Friday, July 24, 2015

Church Fathers

(This is intended as a companion piece to Dustin Germain's excellent article.)

People everywhere within Christendom want to claim the "Church Fathers" as supporters of their own position. Eastern Orthodox cite Chrysostom against Rome, which counter-cites (sometimes-imaginary quotes from) Augustine, whom Protestants then cite against Rome, who then counter-cites Irenæus, who then gets claimed by the Eastern Orthodox... on and on it goes.

For the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, it's understandable that they do this, for a few reasons. One is that their concept of spiritual authority is pretty murky and leaves room for "Church Fathers" to hold sway in persuading people. If Basil of Cæsarea believed it, well, who am I to question such a Great Man? Another is that for a great deal of the distinctive doctrines of Rome and the East, there is no legitimate or remotely convincing biblical proof, so really all they have are quotes from church history and naked appeals to their own authority.

But for the adherent to Sola Scriptura, the usage of the appellation "Church Father" is puzzling and unnecessary and should be jettisoned. Further, Sola Scripturists ought to take great care in how they cite "Church Fathers", for what reason, and in which context. Let's explore this more.

First of all, the word "Father" has to do with generation and origin, parenthood. In no way are any of the men usually referred to as "Church Fathers" actually fathers of The Church. The Father of The Church is God the Father. The Founder of The Church is Jesus Christ. He who inducts people into The Church is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus handpicked men who would be the first preachers of His Church. Their names are recorded in the Gospel accounts and Acts. There are twelve of them, give or take one.
"And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot..."
--Mark 3:13-18

Throw in Paul and maybe Matthias, subtract Judas, and you have your human Church Fathers.

Second, there is no reason for confidence that we in modern times, so far removed from the context in which these "Church Fathers" lived, taught, and wrote, have sufficient understanding of their writings. Here are some challenges to hubristic overestimation of what can be gleaned for our use today from their extant writings:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Greek, and the imaginary biblical support for the office of deacon

Translator bias is a very real possibility when we evaluate Bible versions, and that bias can have very substantial and practical implications for how we live and do church, who believe the Bible to be the Word of God.

Consider the case of perhaps the grossest bias I have yet discovered in my years of reading the Bible among Bible translations that are usually considered to be reliable, conservative texts, leaning much more toward formal equivalency than dynamic - that of the inconsistent treatment of the word διάκονος (diakonos) (a noun) and its verb form διακονέω (diakoneō) in the major English versions.

The English word "deacon" is usually explained as a transliteration of the noun diakonos from Greek into English. I lack the resources to dig into the etymological history of the word "deacon", but suffice it to say for our purposes that it appears as early as the Wycliffe Bible, and that probably means it had been part of regular ecclesiastical English usage for quite some time before. I would not be surprised at all to find that it is a holdover from Roman Catholic language, thoughtlessly brought over into the Reformation tradition by men who got much right but also left much unreformed.

I will argue that this traditional language has slipped past the guard not only of pastors and religious service providers, lecturers, and theologians of the past 500 years or so, but even worse, past the guard of Bible translators. I can see no sound reason why either of these Greek words ought ever to be translated with the word "deacon" in any English text of the Bible. To claim "deacon" belongs there is to hold to this translating tradition that is actually at odds with consistent translation and contextual practice. The conclusion that it is translated this way in all these Bibles because of the tradition-colored bias of the translators is very hard to escape.

The Data

In the Greek NT, there are 27 occurrences of διάκονος. The NASB renders those as "minister" or "servant" every single time except Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:12. The ESV similarly says "deacon" only those three times and "minister" or "servant" every other time except Matt 22:13, where it reads "attendants".

In the Greek NT, διακονέω (which is the verb form, you'll recall) appears 32 times. The NASB and ESV render those as "administer", "minister", "wait on", "serve", "take care of", and suchlike. They read "serve as deacon" only twice, in 1 Timothy 3:10 and 3:13.

Thus we find that the NASB and ESV translators continued an established tradition, whose backing we will go on to question, that led them to render 11% of the occurrences of διάκονος as "deacon" and 6% of the occurrences of διακονέω as "serve as deacon". That's a very small amount; when the majority of the translations of a given word are a more general word like "servant" or "minister", but in certain situations one wants to change it to something more specific, one needs a good argument to do so, whether etymological, contextual, whatever.

All the New Testament occurrences of each word can be found at Blue Letter Bible, which is a wonderfully helpful resource:

Thus you can review each text in context. It will probably also be helpful to take a look at διακονία, "ministry", which has the same root, a very close relationship to the other two, and note how many times (out of 34 occurrences) it is translated with anything like "office" or "deacon" (never).

Now, let's take a look at some specifics.

The Epistles to Timothy

Of some note is the fact that neither render διάκονος as "deacon" in 2 Tim 1:18, despite the fact that it's the same author as 1 Timothy, Paul, writing to the same recipient, Timothy. Why the different translation?

