Little Did They Know: The Prose Sections of Job (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17)

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The prose section of the book of Job receives a variety of approaches, but the most consistent approach is to treat it as a separate folk-tale which existed independently than the present canonical form. This “campfire” tale, or this moral free legend, had grown sufficient credibility to take on a permanent form within a community. Then an unknown poet emerges who takes the folk-tale[1] and formalizes it with a series of poetic discourses and creates an extended edition, the present form of the book of Job. As such, questions emerge as to the continuity between the prose sections (1:1-2:13; 42:7-17) and the poetic sections (3:1-42:6). This source critical approach makes an assumption that the book of Job is the result of significant editorial activity, suggesting that the book has undergone considerable layering and updating. Robert Fyall argues that such a possibility does not “in itself” deny divine inspiration but it only makes poor sense in Job’s connection to the biblical canon.[2] As such, “the question of the relationship of the prologue (chs. 1-2) and the epilogue (42:10-17) to the poetic dialogue must be explored.”[3]

Nevertheless, despite the reticence among some scholars to see a significant degree of continuity vital to understanding the tensions, themes, and argument of the present form of the book of Job, it is argued here that a proper understanding of Job does not rely upon the theoretical pre-canonical form of the two independent traditions.[4] Instead, there is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue.[5] It is argued here that the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The style and vocabulary purposely represents an ANE setting apart of Israelite religion in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.

The Integral Nature of the Prose Sections

First, the prose sections play an integral part to understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. In proportion to the bulk of the book this may seem to overstate the weight of the prose sections in Job. As Bernhard Anderson argues, “if we are to understand the viewpoint of the author of Job we must rely primarily on the poems rather than on the prologue and epilogue.”[6] Nevertheless, Anderson concedes that the poems are only effective because they are “framed within the context of the folk story.”[7] The book of Job is framed by “the life-situation that occasions the poetic meditations.”[8] In general, the framework of narrative transitions are, as Robert Alter observes, an act of conscious narration “in order to reveal the imperative truth of God’s works in history.”[9] The function of the prologue and the epilogue, then, is to bracket in the core discussion of Job and this is accomplished by setting the plot, the tensions, and the characters which will enter the fray of the poetic discourses in Job 3:1-42:6.

The limits of the prose sections of Job are substantially agreed upon.[10] The usual limits of the prologue of Job are from 1:1-2:13. First, the prologue has natural and literary limits. A reading of the first chapters of Job lends its to a natural outline of a narrative that transitions to a series of discourses, but as James Patrick observes there are a series of “speech ascriptions” which provides a literary limit to the prologue in particular and the speech cycles in general (“Job opened his mouth… Job said”[11]).[12] This marks the closing limit of the prologue, which as “the frame-story of Job”[13] will find its themes continued in the poetic body of the Jobine discourses (3:3-42:6).[14] Second, the prologue, then, introduces the tension of the worthiness of God to be served, the sincerity of Job’s faith, the heavenly court and the “wager” (so Anderson), the earthly trials and suffering of a pious and prosperous patriarch, and the interaction among the heavenly realms (Yahweh, The Satan, Heavenly Court) and the earthly realm (skeptic wife, the three friends, Job the hurting) where the narrative will transition to the core discussions of the book.

The epilogue, on the other hand, is generally considered to begin in Job 42:7 and ends in 42:17.[15] First, reading the closing chapters of Job, the transition from discourse (“I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”) to the actions agrees with the usual outline of Job. There are however literary markers to distinguish between 42:6 and 7. John Hartley’s observation gives a semantic starting point to the epilogue with words from the Lord in favor of Job reminiscent of 1:7, and concludes in verse 42:17.[16] Although 42:7 may be viewed as a potential ascription by the narrator before a statement, it lacks the same verb phrase (וַיַּ֖עַן) used to introduce the Lord’s speeches (38:1, 40:1) and Job’s response (42:1). Second, the epilogue, then transitions from the repentance of Job and the demonstration of the wisdom of God and serves as a narrative of resolution. The epilogue the humility and restoration of Job, the tensions removed, and Yahweh honoring Job and dishonoring the three friends who “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

Robert H. Pfeiffer, however, nuances the prose sections (“prose folk tale”) by trimming the traditional prologue to 1:1-2:10 and the epilogue as 42:10b-17. Pfeiffer takes 2:11-13 as the introduction to the entire dialogue exchange; meanwhile, 42:7-10a as a part of the dialogue structure of Job.[17] That there is an obvious shift between 2:10 to 2:11 and 42:10a to 42:10b in content is readily conceded. Pfeiffer’s discussion of the structure of Job demonstrates the quality of his imagination to reconstruct the literary development of the book, but it fails to appreciate these verses in the prose sections as transitions within the same narrative event respectively. It is here that a significant warning finds validity: “Dissecting the book of Job into its component parts actually may diminish one’s understanding of its message.”[18] Instead, it is best to appreciate the “harmony and dissonance” between the prose and poetic discourses which force a critical rereading of the themes presented in Job.[19] The prose sections then are a vital part for understanding Job.

The Genre and Hebrew of the Book of Job

Second, the genre and vocabulary of Job represents an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) setting apart of Israelite religion, set forth in the tradition of the dramatic epic, and sets then the discourses on the wisdom and theodicy in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Moses). Epic literature centers upon episodes in the life of a known figure from history, conveying “didactic instruction concerning the gods and their relations with humanity.”[20] This area of study which has some implications for the dating and setting of Job, an area which has as many dates as interpreters. Dates range from late pre-exilic, a period between Jeremiah and Isaiah, or anywhere from the eighth century to the fourth-century B.C.E.[21] Nevertheless, another warning is called to the student of Job: “it is a mistake to infer the age of the writer from the circumstances of the hero of the book.”[22]

The Genre. Craig Broyles reminds that “the Bible must be read literarily before it can be read literally. If we think of Scripture as light (cf. Psa 119:5), exegesis acts like a prism revealing its colors.”[23] The style of the prologue and epilogue show marks of the dramatic narrative genre of the epic placed in the historical setting of reminiscent of the biblical patriarchs. Many scholars concede the point that Job defies specific genre classification (sui generis “self genre”), but on a macro-level it falls generally into the wisdom literature genre which has parallels in Babylon and Egypt.[24] The prose sections, however, seem to have points of contact with the epic elements of Genesis and Ugaritic literature suggesting that the author was either influenced by preexistence literary genre of the epic, or by specific examples.[25] In keeping with epic narratives in Genesis, Job is painted as a patriarch. His wealth is measured by his cattle and servants (1:3; 42:12), he is the head of his family in both paternal and religious aspects (1:5), and his life-span is comparable to known biblical patriarchs (42:16). Also, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans are in the land of Uz (1:15, 17). In general, then, the internal evidence portrays Job “as a Bedouin sheikh, living in the land of Uz, in northwest Arabia.”[26] It is not clear that Job is directly connected to Hebrew family; aside his connection to Uz, which may imply he is an Edomite, not much can be said of his ethnicity.[27] Most likely, Job is not an Israelite and probably predates the Abrahamic covenant.[28]

The epic genre[29] is further seen in the literary structure of the prose sections fit the literary type of epic, which are directed to an “audience” rather than “reading” public. Elements such as repetition and reiteration are symmetrically constructed throughout these sections following the “epic archetype.” These elements are seen in the celestial council (1:6-12, 2:1-7), in detailing the character of Job (1:1, 8, 22, 2:3, 10), and the three successive blows with “formulaic introduction” and “concluding refrain.” Also, the significant use of numbers within the prose sections (1:2, 42:13) is a Near Eastern literary feature, supported externally in Ugaritic epics. Furthermore, the mythology represented by the celestial beings in 1:6 and 1:21 also is a feature of epic drama. Such a concept of an assembly of celestial beings (“the assembly of the gods”) “are well attested,” according to Sarna, “in the Northwest Semitic literary sphere.” There is also the “prominence of women in epic literature” as seen in the daughters of Job. The naming of the daughters in contrast to the sons is inexplicable aside from its parallel use with Baal’s daughters over his seven named sons and other Ugaritic parallels. Moreover, in Mosaic law daughters receive an inheritance in the absence of sons (Num 27:8), Job’s daughters, however, receive theirs along with their brothers (42:15). This particular point details “quite a different social milieu” like that of Ugaritic epics. Internally, Job is placed in an ancient setting which may reflect the truth about his antiquity but may not have sufficient weight in its determining date.

