Apostles and Prophets, Part 3

Lori Eldridge’s[1] argument “Why there are no Apostles today[2] continued:

The apostles claimed to be eyewitnesses:    

Acts 5:32, Peter and the other apostles stated, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Therefore, ALLLLLLL the apostles were eye witnesses to Christ and his Resurrection.

On the surface of it the structure of the sentence in Acts 5:32—we areand so is—doesn’t sound like the kind of exclusive claim Ms. Eldridge wants to make of it.  But I want to address something else first; namely, the Holy Spirit whom God has given (ἔδωκεν, a form of δίδωμι) to those who obey him.”[3]  The note in the NET reads:  “Those who obey.  The implication, of course, is that the leadership is disobeying God.”  What I object to is the implication that the Holy Spirit has been given as a result of human “obedience.”  And I don’t think Peter was at fault here.

The Greek word translated obey (πειθαρχοῦσιν, a form of πειθαρχέω) is a combination of πείθω:

A primary verb; to convince (by argument, true or false); by analogy to pacify or conciliate (by other fair means); reflexively or passively to assent (to evidence or authority), to rely (by inward certainty)

NET: 1) persuade 1a) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe 1b) to make friends of, to win one’s favour, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one 1c) to tranquillise 1d) to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something 2) be persuaded 2a) to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing 2a1) to believe 2a2) to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person 2b) to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with 3) to trust, have confidence, be confident

and ἄρχω:

A primary verb; to be first (in political rank or power)

NET: 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule.

It is a reference back to Peter’s response to the council and the high priest[4]: We must obey (πειθαρχεῖν, another form of πειθαρχέω) God rather than people.[5]  And he said this as he refused to heed or be persuaded by the highest religious authority in Israel: We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name.[6]  Had πειθαρχεῖν δεῖ θεῷ been translated “we must trust God as leader” and πειθαρχοῦσιν αὐτῷ as “trust him as leader” we would have a better translation of Peter’s point without inducing him to propound a false concept.  And the Holy Spirit would be seen as the cause of human obedience rather than a reward for good behavior.

The structure of Ms. Eldridge’s argument is: The apostles claimed to be eyewitnesses in Acts 5:32, therefore all the apostles were eye witnesses to Christ and his Resurrection (and none other than eye witnesses can be apostles).  This argument depends on equating eyewitnesses (αὐτόπται, a form of αὐτόπτης) with witnesses (μάρτυρες, a form of μάρτυς) of these things (ρημάτων, a form of ῥῆμα; NET events).  These things (NIV) or events (NET) are specified: The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.[7]

Admittedly, translating ρημάτων as things or events makes the relationship to αὐτόπται seem strong, and makes μάρτυρες seem exclusive to that generation.  You killed the Originator (ἀρχηγὸν, a form of ἀρχηγός) of life, Peter said elsewhere, whom God raised (ἤγειρεν, a form of ἐγείρω) from the dead.  To this fact (οὗ, a form of ὅς) we are witnesses (μάρτυρες, a form of μάρτυς)![8]  The apostles saw Jesus seized and killed by hanging him on a tree.  If Peter meant raised from the dead by The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, the apostles certainly saw Jesus after his resurrection.    But if he meant God exalted him to his right hand as Leader  and Savior, was that something they saw with their eyes (Hebrews 2:6b-9 NET)?

What is man that you think of him or the son of man that you care for him?  You made him lower than the angels for a little while.  You crowned him with glory and honor.  You put all things under his control.”  For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control.  At present we do not yet see (ὁρῶμεν, a form of ὁράω) all things under his control, but we see (βλέπομεν, a form of βλέπω) Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he would experience death on behalf of everyone.