Even more noteworthy is the same phenomenon in 1 Timothy 4:6. Note the way the  NASB translates the three verses in 1 Timothy that employ διάκονος:
--1 Timothy 3:8 - Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain...
--1 Timothy 3:12 - Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
--1 Timothy 4:6 - In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

Here in the very same letter, just a few sentences down from the other two appearances of διάκονος, the NASB translators use a different English word. One may object that the context calls for that different word. Fine; I invite anyone to show me how the context is appreciably different such that one could know that Paul is referring to some sort of specialised office or something that demands the creation of a new English word in the third chapter, but just a little later when identifying what Timothy will be if he does these things, suddenly it's a different meaning entirely. I don't think that argument is sustainable. The only reason one would say this is if he had a pre-existing commitment to the existence of a thing called "the office of deacon". The Greek text certainly doesn't lead anyone to that conclusion, taken by itself, which is pretty much what we're supposed to do if we want to go ad fontes as good Sola Scripturists.

Just Who Is A διάκονος?

I don't see a reason not to render διάκονος consistently across the board. To whom is διάκονος applied in the New Testament?

--Phoebe (Rom 16:1)
--Tychicus (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7)
--Epaphras (Col 1:7)
--Apollos (1 Cor 3:5)

Interestingly, I think most people would think of Apollos as more of a teacher or something, and that doesn't fit the traditional "deacon" role.

But it gets better.
--Old Testament prophets (1 Peter 1:12)
--Paul (1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Col 1:23-25)
--Jesus (Rom 15:8)

So, does the word mean "deacon" or doesn't it? If you're going to go to the trouble of creating a new English word (back 600+ years ago when it was created, I mean), why wouldn't you apply it to every occurrence? Are these people deacons or not? I can't think of anyone who would contend that they are, with the possible exception of Phoebe. Phoebe is often the center of "can women be deaconesses?" debates, and of course the reasoning behind those debates is that there is an office called "deacon" in the New Testament.

But wait, there's more!

Not only are these individuals referred to with διάκονος; other individuals such as Onesimus (Philemon 13), as well as all believers, are said to engage in διακονέω (the verb), in Hebrews 6:10 and 1 Peter 4:10-11! If Phoebe is possibly a deacon, then so are Jesus, Paul, Apollos, Amos, Jeremiah, Daniel, and everyone else who believes in Jesus.

Also, don't forget that Jesus Himself said that the greatest among His disciples shall be διάκονος (Matthew 23:11). One wonders, then, why deacons don't occupy such a lofty position in modern churches, as usually it's the pastor who's the greatest among the disciples.

A Third Church Office

Now that we mention 1 Peter 4:10-11, it would appear we have approximately equal biblical support for saying that "steward" is an office in the church.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves (διακονέω) is to do so as one who is serving (διακονέω) by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
If we're going to go around willy-nilly creating church offices out of thin air based on isolated passages in which we translate words in a way that is inconsistent with the way we translate it everywhere else, why not do that with "steward" (οἰκονόμος), given the way Peter uses it here in 1 Peter 4, in the context of local church life?

What's the difference? It is that "steward", in the course of medieval Roman Catholic and proto-Protestant history, never came to be thought of as an office. If it had, I have no doubt the modern pastoral zeitgeist would ensure we're all teaching and seeking men to fill the three church offices of which the New Testament speaks, and there would be whole sermons where the Scripture is butchered to "support" the establishment of the office of steward as we now see for the office of deacon.

You see, holding a church office allows men to feel important and achieve recognition, which is a basic (and usually sinful) human desire. It also allows for people to, when convenient, parry questions about their behavior and teaching, since they have a Badge of Ecclesiastical Approval, to which the hypothetical inquiring "layperson" has not attained. It's the "Touch Not God's Anointed" syndrome, which is common, many claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Deacons and Women

Further evidence that the Apostle Paul meant something other than to be setting out "qualifications" for "church offices" in 1 Timothy 3 appears in verse 11.

The claim is that Paul is saying "if a man has the following qualities, he can be a candidate for the office of 'overseer/elder/pastor/bishop/presbyter/whatever else' or of 'deacon'." While this is less a question of translation proper, it raises questions with reference to the backing tradition that brought the translation about that included "deacon". If these are indeed qualifications for offices, why do we see parallel sentence structures in verses 2, 8, and 11?

Verse 2 - An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach

Verse 8 - Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,

Verse 11 - Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.

Is "woman" a church office? I know of no one who thinks so, but one of the most significant arguments in favor of these church offices is the language in 1 Timothy 3, and if "overseer" and "deacon" are offices, then "woman" would seem to be one as well.

A Better Suggestion

Bible translations ought to communicate as clearly and faithfully as possible the meaning of the original language text. I'll just say it like it is - inserting the word "deacon" in 1 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1, instead of sticking with what διάκονος actually means, which is "minister" or "servant", is an unhelpful and false translation that stems from the traditions of man rather than properly passing on the meaning of the Greek text.

The inconsistencies we have seen already. Of course it is preposterous that Jesus be a deacon. Of course it is preposterous that all women hold a "church office", leaving churches that are majority "clergy" and minority "laypeople". That's the point. Whoever it was who thought of the word "deacon" should have cared about these points, enough to not transliterate διάκονος into English. Later translators should have corrected that error - such a thing has been done numerous times, but not in this case. Rather, translators and theologians and the like have, up to this very day, perpetuated and promulgated this mistaken notion and thus led churches into error.

