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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Political Hacks vs the Bible

With people running around claiming Biblical support for everything from open borders to gun ownership to gay marriage/not gay marriage, it is timely to recall that the Bible is a collection of ancient literature. Like all ancient literature, it was written by someone, for someone, for a purpose, in a particular culture, at a particular time and place.  Therefore the Bible has the objective meaning intended by its authors. The job of Biblical interpretation is to discover that meaning. There is a science and a method to interpreting any work of ancient literature and the Bible is no different. Application is when you consider what relevance that might have for a particular situation today.
Therefore is no such thing as a ‘post-modern’ interpretation of the Bible.
The following is an example of the kind of analysis any preacher or theologian worth their salt does. This essay got 92 per cent in a graduate certificate course at Christian Heritage College. Readers without a prior knowledge of Biblical concepts may prefer to skip to the second part.
Happy reading....


Graduate Certificate in Ministry
Assessment Task 2 for JA401 Theology of Ministry
Student      Erik Peacock
Student # 417359
Lecturer     Sandra Goode
Due           5 June 2018
Word Count        Maximum 3500 (plus or minus 10 per cent).
Actual count: 3792

Part A
Select and conduct an ‘observation’ as outlined in Duvall and Hays chapters 2 to 4 on Romans 7:1-4

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Context of the Book
Romans was written by apostle Paul written between A.D. 55 and 58 at the end of his third missionary journey. This date range is based on Romans 15:19-32 compared with Acts 19:10, 21-22, (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 2-5, and Carson and Moo, p. 394). It was written when Rome was the sole cultural, economic and military power in the world known to Paul, and was therefore written to Christians who were living in the centre of gravity of the pagan world. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that Romans is a major epistle; one which and has helped form the understanding of theologians as distinguished Augustin, Luther, Calvin, and (more recently) Barth (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 1).
It was written to the church in Rome although this church was not founded by Paul. Scheiner states that: “secure knowledge of the origin of the Roman church eludes us” but he goes on to argue that the church was founded by Jewish Christians (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 11).  Shedd (1967, p. 1) argues that the church was started by Jews from Rome who were converted at Pentecost and returned home. Later tradition names Peter as the founder of the Roman church Carson and Moo, p. 395).
TS points out that Jews were ejected from Rome by royal edict in A.D. 49 leaving the Roman church predominantly Gentile, however many Jews would have returned after the death of the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 54 (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 13). This would explain the tension between Gentile and Jewish Christians regarding Jewish laws and customs in addition to the tension between the cultural attitudes of the new faith and the prevailing pagan culture. Addressing these is a major concern of Paul in Romans from both a pastoral (don’t cause your brother to stumble), church governance and theological perspective. These three strands are woven throughout the 16 chapters of the epistle.  Clearly, while some details of the story are missing, Paul was accepted by the Roman church as having apostolic authority – an authority Paul claims, justifies, and places in theological context in the introductory seven verses of the epistle.
Outline of Book
Schriener (1998) divides Romans into eight parts based on Paul’s flow of thought. In summary, they are:
  1. The gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness (1:1-17)
  2. God’s righteousness in his wrath against sinners (1:18 - 3:20)
  3. The saving righteousness of God (3:21 – 4:25)
  4. Hope as a result of righteousness by faith (5:1 – 8:39)
  5. God’s righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles (9:1-11:36)
  6. God’s righteousness in everyday life (12:1 – 15:13)
  7. The extension of God’s righteousness through the Pauline mission (15:14 – 16:23)
  8. Final summary of the gospel of God’s righteousness (16:25-27)
Note that this outline has nothing to do with chapter breaks.
Genre of the Book
In terms of literary genre Romans is generally regarded as a letter-essay written to specific readers but applicable to a wider audience. Within the letter-essay different rhetorical styles are employed which makes detailed paragraph study necessary (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 23-24). Carson & Moo (2005, p. 402) take this further arguing that Romans is a …’tractate letter, one that has as its main component a theological argument or series of arguments’ in contrast to the more pastoral writings that dealt with specific circumstances such as those in 1 Corinthians. Whatever else it is, it is primarily a theological treaty on justification by faith. Shedd (1967, p. 4) states: ‘The aim of the Epistle to the Romans is didactic. The main object of Paul is to furnish the Roman church with a comprehensive statement of evangelical doctrine…it is systematic and logical …the writer touches upon all the other truths of Christianity’.
Key Message of Book
Justification by faith is the key message and theme of Romans. All the discourses/teachings and examples given by Paul in Romans serve to build his argument for justification by faith from various angles and then apply that teaching to the apparent conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers. Space does not permit a detailed discussion of this but note alternative view including the overall theme of “the gospel” (Carson & Moo 2005 p. 408-409).
Context of Passage
In the preceding passages in Romans 6 Paul contrasts being dead to sin with being alive to righteousness. This translates the believer from being a slave to sin to being a slave to righteousness. Paul then contrasts the consequences of this – one reaps death and the other reaps holiness and eternal life. The wages of one is death. The wages of the other is eternal life through Christ. Paul then interrupts the flow in Romans 7 to directly address his reader/hearers. These are revealed to be “men who know the law”. From here he continues the theme of dying but in reference to the Mosaic law of marriage. This theme continues to verse 7 after which the monologue continues the discussion of the purpose and value of the law that (in my opinion) begins at 5:20.
