ROMANS SIX–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

It is hard for me to believe that at one time I thought I would finish my translation of Romans before Independence Day.  Here it is July 6 and I am not even half-way through.  But I am having fun.

Theological Notes:  The baptism imagery is key in Romans 6.  It feels to me like Paul might be quoting some kind of early baptism liturgy regarding the old way of life as opposed to the new to make his point that sin should not be a natural part of life for the Christ-follower.

There is also a rather pointed sexual reference mid-way through the text that carries through to the end.  What most translations render as ‘members’ are, to me, clear references to genitalia.  Paul might have something specific in mind, such as men who are frequenting temple prostitution or sexual rituals in connection with pagan practices.  I say men because there could be some double entendre with the word “present” which can also mean “stand up.”  Instead of getting too graphic, however, I chose to use “body parts” although I don’t mean ears and toes.

For Paul it is all about who you serve.  Bob Dylan and Paul would agree that you “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  Paul believes there are only two choices–you can serve sin or you can serve Messiah.  The payoff for serving sin is death, but the payoff for serving Messiah is eternal life (v. 23).

Translation Notes:

Paul uses the word “walk” (v. 4) in all its metaphorical richness to describe the life we live after our baptism.  Again, I have chosen to use the metaphor walk rather than render it ‘live’ because it seems to me to speak almost as richly as the original metaphor did in the ancient world.

Verses 17 and 18 only make sense if they are interwoven.  These were particularly troublesome to get at.

In verse 20 I added the word “responsibility” to help smooth out the rendering.  Without adding that or some other word, the meaning is muddled.  Paul is trying to say that before we became faithful followers of the Lord, back when we lived as servants of sin, we were free from the requirements of righteousness.  Now, however, that we have received grace, we no longer have that luxury, for we are responsible to be righteous, we are responsible for our actions.

Chapter Six
1. What shall we say? Should we persist in sin so that grace might increase?
2. Never! We died to sin, how can we now live in it?
3. Do you not know that those of us who were baptized into Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death?
4. Therefore we were buried together with him in death through baptism so that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in newness of life.
5. For if we become united in the likeness of his death, we also will have the likeness of resurrection.
6. This we know—that our old person has been crucified together with him—so that he might abolish the sinful body to no longer serve sin.
7. For anyone who has died is freed from sin.
8. If we died with Christ, we believe we will live with him.
9. Knowing that Christ has been raised from the dead, he no longer dies, nor does death any longer hold dominion over him.
10. For when he died, he died to sin once for all. Now that he lives, he lives to God.
11. You also should think of yourselves as dead to sin but alive to God in Messiah Jesus.
12. Therefore, do not obey your desires, letting sin reign in your mortal body.
13. Neither present parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present your body parts to God as instruments of righteousness, present yourselves to God as if you came back to life from the dead.
14. For sin no longer will have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but grace.
15. What now? Should we sin just because we are not under the law but under grace? Never!
16. Do you not know that when you present yourselves as a servant to anyone in obedience, as a servant you must obey, whether it is sin unto death or obedience unto righteousness?
17&18  But the grace of God is that even though you had been obedient servants of sin, now, having been freed from it, you have given over your hearts to the form of teaching that makes you into servants of righteousness.
19. I speak in simple, everyday human ways because of your weakness. You once presented your body parts enslaved to impurity and lawlessness for the sake of more lawlessness, but now you must present your body parts enslaved to righteousness in holiness.
20. For when you were slaves to sin, you were free from the responsibility to righteousness.
21. What fruit did you have back then? Only those which you are now ashamed, those that lead to death.
22. But now that you have been freed from it and are now serving God, you have your holiness and the resulting eternal life as fruit.
23. For death is the daily wages of sin, but eternal life is the gift of God through Messiah Jesus our Lord.

THE NIGHT JESUS TALKED ABOUT YOU KNOW WHAT

Jesus is famous for his metaphors and earthy teaching–mustard seed, building foundation, lilies of the field and other such niceties.  But if we look properly, we find he also used some rather crude, dare I say vulgar analogies to describe the most important of all spiritual realities.

I’m thinking about John this week–reading through it, and also specifically John 3 because it was the subject of the small group lesson at the church I visited on Sunday.   John 3 is a favorite of many because of the clarity of John 3:16 for summarizing the key divine attribute, the missio dei, and the responsibility of people to believe.  However, there is a lot going on here.  Not the least of which I have enumerated below for your reading pleasure.

1.  Nicodemus is an important person.  That is why we learn his name (unlike the woman at the well (John 4) or the man born blind (John 9).  He makes a couple of other cameo appearances in John, the most important of which is at the burial of Jesus.  It appears he aided Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus.  It is odd that he doesn’t appear in Acts, but that might be because he was killed early due to his high profile position.  It would be neat if he was one of the 120 in the upper room, and it makes logical sense.

2.  Born again is an ambiguous term.  Reborn would be a good way to translate it, so too would be “heavenly born” as the word “again” can also mean “from above.”  To be born again means that you are born as a child of God in the 1 John 3:1 kind of way.