My proposal is simple - remove "deacon" from the English text and replace it with "minister" or "servant", like the word is translated in pretty much every other occurrence. Let us rejoice that the Lord has given us yet another opportunity to be semper reformanda and throwing off the false practices, structures, and teachings that Rome bequeathed to us.

Then, let's consider what 1 Timothy 3 actually means, since it doesn't mean "holder of a church office called 'deacon'", bear fruit in keeping with repentance, walk in the truth in all things, and reform our churches to match true biblical teaching.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pulpit & Pen blog - Murderers Are Bad People?!?!?!?!!?

So you’re outraged that Planned Parenthood is selling body parts that they harvest from the unborn humans they get paid to murder?
Good! It IS outrageous!

But is your reaction partly fueled by the fact that Planned Parenthood is funded by your tax dollars and you have financial and economic concerns? In two weeks, after you’ve vented on Facebook, and told everyone how outrageous this is, what will you have changed in your life to reflect your outrage?
Will you begin to publicly speak out against the unborn Holocaust?
Will you visit clinics and call out to women with the Gospel and offers of assistance?
Or will you pour out all your outrage upon your keyboard or smart phone and then go back to blissful ignorance, in your comfortable living room, ensconced in your leisure and your hobbies, and safe in your religious bunker, behind the walls of the religious edifice you irreverently and incorrectly call “a church”?
Will you repent from your apathy and call your brothers and sisters to do the same?
Will you repent of your age-ism?

Let me explain what I mean by “age-ism” here. It is the same flawed thinking that leads to
  • committing in-vitro fertilization
  • turning a blind eye to IVF’s practice
  • accepting IVF in your family or congregation
  • thinking that while abortion is bad, partial-birth abortion is REALLY bad
  • supporting bills that say it’s OK to murder babies that are less than __ weeks old but not OK if the baby is old enough
As racism is prejudicial discrimination against human beings created in the image of God due to their ethnicity, and/or the color of their skin, so age-ism is prejudicial discrimination against human beings created in the image of God due to their age and size. Age-ism is expressed in many different ways, and believe me, I’m not claiming to be perfect in this regard! But let us all walk in repentance of our errors once light from the Word of God is shone on them.
In-vitro fertilization supplies the embryonic stem cell research establishment, not with human body parts, but with live human beings to be treated as lab rats.

While we are all slacktivistically clicking to Share the latest outrageous action on Planned Murderhood’s part, we are missing it along with virtually all our conservative pastors, conservative politicians, and conservative media personalities. That is what happens when moral outrage becomes a hobby, not righteous anger, loving what God loves and hating what God hates. We can applaud the latest governor or Senator vowing to “investigate PP”. What’s he going to find that’s more gruesome than murdering little children? If that man had the true fear of God in him, he’d use all the power of his office to end murder in his jurisdiction, not just end Planned Parenthood’s failure to murder according the pro-life regulations in place.

You see, Planned Murderhood is not the problem. Focusing on defunding or abolishing Planned Murderhood is the equivalent of cramming Kleenex in your nostrils to stop your nosebleed while you are dying from leukemia. It’s the proverbial band-aid applied atop the lethal illness. Neither is getting 0bama out of office, even through impeachment, or even imprisoning him (or handing him over to justified execution at the hands of the government whose laws he has so willfully violated again and again) (and make no mistake, if our government loved the law of God, that’s precisely what they’d do), or removing most or all of the members of SCOTUS from the bench.

The problem is that the professing churches of the United States of America, the professing, visible people of God, have lost their saltiness and their brightness. Instead of taking up our crosses to put our fleshly lusts and priorities to death, we have redefined what Jesus wants and neglected weightier matters of the law – justice and mercy – in favor of all sorts of pursuits of Christian liberty and the leisure that our comfortable bourgeois American lifestyle affords us. And there are lots of other pursuits of “Christian liberty” than just smoking pipes, brewing and drinking craft beers, and ensconcing ourselves deep in superhero movies.
Being moved to action or compassion by the knowledge that the parts of murdered babies are being sold on the black market or seeking to fight child sacrifice by exposing the fact that professional murderers are immoral in other ways is just plain silly. That is, it is silly if you are at the same time supporting or ignoring laws that protect the right to murder babies so long as they are not 20 weeks old or the children of wicked men.

Stop fighting abortion for any other reason than that it is murder. And stop not fighting abortion. It is child sacrifice. As RC Sproul Jr says, it is impossible to overreact to this gross injustice, this amazing violation of the love of neighbor and of the image of God in human beings.

Wake up! Obeying God’s commands to love Him and your neighbor IS the main thing! Take this opportunity these undercover reporters handed you to repent and go in the power of the Holy Spirit to be salty and bright in this culture of death. Yes, read your books and your Bible, and then DO WHAT THEY SAY.
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. –James 1:22-25
If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited.
Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.
If you say, “See, we did not know this,” does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:10-12
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Proverbs 31:8-9