Rejoice, though we are suffering now, God is faithful to bring us through it for the sake of the gospel and for His glory. If the book of Philippians were to be summed up in one sentence, this would be it. Over the course of four short chapters, these five themes continue to get played out in multiple ways and scenarios. First, we should rejoice or have joy (1:3-4, 1:18, 2:2, 2:18, 3:1, 4:4, 4:10). The second theme is suffering and humility (1:7, 1:12-14, 1:21, 1:29-30, 2:3-8, 2:17, 2:26-27, 3:7-10, 4:14). However, even through this suffering, God is faithful (1:6, 2:9, 2:12-13, 3:10-16, 3:20-4:1, 4:7, 4:13, 4:19). The fourth and fifth themes are the advance of the gospel (1:5-7, 1:12-18, 1:27, 2:10-11, 2:15, 2:22) and the glory of God (1:11, 2:11, 3:20-21, 4:20).
With the above thesis in mind, the book can be divided into four parts: greetings (1:1-2), primary thesis (1:3-2:17), personal examples (2:18-4:3), and his summary with concluding remarks (4:4-23). The primary thesis can be further broken down into five parts: 1. I rejoice that God is faithful (1:3-11), 2. I have suffered that all may know God’s glory (1:12-26), 3. Let your suffering be that all may know God’s glory (1:27-2:4), 4. Christ humbled himself that all may see God’s glory (2:5-11), 5. You also should rejoice in God’s faithfulness. This section is bookended by three statements found at both the beginning and the end in chiastic form.
A. I thank God for you.
B. You have been faithful from the first day until now.
C. He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.
C1. It is God who works in you for His good pleasure.
B1. You should hold fast until the day of Christ.
A1. You should rejoice and be glad with me.
Philippians 2:6-11 is the keystone for the entire book and is one of the best short summaries of the core theme of the entire Bible. This passage describes the kenosis, or self-emptying, of Christ and it is often called the “Christ hymn.” Many scholars believe that Paul was quoting a hymn already in existence and well known throughout the Christian world at the time of his writing. If this is accurate, then one could argue that this entire epistle is built around what a practical application of that hymn would look like in his world. This is just as relevant for us today and one of the best books I have read in the past year was also built entirely around this hymn. This hymn is also a chiasm with the central idea being the death of Christ.
A. Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
B. He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
C. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
B1. Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name above every name.
A1. So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… to the glory of God the Father.
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul uses his own personal experience as a model for how we can “have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (2:5, NLT) Although he had a reason for confidence in the flesh, he did not consider it “a thing to be grasped” (2:6, 3:3-6). Instead, he considered everything “as loss for the sake of Christ” (2:7, 3:7-9). Paul wants to “become like him in his death” (2:8, 3:10-11) in order that he might “attain the resurrection” (2:9, 3:11). This is not yet complete in him but he “presses on” until the day that it will be (2:10-11, 3:12-14). Like Paul, this is something we should all strive for with every fiber of our being until that day finally comes.
 Unless otherwise noted, all references and quotations are from the English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
 Jeff Kennon, The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking On Christ’s Humanity, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021).
On August 15, in a small town near Aleppo, Syria, a terrorist hid a bomb on a motorcycle. The explosion only killed one but plenty of other damage in the busy market area. On August 14, just outside a small city in Afghanistan, a Taliban attack killed five and injured five others. On August 13, in Southern Thailand, a bomb placed by Muslim insurgents went off killing one and injuring three others who were providing security for that school against just such threats. On August 12, over sixty policemen are injured in a riot in Banguluru that started over a Facebook post mocking Muhammad. The same day in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed four and injured sixteen others.
Such events are regular, daily occurrences. They have become so commonplace that for the most part they rarely even get noticed outside of local news sources. But they are there for those who would look. It is news stories like these that prominent political Christians like Pat Robertson point to when they say that “These people are crazed fanatics, and I want to say it now: I believe it is motivated by demonic power. It is Satanic…” It is also what would prompt Jerry Falwell Jr to encourage his Liberty students to carry concealed weapons to class to prevent a potential Muslim terrorist attack saying, “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
Suspicion and distrust between Christianity and Islam are as old as Islam itself and its modern form is certainly not unilateral. Modern Muslim voices will point to such statements and conflate them with the efforts of modern missionaries in Muslim areas as the cause and the reason for terrorist activities. Heather Sharkey, on an article about Muslim responses to Christian evangelism, writes, “By dwelling on conflict and on omnipresent Christian threats, and by invoking a persistent language of battle and siege, they produced narrative jihads that asserted an inevitable war of civilizations between the Islamic world and the West.” She states that these Muslim apologists paint missionary efforts as a form of Western imperialism and that the primary motive of these missionaries is to “plant doubts in the minds of Muslims… about the capacity of Islamic society for social progress, development, and relevance in the modern world.”
As bad and as deep as such suspicion between these two sides are in our modern era, there have been moments in the past when it was much worse. It is not near as bad as the time of the Crusades where Muslim armies were knocking on the gates of Constantinople and Muslim ships were seeking to dominate the Mediterranean while European armies were fighting to retake Spain and the Holy Lands. It is also not as bad as it was a century ago when a dying Ottoman Empire sought the genocide of the Armenian people and the Muslim Brotherhood began to take root even as European empires turned much of North Africa and the Middle East into subject colonies.
Yet even in such terrible times, there have been models of another way. Even as Crusader armies marched out for blood and glory, St Francis of Assisi hitched a ride with them not to fight for his faith but to talk, and to witness, and possibly to die for his faith. While others sought by conquest to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, Ramon Lull went to learn from them that he might better understand how to reach them with the gospel. And while colonization, war, and genocide were pitting the Ottoman Empire against the West, Samuel Zwemer went to serve first in Iraq, then Arabia, and finally Egypt. In an era of hostility between Islam and the West, the lives of men like St Francis and Ramon Lull, among others, provide an example of how we today can bring the gospel to the modern world.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Long before ever joining the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis had grown famous for his dramatic conversion, his calling by God to “repair my church”, his vow of poverty, his work among lepers, and his founding of two orders (the men’s Order of Friars Minor and women’s Order of Saint Claire). All of these works, as well as his outreach to Muslims, stems from the same guiding principle. Michael Cusato says that Francis’ primary insight in life was, “that all men and women, without exception, were creatures created by the hand of the same Creator God; that all men and women, without exception, were human beings endowed with the same inestimable dignity and worth innate to God’s creatures; that all men and women — again, without exception — were offered die same promise of grace and salvation through the love of God in Christ ]esus.”
His efforts among the Muslims
Francis is perhaps most famous for joining the Fifth Crusade, but this was not the first time he attempted to go out to witness to the Muslims. Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, writes that he first “wished to take a ship to the region of Syria” back in 1212, but bad weather aborted the mission and they were forced ashore in Slovenia. Later he tried to go to Morocco “to preach the gospel of Christ to the [Emporer] Miramolin and his retinue,” but sickness diverted the mission to Christian Spain.
These early failures did not deter him. Finally, “Francis went to Damietta in support of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), desiring to convert the Muslims and, failing that, to suffer martyrdom at their hands.” We do not know exactly what transpired or what was said during this time, but we do know that St Francis crossed the lines from the Christian to the Muslim camp, he obtained an interview with the Sultan, and then Francis was allowed to stay among the Muslims for nearly three weeks before being given safe passage back to the Christian side.
With regard to what transpired during his talk with the Sultan, there are conflicting accounts. Jacques de Vitry, the Patriarch of Jerusalem who was with the Crusaders wrote that the Sultan, “asked Francis to pray for him so that God might show the sultan the path that would be most pleasing for him to follow.” His official biographer, Celano said, “the sultan listened to Francis and invited him to dwell in his land. He also granted to him and his friars the possibility to visit the Holy Sepulchre without paying any toll.” Another biographer, Ugolino da Montegiorgio, says that “after the encounter with Francis, the sultan granted him and the friars the privilege to preach wherever they wanted and gave them a sign to guarantee their safety wherever they preached.”
His Franciscan Legacy
Although this last is the most unreliable of the three accounts listed here, it does at least in part reflect what actually did happen. Within the next fifteen years of this interview, official Papal permission was given for the establishment of Franciscan missions in Damascus, Aleppo, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Konya, Asia Minor, Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Acre. At this point, the Pope was probably tired of signing a new decree every few months because, in 1238, a bull was passed giving blanket permission for the Franciscans to go out “into all the territories of the pagans and Saracens.”
Francis did not just go out among the Muslims himself, but he made sure that this going would be ingrained into all who would follow. MacEvitt writes, “By including an entire section in both rules devoted to it, Francis made clear that he saw the mission to the infidels as a fundamental part of the Franciscan calling and sought to ensure that his brothers shared his values.” There are many Franciscans who did follow in his footsteps. Among those who went out to be a light in Muslim lands, two things seemed to be held in common. Unlike Jesuit, Dominican, and other orders, the Franciscans were often at first welcomed. This was true right up until the apex of Ottoman rule. Istavan Toth says that after the conquest of Hungary by the Turks, all presiding bishops were forced out. Into this vacuum, Franciscans who were already serving in other parts of occupied Southeast Europe came in to make up the lack. He adds that it was not just in Hungary but throughout the Balkans that the “Franciscan order was the only Catholic institution to be tolerated by the Turks.”
But this official welcome that began with Francis’ interview with the Sultan, and continued with the “pleasant experience of the friars in Egypt” and continued for the most part right up until 1683 when “the Turks turned against the Franciscans. In their ruthless anger, they destroyed most of the monasteries, forcing the friars to flee,” was only one half of the story. The governments welcomed or at least tolerated the presence of Franciscan missionaries, but they certainly did not welcome the message these Franciscans brought. As long as the Franciscans ministered to the local dhimmi Christians, they were supposedly left alone. The minute they would attempt to share the truth with Muslims, they were persecuted, imprisoned, and quite often killed. As Samuel Zwemer notes, “Islam, from the earliest times and according to the teaching of the Koran, has always made it extremely easy to enter the Moslem brotherhood, and extremely difficult for those who once enter its fold to find exit.”