The theme throughout is the superiority of the righteousness that is the fruit of faith, over the sin that is provoked by the law, and thus the sufficiency of faith in Christ which enables us to live in the “new way of the Spirit not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6, NIV)”.
Paragraph Analysis
Paul’s opening address to “men who know the law” places in context the subsequent discussion of the Mosaic (and Roman) law of marriage. However, given that this appears in the middle of a much broader discussion of the place and purpose of “the law” it is necessary to understand what this actually means if the rest of the passage is to be understood. This will be discussed further below.
Paul uses marriage as an illustration/figure of speech to explain spiritual truths. The statement that the law only applies to a person while they live is self-evident and a familiar concept in Judaism (Schreiner, TR 1998, p. 347). Similarly, a marriage contract is annulled by the death of either party.
While not stated in the passage, Paul’s Jewish reader/hearers would have grasped that the law of Moses was presented at Mt Sinai as a Hebrew marriage contract. Paul then presents the key point: ‘So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress, even though she marries another man.’
If the ‘men who know the law’ are in this illustration married to the law, they cannot also be married to another – that is adultery. A righteous second marriage is only possible if at least one partner dies – the person or the law. This is both analogy and legal explanation.
Having set up the punchline, Paul then brings the argument to conclusion by stating that the ‘men who know the law’ have in fact died ‘to the law’ and are therefore released from it.  This death was accomplished ‘through the body of Christ’ thus annulling the marriage contract entered into (by implication) at Mt Sinai. Paul does not go on to state the obvious follow through – that we are now married to Christ, though that is stated elsewhere in Pauline writings and implied in the following passage: that you might belong to another…  
The Hebrew concept of marriage is that it should be ‘fruitful’ and reproductive and Paul likely draws from this in his following reference to bearing fruit:  … to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. The reference to ‘fruit’ here also acts as a bridge to a discussion in verses 5 and 6 of the fruit of the law and the sinful nature. Paul uses the word ‘karpophoreo’ implying a fruitful marriage (to Christ).
As a person with a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) background this passage has particular resonance for me because I was born and brought up ‘under the law’, so this discussion is not an abstract one but part of my lived experience. Like evangelicals, SDA’s distinguish between the ceremonial/customary law and the eternal law which (they say) includes the ten commandments and thus the Sabbath. In this they are far more consistent than evangelicals and equally wrong. For example, Pentecostals teach tithing which never made it into the ten commandments and was established solely for the upkeep of the Levitical priesthood which is now done away with in Christ, whereas the Sabbath was instituted at creation, included in the ten commandments, practiced by Jesus, and was continued in the early church, but is disregarded by evangelicals.
No such distinctions are made anywhere in the New Testament or in the text of the Pentateuch. In his forensic examination of the Greek text in Romans 7 Shedd (1967, p. 174) concludes that the reference to ‘the law’ refers to: “The Mosiac law both ceremonial and moral, but eminently the latter” leading him to conclude that: “So far as forgiveness and acceptance with God is concerned, the believer and the law have no more to do with one another, than one corpse has to do with another.”
The consistent positon is that there is one law and it has been fulfilled in Christ. We have died to the entire law. We have been raised with Christ. Thus, we are freed from the entire Old Testament law including all of the 600 clauses in the marriage contract a Sinai. We have as Paul states, graduated from the “school master who led you to Christ” (Gal 3:24, NIV)
Word Studies
The six significant words in this passage are:
  • Law
  • Lives
  • Dies
  • Marries
  • Belong
  • Fruit
‘Law’ - Greek ‘nomos’ which is the common term in all the epistles and gospels and refers in common usage to a prescription or commandment. The term ‘nomothesia’, referring to legislation and specifically the Mosaic law, is used elsewhere in the New Testament but is not used in Romans 7, which supports the view that ‘nomos’ should in this passage be read in its broadest meaning as referring to the whole Old Testament law.
‘Lives’ - Greek ’zao’ which is a primitive verb meaning ‘to live’ which is used in John, Revelations and the epistles. It is not used in any technical sense here but can be distinguished from ‘psuche’ translated as ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’.
‘Dies’ – Greek ‘apothnesko’ literal or figurative meaning to die, be dead or slain.
‘Marries’ - Greek ‘ginomai’. It is a verb with many possible uses including a change from one state to another. It is not confined to any specific type of marriage or arrangement. The more common term for ‘marriage’ in the New Testament is ‘gameo’ meaning ‘to wed’ (of either sex) or to take a wife. However, Paul in Romans 7 uses ‘ginomai’ to give a more flexible meaning allowing it to be adapted to his illustration.
‘Belong’ – Greek ‘deo’ literal or figurative meaning to bind or be in bonds. Translated in the King James as ‘bound’. Used extensively in Acts in that literal sense and here in the sense of the marriage bond.
‘Fruit’ – Greek ‘karpophoreo’ meaning to be fertile, to bear and bring forth fruit. CF Luke 8:15 and Matt 13:23 (an allegorical crop).  (All references from Strongs and Marshall, A 1959, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).
[COMMENT - Ok, you mined some excellent research here in Section 1 Erik, but you needed to pull it all together and give a concluding statement about the deeper meaning of the text, in your own words, as a result of your extended research.  I want to know how the meaning of the passage has been enriched from your study ….. ]

