Loyalty without works is dead

loyalty without works is dead

Juan Carmen, a brother loyal to our king.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has loyalty/faith but does not have works?

In the last couple of posts I have been dealing rather broadly with the subject of faith. First we looked at the apparent contradiction between faith and intellectual humility, and then we examined the meaning of the New Testament words associated with faith

There is an important subtlety here that is easy to overlook. I am not simply suggesting that we replace the word faith, with the word loyalty. You will remember from last week I said words are not pins in a map but are more like nations. They cover areas of meaning. Words in one language rarely cover exactly the same area of meaning as words in another language.

This is the origin of the saying “all translators are lairs.” Remember that the English word “faith” does encompass the meaning of loyalty. Our problem is that it is only a minor component of the word, and is not immediately apparent in everyday use.

It is my contention that while there are cognitive aspects attached to the biblical words translated as faith and believe, this is not where the emphasis usually lies. In English faith is usually associated with believing something without proof. In Greek, the equivalent word, pistos (πιστός) carries a much stronger connotation of loyalty.

It is not uncommon to see faith and works pitted against each other, and many words have been spent trying to explain the apparent discrepancy between the words of James and Paul. I suspect that many of those apparent discrepancies will appear much less significant if we can learn to hear scripture with first century ears. Notice how different our opening passage sounds as we start to emphasize the loyalty aspects of pistos. Continue reading

What is Biblical Faith?

biblical faith

Semper Fidelis: Are you as faithful to your Lord, as these men are to theirs?

Biblical faith often seems at odds with other Christian virtues such as humility. In my last post I shared some of my thoughts on the apparent conflict between intellectual humility and faith. In response Brandi Eissinger shared an excellent link which nicely defined intellectual humility as follows:

Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one’s knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one’s viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.

It is my prayer that this attitude be clear in all that I write or speak, and I invite you to please call me down as soon as any other attitude is seen rising up in me. At the same time, I invite you to allow yourself exposure to some of the difficult ideas I offer here, and pray for our Lord to show His truth to you–to help you to accept, or if need be, to refute what I share.

There remains however, our problem with the popular understanding of “faith.” The meanings of words are not pins stuck in a map. They are more like nations whose borders expand and shrink with time and are occasionally prone to migration, bifurcation, or even extinction.

This link shows an animated map of Europe over the past thousand years and makes a good analogy for the way the semantic domains of words can change over time. A problem arises when this “semantic drift” affects our understanding of God’s word. This happens because we attach special significance to words in the Bible, and then fail to change our Bibles when the meaning of those words change, because of the culture we are embedded in. Continue reading

Intellectual Humility: A Hidden Christian Virtue

intellectual humility

Dare I ask for answers when I already know them?

What is intellectual humility, and why do I call it a hidden virtue? Quite simply, intellectual humility is the trait of humility applied to our intellect, that is, to what we think. The reason I call it a hidden Christian virtue is that most of us Christians don’t seem to think that it is a virtue at all. In fact many seem to consider it a defect of Christian character!

How is this so, you say? Well, consider the definition of humility. Merriam-Webster gives the following: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. If we remove the negative, it means thinking that other people are at least as good, or better than our-selves.

When we apply the definition of humility to the realm of the intellect and ideas it would therefore mean: the quality or state of not thinking your ideas are better than those of other people. Again removing the negative it would mean thinking that other people’s ideas or thoughts are at least as good or better than ours.

“Humility is the first of the virtues—for other people”–Oliver Wendell Holmes

Therein lies the rub! Intellectual humility seems to fly directly in the face of the first virtue of Christianity—faith. Faith is after all the prerequisite for being a Christian. Is not Christianity itself called a faith? Is not faith the assurance that what you think about certain things is absolutely true Continue reading

The Myth of a Gentile Church: What is Church—Part 5

What does a bucket have to do with the Gentile church?

Is this a bucket of metal, or a bucket of water?

Are you a part of the Gentile church, or the Jewish church? Does such a question even make sense in a New Testament context. Whole systems of theology are based on these seemingly legitimate questions. Yet my reading of the Greek New Testament convinces me that the “Gentile church” in a myth based on a misreading of the text, compounded by the use of Gentile–a word which the does not even have a Greek equivalent.

I closed my last post with controversial statement that if we want to continue translating the Greek word ethnos as “Gentile” we are forced to conclude that according to scripture, today”s Jews, who have not accepted Jesus as king, are Gentiles. Of course this makes no sense in English because in our language Gentile means “non-Jew.” Continue reading

The Antithesis of Ekklesia: What is Church—Part 4

Antithesis of Ekklesia

Are all these Gentile Symbols?

What is the antithesis of ekklesia? For the last three posts we have struggled to come to terms with this Greek word that is normally translated as “church.” In part 1, we dealt with the meaning of the English word church and the classical Greek understanding of ekklesia. In part 2 we considered the way the ekklesia was understood by the Hebrew translators of the Greek Old Testament. Finally, in part 3, I demonstrated that “assembly of citizens,” seemed to convey the New Testament meaning of ekklesia, more clearly than “church” does. It is now time to check our understanding by examining what the ekklesia is not. Continue reading

Translating Ekklesia: What is Church–Part 3

Translating ekklesia can be a puzzle.

Translating ekklesia can be a puzzle.

It turns out translating ekklesia is not as easy as it seems. In part 1 of our series we saw that the English meaning of “church” has to do with a building, even though most followers of Jesus recognize this is not what it means in the Bible. We also saw that 1st century Greeks used the word in a political context.

