this aspect of the story lends to its credibility and to the principle of worship he puts forth.

One of the most important things to note about this encounter with the woman is that Jesus actually takes the time to have a real conversation with the woman, although he slowly reveals that he knows more about her than she thinks he knows. Jesus is in the land of his ancestors, so it seems fitting, at least to John, that Jesus would want to reveal himself first to his ancestors. That would be like me going to the Stocking Township, named after my great, great, great grandfather in the Wahoo area, or perhaps even to the historic site of the 12th-century Stocking Abbey in England, where my ancestors likely came from and ministering to a congregation in either of those places.

So what can we learn from the encounter between Jesus and this woman? The first thing is that Jesus did not recognize the ethnic boundaries that existed in his day and age. The Samaritans followed only the Torah, the five books of Moses, but not the prophets who came later. So they were a people who had deep Jewish roots, but because the Northern Kingdom had been conquered within a couple generations of rise of the prophets and the prohibition against intermarriage had been abandoned, they had little connection to the prophets and they were no longer considered “pure” Jews. The Jews considered them unclean. That didn’t matter to Jesus, though. He wanted the Samaritans to know that a “prophet” had returned to the area after some 700 years,

Because the Jews considered Samaritans unclean, they weren’t permitted to eat or drink from any of any of their plates or vessels. And the fact that she was divorced several times, well beyond what Jewish law would have permitted to remain in good standing, added to her social stigma among her own people not to mention the Jews. This is another barrier that Jesus would shatter: that it was okay to eat and drink with “sinners” and other outcasts like tax collectors.

The other New Testament text from today’s lectionary reading is Romans 5:1–11. Verses 6–8 say this:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

Did you catch that? This is really important to understand. When we cry out to God for help, does he say “Quit your womanizing! Quit lying! Quit getting drunk! Then you can come to me and I’ll consider your request?” By no means! That passage doesn’t say Christ died for those who’ve cleaned up their lives first. It says Christ died for the ungodly, while we were still sinners! That sounds like we can have a great weight lifted from us so we can see more hope and more light at the end of whatever dark tunnel sin has led us through. God loves us even before we realize that his love is the greatest gift of all, even when we think we may not be worthy of it. That’s grace!

The offer of “living water” is the centerpiece of the story. Parts of this story hearkens back to Isaiah 49:6 and 10, a prophecy about the Servant of the Lord and the restoration of Israel:

And now the Lord says—

he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

to bring Jacob back to him

and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord

and my God has been my strength—

he says:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,

nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

and lead them beside springs of water. [2]

This woman seems to have been suffering for some time because she felt like she needed to draw water in the heat of the day. We don’t know very much about her personal life aside from the divorces; no indication she had any children or what her current relationship was like. This leads us to another principle at play here: Don’t be afraid to speak to someone about whatever it is in their life that is holding them back from a full and vibrant relationship with God. Now Jesus had some special knowledge of her situation here, so he holds the advantage, but it’s for her benefit ultimately. Once he discloses what he knows about her marital status, she understands not only that Jesus is a prophet, but she also believes his claim that he is the Messiah and shared that convincingly with many people in her town.

Don’t be afraid to speak to someone about whatever it is in their life that is holding them back from a full and vibrant relationship with God.

Jeremiah mentions a couple times (2:13; 17:13) about how his listeners have “forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” But Zechariah, when prophesying about the second coming of Christ and the consummation of history, says this in 14:8:

On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.[3]

This is the ultimate and absolute promise of fulfillment we can look forward to when we humble ourselves before God and accept his free gifts of reconciliation and salvation. God will be in total control. No more crying, pain, or grief, just living eternally in the glory of God’s light.

Turning back to Romans 5 for a moment, Paul describes what happens when we come into that justification, and the woman seems to have experienced that, especially with respect to addressing the own suffering she had experienced for so long. Listen to verses 1–5:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. [4]

The final takeaway from this passage is how Jesus is overturning the traditions (and exclusions) about worship. The woman was upset about how the Jews thought the Temple in Jerusalem was the only place you could really worship God. In fact, it seems like she’s trying to use that to get out of talking about her marital history. But Jesus assures her that a new way of worship has arrived. The place no longer matters; what matters is expressing her true feelings and emotions from her heart, soul, and mind to praise God for all he’s done for her. It’s that joy that causes her to leave her water jars behind and hurry back to her people proclaiming, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”[5]

John notes that the woman at the well was responsible, by virtue of her testimony, for many in her town believing, and they had that testimony confirmed by Jesus himself, because he stayed there a few days preaching and teaching. They knew the joy of personal justification and reconciliation with God. They also found the hope of eternal life as well. Listen to Romans 5:9–11:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[6]

My prayer for you this Lenten and Easter season is that you know the salvation of God and receive it with joy just as the woman at the well did. Let us hold fast to our faith and hope and continue to reach out to those who need to experience God’s love, forgiveness, compassion and grace. Amen.

