God’s Big Tent (sermon text and video)


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”


“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the

earth.” — Isaiah 49



Brothers and sisters in Christ, Christians are different.

“For in [Christ Jesus],” Paul says to the Corinthians…, “you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.”

Christians have had very important things revealed to them… unveiled… (actually, the book of Revelation means “Apocalypse” which means unveiling)

And it is no small thing!

Here on earth, being “in the know” about what is going on is something we all want. This might be one way that “knowledge is power” as they say….

It’s nice to know where we are going. It’s nice to know the plan. The mission. Maybe even the strategy or tactics…

Have you ever wondered why so many companies and organizations today have “mission statements”?

Well, Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable tells us that “The expression [‘mission statement’] is of American origin”

And that,

‘Mission’ here carries deliberate associations of vocation or even a religious calling, as well as simply denoting an intention.”

And here is another thought. Walt Disney Corporation’s mission might be ‘to make people happy’ and “Google’s mission might be ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’”, but what — especially if “mission statements” mimic religious callings — is God’s mission statement?

I personally think this is a fascinating question, and am still trying to figure out why no one has written a popular book on the topic (I might have to do it).

After all, we heard this morning, God definitely has His purposes. He definitely takes aim when in Isaiah we read of someone of whom…:

he made [] into a polished arrow

    and concealed [] in his quiver.

3 He [says to that one], “You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

Based on that passage from Isaiah, it seems that in order to figure out any mission statement of our Lord, it definitely makes sense to look at what this servant said….

And, interestingly, we are told in the New Testament that this servant, who is the Messiah, is Jesus, and that He was remarkably specific….

Luke 9:51 sets the stage: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven”, we are told, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

Why? Well…

  • In Matthew 20:28 Jesus says, “….the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (see also Mark 10:45, John 13:1-17)
  • In Luke 19:10 He states, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
  • In Mark 2:1 He informs us: “”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (see also Luke 5:32 and Matthew 9:12)

And when He arrives at Jerusalem, as that appointed time approaches, we see His struggle with His mission….

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12)

And, of course, let’s not forget what Jesus said earlier in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This, my friends, is the core of the Apocalypse! That which has been unveiled by God… to us.

This is the plan… the goal… the mission.

Paul unpacks this a little bit more in the book of Ephesians:

7I[, Paul,] became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms….


Interesting. But why, we might wonder, must the plan unfold just like this?

Why did Jesus Christ have to come and die like He did?

As I noted a few weeks back, the answer is right there in John 3:16: because as fallen human beings, we perish…. We die.

Physically and spiritually.

The answer to the “why” is because of our sin and its weight, its heaviness.

Because the wages of sin is death. That sin, our sins, are really the only reason that you or I will die.

Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and we, infected to the core as “children of wrath,” continue in their train…

Born without fear, love, and trust in God, we are a treasonous people, all of us.

So in order for us to be rescued, someone–and not just anyone–needed to take our place. To live the life we were called to live but did not. To pay the price for our rebellion.

In order to save us, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, had to die. There is no forgiveness, we are told, without the shedding of blood.

The heaviness of the world’s sin required the heaviness of not just any death, but God’s own death.

This morning we heard John the Baptist say,

“‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”[a]

John knew that this was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…. (not just God’s chosen poeple, the Jews!)

And how did he know this?

Because he knew the outlines of the plan. He knew the outlines of the mission.

With faith in the One True God, he had the knowledge, the wisdom, that the Old Testament brought him. 

John the Baptist was set apart because He knew and believed the prophecies about the Messiah, the miracles and mission that would set Him apart


Let’s look at that a bit more….

How does what we have spoken about above relate to what the prophet Isaiah was saying in that portion of the Old Testament text that I began this sermon with?

Well, let’s look at the passage again:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”   

God was not just interested in the Jews. He is not just interested in us. Not even just His church as a whole.

He desires that His salvation would reach the ends of the earth.

So, as Jesus said not long after crying out “save me from this hour” after entering Jerusalem, He also boldly proclaimed “When I am lifted up from the earth [point: there…] I will draw everyone to myself…”


And how, really, could we have ever thought it was about anything else?

Health and wealth?

Material prosperity?

Our best life now?

Our comfortable little social club church?

Or, even, slightly more spiritually, the salvation of the chosen few He’s preserving for the life to come?

No — “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob!”

He always wants more because He loves all men and women.

He wants the world!

And, why, this is even what the 10 commandments do! 

They proclaim His provision, His care, His goodness.

They exalt Him! As we heard the Psalmist say:

Many will see and fear the Lord

and put their trust in him.


None can compare with you;

were I to speak and tell of your deeds,

they would be too many to declare.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—

but my ears you have opened[c]—

burnt offerings and sin offerings[d] you did not require.

7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—

it is written about me in the scroll.[e]

8 I desire to do your will, my God;

your law is within my heart.”

9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;

I do not seal my lips, Lord,

as you know.

10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;

I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.

I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness

from the great assembly.

Why obey with heart and mouth and life?

Why be different? Because we want, we pray, that we might, somehow, be able to communicate the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus…

The One who perfectly fulfilled the law for our sakes and brings us new life!

As Paul put it in the book of Philippians:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

The Psalmist delighted to proclaim God’s goodness to “the assembly”… How can we not want bigger and wider assemblies?

To go with a biblical image, our tent is too small!:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.”


Just as Jesus gathered disciples during His earthly life, He still does today through the proclamation of His great deeds!

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.”

This is such good news, you know?

Here, we should also think about the prophet Jeremiah saying “[God’s] word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

Or the Samaritan woman at the well! Saying to her neighbors “ He told me everything I ever did,” and many of them believing in him because of her testimony… (John 4)

Or the Apostles in the book of the Acts, filled with His Holy Spirit and saying “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Again, “Enlarge the place of your tent!”

This is why your Lord came.

He desired all people to come to a knowledge of the truth and came to seek and save all who were lost!

…to invite sinners from the East and the West, good and bad, to the feast!

Just remember these things when you hear that some pastor somewhere said something like “Its not your job to tell others about Jesus. That’s my job.”

He might be called to preach every week and be the public face, the visible figurehead, of the church’s message, but when any man says such things, does he sound much like Martin Luther when he says this?:

The Word of God is not yet as powerfully at work as it should be and as we wish it to be. We have no one else to blame for this than ourselves: We are too lazy to ask God for sharp arrows and burning coals. He commanded us to ask for his kingdom to come and his name to be hallowed, that is, we should ask for his Word and Christendom to increase and grow strong. However, because we leave things the way they are and do not ask earnestly, people are so lazy and the arrows are dull and tired; the coals cold and raw; and the devil does not fear us yet. Therefore, let us wake up and be eager. The time is now. The devil plays his dirty tricks on us everywhere. Let’s prove something to him for a change and rain on his parade. Let’s get our revenge, that is, let us ask God without ceasing until he sends us enough ready soldiers with sharp arrows and burning coals.

Ultimately, though, any pastor’s message to his people should not be any different that what the Apostle Peter says:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Deep down, every one of us as a Christian has a desire to be available to God, because there is at the very least a spark of this desire to tell others about Jesus

….at the very least the ones we care most deeply about.

Again, don’t let the world, the flesh, and the devil intimidate you..

Just remember a wonderful passage like John 3:16, which some have called “the Gospel in a nutshell”…


The church of God is the body of Christ, and we live from this message. 

It alone can impart true spiritual life. 

This is why we, especially us Lutherans, speak of the supreme importance of the Word and Sacrament which communicate this to us.

You see, we were originally created to dwell in the midst of our God, to be in His presence, to even participate, Peter tells us, in His divine nature.  

In this closest of fellowship with Him, we have true peace, true joy, true satisfaction, and now, in a fallen world, true comfort in the midst of suffering.

So much so that Jesus does not hesitate to claim, “I have come that they might have life… and to have it abundantly….”

The love of God in Jesus Christ is our daily bread, our food.

Why attend worship with other Christians?

Why, for this, of course!

And this place… what is it?

I think the best analogy I can muster is that this is a military outpost led by our King Himself.

It’s equipped with a dining hall, classrooms, and medical quarters.

Here, we gather together eat with one another, sit at our Commander’s feet and learn, and to rest and be healed as well…

….Until we advance to the next level.

Here we are nourished, challenged, comforted, and encouraged by the love our God has for His whole creation, especially man, the crown of His creation — that’s you and me!

Its here He speaks to us together as His children and, in a particularly personal act of communication, communion, even gives us His own body and blood!

To eat and drink with our mouths….


Of course that is easy to doubt…. What? Come on preacher, we aren’t medieval peasants you know!

Well, always remember what Isaiah says. He tells us that the Lord says of “the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel” that He was “the servant of rulers”….

The One who “was despised and abhorred by the nation….”

Always remember–better, live from the knowledge!–that our Lord, during His life, was not as impressive as some thought He should be.

In like fashion, things like the Lord’s Supper are mocked and despised.

But people don’t realize what it means for sinners to be in the presence of One so holy!

They don’t realize that He comes to us as He does–not in great shows of power but veiled, in simple and humble ways–so that we will not be completely terrified!


Undone…. like Isaiah.

Because we are sinners, such terror before the Unveiled God is fitting. Fear not the one who can kill the body, but body and soul in Hell.

And yet, what does He do?

He sends His servant to speak gentle and tender words to us: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That “you” by the way, is second person plural throughout our Epistle reading for today — Paul means to say this to everyone in the congregation he writes to…

And remember this: is this the Corinthians Paul is talking about! Do you know what they were like?

You want to talk about sinners? 

If anyone deserved to be terrified, we reason…–if anyone did not deserve to be comforted–it was them!

So what does the Apostle Paul know about the Corinthians that we don’t?

More like: what does He understand about God that we haven’t quite grasped?

No, Paul is much harsher with the law-fixated Galatians,* who had messed up the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ…. John 3:16 stuff…

The fact of the matter is that there must be something powerful and awesome among God’s people for Him to speak so hopefully about them!

And there is. 

Again, we know that just hearing the Word of God is nourishing. We listen and say “Amen – this is true” and we are sustained. Satisfied.

But we get cynical or we forget how good it is. We say, “Well, what good is it? How many sermons do I remember anyways?”

But how many meals do you remember from the past few months as well? And yet, they were good and necessary, weren’t they?

Don’t deny the word! Don’t cast it aside!

Christians, don’t let your kids, don’t let your relatives, don’t let your friends, don’t let your neighbors or even your enemies see you not caring about it!

Why the curtain of the Temple has been ripped!

And the Presence of God goes forth for the Nations!

So behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

And yours as well!

Jesus looks at us and says “What do you want?”

We say: “Teacher, where are you staying?”

“Come,” he says, “and you will see.”

He’s here. 

In the simple Words. 

In the Water, the Bread, and the Wine. 

Rich in mercy and wonder-working power. 

For you.

And yours.

And the life of the world.



*While Paul writes “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” at the beginning of his letter to the Galatians as well, it then takes a harsher turn, and Paul says nothing like he does in I Corinthians 1:4-9:

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Posted by on January 20, 2020 in Uncategorized


Could Christians Have Slaves in New Testament Times? Today?

Is it even appropriate to speak about context here?


I know that even the title of the post will offend some, but if we are going to take the Bible seriously, the answer is not as obvious as you might think.

First of all, when you hear the word “slavery,” what is the first thing you think about?

I know where my mind goes. Nevertheless, in the ancient world, for example, it was not uncommon for highly accomplished persons to sell themselves as slaves. Some commentators of the New Testament, for example, believe that when Paul writes:

“Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.

…that last sentence is written particularly in order to discourage Christians from selling themselves into slavery! Their security was in the Messiah Jesus Christ, and not any earthly master! He would take care of their every need, and make them those who could increasingly help others!

“For all we can tell, enslavement and the slave trade constituted the principal means of geographical and (both upward and downward) social mobility in the ancient world.” — Scheidel


With this picture in mind, one can benefit greatly from watching the following short videos.

The first features the Christian pastor John McArthur, as, speaking about slavery, he maintains that “the Bible never condones mistreating anyone – not even an animal.” The second video features the evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem, as he argues that if the King James version of the Bible had translated a word in I Timothy 1 “enslavers” instead of “manstealers” (just kidnapping?) it would have changed the course of history (keeping in mind the work of Katherine Gerbner, I am not convinced that Grudem is correct here, even though it might be comforting to imagine this).

I’d also recommend, by the way, Pastor Jordan Cooper’s very helpful blog post on slavery, which appropriately begins,

“In the age of 140 character arguments and memes, we have sometimes lost the ability to structure a coherent argument to argue for any particular ideological position, and, instead, simply throw out short pithy statements to defend our particular perspectives…”





At the same time, as many of us know, even in Bible times many people undoubtedly did not want to be slaves! First and foremost here, we might think about what is arguably the most important story of the Old Testament. That is the Exodus, where God delivers his people Israel from slavery through the prophet Moses!