The Vocabulary and Hebrew. Also, the vocabulary and type of Hebrew employed in the prose covers a significant amount of syntactical and semantic ground in the philological history of the Hebrew language and its connection to the Hebrew canon. Avi Hurvitz, however, disputes this assertion. In fact, he developed criteria to inform the Old Testament exegete whether the Hebrew volume under consideration is composed in Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), as opposed to Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH). After Hurvitz evaluates seven terms and phrases he concludes are LBH in the prologue and epilogue, argues that “in spite of his efforts to write pure classical Hebrew and to mark his story with ‘Patriarchal colouring’, [sic] the author of the Prose Tale could not avoid certain phrases which are unmistakably characteristic of post-exilic Hebrew, thus betraying his actual late date.”[30]

Ian Young reassesses[31] this study by the criterion Hurvitz developed. In order for there to be identifiable LBH the terms must meet the following: linguistic distribution, linguistic contrast, extra-biblical attestations, and accumulation of the evidence.[32] Young’s own assessment of Hurvitz’s work was both negative and reaffirming. Young dismisses three of Hurvitz’s submissions and supplements three additional phrases as LBH. The total numbered tallied by Young is seven between these two scholars. Young questions whether or not this is sufficient accumulation to establish a LBH imprint on the prose sections of Job to warrant a late date for them and for the book as a whole.[33] To put the matter into perspective, Young places literature known for its LBH with a 500 word sample in a comparative chart to find the astonishing finding that does not line up with post-exilic LBH core books; instead, it is situated low and close to Genesis. Young then concludes, “according to Hurvitz’s own criterion of accumulation, the Prose Tale of Job is not in LBH.”[34]

This is not to say that this is evidence for an early date of the prose sections of Job. Instead, Young argues that LBH and EBH are overlapping styles of Hebrew, rather than EBH being a chronological precursor to LBH. “EBH and LBH would thus turn out to be two styles of post-exilic Hebrew.”[35] Whether Young is correct regarding overlapping styles of Hebrew, it has not been established. It would not seem outside the realm of possibility; yet, in terms of a written language a developmental Hebrew from earlier to later seems legitimate along with the fact that oral developments tend to have their history, nuances, and trajectories.[36] At this point, though Young’s suggestion is inviting, it may be best to accept that EBH and LBH are post-exilic writings styles as tentative until more information arises. As Derek Kidner observes in the face of the “inconclusiveness” of the linguistic evidence, “Happily, this open question is academic, in every sense of the word. This book is no prisoner of time.”[37]

Little Did They Know: Elements of the Prologue and Epilogue

The prose sections place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.[38] This emphasis is seen in several aspects which arch over the thematic issues addressed in the poetic discourses of Job. This emphasis is more pertinent to the reader than it is to hero Job.

First, there is the setting of the heavenly court (1:6; 2:1). The heavenly court introduced in the prologue recalls to the reader that “there are powers in the universe other than God and that they exercise great influence on the course of events.”[39] The heavenly court motif in Job echoes Canaanite mythology of a council of the gods,[40] or, as Alter describes it, a “celestrial entourage” as in Psa 82:1 (1b “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”). In the prologue, the heavenly court scene appears twice where a defense of Job’s honest fidelity to God is made to rebut “the Adversary” (“the Satan”); however, in the epilogue, it is the Lord who descends upon the early court apart from the entourage and heavenly Adversary and restore’s Job’s faith and standing.

Second, this leads to a discussion of the main characters of the prose sections which are uniquely bound to each other in Job; namely, the Lord (יְהוָ֑ה), Job, and the Satan (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן). The interaction between God and the Satan place a wager upon Job’s life that he is fully unaware of; in fact, Job is never told in epilogue. The heavenly court is the stage where the celestial adversary emerges, “the Satan” (1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7). While it is thought by some that the articular “Satan” suggests a proper name,[41] Alter argues that the use of the definite article (הַשָּׂטָ֖ן) “indicates a function, not a proper name.”[42] Hartley also agrees, this use “functions as a title rather than as a personal name.”[43] This adversary (“the Satan”), then, functions as a celestial prosecutor against Job in response to the Lord (יהוה) proposal that Job is a unique human specimen of spiritual fidelity. This brings two particular elements into play which arch over the discourse cycles.

The drama is set, on the one hand, when Job becomes the subject of a “wager” that has his genuine devotion to the Lord questioned.[44] On the other hand, in the face of Job’s ignorance of the impending hard knocks which will challenge his faith, the Lord’s “justice is on the line and everything depends on the final verdict. God must act to vindicate not only Job but himself.”[45] This places the burden of the outcome upon God rather than Job. The Satan accuses, in essence, that positive rewards yield religious/pious service; hence, is not the person of God but instead a combination of divine bribery and human egocentric desire for these rewards which had motivated Job’s fidelity. It appears that the ideology of retribution builds upon these metrics.

In the epilogue, this theme is returned to after the series of discourses and a showing of Job’s penitence but the adversary is nowhere to be seen; instead, the Lord reinforces the righteousness and faithfulness of Job. It is the friends who have been arguing for the form of retribution the Satan argues for in the prologue, and now that they have been approaching it from the opposite angle. Job is indeed suffering. So, is Job suffering for no reason? The friends argue it is a response (Job 3:23) to Job’s hidden wickedness, so in order to return the hedge of rewards the patriarch must repent (5:17-27). But appeasing God in a religious transaction (repentance, sacrifice, etc.), or by piety, is not a foolproof plan to escape the hardships of life. Job, then, is not convicted to repent but holds to his integrity (Job 27:4-6). In the epilogue, though Job is not truly the victor of the debates, the friends have not changed their words and maintain Satan’s argument. Hence, in the friends the Satan’s accusation is proven inadequate and a great offense to the relationship God actually maintains with humanity.

Third, there is a level of “dramatic irony” which is shaped in the prologue and hangs through the discourses and ultimately returns in the epilogue. One the one hand, Job is completely unaware of what is about to happen to him; whereas the reader is fully knowledgeable of the perils which have been agreed to which are now coming upon Job. Yet, despite this lack of information, Job senses that there is a divine court to plead his case when his faith comes under scrutiny and serious questions about God and justice. This, however, is his longing and a position he is ultimately led to since the court of his contemporaries is already quite hostile and prejudicial towards him due to their conventional wisdom based upon their retributive theology.

On the other hand, the narrator establishes the irony of the story and its theological questions by granting permission to the intended audience of Job.[46] Job and the reader have completely different motivations as the discourses develop. Job’s questions emerge as seeking a better answer to his questions. The reader knows these are the wrong questions. For Job, the man, it is God who has hand picked Job (though this is true) to tear him down (this is not true). In fact, it is the Satan who has touched Job (though by God’s permission), to prove that humanity symbolized in Job will reject God faced with this unjust treatment (which Job refuses to do because of his own sense of integrity). It is Job who finds and exposes the inconsistencies of the conventional wisdom of retribution. In the midst of Job’s sense of indignity for his suffering as a senseless act of God, the reader knows the conversation is all wrong because God champions for Job.Job’s ignorance is the reader’s understanding of reality are carried from the prologue, hang during the poetic discussions, and returns in the epilogue.

It is Job’s ignorance which informs the reader’s understanding of reality. The world is not a tidy place, the good sometimes suffer despite being good, and the bad sometimes enjoy more good they do not “deserve.” The reader is carried along with this tension in mind from the prologue, as it hangs during the poetic discourse cycles, and returns in the epilogue only to be met with the knowledge that humanity does not have the depth of wisdom, the power of control, nor the skill to balance the wild and domesticated world. The epilogue benefits from Job’s confessions of his “smallness” in comparison to what he was critiquing (40:3-5) and that he spoke out of considerable ignorance (42:1-6). This is staggering since the reader supposes that in order to resolve the tension of the book, God would explain to Job why he is suffering. But that is not how the book ends. The resolution is found in the fact that instead of judgment upon Job and his friends for what they “deserve,” God forgives them all. This shows that God relates to humanity in terms of grace, but grace in a real world with hardships that are not always connected to, nor demonstrative of, their relationship with God.

