Apocalypse Maybe Later, but Definitely Soon: The End of the World according to Matthew 24

Once again an end-of-the-world prediction has proven false and once again the media is heaping on the shame for guys like Harold Camping. Yet we will continue to hear about other predictions like the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Why do we pay any attention to these predictions? Truth be told, the best lie is one with the most truth contained in it. In other words, these predictions fascinate many and fool some because they have many elements of truth contained in their premises. Unfortunately, the only thing publicized is the false prediction; lost in all the hubbub is the truth found in the Bible.

When I first heard about Harold Camping’s prediction, I was skeptical. Questions flooded my mind. Where did he get those dates? Doesn’t he know Jesus died before AD 33? What if he got lucky and happens to get the date right?

Matthew 24 answers most questions about the End of the World. In verse 3 the disciples asked Jesus pointblank, “What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” Jesus answers them vividly, and I wish to highlight verses 7 and 12. “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.” “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.” Sound like today? A deadly tornado in Joplin,Missouri; a devastating tsunami inJapan; volcanic eruptions cancel thousands of flights inEurope. It seems the birth pains are getting more intense and closer together than ever before. It’s no wonder people are expecting the end of the world.

After describing the signs that the end is near, Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) This scripture is clear: only God knows when the end of the world will happen. When people say they have cracked the code and they know exactly when the world will end, don’t believe them. There is no code. God gave us fair warning. “Keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” (24:42) and “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (24:44)

When a predicted date passes without incident, the leader often tries to save face by saying that it DID happen, but we didn’t notice it. In other words, you are not spiritual enough or enlightened enough to understand what really happened. Harold Camping made a similar claim on Monday. However Jesus said it would be clear as day to everyone when He returns. “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (24:27-28) Jesus uses two illustrations to help us determine His return. The first is lightening, which everyone can see – even those the farthest away. The second is a dead body, which vultures immediately see and swoop down as soon as it stops moving. Davies and Allison in their commentary on Matthew in the ICC series write “The coming of the Son of Man will be public and obvious as vultures circling over carrion” and note “vultures do not miss carrion; one will not miss seeing the Son of Man.” Jesus is not saying we are all a bunch of vultures; He is saying that, like vultures never miss spotting a dead carcass, we will not miss His second coming.

I end this blog as John ends the Bible in Revelation 22:20. May our urgency and faith not be lost because of misguided or misleading people crying wolf too many times about the Lord’s return.

Jesus said, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


Do You Cower From Girl Power? On Women in Authority (1 Timothy 2)

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

For centuries, this one verse has held women back from ministry. Often it is coupled with 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 for support, but as I discussed last week, the latter passage dealt with silence at specific times during public services. (read last week’s blog here) Unfortunately, by interpreting this to mean women should not teach men or hold any type of office, we actually create more problems than we would solve.

The first problem is textual. Many assume that “quietness” and “submission” apply only to women, but shouldn’t men learn in such a way as well? Verse 8 mentions the men’s tendency towards “anger or quarreling”, certainly a hindrance to anyone who is supposed to be teachable. It seems more plausible to me that Paul is addressing a local problem in Ephesus at the time: the men having a problem with their anger and quarreling, possibly raising their hands in anger rather than in blessing and prayer and the women having a problem with appropriate clothing and accessories and interrupting teaching in church services instead of listening quietly.

The word translated “to have authority” is found nowhere else in the Bible or in any other first century document. This is important because the meaning of the word changed dramatically. It first meant “to murder,” then connoted a “broader concept of criminal behavior,” and later (after the first century AD) its usage became “to exercise authority.” (Wilshire, ‘The TLG Computer and Further Reference to ΑΥΘΕΝΤΕΩ in 1 Timothy 2.12’, 131) Since there is a more common Greek term for having authority, Paul’s use of this term must have been intentional, giving it a more criminal or even violent connotation to it, though certainly not implying murder. Unfortunately we have no evidence either way to make any kind of definitive statement.

