Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflection on Certainty: #4

Are you sure?

In the last note, we dealt with one method – propounded by Rene Descartes – of dealing with the inadequacies of our human condition for grasping ontological certainty.

The second method of acquiring epistemic certainty is rooted in what philosophy considers self-evident principles, statements which might be considered axiomatic to logical thinking.

Let’s begin with the Law of Non-Contradiction. If the statement “A” is true, then the statement “not A” is false. If Socrates is a man, then we can’t say Socrates is not a man.

On closer inspection, this Law can be ultimately reduced to the definition of “word” as a referent: words identify themselves with substances existing in physical or metaphysical reality. This property is illustrated beautifully that that famous speech in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”: “What is in a word? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

This referential property is what we mean when we speak of the meaning of words – they may be defined according to the substance by which they are identified. Moreover, the meaning of words is exclusive, for the nature of a thing excludes that which it is not. This is the universal common premise of any argument, a prerequisite to even speaking in coherent sentences.

However, as may be readily seen, the whole exercise of self-evident truth operates on a tautological loop, for here we see a cycle of definitions and meanings that relies entirely on itself to demonstrate its own veracity. The Law of Non-Contradiction can be neither proven nor disproven on its own grounds. Indeed, any proof of that Law must operate prior to our acceptance of it, and therefore needn’t exclude an equally valid disproof.

Confused?  Me too.

In general, the problem with axioms is that they are not intrinsically demonstrable. We do not consider truths to be self-evident in themselves -- it is not in the axiom that we find confirmation, but in its antonym. The thesis is not self-proving. Rather, it is the perceived impossibility of the antithesis which provides the fuller confirmation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Beginnings

My life is in a state of flux.  For instance, I turned 21 today.  I also might get a new job, new house, and new life within a few weeks.  And then there's the annual celebrations of the birth of Christ and beginning of a New Year that always seem to brighten the mood.

This blog is in the middle of a fairly long (and admittedly dry) series of notes on epistemology -- treating ideas of evidence, proof, logic, judgment, and most recently certainty.  Once that series is over, I want to turn towards more theological (rather than philosophical) topics.  There are so many possibilities weighing on my mind, however, I've decided to put the choice to the few who read my blog and my Facebook notes.

A few potential topics for a note or series of notes:

1) Medieval cosmology

You may have wondered why I describe myself as a "Protestant Medievalist."  The insights of medieval theology were vital to my spiritual rejuvenation in the summer of 2007, and have remained a key driving force in my spiritual life since that time.

Related topics: joy, sorrow, contemplative life, love, human nature, relationships, peace, self-sacrifice, prophecy, enlightenment, general and special revelation, mythology, paganism, glorification

2) Catholic dogma

I am a Protestant. Being well aware of the many spiritual dangers and pitfalls to which Protestants are susceptible, I recognize Catholicism as a fully legitimate branch of Christianity, albeit one subject to different dangers and pitfalls than those arising from my own background.  I want to explore the insights that I as a Protestant might glean from their theology, especially in areas of Catholic dogma that I don't easily relate to.

Related topics: canonization, communion of the saints, glorification, papal infallibility, authority, tradition, prophecy, Mary (mother of Christ), Church life, fellowship, transubstantiation, sacraments

3) Spiritual gifts

Quite a few years ago my church suffered a split over the very issue of spiritual gifts, and the emphasis that ought to be placed on them. As many of you are no doubt aware, contentious and difficult issues seem to have a particularly strong pull on me.  I was apathetic at the time, but now I have an approach to the issue, and also have a few experiences that may be worth sharing.

Related topics: prayer, leadership, teaching, healing, discernment, prophecy, evangelism, apologetics, tongues, miracles, Holy Spirit,

4) Spiritual warfare

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the subject of spiritual warfare, and I think that is just how it ought to be. I think that we ought to educate ourselves, but keep our focus on the worthy things ("Whatever is noble, whatever is pure...")  I've had some past experiences that may be worth sharing.

Related topics: Holy Spirit, angels, demons, prayer, love, courage, Armor of God

5) Doctrine of freedom

Galatians is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and also one of the more challenging. The doctrine of freedom it presents is one of the more compelling and intriguing aspects of Christian theology.

Related topics: Holy Spirit, discernment, prayer, Church life, virtues, purification, glorification

6) Predestination

I grew up firmly entrenched in a mentality of "free will."  However, I know many devoted Christians who believe in predestination or election, and many other devout Christians who have no idea what to think. I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon thinkers and thoughts who provide answers to crucial aspects of this issue, and am quite comfortable with my answer for the rest.

Related issues: free will, sovereignty of God, divine foreknowledge, divine election, Presence of God, divine creation, love, goodness, evil, heaven, hell

7) Other topics

I view this blog as a ministry, an outreach to those who try to follow Christ's command to love the Lord thy God with all your mind. If you struggle with a particularly thorny, knotty, or in some way challenging question of theology, let me know and I might be able to open up a conversational thread.

God bless you all!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Reflection on Certainty: #3

Are you sure?

I've previous stated that the sensation of psychological certainty is generally unwarranted. This is based on the problem of epistemic certainty -- the limited ability of humans to directly discern any kind of objective truth. This seriously hampers our efforts at ascertaining ontological certainty.

There have been a number of historical attempts at responding to the problem of epistemic certainty. One of the more famous methods was developed by the philosopher Rene Descartes.

Descartes began by asking, in what way is human knowledge limited? He noted that human knowledge is uncertain to the extent that our material senses are finite. Our senses are imperfect and may often mislead. If we could transcend our senses, might we transcend our uncertainty in the same moment?

Descartes posited a method by which objective truths might be ascertained. Conceding for argument’s sake the most extreme of systematic doubts, he closed his eyes and imagined himself in a vacuum, an infinite void, cut off from all physical sensation. In the realm of pure mind, what could be discerned?

Descartes stumbled across a profound fact while his mind scanned the vacuum for truth: namely, he was aware that he was searching.

In the absence of any sensation, in a world of pure thought, Descartes realized that he could think about his own thinking. He could observe his own thought processes. This discovery, and the realization that any observation requires an object to be observed, led him to his first and most famous dictum:

Cogito, ergo sum. "I think, therefore I am."

Absent any sensory experience, Descartes could conclude with absolute certainty that he existed and that he was capable of rational thought.

The problem of epistemic certainty might lead us to believe that nothing can be truly known. Descartes postulated at least one fact that can be known, and used this as his foundation for further inquiry.

Do you think Descartes’ argument in this regard is valid? Does this method enable us to circumvent universal and systematic doubt?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reflection on Certainty: #2

Are you sure?

Argumentation relies on shared premises to move to novel conclusions. Knowledge is regressive, such that any conclusion relies on the premises that precede it. The question remains, how far back does knowledge regress?

Let’s begin with the concept of ontological certainty, the statement that absolute Truth exists and that there is an objective reality to things, the only difficulty being in ascertaining it.

The problem is twofold.

The thesis of ontological certainty is tautological. In order to state the absolute truth of this ontologically objective realm, you must first assume that such a reality exists and that your truth statement is an expression or reflection of it.

It should be noted that tautological statements are not intrinsically false.  The true statement “all dogs are mammals” is tautological, since “dog” is taxonomically defined as a subset of “mammal” and therefore the sentence reads “a subset of A is A.” The problem is that tautological statements are generally devoid of actual content; they rely on the definitions of words, rather than on the reality of things that those words describe.

Second, the thesis of ontological certainty is in a sense almost self-defeating. Assuming an objective reality exists, there remains great difficulty in perceiving it. Indeed, knowledge of absolute truth is so far from our grasp, that our primary reason for asserting the existence of objective truth is not that we might comprehend it, but that we might be inspired to keep seeking it.

By this view, ontological certainty may be considered an almost utilitarian concept: it keeps us focused on the knowledge being pursued and not on the challenges of the pursuit. If there were no princess in the castle, would the knight ever brave the dragon to save her? Belief in objective reality drives us beyond the epistemic cynicism that might otherwise confound us.

Thus seems the contradiction: the thesis of ontological certainty grounds truth in the reality of things, yet is itself asserted as true because of the utility of believing in it.

Neither of these counterpoints prove objective truth to be objectively false. Indeed, as a Christian and more broadly as an Idealist, a belief in an absolute True, Good, and Beautiful is at the core of my philosophy. But I do not wish to take that belief lightly, and therefore look towards the real philosophical challenges that might hinder us on our way.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review: "The Imitation of Christ"

The blurb on the back of my copy advertises The Imitation of Christ as "second only to the Bible as the source of religious instruction and inspiration." Whatever the historical merits of that claim, I can hardly contest it for myself.  Alongside C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces," this book was directly responsible for my spiritual rejuvenation in the summer of 2007, and has continued to inspire me ever since.

Originally published anonymously in 1418, De Imitatione Christi was written by Thomas à Kempis, subprior at the Augustinian monastery at Windesheim, in the Kingdom of Holland. It originally served as a manual for novices and junior "canons" under his charge, but it disseminated widely and became a classic in Christian devotional literature. Saint Ignatius of Loyola added it to the official index of "exercises" for the Jesuit order. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, cited it as a primary influence at his conversion.  John Newton, the slave trader-turned-abolitionist who wrote "Amazing Grace," was reading the Bible and The Imitation of Christ when he committed his life to Christ.  This is powerful stuff.

The Imitation was written in four books, translated in my edition as "Thoughts Helpful to the Life of the Soul," "The Interior Life," "Internal Consolation" and "Invitation to Holy Communion." The first book has been the most helpful for me.  In organization it reads like Proverbs -- every sentence or verse being relatively self-standing, though organized as a coherent whole. In tone and content it reads like Ecclesiastes on steroids.

