Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 6

My gift is showing mercy.  Also, I’m an outsider in many ways.  I was persona non grata when I returned to my childhood church, ostensibly because my wife divorced me, but the impossibility of repentance after apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-6) is an ever-present potential refutation of my existence.  Rather than feeling marginalized these days I perceive that I am right where I should be at the epidermal interface of the body of Christ and the world.  I see more people flowing out of the body than in presently.  Admittedly, that limited perspective may be a measure of my own ineffectiveness as a witness rather than a measure of problems in the churches from which people have fled.

Given my bias toward mercy I want to consider what I called “Paul’s religious mind” through the lens of Jesus’ teaching: If your brother sins, go and show him his fault (ἔλεγξον, a form of ἐλέγχω) when the two of you are alone.[1]  Paul had every right to bring Leviticus 20:11 to the attention of the man in Corinth who had his father’s wife.  (This study has given me the confidence to write that.)  The primary purpose of such confrontation was clearly stated: If he listens (ἀκούσῃ, a form of ἀκούω) to you, you have regained (ἐκέρδησας, a form of κερδαίνω) your brother.[2]

This was not a slash and burn purging of wickedness.  Paul concurred: Preach the message, he wrote Timothy, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove (ἔλεγξον, a form of ἐλέγχω), rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.[3]  This straightforward approach, however, was severely hampered since Paul, Silas and Timothy passed on the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the Gentile believers to obey.[4]  For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us, the council had written, not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality (πορνείας, a form of πορνεία[5]).  If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well.[6]

I think Paul wrote about the law—through the law comes the knowledge of sin[7]—in his letter to the Romans to correct the erroneous impression fostered by the Jerusalem Council that everything is lawful.[8]  Obviously, not everyone agrees.  Justin Lee wrote in the essay titled “Justin’s View” under the heading “Not Under a New Law”: “Paul makes it perfectly clear that we as Christians are not under the law — Old Testament or New Testament.  He’s not trying to remove one law only to put us under another one; he’s trying to show us that in Christ, we are free from the law.”

I’ll assume that the man who had his father’s wife was an elder, rebellious, an idle talker, deceiver or someone with Jewish connections[9] and ignore the fact that Paul did not go and show him his fault privately.  So I’m skipping—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 may be established[10]—assuming that members of Chloe’s household may have done this already.  And I am going straight to, If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.[11]  Paul instructed Timothy: Those [elders] guilty of sin must be rebuked (ἔλεγχε, another form of ἐλέγχω) before all, as a warning to the rest.[12]  For there are many rebellious people, he wrote Titus, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections,[13] who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught.  A certain one of them, in fact, one of their own prophets, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  Such testimony is true.  For this reason rebuke (ἔλεγχε, another form of ἐλέγχω) them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith[14]

The Greek word translated sharply was ἀποτόμως.  It was necessary to add ἀποτόμως to ἔλεγχε to achieve this effect because ordinarily ἔλεγξον (another form of ἐλέγχω) was to be done with complete patience and instruction.  Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians while absent, so that when I arrive I may not have to deal harshly (ἀποτόμως) with you[15]  All those I love, Jesus said, I rebuke (ἐλέγχω) and discipline[16] (e.g., with complete patience and instruction).  And when he comes, Jesus promised, he [the Advocate] will prove the world wrong (ἐλέγξει, another form of ἐλέγχω) concerning sin and righteousness and judgment[17]  I would like to function in harmony with the Holy Spirit rather than at cross purposes.

I don’t know Justin Lee or any more about him than has been revealed on the Gay Christian website, but this study compels me to consider why I am patient with him.  Whether I do it myself or not, should I desire that he be rebuked before all?  He is a leader.  He has used his insights into Scripture to gather a group of followers.  I’ve already acknowledged that more people leave the body of Christ than join or re-enter in my immediate vicinity.

The only person I know who has ever taken my insights seriously died of a brain tumor when we were thirty-six-years-old.  He was my biggest fan and encouraged me to write down what he and I discussed together.  I refused at that time.  Young and still full of delusions of grandeur I said, “The last thing the world needs is another Protestant sect.”  I don’t recall if I said it or not at the time, but I feel for Martin Luther.  Can you imagine being Martin Luther, standing before Jesus?  He looks you in the face and says, “Lutherans? Really?”