3.  Now back where I started this blog–Jesus actually uses rather delicate language to describe the issue.  Of much debate is the role of “water” in verse 5 when Jesus elaborates on what being born from above means.  People try to sanitize this spiritually, I think by saying it is a reference to baptism.  Jesus has baptism in mind, I think, but it is not here.  Water here may mean semen as the seed of birth or it might refer to a pregnant woman’s ‘water breaking’ at the onset of child birth.  Either way, it is an earthy image that Nicodemus would have gotten.  In case Nicodemus didn’t, Jesus spells it out.  Notice the two verses (ESV, bold and italics mine)

[5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

[6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

I find in these verses typical Hebrew parallelism.  Water is flesh, spirit is spirit (or the wind, v. 8)  Flesh likely means sex.

4.  Here is where I think it really comes together with baptism, and that is the way Jews of the first century understood baptism.  Baptism was not a novel concept, but an old practice used to symbolize the birthing process for non-Jews who were undergoing the process of adopting Judaism as their faith.  After such baptism a person was referred to as a child of Abraham (c/f 1 John 3:1).  Jesus is arguing that not just non-Jews, but even Jews, need to be  baptized as an act of repentance and belief in order to begin this rebirthing process.  Baptism is the key to being born from above.  The testimony of John the Baptist at the end of the chapter punctuates this point.

5.  These are complicated lines of thought but Nicodemus, a teacher, should understand the symbolism of it all.  This is not simplistic stuff here but very nuanced ideas.  We do violence to the text if we try to make it simple and easy.  It is not, so much so that Nicodemus, though sympathetic and learned, did not readily understand.  Specifically NIcodemus and the teachers in Israel had not embraced John’s baptism.

6.  The reference of the serpent, in the desert, alludes to the weird tale in Numbers 21:4-9 where the great plague broke out and a snake is put on a pole for healing (for a cross-cultural religious parallelism, consider Asclepius) to the Jews who had sinned.  Again, Jesus is laying out bread crumbs.  Just like with semen, bursting birthing fluid, and wind even Scripture has a deeper spiritual revelation in Christ and his mission.

7.  One more thought.  I don’t care what your red-letter Bible says, Jesus stops talking most definitely after verse 15 (and maybe even verse 12).  John the evangelist is the one who synthesizes the complicated message Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus in verses 16-21 with his typical symbolism of light, truth, and love.  We cherish verse 16, but look at the whole thing again and you might find that verse 21is the best summary–our works show whether or not we are ‘born from above’–carried out, or worked–birthed by God.

HOW DO YOU MARRY SOMEONE?

The last few posts have been a little too wordy.  This one will be swift and to the point.

Sunday I talked about weddings and referred to the troubling fact that in the three years of seminary, at supposedly one of the premier seminaries in the world, I was never taught how to do a wedding.  Never.  I have wracked my brain since Sunday and tried to come up with all I was ever taught about weddings and it boils down to a couple of photocopied pages that spell out the importance of premarital counseling (without ever telling you what you should say in that counseling) and the injunction that every pastor has the right to determine whom they marry.

That’s it.  Everything else we were told, “you’ll figure it out.”  Here is a partial list of the things I was never taught in seminary but I have found to be vital in the pastoral ministry.

1.  How to conduct a business meeting.  I was given a copy of Robert’s Rules and told to not pay much attention to it.  I was, however, taught how to do a church budget in various detail.  I was just never told how to pass it!

2.  Lord’s Supper/Communion.  Nothing.  Ever.  Not once.  The theology of it we discussed at length.  How to do it, never.

3.  Baptism.  You would think that the preacher boys would all get in a baptistery tank of a local church and spend an afternoon practicing on each other.  Nooooooooo.  As I said Sunday, I almost killed the first person I ever baptized in church.

4.  Funerals.  Just like with weddings, we were never told how to lead or conduct one.  We were, however, told all about the grief cycle, depression, and the importance of the church’s long term ministry to those who suffer loss but as for the nuts-n-bolts of a funeral service, dealing with the funeral home, cemeteries, honor guards, Masonic lodge, florists etc… there was absolutely zilch.

5.  How to run a meeting.  As a pastor I run a lot of meetings:  Staff, deacons, teaching elders, ministry teams and so forth but I was never taught how to run one.

6.  One more–hospital visits.  I was told to do them, and I was told they were important but never was I instructed on how to actually do one.  I say this seriously, because hospitals are cramped, smelly, and odd environments that require some level expertise to navigate.  It would have been nice to have maybe, a fake hospital room in the seminary building somewhere with an actor or another student playing the roll of patient to go visit.

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I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING NOW

Some things just can’t be learned by reading a book.

Do not get me wrong.  I learned a great deal in seminary about the Lord, Scripture, the languages, doctrine, ethics and so much more but there were huge holes.  As I said earlier, it has been a long time since I was in seminary (mid 90’s) and I hope  much has changed for the better.  I doubt it though, because the trend is toward distance learning and online courses which do not help with practical aspects of the work.  I wonder if one of the reasons why church has been in such crisis for the past 3 decades or so might not be in some part related to the lack of practical education at the seminary level.  I wonder.