Passion Week XIV

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”  They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:5-7 NASB)

And so begins one of my least favorite passages of Scripture.  It’s not that I don’t study “end-times”.  I don’t, but that’s not why I don’t like this passage, and Mark 15 and Matthew 24.  The reason I don’t like this passage is because this passage is confusing and actually, possibly, wrong.

The dating of the writing of Luke and Matthew is not an exact science.  But the major debate has to do with the timing in relation to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Many believe they were written before, some believe one was written before and one after (debate over which), and others believe they were both written after.  A lot of this debate can be found to focus on this passage.

We’ll get to the reason in a few entries, but right now it is the setup, the setting of the scene, that occupies our attention.  Luke, along with Matthew and Mark, have the temple in Jerusalem as the prompt for the discussion.  As the disciples leave the temple with Jesus, they comment on the beauty of the buildings, decorations, and the stones.  The stones are huge.  And Jesus says, not one will be left on the other.  Which is true, since the Romans will be disassembling the temple and throwing it into the Kidron Valley around AD 70.

After Jesus and His disciples reach the Mount of Olives, they ask Him about the timing.  They want to know when these things will take place.  This answer is what troubles me, but really the issue at hand does have to do with the destruction of the temple.  What I’m hoping, but cannot confirm, is that Mark wrote before the destruction and editorially arranged his Gospel around the hope that the end of Jerusalem was the end.  And then that Matthew and Luke, writing whenever, followed suit but without the need for all to end with Jerusalem.  It’s just impossible to know.

In Hard Sayings of the Bible, verse 32 is addressed claiming the “plain sense” approach.  I had to laugh at it.  It basically said the context requires a statement of timing to be limited to the destruction of the temple.  On the other hand, the “literary context” has a lot of stuff between the destruction of the temple and the statement of timing (all these things will happen in this generation).  So, “fail” on his part for claiming the “plain sense” and divorcing his conclusion from the literary context.

Matthew Henry has the reference to a “future” coming to be “virtual” as opposed to “actual”, but I’m not sure how he can logically sustain that view.  At least he understands the statement/prediction referring to the entire literary context.  Craig Evans in the Understanding the Bible Commentary says that the statement refers to the “parable of the fig tree” and so the signs leading up to the coming of Jesus by a future generation.  So this would be a compressed context, but at least literary.  Still the reference to “all these things” makes such a narrow interpretation difficult.

This is why timing is so important.  If Matthew and Luke have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem, then they would be looking back and know already that Jesus did not return when Jerusalem was destroyed.  If one or both were written before the fall of Jerusalem, then they would still not know, and could be thinking it would all happen together.  I think it’s interesting that John simply avoids the whole thing all together in his Gospel.  In fact John takes pains to point out that Jesus did not say that John would live until He returned.  And John is certainly to have written after Jerusalem was destroyed.

So, I will be examining the hope Jesus gives us in this passage, and then toward the end, the timing of the generational prediction.  My problem is that I’m not in the habit of looking back and interpreting by what happened after the things were written.  Others do and that’s fine.  I try not to.  I try to see it for what it was when written, when heard by the first audience, and bring that forward.  I don’t know if I can get away with that here.

So what do I do when I don’t know how to “rescue” the honor of my Master?  This challenges inspiration, it challenges prophesy, it challenges interpretive methods, and even the validity of the Scripture texts we have today.  A lot rides on this passage because we are a critical people.  Sometimes the challenge is to also be honest.  Can I be both, and wherein lies my faith?  I’d much rather study the crucifixion and resurrection, skipping this altogether.


Wait, Who Missed The Point?

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.  And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.  The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.  But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.  Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.  (Luke 16:14-18 ESV)

It almost sounds like the opening of a joke, “So, the Pharisees were money-lovers…” and in some ways it is.  But the punchline is sort of hidden and jumps out at us, revealing that the joke was actually on us not just them.  The reason is that “money-lovers” gets us thinking financially, and for our Master, money in general is an idolatry issue.  And of course those sorts of issues in others are fine, but in ourselves are very uncomfortable.

Right away, Jesus goes for the heart.  The heart (not emotions, but intent and focus) was His point all along, even though He was talking about money.  It seems peculiar, but pragmatism when it comes to finances can actually be a poor choice for disciples of Jesus.  Think it through, was Peter, John, and James’ choice to follow Jesus financially pragmatic? Yet we espouse pragmatism as a financial approach most of the time.  Then we wonder why Jesus seems to be willing to do so little in our lives.  I believe we’ve actually become content for the little we have of Jesus unwilling to give of ourselves more to receive more of Him.

There are some motives that Jesus unveils here.  He points out that the Pharisees were more interested in what people thought than what God thought.  We do that a lot.  After all, people abound all around us, and God is invisible (out of sight-out of mind).  And yet Jesus also points out than an opportunity is available, and the Pharisees are missing it (because of their focus on money).  I think because of our focus and approach to money, so are we (and I include myself here intentionally).

Jesus makes the really confusing statement that until John, there was only the Law and Prophets (i.e. Scripture), but since John the Kingdom of God has been preached.  We can see that in each of the Gospels.  But next He says that everyone forces their way into it (it=the Kingdom I’m assuming).  The Kingdom is being preached, and the Pharisees, and those looking for it expressly, are missing it. Others force their way in and they pass on by because of their money-focus.

The reason I include myself in this current application of this problem is because I do struggle with the use and focus on money.  My wife and I make decisions about vocation based on money.  I consider my job as “financing” my ministries (like this blog).  But on the other hand, I look at the things my Master has provided as belonging to His Kingdom more than to me; at least most of the time.  At other times I’m distracted by what we have, and to my shame, what we don’t.