There are official Franciscan hagiographical accounts of many early Franciscan martyrs. MacEvitt writes of five who died in Morocco in 1220, seven more there in 1217, two were beheaded in Valencia in 1231, several groups during the Mamluk conquest of Palestine and Syria, four in Bombay, India, in 1321, and two who died in Grenada in 1397. In addition to these official accounts, we also have a record of Franciscan martyrs in Cueta and Marrakesh in 1232, four friars who were killed witnessing in Jerusalem in 1391, a group of seven in Armenia in 1314, and countless others in the well-documented history of Franciscans in Ottoman occupied Europe where it was said, “Franciscan habits were a popular decoration for the horse clothes of the Turks.” These are courageous men of God who embodied the mandate in the Regula Prima for those who would go out among the Muslims: “they have given themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. For love of Him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible.”
The most influential of these Franciscan martyrs is Ramon Lull. He was born in a part of Spain recently reconquered by the Christians to a father who fought in those armies that retook the land. So all around him, as he was being raised, the buildings, people, and culture of Islam would still have had a significant impact. Like Francis, Lull was at first a person of the world. He was an immensely popular poet and Adolph Helfferich called him “the founder of the Catalonian school of poets.” Regarding his intellectual pursuits, Kent Eaton has called Lull, a “philosopher, poet, novelist, mathematician, theologian, scientist, physician, mystic, astronomer, and the inventor of the mariner’s compass.”
After a series of visions, he dedicated his life to God’s call. Lull then spent nine years in a Franciscan cell in preparation before venturing out into the passion and vocation that would consume the rest of his life. For the remainder of his days, Lull pursued three primary goals: “First, the propagation of the Faith among non-Christians with the hope of gaining the crown of martyrdom… Second, the writing of a definitive book to prove the logic and superiority of Christian doctrine, especially when compared to Islam… Third, the founding of missionary schools to teach oriental languages and culture.”
The second of these was the first one that he first set out to tackle. In 1275 he completed his first edition of Ars Major. This would be revised and updated in 1305 as Ars Generalis Ultima in Latin and The Book of Contemplation in Arabic. With this book, Lull sought to cover all knowledge so that all people, specifically all Muslims, would know God’s truth. This book is a product of its times and Lull shows he was influenced by Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rashid (Averroes) just as Aquinas and all of the scholastics were. Lull was a student of these great Muslim Philosophers as well as Al-Ghazzali (Algazel). He studied them so that he might engage those who were dominated by their thought. As Zwemer puts it, Lull “met these Saracen philosophers on their own ground… His object was to undermine their influence and so reach the Moslem heart with the message of salvation.”
It was only a year after Lull first completed an edition of Ars Major that he also began to fulfill his third goal. In 1276, his first missionary school was opened in Miramar. This school was ahead of its time in that it taught the perspective missionaries both geography (or what would more likely now be called Global Studies) and Arabic. It took another 35 years, the petitioning of multiple Popes, and finally an appearance at a Church Council, but ultimately in 1311, he also received permission to establish Arabic language studies at “the universities of Paris, Salamanca, Oxford, and in all cities where the Papal court resided.”
It wasn’t until he was in his late fifties that Lull finally embarked on his first and greatest of goals. It wasn’t until 1291 before Ramon Lull first set out for Tunis. At this time Tunis was the capital of the Western Arabic world. Since the fall of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols, it was probably the most important and influential city in the Muslim world. When Lull arrived at Tunis, he invited the ulema, the Muslim literati to a debate. He claimed to have studied both sides of the argument and that if he could be convinced, he would convert to Islam.
As was usual for such events, there was no clear winner and although a long time was spent in discussion and debate, nothing major was accomplished. One thing Lull did learn from this and that he would focus much of his efforts on teaching later was what he perceived as the two weak points of Muslim theology: the “lack of love in the being of Allah, and the lack of harmony in his attributes.” This author has also found in his own witnessing efforts that the love of God needs to be highlighted. It is nonexistent in Muslim theology and incomprehensible to the Muslim way of thinking. Peter Venerable, wrote an endnote on his translation and commentary of the Quran, “I attack you not, as some of us do, by arms, but by words, not with force, but with reason, not in hatred, but in love. I love you, loving, I write to you, writing, I invite you to salvation.” This could also excellently sum up Lull’s approach and heart.
Although this first debate seemed to accomplish little, Lull’s continued efforts did create both converts and controversy. Soon jealous Muslims convinced the Sultan to imprison and execute Lull. He was put in prison but the death sentence was commuted to banishment. Despite this, Lull managed to escape from custody and continued to work in hiding in the port town of Goletta for three months before finally taking a ship to Naples.
Lull would set out again nearly a decade later in a series of missionary journeys. He went to Cyprus to witness to both Jews and Muslims there. He then crossed over to what is now Southeast Turkey (Iskenderun and Antakya) and Northern Syria (Aleppo). He went to Armenia to witness to “heretic Christians” as well as Muslims. And finally, he went again to Algeria and Tunis. Finally, he returned once again to that city in 1315. This time, he did not escape death. An angry mob that could not defeat him with words picked up stones instead. Some accounts say he died immediately and his body was carried home by friends. Other accounts say his friends helped him escape the mob but he died on the return journey to his home in Majorica. Either way, his body returned and was buried there.
Stephen Neil writes, “Ramon Lull must rank as one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church. Others were filled with an equally ardent desire to preach the Gospel to unbelievers, and if necessary to suffer for it, but it was left to Lull to be the first to develop a theory of missions – not merely to wish to preach the Gospel, but to work out in careful detail how it was to be done.”
Francis, Lull, and the Saint’s entire order are an excellent example of finding a way of love in a world of hostility. They did not compromise their message. Zwemer said of Lull, “The office of the cross is met everywhere in Lull’s argument with the Muslims.” But this message of truth was couched in love. In what some scholars believe to be Francis’ farewell address before heading out on the Fifth Crusade, he said, “My brothers, one and all: let us pay close attention to what the Lord says: ‘Love your enemies’ and ‘do good to those who hate you,’ for our Lord Jesus Christ, whose footprints we must follow, called his betrayer ‘friend’ and willingly offered himself to his executioners. They are indeed our friends who unjustly inflict on us distress and anguish, shame and injury, sorrow and punishment, martyrdom and death. We must love them greatly for we shall possess eternal life because of what they bring upon us.”
In a time of suspicion of hostility, it is just as important to embody a message of truth and love couched in a language that the Muslim world can understand and identify. As one modern Franciscan has written, “like Francis, we can, while holding fast to the truth of the Christ, enlarge our religious imaginations by trying on the ears of other peoples (to the extent we are able) and hearing the Gospel through them… I hope to be able to participate in the work of making it more familiar to those who have not heard it.”
In a forgotten corner of a hospital in the city of Gaziantep, Turkey, there are about a dozen gravestones collected of missionaries who came to that city… and then died there. In addition to these stones, there is a memorial written by a Muslim in Turkish and English to explain these graves. It reads: “Most of these were transferred here… The inscriptions on these stones point to the many people who, trusting in God, left the country of their birth to serve and befriend the people of Anatolia. Their accomplishments in education and medicine are still with us. Some of them died within a short time of their arrival, others had long and distinguished careers. Whether their lives were brief or extended, they make us pause in this garden of peace and remember that it is God who forgives all sins, who heals all sickness, and who inspires us to selfless living.” This is what was said of missionaries who came to the Muslim world to serve and die following the call of God between 1869 and 1914. What will be said of us today?
The Making of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message is a work denoting the history of a potential crisis point in the Southern Baptist Convention and how it was averted by a reworking of their 1925 statement of faith. In doing so Hobbs and others deliberately obfuscated potentially controversial theological points in such a way that both those of the conservative and liberal wings of the Convention could read and agree with the Baptist Faith and Message.
In the introductory first chapter of Smith’s work, he introduces the reader to the 1925 and 1963 and also the scope and limitations of his work. He introduces the characters, primarily Herschel H Hobbs, who was on the committee whose task was to rewrite the BFM. He also introduces a brief overview of the context of confessional statements of faith and how they were understood by Baptists. This subject would be reexamined in greater detail in chapters four and five.
The second and third chapters provide the immediate context in which the 1963 BFM was written. Chapter two focuses on the theological controversy that was the impetus for the work. The immediate context was the words and writing of two individuals. The first was Dale Moody who had come to realize that an honest examination of biblical teaching points to the fact that eternal security is a false doctrine. Because nothing had been published, when called to task on his statements, Moody was able to backpedal and doublespeak enough to prevent a more serious scandal.
The second individual was not so fortunate. Ralph Elliott had written a controversial work, The Message of Genesis. This work was purported to introduce modern hermeneutical methods into Baptist Academia. What he did introduce was a storm of angst as many more conservative influencers within the SBC called for retractions, Elliott’s removal from his teaching post at Midwestern, and banning the book from being used at Baptist seminaries.
Both of these controversies, especially the latter, exposed a much deeper problem. There was a present and growing divide between what was being taught within the seminaries and what was being preached from the pulpits. The academic world seemed to be adapting to some of the changing contemporary thought by embracing some of it and moving further to the “left”. The pastoral world, however, seemed to be doing the opposite. They were reacting to the apparent liberalization of theology and society by becoming even more conservative. Something had to be done before this ideological gap grew into a split as was happening in other denominations.