Then why, we might wonder, did God not speak more forcefully against slavery in the Old and New Testaments? Why does he, presumably in both, allow for slavery where one has been taken as a captive of war (note that scholars like Walter Scheidel basically argue that the Romans went to war at times in order to attain slaves)? Why does he not have his Apostle be more forceful with the Philemon in his efforts to make Onesimus free?

A completely unguided process?: ““Roman slave society stands out for the crucial importance of the direct link between Roman campaigning and slaving: to a much greater extent than other slave-rich systems, Roman elites relied on their own military forces to procure a captive labor force.” — Scheidel


I don’t have really good answers to these questions, and it is something I expect I will continue to wrestle with. In my series of posts about not recognizing all the ways that God is good, I stated the following:

“… the civil laws of the nation of Israel were specifically created for Israel, in order that they might be a showcase of sorts to the nations. Many of these laws were only “good” not in that they offered the closure of retributive justice, but in that they simply offered a weak and temporary restraint vs. evil, or “damage control.” And also note that “good” laws regulating divorce, for example, would not only have been absolutely inconceivable in Eden, but are also singled out for His disdain! Nevertheless, note that even as God “hates divorce,” He initiates it in the O.T. vs. His people. Contrariwise, also note that God never indicates that other kinds of things that could only be “good” in light of sin and/or the fallen world—like polygamy or owning others as property for example—are things that He hates, even if should not think for a minute that he likes them either.

Right after that quote was the following picture and caption:

How hard can they get? We don’t want to know.


In sum, I think that we severely underestimate how evil the hearts of men are or how bad things can get in the world. This passage from Isaiah comes to mind (chapter 3):

“I will make mere youths their officials;
children will rule over them.”

People will oppress each other—
man against man, neighbor against neighbor.
The young will rise up against the old,
the nobody against the honored.

A man will seize one of his brothers
in his father’s house, and say,
“You have a cloak, you be our leader;
take charge of this heap of ruins!”
But in that day he will cry out,
“I have no remedy.
I have no food or clothing in my house;
do not make me the leader of the people.”

And this one (chapter 4):

In that day seven women
will take hold of one man
and say, “We will eat our own food
and provide our own clothes;
only let us be called by your name.
Take away our disgrace!”

In such times, one might evidently find something like polygamy – or perhaps even being captured as a slave – to be a blessing.

Now, with all of this said, do not think for a minute that I am saying that any Christian should defend slavery as it was enshrined in the laws of the United States of America. It was wrong on a number of levels, with the most grievous one being that from the beginning it was a race-based institution. One’s skin color became the determinant of whether or not one was to be a slave. If you were in the group that had darker skin, you were “born to be a slave”.

When C.F.W. Walther, the 19th century founder of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, said that the United States government should “see to it that these godly rules [in the Old Testament about slavery] are observed, especially by authority,” I understand him to be making a quite forceful case against American slavery. Among the Old Testament passages Walther lists, one of them speaks about the death penalty for those who “mansteal” or enslave. “This we consider to be the true task,” Walther goes on to say, “of each Christian who lives in a land where slavery is lawful.”


So Walther did not call for the abolition of slavery, but the abolition of non-biblical slavery, which, admittedly, many would consider no abolition at all! Surrounded by many cultural and social pressures telling you that American slavery was fully biblical, what do you think you would have done?


As an American, its hard to avoid or not think about this issue and what it meant for Christians in the past and what it means for Christians today. That is why, at one time, I did a thorough exegesis of Ephesians 6:5-9, and I present it below for further thought and meditation:

Slave and Slavemaster, Unsettling Archetypes of Christ


 “The masters are not only types of Christ in his Lordship over the church but also in his submission to the heavenly Father.” – Tom Winger (670)

 “You are therefore to show favour to others, as ever you expect to find favour with him.” – Matthew Henry (718)

“…to him slaves are as precious as kings” – John Calvin (George, 397)


Smoothed Translation of Ephesians 6:5-9

Slaves, heed those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God wholeheartedly. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.


Surprisingly, understood in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, the concept of slavery has a lot to teach the Christian.

Consider that when it comes to our work in this world, there is, in spite of what our eyes might see, great meaning in absolutely everything that we do. As Christians we should recognize that we do not just have “jobs,” but rather “callings” – “vocations”! And the Apostle Paul says that even slavery should be understood as a calling from God! (see I Cor. 7) As human beings do what they are good at, enjoy doing, just do what “needs to get done”, or even serve as slaves, everything they do can be “acts of faith and worship….for the true Master” (Lincoln 426). And, doing it all “for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17) means that we serve and work “as God’s masks” for the sake of our neighbors. Heil puts it like this: as we are caught up in this love and will of God “all things…grow to him, who is the head, the Christ (4:15), and thus further the plan of the will of God to unite under one head all the things in the Christ (1:9-10; cf. 1:1, 5, 11)” (268)! In short, we now exist, as did and does our Lord Jesus Christ, “for the life of the world.”

And consider Jesus Christ. Even as the Son of God came to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18), He did so by submitting Himself to His Father’s will, taking the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7) and being crucified, which was the punishment typically used for slaves and foreigners (Phil. 2:8). Paul, undoubtedly with Christ’s work lodged in his mind, calls himself the Lord’s δέσμιος, or prisoner (see, e.g., Eph. 3:1 and 4:1), and also does not hesitate to call himself and all Christians God’s slaves (δοῦλοι). In I Cor. 7:22, for example, he touches on both heavenly and earthly realities when he writes, “he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a slave of Christ”. In short, as the biblical commentator Peter Williamson puts it: “To be a slave of God and Christ is a great honor (I Kings 8:53; Neh 10:30; Dan 9:11; Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Titus 1:1; Rev 2:20; 10:7; 19:2: 22:6)” (185). Getting to the heart of the matter, he says “Christians can be called slaves of Christ because they were purchased by his blood (I Cor 6:19-20; 7:22; Rev 5:9) and belong to him” (Williamson, 185).

In sum, both the slave and the slavemaster are archetypes and icons of Christ (see Winger, 688-696), and contain for us this core message: by becoming a slave, Christ freed us from the truer and deeper slavery – our willing captivity to sin. Of the Israelites’ bondage to Egypt in the Old Testament, Winger says “their God had not simply set them free, but he had purchased and won them for himself” (690). The same, of course, is true for us who have been freed by Christ from the greater enemies – sin, death, and the devil. Because of His merciful descent and subsequent ascent in victory, we are caught up into His life as it becomes fully ours and ours his. And now, starting with marriage and continuing with children and slavery, “every relationship is transformed by discerning its typological character” (Winger 604). Every relationship is meant to “direct hearts and minds back to Christ, to unveil the eternal purpose of God that lies behind these divinely instituted earthly estates” (Winger, 605). As regards slavery, the message is particularly powerful: in Christ we willingly and gladly embrace everything our master commands us as we now find true freedom, a freedom for the life of the world.

But, oh, it seems to us today, what a price-tag comes along with these glorious truths! Why, for example, does the Bible not call slavery a sin? This is just one of the questions that will be indirectly explored as Ephesians 6:5-9 is unpacked (the author will, like every commentator he examined, begin and end each section of the paper in accordance with the traditional verse divisions handed on from the 16th c.). As will be seen, Paul is by no means saying that slavery as it has been practiced in the world is in accordance with God’s original plan or is not to be ultimately overcome. Before beginning our exegesis and more fully making this case however, let us first examine the variants that occur in this passage.


In verse 5, the order of the words “κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις” varies in some significant manuscripts, including papyrus # 46. The given text, however, has the Greek Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus in its favor. Whatever the case may be, all indications are that the meaning of the text remains the same. In that same verse, the word τῆς is also omitted by Sinaiticus and some minuscules, another variant which evidently would have few if any possible interpretive implications. Verse 7 is also missing the ὡς in some manuscripts (D2, K, L, etc.), which would have the effect of “rendering service” not “as to the Lord” but “to the Lord” without consideration of the slavemaster. Again, the textual reasons for making this change are not strong. Finally, in verse 8, the 27th (and 28th) edition of the Nestle-Aland text starts as “εἰδότες ὅτι ἕκαστος ἐάν τι ποιήσῃ ἀγαθόν,” citing Vaticanus and the Latin manuscript “d” as its only witnesses, whereas the SBLGNT edition edited by Michael W. Holmes has ὃ ἂν in the place of the ἐάν τι. The fact of the matter is that, in the place of the “ἕκαστος ἐάν τι” found in the 27th edition, there is a wide variety and confusing tangle of phrases used here in a variety of less significant mss., e.g.: “εκαστος ὃ ἐάν,” “εκαστος ἐάν,” “ὃ εκαστος,” and “ὃ ἐάν τι εκαστος” (and including the ποιήσῃ in the controverted phrase, the 28th ed. produces three additional variants!). What is found in the SBLGT edition (again: “ἕκαστος ὃ ἂν) is attested to in a number of Greek Codices including Alexandrinus, D, and F (Sinaiticus is missing the and transposes the other two words), as well as several miniscules, and would be translated “knowing that whatever good anyone does”. What is found within the 27th edition would be translated “knowing that if ever anyone does good,” rendering what amounts to an identical reading. Either is acceptable, though this paper chooses the text in the SBLGT edition.

Fearful and Sincere Obedience to Earthly Masters – as to Christ!

Οἱ δοῦλοι, ὑπακούετε τοῖς [a]κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου ἐν ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδίας ὑμῶν ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ,

“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ…”

The early church father Ambrosiaster writes that in fulfilling this command by faith,

“…this will have the effect of inciting all the more the minds of unbelievers toward the worship of God. They will see by our behavior that our religion is both righteous and humble. Then, as masters see their slaves become more educated and more faithful in rendering service, they will see with what light reins true religion exercises governance in human affairs. So, when servants for their part notice the increased kindness of their masters they will be similarly moved to more avid faith” (Edwards, 193).

Without a doubt, words like these raise eyebrows in 21st century Western—and especially us American—Christians. What does Ambrosiaster—and the Apostle Paul!—mean? Here, some information on the background context will perhaps be of some real help to us.

First of all, what we have here in Ephesians 6:5-9, and in fact from 5:22 until 6:9, is a Haustafel, that is a “household code,” which was common in the Greco-Roman world.[1] Second, as Theodoret writes, Paul addressed slaves here because they were everywhere in the early church (Edwards, 193). In fact, the Roman economy was based on slave labor with as many as one third of the population participating.[2] Importantly, slavery was not based on race; rather “people became slaves by owing debts they were unable to repay, by being captured as prisoners of war, or, most commonly in the first century, being born slaves” (Williamson, 185).[3] Furthermore, both the status—as slaves could be physicians, architects, scribes and teachers there was no “slave class” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 327, in Merida, 159)—and the “living conditions of slaves varied depending on their work and the status of their masters” (Williamson, 185). Arnold notes that many also received education from their masters, were paid for their work, and “a great number of slaves could both expect to be released by the time they were thirty years old” and gain Roman citizenship (420-421). Lionel Casson talks about how this was especially true of the slave who did “white collar” work (Merida, 160). Nevertheless, slaves has few actual “rights” they could legally claim; considered the property of their masters, they had “no legally sanctioned marriage or family bonds” (they could not legally keep their own children born to them while slaves, and could be separated from spouses), could own no property[4] (Arnold, 422), and their lives were literally in the hands of their masters (Williamson, 185).[5]

Given the socio-economic context, it is readily apparent that some slaves might be provoked to be “duplicitous, resentful, and cunning” (Arnold, 422), and yet Paul, amazingly to us, writes as he does. What surprises us however is not the same thing that would have likely surprised his original audience. In a homily on Ephesians 6:5-8, Chrysostom states that though slaves are “last in dignity and rank,” Paul nevertheless “addresses them at great length,” and urges patience to them in their “brief earthly submission.” “Given the context of Roman slavery,” Arnold argues, it is Paul’s willingness to address slaves at all that is remarkable (422)![6]

Chrysostom goes on to say that “Whatever power their masters might have remains transient and brief and subject to the vulnerabilities of the flesh. All that is carnal is fleeting” (Edwards, 193). Thielman adds that the term “σάρκα” in this passage “subtly communicates that there is another ‘master’…, Christ himself, whose authority is greater than that of any ‘fleshly’ master” (405). Paul therefore, according to Chrysostom, does not make “this-worldly promises” to them, but rather “soothes their wounded souls” by instructing them to love wisdom and “point[ing] them directly to the world to come” (Edwards, 193).

