ROMANS SEVEN–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

The text of Romans 7 was not really hard to translate, but I can honestly say putting it into English, in a form that made sense, was difficult, at least for me.  And even at that, the text I have here is not as smooth as one would hope, but I fear any further alterations change the meaning and inserts too much of my own thinking into he mix.

Theological Notes:  This chapter has been a bone of contention pretty much since it was written.  The struggle Paul writes about where he wants to to good, but ends up doing bad, and then feels so guilty about it can be understood in three ways.  First, it could be completely at face value, that he is describing the way he feels as a human being trying to follow the Lord.  Second, it might describe the condition of people in general without Christ, where people know the right thing to do but they don’t, or can’t because they are not empowered to defeat sin.  Third, it might be describing his inner turmoil as a law-observing Jew before he became a Christ-follower.

I’ve come to believe that the first option, the one most people take, can’t be right.  Paul is not writing to commiserate with us about our guilty feelings of inadequacies–instead he is writing this to lead up to 8:1.  We don’t have to live with that kind of struggle because there is no condemnation for us who follow Christ.  There is no place for guilt in a healthy spiritual life.  I tend to lean toward the idea he is describing his life when he was a law-observing Jew.

Translation Notes:    The psychological aspect of sin in this passage is chilling.  The way Paul writes it, sin is anthropomorphic, and it is a serial killer.  It has motive, means, and opportunity to kill us, and the shocking part of it is that this sin lives within us, creating a schizophrenic self that is torn between doing good or doing bad.

Later in the passage, Paul talks about what he ‘does’ and what he ‘practices’ (v. 15, for example). This could be rendered as “do” in both cases, but The Apostle chooses to use two different verbs close together, so I chose to maintain that distinction even though it sounds rather clunky.

In my translation v. 18 is far different than most other popular English versions. In fact, I find that so many other words have been added in the others that the meaning is radically altered.  I think they chose to do this exactly because that particular verse feels so creepy as it describes the indwelling of sin.

Chapter Seven
1. I assume in what I say that you know the law, brothers and sisters, so do you not know that the law rules over a person only as long as he or she lives?
2. A married woman has been bound to her husband while he is living, but if he happens to die she is legally released, by law, from the man.
3. So then, if the husband is living, she will be known as an adulterer if she is with another man, but if her husband dies she is free from the law, and therefore is not an adulterer because she is with someone else.
4. It is exactly the same with you, brothers and sisters. You have died to the law through the body of the Messiah, and you are with “someone else” who rose from the dead, so that you might bear fruit to God.
5. For when we were in the flesh sinful passions were at work in our body parts, through the law, so as to bear fruit to death.
6. Now we are annulled from the law, having died to the thing that subjugated us, so as to serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the old written law.
7. What can we say? The law is sin? Absolutely not. Yet, I knew not sin except by the law, for coveting was not known until the law says, “Do not covet.”
8. But sin got an opportunity through the commandment which produced in me all kinds of coveting, for without the law sin is dead.
9. I once lived without the law, but when the commandment came, sin was reborn.
10. So I died, and the commandment for living was actually found to be death for me.
11. For sin received an opportunity by way of the commandment; it deceived, then killed me.
12. Nevertheless the law and commandments are holy, righteous, and good.
13. So good things became death to me? Of course not. Sin was working hard at producing death, and now it could be revealed by the good things in me, that is how sin became abundant because of the commandment.
14. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I belong to the flesh, having been sold-out under sin.
15. I do not know what is going on, for I do not practice the thing I want to, instead I do the things I hate.
16. If I do not do what I want, then I agree with the law, that it is good.
17. Yet now it is no longer me working, but the sin inhabiting me.
18. Certainly I know that it doesn’t inhabit me, this is only my flesh, for the good things for me to want are near, but my flesh does not want to do good things.
19. For I do not do the good things I want to do, but what I practice are the bad things I don’t want to.
20. But if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me working but the sin inhabiting me.
21. I find that there is a law, that whenever I want to do good things, all the while the bad things are nearby me.
22. My inner person delights in the law of God,
23. but I see another law in my body parts plotting against the law of my mind, holding me captive to the law of sin that is in my body parts.
24. What a miserable person I am; who will rescue me from this body of death?
25. But thanks be to God through our Lord Messiah Jesus. Therefore now I serve the law of God in my mind and not the law of sin in my body.

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.

CHRISTMAS PRAYER 2014

Nutcracker on Christmas TreeHeavenly Father, the first thing I’d like to do in my prayer today is to thank you for sending your son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into the world.  He didn’t have to come, but it was a choice he made, in a divine conspiracy with you and the Holy Spirit to rescue us.  It must have been an act of love and passion, because I can’t think of any reason why the creator of all that is, who lives in perfect trinitarian fellowship, would want to live amongst us.  We are so contaminated with hate, jealousy, pride, violence, greed, lust, and intolerance that it is hard for me to think about how jolting it must have been for you.  Yet in love you chose, in Messiah Jesus, to live as one of us, just as we do–coughing, bleeding, with fatigue, soreness, blisters, sweat and snot.  I don’t pretend to understand how you did it, how you were human and still God, how you were the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three different persons but one God, but I believe, just as those who have come before me, that you indeed did it.  You lived like us, and you died like us.  Mystery is the only way I can describe it, and love is the only explanation I have for it, so I thank you.

It feels like every Christmas I end up asking you for some of the same things.  The locations change, but the requests are the same.  I ask, O Lord, that you help us find some way of bringing peace in the world.  I ask that wars and strivings cease in far away places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and in Central Africa.  I ask that ISIS, al Qaeda, the LRA and other oppressive militaristic groups be defeated.  I ask that violence end, that peace flourish, and hope erupt.