This is a Saturnine work.  Written for monks and ascetics, its primary exhortation is to remember the relative worthlessness of things of this earth, and concentrate fully on the goodness of God. It urges us to pursue a serene life of contemplation, untroubled by the vanities of fame, riches, wisdom, or even human companionship.

In this sense, The Imitation of Christ is both beautiful and dangerous. In encouraging the contemplative life, this work pushes us further and deeper into God's Presence, but it also pushes us into the mystery and ineffability that we find there.  We ought not lose our bearings, or forget the other virtues that we are called to balance against this. James 4:9 bids us to "Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom." Yet we are also to rejoice in the Lord, and remember His triumph.  We ought to love God and not be troubled by things of this life; yet we are also love others and sacrifice ourselves for them.

The Imitation of Christ is an immensely valuable resource to those seeking to deepen their spiritual life. It is not Holy Writ, so each statement ought to be weighed carefully for its merit, but it still comes awfully close. The Imitation of Christ may have been written for Late Medieval Catholic monks, but it's still remarkably applicable to the spiritual walk of modern Protestants and Christians of all denominations.

This was cross-posted at Worthy of Note.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reflection on Certainty: #1

Are you sure?

Several years ago, I remember having a conversation with a graduate student in philosophy on the subject of certainty. We discussed the subject for over an hour, weaving references and tangents and explications through our conversation, always coming up just short of agreement. Then we realized something: the entire conversation had been based on two different definitions of "certainty" -- he of epistemic, and I of psychological, concepts of certainty.

This experience may be why I feel so strongly about defining terms before discussing major ideas or issues. Yet our confusion illustrates one of the cardinal difficulties in this topic. I was so sure during the conversation that we were discussing the same thing, but I was later to discover that sense of certainty to be misplaced -- that is, totally in error.

When we commonly speak of "certainty," we mean a sense of psychological certainty: the subjective sensation that we have grasped an objective truth.

These sensations may be felt with varying degrees of finality or confidence. We might simply be speaking of fulfilled expectations, the psychical satisfaction of being proven right.  "Of course he was cheating on you -- he brought you flowers last week." A stronger certainty may arise when we can think of no refutation at a given moment; stronger still when we can imagine no refutation can exist.  The most extreme cases of psychological certainty occur when an idea is perceived as a truth in which no error can ever be found and against which no inconsistent statement can possibly stand.

Sensations of certainty are almost invariably unwarranted.

Humans are, quite simply, human. Our experiences are finite, our perspectives are limited, and our senses may often be misleading.  Given the frailty of the human condition, how can we speak of being certain of anything? Moreover, given the hubris to which humans are so often subject, how can we take seriously any statement of absolute certainty?

Here lies the cardinal difficulty: given our own humanity, what can humans possibly know?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reflection on Judgment: #3

To think is to judge.

Any parent can confirm that humans are driven by an innate sense of curiosity. We see a door, we want to open it. We are stumped by a theological mystery, our minds seek resolution.

Sometimes the immediate cause of our curiosity is discontent with our lack of knowledge, rather than a direct desire to acquire more.  Yet even this is reducible to the latter.  Just as vampires are drawn to blood, and preteen girls seem drawn to vampires, humanity as a whole is impelled by a deep-seated desire for answers.

Why are Sudoku puzzles so popular? Perhaps it is partly because they allow us to pride ourselves on our mental dexterity, but that answer isn’t sufficient. We solve puzzles precisely because they are unsolved, because we want to know the correct answer even if that answer will not possibly benefit us.

Certainly, many people flip through their newspapers without even glancing at the Sudoku puzzle. But they are suspending their sense of curiosity, perhaps out of boredom at a repetitive task, or frustration at the lack of forthcoming answers, or prioritization of other tasks more meaningful than logic games.

Yet, to the extent that we care about such things, we are also pursuing answers for such things.  If we are thinking about a thing, we are searching for answers; to stop searching for answers, is to stop thinking.

Our ability to reason is intrinsic to our humanity, and so in that sense is curiosity. To the extent that we think about a thing, we are driven to understand it – which means we must evaluate it and mentally process it.
The whole endeavor of thinking is teleological, directed at something beyond itself. That ultimate aim – that final cause – lies is our thirst for intellectual satisfaction. We yearn for answers; we yearn for the true.

Judgments are the ends, the final cause, of thought.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reflection on Judgment: #2

To think is to judge.

Humans are constantly processing and evaluating new incoming data in order to construct and expand their epistemic frameworks, their systems of thinking about things. Judgments are the means of thought – that is, judgments are necessary to constructing these frameworks.

These frameworks, in turn, catalyze our processing of that new information. they allows us to instinctively prioritize incoming data streams, sorting out the banalities and allowing us to focus on more meaningful and interesting pieces of information.

While I don’t ascribe to a “tabula rasa” view of human development, epistemic frameworks don’t strike me as the sort of thing that may be passed down by our genetic makeup. Thus, as infants and children, we exert tremendous mental effort in constructing these frameworks for our later us.

The intellectual capacity of children is really quite stunning by this view, for while they generate these frameworks they don’t have the luxury of using them to sort incoming information. They are bombarded by more stimuli than most adults could possibly conceive, and manage not only to process it but also to construct mental frameworks with which to sort and process that stimuli more expeditiously in the future.

Without epistemic frameworks, we would be in the same position as infants: everything would be a novelty, and higher thought would be a practical impossibility.

Judgments are the necessary catalysts of thought.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflection on Judgment: #1

To think is to judge.

Every time we perceive an object, every instant we contemplate an idea, our minds must process any and all new information into our existing classifications and ways of thinking. For instance, when I drive on a new road, I add it to the mental map of the area in my head.

Thinking about new information entails evaluating that new information.

There are several aspects of this evaluating process. For instance, to determine the weight we place in our conclusions, we must judge the relative significance of the information itself, the reliability of the source, the quantity of similar evidences, and a host of other factors

Even when we consciously choose to reserve judgment on information or ideas, we continue to make judgments. We judge that the data set we're drawing from lacks sufficient breadth or depth to justify an ultimate (or even penultimate) evaluation. We judge that we can postpone that ultimate evaluation without serious consequences. We must even judge the relative importance and probability of acquiring further information that might help us make that ultimate evaluation, to determine how assiduously we will work at it.

Judgments are the means of thought.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Apology: The Christian Trilemma

The Christian trilemma originates from a famous paragraph in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which reads as follows:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

C.S. Lewis was drawing on the aut Deum aut malum ("either God or a bad man") formulation of earlier Christian evangelists, but his expanded version stuck.  In its simplest form, the trichotomic choice he proposes runs as follows:

If Jesus claimed to be God, then:
1) He was God, and He knew it (Lord)
2) He was God, and He didn't know it (a logical impossibility)
3) He wasn't God, and He knew it (Liar)
4) He wasn't God, and He didn't know it (Lunatic)

In its conditional form, the statement is uncomplicated and unavoidable.  The only question is whether or not Jesus actually claimed to be God.  Thus we arrive at a modified trichotomy:

If "Jesus" means the historical person as depicted in the Bible, then Jesus claimed to be God.
If Jesus claimed to be God, etc. (see above).

Please note that this conditional does not state that the Bible accurately depicted the historical person Jesus ben-Joseph. The modified trilemma only states that the Jesus presented by the Bible did make claims to be divine.

There are internal textual evidences for this:

1) Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive any sin (Luke 7:48) -- the sole province of God.
2) Jesus claimed to have the authority to judge the world (Matthew 25:31) -- again, that was God's thing.
3) Jesus responds "before Abraham was, I AM" to the Pharisees (John 8:58), identifying Himself by the Name of God. At this undeniable assertion of divinity, the Pharisees sought to stone him, and
4) Peter called Him the Christ, the Son of God, (Matthew 16:16) for which Jesus praised him, and stated that He would build His church on Peter, and by implication on Peter's confession.

There are also a number of external considerations:

5) If Christ didn't claim to be divine, how did His followers manage to become so convinced that He did? Every child in first century Judea could have recited by heart the Deuteronomical Shema ("Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one"). Is there a people in the history of the world who would have been less likely to confuse a human with the One True God?  Yet we're supposed to believe that Jesus managed to inadvertently convince His disciples that He (a mere human) was somehow divine, despite their repeated obtuseness (recorded by Scripture) and the conservative assumptions of their Jewish traditions. At the very least, if Christ didn't claim to be God, then he must have been an almost dangerously incompetent teacher.

6) The Gospel of John begins with the plain assertion that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... and the Word was made flesh."  That is John's gospel begins with the statement that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. It's rather absurd to argue that John intentionally omits any Christological claim to divinity, when John clearly thinks that Jesus was God and that He had made such claims.

7) The same principle holds for the other authors of the Gospels. Those who deny that Jesus ever made such claims to be divine, accept that the so-called mistake originated from His disciples.  I don't know a single person who questions whether or not Christ's earliest disciples were convinced of His divinity, at least in their public testimony. Considering, then, that the other authors of the Gospels were convinced of His divinity, it is simply nonsensical to suppose that they would have carefully omitted any record of such claims.

Again, the point isn't that the Gospel accounts are accurate. I think they are, but that it's irrelevant to this modified trilemma. The point is that you have to dispute or discount the Biblical account of Jesus' life in order to deny that Christ claimed to be the divine Son of God.

The final evidential point is that those Biblical accounts are the only widely accepted documentary evidence of Jesus' life and teachings remaining extant. Without the Gospels, our knowledge of the "historical Jesus" would be pretty meager indeed, and indeed I would argue that it's impossible to construct a meaningful account of Jesus ben-Joseph without relying on portions of the Gospels.

