One of the most impactful pieces of biblical scholarship on my own thinking has to be Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works and the Gospel of King Jesus (Baker 2017) by Dr. Matthew Bates. As part of his goal to explain what “faith” is in the New Testament, he provides a wonderfully clear explanation and incisive summary of what the gospel actually is. Over the last couple of years re-examining my own understanding of the faith and trying to determine what are its core tenets, Bates’ summary of the gospel was exactly what I was looking for. It perfectly captured in a clear and concise manner what I had come to consider as the very centrepiece of the Bible and the foundational message of the faith. Now using his summary of the gospel as a template, which you can read here, I have attempted my own below. Continue reading “The Good News in Summary”
When talking about being a citizen of heaven the go to passage is Philippians 3:20. It says literally says our “citizenship is from heaven.” Those who know a little bit more about the historical background of Philippians will know that Philippi was a Roman colony and will make the connection that the kind of citizenship Paul alludes to isn’t about going to heaven but rather representing heaven on earth. These are associations I have made myself in the past and recently however, things are not so simple. Continue reading “Philippian Citizenship?”
In Self-designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge University Press 2011) the author, New Testament scholar Paul Trebilco, explores how the ways early Christians in the Roman Empire identified one another helped form their identity as a new movement. (For more from Dr Trebilco on identity formation go here.) In chapter 5 “The Assembly” (pp. 164-207) he examines the designation “ekklesia”, the Greek word that is usually translated as “church” in English Bibles. The following is a summary of the chapter.
In the New Testament, the word “church” is an insider designation, that is a way Christians referred to themselves among one another. It was not the only mainstream self-designation but it was arguably the most prominent collective designation, especially in Paul. “Assembly”, “gathering” or “community” are actually better translations of ekklesia. Unlike church, which has a lot of religious baggage in its modern usage, ekklesia was an ordinary word for the assembly of citizens in a city for a meeting. (Acts 19:32, 39, 41.) Therefore, it does have political overtones but that was not the primary meaning among believers in the Lord Jesus. Ekklesia was used in a variety of ways but it basically meant a local gathering of believers, usually in what we today would call “house churches.” Even when they were not gathered, the community that gathered was still referred to as an assembly. (Acts 14:27, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 11:18.)
Ekklesia was not the first group self-designation but it was very early. It probably originated from Greek speaking Jewish Christians out of the Septuagint (LXX), that is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Ekklesia was one of the words for the assembly of God’s people. (Deuteronomy 4:10, Judges 20:2, Nehemiah 13:1.) The other synonymous LXX term was synagogue but it was already in use. So they went with ekklesia to identify themselves and also maintain continuity with their Jewish identity. The first Christians were all Jews. Just like with Israel in the Old Testament, each local gathering of Christians, which quickly grew to consist of both Jews and Gentiles, was the assembly of God. (Acts 20:28.) Collectively, all the communities of believers in a region or throughout the world were the assemblies of God.As members of God’s assembly they saw themselves as the people of God, “a third race” in the Messiah that was not Jew or Gentile. (1 Corinthians 10:32, Ephesians 2:11-22.)
It appears the designation “the assembly” is shorthand for “the assembly of God.” This indicates the community originates from God and belongs to him. Other qualifications are “the assembly of the Messiah” or the “assembly in the Messiah” which indicate believers’ union with the Messiah Jesus. (Romans 16:16, Galatians 1:2.) They are combined for the full expressions “the assembly of God in Christ” or “the assembly in God the/our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.) A more developed, universal and institutional concept of these assemblies arises later on in Colossians and Ephesians where the assemblies are now the Assembly (Ephesians 1:19-23, Colossians 1:15-20.) The Messiah is the exalted cosmic head of a universal body called “the Assembly” which participates in his rule over creation. (Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 2:9-10.)
In pop theology, the love of God basically means God really likes all people a lot. Similarly, loving God means a person really liking God back. It is part of a common understanding of love as a subjective preference, an inner feeling. For example, the way love is talked about in modern Christian music is virtually indistinguishable from love in pop music. While love as an inner feeling is certainly one sense of what it means, in the Bible that is not what primarily the love of God is, particularly in the New Testament (NT).
Pilgrim’s Pensieve #32
My recent realisation of an underlying royal narrative is an important milestone in my journey exploring Scripture. The name of this blog is a reference to John Bunyan’s story because Christianity for me has been an exciting journey of a pilgrim seeking understanding. So this blog has been somewhat of a travelogue in my expeditions into understanding Scripture. Continue reading “The End of the Royal Arc”