February 25, 2009

For those who haven't heard...

Hey everyone!

By now, many of you have heard the news. I am moving on to the next stage of my ministry journey. As of April 30th I will no longer be Good Shephrd UMC's Pastor of Discipleship. I will be taking the next year or so to begin preparing for a possible Ph.D program. My heart, as most of you know, is in teaching and studying Scripture and in turn using that to equip the Church in the area of theological and Biblical literacy and depth. In order to follow that passion fully, I'm going to have to take a season to prepare rigorously for wherever God is calling me next. Most Ph.D programs in Biblical studies require, for example, a level of proficency in the Biblical languages that I have been unable to maintain since finishing my M.Div at Gordon-Conwell.

In addition to preparing for a possible Doctoral route, there are a handful of projects that I would like to begin working on that will be the culmination of so much of what I've taught these past 5 years at GS. I plan on adapting much of what I've used to teach "Bible for the Rest of Us" into a book on how to interpret the Bible that aims for a broad audience with little-to-no prior Bible study experience. Much of the coming year will be spent, no doubt, in preparing the manuscript and trying to find a publisher who might be interested in such a project (*ahem* if anyone has any inroads here feel free to hook me up!).

Lastly, I hope to be able to continue teaching classes as needed not only at GS and Passage, but also at other churches in the Charlotte area where there is a strong desire and need for deeper Biblical study among God's people.

I just wanted to take this opportunity that express my sincere gratitude to my fellow staff and leaders in the congregation of GS for all you've meant to me. It's been a pleasure and an honor working alongside such dedicated leaders who share a hunger for God's Word. Moving forward from here, I'm truly excited to see what God is going to do through the classes and groups ministries at GS. I know that whoever comes along after me will be just the right person to take things to a whole new level that we can't even imagine at the moment! I'm glad that the church has asked me to finish out this semester as well. This gives me a chance to not only aid in the transition and prepare resources for future use once I'm gone, but it also gives me a chance to meet with many of you one-on-one and let you know how much you mean to this church through your ministry.

After taking some time over the summer to travel a bit and visit other churches in Charlotte that I've always wanted to visit, I plan on continuing to call GS my church home. So while you won't see me in the office anymore, you may see me at worship or in a class periodically. :)

I also want to let everyone know that GSUMC WILL be continuing Pathfinder AND Passage. These programs have been a fantastic success and I'm proud to be leaving in place two amazing ways for the people of GS to walk together in Discipleship. Passage and Pathfinder remain vital aspects of GSUMC's overall vision and strategy.

If any of you would like to get together and talk about this, or anything for that matter, I would love to meet with you or take you out for lunch or coffee. Just shoot me an email or grab me next time you see me and we'll set it up.

Still walking together…


February 11, 2009

I'm not usually a huge John Piper fan, but...

...I wholeheartedly agree with the following entry on his blog! Well done, brother!


While John Piper and I will probably never see eye-to-eye on many things theologically (that is, "in-house"!), I stand behind him 100% when it comes to advancing the Kingdom by proclaiming the truth that ALL human beings are created in God's image and are deserving of life.

May President Obama's heart be softened and his mind opened to this basic human right!


February 9, 2009

Ladies, does the Bible tell you to zip it when in church?

I recently received a question from someone at GSUMC that Talbot, our Senior Pastor, forwarded to me. The question was about how we go about interpreting Scripture, particularly when to take things literally and when to interpret them in a non literal manner. The passage mentioned was 1Corinthians 14:34 where Paul basically seems to be telling women that they are not to speak in public church gatherings.

While many Christians take this in a straightforward and universally binding manner, they are misinterpreting Paul's words here. Below is my answer to the person who sent the question, as I thought it would be a good subject to kick around in the Dojo!

Comments, debate, feedback, etc. always welcomed!


We talk about this particular passage in detail in Bible for the Rest of Us because it illustrates the importance of the editorial process in Bible translations.