Fourth, there is some foreshadowing in the prologue of the final verdict for Job reflected in the epilogue.[47] In Job 1:22 and 2:10 the narrator demonstrates the fortitude of Job’s faithfulness to God in the face of tragedy. After the first challenge to Job’s genuine devotion to God, the narrator observes, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22); furthermore, after the second challenge, the narrator writes again, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). These foreshadows are realized when the Lord himself validates Job’s words, “or you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7). It is not that Job is sinless, but that Job committed —albeit off and on — that God was not mechanical in his wrath as his friends had been arguing in their dialogues. This is the underlying argument of the three friends, asserting an unbalanced doctrine of retribution, a “doctrine of rewards and punishments that was widespread in the wisdom literature of antiquity.”[48] In the shorthand, their view amounted to two principles: virtue is rewarded and sin is punished. The prologue reveals heaven’s sabotage of this doctrine with, as Clines observes, “a most shocking infringement.”[49]

The poetic discourses did not center on the premise that “If you sin, then you will suffer,” instead the three friends “reversed the cause and effect to reach the belief that: If you suffer, then you have sinned.”[50] This theological failure on the part of the three friends demonstrates that although they claimed to “understand the meaning of life in terms of this doctrine of retribution,”[51] they lacked wisdom. In fact, they share the same problem as Job in that they are woefully ignorant of reality and are attempting to explain it with impoverished wisdom. This speaks to why Job laments his friends, “miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2), and why, in the epilogue, the Lord rebukes them and asks Job to intercede on their behalf (Job 42:8-9). Although the doctrine of retribution does not feature in the prose section, nor are there the explicit answer to why humans suffer, the events in the prologue create a series of events which allow the book to “disabuse one common belief, the so-called doctrine of retribution.”[52] In the end, the verdict on Job’s disparaged piety is seen in his response to the Lord in 42:5-6, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s piety is maintained and his wisdom is asserted for now he sees the Lord who provides at the cosmic level down to the human earthly level and acknowledges his relationship is based upon the charitable and gracious hand of God.

Concluding Thoughts

It has been said that Job is “the greatest monument of wisdom literature in the Old Testament.”[53] Yet, for such an epithet Job requires a demanding reservoir of critical skills to grapple with its structured tensions. The prose sections of Job require tremendous skill and patience to evaluate their contribution. There is a “logical coherence” between the prologue, the poetic discourses, and the epilogue. The prose sections play an integral part in understanding the canonical form of the book of Job. The epic genre and vocabulary places the wisdom and theodicy debate in a historical context like that of the Hebrew patriarchs. Finally, they place a large emphasis upon the heavenly court which anchors the theology and drama of the poetic discourses.

Endnotes

  1. The prologue is often considered the “oldest” element of Job, originally existing as a “simple folk tale” then forming the basis of the current story. See Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman, III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 202.
  2. Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 19.
  3. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 19.
  4. This does not disregard the fact that there are a variety of serious critical questions which must be considered; however, since even the consensus view as to the pre-literary origin of the prose-discourse-prose format of Job is theoretical and limited, it seems best to treat Job in its canonical form.
  5. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 202.
  6. Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1986), 590.
  7. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590. Irving F. Wood disagrees. Arguing from a source-critical point of view, the poetic discourses “displace the heart of the story” of Job found in the prologue and the epilogue. See his “Folk-Tales in Old Testament Narrative,” JBL 28.1 (1909): 39-40.
  8. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590.
  9. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1981), 46.
  10. Due to space and the complexity of the issues, the prose elements which attend to the introduction of Elihu (Job 32:1-5) and his discourses will not be discussed in this essay. Milo L. Chapman, “Job,” in vol. 3 of Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967), 101. Chapman sees this section as “part of the prose introduction of Elihu’s speeches.” See also, Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, 665, and John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 429.
  11. Unless otherwise stated all Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  12. James E. Patrick, “The Fourfold Structure of Job: Variations on a Theme,” VT 55.2 (2005): 186. Patrick demonstrates the use of “regular speech ascriptions” throughout Job (4:1, 6:1, 8:1, 9:1, 11:1, 12:1, 15:1, 16:1, 18:1, 19:1, 20:1, 21:1, 22:1, 23:1, 25:1, etc).
  13. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 74.
  14. These themes are principally found in the lengthy arguments made by The Satan against Job (1:9-11, 2:4-5).
  15. There are some variations on the epilogue but in general this is how many outline the epilogue.
  16. Hartley, The Book of Job, 539. “Whereas Yahweh has accused Job of darkening knowledge (38:2), his charge against the friends is much stronger. Job has been genuinely groping for the truth, but the friends have spoken falsely in their attempt to defend God.”
  17. Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1941; repr., New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1948), 660.
  18. William S. LaSor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 474.
  19. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 590-91.
  20. John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 46.
  21. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 593; Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200.
  22. Avi Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” HTR 67.1 (Jan. 1974): 31-32.
  23. Craig C. Broyles, “Interpreting the Old Testament,” in Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 28.
  24. Fyall argues that “we cannot force the book into a straightjacket. The nature of the book is such that into one form can cover the variety of situations, emotions, questions, protests and characters that it introduces” (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 23). Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 573; Walton places Job along side many ANE parallel wisdom texts in Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 169-87.
  25. See LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 472. “Our prologue and epilogue contain a considerable amount of epic substratum and that our prose version would seem to be directly derived from an ancient epic of Job.” See Nahum M. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” JBL 76.1 (March 1957): 15. Leland Ryken, however, does not list these prologues as examples of the epic in How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 78-81.
  26. Frederick F. The Wisdom Literature of the Bible: The Book of Job,” The Bible Student 23.2 (April 1952): 58.
  27. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 592.
  28. Tremper and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 200-01. Still, Job as a historical figure is known to Ezekiel and his reputation is comparable to that of Daniel (Ezek 14:14, 20).
  29. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” 15-24. Many other features and parallels of epic literature are discussed in Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, 58-63.
  30. Hurvitz, “Date of the Prose-Tale of Job Linguistically Reconsidered,” 18.
  31. Ian Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” VT 59.4 (2009): 606-29.
  32. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 608.
  33. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 621-26.
  34. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  35. Young, “Is the Prose Tale of Job in Late Biblical Hebrew,” 626.
  36. A. Jeffery, “Hebrew Language,” IBD 2:555-56.
  37. Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 76. Indeed, Tremper Longman, III, argues that it best to remain “agnostic about the date of composition” because “fortunately the answer to this question does not bear on its interpretation,” “Poetic Books,” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, ed. Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 98.
  38. The following discussion follows the lead of Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34-38.
  39. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  40. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 34.
  41. Wayne Jackson, The Book of Job: Analyzed and Applied (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1983), 20. He connects the goings of “the Satan” with 1 Pet 5:8 and argues for the Devil; in fact, Jackson opposes the view taken here that “the Satan” is a celestial member of the heavenly court describing it as “baseless.” Fyall likewise takes “the Satan” as the personal Devil (Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 36). Outside of Job, but within the Hebrew canon, the articular “the Satan” only appears in Zechariah (3:1-2). Both contexts are legal in setting which gives weight for a legal/courtroom Adversary – the prosecutor.
  42. Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes — A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: Norton & Co., 2010), 12.
  43. Hartley, The Book of Job, 71.
  44. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  45. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 35.
  46. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 37-38.
  47. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You, 38.
  48. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  49. David J. A. Clines, “A Brief Explanation of Job 1-3,” in Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 250.
  50. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  51. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 595.
  52. Dillard and Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 209.
  53. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 588.
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Chasing the Book of Acts (Free Audio)

Chasing the Book of Acts (1)

The NT church was a force and demonstration of God working through his people. They cared for each other, they cared for their neighbors, they were passionate about God’s word, they were passionate about bringing light into a world of darkness.

The primitive church was not without his flaws, but Scripture demonstrates that despite occasional setbacks due to ignorance, or sin, or prejudice, the disciples of Jesus chased the cause for which they were sent into the world with vigor: to bring the gospel light and forgiveness into the world.

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:18 ESV)

All Jovan ever wanted to be was a member of the church he can read about in the Bible. In these lessons, he challenges all followers of Christ to chase the Book of Acts. He hopes you have a clearer vision of the purpose of the early church. May you challenge your current church setting in order to draw it closer to the primitive biblical church, that you will draw closer to God. Encourage others to chase the same Spirit which led the early church.

Just image what church can be like if we only seek to chase God the way the primitive church did. We can, we must. Join me in this series: Chasing the Book of Acts.

Study Guide

In development

A Christian’s Perspective on Plagiarism

Untitled design

Aristocratic Romans began education early in their children with the use of private tutors.[1] Historian Robert Wilken goes on to explain that even a certain “style of speech” was essential to embrace early on so that there was no “style” to unlearned later in life.

To give a sense of the aristocratic educational processes of the mid-first century AD, Wilken writes:

Roman education consisted chiefly of the study of rhetoric, the skill an enterprising young man would need most for a life in the law courts or a position in the civil bureaucracy. Grammar, recitation, analysis of classical literary texts, imitation of the great styles.[2]

Such learning would include tremendous repetition.

That is probably why the Latins are attributed with the old saying: Repetitio mater studiorum estTranslation: “Repetition is the mother of all learning.”[3] After enough repetition, imitation is bound to appear – intended or otherwise.

It would stand to reason that at some point imitation must give rise to personal stylistic variations and the development of a unique voice. Still, one might hear the echo of a common saying: “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” (QuotationsPage.com).