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 4, 2023

Life Lessons From a Year Through the Lectionary (Isaiah 58–61)


I’m in the midst of a few weeks off from preaching, so I’ve had some time to reflect on the past 14 months of preaching through the Lectionary/Liturgical Calendar[1] at the behest of my childhood home church, Mt. View Presbyterian in Omaha. At the beginning of 2022, they had asked me to follow the Revised Common Lectionary, because that makes it easy for their small church to plan out bulletins and coordinate with other guest preachers.

It’s kind of like being back in seminary, having a different assignment due every two weeks or so, and because I’m not afraid of any challenge when it comes to preaching the Bible, I wholeheartedly agreed. I will admit as well that it’s beneficial to me, because I don’t have to think about topics in advance. Lincoln (IL) Christian Seminary taught me some great skills when it comes to hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) and homiletics (the skills for preaching), so I already know how to go through the motions to prepare.

Although I was raised in the Presbyterian faith and went through my church’s confirmation process, not much of that stuck as a sixth grader (or however old I was at the time). By the time I got to high school, I had begun to form my own ideas about my faith, and I started to look for something that was grounded more directly in Scripture and less reliant on the “traditions of men.” I found that home in the Restoration Movement (independent Christian Church) when I went to college.

The Restoration Movement traces its roots to the frontier Midwest (Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio areas) where a group of preachers decided the best way to “do” church was to primarily stick to what the Bible said and not make manmade creeds or religious rules a test of faith or fidelity. “No creed but Christ; no book but the Bible”; “Where Scripture speaks, we speak; where they are silent there’s freedom” or “we’re silent.” Accordingly, things like the Liturgical Calendar or traditional Holy Days were downplayed, unless there was biblical precedent (e.g., the birth of Christ announced by angels). Historically, we’ve operated under the principle that the operations of God’s grace are not dictated by the Liturgical Calendar or any other calendar.

The operations of God’s grace are not dictated by the Liturgical Calendar or any other calendar.

While I still generally operate under that principle, I have come to discover the biblical underpinnings of many of the Holy Days or Seasons. In addition to that, I have come to see how important some of these traditions are to the Mt. View congregation as currently constituted. I have been refreshed and uplifted in my faith in God and my knowledge of his word by the work I’ve had to do to prepare messages based on the Lectionary readings for a particular Sunday. As such, I want to take the opportunity of this article to share what I’ve discovered about some of the lesser-known Holy Days and Seasons, at least among those in the Restoration Movement tradition, and perhaps encourage my brothers and sisters in the Restoration Movement to consider a more intentional approach to them.

Advent: Preparing for the Coming Messiah

As with most things, it’s best to start at the beginning, so I want to take a look at Advent first. The Lectionary cycles through three years (Years A, B, and C) of readings, and Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year.[2] As you might imagine, Advent is the most familiar to me. I have fond memories of getting the Advent calendars with chocolate or other goodies in them (maybe even a Bible verse?) and especially of lighting the Advent candles in church service with my family. I know our family got to do it at least one Advent Sunday when I was growing up.

What I had forgotten was that each Sunday in Advent had its own special theme. This may vary among the traditions, but the four common themes are usually Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. For Advent 2022 (Year A of the new cycle), the OT passages focused on Isaiah.[3] What I find interesting is that many of these passages could have dual fulfillment, referring both to the first coming of the Messiah and the second coming of the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 2:3 (Year A, first Sunday) mentions going to the temple where God will teach his ways, while 2:4 speaks of beating swords into plowshares, which is typically associated with the second coming.

Isaiah 11:1–2 (second Sunday) speaks of Jesus as the one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest, while 11:4 says “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth.” Isaiah 35 (third Sunday) appears to reference much of Jesus’s healing ministry, but vs. 4 speaks God coming with vengeance. Isaiah 7:14 (fourth Sunday) is the prophecy Matthew quotes about the virgin birth of Christ, even though it has a partial fulfillment in the immediate chapters of Isaiah following that. Isaiah 9 (“For unto us a Child is born”) is the annual passage for Christmas Eve service.