The Historical Cultural Context Method
This method reflects material reality by acknowledging that everything written was written by someone for someone with some purpose in mind. It was read and understood by the writer’s contemporaries first, and then by people later in time. Both the writer and the first reader/hearers lived in a time, place and culture which provided context and meaning to the passage. Understanding what it would have meant to them is a condition precedent to understanding what it means to us. This ‘Romantic Hermeneutics, as Friedrich Schleiermacher described it, focusses on the mind of the author, along with the impact of his or her sociohistorical setting, as the means of gaining meaning from a given text; in other words, it considers the relationship between author and text in interpretation (Porter & Stovell, 2012 p. 14).
A key strength of this method is that it provides an actual hermeneutical procedure (Porter & Stovell, 2012 p. 11), and this acts as a check on bad doctrine. For example, Jesus’ statement regarding marriage that ‘what God has put together let not man cast asunder’ is not a prohibition on divorce. Rather, the patriarchal scribes had simply decided that a man could divorce his wife for no reason thus depriving her at whim of dignity, honour, children, and the necessities of life. Women had no reciprocal divorce rights. Effectively women were reduced to the status of disposable property. In reaching back to the original intent of marriage Jesus was, in this passage, upholding the rights of women. Understanding this in historical/cultural context prevents the passage from being twisted to, for example, force women to stay in abusive relationships. Other interpretive methods that are too narrow e.g. word studies, or too subjective e.g. post structuralist, do not achieve the same reliable result and leave the passage open to abusive interpretation. Another strength of this method is it recognises that hermeneutics occurs within the Bible itself as later writings interpret earlier writings (Porter & Stovell, 2012 p. 12).