Nevertheless, not all imitation is flattery is it? Especially the kind of imitation which goes by the name of plagiarism. Dictionary.com denotes the term as:

[A]n act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.

Unfortunately, despite the constant emphasis on academic responsibility, plagiarism appears in our educational institutions and academic organizations.

With the time of the year upon us where educational pursuits are reinvigorated by the rush of “back to school,” we thought it timely to address an issue which affects the school house as well as the church house.

The Issue of Plagiarism

If a dictionary definition does not bring home the problem of plagiarism, perhaps synonyms will provide some focus and sharpness to our understanding. Phrases such as “piracy,” counterfeiting,” and “passing off” (Dictionary.com) should be pointed enough to stress that this act is “literary theft” (Thesaurus.com).

A few years ago, ABC Primetime’s Charles Gibson spoke to many college students regarding cheating and plagiarism. One student interviewed said, “The real world is terrible […] People will take other people’s materials and pass it on as theirs. I’m numb to it already, I’ll cheat to get by.”[4]

It is unfortunate when Christians use equally transparently flawed reasons for intellectual dishonesty. The Christian ought to have an aversion to plagiarism out of sheer principle that we ought not to be thieves or robbers (Exod 20:15; 1 Pet 4:15).

This ethic would extend beyond physical property to include intellectual property as well. “Sticky fingers” is not supposed to be a part of the “worthy” calling of God (Col 1:10; Eph 4:1). And yet, it is no longer a shock to this author when it occurs “even in religious circles.”[5]

It is an amazing thing that some operate under the impression that they can provide a sort of “wave-of-the-hand” acknowledgment to another’s work, while copying line-after-line of material, without the common use of appropriate grammatical devices which indicate the identity of the real author.[6]

The goal to expand the knowledge of humanity is never deterred by documenting the sources used and borrowed – “whether facts, opinions, or quotations.”[7]

While doing research on dinosaurs, I stumbled upon a so-called hi-profile preacher and publisher who blatantly took the words of their collaborators only to claim those “words” to be the mutual property of their ministry. Meanwhile, they fail to forget that they did not do the heavy lifting of the research nor organize of the wording of the material. Further, they seem to disregard the fact that most publications are archived so that it becomes clear whose words were penned first.

There are, however, times when it may seem impossible to attribute individual concepts one has come to believe or understand due to considerable collaboration with others. We ought to acknowledge the fluid elements of learning and idea shaping. I always appreciate the “Acknowledgements” page at the beginning of the book where the author intends to show an indebtedness to their colleagues and friends for the stimulation and fertile ground where many of the ideas they have written about were seeded and planted.

So Why Plagiarize?

I suppose there are many reasons for the seductive temptation to take the words of another to employ them as though they are yours: need, laziness, lack of creativity, tight schedules, arrogance, etc. “Convenience, quick turn around and other elements are also factors,” says Jonathan Bailey, a victim of plagiarism.[8]

The action is, however, thuggish. It has been observed that “plagiarists chose their victims in much the same way and they often do so with much less skill than the common mugger chooses theirs.”[9] Would anyone, including a child of God, want to be considered a “mugger”?

There are two New Testament terms of significance here.[10] (a) Thieves (kleptes) operate by means of “fraud and in secret”; likewise, (b) robbers (lestes) obtain what is not theirs “by violence and openly.” The plagiarist resembles both of these terms.[11]

Joseph Gibaldi, in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, observes:

Using another person’s ideas, information, or expressions without acknowledging that person’s work constitutes intellectual theft. Passing off another person’s ideas, information, or expressions as your own to get a better grade or gain some other advantage constitutes fraud.[12]

It has been a painful thing to read the work of fellow classmates, and the work of others, only to discover that the words and research they employ are not their own – but that of others.

Not only has “intellectual theft” and “fraud” occurred, but blatant deception as well. Since liars, the greedy, and thieves will not be welcomed in that eternal abode (1 Cor 6:10, Rev 21:8), why plagiarize? There is no spiritual advantage. Frankly, there is no advantage at all.

What about the Sermon?

I was in the assembly of a congregation when a young preacher was “working” through his lesson. Then, the wording began to sound very familiar. I immediately looked for a pen and something to write on and jotted down what I suspected was his next few points. Sure enough, I had read this sermon before and apparently so had this young preacher. Was he plagiarizing? If I’m going to be a “stickler” about it, then yes.

However, there seems to be a sort of allowance among the preaching community for sharing and using the outlines and even content of another preacher. Yet, we must be careful. Gary Holloway shares a few anecdotal examples of “stolen sermons.” He introduces his segment of the practice among southern preachers with the following words:

Sermons, like most speeches, are not often copyrighted. Preachers felt no moral compunction in “borrowing” sermon ideas, outlines, and sometimes entire sermons verbatim from other preachers.[13]

Holloway recounts two stories of famous Restoration Movement preachers of the early 20th century (H. Leo Boles and N. B. Hardeman) who happened to be visiting a congregation when their sermons were being presented verbatim by the local preacher.

Despite the cordial responses and humorous reactions by the original speakers,[14] Holloway footnotes these anecdotal stories with a concern. A concern which I share:

[T]heir humor is based on a serious issue. Although stealing sermons was a common and accepted practice, there is an underlying sense of the unethical nature of the practice that provides the humor in this situation. These young men got caught doing what most preachers did surreptitiously [i.e., covertly, secretly].[15]

For preachers and evangelists, then, plagiarism can present itself to be a true danger. I sympathize. If I only consider the math of my own preaching ministry, then at the minimum I speak about 52 weeks a year – that’s every week.

I speak, at the minimum, three times a week before an assembly 52 weeks a year. That means I present spiritual content designed to stimulate, provide a reason for meditation, and to ignite action approximately 156 times a year, 13 times a month, 3 times a week.

Most church goers do not realize the work that goes into just one of these messages. They can demand the energies of a small college term paper. Then multiply this three times a week, 13 times a month, 156 times a year. That’s is a lot of temptation to short-cut the content and plagiarize and ignore a moderate level of attribution for words or phrases which may be vital to the delivery of a sermon or message.

Here are a few guidelines that I follow and I share them here as benchmarks of genuine attribution in a field which it can be very hard to cite the source. These are in no order of importance, and they are benchmarks that I have put together over time.

  1. Remember that there is no copyright on truth. There is copyright protection for the presentation of that truth, but not on truth itself. Every preacher is influenced by the thoughts and studies of another. If you quote an author verbatim and at length introduce your quote with an attribution.
  2. When you make a linguistic argument, there is no need to cite every source which was consulted (nor the whole debate). Nor, should one make lexical lists of definitions for matters which are insignificant (I have heard one preacher spend over 10 minutes quoting lexicons over the definition of the word “cup”). If it is significant to the point of the lesson, refer by name the language tool being used and give the audience a sense of why that is important.
  3. When you follow a book, article, or commentary’s flow of thought then at the beginning of the message an acknowledgment to the author would be ideal. However, it would be best if the preacher worked through the text on their own and found their own sense of the flow of thought of the passage before they ever consulted other authors.
  4. Keep track of your research and sources of information by footnoting or parenthetical references in an outline or manuscript of the sermon. Sometimes I share outlines with the assembly so they can follow along or so they can study the passage again later. I’ve been asked, “why do you have all the footnotes in your outlines?” My answer, “so the brethren will know I have thought through my message.”

No doubt some will disagree with some of my suggestions. I’m sure some will say that I have missed a few more benchmarks. Yet, the above will go a long way to preventing plagiarism in the pulpit. We already have the greatest message in the world, there is no need to hide how we frame our thoughts.

Concluding Thoughts

It may be argued that plagiarism is not the worst thing “out there.” One might be tempted to agree, but the practice of hijacking the words of another robs one of learning and personal development. More importantly, it reflects a sinful disposition which must be rejected.

The truth of the matter is that it is an ethically deficient habit which not only hurts others but also ruins the trustworthiness of intellectual thief. It is a tragedy that some either do not know the courtesy of citing where they learned their information, are shallow or too lazy to follow through with it. We strongly encourage our writing brethren and friends to refrain from literary theft.

For our friends who are in the spotlight we submit this brief warning from Wayne Jackson:

Every writer should remember this. Once he has compromised his status as a serious student and a researcher of integrity, he will forever be suspect. Whose material are we reading—his or someone else’s? It behooves the Christian to be honorable in all things.[16]

Indeed, Christians would do well to follow the words of the apostle Paul, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17).

