In Jesus’ Name

April 24, 2015

In a prayer, you have probably heard or said: “in Jesus’ name.” Why do we say it? What does it mean?

The biblical basis of the phrase occurs in the instructions that Jesus gives to his Apostles on the night of his betrayal (John 14-16).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13–14, ESV. See also John 15:16, 16:23-24, 16:26-27.

What does the phrase “in Jesus’ name” mean? Name in biblical thought is closely associated with the person named — his character, authority, and rank. So this phrase evokes several ideas. Pray by Jesus’ authority. Pray in keeping with Jesus’ character. Pray as Jesus would pray for his mission, purpose, and will. For these passages in John, the standard Greek dictionary suggests that it means “with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name … ask the Father, using my name.”*

Do we always have to say the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? I normally do, although I will admit to some quick, inaudible prayers during the day like “Lord, help me” that lack the phrase. Much depends on what we think the phrase means. If it means by Jesus’ authority or in keeping with his character and mission, then the prayer could have those qualities without necessarily saying those words, and vice versa, we could say the words and lack the meaning if we are not careful. If the Greek dictionary above is correct, then we would want to make certain that we mention Jesus.

As I read on this subject, a few insist that it should always be said. Most would say that it is not required, but appropriate. They would point to prayers in the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21 which lack the phrase as evidence. The latter would insist that the meaning of the phrase, however, must be true of our prayers.

What should we do? First, it is important for us to understand the meaning of this phrase. God never wants us to say empty, meaningless things in prayer. Second, saying the phrase is a helpful reminder that our prayer should be according to Jesus’ authority and consistent with his character and will. Third, in public prayer it may be better to say it in order not to be a distraction to others in the assembly. Finally, rejoice that we have the privilege of prayer. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because we have a mediator — Jesus.

*A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 713


When Is a Foot not a Foot?

April 16, 2015

My wife made an unusual discovery during a sewing project. Her tape measure was off ¼ inch per foot. Since her project involved cloth that was to be over 100 inches long and was to fit something measured with an accurate tape measure, the project would have been ruined if she hadn’t discovered the problem. She did the only sensible thing she could. She threw away the tape measure and used a more accurate rule.

Her tape measure was an expression of an ideal. A standard for one foot actually exists. When a particular tape measure doesn’t measure up to that standard, it is time to get a more accurate tape measure.

This experience in real life has a spiritual application. The questions for each of us go something like this. If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you want to know? If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you be willing to change?

The Bible gives us examples of people who are confronted with these questions. In Acts 26, Paul is making his defense before King Agrippa, but Paul places Agrippa on the defense by sharing the good news about Jesus. Paul asserts that Agrippa is a believer in the prophets. Most understand Agrippa’s question as a deflection: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28, ESV) The audience with Agrippa is over. Agrippa apparently doesn’t want to know.

Paul’s experience in Berea was different. When Paul preached in that city’s synagogue, Luke records this about the Bereans. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV).

What happens when the ideas we have for faith and daily living don’t measure up to God’s word? I suspect it is much easier to throw away tangible tape measures, but it is more important to conform to the word of God even if it is harder to do. So the questions remain for each of us. If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to know? If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to change?


Deny or Confess?

April 9, 2015

When Jesus warns that the disciples are going to fall away, Peter confidently asserts, “I will not.” He believes he is ready to follow Jesus to prison or to death. But he is further warned “before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

Peter strikes the first blow in defense of Jesus at the arrest, but Jesus commands him to put away his sword. Still, Peter follows at a distance and enters into the courtyard of the high priest.

I don’t know how Peter imaged his bravery in the face of arrest or death, but reality finds his first denial of Jesus at the challenge of a slave woman: “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” It is not much of an accusation. It is guilt by association, but Peter denies: “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” Peter begins his physical retreat. He moves from the courtyard to the gateway (or forecourt).

The second encounter is a bit more challenging. Again, the accuser is a slave woman, but this time, she also speaks to the bystanders: “This man is one of them.” Again, Peter denies. The risk is greater with bystanders now involved. If an officer in charge finds out, an arrest might follow.