Here is the passage as it reads in the NIV:

"32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

The NIV, along with most other modern English translations, takes the phrase "as in all the congregations of the saints" to be the qualifying phrase for v.34's "women should remain silent in the churches". Thus the passage seems to read as if Paul is saying that it is a universal practice ("all the churches of the saints") that women/wives (same word in Greek) remain silent in the churches. He further qualifies this with the phrase "as the Law says".

However, there are a couple of problems with such a translation:

1. Paul has already, in ch.11, allowed for women to both pray and prophesy in church gatherings (11:5ff). So we know that at least in this respect, 14:34 cannot be taken absolutely literally.

2. Paul elsewhere in his letters commends and encourages women who actually do teach and have authority in the church. For example, in Romans 16:3 and 7, Paul commends two women (Priscilla and Junia), both teachers and at least one (Junia) is an apostle--the highest authority in the early church.

3. Nowhere in the Torah (the Law, or first 5 books of the Old Testament) is there found a prohibition against women speaking in assemblies. Thus Paul's appeal to "as the Law says" cannot be referring to any Biblical passage about women remaining silent--there is no such passage! Study notes in Bibles that translate it in this manner usually end up appealing to some "general notion" of women being under authority in the OT, but are never able to provide a clear instance of this being directly taught in Torah.

So what does all this mean? Well, the key to unlocking this interprative puzzle is to keep in mind the simple fact that in the original Greek manuscripts of the NT, there is no such thing as punctuation, capitalization, or paragraph indentation--all of these are features of English translations which the editors of the translation committees choose to apply. Therefore, we must not assume that the passages in the original text read in the same manner with regard to punctuation and paragraphing that we find in our modern translations.

This makes a huge difference in the case of 1Cor.14:34! To see how, look at how the editors of the TNIV (the revision of the NIV, carried out by the same committee and in order to clarify, update, and in this case, correct certain features of the previous NIV editions) tranlsate this passage:

"32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (1Co 14:32-35 TNIV, also see the NLT for this same type of reading)

Did you catch the difference?

Noting all of the above mentioned problems with the traditional NIV translation, the TNIV editors corrected this by placing the phrase "as in all the churches of the saints" as the modifyer of the previous phrase "God is not a God of disorder but of peace". This is what is true universally in all the churches of the saints. The prohibition against women speaking in church is not universally applicable in "all the churches of the saints", as Paul's teachings in ch.11 and Rom.16 reveal.

But what about the "as the Law says" passage? Doesn't that mean that the Bible elsewhere teaches women to remain silent? No, it does not. However, in Corinthian culture, there were such prohibitions. This is why the TNIV editors correctly chose to drop the capitalization of "law" in v.34, as Paul is not referring to OT Law (Torah), but rather to local Corinthian law. Apparently, some of the wives in the Corinthian churches (churches not known for their propriety or order in worship--in keeping with the general unruliness found in Corinthian culture of the day!) were taking their "freedom in Christ" to mean that they no longer were bound to follow cultural norms and were disrupting gatherings as a result--something that strategically undermined the Gospel's credibility in the cosmopolitan pagan setting Paul was trying to shore up.

New Testament scholar David Prior, makes the following observation in his commentary on 1Corinthians, which is a good summary of what I'm arguing for above:

"Whatever this section is teaching, it is not telling women to keep quiet in church. In 11:5, Paul has already referred to women praying and prophesying. The reference to their husbands at home (35) immediately indicates that the apostle is thinking about the behaviour of some married women at Corinth, behaviour which needed firm control of the kind which had clearly proved necessary in all the churches of the saints (33). Although we cannot uncover the details of what was going on, we can discern some of the attitudes prevalent at Corinth. It seems that the principle of submissiveness was being ignored (they should be subordinate, 34), that a spirit of defiance was uppermost (it is shameful …, 35), and that an isolationist tendency was turning these wives into arbitrators of their own church order and even doctrine (Did the word of God originate with you?, 36). In other words, these married women were the source of some of the arrogance in the Corinthian church which Paul has already had cause to castigate.
Some commentators think that Paul is checking these women’s garrulousness in church gatherings. Something fascinating might have been taught or communicated, and they began to chatter about it as the worship continued. The Greek word translated speak (lalein) can carry the connotation of chattering, but Paul does not use it this way on other occasions. Barrett’s comments are apt: ‘it is not impossible that Paul should now use it in a new sense, but it is unlikely.’ Whatever the detailed explanation, this paragraph looks like a fairly localized example of what could well have been a general tendency amongst Christian wives in the early church. They had discovered a unique freedom in the life of the Christian community, and it is possible that this freedom had gone to their heads, or, more precisely, to their tongues. This lack of self-discipline was causing confusion and disorder in the worship of the church. Because Paul is so insistent on the priority of edification, he writes with some firmness—and not a little sarcasm—about the need for control."

I hope this helps. This is an issue that has been so misunderstood for so long, and even good Bible translations like the NIV, ESV, NRSV, NET and HCSB have mistranslated it, causing readers who see the contradiction in Paul's words as they read to have to go to great lengths to make sense of them, often settling for an arbitrary standard of what they feel should be universal and/or literal and what should be situational/symbolic in Scripture. In this case, the TNIV, the NLT and a few other translations get it right, thus sparing the reader much confusion.

Walking together...

James-Michael Smith

February 4, 2009

Creation from the Bible's perspective

Last night I had the privilage of speaking at CharlotteONE: to about 600 young adults from all over the metro-Charlotte area. It was a fantastic experience and I'm really looking forward to this three-week series, which Dave Hickman and I are doing called "Bible 101".

After covering some cool facts about the Bible, as well as some issues in interpreting it correctly, I led us through Genesis chapter 1-2:3, the creation account. I used a translation that I put together a few years ago in which I sought to stay as faithful to the original text as possible by bringing out the meanings and ambiguity inherent in this passage. I made this translation available afterwards to anyone who wanted a copy, along with a narrative commentary that I originally put together for a worship service we did at GSUMC on the Creation account. I'm including them below for those who were not able to get a copy or who didn't make it to the service last night. You can listen to the message as soon as it's posted at www.charlotteone.org in the audio section as well.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…
…but the earth was empty and desolate and darkness covered the face of the seas—
yet the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
God said, “There will be light”…and there was light!
God saw the light—that it was good!
God made a distinction between the light and the darkness. God named the light “Day” and the dark He named “Night.”
There was evening and there was morning. Day one
God said, “There will be an expansive dome in the midst of the water, dividing water from water.” So God made the expansive dome and separated the water that is beneath the expansive dome from the water that is above the expansive dome. --Thus it happened!
God named the expansive dome “Sky.”
There was evening and there was morning. Day two
God said, “The waters beneath the Sky will be gathered to one place so that dry land will appear.” --Thus it happened! God named the dry land “Land” and the gathered waters He named “Sea.”
God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “The Land will sprout grass and plants producing seed and fruit trees producing fruit according to their type with seeds in it—throughout the Land.” --Thus it happened! The Land brought forth grass and plants producing seed and trees bearing fruit with seeds in it according to their type.
God saw that it was good.
There was evening and there was morning. Day three
God said, “There will be lights in the expansive dome of the Sky, to distinguish between the Day and the Night and they will be for signs, seasons, days and years; and they will provide light in the expansive dome of the Sky—to shine over the Land.” --Thus it happened! God appointed the two Great Lights—the greater light, the ruler of the Day and the lesser light, the ruler of the Night—as well as the stars. God put them in the expansive dome of the Sky to shine over the Land, ruling over the Day and over the Night, separating the Light and the Dark.
God saw that it was good.
There was evening and there was morning. Day four
God said, “The seas will teem with swarming creatures and flying creatures will fly over the Land, over the face of the expansive dome, the Sky.” God created the Great Sea Monsters and all the swarming creatures that swarm the waters according to their types and all winged flying creatures according to their types.
God saw that it was good.
God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the Seas; and flying creatures, multiply in the Land!”
There was evening and there was morning. Day five
God said, “The Land will bring forth living creatures according to their types—livestock, small animals, and wildlife of the Land according to their types.” --Thus it happened! God made the wildlife of the land according to their types, the livestock according to their types, and all the small animals of the ground according to their type.
God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make Human in our image, according to our likeness; and he will rule over the fish of the Sea and over the flying creatures of the Sky and over the livestock and over all the Land and over all the small animals in the Land.”