In addition to the controversy stirred up by Moody and Elliott, there were many contemporary social issues that also needed to be addressed. The first of these was the Civil Rights Movement. The late fifties and early sixties were a very turbulent time where many great strides towards equality were made in the Jim Crow south. However, these gains were not made without opposition and controversy and this controversy found its way into the churches as well. Two major issues regarding civil rights that were impacting the SBC were the integration of the schools and a visit by MLK Jr to Southern Seminary. Many regional conventions had already called for integration but this move was not universally well-received. In addition, many “pastors” took serious offense to the fact that Southern Seminary had invited Martin Luther King Jr to come and speak. When faced with the threat of losing funding, the seminary felt forced to issue an apology for inviting him.
Another major societal issue was the recent election of JFK as the first Catholic president. They embraced the fact that he had appointed a theologically diverse cabinet, his association with Billy Graham, and his public statements. On the other hand, the fact that many influential Catholics were now calling for federal funding of private schools. This did not sit well with the Baptist ethos of Separation of Church and State.
A third key concern that Smith brings up his book is Communism. Although Berlin and McCarthyism were mostly issues of the past and Vietnam was not yet a full-blown issue, the 1963 BFM was being created in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the moment in history where the Cold War was inevitably looking to go hot. In addition, it appeared that some Baptist missionaries in South America and Southeast Asia seemed to be viewing Communism in a favorable light when contrasted with Catholicism.
In addition to these societal concerns, Smith highlights some theological concerns that were prevalent in the US at the time of the writing of the 1963 BFM. Two of these, the doctrine of scripture and eternal security pointed back to the controversies highlights in Chapter Two by the issues surrounding Moody and Elliott. Two others mentioned by Smith were the doctrine of the church and the role of confessions vs personal liberty. Both of these are addressed at greater length in the following chapters.
Chapter four gives a historical overview of various confessions found in the Baptist past as well as how they were viewed and meant to be used by those for whom they were created. Chapter five looks more closely at Mullins, who was influential in transitioning Baptist thought into the twentieth century as well as in the creation of the 1925 BFM. It also takes this historical view and moves it forward up to the views of the Committee in 1963.
Chapters six and seven look at the actual creation of the 1963 BFM from the formulation of the Committee right through to its final draft. Smith highlights how Hobbs did his best to make sure both sides of the current controversy were well represented. He also shows some of the proposed changes by others who were given early copies of the draft. Wayne Ward’s proposed changes appear to be the most significant while Dale Moody’s were almost completely ignored or rejected.
The book also includes four Appendices. The first two are the Ward and Mercer drafts of the BFM. The third is a comparison of the two, and the final Appendix is a Declaration of Basic Beliefs by James Garrett which also was influential of the BFM.
This work by Smith actually has a larger significance for our time than it would at first appear. At first glance, the book seems to be on the creation of one minor document by one specific denomination at a moment in time when far more significant events were happening in history. However, this group was dealing for the first time with issues that still must be faced today and how they dealt with them can be both positively and negatively instructive for us today.
On the positive side was the way this committee dealt with the theological issues presented by Moody and Elliott as well as the deeper problem the conflict highlighted. From the way Smith tells the story, it looks as though the Committee creating the new BFM did its best to create as broad a base as possible. It also did what it could to make sure as many voices as possible were heard and thoughtfully considered.
In many ways, the exact opposite is happening today without most of us ever realizing it. The content most of us receive both through our internet searches and in our social media can be very different than the content our neighbor might be seeing. These internet companies are using algorithms tailored by our search history as well as what “those like us” are most likely to click. To a large extent, this means that we are more and more reading and seeing things that will only serve to further entrench us in our current way of thinking. In turn, this makes us less likely, or even able, to honestly hear and give consideration to those who might think or believe differently.
It could have been an easy thing for Hobbes and the committee to only listen to the side that most closely aligned with their way of thinking. In reading between the lines, it is clear that there was certainly pressure to do so. But they went against the grain to bring in a diversity of voices and then worked just as hard to formulate their final product as much as possible to be worded in such a way as to be acceptable by as many as possible.
This same impetus which seemed to be wisdom when applied to theological controversy proved foolish when applied to the social controversy of the civil rights movement which was so prevalent at the time. The fact that this issue is barely addressed and largely downplayed both by the Committee and by Smith in his writing of this book is a glaring failure by both.
This has been a major failure throughout the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. Smith speaks of the creation of the SBC with these words, “the SBC owed its birth, in part, to the controversy over slavery over one hundred years prior left its mark on both white and black Baptists in the South.” (Smith, 41) The two words, “in part” make it seem as if other issues played an equal part in the break. In reality, these other issues, like the representation of northerners vs southerners in baptist missions organizations and the structure and polity of the churches also tied back in one way or another to slavery. For example, the reason the Southern churches were underrepresented in missions was because most mission boards refused to appoint slaveholders as missionaries.
This shameful, slaveholding racist past for the most part had been consistently ignored or swept under the rug from the moment of the SBC conception in 1845 right up to the time of the writing of the 1963 BFM. With the civil rights movement being such a large and relevant issue throughout the South at this time, there never was a better moment for this wrong to be righted. Unfortunately, only one sentence was devoted to the issue and even that only obliquely. With regard to man, the first draft proposed to say, “As such he possesses dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love, regardless of race or class.” (Smith, 121) That’s it. Nothing more.
But even this was too much. Even this “bold assertion” was too much and never made it past the first draft. Smith writes that the dignity of man, worthy of respect and love was included in the final statement “because the Committee understood the difficulties attending the Civil Rights Movement.” (Smith, 145) But the words “regardless of race or class” had been quietly omitted. If there was a reason they had been cut, Smith does not mention it. In fact, this review has already spent more time discussing the civil rights issue than Smith does in the entirety of his book.
Considering how large of an issue this was in the 1960’s south, this silence is deafening. Unfortunately, this has been and continues to be a faulty mindset that has plagued the SBC from its conception almost right up to the present. There is an unspoken hope that if the issue is ignored, perhaps it will just go away. This is what the committee did in their creation of the 1963 BFM. It is the same thing Smith did in writing his book. At least some work has been done in the recent past to correct this sinful avoidance. In 2018, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a 71-page document confronting slavery and racism embedded in the SBC’s past. That document, far more than this book, should be required reading for anyone interested in getting a deeper look into the SBC’s past.
Liberty University, Antalya, Türkiye
Jim Peterson wrote this book as a means to foster good communication, specifically through the forgotten art of effective listening. Although he is coming from a background of nearly fifty years of pastoral counseling, what he teaches in this book can be used in every aspect of interpersonal communication.
The book is a combination of three concepts: Flat-Brain Syndrome, the Talker-Listener Card, and a collection of thirty-three listening techniques. The Flat Brain Syndrome is Peterson’s explanation of why people speak or act out of a negative place. In his theory, a person is made up of three parts: emotions (stomach), the heart, thoughts (head). When a person’s emotions are overloaded, this squeezes out the heart and head. The result is a “squished” or “flat” brain that does not speak or think as rationally as it should. When a person recognizes that someone else is speaking out of a “Flat-Brained Syndrome”, they have the opportunity to either respond in kind or break the cycle providing an opportunity to settle the emotions and restore reason. As Peterson writes, “The more you understand people, the less there is to forgive.”
The second part of the book introduces the Talker-Listener Card (TLC). This is a two-sided card that Peterson uses in his counseling as well as a variety of other scenarios. One side of this card shares the Talker’s goals, to own the problem and share their feelings, and also conditions, to talk without accusing, attacking, labeling, and judging. The flip side of this card is for the listener. The listener’s goals are to provide safety, to understand, and to clarify. The listener agrees to listen without agreeing, disagreeing, advising, or defending. About the purpose of this card, Peterson writes, “If we take turns, that is, focus on one point of view at a time, we literally can’t argue.”
In addition to these two parts, Peterson has thirty-three listening tips that run through the course of the book. Most chapters end with one of these tips as well as a page or two of explanation. Sometimes, these tips align well with the previous content of the chapter, but not always. In his preface, Peterson said he placed these tips throughout the book so that the reader can begin practicing them as they read.
He also said in the preface that the best way to read this book is a little at a time with the goal of practicing what is read before moving forward. Obviously, this is not an option in a brief eight-week course, but this is certainly a book worth slowing down and coming back to at a future point.
Two different past conversations came to mind when I was reading through the listening portion of the TLC. Peterson wrote that the purpose of good listening was to “encourage talkers to invite you into their lives”. I have been notoriously bad at listening solely for the point of inserting my life into the conversation. A friend of mine back in my undergrad days gently called me out on this. She pulled me aside and told me that “I always have to have one better.” She pointed out how I always seem to want to “one-up” whatever experience or idea someone else is sharing. This conversation frequently comes to mind when I find myself inserting my story into conversations. I would like to say that I am better and more aware of when I am doing this, but it is still an area in which I can use a lot of improvement. Peterson’s book was excellent at providing tools for how I can improve.
The second conversation came to mind when Peterson wrote about listening without advising. I have recently moved from Gaziantep to Antalya, Turkiye. Shortly before going, I had a last dinner with a friend who was also moving from Gaziantep, but she was planning on moving back to her home in Alexandria, Egypt. When Coronavirus first closed our schools, she asked for permission to leave and do her online classes from there. This permission was denied “in case the school reopens quickly”. Obviously, this did not happen, but also the international flights, which were still open have been closed and were still closed at the time of our dinner. She had a wedding to prepare for and a new home to furnish in Egypt, but she could do none of it because she was still stuck in Turkey.
Together, the two of us got on our phones and searched through all the different ways she could navigate from Turkey to Egypt. It wasn’t until I was reading this book that I realized that what my friend wanted was not a solution but empathy. She is just as smart and tech-savvy as I am (if not more). She could have easily searched through all this on her own, and probably had done so a hundred times. What she needed wasn’t an answer but a safe place to express her frustrations. I love what Peterson wrote about this. “Why do people say advice is cheap? Because it is seldom taken and rarely does any good.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Both the Flat Brained Syndrome and the TLC seem almost too simple to be practical, but they are profound in their simplicity. Just yesterday morning, when I heard someone giving a very cutting remark, the thought immediately entered my mind, “He’s just being flat brained.” James tells us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19 NIV) Solomon tells us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1) These are things I want to do. It is the me I want to see, but there has been a disconnect between seeing and doing.