Finally, the bystanders make the accusation: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” It would appear that his Galilean accent betrays him as not being local. The Babylonian Talmud (b.’Erub. 53b.) has a section that makes fun of the Galilean accent:

A certain Galilean went around saying to them, “Who has amar” [which can be pronounced so as to yield wool, with an ayin, a lamb, with an alef, an ass, with a het, or wine, with a het but a different accent].

They said to him, “Idiot Galilean, do you mean an ass for riding, wine to drink, wool for clothes, or a lamb to kill?”*

The danger threat is greatest now, and Peter’s response is with curses and an oath. The object of the curses in Greek is unspecified, but likely they are on himself, if his oath is not true. The rooster crows the second time, and Peter breaks down and weeps.

Why are we told this account? Christians will always face situations where we will face the temptation to deny or confess Jesus. Peter’s story is a warning example. It is also an encouragement for us to follow Peter in moving from failures to faith. Will you deny or confess?

*Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 261.


YHWH

March 27, 2015

YHWH is a transliteration from Hebrew into English of God’s personal name. It is sometimes called the tetragrammeton, which comes from Greek and means “four letters.”

Y stands for yod — י
H stands for hey — ה
W stands for waw or vav — ו
H stands for hey — ה

It looks like this in Hebrew, but remember that Hebrew is read right to left.

יהוה

In English translation, it is usually transliterated by Jehovah or Yahweh. Transliteration is the giving of the letters of one language in the letters of another. One of the problems of transliterating YHWH is the question of what vowels go with these letters. Hebrew is written without vowels except when dealing with the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were Jewish scribes from about A.D. 500 to 1000, who provided vowel points (vowel indicators) to aid with correct pronunciation. However, YHWH was not pronounced out of reverence for God, and the correct pronunciation can only be guessed at now. When a reader reached this point in the text they would say either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) — the latter being said when YHWH appeared with the word “lord” already. The Masoretes put the vowels for adonai or elohim on YHWH in the text since the reader was actually going to say adonai or elohim.

Jehovah as a transliteration goes back to ecclesiastical Latin in the 16th century A.D. or possibly even as far back as 1100 A.D. However, the transliteration was made with the vowels of adonai (my Lord). Yahweh is the attempt of modern scholarship to determine the correct vowels for YHWH and indicate that in the transliteration.

YHWH occurs over 6000 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version only renders 4 of those occurrences as Jehovah. The ASV is more consistent and has Jehovah 6779 times. Other translations use LORD or GOD in all capital letters to indicate YHWH following the later Jewish practice of saying either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) when encountering the divine name.

As a Bible reader, I like to know this background so that I’m aware of God’s personal name and be able to identify when it occurs, because certain passages make more sense that way.

So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there… (Genesis 26:25, ESV) — Lord is a title. YHWH, however, is a name. When you understand that LORD is standing for YHWH, the passage makes more sense.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2, ESV) — Pharaoh is saying he doesn’t know YHWH as opposed to the gods of Egypt whose names he did know.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2, ESV) The preface to the Ten Commandments names YHWH as the one who has delivered them. They lived in a polytheistic setting. This identification is important.

The above passages are examples. In many places, knowing that you are dealing with the divine name helps make the passage clearer. The preface to most modern Bible translations are going to tell you how the translators have chosen to handle the divine name.


A Second Wind

March 20, 2015

When I was in college, I ran for exercise. I was not fast, and I was no competitive runner, but I ran. Anyone who has run for any distance has probably experienced this sensation. You start to hurt, you feel like you can’t go on, and you want to quit. But as you press on, you catch a second wind, and you finish the course that you set out to cover.

The definition of second wind is “a person’s ability to breathe freely during exercise, after having been out of breath.” We then use it metaphorically as “a new strength or energy to continue something that is an effort.”1

Christian living is compared to a race, and for most of us that race is a marathon (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 2:16, Hebrews 12:1-2). We must go the distance and not give up. This athletic imagery is also found in the use of victor’s crown or victor’s wreath. The Greek word is stephanos (from which we get the name Stephen). It is distinguished from the diadem, which is the royal crown. This is the imagery when Paul says:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV — See also 1 Cor. 9:25, Jam. 1:12, 1 Pet. 5:4, Rev. 2:10, 3:11.)