So God created Human in His image;
In the image of God He created him;
Male and Female—He created them.
God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the Land and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the Sea and the flying creatures of the sky and over all creatures swarming over the Land.”
Then God said, “Look! I am giving to you everything that makes seed throughout all the Land. And every tree that has fruit on it bearing seed, to you it will be for food. And to every creature of the Land, every flying creature of the Sky, and everything swarming over the Land that has living breath in it, all green plants will be food. --Thus it happened!
God saw all that He had made and, behold!—It was exceedingly good!
There was evening and there was morning. Day six
So the Heavens and the Earth and all their hosts were completed.
God finished on the seventh day from all His work that He did.
He ceased on the seventh day from all His work that He did.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. For on it He ceased from all His work that He did in creating.

Creation – A Narrative Commentary on Genesis 1
by James-Michael Smith

No planets, no stars, no oceans, no sky, no anything!

It is from this nothingness that God brings into being all that we know. All that we are, all that we ever will be—brought forth in an act of creation beyond comprehension.

Yet before we have time to ponder this further, we are thrust into the midst of Earth’s primordial watery darkness, with chaos and desolation as our only companions.

But wait!

We find out that actually we are not alone in this dark and chaotic world— like a great majestic bird, God’s Spirit soars over the deep; over the Abyss…and where the Spirit of God is, light and life cannot be far behind!
The darkness will not last! Light is breaking through!
The earth begins to give signs of a cycle—a continual movement from darkness to light. There is separation; there is order. This is to be a world of light and darkness—day and night. Not a cosmic struggle between two opposing forces, as many will later imagine. But rather, a cosmic dance, between two wondrous partners, in devotion to their Lord and King! Two vast realms in which creation will play out at the command of the Creator.
Not through strength.
Not through struggle.
But through one thing, and one thing alone—the WORD!
The earth is shrouded in a state of watery mist.
Water below,
water above,
water in front,
water in back—everywhere water!

But like the darkness, this chaotic watery state will not remain. God speaks and the Sky—the vast canvas upon which the Great Artist will paint innumerable masterpieces each day and each night—comes into being.

The waters are divided: those below covering the earth, and those above providing the rain, the snow, the clouds and the vast, blue expanse upon which living eyes will one day gaze!

But that is not all!

While many ancient people will come to believe that the waters are an untamable force of darkness and evil that no one can control—a force that cannot be conquered; a realm that cannot be restrained—those who listen carefully can hear the waters themselves declaring that there is one name to which they bow! One Being, before whom they tremble! The One who will later reveal Himself simply as “I AM.”
The seas roar!
Creation trembles!

And in an unimaginable act of wondrous power, God transforms the world from a watery realm of chaos into a world with solid dry ground! Mountains, valleys, plains and hills—all are called into being by the King of all Creation!

But they are not to serve as homes for imaginary gods who look down upon hapless humanity. Nor are they magical gateways to and from heaven or hell.

No! The rocks which form the highest mountain and the lowest valley exist primarily as an awe-inspiring witnesses to the power of the Divine Word!
Again God speaks;
again creation obeys!