I don’t think we are meant to take we see Jesus as proof that the letter to the Hebrews was penned before Jesus’ ascension.  The apostles did see Jesus taken up[9] (ἀνελήμφθη, a form of ἀναλαμβάνω) into the sky: while they were watching (βλεπόντων, another form of βλέπω), he was lifted up (ἐπήρθη, a form of ἐπαίρω) and a cloud hid him from their sight[10] (ὀφθαλμῶν, a form of ὀφθαλμός) But only Stephen, as he was stoned to death, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently (ἀτενίσας, a form of ἀτενίζω) toward heaven (οὐρανὸν, a form of οὐρανός) and saw (εἶδεν, a form of εἴδω) the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.[11]  The others must have “seen” this in some other way, similar perhaps to the way they “saw” Jesus give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Actually, the word (ρημάτων, a form of ῥῆμα) translated things or events in Acts 5:32 was translated words in: Then the women remembered his words[12] (ρημάτων), and If anyone hears my words (ρημάτων) and does not obey them, I do not judge him.[13]  Had Acts 5:32 been translated—And we are witnesses of these words—it would have been more obvious that the apostles became witnesses by believing what they heard rather than seeing with their eyes.  I could quote many instances of forms of ῥῆμα translated as word or words.  It will be more efficient to look into those which were translated differently.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter (ρῆμα, another form of ῥῆμα) may be established.[14]  (This is the third time I am coming to visit you.  By the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter (ρῆμα, another form of ῥῆμα) will be established.[15])  The differences in the various translations prompts the question: What is being established (NET, DNT, NIV, ASV, KJV, NKJV, YLT, NAB), stood upon (DNT, YLT), clarified (TMSG), confirmed (ISVNT), verified (ISVNT, GWT), attested (MSNT), sustained (MSNT), proved true (CEV), upheld (TEV)?  Is it the word (ρῆμα) of the witnesses (μαρτύρων)?  Or is it the brother’s sin?[16]  Or is it both?

A single witness (Septuagint: μάρτυς) may not testify (Septuagint: μαρτυρῆσαι[17]) against another person for any trespass or sin that he commits.  A matter (Hebrew: dâbâr; Septuagint: ῥῆμα) may be legally established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses.[18]  In the context of the original verse Jesus’ quoted, it is fairly clear that the word of the witnesses was being legally established.  The words dâbâr or ῥῆμα might have been translated accusation, but I see no credible reason to translate them matter until I look at the larger context and its implications (Deuteronomy 19:16-19a NET).

If a false witness testifies against another person and accuses him of a crime, then both parties to the controversy must stand before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges who will be in office in those days.  The judges will thoroughly investigate the matter, and if the witness should prove to be false and to have given false testimony against the accused, you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused.

Those who malign the Lord (as I have done) for the law’s death penalty for very human offenses never mention this little gem.  The gossip who sees a man sneaking out of the widow’s house in the middle of the night must consider her own jeopardy before accusing them of a capital offense.  And as I begin to argue in my own mind that gossips would never be punished as severely as adulterers, I hear the law addressed directly to judges who would practice such injustice (Deuteronomy 19:19b-21 NET).

In this way you will purge evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil [i.e., gossiping, becoming a false witness] among you.  You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.

The judges had no discretion regarding the sentencing of false witnesses.  It truly is a beautiful law.  Deuteronomy 19:15-21 all but guarantees (as much as any law weakened through the flesh[19] can “guarantee” anything pertaining to human behavior) that only the most flagrant and egregious sins would ever come up for adjudication.  But none of this justifies the translation of dâbâr/ῥῆμα as matter in my mind until I ask, what triggers the investigation of the false witness?

I assume it is the same thing that triggers the procedural acceleration in Mathew 18:16, But if he does not listen (ἀκούσῃ, a form of ἀκούω).  If the accused hears the word of the witnesses, does not accuse them of lying, the matter is legally establishedon the testimony of two or three witnesses as a matter of procedure.  The procedure is at its end.  In this sense I can barely justify translating dâbâr/ῥῆμα as matter, with the proviso that it hides the fact from the non-Hebrew-non-Greek-studying English-speaking world that the word of the witnesses was the primary focus and concern of the Word of God.

Given the time and place I came of age I can’t help but wonder if yehôvâh/Jesus, both in the law and in the Gospel of Matthew, hasn’t instituted the most virulent form of thought police ever conceived.  But let me take some of the things, events or words (ρημάτων, a form of ῥῆμα) the apostles “saw” (or heard and believed) seriously (Acts 5:31 NET):

God exalted [Jesus] to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness (ἄφεσιν, a form of ἄφεσις) of sins.

The words do not say, God exalted [Jesus] to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to institute the most virulent form of thought police ever conceived.  Through hearing with faith I can stand up to the socially constructed reality of my upbringing and accept that what I may think was instituted as thought police was actually instituted to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  It transforms my outlook.