But the only way to manage this without including Christ's divinity claims is by importing some a priori hermeneutic standards to reject the distastefully orthodox content while retaining the passages that comport with a more vaguely universalist theology. But this "Jesus Seminar" approach to Biblical hermeneutics is so susceptible to preconceived biases, that it really doesn't bear much resemblance to honest textual exegesis or good faith argumentation.

The Christian trilemma is not the only set of options available.  But in my opinion it is the only set of options that takes the Biblical accounts of Jesus' life seriously.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflection on Authority: #3

The strongest arguments rely on a multiplicity of shared authorities. St. Thomas Aquinas was the master of this. In his early work, Summa Contra Gentiles, he outlined every argument for Christian faith and doctrine using only those authorities which would be shared by a non-Christian audience -- such as natural science and the Greek philosophers. In his later and more famous Summa Theologica, he expanded his earlier writing and developed a fully systematic theology based on authorities common to a Christian audience -- including Scripture and church tradition.

Authorities allow us to make and judge arguments. However, it should be noted that in order to accept an authority, we must evaluate it first, to determine whether it is reliable, or how to rank the value and reliability of multiple authorities. In other words, the process of accepting an authority is itself a judgment, which must be reached on the conclusion of a separate argumentative process, and must therefore rely on authorities itself.

This illustrates one of the more difficult topics in epistemology: the regressive nature of knowledge. Scientists often like to speak of the progressivity of knowledge: one discovery builds on the foundation of another. Yet even in that we see its corollary: if ideas build on each other, then an idea must have come before it. The reasons we give for one argument, rely on the outcome of another previous argument, and so on.

Epistemology is not self-sufficient. In order to conclude anything, we must first agree on something.

If our common foundation were an authority (an outside source of knowledge), then we would fall into a flat contradiction, for our acceptance of that authority would rely on a prior common understanding that such an authority can be trusted. Only personal experience qualifies as evidence not dependent on others, but not even that will suffice: for that must rely implicitly on the reliability of our own experience. Moreover, personal experiences cannot be held in common, so the point is moot from the start.

The very nature of authority points us to an authority outside itself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflection on Authority: #2

As the previous definition of argumentation should make clear, it is impossible to make an argument without first holding some premise in common. Since most premises are supplied by authority, arguments almost invariably rely on authorities held in common.

Appeals to authority are valid insofar as we consider that authority to be a trustworthy or reliable source of evidence within a particular sphere. Stephen Hawking is a brilliant theoretical physicist and a nearly unimpeachable authority when it comes to his specialized field. In other fields, I do not think him as reliable an authority, as in questions of extraterrestrial life, alien invasion, and the existence of God.

The "appeal to authority fallacy" revolves around the a claim that a particular authority is infallible or beyond criticism in a certain field. Such claims are generally reckless, and unworthy of consideration, except where the claim of authority intrinsically entails such infallibility.

For instance, Scripture claims to convey the words of Christ and of God, transcribed by human agents who were themselves acting under divine inspiration. If these words were anything less than perfectly True, Good, and Beautiful, Scripture would lose its value as an authority. Therefore, the Scriptural claim to infallibility is intrinsic to itself and must be treated separately.

It may be noted that the question of Scriptural infallibility faces the same trichotomy that C.S. Lewis ascribed to the divinity of Christ, the famous "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic" argument. Either Scripture is divinely inspired and thereby infallible, or it's a deliberate lie, or it is a simple exercise in authorial delusions of grandeur.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflection on Authority: #1

Argumentation is the process of working from shared knowledge or common assumptions, to conclusions that are not shared or held in common.

In argumentation, virtually all of the premises on which we rely are based on authority -- that is, they are supplied by others, not by ourselves. We simply lack the expertise or the experience to know everything of which we speak. I doubt whether we are the ultimate source of even a fraction of our truth claims: only claims of personal experience can suffice.

Even if I were to carry out an entirely independent experiment, I still rely on the education I received from experts in the field to corroborate that I used the proper technique to gather data and reach conclusions; I must trust that others have or will have independently reached the same conclusions and verified my findings; and I must interpret my data and my conclusions in light of the knowledge I share and have received from other scientists.

Human knowledge cannot be objective, for we are fallible humans. Nor, contra Michael Polanyi, is human knowledge an essentially personal activity, though there is an intrinsic human element to all of our intellectual pursuits.

Human knowledge is a fundamentally social endeavor, for all of our efforts to discern truth will rely considerably, if not entirely, on the trust we place in others.

The question of authority -- the extent to which we are comfortable relying on things or persons outside ourselves-- is central to almost every truth claim to which we turn our minds.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Contemplations in Theology: #14

One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 6:3 - "Do you not know that we will judge angels?" It is a deliciously vague verse, dropping the merest hint of our future as restored humanity.

Angels reside continually in the unadulterated Presence of God. It shows. I can't remember a single instance in Scripture where a guy meets an angel and doesn't fall to his knees in incapacitating fear. We're talking about Seriously Tall People with flaming swords, heads of lions, massive wings, circles within circles... you know, the works.

And yet 1 Corinthians 6:3 tells us that the Christian shall not only be able to withstand such a sight, but shall indeed be judges presiding over such creature.

God has something up His sleeves. Angel means 'messenger' or (more broadly) 'agent,' so the angels were made to carry out and communicate His will. I will not attempt a more detailed examination of what angels are, for I will readily admit I could care less. The point is that God made humanity in HIS OWN IMAGE. We are more than agents, more than messengers, more than any heavenly creature. For God implanted in our souls the germ of Himself. Our souls yearn for Him for this reason. We desire the good, the true and the beautiful because those noble qualities reflect Him. We are defined as human precisely in the degree to which we reflect God.

And then we fell.

Salvation is like a Texas Two-Step. First we're saved... then we're really saved. Justification is necessary to get us through the door, past the threshold, to the hearth of Heaven and the arms of God. But what will we do once we're there?

Most Christians, if they're honest with themselves, will admit that an eternity of harps and choral singing sounds -- frankly -- as boring as Hell. Granted, we're supposed to be happy about the prospect because God will be there, and admittedly, that would make up for quite a bit. But why would we ever look forward to losing everything that we enjoy in this life, those things that define us as human?

Such a heaven is a heresy. If our humanity is defined by the image of God, then God could not have intended to remove that image from us when we are saved. If anything, our humanity shall be amplified, purified, pushed to its outer bounds. C.S. Lewis once wrote that humans are like children who prefer mud pies over chocolate, a sandbox over a day at the beach. Our desires aren't excessive; they're too small. We think too small. The harps and the choral singing isn't going to be our full-time occupation in the heavenly barracks. The music is supposed to symbolize the ecstasy we shall experience in the Presence of God, an ecstasy we sometimes find in music. The words of praise speak to the joy of our hearts that will be constantly expressing gratitude towards God.

There is no temple in the New Jerusalem. The city is the temple. Our entire lives will glorify God, and God will glorify our entire lives.

There's the word: glorify. Justification is nice for those first baby-steps, but glorification is the meat of our eternal future. Christ was the firstborn, the Son of Man just as surely as the Son of God. And the saints are the children of God, who died with Christ in His death and are raised up with Him through His resurrection. We owe everything to God, and will owe Him all the more when He lavishes His love upon us.

Please, enough with the heaven of school uniforms, of starchy collars and organ music (unless you actually like organ music, in which case let your imagination run wild). Heaven is going to be beyond your wildest dreams, almost as far beyond description as God is, mostly because it's going to be God's party, put on for all eternity for our enjoyment.

Since before time began, God prepared a feast for you. Now He's waiting for you to arrive, His guest of honor. Traffic's a beast, but the party is worth it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Commentary on Scripture: 1 Peter

To those who reside as aliens, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

1 Peter 1:1-2 ~~ This is a strong statement of the Trinitarian nature of the Christian faith. It should also be noted that predestination is strongly correlated here to the work of the Trinity.

1 Peter 1:3-4 ~~ “A living hope through the resurrection… to obtain an inheritance… reserved in heaven”: the phraseology indicates a distinction between resurrection (salvation proper) and inheritance (the exaltation mentioned in 5:6).

1 Peter 1:8 ~~ This is a wonderful description of a Christian’s spirit: “joy inexpressible” and “full of glory”

1 Peter 1:9 ~~ “The outcome of your faith” related to qualities listed in 1:8

1 Peter 1:10-12 ~~ The prophets “made careful searches and inquiries” (strong use of reason) and passed along their knowledge (through tradition).

1 Peter 1:12 ~~ The mysteries revealed by the prophets and through the early church are “things into which angels long to look.” Similar to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 6:3, to wit: "Do you not know that you shall judge angels?" Our status and future exaltation so far exceeds the current glory of angels that comparison becomes meaningless.

1 Peter 1:13 ~~ “Prepare minds for action, keep sober, fix hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you by the revelation of Jesus” – firm correlation between grace/salvation and revelation.

1 Peter 1:14 ~~ As “obedient children” we are called to desire God’s will and avoid the “formers lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance.” But if we sin out of ignorance of what God’s will is, how is this command to be filled? Perhaps, as in Romans 2:12, we are judged by our deeds relative to our moral knowledge.

1 Peter 1:18 ~~ We are not redeemed from the “futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.” This is interesting, as Peter (traditional head of the Catholic church) seems to disparage or deny tradition. It may be that this verse is also the origin for Christian supersessionism: the doctrine that the relationship of Christ to the Church has supplanted the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant between God and Israel.

