Category Archives: Bible Bites [Exegesis]

This category includes all posts that are primarily about exegesis (biblical interpretation), except for posts already included in the Church Chat category.

“Into the World, But Not of the World”

“In the world, but not of the world.” Perhaps you’ve heard this slogan. It’s one way we Christians describe our ambivalent position in this world.

This slogan has biblical roots, which can be unearthed in John 17, in the prayer Jesus prays for his disciples just before he returns to his Father. Here are the relevant lines:

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the worldthe world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:11, 14, emphasis added)

There you have it: “In the world” but “not of the world.”

This slogan has proved useful, for it holds two truths in tension: First–in emphasis, though not order–we belong to a kingdom that is not of this world, the kingdom of Christ. Our true identity is found here, not in any earthly ties we possess. Second–though first in the slogan–we nevertheless still inhabit this world, and should not pretend otherwise by imagining we are already in heaven.

A closer look at Jesus’ prayer, however, might cause us to pause before we use this slogan again. For me, the closer look came this morning as I listened to my brother Steve Smucker expound from John in our sermon time.

I might have looked right past what I am about to show you, had I not been primed by some recent thinking I’ve been doing as I prepare for a presentation about “two-kingdom theology.”  Christians belong to God’s kingdom, yet live within the kingdom of Satan. I had been planning to frame some of my presentation of this reality by using the slogan above: “In the world… not of the world.”

Now I think I’ll need to adapt that frame a little. Here’s why–the lines from Jesus’ prayer that I noticed this morning:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:16-19, emphasis added)

First, Jesus repeats his assertion that his followers are not of the world. Within the context of John’s Gospel, this is an amazing claim, one that deserves a few comments before we get to what excited me this morning.

As John records it, one of Jesus’ central claims regarding his authority was that, unlike the Jewish religious leaders who were too often his opponents, he was not of this world:

“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23)

When Jesus said “I am not of this world,” this was a negative way of saying what he really meant: He was actually of another world. And now in John 17, Jesus says the same thing of his disciples: They, too, belong to another world. They, too, are part of a kingdom that is higher and bears greater authority than anything their opponents can claim. What an amazing honor!

But that is not all. Notice the first half of what Jesus told his opponents: “You are from below; I am from above.” Notice the little word “from.” When Jesus said “I am not of this world,” he was not merely (merely!) saying “I belong to another world.” He was also saying “I come from another world.”

And now, in John 17, Jesus uses the same language about his disciples! What can this mean? Are his disciples–are we Christians today–not only of, but also from another world?

Back to the verses I noticed this morning:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:16-19, emphasis added)

Now notice the second line I have emphasized. Here Jesus makes an amazing pronouncement. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so he has sent his disciples into the world!

So, it is not merely that we find ourselves “in” the world, though that is true. And it is not merely that Jesus didn’t ask that we be taken out of this world, though that, too, is true (John 17:15). Rather, we have been intentionally sent into the world by Jesus.

Now we can return to our unanswered question: Yes, Jesus does indeed indicate that his disciples are from another world. We have been “sent into” this world, which suggests that we did not come from here, but from somewhere else.

No, I am not suggesting that Christians have experienced an eternal “pre-existence” like the Second Person of the Trinity did before he inhabited flesh as the earthly Jesus. Rather, I am saying that Christians are on mission in this world just as Jesus was. Just as Jesus was sent from beyond this world (from God) with a mission from God to fulfill, so we are sent from beyond this world (from God) with a mission from Jesus to fulfill.

So now I plan to rephrase the slogan for my presentation. It will be “Into the world, but not of the world.”

But is this safe? Is it safe for Christians to imagine they have a mission to intentionally go into the world? I can hear the all-to-understandable concern: “Your faith won’t survive if you go into the world. The world will change you more than you will change the world.” And I can see the common solution: An attempt to retreat into Christian enclaves. No, we are not in heaven—we mournfully acknowledge that we are still “in the world,” after all— but we attempt to create our own little self-made heavens until we can be lifted away to the real thing. (Now I’m convicting myself as I write.)