What if an avid student of the law had heard Jephthah’s thoughtless oath?[20]  If you really do hand the Ammonites over to me, then whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from fighting the Ammonites – he will belong to the Lord and I will offer him up as a burnt sacrifice.[21]  Maybe the avid law student didn’t recognize it as a thoughtless oath until Jephthah came home to Mizpah, there was his daughter hurrying out to meet him, dancing to the rhythm of tambourines.[22]

Or perhaps the law didn’t come to his mind until Jephthah ripped his clothes and said, “Oh no!  My daughter!  You have completely ruined me!  You have brought me disaster!  I made an oath to the Lord, and I cannot break it.”[23]  Or if that didn’t do it maybe her answer jogged his memory, My father, since you made an oath to the Lord, do to me as you promised.  After all, the Lord vindicated you before your enemies, the Ammonites.[24]  Or if that fell on deaf ears, what if the law came to him any time during the two months Jephthah’s daughter wandered the hills with her friends to mourn her virginity?[25]

What if the avid law student came to Jephthah with two comrades who heard his oath? and said, “Jephthah, you have made a thoughtless oath in our hearing.  Now hear the word of the Lord (Leviticus 5:4-6 NET):

[W]hen a person swears an oath, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips, whether to do evil or to do good, with regard to anything which the individual might speak thoughtlessly in an oath, even if he did not realize it, but he himself has later come to know it and is guilty with regard to one of these oaths…he must confess how he has sinned, and he must bring his penalty for guilt to the Lord for his sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, whether a female sheep or a female goat, for a sin offering.  So the priest will make atonement on his behalf for his sin.

The risk for the witnesses, the avid law student and his two comrades, was a female sheep or a female goat (a piece, I assume, less if they were poor[26]).  The benefit for Jephthah was his daughter’s life.  It is in keeping with the beautiful law, and the intent of God the Father and Jesus the Leader and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Jephthah may have rejected the word of the witnesses anyway.  The religious mind is capable of atrocities ordinary sinners shrink from committing.  But if he had rejected the word of the witnesses Jephthah would have been a rebellious son of Israel rather than the tragic victim of a pious good: After two months she returned to her father, and [Jephthah] did to her as he had vowed.[27]

Standing up to the religious mind, one’s own as well as those of others, is part and parcel of following Christ.  For some of us it is the cross[28] we bear.  I’ll return to Ms. Eldridge’s argument and more instances of ῥῆμα in the next essay.  A table of the translation in various Bibles of dâbâr/ῥῆμα from the three verses considered above follows.

Translation of ρῆμα[29] Matthew 18:16 2 Corinthians 13:1 Deuteronomy 19:15
charges CEV
charge MSNT NAB
complaint CEV
accusation GWT, TEV GWT, ISVNT, TEV
saying YLT
fact NAB NAB
a case TMSG

Back to Romans, Part 55

[1] http://www.endtime-prophets.com/statement.html

[2] http://www.endtime-prophets.com/noproph.html

[3] Acts 5:32b (NET)

[4] Acts 5:27 (NET)

[5] Acts 5:29 (NET)

[6] Acts 5:28a (NET)

[7] Acts 5:30, 31 (NET)

[8] Acts 3:15 (NET)

[9] Acts 1:2 (NET)  The note in the NET reads: “The words ‘to heaven’ are not in the Greek text, but are supplied from v. 11.”  As they were still staring into the sky (οὐρανὸν, a form of οὐρανός) while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky (οὐρανὸν, a form of οὐρανός)?  This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven (οὐρανὸν, a form of οὐρανός) will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven (οὐρανὸν, a form of οὐρανός).” (Acts 1:10, 11 NET)

[10] Acts 1:9 (NET)

[11] Acts 7:55 (NET)

[12] Luke 24:8 (NET)

[13] John 12:47a (NET)

[14] Matthew 18:16 (NET)

[15] 2 Corinthians 13:1 (NET)

[16] Matthew 18:15 (NET)

[17] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=marturh%3Dsai&la=greek&prior=moi (a form of μαρτυρέω)

[18] Deuteronomy 19:15 (NET)

[19] Romans 8:3-4 (NET)

[20] Leviticus 5:4 (NET)

[21] Judges 11:30b, 31 (NET)

[22] Judges 11:34a (NET)

[23] Judges 11:35 (NET)

[24] Judges 11:36 (NET)

[25] Judges 11:37, 38 (NET)

[26] Leviticus 5:7-13 (NET)

[27] Judges 11:39a (NET)

[28] Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27

[29] In Deuteronomy the word is dâbâr though ῥῆμα was used in the Septuagint.  The ISVNT and MSNT are New Testament only.  The CEV, GWT, and TEV are too paraphrased for me to tell which word is a translation of what.

[30] If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again (Matthew 18:16 TMSG).  I have no idea how ρῆμα was translated here.