The “Golden-Mouth” even goes so far as to make the case that Paul—in what, by our modern Western standards, would appear to be a colossal failure of “privilege-checking”—is attempting to identify with and become a “brother of servants, living himself the servant life, as they live.” Since Paul understands his task in “relation to the Son of God,” he is “not his own master.” Having also pointed out that wives are only called to “reverence” their husbands while slaves are also called to serve “in sincerity of heart…as if serving Christ!”—thus “heighten[ing] the expression”[!]—Paul, Chrysostom says, makes the case that the ministry is that much more powerful to “those who are already servants, more than to those who are free men” (italics mine):

“How much easier do they learn the life of obedience in their reverence for God.[] They are not entering into a lower status but into the highest status when they learn how to yield to their neighbor, how to become meek and how to be humble” (Edwards, 194).

If that does not give us enough shock to our systems, in Reformation times, Heinrich Bullinger says slavery, like owning wealth and other possessions, “is lawful” (i.e. in accordance with God’s law) even as Calvin states that they are now, that is in Reformation times, paid (George, 395). Christians, per Wolfgang Musculus, are “required to obey their earthly Lords,” save doing evil for them, according to Lancelet Ridely (George, 396). Calvin says that in Paul’s day some of the worst people were coerced by the threat of punishment, and that the Apostle distinguishes Christian slaves from these (George, 395). In general, “the way to handle the problems of servitude,” per Erasmus Sarcerius, is to remember that God both submitted to servitude and is “the author of it” (George, 396, italics mine). Matthew Henry curtly says that “[c]ivil servitude is not inconsistent with Christian liberty” (717).

At this point, perhaps with our heads left spinning in disarray, a brief exegesis of the passage is in order. When it comes to the slave-master relationship, the passage begins by addressing slaves first. Here, Paul, connecting “everything to the idea of headship” (Chrysostom), follows up the passages occurring immediately before this one where he urges, for example, wives to respect their husbands and children to “obey their parents in the Lord” (Edwards, 195). In connection with this, Thielman notes that the phrase “with fear and trembling,”[7] is used a few times in Paul’s letters (Phil. 2:12, 2 Cor. 7:15, I Cor. 2:3), each time, it appears, recognizing not fear of physical punishment, but rather the “subordinate and weak position that one occupies with respect to others” (405). Williamson tells us that “fear and trembling” refer to reverence before God or to the human beings God has placed in authority (see 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2:12) (184), and Bruce informs us that “[t]hey were not to tremble lest anything unpleasant might happen to themselves, but lest their Lord’s name should be brought into disrepute through them” (123, 1974).

As regards slaves obeying “ἐν ἁπλότητι τῆς καρδίας,” Thielman notes that when “integrity” (ἁπλότητι) is coupled with “heart” (καρδίας) it indicates an “inner sincerity”: “there should be no division between the quality of the labor produced and that attitude of the one who produces it” – “with undivided service” as J.B. Lightfoot translates it (Bruce, 400, 1984; see Titus 2:9-10 here as well). Finally, as regards the “as to Christ” (ὡς τῷ Χριστῷ) at the end of this verse, Williamson notes that “this is a very high standard,” and that Paul repeats this idea three times in as many verses (184). “Why should slaves, obliged to serve against their will, give their masters whole-hearted service?,” he asks, before giving the answer: “Christian slaves in Ephesus were slaves of Christ” (184, 185).[8] Contra Thielman and Merida[9], Winger says of this phrase that the master plays a typological role: “This means not simply ‘as if you were serving Christ [contrary to fact],’ but ‘because you are serving Christ” (667, italics and brackets his)….  “heeding [lords/masters] is heeding Christ the Lord’” (673, italics). F.F. Bruce gets to the heart of why this is happening: “’….the fear of Christ’ in Eph. 5:21…will teach them to show due reverence and respect to their earthly masters” (400, 1984).

Before the World but in the Lord’s Will by Faith

μὴ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοδουλίαν ὡς ἀνθρωπάρεσκοι ἀλλ’ ὡς [b]δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ ποιοῦντες τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐκ ψυχῆς 

“…not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…”

Arnold translates the term rendered “eyeservice” (ὀφθαλμοδουλίαν), perhaps a neologism coined by Paul, as “serving to be seen” (423). Thielman adds that the term “apparently appears here and in Col. 3:22 for the first time in extant Greek literature (as a search of the TLG confirms),” and says there is little doubt about what it means since Paul in both places uses the term with the phrase “people-pleasers” (ἀνθρωπάρεσκοι) (406). At the same time, Winger sees this term as being contrasted with the phrase “sincerity of heart” and says that it “more likely implies a service that is external, formalistic, and lacking honesty, but most important, lacking faith. It is the sacrifice of Cain in comparison with Abel’s (Heb 11:4)” (667, italics his). Of course, “serving to be seen,” and an insincere, faithless, external and formalistic service can easily be thought of as going hand-in-hand.

People-pleasing was despised even in Jewish literature just prior to the New Testament: “may the flesh of those who try to impress people (ἀνθρωπάρεσκων) be scattered by wild animals” (Pss. Sol 4:19; see also 4:1, 7, 8; Ps 53:5 [52:6])” (Arnold, 423).[10] In contrast to this, Christians should, with the “purest of motives” (Arnold, 423), “attend[] faithfully and conscientiously even to those duties which no one sees but God” (Stoeckhardt, 253). When Paul calls himself a slave of Christ in Galatians 1:10, he does this with a view to “contrast[] this with the notion of pleasing people” (Lincoln, 414). Matthew Henry and Arnold respectively bring things together for us: “A steady regard to the Lord Jesus Christ will make men faithful and sincere in every station in life” (717). For, “their ultimate indenturing is to Christ alone…they are ‘slaves of Christ’” (423). As Winger puts it, these earthly slaves should not see their earthly relationships “as definitive of their personhood, value, or self-identity,” for they are among those who are purchased by and baptized into Christ (667).[11] To switch metaphors, they are enlisted and conscripted for service to the Lord.

Looking at the second part of this passage and foreshadowing the themes Paul goes on to cover, Ambrosiaster says that as slaves serve God by serving their earthly masters, “they look toward the day of judgment, when all will be requited and all brought to final justice” (Edwards, 194). “ἐκ ψυχῆς,” or “wholeheartedly” in modern language, literally expresses “from the soul,” meaning “the part of the person that thinks and plans” (Arnold, 424). This, of course, hearkens back to the words of Deuteronomy often echoed by Jesus: “to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 10:12) (Arnold, 424). Chrysostom is in harmony here as well, pointing out that the goal is not merely to “serve sincerely and do nothing wrong,” but to so “with all one’s might,”  “out of ardor, not from necessity” or compulsion (Edwards, 194).

With the world’s idea of status and position in mind, he even goes so far as to say that “If you serve freely in this way, you are not a slave. If your service comes from your free choice, from good will, from the soul and on account of Christ, you are no slave” (Edwards, 194, italics mine).

Slavery to Christ: Audience of One

7 μετ’ εὐνοίας δουλεύοντες, ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις,

 “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men….”

Arnold gets us off to a helpful start here in this section, noting that the term εὐνοίας, according to BDAG, refers to “a positive attitude exhibited in a relationship” and is often translated “good will.” F.F. Bruce quotes J.A. Robinson, noting that “’with good will’… suggests a ready willingness, ‘which does not wait to be compelled’” (124, 1974). Interestingly, though it is quite common in Koine Greek, the term appears in the New Testament only here (Arnold, 424).[12]

Arnold says of the present participle “serving” (δουλεύοντες) that it is related to the main imperative that “serves over this entire section, ‘obey’ (ὑπακούετε) (424)[13] Here, Thielman is helpful, noting that Paul is saying that obedience to masters should “arise from their inner commitment to the Lord” (407). Matthew Henry says that “this…will make their service easy to themselves, pleasing to their masters, and acceptable to the Lord Christ… There should be good-will to their masters, good-will to the families they are in; and especially a readiness to do their duty to God” (717). Arnold wisely notes that “this way of thinking about their service will enable them to overcome the temptation to judge the motivations of their earthly masters, which might lead them to lose heart and serve begrudgingly” (424). Again, as noted earlier, Ambrosiaster has evangelism in mind, going so far to say that slaves who do this “may also tend toward the salvation of the master” (Edwards, 194).

Bringing everything together for us today, perhaps Williamson sums things up best when he rhetorically asks: “since Jesus will compensate [slaves—who ‘did not agree to their servitude’—]for whatever they do…how much more ought employees to do good work for those whom they have agreed to serve?” A similar modern application, he points out, can be made to modern employers. (187)[14] Arnold also rightly notes that “Paul’s instructions—all having to do with attitude, manner of service, and motivation—have equal applicability to a variety of authority relationships” (432).

Beyond Tit for Tat – the Divine Reward Irrespective of Privilege

εἰδότες ὅτι [c]ἕκαστος, ὃ ἂν ποιήσῃ ἀγαθόν, τοῦτο [d]κομίσεται [e]παρὰ κυρίου, εἴτε δοῦλος εἴτε ἐλεύθερος.

“…knowing that whatever good anyone does he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free. 

This passage begins with the causal participle εἰδότες, and gives the reason for the clause which just preceded it. Arnold notes that “since the preceding clause… is a summary of the entire section (6:5-6) the motivation of receiving blessing is also tied to the main admonition of the section (‘obey’) and thereby relates to the whole series of thoughts on how to serve” (424) (again, note footnote 12). As he goes on to point out, the indefinite “something” (τι) (found in the 27th and 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland text) can also be translated ‘any’ and suggests that every single good deed that is done will be taken into account by the Lord” (424-425).

Arnold notes that the word Paul uses here (κομίζω) is not his usual word for receive, that is λαμβάνω, but rather a word “that implies receiving something as a recompense or reward” (425). Thielman expands here, stating that Paul now “gives the reason why the obedience that slaves give their masters should arise from the inner attitude of goodwill he has just described.” It is not likely mundane rewards provided to increase productivity and cooperation, but rather “the eschatological reward” or “repayment” described in biblical passages like 2 Cor. 5:10 (407-408).[15]

Speaking of this “eschatological treasure,” Winger goes so far to say that:

“…whereas a slave has no right to expect a reward from an earthly master to whom he simply owes his service, God is a gracious God who rewards both slave and free equally (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), sometimes in accord with what they have done (Mat 16:27; Rom 2:6), sometimes despite it (Ps 103:10), but always as he alone sees fit (I Cor 12:11). The slave can expect to be treated like a free man (and the free man like a slave!)” (669, italics his).

Here, Winger clearly implies that these heavenly rewards—not the reward of heaven per se, or salvation—are meant to comfort earthly slaves with the knowledge that their obedience, their labors, are not in vain. [16]  Wolfgang Musculus, writing during the Reformation, hits on the same theme here: “…the apostle is not proposing to turn Christians into bounty hunters, or to plant in them a servile trust in their own merits or to put God in our debt” (397). That said, what else should be added to Winger’s statement “a slave has no right to expect a reward from an earthly master”?

One recalls the Apostle Paul’s words from I Cor. 6:7: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” Applying this kind of attitude to the issue of slavery, Paul is basically saying that while earthly masters may not notice and appreciate their slaves’ labor as they should—in this sense, the slave literally “has no right” before the master’s will—the Christian slave can rest assured that the Lord will be better than that[17] – for He is not only our Master, but our Father! As Matthew Henry says “God will certainly reward thee for the meanest drudgery” that is done from a sense of duty and with an eye to himself” (718). Stoeckhardt also notes the Lord’s regard for the “little guy’s” labors: “The Lord will at last also duly reward the labor of servants, which is often so little esteemed among men” (252). Finally, Bruce notes that this passage would “encourage a Christian slave to work cheerfully and zestfully even for a master who was unreasonable in his demands and impossible to please; …from Christ…his thanks would come” (124, 1974).[18]

In other words, even though we are always “unworthy servants” before the Lord—particularly when it comes to being worthy to simply stand in His presence—He is not the “hard man” wicked servants accuse him of being (Matt 25:24). Rather, the blood-bought, Spirit-wrought good works done in us—and that are also done by us in Christ—please His heart. Come the last day He will indeed say “Well done!” and give us far, far more than we might even anticipate – even as we humbly confess that we have “only done what was asked of us” (Luke 17:11). To say the least “[t]his [passage] would come as an encouragement to slaves, whose freedom was often limited merely to the attitude toward what they were commanded to do, and it would come as a warning to masters, who may have thought of themselves as free to do whatever they wished with their slaves” (Thielman, 408).

Again, all of this master-slave-talk seems particularly jarring and perhaps even wrong to us. And as we can begin to discern from the discussion immediately above, there are good reasons why this is the case! Speaking further to this, Theodoret notes that “slavery and mastery are categories that are confined to this present life.” When we “pass on from here,” he says, “these distinctions will no longer apply” as “nothing will be based on social status, such as slave or master, but on virtue and vice” (Edwards, 194). The final section of this paper and the conclusion will now deal with this level of nuance in increased detail.

The Gentling of Earthly Masters for Christ’s Sake

Καὶ οἱ κύριοι, τὰ αὐτὰ ποιεῖτε πρὸς αὐτούς, ἀνιέντες τὴν ἀπειλήν, εἰδότες ὅτι καὶ [f]αὐτῶν καὶ ὑμῶν ὁ κύριός ἐστιν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ προσωπολημψία οὐκ ἔστιν παρ’ αὐτῷ.