Yet this time He instills His newest creation, the Land itself, with the ability to bring forth life! The tiny thistle, the mighty cedar, the life-sustaining olive tree, the healing herb, and countless others spring up from the Land in all their glory. Like billions of arms extended upward in worship of their Maker, the branches tower above the Land, ready to provide nourishment and shelter for whatever God might bring forth next.
The stage is set!
The realms are ready for their rulers!
Ready for those whom the King will now begin to appoint over them.

The first to be appointed are the Great Lights. The lights, shining forth day and night without ceasing, appear for the first time in the Sky. There are two—a larger one to rule over the Day. To provide light, heat and energy. The other smaller one, to rule the Night. To serve as a marker for the times and seasons—accompanied by an entourage of tiny lights, the Stars.

But one thing is clear. While these great lights are appointed to rule, they are not appointed to rule all of Creation. They are not gods or goddesses—no more so than are the Mountains and Seas! They are simply parts of God’s orderly creation…still awaiting its full glory.
Just as the Light and the Darkness—the Day and the Night—are to come under authority and dominion of the Great lights, so too the Sky and Seas are now introduced to their rulers.

The highest heights and darkest depths will be inhabited by God’s creation! Swimming, swarming, soaring! The Seas and the Sky—places that will long be unapproachable by the rest of creation—are the realm of those creatures whom God has appointed to rule, to live, and to reflect His wondrous artistry in design.
The final realm awaiting its ruler is the Land. And just as God infused the Land with the ability to bring forth life in the form of vegetation, so now it is commanded to bring forth what will live upon its surface, feeding off its vegetation.
The surface of the land explodes with life!

The Land is their domain…

but their ruler is yet to come…

At last, the ones whom God appoints as stewards of His entire creation make their appearance!

These creatures…so different from the millions and millions others who have come before them! No scales, no wings, no claws, no fur, no feathers, no fangs—what kind of creature IS this…“Human”?

The answer is shocking!

This creature, out of ALL the others, is the creature who alone is created in the image of the Creator! Though there are two types—male and female—BOTH are fashioned in the Image and likeness of God Himself! It’s as if the Divine sculptor has left His fingerprints all over them both!

Like God, they will too create.
Like God, they will too rule.
Like God, they will too love!

And all of Creation has awaited their arrival!
No realm of creation of lies outside their authority! These “Humans” will spread and cover the world. They will serve as God’s co-regents, His ambassadors, His caretakers of all that has come before them. They will draw their sustenance from the life-giving Land, and will rule over all that they encounter.

What a glorious position!
What an honor!

Inhabiting and exploring,
experiencing and naming,
relating and governing!
Human and God, working together!

All that has come before—from the most distant Great Light to the smallest Swarming creature—from the mightiest oak to the most tender sapling—from the most majestic mountain to the gentlest stream—all has lead up to this moment!

From dark nothingness,
to disordered chaos,
to watery surface,
to green dry land,
to creatures of the sea,
to creaturs of the sky,
to creatures of the field,
to creatures bearing the Image of the Great King Himself…

ALL of it is good.

No, all of it is EXCEEDINGLY good!!
The God of Creation, the King of All That Is, has finished His work. The Great Artist steps back to appreciate His masterpiece. And what a masterpiece it is! So much so, that nothing else is needed. No work remains.

After a six-fold cycle of creating, forming, and fashioning, God does what is perhaps the most amazing thing of all—He ceases His work! A Heavenly end to the work of creating. Not so much for God’s need; after all, He has created all there is solely by speaking it into being! But rather, for His creation’s sake. To establish a seven-fold cycle of labor followed by appreciation…work followed by Worship.

And while the details of this Creation process may remain to varying degrees obscure to Human, the message will remain clear for all time!

God brought forth all that is, in order to prepare the way for His most precious creation. A creature so precious that, though Human will soon break away from God in rebellion, the King of the Universe will choose that very Human form through which to appear within His creation and rescue it from its self-inflicted decay.
To right all wrongs and wipe every tear.
To be their God, and they, His people!

But that’s another story for another time…

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