It’s easy to see, then, why many of the Jews at the time of Jesus’s ministry were looking for a Messiah that would overthrow Roman rule. This led me to an important realization: God’s people have never lived in a time where they had no expectation of a coming Messiah, except perhaps for those who were close to the Messiah during his earthly ministry. Even though scholars are fairly certain that Jesus was not born in the month of December, the celebration of Advent along with Christmas not only as a retrospective on Jesus’s birth and first coming and all the heavenly fanfare that went along with that, but also as a prospective look at the second coming of Christ is still highly relevant to Christians today, especially in our current culture and climate.

God’s people have never lived in a time where they had no expectation of a coming Messiah.


I recently posted my Epiphany message, A Pastor’s Epiphany About Epiphany (Matthew 2:1–12; Isaiah 60:1–6; Psalm 72), so I won’t say too much about that here. The title pretty much sums it up. Epiphany focuses on the visit of the magi to Jesus, which, if you read the Gospel account closely, seems to come a few days after the birth of Christ (historically 12 days after, but there’s no biblical text to suggest that time frame); Jesus’s family was in a house by that time. Focusing on the Isaiah passage here, which is the same every year in the Lectionary, reveals some interesting clues to where the magi came from.

As I was preparing the Epiphany message, I realized that I’d never really heard anyone in the Restoration Movement talk about where these magi had come from. That seemed pretty odd to me given that we’re supposed to focus on examining the Scriptures to figure out the truth. I’d heard about David Longnecker’s Mystery of the Magi in a news report. The book gives a detailed analysis of where these magi may have lived and what their connection was to Jewish history and prophecy. As it turns out, these magi were probably not from Persia, because Persia was in decline at the time. Rather, they were probably from some diaspora Jews that never made it to Babylon and settled in communities east of the Jordan river and Dead Sea, and perhaps as far south as Midian. They were known as Nabateans. They would have had a more intimate knowledge of Messianic prophecy and seem to fit the demographic and economic descriptions in the Isaiah 60 passage, as I explain in my message. Isaiah 60:1 may refer to the star they followed; they were at the crossroads of several prominent trade routes; and “Nebaioth” is mentioned, which may well be the root of the name of the Nabateans.

If there’s any application to this knowledge, I think it’s that we need to learn to recognize the signs of the times to anticipate the second coming of Christ, which ties in to the secondary theme of Advent. The Nabateans appear to have been diligently searching the skies and paying attention to the signs, because they did not want to miss the coming of the Messiah they had hoped for as well.

“Jesus would probably laugh at us for giving up things like chocolate, beer, coffee…all the things that actually bring us joy and make us happy.”


In the past couple weeks since Lent began, I’ve had one friend ask whether I observe Ash Wednesday, and another ask me what I thought about a Facebook post about one person’s unique take on Lent. Here’s a quote cited in the post from a priest he’d heard:

“Jesus would probably laugh at us for giving up things like chocolate, beer, coffee…all the things that actually bring us joy and make us happy.

What He might suggest is giving up the things that make us miserable in God’s Paradise.

Things like self doubt, insecurities, jealousy, greed, and gossip and anger.

The things that move us away from The Light.

Honor His sacrifice by giving up The Darkness in your Life.”

Now I’ve never given up anything for Lent, because I don’t observe it. And I’ve never had ashes placed on my forehead to initiate a Lenten fast. But I thought what this priest he’s quoting said made a lot of sense. But here’s where my initial principle comes into play: the operation of God’s grace isn’t limited to a calendar or a season. Shouldn’t we always be giving up the darkness in our lives so we can more fully know God? That’s a good way to live to be sure, and I commend anyone who can do that, but if it’s something we should give up permanently, then is it really a fast? Is it really a sacrifice to give up something that’s bad for us?

Before I even looked at the Lectionary for what passage is assigned for Lent, I knew Isaiah 58 was really the best definition of fasting we have in the Bible. As it turns out, that is the evergreen passage for Lent. The problem as I see it with concept of Lent as a personal fast is that it is somewhat self-centered. Sure, the presumed motivation is to get closer to God, but how does giving up a food item or certain activity actually accomplish that? And again, if it’s something that you know is bad for you anyway, why do you need the backdrop of a religious Holy Season to accomplish it?

If we look at Isaiah’s description of fasting, though, there’s really nothing selfish about how it should be. There’s no talk of personal sacrifice or personal wellbeing. In fact, Isaiah (58:5) scolds his readers for thinking of fasting in just such a way:

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

a day acceptable to the Lord?[4]

Isaiah then goes on to describe what the Lord expects from our fasting, and there’s nothing selfish about it, except that when we do the hard things, then we have a reward waiting for us. What are the hard things (vv. 6–7, 9b–10a)?