“And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

The participle “εἰδότες” (knowing) indicates that the reason masters should behave as Paul commands is because they to have a Master in heaven. Paul is briefer in his instruction here, saying simply that masters should do the same thing to their slaves that they have done to him. Snodgrass certainly goes far beyond Paul’s words here when in his Ephesians commentary (324) he argues that these “ethics move beyond the Golden Rule…to treating others as we would treat our Lord” (in Merida, 163). Snodgrass is a bit of an exception here though, as, per Thielman, “most interpreters claim that Paul merely intends to instruct masters in a general way to treat their slaves as well as their slaves should treat them.”[19] In other words, the command is simply another way of “urging masters to treat their slaves justly and fairly (Col. 4:1)” (408).  Attempting to take a very nuanced position which takes into account our discomfort surrounding these passages, Thielman approvingly quotes Meyer (1880:318) saying “[t]there is doubtless no approval[20], but at the same time no disapproval of the existing slavery in itself” here (see also Winger, 687).

How does he defend this interpretation? First, he rightly points out that Paul here is emphasizing the Old Testament theme that God is “an impartial judge.”[21] This was used by early Christians to “demonstrate the theological legitimacy of the gospel’s reach across ethnic lines from Jews to Gentiles” (see Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34-35) but here “applies the same principle to the differences in social standing, with the effect that there is no differences between slave and master when both are in the presence of the Lord (cf. Gal. 2:6; Col. 3:25)” (410).[22]

Second, contra Matthew Henry[23], Theilman argues that Paul is depriving masters of “the primary means of slave control in antiquity…violence was the primary foundation of the institution.” (409)[24] One might well argue that violence from the strong – over and against the concept of the “rule of law” (think here of the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard) – is the foundation not just of slavery but of most human political rule on earth. For example, Stoeckhardt, who acknowledges that “[Paul urges slavemasters to] cease the usual habits of masters to control servants by fear,” (252), also notes how the commentator Meyer quotes Seneca himself attempting to counter the world’s rather brute hierarchy[25] (translating the Latin for us):

“O you, to whom the ruler of sea and land | Has given unbounded right o’er life and death, | Abate your inflated, swelling pride; | All that a lesser subject fears from you, | ‘Gainst you a greater lord shall threaten; | All power is subject to a weightier power” (253).

Or, as Matthew Henry would put it, applying this insight to God: “you will never be a match for him, though you may be too hard for your servants” (718).

Thielman’s conclusion then, dealing with the present participle ἀνιέντες (“give up”) that indicates what the Christian slaveholders’ manner ought to be, is very interesting indeed:

“Paul’s advice to believing slave masters subtly undermines the whole system of slaveholding. Slave-owning believers are, in a sense, to submit to their slaves (5:21), serving their slaves in the same way they desire their slaves to serve them. The threat of violence is impossible in such an arrangement, and without the threat of violence, the whole system will theoretically collapse.[26]

Williamson also adds further support here, noting that the Christian teaching about the “creation of human beings in God’s image, the oneness and equality of all in Christ, the commandment regarding love of neighbor (Lev 19:18; Luke 10:27), and the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31; also Matt 7:12) inevitably undermined slavery’s foundations” (186). Along the same lines, Witherington points out that specific term προσωπολημψία, or “partiality,” “seems to have appeared for the first time in Greek literature in the NT (cf. Rom. 2.11; Col. 3.25; Jas. 2.10).”[27] It might come from the Hebrew idea of “lifting the face,” meaning (rather ironically, it seems) to show a way of elevating a person’s status and honor (342-343).

All this said, earlier church commentators did not go as far as Thielman here, even as men like Chrysostom were more than eager to talk about how the divine economy is different from the one found on earth:

Society arrangements, like laws made by sinners, acknowledge these distinctions of classes. But we are all called to accountability before the law of the common Lord and Master of all. We are called to do good to all alike and to dispense the same fair rights to all. God’s law does not recognize these social distinctions” (Edwards, 195, italics mine).[28]

The early church commentator Theodoret also notes the “order in which [Paul] gives his injunctions,” and states that it is “worthy of admiration.” Marriage, which precedes childbirth, is addressed before he addresses fathers and children. “Finally,” he writes, “he has set forth his instructions to servants and masters. This arises from the social environment, as distinguished from those arrangements that come about under the laws of nature” (Edwards, 191-192, italics mine).

What can we make of things then here? It seems that Thielman is right to see Paul undermining slavery (Merida makes a similar case, see 163-165) even as he overstates his case somewhat when it comes to how Paul does this. [29] In accordance with Winger’s comment about “the oxymoron of ‘mutual submission’” (669, see also 639-646), Marcus Barth states that “it is only on the basis and after the model of the Servant-Messiah that Paul expects the enthusiastic acceptance of subordinate positions (Philip 2:3-11). The kind of service he suggests is unimaginable except rendered ‘in the Lord,’ ‘to the Lord,’ and in confidence in the Lord’s judgment” (757-758). Lincoln helpfully adds that “the ‘love patriarchalism’ of this passage….recognizes yet transcends the existing social structures” (427). Getting back to the specific content of this passage, Arnold writes:

“it is doubtful that Paul is directing saying here that masters should serve their slaves….nevertheless, the notion of not ‘lording it over’ (κατακυριεύω) and of having a servant’s heart toward the slaves could well be on Paul’s mind. This would be consistent with Paul’s introduction to this section, ‘submitting to one another in the fear of Christ’ (5:21)” (425).[30]

In sum then, Thielman is right that this passage highlights the failure of Christians to live out its radical implications, but, significantly, it is a failure not only on the masters’ part, but on the slaves’ part as well.


Interestingly, it appears, contra many modern claims, that the issue of slavery has been treated rather consistently in the church. Slavery was an unquestioned and universally practiced institution when Paul wrote and still exists today. And yet, in the Bible we see what appears to be a gradual working for its elimination. In addition to what has already been discussed, we see passages condemning slave trading (I Tim 1:8-11, see Ex 21:16 also), Old Testament commands to free Israelite slaves (see Deut 15:12-15), Paul’s insistence that slaves should attempt to improve their status (I Cor. 7:20-21), the assertion of full membership in the body of Christ (Col 3:11), the clear – albeit quite polite – nudgings to Philemon to free his Christians slave Onesimus (15-17, 21), and the lack of any theological justification of slavery (where there is one for marriage: Eph. 5:21-33). Again, the fact that Paul would even directly address slaves was completely unprecedented.

In the meantime however, slavery, like marriage, fatherhood, and sonship, is a “launching pad of the Gospel”: first, we see that both slaves and masters should cry out to the Lord who gives them “the true, spiritual release” (Winger, 692, italics his) from the “deeper, truer slavery” (Winger, 693) now—sin, death, and the devil[31]—and will make all things right in the end. Second, as regards the practical implications for our lives in this world, the reality of slavery “serves as an opportunity for Paul to draw back the veil of ‘mystery’ (5:32) to disclose that the earthly master is a representative of the Lord God himself and the earthly slave is subordinate to him in the way of Christ to the church” (Winger, 689)  And as Winger reminds us, putting our focus on faith in the One that overcomes the world, “True freedom is a freedom of the heart, a hidden quality that no earthly lord can take away” (688).

What this means though of course is that practical implications are, to this or that degree, inevitable: in the Lord Jesus Christ, slaves are “only on loan, so to speak, to the human master,” and “the master’s actions cease to be those of one who has absolute authority over another human being” (Witherington, 341, 339, italics mine). Of course, here we think about what Lutherans have called the two kingdoms, or two realms. Unfortunately, going into more detail about how Christians should think about the elimination of slavery today in light of contemporary politics—recognizing that Paul’s intent was never to “indict [masters] for having slaves” (Panning, 212, italics mine)—goes beyond the scope of this paper. I close by repeating a simple message I shared from a recent tweet, which occurred to me while writing this paper: “Men of the West once freed slaves – even politically – in Christ. They now, spurning the Master, enslave themselves in vice.”



Works cited

Barth, Markus. Ephesians 4-6. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

Bruce, F.F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2008.

Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2010.

Edwards, Mark Julian, and Thomas Clark Oden. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Fowl, Stephen E. Ephesians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012.

Gaebelein, Frank E., and James Dixon Douglas. Ephesians ; Philippians ; 1 and 2 Thessalonians ; 1 and 2 Timothy ; Titus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

George, Timothy, Carl L. Beckwith, Gerald Lewis George, and John Lee Thompson. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011.

Heil, John Paul. Ephesians: Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Heine, Ronald E., Origen, and Jerome. The Commentaries of Origen and Jerome on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6. New York: F.H. Revell, n.d.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Ephesians. Dallas, Tex: Word Books, 1990.

Panning, Armin J. Galatians, Ephesians. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2005.

Merida, Tony, David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida. Exalting Jesus in Ephesians. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2014

Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Stöckhardt, George. Ephesians. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1987.

Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Thomas, and Matthew L. Lamb. Aquinas Scripture Series. 2, 2. Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966.

Williamson, Peter S., and Mary Healy. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2009.

Winger, Thomas M. Ephesians. St. Louis, Miss: Concordia Publishing House, 2015.

Witherington, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.



[1] Keeping in mind the entirety of the book of Ephesians, Winger is keen to emphasize that “despite its legal appearance,” Paul’s Haustafel “is more concerned with promise and blessing than with obedience, reward, and punishment” (675). It is just this kind of reality that the author tried to bring out in the paper’s introduction.

[2] Arnold writes: “Before the Roman era, slavery was practiced in Greece and throughout the ancient Near East from the earliest times” (419). He also noted in that 2010 commentary that, “by some estimates there may be as many as 27,000,000 people held as slaves throughout the world today” (431).

[3] Arnold also notes “a smaller number of slaves resulted from the rescue of abandoned infants….” (420).

[4] Snodgrass says the opposite in his Ephesians commentary (327) (in Merida, 159)

[5] Williamson goes on to state: “Slavery in the Roman Empire was not a benign institution, but it was nevertheless more humane than the European and American enslavement of Africans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries” (185). On the other hand, Arnold, quoting Bradley from his Slavery and Society (178-179), says: “The bare record of fact shows that Roman slaves, like those in the Americas, were bought and sold like animals, were punished indiscriminately and violated sexually; they were compelled to labour as their masters dictated, they were allowed no legal exisitence, and they were goaded into compliance through cajolery and inimidation. They were the ultimate victims of exploitation” (421). Clearly practices and attitudes concerning slavery in the Roman Empire varied widely; the previous assertion should also be compared with the more favorable description of Roman slavery provided by Lincoln (415-419).

[6] Witherington sums up P.T. O’Brien saying “Exohorting slaves directly as moral agents is remarkable since normal Greco-Roman household counsel was directed only to the master” (340). In his Slave Systems (215), Westermann helps us see why: “The instittion of slavery was a fact of Mediterranean economic life so completely accepted as a part of the labour structure of the time that one cannot correctly speak of the slave ‘problem’ in antiquity” (Lincoln, 415, italics mine).

[7] Arnold: “It is probably going too far to say that the words suggests that slaves should obey their masters with a foreboding terror and dread…the Christian slaves should obey out of ‘deep respect and fear’” (422).

[8] He also states: “Christian slaves fulfill God’s will and serve Christ by serving their masters even though their work has no explicit or Christian or ministerial dimension and even though they did not chose this service” (185).

[9] Thielman states: “[i]t is not that the master represents Christ to the believing slave, but almost the opposite: the master is factored out of the equation and replaced with the Lord” (406). Merida memorably says: Paul calls slaves to “transfer masters, even if they could not transfer jobs” (164).

[10] Thielman is keen to counter modern commentators like Harrill (2006) who suggest that this passage is about Paul exercising “a subtle power play designed to get more and better work from slaves” (407). Against this, he states that the ideal of acting sincerely and in accordance with one’s convictions was held in both Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish ethics, and so it is no surprise that Paul would say this in respect to slave’s conduct as well.

[11] Arnold has a very nice section which hearkens back to the first paragraph of this paper, and is worth quoting in full: “[Christians] belong to someone who has far greater authority and far more honor than any human slave owner or even the emperor himself. As slaves of Christ, they serve someone whom God has exalted high above any earthly or heavenly power (1:20-23) and through whom God will reign over all of creation (1:10). These Christian slaves belong to and serve the greatest master of all. Their status and honor is thus ultimately derived from belonging to Christ and not their human masters. (423)

[12] Thielman further notes that this was a virtue that was valued among slaveholders. He cites scholars who note wills that indicate, for example, that slaveholders at the time of their death would release “slave bodies” for their “goodwill (εὐνοίαν) and affection.” More: “Perhaps recognizing that this could be difficult because of the innate injustice involved in the institution of slavery, Paul urges slaves to consider their obedience as rendered ‘to their Lord…’ rather than to human beings” (407). This is a pragmatic argument (see fn. 8).