1 Peter 1:20 ~~ “For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” The doctrine of the Trinity arises here again in conjunction with predestination: God possesses foreknowledge of Christ?

1 Peter 1:22 ~~ Obedience to truth purifies and prepares the soul to love others, and moves it to action.

1 Peter 2:1 ~~ We are called to cast away sins of the heart and the word. Each sin Peter lists corresponds to relational sins, in how we perceive or seek to be perceived in comparison with others. Malice is the most straightforward, the desire to do harm to others. Deceit and hypocrisy are the twin desires to appear differently to oneself and to others, to appear better than reality. Envy is the instinct to despise others for their relative excellence. Slander is the desire to cause others to appear worse than reality.

1 Peter 2:8 ~~ This verse seems to support a Calvinist view of damnation (cf. Exodus 7:4).

1 Peter 2:11 ~~ Our fleshly lusts wage war against the soul.

1 Peter 2:12 ~~ We are called appear excellent to the Gentiles to lead them to God. This theme is often repeated in Galatians and in the other Pauline letters.

1 Peter 2:12-13 ~~ This verse provides a hermeneutic for Peter’s teachings on authority. Despise slanders, we are always called to act with nobility, in a manner worthy of praise.

1 Peter 2:13 ~~ This verse attracts the most attention in the following section, but it functions primarily as an introduction and summary. It clarifies the role and relative nature of sovereignty and authority. It is important to note that “for the Lord’s sake” (for the ultimate purpose of honoring the Lord) is not the same as the frequent mistranslation “as unto the Lord” (as though one were honoring the Lord directly).

1 Peter 2:14 ~~ It is the nature and proper function of government to punish evildoers (this is standard to classical liberal political theory) and to praise those who do right. This latter function is nowhere near so widely recognized.

1 Peter 2:15-16 ~~ We are to silence our critics, not by yielding as though under compulsion or to our rightful sovereignty (that authority is God’s), but by submitting freely, in order to honor God. In short, we are called to freely do our duty.

1 Peter 2:16 ~~ We are to use our freedom in Christ to obey the commands He gives us (cf. Galatians 5).

1 Peter 2:17 ~~ This verse presents a pair of contrasts. We are to honor everyone, while loving our brothers (those in the Christian faith). Likewise, we are to honor authorities on earth, but we are called to fear God.

1 Peter 2:18-19 ~~ To suffer for good deeds with patience is the pinnacle of a virtue.

1 Peter 2:20 ~~ Patience (especially patience through suffering) is designed to amplify good deeds, but it is devalued when the suffering occurs after evil preceding actions.

1 Peter 3:1 ~~ The command to wives follows the passage regarding submission to authority, and Christ’s example of humility. The command is given for the same reason as those that came before: to save the souls of those who observe your good deeds.

1 Peter 3:3-4 ~~ This verse serves as a caution to the preceding command, regarding the observation of others. We are to let them focus on our character, not on the external distractions or appearance. We are to emphasize “the hidden person.”

1 Peter 3:5-6 ~~ Peter cites the example of Sarah and those who make themselves her children, the daughters of God. The next verse clarifies that a daughter of Sarah is one who does what is right without fear. The Christian command of submission is here identified with courage!

1 Peter 3:7 ~~ The command to husbands is primarily a command to be considerate of their wives, especially of any weaknesses. The phrasing is interesting: husbands are to honor her so that their own prayers are not hindered. One could equally say that a husband honors his wife, or else his prayers (and thus his relationship with God) would be impeded.

1 Peter 3:8-9 ~~ The virtues listed here are relational virtues, just as the evils listed in 2:1 are relational evils. To be harmonious is to act as a body, to act for one another, with one purpose. To be sympathetic is to feel as a body and to feel for one another. To be brotherly is to function as a family, to defend and honor one another. To be kindhearted is to forgive and accept one another’s humanity, to be patient and gentle with each other. To be humble in spirit is to accept one’s place within the family. Finally, to return blessing for evil is to love thy neighbor and to turn the other cheek.

1 Peter 3:10-12 ~~ Peter quotes Psalms 34: goodness leads to a good life with the love of God and love of one’s neighbor.

1 Peter 3:13 ~~ “Who is the one who will harm you, if you prove zealous for what is good?”

1 Peter 3:15 ~~ “Always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” In this way, we overcome suffering and sanctify Christ in our hearts.

1 Peter 3:15-16 ~~ If suffering is the will of God, then we are to suffer for a good reason.

1 Peter 3:19-20 ~~ By one interpretation, this verse states that Christ, in the three days following his crucifixion, proclaimed the Gospel to the dead from the antediluvian generations.

1 Peter 3:20 ~~ Here is a unique perspective on the Flood narrative: God in fact exhibited patience, by waiting for Noah to finish the ark before destroying the rest of humanity.

1 Peter 3:21 ~~ Peter compares baptism to the Flood, though not with the usual analogy. It is not the washing away of filth and flesh, but the preserving of the righteousness, that is at the heart of the analogy. It is not the destruction of humanity, but the preservation of Noah and his sons, that baptism reflects: it does not save us nor cleanse us, but appeals to God to preserve our obedience and a clean conscience.

1 Peter 4:3-5 ~~ Peter pointedly states that his audience has already had plenty of time to enjoy the dissolutions of the flesh, the “desires of the Gentiles,” yet they found it lacking and sought God. Old colleagues in such sins may malign these new Christians, but their conducts towards the believers only confirms their conversion to a new life.

1 Peter 4:6 ~~ This verse, like 3:19-20, states that the Gospel was preached to the dead. But see Hebrews 9:27 for a contrasting doctrine, that would seem to contradict this.

1 Peter 4:7 ~~ Eschatology inspires preparedness, in sound judgment and a sober spirit for prayer.

1 Peter 4:8 ~ We are called to love one another, as love covers a multitude of sins. I wonder, whose sins? One’s own sins (our love demonstrates our faith which saves us)? Or the sins of others? If the latter, is this only for Christians, or even for the non-believers towards whom we show love? This fits into a general hierarchical model of salvation, such as that outlined in Ephesians 5. I’ve often wondered about the phenomenon of domesticated animals, and thought that perhaps, as Christ is able to redeem humanity, man is able by resembling Christ to redeem those aspects of nature that surround him. Perhaps this extends to our fellow man: by more closely resembling Christ, we are able to extend His grace to others. Ephesians 5 makes the same point: a husband may extend grace to his wife and family by resembling Christ in his self-sacrifice.

1 Peter 4:9 ~~ Be hospitable to one another – this command seems to go beyond “mere” love, and might perhaps approach pure caritas (the highest form of Godly love).

1 Peter 4:10 ~~ There are two points in this verse: everyone has a special gift from God, and each one is to exercise or employ it as a steward of God’s grace.

1 Peter 4:11 ~~ Whatever we speak or do, we are to act as though the words or deeds carried some measure of God within them: we must speak as though speaking the utterances of God, and serve by the strength God provides.

1 Peter 4:12-14 ~~ We are to rejoice in suffering, that we participate in it with Christ.

1 Peter 4:15-16 ~~ Peter repeats the admonishment to suffer (that’s a given in Peter’s theology), specifically to suffer in the service of the Good.

1 Peter 5:1-4 ~~ Peter speaks to the elders: take your duties voluntarily, not for honor or out of a sense of obligation, but with joy and eagerness, nor with pride in your station but with the humility to lead by example.

1 Peter 5:4 ~~ There is a special glory to those with greater responsibilities (cf. James 3:1).

1 Peter 5:5-11 ~~ Peter speaks to the young men: be humble, and subject to the elders, “that He may exalt you at the proper time” (!) We are to cast our anxieties (including our desire for exaltation) upon Him, and entrust ourselves to His care. This requires the patience to suffer for a little while before this exaltation, in which God shall “perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:8-9 ~~ Be alert and resist evil (we are strengthened in our will to stand firm by God). We find encouragement in the ubiquity of our struggles – we are not alone, others endure the same struggles.

1 Peter 5:12 ~~ Here is an interesting parenthetical remark: “Silvanus, our faithful brother (as I consider)....” It seems similar to the phrase “God willing” (which arose from James 4:15), but this saying evidently never caught on. It certainly attests to our ignorance, and our willingness to recognize it in light of God’s omniscience.

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Commentary on Scripture: 1 John

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with out eyes... we proclaim to you so that you too may have fellowship with us.

1 John 1:1 ~~ This letter begins on a combative note, stating the humanity of Christ from the beginning and arguing against the Gnostic heresy. Where the Gospel of John begins with a largely abstract discourse on the Word, in an effort to persuade people to belief in Christ, the First Epistle of John begins with the apostles' concrete experiences of the Word, in an effort to exhort believers to growth.

1 John 1:1 ~~ Note the verbs in this verse: "heard," "seen," "looked at" (indicating a more intense gaze, akin to a double-take), "touched." All of them are strongly physical verbs, emphasizing even in vocabulary the humanity of Christ.

1 John 1:2 ~~ Father and Son are seen as coequal and co-eternal ("the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us").

1 John 1:3 ~~ The emphasis in this verse is not on the verb "proclaim," but on the truth and profundity of the Word.

1 John 1:8 ~~ to deny our sin nature is self-deceit; that is, a denial of our rational nature.

1 John 1:9 ~~ This is a famous verse, but it's worth noting the specific words. "He is faithful and *just* to forgive us our sins." Usually justice is set in opposition (or at least in apposition) to mercy and God's providential grace; this verse seems to equate the two.

1 John 2:1 ~~ John points to the present redemption (forgiveness of our sin) and the future restoration (glorification of our nature).