Sources

  1. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1984), 2.
  2. Wilken, Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 2.
  3. Amanda Moritz, “Repetition is the Mother of all Learning,” Brainscape.com.
  4. A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools,” ABCNews.com.
  5. Wayne Jackson, “Hank Hanegraaff and the ‘Christian Research Institute’,” ChristianCourier.com.
  6. Jackson, “Hank Hanegraaff.”
  7. Joseph Gilbaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed. (N.Y.: Modern Language Association of America, 2003), 142. Cf. Wayne Jackson, 1997-2012, “Advice to Aspiring Writers,” ChristianCourier.com. Jackson writes, “I have observed some writers quote line after line—even consecutive paragraphs—from other authors with no credit given whatever. Or, sometimes significant portions of a writer’s material will be “borrowed”—word-for-word with no quotation marks—but with some sort of generic acknowledgment added at the end. Literary “plastic surgery” is unethical. One never detracts from his own scholarship by giving proper acknowledgment to those from whom he has learned.”
  8. Jonathan Bailey, “Why Plagiarism is not Flattery,” PlagiarismToday.com.
  9. Bailey, “Why Plagiarism.”
  10. See: Jovan Payes, “Such Were Some of You (5),” Livingstoncoc.wordpress.com.
  11. Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, 12th ed. (London: Trubner, 1894), 157.
  12. Gilbaldi, MLA Handbook, 66 (emphasis added).
  13. Gary Holloway, Saints, Demons; and Asses: Southern Preacher Anecdotes (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989), 25.
  14. When a preacher saw H. Leo Boles in the assembly, he apologized from the pulpit. Boles responded, “That’s all right; the fellow I got it from said you can preach it too” (Holloway, Saints, Demons; and Asses, 26).
  15. Holloway, Saints, Demons; and Asses, 26.
  16. Wayne Jackson, “Ethical Guidelines for Writers,” ChristianCourier.com.

Sonship, Spiritual Formation, and Eschatology: A Reading of Romans 8:12-17

college papers

The initial basis for looking into Romans 8:12-17 was due to an interest in Paul’s use of “adoption” (huiothesia) in his Christian application of a legal technical term. Paul’s use of the term is not limited to Romans (8:15, 23; 9:4) for it is also found in the letters to the Galatian (4:5) and the Ephesian (1:5) Christians. This is the combined data of Paul’s use of the term in particular and in the New Testament in general.

In Romans 8:15 Paul assures his readers that they had received “a spirit of adoption”; similarly, but with a different nuance, in Galatians 4:5 Paul writes of an “adoption” dependent upon the redemptive work of Jesus as he frees those under the law (4:4). In Ephesians, Paul again establishes the connection between “adoption” and Jesus; specifically, the saints are to understand their “adoption” was preordained and accomplished through Jesus (1:5). However, in Romans 8:23 “adoption” is something yet to come when the body will be delivered. Lastly, Romans 9:4 calls attention to the fact that “adoption” is a possession of the Israelites along with “the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (cf. Exod 4:22).

It appears that “adoption” is an important term in Paul’s argumentation in Romans to explain sonship which belonged to Israel “according to the flesh” (9:5), but belongs also to “the children of the promise” (9:8). Nevertheless, the limited use of huiothesia demonstrates that “adoption” has a specialized context of application and is not widely used by other New Testament authors. Although huiothesia holds a striking image which reflects the full inclusion of the Christian into the family of God with all its benefits, a reading of Romans 8:12-17 demonstrates that “sonship” (huiothesia, huioi theou, tekna theou) requires spiritual formation (8:13) with a view to a joint glorification with Jesus (8:17).

There are many subordinate points to be sure; however, these three generalizations serve as a critical bridge to carry Paul’s argument further from Romans 8:1-11 to 8:18 which continues a discussion about living in the spirit (contra kata sarka 8:5) and anticipating a “glory that is to be revealed to us.” These points will be borne out in the translation and reading prepared below.

Translation of Romans 8:12-17

[12] So then, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh (namely, to live according to the flesh). [13] For if you live according to the flesh then you are destined to die, but if you put to death, by the Spirit, the deeds of the body, then you will keep yourself alive. [14] For all who are led by God’s Spirit, these are God’s sons. [15] For you have not received again a spirit of slavery towards fearfulness, but you received a spirit of adoption in which we cry out: “Abba-Father!” [16] The Spirit testifies along with our spirit that we are God’s children, [17] and if we are children, then we are heirs as well –on the one hand, God’s heirs, and on the other hand, joint heirs with Christ– if, after all, we suffer together in order that we may share in glory.

Exegesis and Reading of Romans 8:12-17

According to the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text, Paul begins this with the strengthened phrase Ara oun (“so then”), which is a combination of two “inferential conjunctions”[1] designed to link it with the preceding rhetoric written against living kata sarka. In Romans, Ti oun (3:1, 9; 4:1; 6:1, 15; 7:7, 13; 8:31; 9:14) or oun (5:1; 6:12; 11:1, 11; 12:1) are used to string large sections of questions and rhetoric along;[2] moreover, ara appears in the letter in its basic function as an inferential particle (“So” 7:21; “therefore” 8:1).[3]

Interestingly, Ara oun marks significant shifts to capture both the inference and the transition in the text (5:18; 7:3, 25b; 8:12; 9:16, 18; 14:12, 19).[4] Consequently, Paul is doing two things in 8:12. He is affirming an inference while transitioning his argument forward to oppose living kata sarka: “brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh (namely, to live according to the flesh)” (8:12).[5]

In reading opheiletai esmen ou te sarki Paul’s main point is established; namely, “we are not debtors with reference to the flesh.” Daniel B. Wallace states that opheiletai is a verbal-noun of personal interest formed from its cognate verb opheilo (“I owe”) which requires the dative to complete its thought (te sarki); moreover, te sarki also limits the state of the subject and verb (“we are not debtors”) which suggests this is a Dative of Reference, or Dative of Respect.[6] The next clause tou kata sarka zen is translated parenthetically because it appears best understood epexegetically.

Stanley E. Porter makes two helpful points. First, Porter writes, “when an infinitive is used as part of a prepositional phrase, this syntactical construction must be taken seriously.” Second, when the infinitive follows tou it may function “epexegetical or appositional.”[7] Since the infinitive draws out the meaning of “we are not debtors to with reference to the flesh,” it seems best to regard it epexegetical and parenthetical. This is in complete accord with his argument in Romans 8:5-8.

At this point the reader is directed (gar) to a series of cohesive conditional statements, marked off with ei, which portray the curse of living according to the flesh (8:13a) and the blessing received when led by the Spirit of God (i.e. spiritual formation; 8:13b-15). It is important to rehearse that conditional statements are two clauses which are combined to portray a contingency; they are not necessarily portrayals of reality.[8]

Usually, the first clause contains the contingency under consideration (protasis); meanwhile, the second clause is a statement – the portrayal – about what will happen, or not happen, should the contingent action occur (apodosis). In 8:13a, then, eikata sarka zete, mellete apothneskein, is a portrayal of the contingent curse upon unfaithful Christians: “if you live according to the flesh” (contingent), then “you are destined to die” (portrayal). There exists a cause and effect relationship portrayed in this conditional statement: death will occur if one lives fleshly. Wallace debates the idea of whether this should be viewed exclusively spiritual or literal. Although he is probably right to lean towards a literal view, this is not a grammatical question. Nevertheless, sin is accompanied with both a physical and spiritual curse of death (Gen 3:3; Rom 5:12, 6:23).

In Romans 8:13b, the text reads: ei de pneumati tas praxeis tou somatos[9] thanatoute, zesesthe. The de provides a hint that the forthcoming text is adversative but not so strong it is unrelated to the previous words. This is quite helpful, since the contingency under consideration, “if you put to death, by the Spirit, the deeds of the body,” is designed to counter life kata sarka. The verb thanatoute (“you [pl.] put to death”) is an active verb, which is significant for an understanding of how the dative pneumati functions in the apodosis. Initially, one must consider if the Dative is of Agency or of Means.

There is a key to distinguish between the two, though both, as Porter observes, “label a relationship by which (normally) a thing (and occasionally a person) brings about or enters into an action with respect to something else.”[10] The main key is found in the verb thanatoute, being a present active verb, which places the burden of the action (“I kill”) upon Paul’s readers not upon the Spirit. In order for the dative pneumati to be a “clear” grammatical demonstration of agency, Wallace states the verb must be perfect passive.[11] The protasis reads, then, “if you put to death, by means of the Spirit, the deeds of the body.” As in the previous conditional statement (13a), there is no structural marker establishing the “then” clause (apodosis); however, the semantics of the construction is obvious. The middle verb Zesesthe completes the “if-then” clause, portraying the effect: “you will keep yourself alive.” The reader should understand there is a cause and effect relationship portrayed in this conditional statement: The Christian’s life will be kept, if the Christian employs the instrumentality of the Spirit to kill off the body’s “sinful” actions. Clearly the Christian participates in their spiritual formation when they embrace the life-giving relationship of the Spirit.[12]

The reader is directed (gar) again to a series of cohesive statements (8:14-15) which provide reassurance to Christians regarding their inclusion into the Father’s family. Verse 14 appears to be an implied conditional statement since the grammatical markers are lacking to introduce the contingent clause.[13] If this is the case, there may be an ambiguity which is at play in the text. The verse reads: hosoi gar pneumati theou agontai, houtoi huioi theou eisin (“for all who are led by God’s Spirit, these are God’s sons”). In the assumption of an implied contingency, “If you are all led by God’s Spirit,” is followed by, “then, you are God’s sons.” Or, as Wallace states the converse, “If you are the sons of God, you are led by the Spirit.”[14] In either case, what is at the core in this implied contingency is spiritual formation (as “sons of God”) not conversion.