[13] Winger is again quite helpful here, forcefully and convincingly arguing that the word “heed” is a better translaton, as the word ὑπακούετε in fact denotes a “subordination of the ear.” Obedience to commands is certainly a result of this, but so is trust in, and recepton of, promises (655,656). Winger also interprets these imperatives as being subordiante to the imperative πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι in Ephesians 5:18: “be filled up in the Spirit” as well as Ephesians5:21: ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ (being subordinate to one another in the fear of Christ) (654). He also emphasizes not so much about “chains of commands,” but “chains of blessings,” arguing for Christ’s subordination to the Father also according to His divine nature as well as the fact that children “stronger, more vigorous, more intelligent, richer and more powerful than their parents,” (and hence, of more value by worldly standards) for instance, are still expected to be subordinate to them throughout their lives (639-646).

[14] Winger notes here however that “the modern workplace environment of employer-employee is fundamentally different from the master-slave relationship…[t]he difficulty…in aplying slavery language to the modern workplace is that the typological argument that is so fundamental to Paul’s words cannot be easily applied. The modern preacher cannot expect his hearers to see the workplace as an ongoing proclamation of the Gosple in the way Paul preaches marriage and home in Ephesians 5 and 6” (696).

[15] Arnold also notes: “Paul uses [this term] also in Col 3:25 to refer to the consequences that will be faced by the unrighteous. This suggests that Paul is trying to give believing slaves an eschatological perspective on their present condition” (425).

[16] Winger is concerned to emphasize that the “reward” in the parable of the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) is the same (669, fn 75), and that “the Colossian parallel (Col 3:24) to [this passage] inserts the term κληρονομία, ‘inheritance from the Lord].’” Indeed, “an inheritance is never earned but simply received” (668, fn 75), as Winger claims, nor do good works “itrinsically and on their own merit deserve[] a payment by way of reward” (668, italics his). That said, it is again worth noting however that this passage’s main purpose is not, as in, e.g., Romans 1-5, the justification of the sinner before God, but rather to encourage Christian slaves in this world that the good work they do, undoubtedly in the Lord and by His strength, will not be in vain, forgotten, etc. Encouragement and comfort is largely in view here.

[17] Hence Winger: “…one might infer [from the Ephesians passage and I Timothy 6] that Christian masters ought not take advantage of their Christian slaves. That is to say, they ought not assume that their slaves must serve without reward, purely out of love, or necessarily go beyond the call of duty simply because they are fellow Christians. The masters, in imitation of their heavenly Father, ought to love their fellow Christians unconditionally” (689).

[18] Chrysostom agrees, pointing out that while many unbelieving masters do not “keep faith,” compensating as they should, slaves should nevertheless not seek to retaliate, but rather “be fully confident about their ultimate compensation” – for “God is watching these transactions.” Bringing to mind the previous passage examined (“as to the Lord…”), he states that “If your master receives good from you but does not treat you fairly, you do well to serve him all the more earnestly” (Edwards, 194). After all, as Witherington reminds us the “divine arithmetic is done differently than human arithmetic, for God plays no favorites” (341). As Thielman writes “The Lord… is not really a slave master. He makes no distinction between slave and free, but rewards both groups on the final day not according to their social status but according to the good they have done” (italics mine, 410).

[19] Thomas Aquinas does not go so far as he simply says that “as servants act from the heart and with a good will, so also should you act” (233). F.F. Bruce looks to Colossians 4:1 here (“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” [ESV]), saying that masters should not “adopt a hectoring or browbeating attitude,” but should “treat them fairly, rendering to them ‘that which is just and equal’” (124, 1974). Stoeckhardt states “[t]he masters are to treat their servants with that interest in their welfare which they expect the servants entertain toward their masters. They are to treat their servants with kindness and consideration” (252).

[20] Thielman notes that even more recent commentators like Glancey (2006:144-145) and Harrill (2006:90-92) have argued that the passage attempts to provide theological support for the institution of slavery (404). It is not difficult to see how one might arrive at this conclusion and stop here. Aquinas, after all, is only willing to say “[i]t is as though he were saying: You are fellow servants [under God], and hence you ought to behave well towards them” (234). Calvin simply states that “God only allows masters what is consistent with the law of love….Paul reminds them…they are also indebted to their slaves and therefore owe it to them to treat them fairly” (George, 398). Matthew Henry only speaks of being just to slaves, and showing “the like good-will and concern for them” (718). Musculus says “[masters and slaves] must treat the others with honesty and good will…as though they were not dealing with other people but with Christ…making everything they do more honest and acceptable to God,” even as he also insists that Paul is not interested in “obscuring their difference in status but rather confirming it” (George, 398).

[21] See, e.g, Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Sir. 35:12-13; Jub. 5.16; 21.4; 30.16; 33:18; T. Job 43.13.

[22] Jerome, for example, concurs that before God, we all stand as equals before His Holy Law, writing that “if [one] has served as a lowly one in the household, he will be judged justly according to his responsibility.” Furthermore, God “will judge by deeds, not status” (Edwards, 195).

[23] Henry says that Paul’s point to masters is that servants are made of the “same mould with yourselves,” so don’t be “tyrannical and imperious.” He also says, however, that  ἀνιέντες should simply be understood as Paul talking about “moderating threatening” (718).

[24] Williamson notes that: “In the Greco-Roman world masters often controlled their slaves through fear” He quotes O’Brien (Ephesians, 454) saying: “Owners were known to threaten beatings, sexual harassment, or selling male slaves away from the households with the result that they would be parted forever from their loved ones” (187).

[25] Thielman notes that physical abuse of slaves was “occasionally criticized, but even then the concern was typically with the harm that excessive wrath might do to the master rather than any feeling of pity for the slave (W.V. Harris 2001: 317-36).” (409) J. Albert Harrill points out that Seneca the Younger, while urging kind and humane treatment, still argued for the need of moderate floggings (Arnold, 421). In A.D. 61, a Roman lawyer named Gaius Cassius Longinus said the following of slaves: “the only way to keep down this scum is by intimidation” (Tacitus, Annals 14.44, in Arnold, 426).

[26] He goes on to state: “This is the only option consistent with the anthropology and soteriology of Eph. 1-3. If every believer had been previously dead because of sin, and if the cross has torn down not only the wall of sin between every believer and God but also the wall between every believing Gentile and Jew (2:14), then the wall between slave and free also has to crumble” (410). In harmony with Thielman’s remarks about threatening, Calvin also says Paul “expressly forbids” threats – “a sign that masters were treating their slaves like animals”. Masters should realize that the slave “will be just as important to him as that of the greatest king [on the day of judgment]” (George, 398).

[27] Winger notes that Deut 10:17; 2 Chr 19:7, and Job 34:19 all show that God shows no partiality (“a defining characteristic of his just and gracious nature” [671]). Other N.T. texts showing the same are Acts 10:34-35, Rom. 2:9-11, I Pet. 1:17, Eph. 6:8-9, Col. 3:25. Clearly, as regards His own demanding, punishing, rewarding, etc. God insists, quite firmly and repeatedly, that He doesn’t “play favorites” (and “appearances” matter not here – see, e.g., James 2:1-9).

[28] Chrysostom maintained that slavery had its roots in avarice and insatiable acquisitiveness, and is “not the original human condition,’ but has “stolen into human life.” “This horrid thing was begotten by sin”… we have “insulted nature by this system” (Edwards, 195).

[29] For example, regarding the Ephesians 5:21 passage mentioned above by Thielman which exhorts believers to submit to one another, he unpacks this argument by pointing out that the early Christians believed those in authority “should adopt the role of slaves with respect to those under their authority (Mark 10:41-45; Matt. 20:24-18; John 13:1-17; cf. Luke 12:37)” (409). While there is surely much truth here, those interested in the full story—not only interested in asserting their own power!—will point out that the corresponding ideas of hierarchy and subordination, though muffled in their sinful effects on account of their being understood in Christ, are nevertheless persistent realities. Those “in charge” are simply urged to have hearts eager to serve others and not themselves.

[30] In a footnote, Arnold notes that Yoder Neufeld in his comentary on Ephesians (p. 274) thinks that “do the same to them is a functional equivalent to the call for being subordinate to each other” (425).

[31] Or, as Winger reminds us: “the spirit of the air and the elemental forces of this world (Eph 2:1; 6:12)..” (693).



Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Uncategorized


Does the Bible Teach Us Life is About Survival?

Author Dan Davies, on where our fear lies: “The drive to avoid humiliation is often more powerful than the survival instinct.” True? Significance for “spiritual survival”?


In the past, speaking about the then-very-popular Jordan Peterson, I said:

“One highly significant aspect of Peterson’s program is that the goal of the morality he speaks of is oriented towards earthly survival – not just of individual, or perhaps, even one’s group, but ultimately encompassing humanity more broadly. In sum, everything about our morality – absolutely everything – must come to be seen through this controlling lens.

Some might be thinking: “Isn’t this what Christianity is all about though? Being good to gain God’s favor in this world, surviving vs. ones’ enemies, and to be able to survive His final judgment?” Actually, no. In fact, this is a total perversion of Christianity, which ultimately works in the world for one’s neighbor’s sake from a place of peace with God. In Him, we have survived our sin, our first and second deaths, and the oppression of the demonic, and hence have nothing to fear — even in a fallen world racked by suffering.”

While I am not the biggest fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was certainly right to say: “Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.” And yet, at the same time, I also wrote an article I titled as provocatively as I could: “How Darwin Helps Us See the Truth: Life is About Helping Our Neighbor Survive”… and you can check that piece out to see what approach I was taking there.

“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation…” — Bonhoeffer, in his “Bethel Confession”.


Well, matters of survival were on my mind again the other morning as I reflected on Piotr J. Malysz’s recent Lutheran Forum article (Fall 2019) entitled: “On Death, Dying, and Dying Well”.

In my view, here is one of the most moving parts of his article, where he speaks about the actions of the “renowned Polish-Jewish educator and children’s fiction author Janusz Korczak” during World War II:

“At the wars outbreak, Korczak was an orphanage director in Warsaw. When the orphanage was forced to relocate into the ghetto, Korczak had the entry door permanently locked and all the downstairs windows bricked up. Moreover, as deportations to gas chambers were turning from rumor to reality, Korczak (in [Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt] Bauman’s words) ‘reputedly opposed the idea of closing the orphanage and sending children out to seek individually a chance of escape which some might (just might) find. He might have reckoned that the chance was not worth taking: once out of their shelter, the children would learn fear, abasement and hatred. They would lose the most precious of values—their dignity. On several occasions, we should add, the Polish resistance offered Korczak sanctuary outside of the ghetto’s walls, but he repeatedly refused to abandon the 200-or-so children in his charge. Eventually, in early August 1942, the German soldiers came to collect the orphans and the orphanage’s personnel. Korczak led the children to the deportation square, the children dressed in their best clothes, each carrying a satchel and a favorite book or toy. Here Korczak is reputed, again, to have refused to leave the children when an SS officer in charge of the Treblinka transports—and it turned out, Korczak’s admirer—offered him an escape. He would stay with the children to the end (8).

There is evidently a 1990 Polish movie about this man and this incident, which ended up being quite controversial and not very popular. As I read this article though, I also thought of the seemingly more well-known film Of Gods and Men.

Of Gods and Men (2010)


Clearly, I think that Janusz Korczak was a very caring and brave man and is worthy of our deepest respect and admiration. And yet, when I think of his goodness vis a vis our Lord’s, I remember that we are not told that anyone, on earth or heaven, offered Him a way out…

Truly, his Enemy’s forces were wholly unmoved by true love and still are so unmoved, determined to stop at nothing but the obliteration of the Prince of Peace and His people.

And here is where I must confess that I would have respected this man even more had he been able to do something even greater. For example, what if he had also had the foresight, wherewithal, and connections to evacuate all of the children from Poland and get them to an even safer space? Or—even better—what if he had secretly worked with the opposing military to somehow enable a heroic rescue mission—and in the process completely incapacitated those who sought to do harm to the children? (perhaps with also sparing the one who offered Korczak escape, like Rahab the prostitute did to the Israeli spies!).

I guess in order to pull something like that off you need to be God or something.

In the controversial ending of the Korczak film, the children of the orphanage are saved by an unseen hand, which, sadly, did not really happen.



And so the article, along with my previous articles about death and survival, really prompts further reflection.

We should know that to cry out to God for our own sakes – that we might spiritually survive – is something that would have been unthinkable in Paradise.

All, after all, was meant to be so much more! As I put it in a recent sermon:

In the beginning, God provided for everything that our first parents needed. They were told that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, and this would have also included the mysterious Tree of Life…

This was Paradise! Set to live forever with God in the very good creation that He had made, they lacked nothing. Without suffering, pain, and thorns, they really did “have it all”.