1 John 2:2 ~~ Christ's atonement was in propitiation for the sins of Christians *and* those of the whole world (certainly including the sins of unbelievers, and presumably also including any 'structural sins' that pertain to institutions but not individuals).

1 John 2:3-4 ~~ Obedience to God's commands is the sign of faith and of the 'knowledge of God.'

1 John 2:7-8 ~~ This passage equates the "old commandments" with the commands made new by the Atonement.

1 John 2:9,11 ~~ Love is the living evidence of eternal life (cf. 2:25, in which eternal life appears as the promise; thus, love is also the evidence of hope).

1 John 2:10 ~~ To love is to abide in Light, and to avoid causing others and oneself to stumble.

1 John 2:12-14 ~~ This is a fascinating section. These verses state the purpose of the letter in writing first to "little children," then to "fathers," and finally to "young men." The first set of sentences address all three groups in the present tense; the second set writes in the past tense ("I am writing... I have written"). While some interpretations place "fathers" after "young men," it appears based on the order that "young men" is intended to go last, as that category seems to represent the most mature traits.

1 John 2:16 ~~ This verse was foundational for St. Augustine, and is analyzed at length in his Confessions. According to Augustine, the "lusts of the flesh" correspond to the desires and passions of the body; the "lust of the eyes" correspond to the intellectual pride and false glory of the spirit; and the "boastful pride of life" correspond to the self-centeredness and self-will of the idolatrous soul. In my own hermeneutic, following C.S. Lewis's tripartite division of human nature into rational, spirited, and appetitive elements, I would place the "lusts of the flesh" in the appetitive, the "lust of the eyes" with the rational, and the "boastful pride of life" with the spirited elements of the human soul.

1 John 2:20-21 ~~ "Anointing from the Holy One" gives spiritual discernment.

1 John 2:24 ~~ Obedience is to abide in what "you heard from the beginning." This includes both faith and doctrine; thus, to abide in orthodoxy, even in church traditions, is to abide in the Father and in Christ.

1 John 2:25 ~~ Eternal life (our future glorification, and personified by Jesus Christ) is the foundation for our hope.

1 John 2:26 ~~ Here is a clear statement of purpose for the letter: John seeks to correct error and establish the truth of the Gospel.

1 John 2:27 ~~ Truth is received through the anointing received from Christ. This is both the basis for salvation and sufficient for knowledge, such that there is no further need for teaching.

1 John 3:1 ~~ Children of God have received a great blessing from God, but is alienated from the world.

1 John 3:2-3 ~~ We have hope of glorification, though we do not yet know the details, except that "we will be like Him" and "see Him just as He is." This hope leads us to purify ourselves in anticipation of His judgment.

1 John 3:4-6 ~~ Sin is lawlessness; thus, Christ abolished sin by fulfilling and perfecting the Law.

1 John 3:6 ~~ "No one who abides in Him sins" seems to be a paradox, or at least an ambiguous statement. Perhaps the verse indicates that "sin" is not oriented in deeds but in attitudes. Or perhaps the verse indicates that, due to Christ's atoning sacrifice, sins are no longer held against Christians who abide in Him (Galatians contains a good deal of material on this subject, and the doctrine of Christian liberty).

1 John 3:8 ~~ "Son of God appeared... to destroy the works of the devil" (cf. 3:5).

1 John 3:10 ~~ The practice of righteousness, and the love for the brethren define our souls and act as the signs for our redemption.

1 John 3:11 ~~ This verse seems slightly ironic, pointing to John 13:34-35.

1 John 3:12-13 ~~ Cain hated Abel for his righteousness (for the degree to which Abel's offering pleased God). In the same way the world despised Christ and his followers.

1 John 3:14-15 ~~ Love is the sign and necessary result of a life in Christ. To hold hatred in one's heart for a brother is to deny that life, and deny the imago dei that dwells in our own nature.

1 John 3:16 ~~ All Christians are commands to lay down their lives for our fellow believer (cf. Ephesians 5:21-25).

1 John 3:17 ~~ Charity is a basic duty for anyone and everyone in the Christian walk.

1 John 3:19-21 ~~ "God is greater than our heart." We judge ourselves (perhaps from the Law, or our consciences, or even our psychological insecurities) far more harshly than God does. If we in the Church, in full view of our imperfection, are not troubled by our conscience, this verse seems to indicate that we may have confidence in our salvation.

1 John 4:1 ~~ Christians are to be discerning in accepting the authority of prophets and teachers.

1 John 4:2-3 ~~ John provides a test for authority: a true spirit, sent from God, will confess the Incarnation, and proclaim the mystery of a fully human yet fully divine Son of God. In other words, we are to judge spirits based on the content of their teaching concerning Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:5-6 ~~ John provides a second test for authority: a true spirit, sent from God, will attract an audience of believers. Thus, we are to judge spirits based on their audience's knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:7-8, 11-12 ~~ Christians are called to love one another. Why? (1) Love is from God; God is the source of perfect Love. (2) Love is intrinsic to our Christian faith. (3) We know God through Love; God makes Himself known by Love. (4) God is Love, and we must recognize the unity of His nature. (5) God loved us first, and Love is the only proper response to His gift. (6) God will abide in us, as we obey Him and express ourselves in Love. (7) We are perfected in His Love.

1 John 4:16 ~~ This is a summary and recap of previous items (see also vv. 4:13a, 4:15, 4:19).

1 John 4:17-18 ~~ God's love, perfected in us, is a source of confidence (cf. 1 John 3:21) and drives out fear (including our internal insecurities). Fear (of punishment) is incompatible with the spirit of grace.

1 John 4:20-21 ~~ John presents a two-part proof that that hating one's brother while remaining a Christian is not only logically impossible (can we hate what is seen but love what is unseen and further removed from us?) but also incompatible with obedience (as contrary to the commands of God).

1 John 5:2-3 ~~ Christians are called to love one another. How? (1) Love God. (2) Love obedience ("observe His commandments"). Love is demonstrated through obedience, and obedience to God is not burdensome.

1 John 5:6 ~~ John vociferously opposed the Docetist heresy that distinguished the human Jesus from the divine Christ. Jesus Christ came by water (baptism) and by blood (crucifixion); this demonstrates that Jesus Christ remained fully God and fully human throughout His life.

1 John 5:7-9 ~~ John appeals to human standard of proof: multiple witnesses (in accordance with Jewish law, three). "Spirit" may refer to either the Annunciation, the seed of God at Christ's birth, or to the dove at Christ's baptism. "Water" likely refers to His baptism, though it may refer to the water at Christ's birth. "Blood" likely refers to His crucifixion, though it may refer to the blood at Christ's birth. Some manuscripts also add another set of three witnesses in heaven, as the previous three are on earth: Father, Word, and Holy Spirit. These manuscripts provide one of the earliest unequivocal references to the Trinity, and to the Unity of Christ ("and these three are one").

1 John 5:14 ~~ We can have confidence in God's answer to prayer, provided that (1) we keep His commandments and seek His joy -- as stated in 3:21-22 -- and (2) we pray according to His will -- as stated in 5:14.

1 John 5:16-17 ~~ We pray for those who commit sin, and God will give them life. This passage makes an interesting (and paradoxical) distinction between "sin not leading to death" and "a sin leading to death." My Bible's commentary interprets this as Gnostic amorality, but it is unclear what those phrases mean and how they are construed here. John isn't certain whether we ought to pray for those who commit the "sin leading to death" -- it may be outside prayer, and thus possibly outside grace (recall the irrevocable judgment placed against those who "blaspheme against the Holy Spirit"). John states "all unrighteousness is sin" (implying that all sin is under the judgment of God), "and" (perhaps this conjunction should be "but"?) "there is a sin not leading to death" (implying that this sin, or category of sin, might not be under the judgment of God). This entire verse is thoroughly confusing.

1 John 5:18-19 ~~ For a follower of Christ there is no sin (cf. Gal. 5:1), and is kept by God. While "the whole world is in the power of the evil one," he cannot touch those of us who believe.

1 John 5:20 ~~ Christ came and gave us knowledge of Himself as God and as Life.

1 John 5:21 ~~ This is a highly abrupt end to a letter. Perhaps John meant this statement ("guard yourselves from idols") as a summary statement of the epistle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Commentary on Scripture: James

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

James 1:2-4 ~~ "Consider it all joy... when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." In these verses, we are supposed to find joy in endurance, which is rather paradoxical (patience is waiting with hope; endurance is waiting without hope but only trust). The reason joy resides in endurance is because endurance contributes to our perfection. The purpose of the "testing" of our faith is our own perfection. This fits with one of the major themes of James: namely, after we are justified by faith through grace, we are restored (Romans 8:30 "glorified") by works and deeds.

James 1:5-6 ~~ Wisdom is a gift from God, freely given to those with faith. Restoration and perfection follow after salvation and justification.

James 1: 9-10 ~~ Notwithstanding the commands against pride, we are supposed to take pride in our spiritual condition: the pauper ought to take pride in his trials, while the rich man takes pride in his future humiliation that will reveal the omnipotence of God.

James 1:12 ~~ "For once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life...." Salvation (justification) precedes and allows room for glorification.

James 1:13-14 ~~ God does not tempt us to evil; temptation arises from the excess of our lusts or passions.

James 1:15 ~~ "Lust" gives birth to sin, which when brought to fruition produces death (see also Romans 5:13-14 on the types of sin).

James 1:16 ~~ "Do not be deceived." This remark (even if taken in context) provides a positive command to seek not only virtue (good deeds) but truth (good words). This is perhaps why James later transitions from "faith without works is dead" to "if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man."