The second problem is this: if our interpretation contradicts what Paul says in other letters, then Paul is either contradicting himself or we are misinterpreting something. If we take 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to mean that women should have no authority over men, then how do we explain Romans 16:1? “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea.” Even if you believe that “deacon” should be translated “servant” as some claim, how do you account for the description of her in the following verse? Paul exhorts the whole Roman church to “welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints” and “help her in whatever she may need from you.” Does this sound like a description of a lowly servant to you? Perhaps she epitomizes what a deacon should be and Paul wants her to be recognized and honored for her work as a deacon. Paul even goes a step further, saying she was a “helper (or patron) of many” including himself.

The third problem is theological in nature. If women are to submit to all men, then why are Deborah and Queen Esther not only featured as heroic leaders, but also clearly raised up to prominence by God Himself? Judges 4:4-6 describes Deborah as “a prophetess” and a judge with authority over men, sending,summoning, and giving orders to them. Some claim this was because no man stepped up, but the text does not condemn her and God blesses her endeavors and delivers Israel from its enemies. Wouldn’t God say something or cause her to fail if He disapproved of her authority?

 Queen Esther is another good example. Not only does God bring her into position “for such a time as this,” but she is even encouraged not to remain silent. O the irony! Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:13-14)

The most compelling example to me is Priscilla. First of all, she teaches Apollos, who “was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:24-26) Notice she not only teaches a man, but she teaches a teacher. She is even listed before her husband five out of the seven times she is mentioned in the Bible. While that does not prove she is greater than her husband, it indicates she is in many ways equal with (if not superior to) him.

Paul met Priscilla in Corinth(Acts 18:1-2) and he later left her and Aquila inEphesus(Acts 18:19). These two cities happen to be the two cities Paul would later write to regarding women and silence. Was Paul writing to those cities to shut women like her up? If so, why does he acknowledge her at the end of 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy? And if she is such a gifted teacher that she can teach something to a learned man like Apollos, why would Paul take her to Ephesus to do anything other than to teach? What is she supposed to do, shut her mouth and make tents?

This is by far my longest blog and it is filled with more questions than answers so I will end with this. Look at the context of 1 Timothy. From the beginning of the letter, it is clear that Paul wishes to combat false teaching. How should this be done? By not allowing the women who were largely responsible for spreading the false teachings to teach any longer. Is this to be a general prohibition of women teachers and leaders? I think Deborah, Queen Esther, and Priscilla would have something to say about that.

Silence is Golden, Pie is delicious: Women should be silent in the church? (1 Corinthians 14)

“Women should remain silent in the churches”

For many, this phrase has been used to domineer over women and put them in their place (presumably in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant). These people think the saying means, “Know your role and shut your pie hole!” Now, I am a male and I enjoy pie just as much as the next guy, but this rampant misunderstanding should not be divided along gender lines. This saying is found in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (which I will deal with next week) and in 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35, which states:

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The context of this passage really begins in chapter 12 as Paul begins to list the spiritual gifts and how they should function in the church, specifically in the services. Women were present and participated in these church services and Paul encouraged them to do so. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39) Paul also assumes women’s participation in 11:5 “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.” Clearly women were not expected to silently prophesy, right?

Silence was not exclusive to women either. 1 Corinthians 14:28 says “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and 14:30 says “the first speaker should stop” so the second speaker can talk instead of talking over each other. So when Paul says in verse 34 “women should remain silent in the churches,” he is addressing the order of the service and yet another reason for silence. Clearly Paul has no issue with women being present in the assembly or learning the same things as the men because he gives instruction for how they can go about learning and inquiring at home in the next verse. So what is the problem?

Gordon Fee summarizes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians that “the most commonly held view is that which sees the problem as some form of disruptive speech…that the setting was something like the Jewish synagogue, with women on one side and men on the other and the women shouting out disruptive questions about what was being said in a prophecy or tongue” (NICNT, 1987, p. 703). Fee immediately dismisses this theory, saying, “the suggestion that the early house churches assumed a synagogue pattern is pure speculation.”