After I wrote this I went to work for nine days.  I couldn’t think much more about this essay, so I read Luther’s “Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians” in my down time.  Though I’ve heard and read about Martin Luther all my life I’d never actually read any of his writings.  I still haven’t.  I didn’t read his commentary in Latin but an abridged translation by Theodore Graebner who only consented to write it if he were “permitted to make Luther talk American, ‘streamline’ him, so to speak–because you will never get people, whether in or outside the Lutheran Church, actually to read Luther unless we make him talk as he would talk today to Americans.”[18]  So what I’ve read may actually be more useful to my understanding than unadulterated Luther since it was considered by it’s author (translator, abridger) and publisher to be popular marketable Luther, published four years before I was born.

Justin Lee under the heading “Prooftext #4: The Abomination (Leviticus 18-20)” wrote: “I’ve heard people quote Leviticus to forbid homosexuality and tattoos, but other than that, people generally don’t turn to Leviticus for moral guidance.”  Luther/Graebner wrote: [19]

Either we are not justified by Christ, or we are not justified by the Law. The fact is, we are justified by Christ. Hence, we are not justified by the Law. If we observe the Law in order to be justified, or after having been justified by Christ, we think we must further be justified by the Law, we convert Christ into a legislator and a minister of sin.

If we are discussing justification Mr. Lee has unflagging support from Luther/Graebner:[20]

Now the true Gospel has it that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law. The false gospel has it that we are justified by faith, but not without the deeds of the Law. The false apostles preached a conditional gospel…The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify, because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer…

Human reason can think only in terms of the Law. It mumbles: “This I have done, this I have not done.” But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given into death for the sins of the whole world. To turn one’s eyes away from Jesus means to turn them to the Law.

True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone.

Martin Luther’s perhaps unfortunate[21] saying—faith alone—clearly means “faith in Christ alone.”  As Edward Snowden did to the clandestine services Martin Luther blew the whistle on the inner workings of the monastery: “In their writings [the hypocrites] play up the merits of man, as can readily be seen from the following form of absolution used among the monks,” Luther/Graebner wrote:[22]

“God forgive thee, brother. The merit of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the blessed Saint Mary, always a virgin, and of all the saints; the merit of thy order, the strictness of thy religion, the humility of thy profession, the contrition of thy heart, the good works thou hast done and shalt do for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, be available unto thee for the remission of thy sins, the increase of thy worth and grace, and the reward of everlasting life. Amen.”

Faced with this who among us wouldn’t say, “No, justification is by faith alone”?  Yet the intent of even so blatant a denial of Christ was to assuage the inner guilt of unbelieving hearts, something Luther knew intimately:

The person who can rightly divide Law and Gospel has reason to thank God. He is a true theologian. I must confess that in times of temptation I do not always know how to do it. To divide Law and Gospel means to place the Gospel in heaven, and to keep the Law on earth; to call the righteousness of the Gospel heavenly, and the righteousness of the Law earthly; to put as much difference between the righteousness of the Gospel and that of the Law, as there is difference between day and night. If it is a question of faith or conscience, ignore the Law entirely. If it is a question of works, then lift high the lantern of works and the righteousness of the Law. If your conscience is oppressed with a sense of sin, talk to your conscience. Say: “You are now groveling in the dirt. You are now a laboring ass. Go ahead, and carry your burden. But why don’t you mount up to heaven? There the Law cannot follow you!” Leave the ass burdened with laws behind in the valley. But your conscience, let it ascend with Isaac into the mountain.

In civil life obedience to the law is severely required. In civil life Gospel, conscience, grace, remission of sins, Christ Himself, do not count, but only Moses with the lawbooks. If we bear in mind this distinction, neither Gospel nor Law shall trespass upon each other. The moment Law and sin cross into heaven, i.e., your conscience, kick them out. On the other hand, when grace wanders unto the earth, i.e., into the body, tell grace: “You have no business to be around the dreg and dung of this bodily life. You belong in heaven.”[23]

I’m not sure I could endorse so severe a distinction between “faith or conscience” and “civil life,” so strict a separation of church and state as this.  But I get the concept that a weak conscience is extremely offended by God’s law.  So in that sense I would say a harsh criticism of Mr. Lee is unwarranted if justification is the issue.  A homosexual is justified by faith in Christ just as a man prone to outbursts of anger is justified by faith in Christ.  I’m keying here on the phrase will not inherit the kingdom of God, θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν in Galatians 5:21 to equate μαλακοὶ (a form of μαλακός) and ἀρσενοκοῖται (a form of ἀρσενοκοίτης) with θυμοί (a form of θυμός translated outbursts of anger.