James 1:17 ~~ This remark provides solid Scriptural support for the Augustinian teachings on the ontology of evil. "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." God is entirely good; nothing can exist outside God. Thus, evil must exist outside God, and therefore cannot have independent existence. Evil is the negation or corruption of the good.

James 1:18 ~~ Humans are the "first fruits among His creatures," just as Christ was the "firstborn of Nature." This leads me to wonder if perhaps God's gift to us extend to animals; that is, if we are able to extend the common grace of our nature to animals just as Christ extended the special grace of His mercy to us. Perhaps our tendency to anthropomorphic perception of domesticated animals (like cats and dogs) is in fact rooted in a change in the animals themselves through domestication and contact with humans. C.S. Lewis has some good content on this in "That Hideous Strength."

James 1:19 ~~ "Quick to hear, slow to speak"; this verse seems to indicate that the silence of contemplation is a necessity of Christian life.

James 1:19-20 ~~ "Slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God"; this verse states that our 'righteous indignation' cannot achieve the intensity or purity of God's wrath, and therefore ought to be employed sparingly, if at all.

James 1:21 ~~ "All filthiness and all that remains of wickedness" (this contrasts degrees of sin: corruption versus depravity). "The word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (there is a native or common grade for goodness, rooted in the imago dei or "image of God.")

James 1:23-24 ~~ If we hear the Word without acting upon it, we are like the person who sees his true self in a mirror yet forgets it. Please note: to hear the Word is to see our true selves.

James 1:25 ~~ "The perfect law, the law of liberty"; this is the main theme of the Letter to the Galatians.

James 1:26 ~~ Religion is worthless if it does not bridle our tongue or lends clarity to our self-perception. This verse is also interesting in that it correlates a failure to control our speech with a self-deceit in our heart.

James 1:27 ~~ Pure and undefiled religion is to lead a life of charity, compassion, and moral purity. James' emphasis on "works" is not purely external, expressed in acts of charity, though that is a major focus.

James 2:1-9 ~~ We as Christians are not to show favoritism. However, the only application James gives is to avoid showing favoritism to the rich over the poor. yet James goes on to say that God shows favoritism by exalting the poor and humbling the rich. But this seems to be God's prerogative, as in verses 8-9 James states that any partiality we show violates the "royal law" (that is, the Greatest Commandment, to "love thy neighbor as thyself." This is no "preferential option for the poor" in terms of social justice (see also 5:7-11). James merely makes the point that while all favoritism is wrong, favoritism on behalf of the rich is especially so.

James 2:9-11 ~~ one violation of the Law constitutes sufficient proof to define us as transgressors of the Law. This may be taken as a general point, though it is noteworthy that the only examples cited of the Law are excerpts from the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment, which may weaken his point.

James 2:12-13 ~~ Within the context of the law of liberty, judgment is exercised according to merit and deed, by extending mercy to those who were merciful, etc.

James 2:14 ~~ This is a key verse for James, and in the debates between faith and works (which seems to be one of the key disagreements between Protestants and Catholics). Yet it is worth noting that this verse, which supports a strong emphasis on works, occurs within the "law of liberty," which is extended by grace. Thus, grace places us under a law of liberty, in which works confirm our salvation and determine our blessings and glorification.

James 2:19-20 ~~ Merely to believe in God, and in the Shema (the Hebrew declaration of the unity of God, found in Deuteronomy 6:4 - "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One"), is insufficient, for even the demons recognized the unity of God. Our belief must take the form of faith, which must be perfected in works of love.

James 2:21-23 ~~ Do these verses teach justification by works? No, only perfection by works. This is a posterior action to justification (see Romans 8:30). In this sense, James speaks of the Scriptures as being fulfilled when it spoke of Abraham's faith before it was confirmed and perfected by the sacrifice of Isaac.

James 2:26 ~~ Just as body is to spirit, so faith is to works. My philosophical training makes me wonder if there might be a third term, namely "body is to spirit :: faith is to works :: matter is to form."

James 2:26-3:1 ~~ This seems a very abrupt transition (see also 5:1). The rest of the letter flows smoothly because thoughts, even when those themes and points seem only distantly related. Yet, in light of 1:16, it may be that James considers good speech (and correct thought, i.e. "orthodoxy") to be a component of good works.

James 3:1 ~~ Teachers will incurs stricter knowledge than others, for their knowledge is greater and they have responsibility not only for the care of their own soul but also others. Romans 2:11-16 contain an expanded doctrine of salvation, that we are judged and condemned (and blessed) based on the degree of knowledge we possess, which is corroborated by this verse. We ought not to forget James 5:19-20 which reveal the greater blessing awaiting the teachers who admirably perform their responsibilities and preserve the souls under their care.

James 3:2 ~~ Here is a corollary to all those remarks about living the Christian life in word and deed: words are in fact the more challenging of the two!

James 3:3-8 ~~ This passage on the dangers of the tongue is fairly well known. Consider this in light of the verses that follow, however. (The tongue is a powerful instrument, able to affect our minds, the way we think.)

James 3:9-13 ~~ The tongue is able to bless or curse, and ought not be both. Just as good deeds manifest true wisdom, good words manifest a true heart. (The tongue manifests our minds and the dispositions of our hearts).

James 3:13-14 ~~ Contention, strife, jealousy, and ambition are signs of earthly or demonic "wisdom." When I first read this, I found it fascinating that the Bible seems to accept the existence of a wisdom that is not only not from God but also is antagonistic to Him, which seems to conflict with the message of Proverbs ("the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"). I'm still not sure what to make of this, though it is entirely possible that James was merely using the word "wisdom" to describe a pretender to the throne, a shoddy counterfeit that masquerades as wisdom but whose effects reveal it to be otherwise.

James 3:17 ~~ The sequencing here is interesting. "The wisdom from above is first pure" (unalloyed by error) and only then revealed by the virtues of speech. This verse also reveals a guide to noble rhetoric. To articulate the good in a pure and uncompromising way yet also have it received, the Christian must be: "peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, [and] without hypocrisy." This deserves a lot more analysis, but I'll leave it there for now.

James 4:1-3 ~~ Dissension and conflict originate from the passions of the flesh, and therefore do not arise from Godly or virtuous motivations. This seems to be consistent with James' appraisal of anger in 1:20, though the general argument that all conflict is a sign of ungodliness or evil is more challenging, not least because of James' own depiction of Godly wisdom as "unwavering."

James 4:4-5 ~~ the Spirit of God made to dwell within us cannot coexist a spirit of "friendship with the world."

James 4:7-10 ~~ This is a fascinating list of commands. "Submit to God": most of the other commandments are conditional or purposive, while this one is unconditional, unequivocal, and uncompromising. This is the foundation of everything else. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you": this begins the sequence of 'do this, so that...' statements. It is also parallel to "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." In both, faith and endurance are rewarded. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners": this first type of sin lies in action, in deed, in transgression. "Purify your hearts, you doubled-minded": this is the second form of sin, which resides in thought, in heart and soul. Verse 9 is the exception, and I will treat it below. "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and he will exalt you." This last point is the end to which the first command ("submit to God") is directed. We submit and have faith that we might be saved; we humble ourselves and act on that faith that we might be exalted.

James 4:9 ~~ This is the exception to the list of commands, and a strongly paradoxical statement that seems to conflict with the very idea of exaltation (v. 10) and the joy we find in the Presence of God. Consider these words in prayer: "Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom." My instinct is to root this in the personality of Saturn, in the character of the suffering Christ (which makes intuitive sense given Christ's ultimate victory over death and the turn to exaltation in verse 10). But I'm not sure if that is entirely satisfactory.

James 4:11-12 ~~ The criticism of the brethren or of the church by believing Christians is a failure of humility. I think this is a vitally important message for a lot of Christians today who seek to define themselves and their faith in opposition to the established Church.

James 4:13-16 ~~ The confidence we hold in the future or in our own worldly success is likewise a failure of humility, and a sign of our arrogance. To consider the future with an certainty is akin to boasting, and as such is evil. To affix "God willing" to every statement may be archaic, but it would be a useful reminder to us.

James 4:17 ~~ This, with 5:1, provides a very abrupt transition into the final section. By itself, it also provides a doctrine of sins of omission (best known through the immortal words of Ogden Nash): "To one who knows the good and does not do it, to him it is sin." This incidentally dovetails nicely with Romans 2:11-16.

James 5:1-6 ~~ These verses strongly condemn the rich, the powerful, and the corrupt elites. It is interesting to note that the condemnation is phrased in a rather mocking way oriented around eschatology: "It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!"

James 5:6-11 ~~ These verses strongly exhort the poor to patience and endurance without complaint (conflicts and jealousy are treated and disparaged in 3:14 and 4:1). James also draws parallels to Job and the prophets. This is very emphatically not the doctrine taught by advocates of "liberation theology" and the "preferential option for the poor," nor is it consistent with the radical movement of Marxism or communism. The church ought to push to better treatment of the poor, but within the context of its own action. The church's role should not be stirring up the poor in revolt, since this preys on their existing passions and lusts. The greatest moral development lies in the areas of our lives that are the most challenging to us: for the poor who suffer, this often means learning to suffer with patience. This is a challenging message, and not a message that ought to be delivered by those who do not also suffer, but it is a healthy message consonant with the thrust of Scripture. I would interpret Ephesians 5 in the same manner.

James 5:12 ~~ Christians are called to be trustworthy, which is a very challenging command since our reputations often do not lie within our control.

James 5:13 ~~ Suffering is met with supplication, good cheer met with thanksgiving to God.