In the Romans 7 context Paul is writing to a mixed Jew/Gentile readership living in Greco/Roman culture which was largely Hellenistic. At issue was the relevance of the sacred Hebrew scriptures to the new faith and how salvation is obtained. His audience already had a rich spiritual, literary and philosophical heritage from multiple traditions including with regard to marriage. Paul taps into this with the marriage analogy to explain in terms understandable to Jews that the law is dead to us and yet, paradoxically, we sin less under grace. In this he introduces his own hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament. [COMMENT - … because we are connected to the “sinless” one and are being sourced from His/ Our heavenly Father. ]
The possible weakness in this method is that it does not automatically lend itself to present day application. Rather it supplies the first step in the process of application – understanding what the passage actually meant to the author and its first reader/hearers.
Word Study Methods
Systematic word study undergirds any other method of interpretation because we cannot understand a passage without understanding what the key words – usually verbs and nouns - actually mean. Indeed, it was the science of word study, and the rediscovery of the ancient languages, that fuelled the reformation through the rediscovery of the doctrine of grace, and (some would say) the doctrine of predestination. Romans 5 – 8 can thus be legitimately said to have changed the world (see further Mangalwadi, 2011 especially at pp. 137 - 157).
In some respects, word study is another form of ‘historical cultural context method’ but at a more micro level because the meaning of words changes throughout time and place. An understanding of word meaning in the time and place/culture the passage was written is therefore essential to understanding the passage. The old King James for example rather delightfully refers to ‘naughtiness’ when talking about serious moral sin.
In this passage, the word meaning is fairly evident though the subsequent passages certainly benefit from a forensic examination of New Testament Greek in the manner of Shed (1967). The terms ‘law’ ‘marriage’ and ‘fruitful’ in their historic meaning interlock to communicate the transition from the less fruitful marriage covenant at Sinai to fruitful union with Christ.
However, suppose for example that a person approached the passage without this understanding. Today divorce is a ‘no fault’ affair and people may have several intimate partners in their lifetime. In a democracy laws reflect merely a degree of social consensus about a particular topic. They do not purport to reflect eternal truth. The law of marriage now includes homosexual unions. These carried the death penalty under the law of Moses which is referred to in this passage. Today being freed from a marriage, or a change in legal status, carries none of the weight and depth that it did to Paul’s reader/hearers. A person applying contemporary meaning to Paul’s words would likely miss the true meaning of the passage.
The strength of this method therefore is that it grounds meaning in the words as they were used and understood at the time thus making eisegesis more difficult. The limitation of this method is that meaning is built through the other building blocks of language – syntax, grammar, paragraphs, and the use of genre and literary methods such as allegory and symbolism which provide the context that defines the range of meaning that the individual words have (Duvall & Hayes, 2012 p.214).
Reader Centred Meanings/Application
This ought to be the natural follow on from historical/cultural context and word studies. Duvall and Hays point out that a valid application should find sufficient things in common between your circumstances and the circumstances of the passage (Duvall & Hayes, 2012   p. 236). I do not entirely agree. Firstly, in the Western World our circumstances are often too materially different for exact comparisons, and secondly, we are under a new covenant to that relating to most of the Bible, and so our application will differ. The better approach which Duvall and Hays acknowledge is to find a universal moral or spiritual principle and then apply that to our present circumstances. They correctly summarise that in order to be universal a principle must be applicable to all people in all cultures in all times, even though application may differ, and must be consistent with the rest of scripture.