No true enjoyment or satisfaction would have been denied them, for all their desires were in line with all that God had made.

Everything was fit to purpose, “in the groove,” and it would have been, to say the least, a glorious time of feasting, fellowship, naming and playing with the animals, dancing, singing and shouting, loving and baby-making, all in sheer innocence, pure pleasure, and great joy.

When we hear the Apostle Paul say of heaven that “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him,” it is no stretch to say that we should also think something similar about Eden as well!

In Eden, surviving—either in the presence of our neighbors or in the presence of God—would have never been a reason to depend on God! To look to Him for help! To grasp Him and cling to Him! To run to His arms that He might carry us!

“Survival” would not have been our concern at all. We would not have needed to call upon Him for salvation

Nevertheless, we are in the shadow of Genesis 3.

““For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”” — the Apostle Paul


So, the fear of the Lord…

  • the recognition that we cannot survive His wrath…
  • that death is ours’ and our loved ones’ ultimate desert…
  • that it may be the last enemy to be destroyed but it’s also our wage…
  • that we only live when we begin to hate our lives…

…is the beginning of knowledge…

The world, as Malysz puts it “struggles with life for the sake of life…” We, on the other hand, cry out to Him for our life and the lives of those we love – that we may survive and immortally BE – and BE GLORIFIED – with Him.

“[H]e has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” — 2 Peter 1:4


This calling out to Him for this then…

  • though it is not sum and substance of the Christian life
  • though it would have not been “good” were it not for the fall
  • though it was not originally intended from the beginning

…is, of course, no sin, but the very will of God.



Note: I changed a sentence above to clarify what I wanted to say in the post.

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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in Uncategorized


New Article Published in Lutheran Mission Matters

I’m pleased to announce that I have a new article out today published in the journal out of Concordia Seminary, Lutheran Mission Matters! Its called: “Effective Christian Outreach to Minority Communities: What Does It Take?”

Check it out!

It starts on page 244:

Here is what the first page looks like:

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Posted by on December 30, 2019 in Uncategorized


No One Deserves a Merry Christmas (text and audio)


“….the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life[a] was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. — Romans 1:4


Christmas is coming, and one of the big perennial issues in America these days is whether or not people should wish one another a Merry Christmas…

My own personal wet blanket for you this morning, however, during this most “wonderful time of the year,” is that no one deserves a Merry Christmas….

Not me. Not you. Not your family, your neighbors, your countrymen, your enemies.

Why would I say something like that?

Well, our text for today speaks, in brief,  about death… when it says “by his resurrection from the dead….”

Of course the topic of resurrection would not be necessary  were it not for death.

And so this brings up an underlying question: Why is resurrection even necessary? 

Why, in other words, is there death?

Because it is death, not Christmas, that we all deserve….


A few months ago, someone told me about how her four year old son had begun to ask lots of questions about death…

Why did that animal die? Why wasn’t he coming back? What would it mean when Grandma and Grandpa were dead?

Kids are great, aren’t they?

I really don’t have difficulty picturing this kid taking Jesus to task a bit, asking why he would allow his friends to experience such a sad and terrible thing!

So why do we die?

The short answer is because of our evil, our sin. The sin that Adam and Eve brought into being and that we all perpetuate, for in sin our fathers and mothers have conceived us all…

And truth be told, the Bible shows us that it didn’t have to be this way.

In the beginning, God provided for everything that our first parents needed. They were told that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, and this would have also included the mysterious Tree of Life…

This was Paradise! Set to live forever with God in the very good creation that He had made, they lacked nothing. Without suffering, pain, and thorns, they really did “have it all”.

No true enjoyment or satisfaction would have been denied them, for all their desires were in line with all that God had made.

Everything was fit to purpose, “in the groove,” and it would have been, to say the least, a glorious time of feasting, fellowship, naming and playing with the animals, dancing, singing and shouting, loving and baby-making, all in sheer innocence, pure pleasure, and great joy.

When we hear the Apostle Paul say of heaven that “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him,” it is no stretch to say that we should also think something similar about Eden as well!

“Hold on though…” you say… “God did tell them that there was one tree that they should not eat from, and that was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That one was off limits.”

Yes, that is true too. A test perhaps.

Would Adam and Eve keep the Garden from that Snake, that fallen angel the devil, who’d gone bad?

Would they continue to trust in their Creator?

Would they look to grow even stronger in trust, respect, and love?

Well, we know all too well, they fell.

Innocence was lost. They then did not run to God but away.

They blamed one another for the massive problem they’d created,

noticed their nakedness,

and covered themselves with fig leaves.

Everything had changed for the worse. Judgement and death had come, just as God said it would!

Cursed world!

God still loved them though.

He didn’t scrap it all and start over (like I would have done) but instead promised them a Descendent who would undo what they and the Serpent had done.

In the meantime however, punishments would be administered and Eden – with its Tree of Life – would be off-limits:

“Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and live forever…”

Those lost to sin, those fallen ones, could not live forever now with the venom of Satan in their bloodstream… a venom which they could not help but pass on, in millions of horrifyingly concrete ways.

And so, as the Apostle Paul tells us, making no bones about it: “the wages of sin is death…”

The truth is that if we see death as something “just natural” then it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected with sin and guilt. Then, we don’t have to be reminded about all of this…

That death is our fault!

Maybe this explains why another friend, whose father recently died and who has a nephew who appeared devastated by this, rejected my attempt to bring help and comfort when I told her that, in a way, Scripturally, her nephew had it right: death is an enemy to be destroyed…

“Well,” came the response, “it’s natural…a normal part of life”


Don’t go there though!

…because if you do, the really good news of the Gospel won’t seem that great.

Or maybe for that matter, even necessary.

You’ll never get the hymn, What Child is This, when it proclaims:

Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne, for me, for you.

Hail! Hail! The Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Again, we must assert that the wages of sin is death – and that God Himself also sees death as something foreign too… an invader… an enemy… that doesn’t really belong in the picture…

Let me quickly concede though that it is possible that we could form some bad ideas here, bad ideas which might even cause our non-Christian friends to not learn more about the true nature of sin and death.

For example, it is good that we don’t say that every time people experience suffering it is because of their specific sins…

On the other hand, we experience suffering because all of us, corporately, will know certain effects of living in a fallen, or Genesis 3, world.

In Luke 13, Jesus tells us that things like natural disasters should be sign not just for some but for all persons to repent! To recognize the judgement of sin… of living in a fallen world.

And, also importantly, in the midst of things like death, pain, and suffering we must remember that Jesus said a man born blind was blind not because of His sin or His parent’s sins, but so that God’s glory could be revealed!

That said, of course things like death, suffering, pain, and disease no doubt remain a “wage of sin,” a punishment of sin.

Things are not the way they were supposed to be.

And let me say it again: death, the crown of all these things, not only literally stinks, it stinks through and through. It is, again, the last enemy to be destroyed…

Death stinks because our sin stinks. Our lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The angers, lusts, greeds, jealousies, and hatreds we play footsies with, instead of facing the temptations with the Sword of the Holy Spirit to drive through our stinking, black hearts…

Death consistently reminds us that we are in really bad shape. Terminally bad shape.


Let me take a breather at this point: you might be wondering whether we need to be talking about death like this so close to Christmas.

I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was highly useful to do so…

The whole New Testament reveals to us Jesus’ mission statement: the epistle of John explicitly tells us that He came to destroy the work of the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 says:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil”

And in the Gospels He says that He came to seek and save the lost, to be a ransom for many, to set His face towards Jerusalem and die.

He is going to defeat death with His very own death!

This was prophesied right after the debacle in the Garden, when God said to the Serpent:

“And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring[a] and hers;

he will crush[b] your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

This is part and parcel of the gospel, or good news, our text asserts God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…”

And so, following the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we see Peter’s mighty preaching on the Day of Pentecost, touting our Lord’s prophecy-fulfilling life and deeds.

In that great sermon, Peter reminds us that Christ came with mighty works, wonders and signs, reminding us of, fulfilling that ancient promise of, the Descendent made to Eve who would crush the Serpent’s head.

When the Apostle says that God has made “this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” as “He was,” in fact, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God…”

…we are not left wondering whether or not God has everything under His control.

Can corral the chaos we’ve made and make…..

Can shut death down forever….

Yes, we can massively mess this world up, but He is going to fix this mess, in His own time – the fullness of time as the Gospels put it – and in His own way!

His “foolish ways” the world cannot understand!

Salvation is going to literally be created in time, when the Son of God takes on human flesh, a human nature, and overcomes the fallen world the devil has made.

Living not only an innocent life, but a completely perfect one? He’s got that covered.

Taking on the massive debt of human sin, and cancelling the bill in His own body? Yes.

And remember, that though He really dies, no one takes His life from Him, for they fundamentally cannot.

Like Peter says in that same great sermon…. “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it….”

Unlike His ancestor King David, He, Light of Light and Very God of Very God, is Life Itself which cannot be snuffed out. He really is the “Holy One” who does not see corruption.

Such is the prophecy God delivers to us now…

And it is because of this that death, with all its stench, ultimately becomes for us just a door into the life that is really life.

In Him, unlike those Peter accused, we do not die in our sins.

Even though it is not of Him, God nevertheless uses sin’s fruit, death. God uses our suffering and pain. God uses Satan… all for our sakes…

For He holds all the cards.

And for now, in this life that we live in the world, but not of it, “[our enemies] can kill us, but they can’t hurt us…”

In Him, we are, really and truly, invincible. The new heavens and new earth, good beyond our imaginings, are indeed coming!

And by God’s Spirit and grace, we will increasingly live not only with, but from, that knowledge.


We’ve covered in some depth the phrases “the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son” and “by his resurrection from the dead….”

Let’s look now at some of the other key things in our text.

I love what an early church father, Ambrosiaster, said:

“God wanted [Jesus Christ] to be known through his power to cleanse humans from their sins by overcoming death in the flesh.”

Hence our text also reads that Jesus Christ was “appointed the Son of God in power…”

Maybe when you heard this read this morning, you were thinking: “But isn’t Jesus already the Son of God right away? Isn’t He ‘born that way’ as they say today?”

Why does the text not say something like “according to his human nature” AND “according to His Divine nature”?

Well, that’s certainly not in doubt at all. It’s just that Paul’s goal here is evidently not to talk about the specific nature of Jesus Christ… just who…what…is He?

…even as later on in Romans, in  9:5, he does goes on to explicitly say that the Christ, the Messiah, is “God over all…”

It is rather to say: “This is what the Christ… the Messiah… looks like and what He does… for your sakes! Pay attention!”

Hence He is appointed the Son of God…. this term for appointed in the Greek is horizo, where get word horizon from!

So it also means, depending on the context, to determine, ordain, fix, decree…. To “mark off by boundaries” as a horizon does with earth and sky….

And what this also means for Christians is that we “fix or designate the proper boundaries of a truth, or a doctrine; to distinguish its lines and marks from error” as well as “to show, or declare a thing to be so by any action….”

For action is critical here. Righteousness, holiness, and love not only are, but they act…

Really, the point in this text is that Paul is making clear how important and valuable to Him the flesh, the humanity… this world that “God so loved” … really is…

Yes, it is under Satan’s dominion…. ruled by the prince of the air ;

yes, the new heavens and earth, upgrading and enhancing the Garden of Eden which we spoke of earlier, will be so much greater… ;

yes, as it stands, the world is tainted by sin through and through ;

yes, it is, as many have put it a “vale of tears”….

…and yet, God deeply loves the world and hence desires to redeem this world that He made in all its temporal and bodily…fleshly even…  glory!

This is why the focus here in Romans 1 is thoroughly on Jesus Christ putting on human flesh, and His activity among us for our salvation!


What about the phrase “according to the spirit of holiness…”?

We know the Scriptures speak of One God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Some say that this passage probably refers to the Holy Spirit, but I am of the view that here we are talking about the spirit of Jesus Christ specifically….The spirit of the God-Man Jesus Christ is also a spirit of holiness or “sanctification”.

In John 10:36, in responding to his opponents, we hear Jesus say “what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

The idea here is that Christ’s actions in the world for us, according to His sending, are what sets Him apart, or sanctifies Him, as the Son of God!

Again, the focus is on what happens in the flesh, on the earth, in Jesus Christ! It is only through Him and His work that the new age of redemption, of the Holy Spirit, can come forth!

And so, as One commentator put it hundreds of years ago: “the presence of the Godhead is seen in the peculiar and exceptional ‘holiness’ by which it is characterised….”

And how is this exceptional holiness characterized?

It is the Holiness which lives not to condemn, but to show mercy! It is the Holiness which seeks!

It is the holiness like that of Joseph, who though not believing Mary, longed to have compassion on her.

It is the holiness which has has compassion even on our Enemies!

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Only with the birth we celebrate in a few days could we also proclaim with the Apostle Paul:

“For [God the Father] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Such is our glorious assurance!