Knowing and understanding the Flat Brained Syndrome has given me a paradigm through which I might be able to more quickly spot when someone is speaking out of anger. This, in turn, will help me to be able to slow down and give a soft answer rather than simply fanning the flames. Accordingly, responding by alternating feelings and thoughts (Technique #5) looks to be a brilliant way to help the talker work out and work through their heightened emotions. As Peterson wrote, “When you help talkers alternate feelings and thoughts, you help them see how each one affects the other.”
I have already begun working on translating a Turkish version of the TLC. Although I am not currently working with one, I have in the past and almost certainly will in the future be working with an English Speaking Club. This is an incredibly effective means for stepping into the lives and fabric of the community. As I was reading the chapter on using the TLC as a family dinner game, I imagined how it can be simplified and adapted as an activity to be used in a Speaking Club session. Then Turkish language versions of the card can be given to the participants with an explanation of how it can be used in other settings in their daily lives (including their own family dinners). This has the advantage of not only being a creative and fun way for the Speaking group to practice English and get to know each other but also showing how what they are learning at the session can be a blessing to their larger world. This is a prime example of how the church can be a city on the hill and a light to the world.
Beyond this community action step, there is a treasure trove of ways this book can be a blessing in my own life. Honestly, I feel that the entire psychological profession does far more harm than good and my personal experiences and observations of others with a professional counselor have not been good. But I am a mentor. I am currently mentoring on a regular basis two young men, a Turkish home leader, and a Syrian pastor. I have always tried my best to use the Socratic method in my teaching them, but one thing I need to immediately work on is to make a sharper distinction between asking healthy questions and asking what Peterson calls “Perry Mason questions”. This is just one of the many small “aha” moments I had when reading and I certainly plan to come back again after a slower read that the ideas won’t be just that but also applications.
The Bible is authoritative. Most Christians would agree to some understanding of that statement. As N.T. Wright put it, the common understanding of authoritative is “that we are to give scripture the primary place and that everything else has to be lined up in relation to scripture.”
The statement, however, is not as cut and dry as it might seem. It raises two questions. The first of these is, “What is the Bible?” More specifically, who determines what is and is not a part of the biblical canon? The second question dovetails off the first. If any individual, governing body (be it church or counsel), or method determines what is and is not part of the canon of scripture, does not that individual, group, or method have authority over scripture? A Roman Catholic might answer yes. The Church determines what is and is not a part of scripture and therefore the Church takes primacy over the word.
This answer would not be acceptable to most Protestants, but does any other determining factor work better? If the canon is determined by a book’s apostolic origins, does not that place apostolic authority over scripture? If it is determined by the process of history, then does God’s hand in history take authority? None of these is a satisfactory answer for anyone who claims to hold to sola scriptura. The canon of scripture is not based on any historical or community method as an external authority but comes directly from the authority of God through the inspiration, unity, and cohesiveness of scripture and His guidance of the early church in receiving that scripture.
Historical Methods of Determining Canon
There are various different historical methods for determining the canonicity of scripture. These methods generally boil down to two main themes. The first of these is the Apostolic criteria. According to C Stephan Evans, apostolic authority was the primary criteria the early church considered when considering a book’s canonicity. More than inspiration, catholicity, or orthodoxy, it was the “central criterion.” In this view, the gospels and letters of Matthew, Peter, and John are to be accepted because they are apostles. The writings of Mark, Luke, James, and Jude would be accepted as canon because of their close relationship to the apostles and/or the fact that they carried on their teachings. Paul is in some cases in the former category, sometimes in the latter. According to Evans and others holding this view, it is this apostolic authority or connection that carried the greatest weight with the early church when the formation of the canon was being solidified. Even today, apostolic authority is commonly cited as a criterion for determining canonicity. Andreas Kostenberger classifies it as the first of his four criteria for determining canonicity.
Schubert Ogden would disagree with Evans’ assessment. According to Ogden, “key New Testament documents simply reject ‘the norm of apostolicity’ as it came to be understood in the later church and is now appealed to.” Instead, Ogden holds to the second historical view this author is calling the core canon. Ogden refers to it as a canon before the canon. In his article, “The Problem of the New Testament Canon,” Kurt Aland coined a term now commonly used, “canon within the canon.” Aland and those who have taken up his perspective are looking historically not for how the New Testament canonical books were received but rather how they originated. They are looking for the “Q” behind not just the gospels, but within many if not most of the writings of the New Testament.
Evangelical scholars embracing a similar idea are following in Luther’s footsteps. His idea that “Whatever Preaches Christ” caused him to question the validity of James, Hebrews, and Revelation. For Luther, Scripture is the written word only inasmuch as it points to Jesus, the living Word of God. For these pursuing this line of reasoning, scripture has varying degrees of worth based on how directly it teaches us of Christ. Popular examples of this outside of the scholastic world would be Tony Campolo and Shane Clairborne who classify themselves as Red Letter Christians.
Community Methods of Determining Canon
In addition to the two historical approaches to canon creation, there are three other approaches that tend to be community-based rather than historically based. The first of these is the Roman Catholic view. The second is that orthodox churches and leaders created the canon as part of their opposition to heretics like Marcion. Finally, there is the approach of James Sanders and Brevard Childs that the former calls “canon criticism” and the latter calls the “canonical approach.”
The Roman Catholic method can best be summed up by the words of Killian McDonell, “The church, as the body of Christ in history commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Spirit, recognizes the apostolic teaching in the documents that come out of her own history, and makes an authoritative determination of what belongs to the canon and what does not.” So the Church would look at the Gospel of Mark and recognize itself in the words. Therefore it would make an authoritative decision, “This is scripture.” In turn, it would look at the Gospel of Thomas, see something foreign, and authoritatively declare, “This is not scripture.” Obviously, the actual process was a bit messier than that but this is what ultimately happened according to the RCC perspective.
The second community method is the perspective that the orthodox churches pushed forward the creation of a canon as a means of defending itself against heresy. According to Harnack, the formation of the canon was a creative act born out of a response to the heresy and “canon” of Marcion. Bauer and, more recently, Elain Pagels and Bert Ehrman hold a different form of the same view. They would say that there was no true orthodoxy among the early church. Views and writings were theologically diverse and the group that eventually came to hold sway formed the canon as a means of authoritatively declaring what was orthodox and what was heresy. However, this idea has very little grounding in historical fact. Kostenberger writes, “Creedal third and fourth-century orthodoxy are not in opposition to the orthodoxy purported in the New Testament and propagated by the Fathers. It is an organic continuation of what the New Testament writers began without any transmutation of the DNA of the New Testament gospel message which, in turn, is rooted in the Old Testament.”
The final community method is the canonical criticism model. In a sense, this is the opposite of the canon within a canon method we looked at before. Childs would not argue that there was some prototype early form of many of the New Testament writings. He would argue that it doesn’t matter. It is only the later, final form that was embraced by the church at large that should be our source for theology or exegetical studies. According to Sanders the Church, “shaped its various literary units, compiled and arranged its several parts in the conditions received, and continue to adapt its traditions to their ongoing lives.” Childs would add that this “provides the point of standing from which one’s identity with the church universal is made.”
So in these three community methods, we see the church, or the believing community, as the authority of the canon in recognizing itself in scripture, in defending or determining orthodoxy, or in shaping scripture and then embracing it as the identity of the church community. In all of these methods, it is the church that holds authority over the Word. While they each hold value in recognizing the canon as canon, there must be something better for determining the canon of scripture.
God as Authority
It is this author’s position that ultimately, God who has determined the canon of scripture. Our job is not to determine what is or is not canon, but simply to acknowledge what He has done and created. In this sense, “The New Testament canon was closed the moment the last New Testament book was written.”
There are four ways we recognize God as the Authority on the content of the canon. The first is by recognizing the inspiration of scripture. Peter Scaer says, “The Scriptures, in such a view, breathe a kind of divine air. By saying that the Scriptures are self-authenticating, we are drawing upon the words of Jesus when he said, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).” A person does not need to be a lifetime theological scholar with an abundance of letters after their name for this method. Even someone new or unfamiliar to the faith can read the gospel of Mark in comparison to the gospel of Peter and easily see that the former has a quality about it the latter simply does not match. It is both inspired and inspiring while the latter is but a neat little work of fiction.
The second evidence for God’s hand in the canon of scripture is its unity. My undergrad hermeneutics professor used to drill into our class, “The first rule of exegesis is that scripture interprets scripture.” This is true, and it can only be true if there is a theological unity that runs throughout the whole scripture. Christ on the cross interprets how we understand Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53. At the same time, Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 interpret how we understand Christ on the cross in the gospels. Although there might be diverse literary styles, concepts, emphasis in different authors and books, there is a theological unity that runs from Genesis to Revelation.
In addition to this unity, there is also a theological cohesiveness that runs throughout the Bible. Hayden quotes Francis Watson as saying, “The canon is not an anthology, because an anthology cannot be held accountable for the unity or coherence of its contents.” The Bible is not a collection of books. At least, it is not just a collection of books. It is one cohesive story. That story begins in Genesis with the creation of the world. It runs through the fall, the patriarchs, the Exodus and giving of the Law, the Judges, Kings, and Prophets of Israel. It jumps into the New Testament with the Advent, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Then a new community burst from obscurity in an upper room to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Finally, in the last book of the Bible the end will come, all will be judged, and a new heaven and earth will be our home for eternity. No other collection of books written by more than three dozen authors over fourteen hundred years could ever have such a beautifully cohesive narrative that runs without interruption from cover to cover.