I think of it in terms of what I call the ‘doctrinal triangle’. Good doctrine starts with a broad base of scripture, then doctrinal history, church acceptance, practical lived experience, and then lastly a small pinnacle which is the final proposition. [COMMENT - Erik, have you heard of the Wesleyan quadrilateral method ? (i.e. scripture, tradition, revelation, experience) ]

Bad doctrine is typically the inverse in which the proposition is large, and the supporting scripture is small, and is thus beloved of cults and those who wish to be the master of the word rather than its servant. The ‘principle’ approach looks beyond the word to the message, but only through proper exegesis.
A strength of the reader centred/application approach is that it looks beyond word studies and cultural context to also consider narrative criticism and literary styles and devices and how they are understood. In this way, the experience if the reader in discovering meaning is acknowledged. However, if the text is unmoored from its historical basis and treated as entirely autonomous, or reader experience is placed above author intent, the actual meaning can be lost, other meanings imposed, and the Christian is left in a post-modern malaise (Porter & Stovell, 2012 p. 16-18).
In this context Pinnock (1993, p. 492) warns against: ….’unbridled subjectivism and reader driven interpretation,’ while Duvall and Hays warn against a number of errors, notably over spiritualising various Biblical genres by treating them as allegories to something else when there is no evidence that this was the intention of the original authors.
In earlier church history, it was acceptable practice to see the entire Old Testament as an allegory to Christ and interpret it accordingly at the expense of the historicity of the text itself. This error still occurs today. Duvall and Hays argue that unless the new Testament itself makes the connection it is best not to assume. I find that once the Bible is understood at the level of principle, improbable comparisons become unnecessary.
The great benefit of the ‘principle’ approach in application is that it makes sense out of those parts of the Bible we find confronting, irrelevant or somewhat embarrassing. Take for example the law that required a digging stick and a certain distance from camp for passing motions when laying siege to a city (Deuteronomy 23:9-14, NIV). This is easily dismissed as irrelevant historical relic. Not so. Had the principle of public sanitation been understood from scripture after the fall of the Roman Empire countless lives in Europe would have been saved.
The different hermeneutical approaches are like different materials that lend their strengths and properties, which, used in the right place and combination, build a house of understanding. Used exclusively, wrongly, or in wrong order and the house falls. However, it is the Lord who builds the house, and engaging with the Word is both an intellectual and spiritual discipline. As Pinnock (1993, p. 494 and 498) puts it:
‘Illumination is what happens to readers who dialogue with the text, in which the Spirit is helping them know what to do with it in Christian experience…The Spirit causes scripture to come alive, helps us magnify God better, deepens our heart understanding, and challenges us to venture out in faith.’
Moreover, there are rules to building which is why there is no such thing as ‘post structural architecture’. Nevertheless, while there are clearly rules to follow, application is not an exact science and the role of the Holy Spirit in being the ‘counsellor and the guide’ is critical. Indeed, the Greek root word for inspiration is that same as for the Spirit (Duvall & Hayes, 2012, p. 226).
Perhaps for that reason we need to distinguish between application and inspiration. The Spirit may speak a rhema word to a person through a passage of scripture (as He often does to me) by way of guidance, encouragement or correction. Similarly, dreams, visions, and prophetic utterances may fulfil the same function. However, this is not exegesis nor is it a way of interpreting the original and eternal meaning of the passage. For that reason, it is not ‘application’ of the passage but rather a way in which God speaks to individuals through scripture.
Such inspiration is accountable to the actual meaning of scripture, not the other way around.
Carson, DA & Moo, DJ 2005, An Introduction to the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan
Duvall, JS & Hays JD 2012, Grasping God’s Word, A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and applying the Bible, Zondervan
Mangalwadi, V 2011, The Book That Made Your World, Thomas Nelson, Nashville
Marshall, A 1959, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd, London
Pinnock, CH 1993, The Role of the Spirit in Interpretation, JETS 36/4
Porter, SE & Stovell, BM 2012, Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, Spectrum Books, IVP Academic
Schreiner, TR 1998, Romans Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids Michigan
Strong, J., Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts
Shedd, WGT 1967, A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Holy Bible: New International Version 1998
General Comments:
Dear Erik,
I enjoyed reading this assignment and it covered some very interesting and significant points/understandings for your chosen passage. Section B was particularly well done and very thoughtful.
Excellent work.
Kind regards
Sandra Godde.
55/60  HD

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