Moses E. Lard, taking eisin in a durative sense, translates and observes: “these remain sons of God. For the Apostle is not speaking of originally becoming sons, but of continuing such.”[15] The means by which this occurs is stated in the present passive + Dative of Means clause, pneumati theou agontai. The agent of Christian spiritual formation is, then, God’s Spirit – not the deeds of the body (tas praxeis tou somatos) or the flesh (sarka).

In verse 15, then, Paul extends (gar) this argument to further intertwine spiritual formation with the assurance of sonship: ou gar elabete pneuma douleias palin eis phobon alla elabete pneuma huiothesias en ho kradzomen: abba ho pater (“For you have not receive again a spirit of slavery towards fearfulness, but you received a spirit of adoption in which we cry out: Abba-Father”). In both cases of the aorist active elabete, the verb functions in a culminative sense (resultative, perfective, effective aorist), which places a “slight emphasis” upon “the conclusion or the results of the completed action.”[16]

Particularly is this true with verbs having roots which “signify effort or attempt or intention or process, and it indicates the completion or attainment of such things.”[17] In the first instance, elabete is modified by the negative particle ou and the adverb palin; whereas pneuma douleias is the condition (“benefit”) not received.[18] On the contrary (alla), Paul affirms the conclusive nature of what they have received: pneuma huiothesias. This is a statement regarding a status change. Christians are not merely “slaves” who had been freed from the servitude to sin (manumission) but are huioi theou, because they have received pneuma huiothesias. There is a logical connection between pneuma huiothesias and the prepositional phrase (taking the dative) en ho and the governing dynamic of their outcry (kradzomen). Does en ho suggest “within” (Locative), located “within the sphere of influence, control…” (Spherical), or is it manner or cause (Instrumental)?[19]

Despite the overlap in many respects, Dative of Sphere – an extension of the Locative – retains the emphasis of the Spirit’s influence. The result is spectacular for the content of the Christian outcry is: abba ho pater.[20] This is where spiritual formation and sonship/adoption interlock; namely, in affirmation.

The Christian not only affirms sonship, but “the Spirit himself” (auto to pneuma) is involved in affirming the Christian’s status before God. Paul writes: auto to pneuma summarturei to pneumati hemon hoti esmen tekna theou (8:16). The verse emphasizes the Spirit’s identity with the predicate construction auto to pneuma (cf. Rom 8:26).[21] The Spirit is involved in affirming “we are God’s children” (esmen tekna theou). There is no question Whom the subject of the verb is; however, there is a question regarding the relationship between the verb summarturei (“he testifies” to/for) and the dative-genitive construction to pneumati hemon (“to/for our spirit”).[22]

On the one hand, the Spirit’s testimony may be viewed in terms of Dative of Association which renders the reading “the Spirit testifies alongside with our spirit”; on the other hand, maintaining the dative-genitive as the indirect object the reading is “the Spirit testifies to our spirit.” Wallace states that grammatically, Dative of Association is usually based upon verbs compounded with sun but this is not an exhaustive rule. The reason being, sun may also be intensive rather than associative. Wallace, following Cranfield, recoils at the notion of the associative since the Christian spirit “has no right at all to testify” along with the Spirit.[23] This is a theological exacerbation of the grammar. Trevor Burke responds, “the compound verb… with the dative expression would more naturally mean ‘bears witness with our spirit’ as two witnesses linked together indicating that we are God’s sons.”[24] It would seem consistent with the movement of the overall thrust of the passage that the Spirit’s leading crescendos in a united confirmation (“The Spirit itself testifies along with our spirit”).

Adoptive sonship is at the heart of verses 16-17, so much so that Paul transitions from huioi theou (“God’s sons”) to tekna theou (“God’s children”) after assuring his Christian readers they have received pneuma huiothesias (“the spirit of adoption”). The transition is significant and is the basis for the eschatological conclusion of this segment of Romans 8, picked up in verse 18. The text, structured semantically as a conditional sentence,[25] reads: ei de teknakai kleronomoi: kleronomoi men theou, sungkleronomoi de Christou, eiper sumpaschomen hina kai sundoxasthomen. As in verse 13b, de is adversative but not so strong it is unrelated to the previous words. In fact, it further develops the argument from the previous verse with the conditional clause: “if we are children [tekna], then we are heirs as well.” The protasis is evidential not causal, and the apodosis is inferential not effectual; moreover, heirs as children is further explained: “on the one hand, God’s heirs, and on the other hand, joint heirs with Christ.”

Paul concludes this pericope with an intensive form of ei (eiper) meaning “if indeed, if after all, since, if it is true that.”[26] The strength of the closing clause is in its eschatological connection. Spiritual formation through the Spirit, and adoptive sonship with its inheritance, are connected to a joint-glorification through suffering: “if after all we suffer together in order that we will share[27] in glory.”

Concluding Words

Romans 8:12-17 is a tremendous contribution to the Gospel’s appropriation of all those freed from the lordship of sin and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Where they were once flesh led, now Christians are Spirit led. Where once they were outside of the family of God, they are made adopted sons and confirmed as children with an inheritance. Christians are given the resources through the Spirit to use “death” to kill the deeds of the body in order to have life. The Spirit provides the context for spiritual formation. The model of slavery and emancipation from slavery were probably very vivid the Roman Christians, but perhaps the most eye opening is God taking former slaves and embracing them as members of his own household as sons and children. This is not a token adoption, but a full investment complete with inheritance, making the Christian a joint heir with Christ in suffering and glorification.

Endnotes

  1. Archibald T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament, 10th ed. (1933; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1979), 317.
  2. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 305.
  3. BDAG 103.
  4. BDAG 104; Robertson and Davis, New Short Grammar, 317.
  5. Unless specified the translation used in the body of this paper is that of the author.
  6. James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979), 36; Harvey E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1957), 85.
  7. Porter, Idioms, 198.
  8. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 680-87.
  9. The Nestle-Aland textual apparatus notes the variant reading: tes sarkos. Although there is some antiquity to the variant reading, and some linguistic consistency (sarx); in keeping with the more difficult reading which would require such a scribal adjustment, tou somatos is viewed as the best wording.
  10. Porter, Idioms, 99.
  11. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 163-166. Wallace concedes that a passive verb would be sufficient.
  12. The two conditional sentences portray the outcomes of the two paths of spiritual formation. Living kata sarka leads to death, but living pneumati maintains life by killing sin at its source tas praxeis tou somatos. This is in keeping with Paul’s overall argument in Romans 8: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (ESV).
  13. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 685-86.
  14. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 686.
  15. Moses E. Lard, Commentary on Romans (1875; repr., Delight, AR: Gospel Light, n.d.), 264.
  16. Brooks and Winbery, Syntax, 100.
  17. Brooks and Winbery, Syntax, 100.
  18. This is an adamant declaration: “you are not slaves again for you have been freed from sin” (cf. Rom 6.17-18).
  19. Porter, Idioms, 156-58.
  20. Robertson and Davis, New Short Grammar, 215. Robertson calls this idiomatic construction, “The Articular Nominative as Vocative”; meaning, a “vocative of address” is formed in the nominative yet its case is vocative.
  21. Porter, Idioms, 120; Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, 129
  22. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 160
  23. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 159
  24. Trevor J. Burke, “Adoption and the Spirit in Romans 8,” EQ 70.4 (1998): 322.
  25. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 683.
  26. Porter, Idioms, 209; Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1993), 53; Dana and Mantey, Manual Grammar, 262; Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 344.
  27. Brooks and Winbery, Syntax, 103. The grammatical reading of the passage takes the aorist passive verb as “I am glorified with,” but the hina and the anticipation inherent in the clause would suggest the aorist is functioning as a Futuristic Aorist.