Still, again.

No one deserves a Merry Christmas. Not me. Not you. No one.

We, in fact, deserve nothing but judgment!

And yet, He deeply loves us.

Hence we can sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive its King;

….No more let sin and sorrow grow

Nor thorns infest the ground:

He comes to make his blessings flow

Far as the curse is found,

Far as the curse is found,

Far as, far as the curse is found.

An essential part of Christianity is all about that term horizo… declaring, asserting, proclaiming…. Of marking off the boundary that is the Only True God who can save us from death.

Not shutting up.

Asserting. Asserting with confidence the joy, the relief, we know!

God’s doctrine, His teaching, is life for us! And for all!

How to share it?

Just remember what it is all about…

For God so loved the world, or better, For God loved the world in this way: that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish…die… but have eternal life….

Not long ago in my beloved wintry Minnesota, I went sledding with my boys….

The three year old could not walk up the steep hill.

One son said he wouldn’t help him.

Another said he couldn’t help him.

Only father was both good and strong enough to help.

Likewise, only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is both good and strong enough to help us, to save us, from our desperate condition of the bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

And so, again:

Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne, for me, for you.

Hail! Hail! The Word made flesh

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The Son gladly submits. And so we live….

Don’t forget to wish one another a “Merry Christmas”!



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Posted by on December 23, 2019 in Uncategorized


American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good (part 3 of 3)

“There is nothing that we could call ‘good’ except that it reflects God in the way it was designed by Him to so reflect. Disobedience to God is literally synonymous with departure from Goodness.” – Matthew Cochran


Part 1, Part 2


The “biblical hierarchy of goodness” introduced in the previous post will be helpful in a number of situations – even in cases we might not expect….

For example, Martin Luther himself certainly had some hermeneutical temptations….

In his commentary on Deuteronomy, if one reads carefully, one will see that Luther seems to closely connect the Fall to marriage, which, as we know, the Apostle Paul says one should enter into if one burns: “matrimony was divinely instituted and commanded for those who cannot live a chaste life without it” (AE 9:96).

Elsewhere, of course, Luther wrote differently and more carefully of marriage and it’s purposes. That said, from instances like this one, the impression can certainly be given that for him the Fall and marriage are somewhat conflated! God foresaw that man would sin, and so for this reason instituted marriage in the pre-fall (or “prelapsarian) world. Why would Luther even be tempted to fall into this kind of thought-pattern?

This may well have had something to do both with the kind of theology Luther was taught (from men like William of Ockham) and even lived for many years as a Christian monk. Perhaps you are aware of the idea of “social contagion” — I think its a useful thing to keep in mind…

In some ways, I think Luther was trying to respond to a theological “social contagion” of his day, the idea that marriage did not help fight sin, but rather encouraged it!

This kind of problem where the original creation and fall get conflated still happens on occasion today, even among otherwise very careful Christian thinkers. Hence, the popular pastor Chris Rosebrough, in a seemingly very conservative presentation, might also think that things like male headship are also closely connected with the Fall. Here, God foresaw that Eve would sin and bring Adam along, and so for this reason He instituted male headship (or, perhaps, he just instituted it after but not before the Fall).

On the contrary though, Scripturally and historically, both marriage and male headship were things that are presented for us as things that are wholly unrelated to the Fall (Genesis 1-2, I Cor. 11:3)!

Again, the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness, seen below, would have been helpful here!


And not just in these cases! Issues that perhaps arise from this kind of thinking go ever deeper… with far more severe consequences…

As noted at the end of the previous post, possibly in part because all of the kinds of goodness found in Scripture are rather complicated and involved, more liberal conservative theologians—and even persons from my own conservative Lutheran camp—have taken the “opportunity” to “simplify” the matter:

“Have you realized that, in each and every case, trying to be lawful, to be good, to be better… is basically synonymous with trying to be God?”[i]

Gerhard Forde: the “Fall” is a bad theological idea!


This view has been effectively promulgated among many conservative Lutherans primarily through the writings of the late “conservative ELCA” theologian Gerhard Forde. Now, in some ways, Forde might seem to be on my wavelength when he says, in reference to man’s creation, fall, and redemption, that the human creature was “given a relative perfection in the creation…”

That sounds a bit like the immature and mature goodness I talked about in the second post of this series! That said, which direction does he insist on going with this? Forde does not think the notion of a “relative perfection” is a good thing at all!:

“[This] means nothing but trouble for the understanding of sin and freedom”the “very word ‘fall’” “is not…a good biblical term.”

By insisting that the word “fall” is not a good biblical term, Forde in effect conflates all of the different kinds of Goodness. But how can Forde get away with eliminating the very biblical Fall from consideration? In part, it is because the Bible itself speaks about how it is not only man as fallen sinner who needs God, but man as creature as well (for even prior to the fall, He is weak compared to God and fully dependent on God!).

Infiltration and convergence proceeding.


And yet, note this as well: he now also has an excuse to not explain how the redeemed Christian has a sanctified and freed will, much like the will that Adam and Eve had in the Garden before they sinned (actually, now, the believer has “two wills” because he now, somewhat analogously to Christ, has two natures).

Saying that traditional Christian ideas like the Fall, clearly seen in Genesis 3, are a part of the problem, Forde can then attack the notion of the Christian’s responsibility for attempting to do good in the world! For again, it would seem that in Forde’s view, if one is trying to be better–or even to better understand what it means to follow God’s law–one is necessarily trying to justify one’s self by following the law!

Forde, like Luther, does rightly counter those who contend for false notions of free will. At the same time though, he in effect says that any notion of a freed will in the Christian—at least one that is consciously so—is just more evidence of our sin! (for the best counter I have seen regarding this kind of erroneous thinking, see the piece by Matthew Cochran touted in these tweets:

In this, he not only fails to acknowledge that Luther himself explicitly says in the Bondage of the Will that the book is not discussing matters of sanctification, but justification – but he directly attacks what Luther would have never in his wildest dreams attacked.

“…our present debate specifically concerns ‘free-will’ without grace, which is taught by laws and threats (the Old Testament) to know itself, that it might run to the promises offered in the New Testament.” (180-181, Packer ed.)


As we saw at the beginning of this post, conservative Lutheran theologians–even Luther himself!–for whatever reasons, have not always been as careful as they might have been in their treatment of Goodness vis a vis the Fall.

Forde though, as we have seen, takes the next step and concludes that something like the Fall is wholly irrelevant and even harmful for doing theology! What ultimately matters—and what controls everything else in his theological system—is not that God’s law accuses us of specific deeds that are essentially evil trans-culturally and trans-historically, but that we feel accused.

I contend that this denial of the importance of the Creation vis a vis the Fall—of letting Scripture delineate how we treat matters of Goodness—has disastrous implications.


If we do not let the Scriptures dictate the matter of how to appraise Goodness, with the Hierarchy that exists there, the world will run over us.

After all, the kinds of things that we have been taught by the world’s elites (who often got their start in the more liberal quarters of the Christian church!) create for us the temptation to think in all kinds of ways that are opposed to Scripture but are more friendly to men like Forde….

Note that, after all….

  • the idea of the fall is difficult to square with modern scientific “knowledge,” particularly the theory of evolution.
  • the world is now saying that races don’t exist, which seems to be true enough, but also seems eager to make sure that certain nationalities and/or ethnicities cease to exist as well. From a political standpoint, this might even seem to make sense (even as, taking lessons from history into consideration it is woefully short-sighted).
  • in the past, the idea of some things that don’t change and are permanent was a fixture even for intellectuals, while in today’s environment, influential historical figures like Vico, Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche have created a highly “liquid” environment, which one must adjust to if one is to effectively communicate and survive.
  • the world likes the idea of maximizing freedom in the sense of being who we are and doing what we want to do, as long as we do not hurt others. And again even Christians can see some wisdom in this, so long it is not insisted that we have no duties towards those who abuse freedom such that they hurt others or themselves – but what does “abuse”, “freedom”, and “hurt” really mean anyways? What is real goodness?

Shut up Liar-Oppressor Clive?: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”


  • when Paul in Ephesians tells wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord,” how popular in our culture is this going to be? If we take modern explanations of what submission means here and apply it back to submission to the Lord it will almost never be accurate, demonstrating that it is almost never a good explanation. As Matt Cochran puts it, “does our submission to Christ merely mean that we respect him and that he respects us? Not so much.”
  • those sympathetic to theologies like those of Radical Lutheranism often tend to think that they experience more genuine love from people in the world than Christians. While Christians might express “concern” for them, “trying to guide their behavior,” they know that those Christians, however gentle they might try to be about this, don’t really “like” them while the world does.
  • the pressure from groups claiming an identity of LGBTQ+ is great and powerful. Since marriage is only temporal, why insist that, in lines with issues of “burning”, gay marriage cannot provide much the same kind of “damage control,” or “temporary solution” that marriage can?

It is not hard to see the advantages men like Gerhard Forde might have thought he had in going in this direction – even if this was largely subconscious…

“…the theologian in academia has two challenges: 1) To teach that which he should; 2) To be taken as intellectually viable. Since the enlightenment, the latter has trumped the former.” — Pastor Paul Strawn


In other words, being academically and socially respectable becomes our goal–or at least one of our goals (how else will I become an effective evangelist?)–even if we are not fully aware of this.

We might even watch the new play about conservative Catholics, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” and rightly find much to appreciate (that liberal guy represented those conservative views quite well, didn’t he?) while still simultaneously refusing to go into the even deeper waters the times demand!

….And that the Biblical Hierarchy of Goodness is ready to address.


In order to drive home the point as effectively as I can, I need to continue picking on my fellow Lutherans here….

All of the above goes a long way toward explaining the kinds of things that we see in books like The Necessary Distinction but don’t fully understand… and can’t fully express what is wrong…

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (Werner Elert, quoted on page 316 of CPH’s 2017 “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, The Necessary Distinction).


Concordia Theological seminary professor Roland Ziegler, for example, wrote that those who want the legal institution of same-sex marriage are showing reverence for God’s law and yet, never says, in any sense, that they are actually acting against God’s law (see p. 330 in The Necessary Distinction). Addressing the same kind of issues elsewhere, Professor Scott Keith has said: “Its easier to treat someone without compassion if it goes against natural law…it is easier to divest yourself from having any compassion toward somebody if its just simply unnatural.”  In each situation, the implication seems to be that being overly conservative, holding the line on LGBTQ+ issues, does not demonstrate love but in fact a lack of love!

Therefore, here we can see how the kinds of ambiguities spoken about above—which have always been seized upon by the more liberal wings of the Christian church—find root in conservative Lutheran soil as well!

Even with these conservative Lutherans, what reason is there to think that there will not be a temptation to waffle on the notions of “male” and “female” next, causing confusion much like the DTS professors mentioned in the first post?[ii]

“Everything… we might say about goodness and obedience proceeds from that fundamental reality that God = Good.” — Matthew Cochran


After all, if something like marriage can be both good but temporal, there might seem to be few firm reasons why should we insist that the same is not true for the categories of “male” and “female”…

That said, let us give an answer using our Hierarchy that I imagine even many a “Radical Lutheran” (or RL sympathizer) will be inclined to say “Amen!” to!


So now we are ready to point out that the issues specifically addressed by the Dallas Theological Seminary professors can be usefully addressed with the Hierarchy provided above.

The key question is this: In the Scriptures, do we see any divergence between what is externally “male” and “female” and what is internally so?

Christ’s love for sinners. What does this mean? The exhibition “Ecce Home” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin shown in Belgrade


Let’s look:

Unknown Final Goodness: There, of course, is little that we can say here about anything!

Persisting Edenic Goodness: Perhaps one, looking at this or the next category, might be tempted to say “Our knowledge of the world before the Fall is very limited, but the world we observe is such a vast place. We’re discovering new places, new stars, new species, and other new parts of God’s creation all the time. Who’s to say that transgenderism isn’t just one more of those parts of God’s original creation that is only just now being discovered?”

And yet, for those of us who take passages like 2 Tim. 3:16 seriously, what is revealed to us in the Scriptures specifically about “male” and “female”?

  • Sex or gender are simply a good part of God’s creation (Matt 19:1-9, Gen. 2: 24, Eph 5:22-33)
  • “The body is meant . . . for the Lord and the Lord for the body (1 Cor 6:13)”[iii]
  • In Deuteronomy 22:5, God commanded His people to dress in accordance with the sex that one had been given.[iv]
  • Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration are recognized as being those particularly men!
  • The masculine pronoun is used to describe angels, who I have never taken to be genderless beings, even if they are not, presumably, sexual beings.
  • Hebrews 11 speaks about particular men and women who are now with the Lord!

