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Matthew 18 and Church Discipline

Matthew 18 is a series of portraits of grace: the grace to those who humble themselves as children, the parable of the lost sheep, and the parable of the unforgiving servant, with its attendant call to forgive our brothers 70×7 times. It also includes a warning against putting a stumbling block in front of other people (which is not at all the same as the modern notions regarding “being offensive”; rather, it is about not being the occasion of tempting others to sin).

In the midst of this is a short passage that, if considered carefully, provides discomfort for various Christians. I am referring in particular to vv 15–20, which in some Bibles comes under the heading “If Your Brother Sins Against You.”

The little passage is uncomfortable for those who pretend the Church has no authority, who think “Judge not, lest you be judged” means accepting everyone no matter what they do. In these verses, Jesus gives the Church the authority of binding and loosing, so that the impenitent are set outside the Church, with the promise that such activity will be ratified in heaven. All of that implies, of course, that the Church is supposed to exercise discipline. It implies that there is such a thing as sin, and more importantly, that recalcitrance (an insistence upon maintaining wrongdoing; a refusal to be corrected) is grounds for expulsion.

But the details of the passage also prove problematic for those who like to think of these verses as outlining “the steps of discipline,” which in fact is simply not true. (more…)

Why the Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah Matters

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul identifies the resurrection as one of the cornerstone truths of the Christian faith. Along with the Messiah’s death “for our sins,” he identifies the resurrection with “the gospel” (1 Cor 15:1–4). He even goes so far as to say that if the Messiah has not risen, we believers are of all men most pitiable (v 19); indeed, we are still in our sins (17) and our faith is vain (14).

But why? Isn’t the resurrection just a proof of the deity of Christ? Is it really necessary for us?

Much in every way.

We see why this is so when we understand Romans 4:25, which says (literally) that Jesus our Lord was “delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised because of our justification.”

We like to talk about Jesus’ death as representative—carried out on our behalf. But that representative death by itself is an enactment of condemnation. (This is why the concept of substitution, while valuable, cannot carry within itself the whole significance of Christ’s work.)

It is Jesus’ resurrection that constitutes His vindication in the face of the condemnation against Him and us. In other words, His justification, which is why in 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes that God was “manifest in the flesh, justified by (Greek en) the Spirit, seen of angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

This is why if Jesus died but did not rise, we are still in our sins. If the representative Man was not justified, neither are the represented men. If the representative death did not issue in representative resurrection, then death and only death is rightly ours.

The resurrection is not simply a sign of the glory of Christ. It is that, of course—it is in response to it that James blurts out, “My Lord and my God!”

But it is more than that.

It is our hope.

Paul’s Use of Scripture in Romans 3 (3)

In our previous post, we examined the sundry texts from which Paul quotes in his great catena of quotations in Rom 3.10-18. But the thought unit is not yet complete; Paul makes his assessment of the implications in 3.19-20. This followup makes Paul’s intent clearer, although it is frequently misread (verse 19, in particular; I think this is likely also the case with verse 20, but my understanding of the verse is still being formed).

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Paul’s Use of Scripture in Romans 3 (2)

In our earlier look at Paul’s use of Scripture in Romans 3, we focused upon how Psalm 51, from which the apostle quotes in verse 4, determines and shapes our reading of 3.1-8. We also noted that the psalm contains a reference to divine righteousness (Ps 51.14), where it refers to God’s salvific activity. In this post, we move on to the next subsection, and begin our consideration of Romans 3.9-20. What are these passages from which Paul quotes? What do they contribute to our understanding of Paul’s train of thought?

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Paul’s Use of Scripture in Romans 3 (1)

It has always been important to pay attention to the Old Testament quotations we find in the New Testament, but in recent years, it has become even more clear that one must take into account the extended context of the passage cited, not simply the words directly quoted. This is understandable: unlike our situation, the ancient world largely communicated texts as an oral culture, and nobody footnoted.

But it is understandable on an even more important level: the New Testament writers are not manufacturing a de novo religion; they are drawing upon an inspired and authoritative text that has come to new light with the advent of Christ and the Spirit. (Indeed, this is what Paul says almost directly in 2 Corinthians 3.) And if this is the case, we can be sure that – no matter what our untrained eyes may lead us to believe at first glance – the writers of the New Testament were contextual and faithful to the Scriptures from which they drew. Our failure to recognize this stems, not from our superior training in hermeneutics, but from the poverty and weakness of our biblical understanding.

In the case of Romans 3, we have one of the heaviest concentrations of biblical citations to be found within the Pauline corpus. This means that proceeding to define terms and phrases must not be done in a vacuum; we must investigate the passages Paul cites.

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Must We Behave?

New post over at The Untamed Lion.

Judges Judges Justifying

God sent the judges in Judges to justify Israel.

Hopefully, that is sufficiently pithy to help us get beyond our anachronistic view of justification. When we talk about it, we tend to think exclusively of a modern judge in a courtroom whose sole task is to make pronouncements. But when God sent judges in the flesh, they were not known for courtroom activity so much as deliverance activity.

Justification is vindication, including deliverance against enemies. This is one primary reason why the term justification is associated with salvation in Scripture.

It is necessary to understand that justification is a forensic (legal) term. It is also necessary to understand that the forensic character is not determined by modern settings, but by Scripture.

There is in Scripture a throne of judgment, but vindicating activities surrounding the throne are all equally aspects of God’s legal action. God does what He says.

This is why Peter Leithart speaks of biblical justification as a “deliverdict.”

Contrary to what some imply, justification is not fiction, but re-creation.