James 5:14-16 ~~ These statements actually form a fascinating doctrine of prayer, including teachings on purpose and efficiency. Also, it is interesting that we are to confess our sins to others, and pray for the spiritual health of others, for the same object: that we ourselves may be healed.

James 5:16-18 ~~ Here is a fascinating statement, that I lack time to explore: "The effective prayer of the righteous man can accomplish much." Note that it doesn't say it can accomplish everything, nor does it define what is meant by "effective" prayer. But the example of Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:1,18:41-46).

James 5:19-20 ~~ A necessary corollary to James 3:1. Teachers will be held to a higher standard than others, but if they meet that standards and acquit themselves well of the souls in their care, they will receive great blessing.

James 5:20 ~~ An odd and abrupt end to a letter marked with abrupt rhetorical transitions. This seems less to be a letter in the mold of Paul (with the multitude of greetings and blessings at the end) and more in like with Luke (with the greetings to "Theophilus" at the beginning but little content at the end. Perhaps this was because the letters by James and Luke were general letters to the church, meant for a wide audience, and extra content at the end would merely distract from the message, whereas Paul wrote his letters to specific audiences and thus found that personalized greetings would enhance the audiences' receptivity to the message.

The grace of salvation and joy of glorification rest upon you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Student-Designed Major in Piracy

So a friend of a friend is taking classes in both Fencing and Sailing this quarter, and one day his professor referenced him as a "Piracy major." I decided to take this to the next level. Thus I give you... the student-designed major in Piracy.

First, the obvious "pirate practicum" that will be required coursework:

  • PES 1135: Rowing
  • PES 1150: Sailing
  • PES 1175: Fencing
  • MUS 2312: Men's Choir

Then there's the required Leadership component for pirate captains:

  • COM 3160: Conflict Management
  • PSY 3439: Motivation & Leadership
  • COM 4603: Persuasive Campaigns

And let's not forget the "History and Theory" component, necessary for a holistic understanding of your craft. You can choose either Iberia or Asia for your concentration, depending on your interest in historical vs. modern modes of piracy:

  • GEO 1110: World Regional Geography
  • POL 4452: International Law
  • SOC 3370: Sociology of Deviance
  • HIS 3331: History of Spain & Portugal (elective)
  • HIS 3785: Modern East Asia (elective)

Considering that we are at a private Christian university, I doubt we could get away with this major without applying it to our spiritual walk and our university's mission statement. Thus I give you the "Piracy as Ministry" component (also known as "Corsairs and Christianity").

  • BUS 3680: Social Enterprise
  • BUS 3828: International Business
  • THEO 3630: Holistic Ministry
  • BUS 4899: Business Ethics Capstone

Finally, there are two "tracks" or "concentrations" to round out this Piracy major. The first is oriented around the scientific aspects of the trade, necessary for a skilled navigator.

  • MAT 1114: Trigonometry
  • PHY 1135: Astronomy
  • PHY 1145: Oceanography (elective)
  • BIO 1100: Marine Biology (elective)

The second track or concentration is more artistically oriented, to live the life of a pirate to the fullest. This includes weapons manufacture, portraiture, and pirates in literature. Unfortunately, the "Family and Consumer Sciences" department is rather limited at my University, or there would be easily be room for costuming, cooking, and rum!

  • ART 2422: Metals Studio
  • ART 4502: Illustration Studio: Portraiture
  • ENG 3348: Romantic Poetry and Fiction
  • FCS 3875: Appearance and Culture (elective)
  • ART 3422: Metals Studio - Advanced I (elective)
  • ART 4422: Metals Studio - Advanced II (elective)

Finally, in light of our university's Language Proficiency requirements, we thought it would be best to require the equivalent of 15 credits (one-year proficiency) in either Spanish or Portuguese.

So what do you think? Could this major catch on?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Commentary on Scripture: Galatians

Paul, an apostle... to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:1 ~~ Paul immediately establishes his pastoral authority, as sent from God and not from men. He adopts a very different rhetorical strategy than in Philemon, where he seeks to establish personal rapport and disclaims any demands on his own authority.

Galatians 1:3-5 ~~ Paul launches into a doxology that immediately establishes a positive doctrine of atonement, and also introduces a major theme of the letter.

Galatians 1:6-9 ~~ Paul makes a strong and broad-based assertion of his doctrinal authority, and the importance of true doctrine in matters essential for faith.

Galatians 1:6-7 ~~ "Different gospel... distort the gospel." This equivalence supports a broad thesis that error is not independent of truth, but is its corruption or distortion.

Galatians 1:10 ~~ This verse reveals Paul's rhetorical strategy for the beginning of the letter. He appeals to his very abruptness and bombastic tone to show that his apostolic authority is not from men, nor is meant to please men, and that he eschews smooth or apparently persuasive speech because his authority is from God (see vv. 11-12, in which he makes this claim explicate).

Galatians 1:11-12 ~~ Divine revelation was the source of Paul's authority.

Galatians 1:13-2:21 ~~ Paul gives a history of his controversy with the Judaizing sect of Christianity, from Paul as a Pharisee, to his early years as an apostle in the Syrian churches, to the Jerusalem Council and finally concluding with his public dispute with the apostle Peter before the Antioch church.

Galatians 1:13-15 ~~ Paul avoided the Jerusalem church and apostles to avoid conflict and avoid compromising his divinely-appointed authority.

Galatians 1:14 ~~ Paul puts his advanced knowledge and zealousness for Judaic law to good use later in this letter (see Gal. 3:6-18).

Galatians 1:15 ~~ "Set me apart even from my mother's womb...." Is this a reference to Paul's family, such as any brothers or cousins who were also trained Pharisees? Or does Paul simply mean his his Jewish kinsmen?

Galatians 1:17-20 ~~ Paul didn't interact with anyone in the Jerusalem church except for James and Peter until the church report in Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion.

Galatians 2:2-4 ~~ Paul went up to Jerusalem for a report and for resolution of the circumcision controversy (Acts 15). Here it states that "it was because of a revelation that I went up," though he also notes other reasons given in 2:4 ("false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty"). The sequence of events is particularly interesting. It appears that Paul first appeared privately before the Jerusalem Council and "submitted to them the gospel which I preached among the Gentiles," presenting his case to the elders before the church report and the public controversy stirred up by the Pharisaical sects, thus influencing the final resolution given by James and the other elders of the Council.

Galatians 2:4-5 ~~ The Judaizers sought to put Gentiles (who had just gained their freedom in Christ, see 5:1) back into bondage. Paul made no compromise to the converts' Christian freedom.

Galatians 2:6-10 ~~ Paul offers a bittersweet evaluation of his reception in Jerusalem, that those with authority and reputation "contributed nothing to me," those they "gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship."

Galatians 2:8 ~~ Peter ministered to the circumcised, Paul ministered to the Gentiles. How is this verse (and others related to the leadership structure of the early church, see Acts 15) consistent with the unilateral authority claimed by the Papal See in the Roman Catholic Church?

Galatians 2:10 ~~ Paul states that the Antioch Christians were only "asked... to remember the poor," whereas Luke records a list of four mandates in Acts 15:20.

Galatians 2:11-13 ~~ Paul is quite critical in his evaluation of Cephas (Peter). Peter had participated with the Gentile Christians when he first arrived in Antioch, but had withdrawn into the more strict Judaic community when representatives from James in the Jerusalem church had visited. He was "fearing the party of the circumcision" -- presumably, Peter was trying to preserve his credibility from attack by the more radical Jewish sects. This might have been a prudential move (avoiding unnecessary conflict) if it were not for the broader repercussions, for "the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy," even Paul's associate Barnabas. Peter's acts may have helped his outreach to the Jews, but had also given offense to the Gentile Christians. By his actions, Peter had caused a rift in the church between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Galatians 2:14 ~~ Paul confronts Peter directly and begins with a public rebuke. This strikes me possibly as imprudent as Peter's actions, for it may have escalated the crisis and made this letter necessary long after the Antioch controversy.

Galatians 2:16 ~~ This verse is central to the theology of Martin Luther, as it offers a thrice-repeated doctrine of justification by faith and not by the works of the Law.

Galatians 2:17-19 ~~ "if... we ourselves are found to be sinners" -- that is, judged to be sinners, knowledge of which comes from the Law -- we prove ourselves to be transgressors by judging ourselves according to the Law and not according to our liberty in Christ Jesus! Paul seems to state that over-reliance and concern for the actions of Christian living can in fact be sinful when it conflicts with our understanding of our freedom to live by faith in the Spirit.

Galatians 2:21 ~~ if righteousness is from the Law, then Christ's sacrifice was needless and without effect.

Galatians 3:2-5 ~~ Paul harshly criticizes the Galatians' turn from the Spirit (grace) to flesh (works of Law).

Galatians 3:6-14 ~~ Paul embarks on a defense of the doctrines of liberty and faith, drawing from the Law itself. He uses a similar strategy in the section after 4:21.

Galatians 3:6-7 ~~ This verse (Gen. 15:6) is often quoted in the New Testament, and developed in more depth in Romans 4 and Hebrews 11. The sons of Abraham are defined by their faith accredited as righteousness

Galatians 3:8-9 ~~ This verse emphasizes the universal outreach of the Gospel, since the nations would be blessed through Abraham. Also, note the distinction drawn between the "sons of Abraham" and those "blessed with Abraham."

Galatians 3:10 ~~ Those who rely on the works of the Law are cursed under the Law (see 3:13), since they can never abide by all of the requirements.

Galatians 3:11-12 ~~ Paul contrasts living by faith (righteousness) with living by the Law (accursedness).