The final piece of evidence this paper offers as evidence of God’s authority in determining the canon of scripture is his guiding hand in the process. Even before the canon was closed, writers in the New Testament made it clear that they were writing authoritative scriptures. Paul said that all scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). He also quotes Luke as scripture (1 Timothy 5:18 see Luke 10:27). Peter equated Paul’s writings with other scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). John writes in his epistle that “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us” (1 John 4:6) There are other proofs that could be given, but this makes clear that the New Testament writers understood exactly what they were writing.
Not only the authors but right from the start the early church acknowledged the inspiration of the New Testament. Kostenberger quotes John Barton as saying, “Astonishingly early, the great central core of the present New Testament was already being treated as the main authoritative source for Christians.” Kostenberger then goes on to show how Clement of Alexandria, the Didache, Ignatius, Polycarp, and others among the first generations of Christians all referred to portions of what we now call the New Testament as authoritative scripture.
It isn’t just that these early fathers referred to the New Testament texts, they also used them. There are hints of this already in the New Testament writings of Paul (1 Timothy 4:13) and John (Revelation 1:3). Clement, Papias, and others recommend it in their writings. On this issue, Frances Young writes, “Long before the formation of the canon of the two Testaments, Old and New, or the listing of authorized books that belonged to it, the unity of the Bible and its witness to Christ was the assumption underlying its ‘reception’ by readers and hearers in the ‘public’ assembly of the community.”
As has been shown, the determining factor in what method is used to determine the canon of scripture is authority. If the teachings of the apostolic fathers are our authoritative rule for faith and conduct, then an appeal to apostolic authorship is a legitimate method of determining the canon of scripture. If the church is our authoritative rule of faith and conduct then one or all of the various community approaches are a fine method for determining the canon of scripture. Even if one does not place ultimate authority in the church fathers or the community of believers, these methods all still hold value on a historical and epistemological level. They cannot determine if a particular writing belongs in the canon, but they can help one understand why scripture is canonical.
For those who hold that scripture alone is our authoritative rule of faith and conduct, it must follow that God alone is the authority of what is or is not scripture. We can see what He has authored by recognizing scripture’s inspiration, unity, cohesiveness, and history.
In Peter’s second epistle, the author writes of Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16) It is almost certain that Paul had already passed from the scene when this was written, but one has to wonder how Paul would have felt about the charge. Although he was not the most prolific writer in the Bible, his letters and those that were traditionally believed to be his, have received more scrutiny, been the subject of more sermons, and the topic of more books than any other single author in scripture. Outside of Christ, no single man has had more influence on the shape and doctrines of the church of our day. And yet, two millennia later, we still can come to no consensus on what Paul wrote and believed even on the most fundamental issues.
Birds Four Views of the Apostle Paul is an excellent case in point. In this book, four different scholars from four different backgrounds will tackle what they believe to be Paul’s perspective on four issues: Christ, salvation, the Church, and Paul’s key theological framework. The four scholars who have contributed towards this book are Thomas Schreiner, a reformed baptist, Luke Timothy Johnson, a former Benedictine monk who is writing from a Catholic position, Douglas A. Campbell, whose position is classified as “Post-New Perspective,” and Mark Nanos, a Jewish scholar. Each contributor has written an essay covering the four above mentioned topics, and then the other three scholars have written a short response to that essay.
The Reformed Baptist Perspective
Schreiner opened up his essay declaring right up front that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ demanded that the Old Testament needs to be read in a new way. From his perspective, this is the central framework of all of Paul’s writings and he writes that “those who failed to see that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies were not merely intellectually deficient. Their sin blinded them from seeing the truth of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.” While Johnson and Campbell both stated their agreement with this, Nanos did not. He wrote, “Paul’s own experience puts that conclusion in serious doubt!”
With regard to Paul’s perspective on Christ, Schreiner writes that he is “the heart and soul of Pauline theology.” In defense of this claim, he points to how the sacraments and early church liturgy as well as Old Testament prophesy all point us to Christ. He also points out how our entire lifestyle, be it what we eat and drink, marriage, family, celebration, and everything else we do should be under the Lordship of Christ. He writes, “There is no corner of life, no word or action, that should be carried out apart from Christ. Everything should be done in his name.” Nanos did not make a clear response on this topic, but Campbell and Johnson were both again in clear agreement. Johnson writes, “His account of the importance of Christ for Paul… is impressive.”
The largest segment of Schreiner’s essay revolves around the theme of salvation. He posits a typical reformed view of substitutionary atonement. This view can be summed up in his statement, “Jesus died as the representative of and substitute for his people. Those who put their faith in him are spared from the punishment they deserve.” Almost as an afterthought at the end of this section, he adds, “It is a mistake, however, to conclude that the whole of Paul’s soteriology is encompassed by justification. Paul also describes God’s saving act in Christ as redemption, reconciliation, sanctification, transformation, adoption, victory over evil powers, and so on. We must guard against a one-dimensional reading of Paul that restricts his theology to one metaphor.” This seems a little disingenuous since he spends nine pages on substitutionary atonement and barely gives more than a nod to any of these other Pauline motifs. Both Johnson and Campbell take Schreiner to task on this point. Johnson points out that, “Schreiner’s treatment of sin depends entirely on Galatians and Romans rather than a reading of Paul’s letters as a whole.” And also, “the texts cited by Schreiner are twisted to support his assertions.” This author noticed one glaring example of this when he wrote, “Human beings are by birth destined for wrath” but then quoted Ephesians 2:3 to support this statement. This verse clearly is stating the opposite when Paul says it is because we were, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts” that we were deserving of wrath. This is one of many examples where Schreiner is reading his Reformed Baptist theology into scripture rather than allowing it to speak for itself.
Campbell adds his own critique. He writes that “this model of the gospel clashes with the model that he has already committed to — a model grounded in Christ, God’s love, and election, and that is carried through in the life of the Christian primarily by the Spirit in transformational terms.” He continues, “God’s primary attitude in Christ toward those “on the outside” is, as Schreiner notes, one of engagement and love… However, the Melanchthonian account of the gospel introduced by Schreiner essentially overrules this insight (!), claiming that God’s fundamental posture toward outsiders is punitive.”
With Regards to the church, Schreiner writes, “Paul appropriates terms from the Old Testament to describe the people of God in the New Testament… Such appropriation suggests that it is fitting to say that the church of Jesus Christ is the “true” Israel for Paul.” He brings this back to his central theme again by pointing out that since Paul calls the church the body of which Christ is head, the central focus is on Christ, not the church. In everything and in every way, Christ is the focus of Pauline teaching.
The Roman Catholic Perspective
Johnson begins his essay weighing in on the controversy concerning which letters attributed to Paul belong to him as well as what general insights we can glean from the Pauline corpus. He then states that the key interpretive framework of Paul is built around three religious realities. These are the religious experience of Paul, the religious experience of his readers, and the “complex of traditions and practices of the community already in place when Paul became a founder of churches and writer of letters.” Schreiner is in full agreement with this assessment when he writes in his critique, “Paul’s theology grew out of a powerful experience with Jesus Christ, one that was shared by those in his churches, and Pauline traditions reflect on the significance of that experience.”
Johnson writes much the same as Schreiner with regards to the centrality of Christ when he writes, “It is Christ who inaugurates the new age, indeed the new creation. It is in light of Christ that all previous understandings of God must be evaluated… He is more than simply another human leader; he is “God’s Son,” whose existence carries with it the destiny of humanity as a whole.” Even Nanos gives grudging acceptance to this perspective when he writes, “The overall discussion of Paul’s view of Jesus and the implications for those who believe in him as Christ is wide-ranging and balanced.”
Johnson presents a much more balanced view of Paul’s perspective on soteriology than Schreiner did. He briefly explains five different metaphors Paul used that were “drawn from the social and religious realities of Greco-Roman culture.” These metaphors are: diplomatic, economic, forensic, cultic, and kinship-based. About them, Johnson writes, “No single metaphor is the most important or governs the others.” Even though he, like most reformed theologians, focused primarily on one aspect of soteriology, Schreiner agrees with Johnson that, “Salvation, according to Paul, is multifaceted and hence is unpacked with a variety of metaphors.”
With regard to the church, Johnson writes that “Paul proposes that the role of the church is to be the place in the world where the work of Christ in reconciling humans to God should be realized in practice by the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles and the harmony between male and female.” Nanos reads his own interpretation into this in perceiving that reconciling Jews and Gentiles means that Gentiles, through the community of church are to learn how to live Jewishly while neither becoming Jews nor remaining idolators.
The “Post-New Perspective” View
Schreiner and Johnson both addressed the four issues at stake topically. For the most part, they used a comprehensive view of the entire Pauline corpus to do so. Campbell takes almost the exact opposite approach in his essay. After a brief explanation of what the New Perspective on Paul is, and why he considers himself a “Post-New Perspective” theologian, Campbell turns the remainder of his essay into an exposition of Romans 5-8. This bears a large similarity to another New Perspective theologian, N.T. Wright, who spent a significant portion of his book The Day the Revolution Began on these same four chapters. There does seem to be many echoes of that book in this essay.
With regard to the theological framework of Paul’s writings, Campbell points to three themes: First, the revelation of God to Paul, second, the Triune God who has been revealed, and finally, the mission to which Paul has now been called. Schreiner praised Campbell for highlighting the trinitarian nature of Paul’s thought. Neither Johnson nor Nanos acknowledged it. Both instead chose to dive right into a critique of his Romans 5-8 exposition.
From Campbell’s perspective, the trinitarian nature of God also plays a role both in Paul’s understanding of Christ and in Paul’s soteriology. About the former Campbell writes:
Critical distinguishing features of Christ are that he is, on the one hand, the Son of the Father, and, on the other, the one bound up with the Spirit. To remove either of these two links would disrupt his identity and nature decisively; these relationships are constitutive of his being and personhood. And we learn from this that Christ’s personhood is relational. Christ is who he is because of whom he is in a relationship with.