Lessons from a “Sinful” Woman

washing-jesus-feet

On one occasion in the ministry of our Lord, Jesus accepted a dinner invitation from a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:40); interestingly, a woman with a reputation for being a “sinner” had heard of Jesus’ arrival and interrupts the dinner by cleaning his feet with her tears and hair, and anointing them with oil (Luke 7:36-38).

Simon recoils at the woman’s act, and has an internal monologue which essentially questions the validity of the Lord’s ministry: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39 ESV).

As in other occasions, Jesus answers this unspoken criticism (Luke 7:40; cf. Matt 9:4, Mark 2:8). The Lord responds with a “parable of two debtors” (Luke 7:41-43), which has as its main thrust the point that “our sense of forgiveness will evidence itself in love and service.”[1]

There are points in the narrative which suggest that the woman and the Lord had known each other previously. The woman’s act of service and love (Luke 7:44-46) is a demonstration of her gratitude. This gratitude is based upon the fact that her sins “are forgiven” (Luke 7:47-48).

In the first instance, Jesus speaking to Simon the Pharisee states that this woman’s sins “stand forgiven” (v. 47). The phrase is one word in the original and is in the perfect passive indicative form. The verb reflects that her sins were forgiven at some point previous to their encounter at Simon’s house, and remain to be so. This would explain her great demonstration, of which Simon was critical.

In the second instance, Jesus turns to the woman and speaks the exact same phrase (v. 48). This time, the Lord encourages her – your sins remain to be forgiven. The woman “stands saved” (Grk. sesoken) because of her faith in the Lord; consequently, the Savior could send her into a life of “peace” (v. 50). The Lord emphasizes the abiding results of her forgiveness received prior to this dinner.

Moreover, Jesus concedes the point that the woman’s life had been ravaged by sin: “her sins, which are many” (v. 47). This strikes at one of Simon’s criticisms raised by the woman’s action, and Jesus demonstrates his full knowledge of the situation. He knew “what sort of woman” she was. Now, she is different; now, she is saved and forgiven, commissioned to live a new life embraced by the peace of God (Rom 5:1).

If Service is the Symptom… Stay Sick

It ought to go without saying that this encounter with our Lord is one that should pull at our heart, for we share, as Christians, the same plight as this woman. Knowing the debt of forgiveness we owe to our God, knowing that the Lord went behind enemy lines to rescue us from a calamity worse than death, we too should be of similar passions to show our love through service.

The idea of service is not an abstract notion that we subscribe to, service is an expression of love. It is a symptom of our love for God. Consequently, if service is a “symptom,” then love and gratitude generated by salvation is the “infection.” And in this analogy, we would rather be sick than cured.

The Christian, therefore, should never be complacent in their service to God. Packed pews look nice, but if that is all we offer to God, we have failed. Service, as demonstrated by this woman, sacrifices time, resources, energy, and offers it to her Lord. Can we do any less?

When there are cards to mail, people to visit, broken hearts to help mend, and souls to invite to our Father’s promises in the Gospel, it should be done by our hands – not by the hands of another. The most natural explanation for this behavior is our gratitude and love for our Lord.

Lessons to be Learned

Besides the principle emphasis from this passage that forgiveness leads to a sense of gratitude which showcases itself in acts of love and service, there are a few other lessons which may be observed.

(1) This passage highlights the divinity of Jesus, bearing witness that He has the right to forgive sin.

Jesus’ claims to divine authority are well documented in the New Testament, and even was a basis for the plots against his life (John 5:17-18; 7:1).

In Luke, Jesus declared that the woman’s sins stand forgiven (7:47-48), and this offended the group of Pharisees among the dinner party. They reasoned, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (v. 49). They understood Jesus’ claims were not idealistic (mere wishful thinking), but were literal claims to divine authority (cf. Luke 5:17-26).

(2) A person’s new life may be overshadowed, for a time, by their past moral failures.

We know virtually nothing about this woman only that she is labeled as “a woman of the city” (v. 37) and “a sinner” (vv. 37, 39). This is not just a note from Luke, the narrator, but this was the Simon’s understanding of who this mysterious woman was.

Nevertheless, critics will come and go, but the peace of God lasts forever (v. 50). The unrelenting critics who so often affirm, “you’ll do it again”, will be silenced and shamed by service to God (1 Pet 3:13-17; 2:11-12).  We do not serve to prove others wrong, we serve to love God. The motivation behind our service must be fueled by our gratitude; as it is written:

Now which of them will love him more? Simon [the Pharisee] answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:42b-43)

 (3) A life troubled by the ravages of a sinful life can become a life of peace devoted to godly service to God.

The change of life brought about by a new way of thinking in light of God’s forgiveness has the overwhelming power to transform a person (Acts 2:38; Rom 12:1-2). Experiencing the grace of God, understanding that we who were once dead are now made alive in Christ brings tremendous peace, for our Lord never leaves us (Heb 13:5-6; 1 John 1:7).

Indeed, Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). This new birth (John 3:4-5) brings with it the  “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil 4:7); moreover, this peace guards our hearts and minds. In this new life, in true appreciation of the grace of God we are qualified not only to experience a heavenly reward (Col 1:12) but are also sanctified for service (Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 6:19-20).

There is no person that God cannot use in holy service, especially his children whom he has “delivered… from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son” (Col 1:13).

Concluding Thoughts

I remember seeing an article entitled, “Sluggish Slumbering Saints”, and the essence of the piece was to wake up Christians and call them to their responsibilities as servants of God to serve their Lord (Rom 6:16-18). Indeed, perhaps one of the more critical questions we must ask is this: if the lack of service is the symptom, then what is the infection? The sad answer is: lack of love and ingratitude for all of God’s demonstrations of love.

This spiritual malignancy will only go into remission once we see afresh the great debt we owe our Lord. Should it be that a renewal of this kind is needed in the Christian’s life, then we are to seek Him in repentance and faith knowing that He will receive us and reward us (Heb 11:6; Acts 8:22).

You can be a servant like this wonderful woman, who despite her sin-filled past has been immortalized in the pages of God’s book for posterity so that all may see their own story of salvation and love, and be moved to faithfully serve Him from whom all blessings flow.

Sources

  1. Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile: Exegetical Outlines of the Parables of Christ, rev. ed. (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 1998), 70.

Obtainable Spiritual Goals – Study of the Scriptures

There is no debate over the need to be people of the Scriptures. There is ample biblical data to demonstrate this clear teaching. We are providing practical suggestions for the inclusion of devotional time with the Word of God. This is then an attempt at providing the some missing links in the chain between fact and practice. Let us incorporate time with Scripture into our daily routine.

The Bible

Centuries ago, a prophet by the name of Hosea[1] lamented over the Hebrew people and their ignorance of God’s word. He said that their calamity was a direct result of  their lack of God-revealed-knowledge (Hos 4:1-7:16). To refrain from a study of the Bible is tantamount to a rejection of God, and also may incur rejection of providential protection (cf. Hos. 4:6).

Hosea speaks on behalf of the Creator in the following way:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6)

As Jesus would later quote, the Lord desired Israel’s steadfast love, reflected in their possession and application of the knowledge of God (Hos 6:6; cf. Matt 9:13, 12:7). Instead, the Lord received religious deviance (i.e. idolatry, covenantal infractions, etc.) grounded in an ignorance and the rejection of God’s word.

As a result, God’s warnings of wrath went unheeded, and the Northern Kingdom (Israel and Ephraim) was conquered in 722 B.C. by Assyria, and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was overcome and their citizenry harvested three times.[2]

  • 606 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jehoiakim and took the upper class of Judah and the spoils of war (2 Chron 36:6-7).
  • 597 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar came again and completed the plunder begun a decade prior to this invasion (2 Kings 24:14-16).
  • 586 B.C.: Babylonians burned Jerusalem and leveled the walls, and finalized any deportation desires it had.

Both Israel and Judah suffered at their own hands because they did not commit themselves to the teaching of God. Hosea spoke of this calamity in his prophetic utterances found in Hosea 5:5-7:

The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them. They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord; for they have borne alien children. Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields.

The lesson here is obvious: there is no substitute for actually opening a biblical book in order to read and to study it, in order to apply the message God embedded within its pages.

Let us, therefore, make time to add Bible reading to our daily schedule. And here are some practical places to introduce Bible reading:

  • Wake up a little earlier (Or, go to bed a little later) to make time for a 5-10 minute reading or study. You would be amazed how much can be accomplished by a consistent dose – however small.
  • If you are a commuter (bus, train, taxi, carpool, etc.) and can read while in motion, try squeezing a paragraph in. Make a photocopy of a page or two out of the Bible, and slip it in your paperwork. Then when you are done reading it, you can give it away or discard it somehow (trash, recycle at office, etc.).
  • Flash cards can be great tools at learning wonderful statements in the Bible. A list could be generated of significant passages, then every night before bed one or two verses can be copied down onto a card or two. The next day, the cards are available to commit to your memory. The book of Proverbs lends itself quite well to this type of learning project.
  • Above all else, make Bible reading time a family project of Divine learning. God required this of physical Israel:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)

To be sure, there are other ways to incorporate Bible reading into a person’s schedule and routine, but these are provided to get your “thinking caps” charged up.