Galatians 3:16 ~~ Paul's Pharisaical training comes through here, in his familiarity with the Scriptures. He argues from the grammatical structure of the Abrahamic covenant (in particular, the fact that the "seed" of Abraham is in the singular) to show that it is fulfilled not in the Jewish people but in the person of Christ.

Galatians 3:17-18 ~~ This is perhaps the crucial point in Paul's argument: the Abrahamic covenant (the promise given to the patriarch) precedes the Mosaic covenant (the works of the Law given on Mount Sinai). Therefore the Law does not and cannot supersede the promise and the liberty that is fulfilled in Christ.

Galatians 3:19 ~~ The purpose of the Law was to mediate between God and sinful man before the Abrahamic promise had been fulfilled in Christ (see 3:23). While the covenant is given directly, the Law was given indirectly, "ordained by angels" (as per Deuteronomy 33:2, but also referenced in Acts 7:38,53 and Hebrews 2:2) "by the agency of a mediator" (presumably Moses), and passed ultimately to the Jewish people. The concept that the Law was transmitted or even ordained by angels would put a new spin on the entire reading of the Torah, and would certainly diminish its authority compared to the Abrahamic promise received directly from God.

Galatians 3:21-22 ~~ The Law is not contrary to the Abrahamic promise; it serves to point out sin, even while it is powerless to redeem us from sin. However, "the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin" seems to imply (as in Romans 7) that the Law also functions to be corrupted by sin, proving the existence of our sin insofar as it can even corrupt the commandments of God, and showing us the necessity of confession and repentance.

Galatians 3:23-24 ~~ Before Christ, we were in "custody under the Law" like children under the watchful eye of a "tutor" (a slave attendant). As children, we were kept from our adult inheritance and blessings ("being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed"). Like Jacob and the Prodigal Son, we sometimes demand a blessing which is not yet time for us to receive.

Galatians 3:28 ~~ The unity of the body of Christ is an oft-repeated sentiment in the Pauline epistles; this verse is repeated verbatim in several other locations.

Galatians 4:1 ~~ In light of 3:23-26, which considers our custody as children under slaves, Galatians 4 begins by comparing our status as children to that of slaves. This was common to Hellenistic culture (cf. Aristotle's Politics, Book 1).

Galatians 4:3 ~~ As children (future heirs) we were held in bondage to the "elemental things" or "principles of the world (the Law, implied by 4:10).

Galatians 4:8-10 ~~ before knowing God, we sought for God in those things which were not Him. But now, after faith has taken hold, it would be sin to return to the "weak and worthless principles" of the Law. Desire to be enslaved by the Law is fundamentally anti-Christian (Gal. 5:1 - "It was for freedom that Christ set us free").

Galatians 4:10 ~~ "days and months and seasons and years" probably refers to the liturgical calendar of the Hebrew traditions and the Law.

Galatians 4:11 ~~ "I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." Through the letter, Paul drops his more bombastic tone, and towards the end begins to reveal his insecurities about his apostolic leadership for the Galatians. Similar sentiments are echoed in 4:20 and 5:7.

Galatians 4:12 ~~ Here's a paradoxical statement: "become as I am, for I also have become as you are."

Galatians 4:12-15 ~~ Paul states that the Galatians who received this letter initially heard the Gospel because of an unspecified weakness or illness. This may imply a detour in the first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13, or possibly an unrecorded detour in the second journey (Acts 16; but see Acts 16:6-8 where the Holy Spirit prevents them from spreading the Gospel in Bythinia and northern Galatia) or even the third journey (Acts 18:23) though the date of the journey and this letter would be an issue. Whatever the history, the Galatians evidently did not despise Paul for only teaching them the Gospel as a result of illness, but viewed it as an act of Providence. Yet now, having overcome such adverse conditions to receive the Gospel, the Galatians begin to reject Paul's teachings for relative trivialities.

Galatians 4:17-18 ~~ The Judaizers seek the Gentile Christians not commendably (as apostolic authority) but to reinforce their own religious authority ("shut you out" from the Christian community by the works of the Law, "so that you will seek them" for permission to be brought back within the community of grace.

Galatians 4:20 ~~ This is a counterpart to 4:11 and 5:7. Paul is so overcome by fear and worry that he desires to be present, to act or do something, to even "change my tone" if it would help the Galatians find their way back. Paul is perplexed, especially in light of the question in 4:21.

Galatians 4:21-28 ~~ Paul gently mocks the inconsistency of the Galatian's reliance on the Law, for the Law itself, beginning with the Abrahamic covenant and the division between Sarah and Hagar points towards freedom from the Law (that is, the "promise"). The current Jerusalem (i.e., the Judaic Law) is in slavery, where the new Jerusalem offers freedom (see Isaiah 54:1 and Revelations 21:2).

Galatians 4:29-31 ~~ The allegory of Hagar and Sarah is followed by the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac, that those in slavery (Judaizers) seek to persecute and bind those who enjoy freedom (believers of the promise).

Galatians 5:1 ~~ "It was for freedom that Christ set us free"; I love this verse.

Galatians 5:2-4 ~~ In the context, accepting circumcision from the Judaizers would be a mortal sin for the Galatians, for it would be testimony of the insufficiency of Christ's atonement (v. 4).

Galatians 5:4-5 ~~ Paul contrasts those who seek justification by law (active pursuit of actual restoration by definite means) to those who wait for the hope of righteousness by faith through the Spirit (passive acceptance of potential restoration by imprecise or uncertain means).

Galatians 5:6 ~~ Circumcision is meaningless compared to "faith working through love."

Galatians 5:8 ~~ Paul flatly states that the Judaizers (or whoever preaches justification by works of the Law) are not from Christ.

Galatians 5:9 ~~ This seems to be something of a non sequitur, regarding the pervasive influence of Judaizers.

Galatians 5:11 ~~ As in 1:10, Paul ironically points out the ease by which he could concede to the Judaizers, to avoid the persecution of these heterodox sects. But he is unwilling to abolish the "stumbling block of the cross" (a similar phrase is used in Rom. 9:33 and 1 Cor. 1:23).

Galatians 5:12 ~~ There are two possible readings of this verse. It might be an uncharacteristically bitter and vengeful outburst at the Judaizers (as in, "they should go mutilate themselves!") or it might be a particularly pointed attack (as in, "circumcision for the Gentiles would be akin to castration for the Jews; you first!") Either way, this is an extraordinary verse.

Galatians 5:13 ~~ Here is the summary statement of Galatians: "You were called to freedom, brethren."

Galatians 5:13-14 ~~ With these verses, Paul turns from defending the doctrine of Christian liberty to exhorting and encouraging its proper use -- for Christian fellowship, service, and love.

Galatians 5:15 ~~ Paul warns against the critical attitude embodied by the Law, saying how it might be turned against you by your enemy.

Galatians 5:16-17 ~~ To walk by the Spirit is to "crucify the passions and desires of the flesh" (5:24).

Galatians 5:19-21 ~~ "Deeds of the flesh" (list of vices), emphasizing works and actions. "Deeds" (plural) also implies variety.

Galatians 5:22-23 ~~ "Fruit of the Spirit" (list of virtues), emphasizing habits and traits. "Fruit" (singular) also implies unity.

Galatians 5:23 ~~ For such quality of virtue "there is no law" (see also 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the Law"). These virtues are sufficient without any requirement for action, for they will be imbued in every deed done by the person possessing such virtue.

Galatians 5:25-26 ~~ Here is a summary statement of the habits of vice, rooted in a rejection of hierarchy. We ought to avoid a spirit of boasting(when above), a spirit of cutthroat competitiveness (when beside), and a spirit of envy (when below).

Galatians 6:1-8 ~~ Paul outlines a doctrine of Christian unity and fellowship, considered in relief with individual moral responsibility. Paul seems to relish the sheer quantity of paradoxes in this section.

Galatians 6:1 ~~ We are to forgive and restore those who sin gently (to preserve their soul) and carefully (to preserve our own).

Galatians 6:2 ~~ Paul begins by outlining the duty for bear the loads of others (the law of Christian charity), before declaring that we can only bear our own loads when we come before judgment (v. 4-5).

Galatians 6:3-4 ~~ Another paradox: we are to take pride in our own work, insofar as we approach Christ, even while we are deceived if we think ourselves to be more than nothing.

Galatians 6:6 ~~ Another paradox, or else a non sequitur: we must bear others' loads (for charity), but can only bear our own loads (for judgment), but must "share all good things" with those who teach the word or instruct us in goodness (implying a duty to provide for teachers and evangelists).

Galatians 6:7-9 ~~ "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." Redemption and restoration are tied to Spirit and grace, but inheritance of the blessing is directly linked to works of faith.

Galatians 6:11 ~~ Paul takes the pen in hand, and laughs at the contrast between his handwriting and the fine meticulous penmanship of a scribe.

Galatians 6:12-13 ~~ The Judaizers advocate circumcision not as a doctrine truth, but to stave off persecution and boost conversion rates among Jewish audiences. These are largely political considerations, which Paul considers hypocritical and lacking consideration for the Gentile believers. On the other hand, by practicing circumcision, early Christianity could be associated with Jewish rites that were protected by and from Roman interference.

Galatians 6:15-16 ~~ The works of the Law and differences under the Law are meaningless in light of the restoration of the whole Creation by the cross (see also 5:6).

Galatians 6:17 ~~ Paul concludes with a personal appeal for doctrinal peace and for recognition of his authority in light of his suffering condition (perhaps alluding to his "illness" from 4:13, or "thorn in the flesh" from 2 Cor. 12:7).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you spirit, brethren. Amen.