Mr. Lee argued under the heading “Prooftext #3: The Sinful ‘Arsenokoitai’ (1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10)”: “The most likely explanation is that Paul is referring to a practice that was fairly common in the Greek culture of his day — married men who had sex with male youths on the side[24]…many scholars believe that ‘malakoi’ and ‘arsenokoitai’ are meant to be taken together, so that the malakoi are the young men who service the arsenokoitai.”  In my opinion his arguments should be accepted or refuted on their own merits without questioning Mr. Lee’s justification by faith in Jesus Christ.  I don’t intend to argue any of that here.  I’ve already stated my belief that, You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman,[25] still functions as knowledge of sin.  I believe that the civility of that argument is of far more importance spiritually than its outcome.

As long as people who share my belief impugn the justification of people who believe as Mr. Lee believes, more homosexuals will be called to faith (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Consider what Paul understood about God’s calling (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NET):

Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters.  Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position.  But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.  He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

What concerns me here is what if we are right?  What if, by constantly harassing and forcing them to defend their justification, we do not give homosexual believers the space and liberty to hear from the Holy Spirit?  I take Martin Luther as my point of departure.  On his website Shameless Popery under the heading “2. Less Catholic, Less Christian,” Joe Heschmeyer wrote:

When Catholics point out that several of Luther’s early writings sound pretty Catholic, the standard Protestant response (and a quite reasonable one, I might add), is that Luther wasn’t completely reformed yet. Even after he went into schism, he spent another quarter-century slowly divesting himself of his Catholic beliefs. But what’s remarkable is that, as Luther became less and less Catholic, he became less and less Christian.

Mr. Heschmeyer diagnosed Luther’s problem as pride but that sounds like begging the question to me.  What was it in Martin Luther’s knowing of Jesus’ Father and Jesus Himself that encouraged or allowed him to become more prideful as he aged?  I’ll pick this up in another essay.

Paul’s Religious Mind Revisited, Part 7

Back to Who Am I? Part 5

Back to Sowing to the Flesh, Part 1

Back to Sowing to the Flesh, Part 2

[1] Matthew 18:15a (NET)

[2] Matthew 18:15b (NET)

[3] 2 Timothy 4:2 (NET)

[4] Acts 16:4 (NET)

[5] I think this is why Paul called the sin of a man who had his father’s wife πορνεία twice in in 1 Corinthians 5:1.

[6] Acts 15:28, 29 (NET)

[7] Romans 3:20b (NET)

[8] 1 Corinthians 10:23a (NET)

[9] Titus 1:10 (NET)

[10] Matthew 18:16 (NET)

[11] Matthew 18:17a (NET)

[12] 1 Timothy 5:20 (NET)

[13] NET note 14: “Grk ‘those of the circumcision.’ Some translations take this to refer to Jewish converts to Christianity (cf. NAB ‘Jewish Christians’; TEV ‘converts from Judaism’; CEV ‘Jewish followers’) while others are less clear (cf. NLT ‘those who insist on circumcision for salvation’).”

[14] Titus 1:10-13 (NET)

[15] 2 Corinthians 13:10 (NET)

[16] Revelation 3:19a (NET)

[17] John 16:8 (NET)

[18] Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Martin Luther, translated and abridged by Theodore Graebner, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949, Preface

[19] Commentary on Galatians 2:17

[20] Commentary on Galatians 2:4, 5

[21] I found this interesting article on his “epistle of straw” comment online.

[22] Commentary on Galatians 2:18

[23] Commentary on Galatians 2:14

[24] This is the meaning of “love” espoused by some in Plato’s Symposium: “For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover or to the lover than a beloved youth…And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him.”

[25] Leviticus 18:22 (NET)