Non-persisting Edenic Goodness: We are given no indication in Scripture that the distinction between male and female, like male-female marriage, is meant to be temporary, and a part of the “immature” state of affairs. As Scott Stiegemeyer puts it, echoing the above list: “There will not be marriage in the resurrection, but there will still be men and women. And since our resurrection bodies will be absent every disease and disorder, we can assume intersex people will be raised as men and women, even if, due to the fall, their sex was questioned during their earthly life…”

Persisting Fallen Goodness and/or Non-persisting Fallen Goodness: Perhaps someone might entertain thoughts like the following:

“Because we live in a broken world in which things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to, it’s good for humans to adapt to those circumstances so that we can alleviate one-another’s suffering. Transgendered people, being fundamentally unable to live as the gender assigned to them at birth, are doing precisely this by discovering both new ways to be men and women, and new ways to be human without being men or women. Maybe that goodness persists in the new heavens and earth because the good deeds of the saints follow them. Maybe it doesn’t persist because the need for adaptation goes away. But either way, it’s a good thing.”

Much more can be said about reasoning like this, even from a purely secular perspective (all noted in the post I referred to in part 1). The issue is not that we as Christians cannot say that something is not true knowledge if that knowledge is not confirmed by the Scriptures. The critical question to ask here, in light of the rest of the things we have seen above, is this:

Given what has been revealed clearly to us in His Word about male and female, does God really expect us to be so agnostic and uncertain about these kinds of things? 

Invisible Goodness (Angelic Goodness): Not relevant to inquiry.

We cannot remain comfortably agnostic about what goodness is in this life…. To cling to the Scriptures for guidance about what is most important in life and what is good to do is precisely the opposite of causing abuse, oppression, and harm.

“Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!” — Scott Stiegemeyer



We should not never forget that while Christ is firm vs. sin (“Go and sin no more!”), He did not come to judge, but to save. To heal our sinful disease and the effects of that sin. And this is great news, because as Scott Stiegemeyer has wisely put it:

“All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires are exactly the same in terms of our lived existence. Some sins have a deeper grab on us than others. Some are habits. Others are embedded more deeply. Pastoral care toward all sinful brokenness is not one-sized-fits-all…

Helping an alcoholic overcome his temptations might require a different approach than helping a person who struggles with envy or gossip. Baptism, Absolution, preaching, and the Eucharist are effectual to heal us, both in time and for eternity. But Thomas Hopko is exactly right that the techniques of psychologists and psychiatrists should be employed where appropriate as well” (p. 45, CTQ article, italics mine).

So here, some nuance, informed by our discussion of the kinds of goodness above, is needed. Some might feel a very powerful desire to drink alcoholic beverages, but it is the desire for drunkenness that is sin. Some might feel more of an “incongruity between their mind and body” (Stiegemeyer), but it is the desire to change one’s sex that is sin. Some might feel a physical attraction to members of the same sex, but it is the desire to engage in sexual activity with them that is sin.

“…even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the [j]men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another…” – the Apostle Paul


To take an easy comparison in order to draw a very necessary kind of distinction, we would not say, in general, that a man’s attraction to his wife or even his desire to be united with her in sexual intercourse is sinful in terms of rightly-ordered creation, in spite of the fact that, due to the “concupiscence” of original sin, sinful impulses are no doubt involved in the mix here which God is pleased to cover through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Even as we can and must make distinctions like this though, what Scott Stiegemeyer talks about is also correct: “All children of Adam have disordered sinful desires but not all disordered sinful desires.”[v] And all of those sinful desires are in need of Christ’s cleansing blood!

In closing, in a past post in reference to the transgender issue, I said:

“Is it possible that Christ’s message to his disciples about the man born blind is His message for us today about those who struggle with transgender inclinations: namely, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him”? In other words, nothing that has gone wrong among us – things are “not the way it’s supposed to be”! – can’t be redeemed in Him. Due to the ravages of original sin, we are all “disabled” in the same and different ways – some of us having particularly difficult crosses to bear.”

Much more can be said here, and should – and with great efforts to do so in both firmness and real compassion, as men like Ryan Anderson and Robert George do here. Again, God can certainly use all things for good, as we American Christians like to point out (again, almost exclusively—see part 1) but when we dig deeply into the Scriptures or even just into the above offered Hierarchy of Goodness derived from Scripture, we see we have the basis for the most well-informed and most biblical responses, (see my try here) which are truly the only really compassionate responses.

I think so, but they also need a lot of your love!


In sum, while we will not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, narrowly understood (forgiveness by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ!), we will also not be ashamed to talk about and exult in the many ways our Lord has brought and brings us Goodness, both through His creation, and the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ!

In the beginning.

Now in this cursed world.

And forevermore!





[i]  Lutheran theologians have always insisted that we are not sinners because we sin, but, at the deepest level, we sin because we are sinners. I have recently been reminded that Radical Lutheran theologians take things steps further, and have no trouble insisting, for example, that because of facts like this even attempting not to sin is sinful and that we spiritually die not because we sin generally (unbelief and disobedience of God’s Word, a lack of fear, love, and trust in God), but because we attempt to justify ourselves before God by what we do. This, of course, is not the way that the Scriptures approach our life in Christ. What are some of the clear consequences that we see following from this? What are some thoughts and ideas about the best way to counter this? (BB 92, 38:00 ; BB 90 [or 91], 20:00)

[ii] This will be culturally useful after all—even for social conservatives! After all, as more and more trans-women (men) come to dominate things like women’s sports, this could be seen as tipping the scales more in the direction of the “masculine,” which, no doubt, is a kind of felt need among many of us (to counter more “gynocentric” approaches created by feminist currents, most clearly seen in things like family law).

[iii] “Attitudes toward gender identity these days might not favor the binary, but the human reproductive system does (Scott Stiegemeyer)” The “binary” cannot be escaped (even LGBTQ…depends on it). Persons are not only their bodies, but they are, in part, their bodies. We are integrated people all the way through (to counter the idea that “gender” = what’s in head and “sex” = what’s between legs).

[iv] The 10 commandments and other law in line with the natural law, like Deuteronomy 22:5, cannot be put against the two great commandments to love God and neighbor. One of our fathers in the faith, Ambrose of Milan, puts it well: “if you consider it truly, there is an incongruity that nature itself abhors. For why, man, do you not want to appear to be what you were born as? Why do you put on a strange guise? Why do you ape a woman? Or why do you, woman, ape a man?” Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:5, he goes on to say: “Nature arrays each sex with its own garments. Men and women have different customs, different complexions, gestures and gaits, different sorts of strength, different voices.” (Letter 15 [69].2.) I looked at about 12 commentaries on Deuteronomy 22:5, particularly 7 released in the past 8 years or so, and while some think this may be addressing transvestite practices in Canaanite religion (even here note that this is not separated from, but goes hand in hand with, the concern for moral order – see Lundbom’s 2013 commentary, pp. 616-617), only one commentary I recall suggested this exclusively (Christensen, 2002). Block’s 2012 Zondervan commentary is typical when it says “this injunction seeks to preserve the order built into creation” (p. 512). Even the new commentaries published by more liberal publishers (Abingdon, WJK, and Smyth & Helwys), perhaps eager to point out the Old Testament’s backwardness, agree. Also, it is not only in this present age that persons deal with what we now call “gender dysphoria”.

[v] He says more: “We should not say or imply that people who have the sense of incongruity between their mind and body are necessarily sinning. They are fallen sinners, yes, but is their confusion itself a sin or the result of their inherited sinful condition? It would indeed be a transgression of natural law and Aquinas’s Principle of Totality to undergo the so-called sex reassignment surgery. Alternative medical and psychological treatments for GD should continue to be sought.” (p. 46).


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Posted by on December 10, 2019 in Uncategorized


God’s Relation to Kinds of Evil

View from hell: “The greatest ‘danger’ to the Gospel is the Law.” – the late Edward Schroeder, summing up Werner Elert as he understood him.



In my recent series talking about all the ways that we have failed to recognize all the ways that God is good, I said the following:

“…evil is never good and God does not do evil. Yes, nothing could exist or have energy without the God in whom all things depend, but no, He does not do evil.

Saying that might engender some controversy, but it shouldn’t. The word “evil” in Scripture can mean either metaphysical evil (just think of the term “pure evil”) or it can mean “harm”. What this means is that if God is ever said to do “evil” then, it can, first of all, mean that He harms in order to help. As in the Proverb “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” All this is in fact a kind of “goodness,” or a “good”—though not, of course grace!—in the fallen world.”

Noting what I said there about potential controversy, I want to re-iterate, say more about that, in this post (I did say quite a bit also in the post linked to above).

“To pose the question of the pagans, whether God was the cause of evil, showed an improper understanding of rhetoric and dialectic….” — Timothy Wengert, explaining how Melanchthon thought Erasmus had misunderstood Luther.


First of all, let’s note what our Lutheran Confessions say about this. There are some very clear words about this topic in in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession where we read in Article XIX, “Of the Cause of Sin” the following:

77] The Nineteenth Article the adversaries receive, in which we confess that, although God only and alone has framed all nature, and preserves all things which exist, yet (He is not the cause of sin, but] the cause of sin is the will in the devil and men turning itself away from God, according to the saying of Christ concerning the devil, John 8:44: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own…”

Again, “metaphysical evil” is what we might also call “pure evil,” which of course, would go hand in hand with the power of the Lie.

The heart of sin is nothing like an engineer setting up the train to run along tracks, but something else. At its core, it is missing the mark and rebellion.

And again, God is not the Author of this. Period.

God set up the creation in a certain way, and it was meant to function in a certain way. This is good.

Man sinned however, and therefore evil—in the sense of both increased metaphysical evil and bodily harm—will inevitably come to him (we’ll get into this more below).

“A free will is that which wills nothing of its own, but submits only to the will of God.” — Luther


Is God a cause of that second kind of evil, “harm-evil”?

Well, He is the One by which all things have their form or structure, and the One in which nothing else can exist or have energy.

In fact, what this means is that insofar as God “provides” existence and energy by which his creatures choose to run, pre and post-Fall, one can say He is the “efficient cause,” in a sense, of all things.

Therefore, He is a cause of not only harm-evil, but metaphysical evil as well!

Erasmus: (smugly) “So, I was right…”


That said, since metaphysical evil is opposed to God’s will and character, here He is only a, or even “the” cause (i.e. “efficient cause”) of this Fall and its continuing fallout in the most irrelevant sense possible.

At the same time, back to this point: God did set up creation, with consequences built-in for pushing against it, and in this sense, might be said to be both an indirect and more direct participatory cause of this or that instance of harm-evil. This “system,” of course, is not like the “deist’s clock,” and yet we might justifiably say that “it” is going to “work” like this or that when you mess with it (as God shows us, by revelation or general experience).

This will then involve God issuing certain warnings, or, in some cases, even threats. These threats are made out of concern for the beloved, as threats are made in coordination with [or in harmony with] everything that the Lawgiver has created. In other words, this is what we might reasonably call a specific kind of coercion that takes into account creation’s intrinsic social and material limits/constraints, which are “built-in” precisely in order to allow for things like trust, loyalty and love to grow (I’ll say more about this in an upcoming post about three kinds of coercion).

Think you know better?


When this is resisted, both spiritual and physical death are the inevitable result, as well as issues like pain, tears, and thorns as well.

This also will involve things….

  • …like particularly evil persons deciding to commit evil acts against us for the sheer pleasure of doing so, even as this might also, in some cases, be related to things…
  • …that the world might call “natural consequences” (Eastern: “karma”) for this or that action (this would include God “giving us over” to sin, to let our actions run their course and reap their rewards).
  • There are also consequences for sin where God clearly actively punishes in this or that case (Sodom, Exodus, Flood) or consequences associated with what the world calls “natural evil” (i.e. storms, famines, droughts, etc.), and these might be particular punishments (as Scripture revealed of this or that situation) or understood more generally…
  • …like, for example, all manner of personal maladies contained in the wider “problem of evil,” like the man born blind whom Jesus said was not directly responsible for His situation, people born with this or that genetic malady, physical or mental disability, or even predisposition to this or that kind of sinful desire, sin, etc.
  • For example, a person who identifies with and desires to become the opposite sex has a disordered sinful desire…

Hence, regarding those last two points, very much on many minds today, what Scott Stiegemeyer says is true: “Satan attacks sexuality with such intensity because it is the conjugal union of man and woman, which is God’s most powerful image in the world. Unable to strike God himself, the enemy strikes God’s image!”

Appropriate connection? In what sense?: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'”


We need to get this most difficult of situations and questions right, pastorally and otherwise. More on this kind of matter on tomorrow, in the final post of “American Christianity’s Fatal Flaw: Failing to Fully Appreciate All the Ways God is Good”

Our God, of course, not being captive like the world’s false gods, is strong enough to save….

Luther on gods not strong and free enough to save: “the Gentiles have asserted an inescapable fate…for their gods” who “cannot foresee future events or are deceived by events.”




Note: an earlier version of the post had the confusing had some mistakes in the beginning, which have since been fixed. : )

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Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Uncategorized