With regard to salvation he writes, “this triune God is known in an act of redemption as Christ enters into a hostile world to rescue it. This God is saving the cosmos through Christ—and in a humiliating and costly way. Hence salvation, in this sense, is part of the being and identity of God.”
Neither of these topics nor what little Campbell had to say about the church, were addressed at any length. What little he did have to say had to be teased out of his Roman’s exposition. All three other scholars had issues to take with Campbell’s choice to use such a narrow scope of Paul’s writings to make definitive statement’s about the whole. Schreiner wrote, “it is inherently distorting if one privileges these chapters at the expense of the remainder of his writings.” Johnson says much of the same, “Campbell’s decision to eliminate from consideration— and with no real argument for doing so—the first four and the last eight chapters of Romans, goes beyond the idiosyncratic to the irresponsible.” Nanos doesn’t directly comment on this, but among his many references to Paul’s writing in his critique of Campbell’s essay, he does not once quote or refer back to anything within Romans 5-8.
The Jewish Perspective
Mark Nanos’ essay was a difficult one to follow. In the introduction, it was promised, “that each of the contributors would touch on four key areas in their respective essays.” Schreiner and Johnson tackled these topics directly. Campbell hit on them indirectly through his exposition of Romans 5-8. Nanos does not touch on them at all.
He begins his essay with an explanation of why Jews have historically hated Paul. From Nanos’ perspective, this is because those who have interpreted Paul have used a strawman version of Judaism as a counterpoint to contrast his theology. Nanos writes, “Imagine if a religious group presented the values of your group in negative comparative terms while simultaneously claiming to exemplify the ideal values you actually perceive your group to uphold… not only stereotyping your group with values you do not hold, but at the same time claiming to be the “true” version of what your group should be.” Is it any wonder that Jews are not fans of Paul?
Nanos then goes on to present his perspective of who Paul is, but that perspective is completely unrecognizable for anyone who has read Acts and the Pauline epistles. Nanos himself acknowledges that he does his best to ignore Acts in his reading of the Pauline epistles. His view of Paul is a devout Jew who not only never converted from his Judaism but also encourages other Jews to continue in it as well. At the same time, this fictional Paul wants to keep Gentiles from fully proselytizing into Judaism yet to live as closely as possible to the Jewish moral and ritual standards. According to Nanos, “Jews must remain Jews, non-Jews must remain non-Jews. The truth of the gospel that the end of the ages has arrived in Christ, as promised… must be symbolized by the policies and lifestyles of the community of those who confess Christ. They must together practice Judaism as equals within these Jewish subgroups, yet remain different.” In other words, Paul didn’t want gentiles to become Jews only because then God’s promise to Abraham of a “light to all nations” would not be fulfilled. They can’t become Jews, but they must act as though they did.
In his critique, Schreiner acknowledges that Nanos is right that Judaism has often been misrepresented. He then proceeds to pick apart pretty much every other point Nanos made throughout his essay even saying at one point that his “reading is wrong, I would suggest, at nearly every point.” Johnson adds that Nanos’ understanding of Judaism was anachronistic. He was reading into Paul’s time an understanding of Judaism that did not truly come into existence until the third century. Campbell uses much of his critique to point out that most of Nanos’ legitimate complaint against misrepresentation is a necessary byproduct of the reformed, what he calls Melanchthonian, substitutionary atonement model.
Of the four perspectives presented in this book, I am most in agreement with Johnson. This surprised me because I was expecting, going into this to find myself most in agreement with Campbell. While I don’t consider myself fully in the “New Perspective” camp, I do feel that I align much more with N.T. Wright than I do with John MacArthur. That said, I feel that Johnson’s portrait of Paul’s theology was the most accurate and balanced. I have serious issues with a traditional understanding of the traditional reformed understanding of substitutionary atonement upon which Schreiner so heavily leans. Campbell is right in his critique of this view as:
a presentation of Paul’s “gospel” initially as a problem generated by God’s (retributive) justice and a general human failure to obey the law, which self-evidently elicits divine wrath in the form of punishment… This model of the gospel clashes with the model that he has already committed to — a model grounded in Christ, God’s love, and election, and that is carried through in the life of the Christian primarily by the Spirit in transformational terms.
On the flip side, Campbell’s choice to examine the issue using such a narrow window of Paul’s writings (Romans 5-8), left too much unsaid and unexplored. I feel as though I did not get a significant enough explanation of his views on Paul’s perspective of these four key topics to make an informed decision on whether I might agree or disagree.
Johnson presented his position well and in an informed and balanced way. Although I might night nitpick some of his terminologies, like “the energy field of the Holy Spirit,” for the most part I did agree with what he had to say. While we might disagree on other theological issues, with regards to Paul’s perspective on these four key areas, we are largely in agreement.
Of the four essays in question, the one on which I am most in disagreement was with Nanos. I agree with Bird that Paul’s perspective on Christ, salvation, and the church are key issues within Paul’s writings. No significant exploration into Pauline theology can be complete, or even remotely accurate, without at least addressing these issues. And yet Nanos did not even touch on them.
I do agree with him that Judaism has been poorly portrayed in many explications of Pauline thought. I would go so far as to say that if Luther had not been so antisemitic in some of his writings, a Germany with Hitler as its head would never have been possible.
But that is about all I can agree with him on. I do not agree with his view that Paul proudly maintained his Judaism throughout his ministry. Galatians 2 and Philippians 3 both make such a view impossible. I also disagree that Paul strived to maintain as separate and distinct Jewish and Gentile Christ-followers. If anything, he put all his energy into doing the exact opposite. In Christ, there is no Jew nor gentile (Galatians 3:28). In addition, I do not agree with his understanding of the cross when he wrote, “Jesus was executed for being perceived to represent a threat to Roman order, likely because of fears of an uprising in the making. There are several issues here. Among the most important is how the policy of not converting non-Jews into proselytes represented a threat (“offense”) to the Roman ordering of proper social behavior.” The cross was not just a “threat to the social order.” The cross is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18), it is the means of our reconciliation (Eph 2:16), it is my peace (Col 1:20), my freedom (Col 2:14), and Christ’s triumph (Col 2:15). I understand why Nanos would want to downplay its significance, but I cannot even begin to agree.
If one were to look at the sermons found in the book of Acts, it will quickly become clear that there are three key points addressed in each one. It does not matter if it is Cephas or Stephen, Philip or Paul, every message will contain three key issues. 1. Jesus died. 2. Jesus rose. 3. Jesus saves. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul himself stated that these three issues were of utmost importance (1 Cor 15:3-4). If someone is looking for a framework of Pauline theology, this is it. Jesus died, Jesus rose, and Jesus saves.
As to who this Jesus is, Paul has two answers: First, he is Lord. Multiple times, in every epistle except for Titus, Paul refers to Jesus as Lord. In addition to this, since Paul quotes mainly from the Septuagint, it is almost certain that in calling Jesus “Lord”, he is not just calling him our Master, but also our God. Also in every epistle many times (including Titus), Paul also refers to Jesus as Christ. He is the Messiah. He is the Anointed One who has come to redeem his people.
With regard to soteriology, I would agree with Johnson that Paul uses many metaphors and none of these should take primacy over the others. As Goethe has said, “every analogy limps” and any overemphasis on any one of these metaphors can lead towards a distorted view of salvation and the nature of God. From my perspective, Romans 8 best describes the three concepts Paul uses in reference to Salvation. First, there is Justification. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) In archery terms, this is the instantaneous moment the arrow has been released from the bow. Then there is sanctification. “If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of the Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:10-11) Going back to our archery terms this is the movement of the arrow from the bow towards the target. We are predestined to be conformed into his likeness (Rom 8:29) Finally, there is the future moment when the arrow will hit the target. This is glorification. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.” (Romans 8:23-24) Any Pauline understanding of salvation must include justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Finally, with regards to the church, I see in Paul an emphasis on unity through diversity. This can be seen in his discussion on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, there are many parts but one body, many gifts but one spirit. It is also in the Ephesians 4 look at leadership gits, there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God… and many gifts for the building up of one church. The same theme can be found in the Romans 12 look at ministry gifts. “For just as each of us has one body with many members… so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts…” but we are “devoted to one another in love.” (Rom 12:4-10)
When it all comes down to it, this is the point of Bird’s book, Counterpoints. Three Christian scholars and one other from the outside looking in, each have their perspective on what Paul is writing about. Although there is disagreement, this conversation is held with love and respect. As long as each of those Christian scholars has highlighted the centrality of Christ (which they have), then it is completely fine to have disagreements on the peripherals. They each agree that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of the most widely known and used letters in the New Testament. Although there is a modern debate on both the original author and audience, there is no question that as Hoehner writes, “The Letter to the Ephesians is one of the most influential documents in the Christian church.” Specifically, this text is commonly seen as a listing of the leadership gifts God has given to the church. About this list specifically found in verses eleven and twelve, Calvin writes, “The government of the church, by the preaching of the word, is first of all declared to be no human contrivance, but a most sacred ordinance of Christ… Another inference is, that no man will be fit or qualified for so distinguished an office who has not been formed and molded by the hand of Christ himself.” Our periscope, however, is more than simply a list of leadership gifts. In it we see five gifts that have been given to the church for a fourfold purpose. God has given a diversity of gifts that the church might become strong, mature, and united in love and action.
Until recent times, the authorship of Ephesians was never truly questioned. From before Chrysostom (1581) to beyond Coleridge (1830) there was never any serious questioning that Paul was the author. It was not until F. C. Baur and R Boltmann that this fact came into dispute. These men and their disciples claimed that Ephesians uses gnostic terms and ideas. Since Gnosticism came much later, Paul could not have been the author. Although the idea of gnostic influence has been abandoned, some modern scholars still deny the authorship of Paul on five grounds: 1) its theology, 2) its vocabulary, 3) the literary style, 4) its close relationship to Colossians, and 5) it is more impersonal than other Pauline letters. Although it is a truism to claim that most (perhaps as much as 80%) modern scholars deny Pauline authorship, Hoehner makes an excellent case in demonstrating that this is simply not true. By his count, over the past seven decades, it is a pretty even split between those who accept and those that deny it.