In part 2 we examined how ekklesia was used in the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint, quoted by Jesus and the New Testament authors. We saw that Jewish readers understood ekklesia not as an assembly of Israel upon some particular occasion, but the people of Israel as God’s people distinct from everybody else.

Since the English word “church” does not normally convey either of these ideas, our task here in part 3, is translating ekklesia into an English form that conveys the 1st century understanding. Continue reading

The Old Testament Church: What is Church–Part 2

not the old testament church

This is NOT the Old Testament Church!

We are now ready to look at the Old Testament Church. Well not exactly… We are going to look at how the word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) was used in the Old Testament in hopes of understanding what it means in the New.

(As an aside I should point out that this is the first week I am using a new plugin which divides the post into pages or allows viewing as a single page. You can choose “next,” or “single page,” at the bottom of this page. Please let me know if it causes any problems.)

Last week we began our series on what is Church by looking at the English dictionary, and the Greek word ekklesia which the New Testament authors used, and is almost always translated as church.

We saw that the English word has little relation to the meaning of the word used in the New Testament. In fact “church” in English is derived from the transliteration of two Greek words meaning “a lord’s building!” Continue reading

What is Church, according to the Bible?–Part 1

What is Church-picture

“Church” can be confusing

What is Church? This is one of those questions to which the answer seems obvious until one starts to think seriously about the answer. Think about it… what is your answer? That building on the corner with the steeple?  The body of Christ? All believers down through the ages? The people you fellowship with? All of the above? While each of these have some measure of truth depending on the context; the English word “church” bears scant resemblance to the Greek word it represents.

My last post was considerably longer than usual and generated several suggestions that I try to keep the length of my posts to a more manageable level. Unfortunately I am trying to cover topics or points of view, which are often misunderstood or poorly represented in today’s world. As a result they deserve in-depth coverage.

A case in point is today’s topic: “What is Church?” In order to do this subject justice, and keep my readers happy, (is that possible?;-)  I am going to cover this as a multi-part series. In today’s post I am going to cover the origin of our English word, and introduce the Greek word which the New Testament uses: the word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία)

Those of you who have read my book know that the meaning of certain New Testament words seem to be obscured by transliteration as opposed to translation. Transliteration is simply rewriting a  word from one language, using the spelling and pronunciation norms of another. Some common examples of transliterated words in the New Testament are baptism, apostle, and Christ. The Greek words baptizo, apostolos, and christos mean dip, immerse or wash; ambassador or emissary; and king, respectively. As you can see, transliteration does nothing to help a reader understand the author’s intent.

The English word church does not seem to bear any resemblance to ekklesia. As a result we might take comfort in the fact that at least it does not seem to be a transliteration, but we would be wrong. As we will see shortly Continue reading

Servant Leaders–A Mark of Christian Culture

Crowns Poster

The rulers of the nations…

The New Testament makes clear that the followers of King Jesus make up a distinct and different nation. In past posts we have examined how being born into this new nation places claims on our allegiance and transforms our national identity. This transformation does not eliminate the vestiges of our previous national cultures, but it does start a transformation that over time reveals the mark of Christian culture. We will consider a number of these marks, but today we look at the mark of servant leaders.

It is often argued that there is no such thing as a “Christian culture.” Rather it is held that any culture can be “Christianized.” I can see the truth in that statement, but it is usually part of an argument that does not recognize the existence of the distinct Christian nation we have discussed.The fact is that the Christian nation does indeed have its own distinct culture, and we will examine some of its marks in future posts.

It is important to remember the distinction between nation and State. A nation is a people group with a distinct sense of identity–a culture. A State is the governmental authority over a region.  In the North American melting pot, we can see the influence of many cultures. The now diminishing impact of the New Testament has led many to mistakenly identify some North American States with the Christian nation. The United States, Canada, and other States in the world which give evidence of a Christian cultural influence should not be confused with the Christian nation itself.

In Douglas Adams’ sci-fi spoof The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we are introduced to a civilization which has determined that no one who has any desire to rule is fit to do so. As a result, the method of choosing the the Galactic president is to decide who wants the position least. This sets up the humorous plot line wherein Zaphod Beeblebrox is hunted down in order to enforce his assumption of a position he does not want. Continue reading

The Problem with Christ

The time has finally come to address The Problem with Christ.

Picture of The Problem with Christ

The Problem with Christ

In recent posts I have detailed a point of view which was clearly the position of the early Church. This position is often expressed in the New Testament, but is strangely absent from the teaching of most churches today. I have even alluded to the fact that modern translations consistently make choices that seem to obscure the very possibility of even seeing the position the early church held, in the Bible.

While many hold that the first followers of Jesus were in error on this point, I have found no church historians who deny that what I have presented was indeed their position. Please let me know if you can show me a source I have missed.

We have heard our third-century brother, Origen explain why the church refused to participate in politics because of its allegiance to its King Jesus. You have read how Paul expected his readers to give up their nationality to be members of Jesus’ new nation. Your have read how Jesus said the “royal power of God” was being taken away from the nation of Israel and being given to another nation. You heard in the last post: “…the rock is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the “christos,” which we now understand means king.

Whoops, I goofed! I failed to realize that while this proposition has been stated several times in the course of this blog—I have never defended the proposition, nor given you any significant reason to believe it. Now is the time to change that. For the past two years I have been working on a book to communicate this idea clearly and convincingly. That book was released as a Kindle edition about two months ago. After several revisions the print edition has just been released.

The book, The Problem with Christ; Why we don’t understand Jesus, His enemies, or the early Church, is an integral part of the ministry of this blog. While it is possible to understand the book without reading the RadicalFish blog; it will be difficult to fully understand the blog without reading the book. Continue reading