Fee’s theory is that a scribe wrote these verses in the margin in the first century and every other manuscript afterwards mistakingly included the scribal notation as part of Scripture. If Fee’s theory is correct, then how did no one catch the transmission error until centuries later? Certainly there would still be people alive at the time of this “error” who had been present at the first reading of the letter around 55 AD. They wouldn’t have noticed that the text had changed to include a prohibition on women talking? 1 Corinthians might be one of the longest Pauline letters, but no one would forget a topic like that. You want proof? Just casually mention that you think women should be quiet in church and watch the sparks fly. Whether people agree and disagree with you, few if any will be apathetic to such a topic and it will certainly be memorable.

A word of caution: The only evidence for Jewish synagogue services in the first century is found in a short blurb by Philo in his work entitled On the Contemplative Life about a specific Jewish sect called the Therapeutae. It is certainly speculation to make the leap and claim that Corinthian worship services functioned in a similar way, but it is just as speculative to say that a scribe’s notation somehow got confused as part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – especially so soon after the letter was written.

In conclusion, I think my friend (who happens to also be named Paul) said it best. “Just as tension helps a bridge stay in balance, the tension created by these types of debates has actually helped us stay in balance.” Whichever side you choose in this debate (and there are more sides that I did not discuss), try not to make it all about women’s rights or rebelling against authority. Which leads me to 1 Timothy 2…see you next week!

Letters to an American Lady

I received this message regarding my blog “Forgive and Forget About It” so I thought I should post it along with my response to help clarify things. Enjoy.

Hi Jon:  Hope you are doing well.  I have read the above blog several times, and I do understand that only God can forgive and remember our sins no more. 

What I am not sure of is whether you are also saying that unless someone who has sinned against us (abuse, bullying, etc.) repents and asks us for forgiveness, we do not have to forgive them. From your blog:  “My point is this: we should give mercy and forgiveness TO ALL THAT ASK just as God gives mercy and forgiveness to us.”

I believe that unless we forgive someone who has sinned against us (whether they repent or ask us to forgive them) that our sins will not be forgiven.  As I am not sure exactly what you are stating, I won’t go into the many scriptures I would use to make my point, but I will quote one of your favourite mentors:

C. S. Lewis said in a radio address that later became part of his book Mere Christianity that “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive, as we did during the war, And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.  It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.  ‘That sort of talk makes me sick,’ they say,  And half of them already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’
“So do I,” Lewis admitted.  “I wonder very much.” 
Yet as Lewis went on to say, “I am not telling you what I could do– I can do precious little — I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us’ ……..There are no two ways about it.  What are we to do?”

Hopefully you will find the time to clarify your blog for me.

My response: I couldn’t have said it any better myself. My point was exactly right and I hope it didn’t get lost in the details. What gets muddied is what the term “forgive” really means. If we don’t forgive even our enemies, then we can not really claim to be Christians. I think what the verse is telling us is that we should forgive and not hold it against “our brother or sister” if he/she asks, but if they don’t ask for forgiveness, then we should forgive them anyways, but sever the relationship. In other words, “if your brother” implies an ongoing, eternal relationship with a person, almost literally a “blood relation” (though the blood is not referring to similar genetics because of a biological relationship like a parent or sibling, but a relationship brought about because of the blood of Jesus like a fellow believer or a friend). Returning back to the verse in question, “if your brother” (or someone you have an ongoing relationship with) repents and asks for forgiveness, forgive him endlessly. If your brother does not repent and ask for forgiveness, then treat him/her as you would everyone else and forgive him/her for their past wrongs, but don’t feel obligated to remain in an ongoing abusive relationship with him/her.

Thanks for letting me clairfy. Can I use your response in my blog? I need to clarify it because it is kind of muddled. I especially love the C.S. Lewis quote.
Her response:
Got it. Yes, you can use my response. Thanks for clarifying.
PS: Great clarification!!!!