We will deal with some of the five reasons for doubt in the next section, but first let us look at five reasons why Charles Hodge, in his commentary on Ephesians, believes we can be confident that the author is Paul.
- The epistle announces itself as written by Paul the Apostle. 2. There is nothing in its contents inconsistent with the assumption of his being its author. 3. All the incidental references which it contains to the office, character, and circumstances of the writer, agree with what is known to be true concerning Paul. The writer was an apostle, an apostle of the Gentiles, a prisoner, one to whom Tychicus stood in the relation of a companion and fellow-laborer. 4. The style, the doctrines, the sentiments, the spirit, the character revealed, are those of Paul. 5. The whole ancient church received it as genuine. As to this point the judgment of the early ages is unanimous.
Some early manuscripts for this letter do not include “at Ephesus” in the first verse. This has led some scholars to believe that this letter was not specifically written to Ephesus but was meant as a circular for many churches. Michael Immendörfer disagrees. In his book Ephesıans and Artemıs he writes, “Ephesians was not written in a vacuum… there are good reasons that the author had a concrete situation in mind, i.e., recipients living in the surroundings of ancient Ephesus.” He goes on to show how many of the unique attributes of Ephesians, like its heavy emphasis on building fit within the thought framework of the city of Paul’s day. He writes, “Ephasus was moved five times… During [Paul’s] time, the subject of city construction was ever-present for the Ephesians, and the building terminology used in Ephesians would have been quite familiar to them.” Immendörfer also points out the use of “capstone” in conjunction with building terminology fits in well with the local legend of how the “capstone” in the Temple of Artemis was placed. Finally, Immendörfer points out that there are seven honorific titles and divine attributes of the goddess Artemis are used in Ephesians of Christ and what he does for us. This makes it clear not only that the book of Ephesians was clearly meant for the city of Ephesus but it also firmly establishes Paul as the author. It not only explains away some of the objections raised against his authorship but also demonstrates the same tactic we see him using in Acts 17 when preaching in Athens.
Date and Location of Writing
With the question of the author and audience settled, we now turn towards the date and location. In Ephesians 6:21-22, Paul writes that he is sending this letter along with a man named Tychicus. He is also mentioned as coming with Onesimus at the end of Colossians (4:7-9). This is almost certainly the same Onesimus who was the subject of the letter to Philemon. So we see that three of the four prison epistles are here linked together. Once we add the fact that Timothy was with Paul for the writing of Philemon (vs2), Colossians (1:1), and Philippians (1:1), there is no reason not to believe that all four epistles were written at the same time and place. Based on this presupposition, Köstenberger writes, “If the letter was written during Paul’s Roman imprisonment, then it dates to around 58-60… Since Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon all appear to have been written at approximately the same time and since Philemon belongs to the final phase of Paul’s imprisonment, a date around 60 is reasonable.”
Internal Canonical Context
This letter to the Ephesians can be divided into two topics: theology (chapters 1-3) and practice (chapters 4-6). Chapter one is a reminder of their spiritual blessings in Christ (1:3-14) and Paul’s prayer that they would receive spiritual wisdom (1:15-23) The second chapter Paul reminds the church at Ephesus how they have been made alive in Christ (2:1-10) and now they have peace in Christ (2:11-22). The third chapter opens with the revelation of God’s mysteries (3:1-13). Finally, this section is completed with a prayer for spiritual growth (3:14-21) which transitions into a plea for spiritual unity (4:1-6). This is where our section picks up with the diversity of gifts given for a unified purpose (4:7-16). Then there are practical exhortations to live in holiness (4:17-32), love (5:1-5), light (5:6-14), and in wisdom (5:15-20). This is followed by practical applications for husbands and wives (5:21-33), parents and children (6:1-4), slaves and masters (6:5-9), and spiritual warriors (6:10-18). The conclusion wraps up with a prayer request (6:19-20), personal greetings (6:21-22), and a benediction (6:23-24).
External Canonical Context
All of the Pauline epistles are situational. They do not merely present theology, but they do so from within a specific context or in responding to a specific need. Some of his letters, like Philippians and Philemon, state upfront what their purpose is or make it very clear through the context. In other letters like Romans and 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a variety of topics and needs. I agree with Köstenberger that the three main themes in Ephesians, “is the need for 1) unity in the church, 2) a distinctive Christian ethic, and 3) vigilance in spiritual warfare.”
Our specific text bears a resemblance both in content and in basic outline with the texts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 that also speak of spiritual gifts. In Romans, we see a three-part structure: 1. We are one body each belonging to the others (Rom 12:4-5). 2. We have different gifts according to the grace that was given to each of us (Rom 12:6-7). 3. Be devoted to one another in love (Rom 12:8-16a) The primary thrust can be seen in the commands that bookend this entire periscope. Romans 12:3 states, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:16b concludes, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
A similar structure is found in 1 Corinthians except that the focus in Romans was on humility in Corinthians it is on changing their outlook or maturing the way they think. We can see this in how Paul opens up the pericope, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols” (1 Cor 12:1-2). Then, after a much longer and detailed exposition Paul concludes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:11-13) In between these two statements we have a similar, but much longer and detailed three part outline. 1) We are one body with many parts (1 Cor 12:4-6, 12:12-26) 2) God has given many gifts to that body (1 Cor 12:7-11, 12:27-31). 3) Love is the most excellent way (1 Cor 13).
In Ephesians we again see a similar three-part outline taking shape. 1. There is one body (Eph 4:1-6). 2. That body has been given a diversity of gifts (Eph 4:7-13). 3. Those gifts are to be used to build the body up in love (Eph 4:14-16). Here in Ephesians, the focus in on all this happens as we, the church, are working together in love (Ephesians 4:2, 4:16).
Ephesians 4:7 – Introduction
As has been said above, the book of Ephesians can be divided into two parts. The first three chapters are theological in nature and chapters four through six deal how the theology presented can be applied. This transition can be seen immediately as Paul urges the church at Ephesus to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1). Paul then tells the church five ways they can live that life. They must be humble, be gentle, be patient, be loving, and keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:2-3). Paul then dives deeper into that unity of Spirit. He lists seven things that unite us. There is one body (the church, see 1 Cor 12:12-13, Rom 12:4-5, Col 1:18-24, etc), one Spirit, one hope (of salvation, see Rom 5:2-5, Rom 8:24-25, 2 Cor 3:10-12, etc), one Lord (Jesus), one faith (see Rom 10:10, Eph 2:8-9, Heb 10:39, etc), one baptism (our response to salvation, see Acts 8:36-38, Rom 6:4, Col 2:12, etc), and one God and Father of all.
After laying this foundation of unity in the Spirit, Paul then transitions into the diversity of gifts. However, this is not diversity for diversity’s sake. As Mbennah writes, “The primary purpose of this section is to call the recipients of this epistle to grow towards the goal of spiritual maturity.” Paul writes in 4:7, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” The words “each one” refers to every distinct individual within a group. Where in 4:4 Paul speaks of the church as a unified body, now it is as though he were pointing out every single individual within that unified whole.
To each one grace has been given. The word grace used here is the same word that is used in John 1:14 when Jesus, “came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This grace is also translated favor when the angel Gabriel says to Mary that she has “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). One chapter later Luke uses it again when he says Jesus grew “in favor with God and men” (2:52). Luke uses the words again when he says that the martyr Stephen was “full of God’s grace and power” and he “performed great signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 6:8) From these three examples, we can see that when Paul is writing about the grace or favor that is given, he is not speaking of a generic gift universally applied but a specific grace given to each individual within the body of Christ.
This is made more clear further on in 4:7. This grace is given “as Christ apportioned it.” The word “apportioned” is used two more times in this periscope. The first of these is in 4:13 where we are “attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” The Greek word disappears in the NIV translation of 4:16, but “as each part does its work” would be better understood “as the measure of each part does its work.” The word “apportioned” or “measure” can be limitless as in John 3:34: “For God gives the Spirit without limit.” Paul also uses it to put a “limit” on his boasting (2 Cor 10:13) It can also be variable. It is the word Jesus uses when he says about judging that “with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt 7:2) The point here is that there is a clear diversity of gifts. These gifts do not just vary in type, as will be seen below, but also in size, or “measure”, or “apportioning”.
Ephesians 4:8-10 – Ascended and Descended
Paul continues on from 4:7 with a quote from Psalm 68:18. However, there are two very distinct differences between Ephesians 4:8 and the Psalm. In Psalms 68 we read, “When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people.” However, in the letter to Ephesians, Paul writes, “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” The first change, two instances of changing “you” to “he” are of minor importance. The second change is significant enough that, according to Frank Thielman, “some scholars think Paul is not quoting scripture at all.”
Two different explanations are offered for why Paul made the changes he did. Both explanations are dependant on how the entirety of 4:8-10 is interpreted. The first interpretation looks at Psalms 68:18 through the lens of Jewish interpretation. In this view, Psalm 68 is celebrating the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Law from God and then descended to give it to the people. In the same way, Jesus ascended into heaven and then the Spirit descended at Pentecost.
In the second view, Paul is not referring to this one verse in particular, but he is using it as a touchstone for referencing the entire Psalm. According to Gary Gromacki, Psalms 68 is a Davidic Psalm celebrating the conquering of Jerusalem and David’s ascent with the ark to the city. In this view, “Paul referenced the first part of Psalm 68:18 to show that Jesus as the Divine Warrior ascended to heaven and has the authority to give gifts because he has won the victory.”