Audio

When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy regarding this young evangelist’s ministry, Paul was specific that Timothy should do several things. He told Timothy,  “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching […] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:13, 16).

In as much as we are accustomed to read the Bible to ourselves, there is much emphasis in Scripture about public settings where the Bible is read aloud. Moses read the Law to all of Israel (Exod 24:3). Ezra read the Law to all of Israel (Neh 8:1-8). Josiah’s reformation was predicated upon the public reading of the Law (2 Kings 22-23). And the Jerusalem church acknowledged that “Moses” (= the Law) was proclaimed since time immemorial (Acts 15:21).

Sometimes a difference is made between “listening” and “hearing,” and one might even suggest that a person can “listen” but never quite listen to the message of a conversation. Likewise, a person can “hear” someone speaking to them and be found in the same predicament – they did not really hear the content of the message.

Jesus faced a similar problem. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt 11:14; cf. Mark 4:9 and Luke 8:8, Mark 4:23, Luke 14:35).[3] Such admonitions stem from an old plea from God through the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 29:4:

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Deut 29:2-4)

Moses’ words echo throughout the entire biblical tradition, for both testaments embrace the notion of using our ears and eyes to hear and see with spiritual clarity.[4] We must give attention to the “living and abiding voice” of the Scriptures.[5]

How can we incorporate the listening of Scripture into our routine? Fortunately, technology is our ally; really, it is more – it is our servant ready to perform for our Spiritual needs. There are Bibles on tape, cd, mp3, DVD, online, podcast, and whatever else the future provides as the new “techy” way to provide audio content.

Some audio Bibles are available free online, some are relatively inexpensive to acquire, and others are accentuated with marketing strategies using popular actors, singers, or other types of celebrity voices in dramatized versions of the audio Bible.

There are so many types of Bible in multiple versions that finding the one that we like the most should be our biggest problem, not the listening of the Bible. The problem is not access, it is habit – it is the failure to make it a routine to listen to the Bible.

So here are some practical suggestions.

  • Purchase an audio Bible. That is pretty basic. Go to an online store or a local bookstore – Christian or otherwise – and bring home an audio Bible that you can use in the car, on your ipod or mp3 player, one that you can play on you desktop or laptop. The point is: take the first step into a larger world.
  • Find a time slot you are going to set aside to listen to the Bible. Select maybe a half an hour every other night dedicated to listening to a book or several books of the Bible (especially those small ones!). We find time to watch our favorite TV show so we can know how the story unfolds (“how will Monk get out of this one?”), we ought to find the same fervor to hear the Bible (“what can we learn from God’s care of Esther and Mordecai?”).
  • The iPod should be God’s pod.[6]Surely, we can make room for God in our iPod or mp3 player – be it an “8 gigger” or “120 gigger.” GB should not only stand for gigabite, but also for God’s bite. It may sound korny, but we know this is an important perspective to embrace. Any portable media player can be a source of spiritual enrichment. For example, at the doctor’s office while you are “waiting for those results”, at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you need the patience of Job, or just when you are experiencing a time of deep emotional turmoil. Why turn to The Killers, or Kanye West, when we can turn to the “I Am”.
  • Make your car an “Ethiopian Eunuch mobile.” In Acts 8:26-40, we find the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is a story of providence and salvation, but what appeals to our study from this narrative is that the eunuch was leaving Jerusalem in commute over 1,000 miles to Gaza in his chariot. The text reads that he “was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah” (Acts 8:28). We can turn off our typical (habitual?) morning wake-up show for some Scripture time.

Again, these suggestions are just to get your creative juices flowing. Find the time, however brief, to include God and His word in your everyday lifestyle – it will literally change your world.

Sources

  1. Hosea’s ministry is probably fixed between 760-710 B.C., as can be derived from Hosea 1.1 and the list of Hebrew Kings serving as historical benchmarks (Kings of Judah: Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; and Jeroboam II in Israel); Andrew E. Hill, Baker’s Handbook of Bible Lists (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 78-80; Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 240.
  2. Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1965), 210.
  3. The last sure place in the New Testament where such an appeal is made to ears that hear is in Romans 11:8 in a quotations of Isaiah 29:10 and coupled with the oldest biblical reference in Deuteronomy 29:4.
  4. It is worth noting that such references are mostly found in the prophetic admonitions where spiritual sensitivity is valued at a high premium; such as Isaiah (30:21), Jeremiah (25:4), Ezekiel (3:10, 12:2, 40:4, 44:5), and Zechariah (7:11).
  5. This reference comes from available fragments of the writings of an early non-inspired Christian named Papias (middle second century AD, cf. Fragments of Papias 3:4; online as ch. 1). He longed to hear from eyewitness auditors of the apostolic circle, those whose memory still rang with apostolic sermons and teaching. He preferred this encounters over the study of books. The longing Papias demonstrates should resonate with our spiritual fervor to hear the Scriptures aloud.
  6. Bible.org offers a free Bible podcast of their New English Translation of the Holy Bible on iTunes. I have enjoyed the translation in hard copy form and am really enjoying it in audio format on iTunes. If possible, download iTunes and check it out (click).

Obtainable Spiritual Goals – Routine

Routine

Routine – The Magic Word

It is said that famed American motivational speaker Earl Nightingale observed that humans are – for lack of a better phrase – “creatures of habit.” Another well-known motivational speaker named Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar is reported to have shared similar views.

Ziglar is quoted as saying the following two statements: “When you choose a habit, you also choose the end of that habit,” and, “We build our character from the bricks of habit we pile up day by day.” These aphorisms speak for themselves.

Every person has a pattern of behavior that for the most part they rarely depart. Joe Smyth wakes up, showers, dresses, eats breakfast, takes the 8:15 AM to work, and then at 4:45 PM Joe finishes his daily paperwork, takes the 5:20 PM home, and eats dinner, watches a little ESPN, checks his email, and then goes to sleep. Then, the next day it starts all over again.

But wait, Joe Smyth is a Christian. Somewhere in his routine prayer, Bible study, the worship of God, his spiritual and moral maturation, and the sharing or defending of his faith must come into view – but where? That’s where the word habit comes into play – these actions must be made part of the routine, and over time, part of the habit.

Little wonder that Paul said to the church in Rome:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)[1]

Notice the phrase “set the mind” and the other similar phraseology in this section of Romans, and observe that Paul is speaking of two routines – habits. One brings “life and peace” while the other brings “death” and hostility with God. Obviously, the zealous and devout Christian would choose the routine that brings life and peace.

How does a Christian begin to consider obtaining – or realizing – this goal? Paul is quite clear – it is the mind. In 8:5 Paul says a person must “give careful consideration” with the intention of espousing one side of a cause.[2]

The controversy is quite explicit in this passage, and Paul leaves the matter in the Christian’s hands. In fact, there are only two options with no middle ground. Logicians call this the two horns of a dilemma, where the selection of one option is equal to the rejection of the other option.

In essence, he says, “make up your mind decisively and espouse the principles which will guide your life to the end that you desire. If you want life and peace then follow the principles set forth by the Spirit, should you not take this decision then you have rejected the life and peace which are promised those who ‘set their minds on the things of the Spirit.'”

This passage articulates one major theme; namely, that in order to obtain spiritual goals a mind daily focused on the Spirit is essential. What we have here is a quest to obtain a spiritual habit, a spiritual routine, a spiritual lifestyle.[3] And this begins first in the mind, and then into action.

If your life was narrated like the opening few scenes of Stranger Than Fiction, where the number of steps it took to walk from one block to the next, where the time it took to wait for the bus was “clocked” to the minute and seconds, and even how many documents at work you sort through – would there be any time in your routine that included spiritual things on a daily basis?

If not, start the quest now by making room for spiritual things in your mind and routine.

Sources

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).
  2. (BDAG) Bauer, Walter, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature, 3d ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1066.
  3. In Romans 8:5, the verb phrase “set their minds” comes from a present active indicative Greek verb (phroneo); meaning, that the action here is continuous – even habitual. There is no end to the action in sight, thus the Christ is to always keep in view the direction which thought (of a practical kind) takes” (Harry Angus A. Kennedy, Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Roberston Nicoll [New York, NY: Doran, 1901], 3:420; cf. James H. Moulton and George Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament [1930; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997], 676).