There are many issues here, though, within the borders of the nation I love that are hard to imagine.  Somehow, Almighty God, show us how to achieve a justice and equitable society in which criminals are punished but the innocent are not unjustly beaten or killed.  We have a severe lack of trust that stems from generations of suspicion, fear, racism, crime, and the politics of division.  Please forgive us of our past and help us make a future so that we never have reason to see protests on the streets of America again.

I have a spiritual request too, Lord God.  I fear that ‘church,’ or what passes for church, has lost its way.  At one extreme it can look like a neurotic control freak trying to tell everyone else what to do.  At the other extreme it often looks like a lethargic glutton who will not get off the couch.  Neither one of these is good.  I pray that you bring a new generation of leadership with the boldness to call us out on our sins of selfishness, and then lead us to a better way.  I love the church, but fear we are on a path of self-destruction.  Save us from ourselves.

Things seem to have gotten a little better, Lord, in the last couple of years, but I know that many people are hungry, economically distressed, unemployed, and broke this Christmas season.  Help those who want jobs to find jobs, bring relief to those who have ended up on the wrong end of the economic field, and allow honest businesses to thrive.  I intercede also for those caught on the struggle of a political border between two nations–one wealthy and one not.  I pray for all immigrants, that they would find what they need.  I ask that our politicians gain the courage to formulate policy that makes sense and which is true to our highest ideals.  How ironic, Lord, that immigration is on my mind as we celebrate the birth of Jesus–who lived as an immigrant during his toddler years.  It is kinda sad, Lord.  Help us to do better, I know we can.

For many people Christmas has become all about family, tradition, and nostalgia.  I reject those as spiritually inadequate for the grandness of the miracle of the incarnation, nevertheless I am grateful for my family, our family traditions, and the memories of those who are no longer with us but who rest in eternity.  I ask that this Christmas be one of joy, laughter, and rich spiritual meaning.  In the name of Jesus I ask, submitting to his divine will and certain that whatever good I imagine or ask for is far less than his desire for peace, hope, goodness, and love in this world.  Amen.

ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT

Why are Lent and Ash Wednesday a good idea? 

This is a post from a previous year that I am re-posting today because, obviously, it is Ash Wednesday that, for me, helps answer some of that question.   

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This is the week that we Christians who follow a liturgical pattern of the year mark the journey through Lent and toward Easter.  It all begins on Ash Wednesday.  I consistently find that when I take the ash and observe Lent my experience of Easter is much richer and therefore more meaningful to me.  I did not grow up in a church which practiced Lent and Ash Wednesday, so when I learned about it as an adult I was skeptical.  However, as I dug around and realized that sin, prayer, confession and death with eternal judgment were all major themes, I knew I was all in.  What kind of Baptist doesn’t get excited about that!  But over the years as I have led my church to practice and observe Ash Wednesday and Lent I have encountered some objections to the practice.

1.  Lent is only for Roman Catholics.

There is a certain amount of truth to that claim.  Catholics do observe Lent and Ash Wednesday.  However, the counter is true as well.  Catholics also baptize and preach.  Does that mean I should not baptize and preach?  No, certainly not.  The best answer to this argument though, is that the roots of Lent and Ash Wednesday go way back to a time way before there were any distinctions such as Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists.  Much of Catholic history and tradition is also my tradition—we have a shared origin in Christ and the early church.  Besides, some of the greatest Christians I’ve ever met, studied, read, or learned about have been Roman Catholics.  It is time we put such prejudices and biases away.

2.  Ash Wednesday and Lent are too negative.

Yes, I suppose that is the way it might seem.  The major themes of Ash Wednesday are death, dust, mortality, sin, confession, fasting and contrition.  Lent, if done correctly, will be very uncomfortable and sometimes a downer.  People from traditions which emphasize the “Jesus makes me happy all the time” might be a little put off by such ‘negativism.’  The thing, though, is that the Scriptures call us to contemplate such.  I should be painfully aware of my own mortality.  “From dust I came and to dust I shall return” is a powerful thought.  Our culture likes to pretend death isn’t real, but it is and therefore I must confront my sin and deal with it in this life.  I should get my appetites under control and bring my body into discipline.  Ash Wednesday and Lent help us do that with a focus and the help of our community.

3.  We should always pray and fast and confess, not just one season a year.

I so agree.  I try and make prayer and confession a part of my daily routine.  Fasting is the kind of thing I’ve done in various ways throughout the year.  I especially encourage fasting before making big decisions.  It clears the mind.  But again, I bring the counter argument to this objection by saying if we should always be doing it, then how can it be wrong to be doing it now, at Lent, when millions, if not billions of people around the world are also engaged in it.  By fasting, praying, and confessing at the same time the Christian community is bound by a common experience which might have a powerful impact on the world.

I also ask, if you do not fast during Lent, then when do you fast?  The New Testament seems to expect it of Christ-followers and if you’re not going to do it now, then when do you plan on it?  Why not now?

Before I bring this to a close, I want folks to understand I am not trying to convince anyone they have to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent to be a good Christian or even for Easter to be significant.  Many good, wonderful, Jesus-loving Christ-followers never follow Lent and are great people whom I admire.  What I am arguing is that the practice of it is not inherently wrong or misguided, and that many people might actually be stirred by the practice in positive ways.  It can’t hurt and it just might change your perspective for the better.

If you’re interested, but don’t really know where to start, check out Suggested Guidelines for Lent.  It is a good place to start.