Moulton does not believe there is a need to choose between either of these possible interpretations. He argues that both provide a good interpretive lens through which to view the ascent and descent imagery. He says, “Both would fit the overall context of the letter. Both could have served rhetorically to strengthen the author’s appeal to unity.”
Ephesians 4:11 – Leadership Gifts
“So Christ himself gave the apostles” (Eph 4:11). Normally, when thinking of an apostle, the first thing that comes to mind would be the twelve Apostles. Of course, Paul is included, but some would argue that he is a special case that the gentiles might have an apostle of their own. However, it is clear that the gift of apostleship is much broader than this. Paul claims that he might be an apostle to some, but not to others (1 Cor 9:1-2). He lists Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7) among the apostles showing that it is a gender-blind leadership role. Jesus uses the word when he says that the messenger (apostle) is not greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16). Paul uses the word of “our brothers” who are “representatives of the churches” (2 Cor 8:23). Thielman says that in Paul’s view, the apostles were “probably those who first took the gospel to the Gentiles – people such as Barnabas, Timothy, Silvanus, Apollos, and, preeminently, Paul himself.” He says that “apostles were envoys – people who someone or some group had sent on a specific mission.”
“So Christ himself gave… the prophets” (Eph 4:11). A prophet is someone who speaks a specific word from God to a specific people for a specific time. It is clear that the New Testament role of the prophet was different from that in the Old Testament. The same Agabus who prophesied a famine throughout the Roman world (Acts 11:28) also warned Paul what would happen if he were to go down to Jerusalem. Paul acknowledged the warning, and yet he went down anyways (Acts 21:10-15). Scripture also mentions the four daughters of Philip as prophets (Acts 21:9) demonstrating that this gift, like that of apostle and all the leadership gifts, is gender blind.
“So Christ himself gave… the evangelists” (Eph 4:11). The word for evangelist is only mentioned three times in the New Testament. Philip, the father of the four prophets, is called an evangelist in Acts 21:8. Paul commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). The third use is here in Ephesians 4:11. The word itself means “bringer of good news” and Hodges claims an evangelist someone who is “sent to preach the gospel where it has not been previously known.”
“So Christ himself gave… the pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). There are some who would argue, like Hodge, that “pastors and teachers… must be taken as a two-fold designation of the same officers, who were at once guides and instructors of the people.” This theory is based on two assumptions. The first is that the Greek kai linking the two words designates that they form one group. An example of this could be Mark 15:1 where the “elders and scribes” (KJV) designate one group with two functions. The second reason is that every pastor should be both a shepherd and a teacher. There is one office in the church, but it performs two functions.
This argument falls short on both counts. First of all, not every use of kai necessarily links the two nouns in this function. Just two chapters earlier in Ephesians, Paul links apostles and prophets in the same way and yet he is clearly talking about two distinct groups of people. As for the second point, Harold Hoehner points out that even if all pastors should be teachers, it is clear that not all who are gifted as teachers are also pastors. Thielman claims that “Paul may have intended to imply that ‘pastors’ and ‘teachers’ were overlapping but not necessarily identical groups.
Ephesians 4:12-13 – Purpose of the Gifts
The word translated “equipping” in the NIV is not found anywhere else in scripture. In other translations, the word can be rendered “perfect” (ASV, DARBY, KJV, NKJV, YLT) or “prepare” (ICV, GNT, RGV). How this word is translated depends on how the rest of verse 12 and 13 is viewed. In these verses, there are three prepositional phrases: for the equipping (or perfecting) of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the building up of the body. The first way to view these phrases is that they are parallel. God has gifted apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers for the equipping of the saints, and for the work of the ministry, and for the building up of the body. This view is the traditional view of theologians down through history including Calvin and going back at least as far as Chrysostom.
Support for this view is twofold. First, it fits stylistically with how Paul writes in the rest of his letter. Similar parallels can be found in Ephesians 1:3, 1:20-21, 2:7, 4:13-14, and 6:12. Also, the word “ministry” in “work of the ministry” is often used specifically for preaching or the “ministry of the word”. (Acts 6:4, Acts 20:24, 2 Cor 3:6, 2 Tim 4:5, etc) Thielman concludes this point in saying, “The ‘work of the ministry’ therefore, probably belongs to the five groups listed in verse 11, all of whom fill roles that involve communicating the gospel and its implications to others.” Mbenna opposes this view when he writes, “If the apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers must also do the works of service to build the body of Christ, it would mean that the apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers do all the work and that the remainder of the saints would not be expected to do any such tasks.” This is a weak argument in that it creates a straw man. No modern scholar who holds this view believes that it means the apostles and the rest exclusively do the work of the ministry. They are simply stating that the work of the ministry is one of the three reasons Paul lists for why those gifts have been distributed to the church.
The second view is held by a majority, but not all, contemporary scholars. This view sees these three prepositional phrases not as coordinate but rather as dependent. The work of the ministry is dependent on the equipping of the saints. The building of the body is dependent on the work of the ministry. Thus, these three prepositional phrases denote a progression. Mbenna sums up this view by saying, “This means that the sole purpose of equipping the saints would be for the saints to be capable of, and accustomed to doing the works of service. This is perceived not only as necessary but also as the methodology for ‘building up of the body of Christ’.”
Although this view is in the majority in recent times Thielman, who does hold to this view, claims that some “interpreters suspect the exegesis of the text has been driven more by concerns about the structure of the modern church than by dispassionate scholarship.” Although the former view seems to fit better with Paul’s original intent, a moderate stance on both views are doctrinally true and can stand up to a holistic reading of scripture. Yes, the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher were given for the equipping, the work, and the building. Yes, the entire church should be about the work of the ministry, and the body of Christ is built up when the entire church is about its work. The only incorrect view is one that excludes the other of possibly also being true.
In verse eleven, Paul talks about who receives the gifts. In verse twelve he moves on to what the gifts are used for. In verse thirteen he shares why. Just as there are three actions, equipping the saints, works of service, and building the body, there are also three goals, unity of faith, knowledge of the Son of God, and becoming mature. All three of these goals stem from the first clause “until we reach” and have the end result in mind “attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:14-16 – Result of the Gifts
Paul now turns to the final portion of this periscope on unity in faith and purpose through a diversity in gifts. He will here demonstrate the result of the gifts in action first through a negative example of the weak-minded (4:14) and then through the positive contrast of a mature body (4:15) united in love and action (4:16).
In the negative example of verse fourteen, Paul will mention two things done to the immature and then the three ways false teachers will do those things. He starts out saying, “Then we will no longer be infants…” The word Paul uses for “infants” is the same word he uses in 1 Corinthians 3 when he accuses the “infants” of being divided claiming to follow him, or Apollos, or Cephas. (1 Cor 3:1-4). It is the same word he uses multiple times at the end of the love chapter when he says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” But on reaching maturity, “I put childish ways behind me” (1 Cor 13:11) In Galatians 4 the NIV translates the word as “underage” to describe those “in slavery to the basic principles of the world” (Gal 4:3). Paul then uses two parallel illustrations to demonstrate what happens to these weak-minded “infants” when they are exposed to false teaching. They are “tossed back and forth by the waves” and they are “blown here and there” by the wind. These illustrations bring to mind Jesus’ teaching about the wise and foolish men in Matthew seven and also James’ description of the double-minded man who is unstable in all he does (Jas 1:6-8). Osborne views these weak Christians as “those in a small boat at the mercy of the storm-tossed sea and as a small bird at the mercy of a hurricane. Neither has the strength or maturity to enable it to cope with these insurmountable forces.”
After showing the two things that happen to infants, he then goes into the three ways that false teachers deceive. These false teachers are cunning, crafty, and deceitful. Thielman says that the word translated “cunning” refers to dice playing and infers cheating. He says that Epictetus used the word to talk about those claiming to be philosophers but who lived a life disproving the claim. The word translated “deceitfulness” is used four other times in the New Testament. When the Pharisees and Herodians brought Jesus a coin to trick him, Jesus “saw through their duplicity” (Luke 20:23). Paul uses it in quoting Job when he says God “catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Cor 3:19). He also says that the serpent tempting Eve in the garden was “cunning” (2 Cor 10:13). Finally, he says that those preaching the gospel “do not use deception or distort the Word of God” (2 Cor 4:2).
In verse fifteen Paul contrasts maturity with the negative, weak-minded example he had in the previous verse. In every way, this is a contrast to the verse above. Where false teachers use cunning and deceit, true disciples speak the truth in love. Where fourteen speaks of the immature being blown and tossed about, fifteen and sixteen speak of the mature who are secure as a part of the body, joined and held together.
So Paul says the result of the diversity of gifts is first to be strong (not weak-minded), then to be mature, and finally, in verse sixteen, the body is built up in love, as each part does his work.
God has given to the church a diversity of gifts. As has been shown, five leadership gifts are listed in Ephesians 4:11. Although there might be some overlap, each of these gifts is unique in form and function. An apostle is not an evangelist. An evangelist is not a teacher. A teacher is not a pastor. Each of these gifts has unique ministry applications, but they also serve a unity of purpose. The primary function of all these gifts is that the church might become strong, mature, and united. The strength is seen through the equipping of the saints. Maturity is displayed when the saints partner with the leaders in doing the work of the ministry. Both strength and maturity are displayed as the body is built up.
This is just as true for our time as it was at the time of the writing of the epistle. The world today still needs apostles who are commissioned and sent out on a mission for Christ. The world today still needs prophets who will speak boldly the word of God to specific circumstances faced in our generation. The world still needs evangelists who will bring good news to those that have not yet embraced it. The world needs pastors who will be faithful undershepherds of God’s flock. And the world today still needs teachers who will dive into and then rightly explain the truth of God’s word to all believers. Most of all, the world today needs those of all these gifts working in harmony to build the body of Christ that is united in love and action.