Christ "Pitched His Tent" Among Us

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In a pivotal verse of the Fourth Gospel's prologue, the Apostle John writes,"The Word middle_eastern_tentbecame flesh and lived for a while among us" (John 1:14 NIV). Lying behind the italicized words is the Greek verb skēnoō, one member of a whole group of words that share the root skēn- ("tent"). This root is the origin of our word 'scene'--the original scenery in plays was made of canvas, just like tents. The NIV translation attempts to convey the temporary nature of a tent dwelling by adding to 'lived' the phrase 'for a while.' But is transient the symbolism intended in this passage?

A couple of times in the New Testament, a skēn- word does have this transitory connotation. For evample, in 2 Cor. 5:1,4, Paul uses 'tent' (skēnos) to describe the mortal human body in contrast with the immortal resurrected body, which he calls a building. Likewise, Peter can refer to his own physical body as "this tent" (skēnōma, 2 Peter 1:13-14).

But at other times, the temporary aspect seems to be lacking. Besides John 1:14, all of the other occurrences of the verb skēnoō occur in the Book of Revelation, and those contexts can help us to clarify the meaning in John's prologue. Rev. 7:15 says that the martyrs serve God day and night in his sanctuary and that "he will spread his tent" over them. The significance is shelter, protection. Rev. 12:12 and 13:16 refer to those who "dwell" (literally "tent") in heaven. Rev. 21:3 once more refers to God, whose "tent is with people, and He will dwell with them."

Of all of these verses from the Apocalypse, we must ask whether their contexts indicate a temporary housing situation. The answer is consistently no. The shelter God gives to the martyrs is permanent (7:15). Those in heaven are there permanently (12:12 and 13:6), and Rev. 21:3 is referring to the permanent communion of God with His children, as confirmed in 22:5's "forever and ever."

The nouns in the skēn- word group sometimes lead us in the same direction, for Jesus counsels his hearers to "make friends for yourselves with unrighteous Mammon [money] so that when it is gone, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings (pl. of skēnē)." Impermanence is certainly not the point here. In Acts 7:46, Stephen speaks of David asking to find "a dwelling [literally, 'tent' skēnōma] for the God of Jacob." In the next verse, Stephen says Solomon was the one who built a house for Him. The context seems to make 'tent' and 'house' synonymous.

So what is the meaning of skēnoō in John 1:14? If impermanence is not the point, what is? Another possibility arises from the use of 'tent' in the Synoptic accounts of the transfiguration. Peter, seeing Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, offers to build three shelters (literally, 'tents'--pl. of skēnē) for them (Mark 9:5; Matt. 17:4; Luke 9:33). Peter's motivation seems to be the opposite of impermanence; he wants to prolong the meeting. His purpose was to facilitate the fellowship the three were having by giving all three of them some shelter from the elements.

This idea of sharing a common existence may be the point of John 1:14. All human beings among whom Jesus came have pitched their "tents," and Jesus did too. He came to be, not just among them, but also one of them.

Nor is this a temporary identification. His oneness with us, begun in the virginal conception, continues through all eternity. At the resurrection, He received a transformed, immortal, glorified body--His flesh became incorruptible, yes, but it was, and is, still flesh. Jesus became human, became one of us, and He remains human, remains one of us (2 Tim. 2:5--the man Jesus Christ is [present tense] mediator between God and humans; see also Phil. 3:21). It is a profound mystery, but one of the wonders of redemption.

Want to go deeper?

ckauborne_radicalRecommended to purchase:

Millard J. Erickson. The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (1991).

The church first answered conflicts over the deity and humanity of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. But Erickson finds Chalcedon's definition too narrow and negative a response to the "Christs" of liberation, feminism, blackness, functionalism, universalism, and postmodern theologies, among others. There must be a new Chalcedon - a doctrine that confesses what Jesus is not, but also affirms all that He is. The Word Became Flesh returns the theological discussion to what Christ said about himself and what Scripture deems important to stress. Erickson is a research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His Ph.D. is from Northwestern University, with postdoctoral studies at the University of Munich.

Recommended for online reading:

Wayne A. Grudem. "Jesus Will Be a Man Forever," 542-543 in his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994).

Steve Singleton,
Subscribe to feed

Hyperabundantly: Paul's Challenge to Move Beyond

Friday, October 23, 2009

In three passages Paul uses a very unusual Greek word. The adjective perissos, perissē, perisson means "abundant" or "going beyond" what is necessary (e.g., John 10:10). If you prefix the preposition ek to it, you intensify the meaning, yielding the adverb ekperissōs, "excessively" (e.g., Mark 14:31). Add another prepositional prefix, this time huper (meaning with the accusative, "over and above, beyond" the source of our word "hyper"), and you rocketintensify the word even more, resulting in the adverb, huperekperissou or in some manuscripts huperekperissōs, defined in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker lexicon (840) as "quite beyond all measure," adding "(highest form of comparison imaginable)."

Paul uses this adverb twice in First Thessalonians. While expressing his intense concern for the welfare of the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul says in 3:10 that night and day he is petitioning (God) beyond all measure for permission to see them again. What is the adverb expressing about Paul's prayers? Is it the frequency with which he makes this request, or the intensity and depth of passion he infuses into each one of them. Perhaps we do not have to choose between the alternatives, for the one certainly goes with the other, at least when the Apostle Paul is concerned.