  • Loose the chains of injustice
  • Untie the cords of the yoke
  • Set the oppressed free and satisfy their needs
  • Break every yoke
  • Share your food with the hungry by spending yourself on their behalf
  • Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
  • Clothe the naked
  • Not turn away from our own flesh and blood
  • Do away with the blame game and malicious talk

What are the resulting rewards? They’re commensurate with the degree to which we work toward accomplishing the hard stuff! This isn’t legalism, though. This is what it means to show our faith by what we do, not just by what we say. We talk the talk AND walk the walk. Integrity.

  • Your light will break forth like the dawn
  • Your healing will appear quickly
  • Your righteousness will go before you
  • The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard
  • You will call, and the LORD will answer
  • You will cry for help, and he will be there for you
  • Your light will rise in the darkness, like the noonday sun
  • The LORD will always guide you, satisfy you, and strengthen you.

And so on and so on and so on.

In the Old Testament, most references to fasting are about a community fasting, not individuals. When it occurs in the books of pre-exilic history, it often refers to a prebattle ritual. David fasted for his first child with Bathsheba, but to no avail. In the post-exilic history, fasting is mentioned in connection with restoring Jerusalem to a semblance of its pre-exilic state (e.g., compare Isaiah 58:12 to Isaiah 61:4). In the New Testament, most references to fasting are about what to do when you fast. There’s very little mention of its purpose, although the reference to John’s disciples fasting most likely indicates they were waiting for the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, most references to fasting are about a community fasting, not individuals.

Above, I made a parenthetical reference to Isaiah 61 with respect to rebuilding ancient ruins. Nehemiah fasted before taking on the project to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. But do you know what else is significant about Isaiah 61? That is the passage Jesus uses for his own ministry in Luke’s account, immediately after Jesus spends 40 days fasting in the wilderness. His words sound very much like the purpose of fasting in Isaiah 58. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness because he knew he had big things, Isaiah 58 big things, to accomplish in his ministry, so he did it right. Check out Isaiah 61:1–3a and see if that doesn’t sound a lot like Isaiah 58:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

3           and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.[5]

So fasting is for the big things; the big decisions. The Gospels do hint that fasting had taken on a more individual application in some cases, but I don’t think its purpose, as outlined in Isaiah 58, was ever diminished. Jesus set the standard for fasting. Another interesting aspect of fasting in the NT: it’s never mentioned after Acts, and only twice in Acts 13:2–3 around a decision about whom to send out to the Gentiles.

The application for the modern church seems clear, then. While there does seem to be something to be gained by fasting personally, the more important goal the Scriptures (and Jesus) have in fasting is justice, especially for the poor and oppressed. The Scriptures also seem clear, both in the OT and especially with John’s disciples in the NT, that corporate fasting is much more powerful and effective in God’s kingdom economy.

Conclusion (for now)

This post is already pretty long, so I’ll forego discussing Easter through Passover, which makes up the last of the Holy Seasons in the Liturgical Calendar. The rest of the Sundays in the Liturgical Calendar after Passover are identified as “Propers,” 29 of them for the remainder of 2023. That seems kind of unusual to me to have the major church Holy Days packed into five months of the year. Do we need 22 weeks a year to get ready for the other 30 weeks? Is the liturgical year intended to be a microcosm of the Christian life: we educate ourselves about who Christ is and what he’s done for us early on so that we can walk faithfully for the rest of our lives?

I’d love to hear your stories about how these Holy Days or Holy Seasons have impacted you. As I said before, I’d never really given them much thought until this last year, so I’ve tried to look at them from an outsider’s perspective, since I have little to no historical experience with these things. I do hope my brothers and sisters in the Restoration Movement will consider my words here and how they can present these Holy Days and Seasons in a fresh new way to reach those who may have lost their way for whatever reasons. I think the body of Christ will benefit greatly if we can discover a new appreciation for the Liturgical Calendar.

My opinions are my own.

Scott Stocking

[1] The Liturgical Calendar is the order of the Holy Days and Seasons. The Lectionary represents the assigned Scripture texts for each day that are used in the worship service or as the basis for the message on any given day of the Liturgical Calendar. My focus here is primarily on those events that happen on Sundays.

[2] The new liturgical year formally begins on the Thursday before the first Sunday in Advent. This is usually the last Thursday of November, so this is typically Thanksgiving Day, unless November has five Thursdays.

[3] For some Holy Days, the passages are different from year to year in the cycle, but are the same in the respective years of each cycle. So year A has the same passages for Advent in 2019, 2022, 2025, etc.; Year B for 2020, 2023, 2026, etc.. For other Holy Days, Epiphany and Lent, for example, the passages are the same for all three years in the cycle and thus across all cycles.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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