What is Jesus solution for our concern? It is right there, in the words we have already read twice. Here it is again, with fresh emphasis and some footnotes I’ll explain in a minute:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them[b] in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,[c] that they also may be sanctified[d] in truth. (John 17:16-19, emphasis added)

Notice how Jesus intersperses his statements about mission with statements about sanctification. How will we be sanctified? By the truth, by God’s word. God’s word—especially his message to us spoken through the work and words of Jesus—will purify us as we are sent out into the world. His word will keep us from defilement as we are on mission in the world.

But to be “sanctified” is more than just to be made holy. Here the ESV footnotes help. They all communicate the same thing: to be sanctified is to be set apart for holy service to God. This is priestly language, and it is mission language. Just as the priests were consecrated for the purpose of holy service to God, so we are cleansed by God for the purpose of being sent out into the world on holy mission.

So God puts together what we so often see as in conflict: Our need to be holy and our interaction with the world. We say, “How dare I go into the world if I am to remain holy?” Meanwhile, God just might be saying this: “What use is it that my children are seeking to be holy if they are so slow to go into the world on the mission for which I consecrated them?”

So yes, we are certainly “not of the world.” Let us never forget this! We belong to another kingdom, and this must be clearly evident. Our slogan is definitely not “Into the world, and of the world,” and we must never act as if it is.

But we have also been sent from another kingdom, sent on mission, and this, too, must be clearly evident. So I think I’ll hang up the old slogan “In the world, but not of the world.” My new slogan is this: “Into the world, but not of the world.”


Do you have some out-of-this-world insights to share? Send them our way in the comments section below. And thanks for reading!


Save page

“Let Him” Or “If He”? Translating Divorce in Deuteronomy

I learned today that the King James Version has a misleading translation of an important OT passage about divorce. The translation is not only misleading, but misleading in a direction that will concern you if you are concerned about today’s easy divorce culture.

The poor translation is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in a law addressing a sticky question about a particular kind of remarriage. Here is the relevant passage, as translated in the KJV, with a few key terms in BOLD ALL CAPS:

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then LET HIM write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she MAY go and be another man’s wife. 3 And IF the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, MAY NOT take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord…” (KJV, emphasis added)

First, notice that the KJV divides this passage into three sentences. Second, notice that the first sentence reads as if it is a command all by itself: if a husband finds certain conditions in his wife, then “let him write her a bill of divorcement.” “Let him” could be understood as either a “must” or a “may,” but either way, the syntax turns the clause into a command. According to the KJV, it would, at minimum, be wrong to discourage a man in this situation from divorcing his wife. And depending on how you read “let him,” you might even be responsible to insist that he follows through with divorce.

The English Standard Version, in contrast, clarifies (1) that the passage is one single flow of thought, and (2) that there is only one command, which comes at the end:

1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, IF then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and s her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and IF she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, MAY NOT take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.” (ESV, emphasis added)

Both translations correctly convey that divorce was permitted. And both correctly convey the prohibition against remarrying a spouse whom you had formerly divorced, if they had been married to someone else meantime.

But you have to read a translation besides the KJV to realize that divorce was never commanded, or even directly affirmed, under the Law of Moses. (The NKJV gets it right, and even the NIV has a long run-on sentence to guide readers to the solitary command at the end.)

I learned of this translation problem from Andrew Cornes, since I am currently reading his helpful book Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principle and Pastoral Practice.  He says “the Authorized Translation [KJV] is seriously misleading here” (p. 131). [Edit: It appears we can thank Jerome in AD 383 for this translation error. See here.]