Then near the end of the epistle, Paul tells his readers how they should treat their leaders: "Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work" (5:13). The word "highest" falls short of expressing the degree of amplification that huperekperissou conveys. Paul is speaking of a respect that borders on reverence, conditioned of course by his description in the previous verse of the work these leaders are doing: "they are laboring among you," connoting strenuous effort.

Years later, Paul wrote Ephesians, concluding the first half of the epistle with this doxology: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen" (3:20-21). God's ability to work through us, His power at work within us, Paul says is limitless. It is, as the King James Version says, "exceeding abundantly above" the limits our small minds place on it.

God's hyper-abundant power was what was at work within Paul when he offered those 24/7 hyper-abundant prayers for the Thessalonians. And Paul was hopeful that the same hyper-abundant power would work among them as they paid hyper-abundant respect to their hard-working leaders.

That same power is available to us today. It is a power that bursts through all barriers we would place on it, that stretches any confines, and that challenges us, rather than resisting its dynamism, to "go with the flow" and become radical Christians. It inspires us to invest our brain power, our passions, our muscular force, our time, money, talents, interest, and our imagination--to intensify what we are doing for Christ. By the word "hyper-abundantly," Paul urges us to step it up, not a notch, but peg it out, all the way to the top and beyond.

Want to go deeper?

ckauborne_radicalRecommended to purchase:

Shane Claiborne. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (2006).

During college, a professor remarked, "Being a Christian is about choosing Jesus and deciding to do something incredibly daring with your life." Taking up that challenge, Shane's faith led him to dress the wounds of lepers with Mother Teresa, visit families in Iraq amidst bombings, and dump $10,000 on Wall Street to redistribute wealth. This book challenges you with a radical Christianity passionate for peace, social justice, and alleviating the suffering found in the local neighborhood and distant reaches of the world. Live out your faith with little acts of radical love as you join the movement of God's Spirit into a broken world.

Recommended for online reading:

Charles H. Spurgeon. "Paul's Doxology," 661-672, in his Metropolitan Tabernacle Sermons, vol. 21 (1875).

Steve Singleton,
Subscribe to feed

Truthing One Another in Love

Sunday, October 18, 2009
When Paul wanted to explain to the Ephesian Christians what it means to reach maturity in Christ, he uses a term that strictly has no English equivalent. Instead of sincere womanthe Greek noun for "truth," alētheia, he employs the corresponding Greek verb, alētheuō, which literally translated would mean "to truth someone."

I suppose you could translate it "to tell the truth" or "to speak the truth," which is in fact the translation we encounter in most English version of this verse, Eph. 4:15: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ." But it's possible that "truthing one another" means something more.

Alētheuō might suggest communicating truth in all of the others ways besides just words, such as (to name a few): body language, intonation, facial expression, actions (which "speak louder than words"), intentions, attitude, and spending habits ("put your money where your mouth is"). In his article on truth for the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, A. C. Thiselton comment about the use of alētheuō in Eph. 4:15: "It is possible that alētheuō here entails integrity of life in addition to truthful speech" (3:887).

Look at the context. In contrast to the charlatans who, in their cunning and craftiness, deceive people with their teaching, Paul anticipates a time when Christians have the maturity to be so open and honest with each other, they "truth" one another--they invest all that they are in what they are saying. Their sincerity is unimpeachable.

The only other time this verb occurs in the New Testament is in Gal. 4:16, where Paul asks, "Have I now becoming your enemy by truthing to you?" Once more, the idea in context suggests telling the truth in a that goes far beyond words. The Galatian opponents of Paul were telling lies to win over his converts. Paul refused to mince words; he truthed them. This was the best proof he had that his deep friendship with them was unbroken.

God wants all of His children to "truth" to one another. He wants us to be honest through and through, to have a unquestionable consistency between our lip, our heart, and our life. That's what it takes to reflect the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, who once "truthed" this: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

Want to go deeper?

Do you own Bible word study on the related terms "truth" and "true." When does "true" actually mean "real," and when is it closer to "faithful"? You will discover some great texts, like John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." What does Jesus mean by this promise? Is He speaking about truth in general, or some specific truth? Ask probing questions of other verses you will find.

berger_truthRecommended to purchase:

Daniel Berger. Speaking the Truth in Love: Christian Public Rhetoric (2007).

Approaches public communication from a liberal arts point of view and provides a distinctly Christian perspective of rhetoric. Written and oral rhetoric are interwoven throughout the text. Two foundational ideas control the majority of the text. The first is from Plato's Phaedrus as stated by Paul in Ephesians 4:15, "speaking the truth in love." The second is from the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:11, "if anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."

The spiritual responsibility of communicating truth in accordance with the nature of God, especially the virtue of love, is an awesome privilege and opportunity. Sound content spoken or written eloquently with charisma will enable words to have a maximum impact. Beginning with a philosophy of language, meaning, and interaction, argument is built against secular deconstructive thought where everyone has a different truth based on language. Alongside philosophy we explore ethics and theology from an evangelical perspective. Following this a brief history outlines rhetorical thought from pre-testament classics to today. Based upon these ideas we take a closer look at communication theory as it relates to public communication.

Recommended for online reading:

Henry Ward Beecher. "Sovereignty & Permanence of Love," 117-134 (esp. 121), in his The Sermons of Henry Ward Beecher in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn (7th series, 1871-1872).