Then Jesus states that the very laws these Pharisees pride themselves on, even though the Kingdom of God is passing them by, will never pass away.  To me that means that the Scripture isn’t being replaced, only the covenant they contained.  Yet Scripture proclaimed another covenant to come, and it was this covenant the Pharisees were missing.  Even so, the Pharisees had to wonder at Jesus’ statement about the Law not passing away, so He makes another, seemingly random statement.

Divorce.  We hate this term because it belies a problem we’d rather not face in our nation and especially in our churches.  Like so much of our lives, marriage has become disposable.  In the Pharisees day no one considered marriage disposable except for kings, and even then it wasn’t always politically wise to “dispose” of a wife.  The issue then was that they used the rules of divorce to disenfranchise women.  It was a tool of oppression.  Many times it is today as well, but it is also far more common today.

The point Jesus makes with His random statement on divorce is that these who love money and think they know the law so well break that law in respect to their marriages.  They love themselves far more than they love God, and Jesus dragged their hidden view of themselves into the sunlight.  And so it is for us.  We are shown that we are in the same school of thought, where we love ourselves far more than God.  Think of our choices, our use of our time, what we purchase.  The proof is right there staring back at us from Amazon shopping carts and our favorite TV shows.  What’s most important to us?

What’s most important to you? What do you see in these statements of Jesus?

Netting Disciples: Second, Capture Their Attention

And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. (Luke 5:3 NASB)

Simon was someone people followed.  They didn’t follow because he was perfect or kind or smart.  They followed him because he led, even if it was to nowhere, it at least had a direction.  He was driven, relentless, ambitious, and tough.  Those qualities may have made him difficult to follow, but the fact that he had a direction to go and seemed to know how to get there made up for it.  He may have been wrong, but never seemed aimless.  People like that sort of certainty, it’s comforting.  So Jesus knew that to ‘net’ the others, He had to first net Simon.

Continue reading “Netting Disciples: Second, Capture Their Attention”

What Is Knothole Theology?

Imagine a bunch of kids watching a baseball game through the curved back fence.  Each one along the length of the fence looking through a knothole at the baseball action.  One can see a portion of the outfield, another two infielders, and the third can actually see home plate and the batter.  The batter hits a huge line drive deep into the outfield, and runs.  The third kid yells out, “It was a hard line drive!”  They hear the crowd on the other side of the fence go wild.  The middle one can see the two infielders anxiously looking back toward the outfield.  The runner passes through his view quickly.  He yells, “He rounded second!” And the first kid sees his outfielder grab the ball after a bounce and hurl it toward the infield.  The middle kid quickly shouts, “The second basemen got it, and threw it to home!”  And the third kid, yells out, “He’s safe! We win!”  They hear the crowd erupt on the other side of the fence and indistinct yelling.

How much could any one of the kids have really understood about what was going on without the other?  That’s the basis of Knothole Theology.  Without their view, the sound of the crowd would have told them something exciting was happening, but not what.  And their view may have shown them part of the action, but not enough to get a good sense of what was happening.  It isn’t without the view of all three that what was happening was understood.  And even three views from knotholes isn’t as good as being in the stadium.  There were a lot of details even they couldn’t see through the fence.

But what is Knothole Theology? Essentially it is a view of God through our ‘knotholes’ that gets better as everyone shares their view.  It is based on the conviction that God has not revealed Himself to any one person, but rather created a view of Himself that creates dependency on each other for clarity.

In more technical terms, it is a biblical ‘word about God’ dependent upon many perspectives. We all view God with the limited perspective as through a knothole in a fence. The view of God through the knothole is never complete, so we need the perspectives of others for a more complete understanding. Having said that, though, it is based on a few assumptions:

  1. The Bible is inspired by God
  2. The sixty-six books are the complete infallible inspired record
  3. God revealed what we need to know about Him through Scripture
  4. The purpose of God is to draw His human creatures into a relationship with Him
  5. The end result of this relationship is eternity in heaven worshiping Him

The purpose of Knothole Theology is really to gain a better understanding of what God reveals through Scripture.  In that sense it’s a biblical theology.  But in another sense it’s a theory of biblical interpretation, in that understanding is best with additional views.  It’s not an oversimplification to say that no one knows it all, but some views are better than others.  But this causes some problems; typically relational ones.

The purpose, with a focus on God, is easily lost when the participant are really more interested in the value of their view over everyone else’s view.  People can get offended that everyone didn’t consider them as important at they saw themselves, and so on.

Another problem with losing focus on God is when people desperately want a grand view, and they only have a knothole.  If their solution is make up what is lacking in their view with imagination, intuition, and deduction, they put themselves on dangerous ground.  There is some value in trying to see beyond the view this way, as long as what is seen is able to be clearly differentiated from what is surmised or imagined.  Sometimes being able to consider the views together, appreciate their gaps, and try to get a sense of what’s happening in the gaps is helpful.  But it must also be seen that way, not as a true view.  The reason for this is that the ‘views’ are, in a very real sense, given to us by God through His Spirit.

When Knothole Theology is practiced in small group Bible study, what is discovered is a much richer view of God, His character, His activity, and our relationship with Him.  This vivid view is capable of deepening our worship, our prayer life, and our daily activities.  It can be transformational.

So, this blog will be a beginning, limited view of a passage of Scripture.  What will make it great are the comments supplying missing views of the action of God.  The only ground rules really need to be that what we all be ‘at the same game’ (passage, or at least Scripture), and that we don’t lose focus on God.

Play Ball!