And when we clear up this mistranslation, what can we observe?  Cornes again:

Nowhere, in all the legal material, is there any law which directly makes provision for divorce. Nowhere in the first five books, or indeed the whole Old Testament, do we find anything approaching the formula: ‘If a woman does… then a man may send her away.’ Divorce law as such simply does not exist… This is not to say that no laws deal with divorce. But significantly all the laws which touch on this area (and there are not very many) are formulated either to restrict divorce or to restrict remarriage. (p. 130, bold added)

Divorce and remarriage are not easy topics to handle, whether as translators, Bible interpreters, or counselors. This brief post is certainly not intended to provide a final word on the topic, especially for those for whom divorce is no theoretical matter. I invite your prayers as I read this book, and hopefully others on the same topic, this year.

Do you have a response that will help us learn together? Share it in the comments below!


Save page

God’s Word and the Pastor’s Authority (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Pastor, why should anyone listen to your words? What is the basis of your authority? The answer is both simple and demanding: people should listen to your words to the extent that your words express the word of God.

I have been too busy to blog for a month now, which doesn’t sit well with me at all! But (a) this too shall pass, God willing, after we are settled properly into our Atlanta house, and (b) I can’t help sharing a little nugget this morning.

First, a happy random note: I’m sitting here in our new kitchen as I blog. In the past five minutes, right here in our own backyard, I have seen both a great blue heron and a hawk! Much nicer than the baby snake (harmless variety) I found in our basement yesterday morning. The wrens nesting in our basement will need to be removed after this season, too, despite the cheer they bring. Truly we are moving to an urban jungle!

Back to God’s word and ours. I have just begun reading Gareth Lee Cockerill’s recent Hebrews commentary as part of my morning Bible time. I’m really liking his insights and assessments so far.

CockerillHebrews

Here is the passage from his commentary introduction that provoked this little post today. Enjoy!

The pastor’s authority rests on the gospel message (2:1-4) that he holds in common with his hearers and on the persuasive quality of his exegesis.

I’ll interrupt briefly to say “Read that again!” When Cockerill says “pastor,” he is describing the author of Hebrews. But his words are equally valid for pastors today! Back to the quote:

Heb 1:1-4 enunciates the fundamental principles that underlie his interpretation of the OT. First, the God who “spoke” through the OT has now “spoken” in one who is Son. The inclusion of the OT under the rubric of “the prophets” (1:1) indicates that it anticipated God’s ultimate self-revelation. Thus this final word in the Son is both continuous with, and the fulfillment of, all that God said before the Son assumed humanity. Second, to the continuity of the divine Speaker one must add the continuity of the human recipients. Those to whom God spoke through the prophets were the “fathers” of those he addresses in his Son (1:1-2). God’s people have always consisted of those who hear, embrace, and persevere in the word of God. Both those who live before and after Christ have received the same call, the same promise, the same “gospel,” and are on pilgrimage to the same heavenly “city,” which all the faithful will obtain through Christ. There is one God and one people of God.

This firm confidence in the continuity of the divine speaker and of the human addressees underlies the pastor’s sense of the immediacy of God’s word. Thus it is no surprise that he prefers OT passages that are in the form of direct address and that he introduces them with verbs denoting speech rather than with “it is written.” What God has said in the past is of more than antiquarian interest. God “speaks” to his people in the present both by the words that he spoke to his people of old (Heb 3:7–4:11; 10:36-39) and by his conversations with his Son concerning the Son’s incarnation and exaltation (1:1-14; 2:11-13; 7:1-28); 10:5-10). God’s final revelation embraces more than what the Son has said. God’s final revelation is found in the fully adequate Savior he has become through his incarnation, obedience, self-offering, and session. The work of the Son enables God’s people to grasp his previous revelation more clearly and obey it more diligently. (Pp. 43-45)

Nearly every sentence there deserves meditation, helping us think more clearly about topics as varied as preaching, biblical interpretation, monotheism, and the identity of the people of God. God bless you as you listen to, obey, and proclaim the word of God today!

Share your insights in the comments below. Thanks!


Save page