Just like my night runs in college, running the Christian race gets difficult. We may feel the need for a second wind as we face difficulties, sorrows, and temptations. Here’s a couple of my favorite “second wind” passages.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30–31, ESV)

Are you struggling? I believe God is faithful to those who love him — just hold out for a second wind.

1New Oxford American Dictionary


The Confusing Binding and Loosing Passages

March 6, 2015

We are blessed to have English translations of the Bible, but on a few occasions our English translation may make it impossible to arrive at the correct sense out of a passage. One such case is the binding and loosing of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. The ESV, unfortunately, gives the typical translation.

… and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, ESV)

You find a similar reading in the KJV, ASV, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and NLT, although the NKJV, NIV, and ESV give the correct reading in their footnotes.

The name of grammatical feature in the passage is given in the footnote of the NASB. It is a future perfect passive form. William Douglas Chamberlain comments on this in his grammar.

This is wrongly translated “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed,” seeming to make Jesus teach that the apostles’ acts will determine the policies of heaven. They should be translated “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed.” This makes the apostles’ acts a matter of inspiration or heavenly guidance. Cf. Matthew 18:18. This incorrect translation has given expositors and theologians a great deal of trouble.1

The NASB translates it correctly.

…and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on

earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, NASB)

If reading several future perfect passives in a row makes your head spin, the HCSB provides the clear sense of the passage, although not a literal translation of it.

…and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, HCSB)

The sense of these passages, whether we are talking about Peter in Matthew 16:19 or the disciplining church in 18:18, is that the action and decision first occurs in heaven and then is followed on earth. Peter and the church are following heaven’s authority not dictating heaven’s policy. I simply make a note in the margin of my Bible so that I have the correction translation. The correct translation makes a world of difference and takes the confusion away.

1William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 80.


Fifty Shades of Grey

February 27, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey was the number one rated movie in the U.S in its opening weekend. In its first week, it grossed over $300 million counting domestic and foreign box office sales. According to reviewers, it has 20 minutes of sex scenes and a great deal of nudity. Clearly large numbers of people are seeing this movie.

I’ve mentioned this movie to raise a question. Do Christians draw a line at not seeing certain kinds of entertainment? Seventy-three percent of the US population identify themselves as Christian. So if I combine demographic information with box office sales, I would have to say a large number of Christians draw no lines and have no qualms about viewing any of this.

But should we? I think what is at stake is our purity of heart and our clarity of thought — Christian thought.

Sexual immorality, adultery, murder, and warfare are a part of many narratives including the Bible. The question becomes one of how are they portrayed. My concern is not just with sex but with violence and profanity as well. How are these things handled, and what do they do to our hearts and minds?

I do not want my entertainment to make me a voyeur. The definition of voyeur is “a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.” I do not want entertainment with simulated (or real) sex or nudity. How can I watch something like this and not be turned into a voyeur? Jesus warns about the danger of lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and the danger of having sexual immorality and adultery in our hearts (Mark 7:21-23). How can this kind of entertainment be consistent with following Jesus?

I do not want my entertainment to harden me to violence and suffering. I don’t know how I can keep that from happening, if I am shown every kind of violent act graphically. I realize that violence is plot point to much drama, but I’m concerned about how it is portrayed. I’m concerned about how much of it I consume.

I do not want my entertainment to shape my worldview. I want my worldview to be shaped by the Bible. That means even in the things that I watch, I need to evaluate the message of the film. All kinds of non-Christian messages are present and must be evaluated critically. We must be active viewers. I’m not wanting to withdraw from culture but to engage it.

I have found some tools helpful in making informed choices. The Internet Movie Database (IMdb.com) web site has a Parental Guide which allows you to see content advisory information. It is helpful to parents, but it is helpful to anyone trying to make good decisions. Dove.org provides movie reviews. Their main concern is to help people find family friendly films, but their reviews also give detailed information on sex, language, violence, drugs, nudity, and a category they label as other — lead characters that exhibit disrespect for authority, lying, cheating, stealing, illegal activity, witchcraft or sorcery and whether there are any consequences to this behavior.

What I am suggesting is that we need to be a lot more black and white in our moral view towards entertainment and a lot less fifty shades of grey.


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