‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox’: A Logical, Intra-biblical, and Eschatological (but not Allegorical) Reading of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9

 

paulDo I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop,
– 1 Corinthians 9:8–10 –

When Jesus describes the value of the sparrow in Luke 12 and says, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v. 7) is he speaking allegorically? What about when he tells the elaborate parable about the four soils (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23) or the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43)? The answer will depend on how you define ‘allegory,’ but most will not see Jesus’ comparison with the sparrows as an allegory, even as many do see Jesus parable as incorporating allegorical elements.[1] What makes the difference? And do we rightly read allegory, without allegorizing?

Allegorical Literature vs. Allegorical Interpretation

In truth, there are in Scripture elements of allegory. When Jesus explains some of his parables by saying, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38–39), he is speaking in allegory. Allegory by definition is

A work of literature in which many of the details have a corresponding “other” meaning. The basic technique is symbolism in the sense that a detail in the text stands for something else. Interpreting an allegorical text must not be confused with allegorizing the text. To interpret an allegorical text is to follow the intentions of the author. Allegorizing a text  implies attaching symbolic meanings to a text  that was not intended by the author to be allegorical.[2]

This distinction between between allegorical literature (e.g., The Pilgrim’s Progress) and allegorical methods of interpretation (e.g., Origen’s approach to the Bible) is one of the most confused and confusing aspects of modern evangelical hermeneutics. To be sure, Scripture includes multiple instances of allegory.

  • When Jotham told his story of the bramble who would be king, he used allegory (Judges 9).
  • When Nathan confronted David in his sin with Bathsheba, he employed allegory (2 Samuel 7).
  • When Jesus told his parables he often intended for one element (“the field”) to stand for another (“the world”). This is allegory.
  • Paul even understands the story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16ff) to be written “allegorically” (Galatians 4).[3]

In each of these instances, the author’s intent is allegorical. (Except the last example, Galatians 4, is best understood as typological writing in Genesis). Therefore, the extant literature is allegorical, which requires any literal method of interpretation (i.e., one that aims to understand and reproduce the authorial intent) to read the passage “allegorically.” But—and this is where the confusion comes in—in reading the biblical allegory, we must not allegorize the text. And even more, we must not adopt an allegorical method because we find some allegories in Scripture.

But this brings us to the text in question (1 Corinthians 9:8–10): Did Paul use an allegorical method in his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4? And if he is allegorized a passage from the law—a genre not given to allegory—can we do the same? Or did he, like Jesus with the sparrows, make a simple comparison between oxen and men? Or did he do something else entirely?

Logical, Intra-biblical, Eschatological: Tracing Paul’s Argument

Following the lead of John Calvin, Richard Hays, and others, I will argue that Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 is (1) logical in its structure (not fanciful), (2) textual (not twisting the original context of Deuteronomy), and (3) theological (specifically, eschatological). But in no way is it allegorical. Continue reading

Loving God By Loving Others (1 Corinthians 8:7–13)

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A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.

This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.

In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here.  For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: 1 Corinthians 8:11

tulip

And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died.
— 1 Corinthians 8:11 —

When Paul confronted the Corinthians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, he warns that their carelessness threatens to “destroy” their brothers. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul uses this warning to motivate followers of Christ with greater “knowledge” (i.e., stronger consciences) to think twice before eating meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of younger believers whose consciences have not been so trained. This is the literary context. In the context of theological debates, however, this verse serves another purpose—namely that this verse proves general atonement, the belief that Christ died for all humanity without exception.

Convinced that Christ’s death effectively accomplished the salvation of his elect, a vast number beyond comprehension (see Revelation 7), I believe that it is errant to conclude 1 Corinthians 8:11 is a proof text for general or unlimited atonement. Rather, it is one of many verses that articulate a view of Christ’s death that is personally connected to a people the father gave him before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17). But instead of making a theological case, let’s consider the context of 1 Corinthians 8 to see what Paul says and how his language informs this theological debate. Continue reading

15 Disciplines of a Loving Church (1 Corinthians 5–7)

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After spending the last eight weeks (JuneJuly) looking at Paul’s instructions on sex, singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 5–7, we pulled back the lens yesterday to see how these three chapters inform our understanding of church discipline.  As Jonathan Leeman argues in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love“local church membership and discipline . . . define God’s love for the world” (17).

In our sermon, we too considered from the text of 1 Corinthians how a church displays love through church discipline. If this sounds like a contradiction in terms, please listen to or read the sermon and read this article on objections to church discipline.

(If you are still not convinced, order Leeman’s book and a set of steak knives. The fusion of holy love and church life is a feast to consider, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is not a milky doctrine but true meat for the maturing disciple). Continue reading

The Sevenfold Spirit of God: Seven Truths About the Doctrine of Illumination

 

menorahIn the book of Revelation John speaks of the “seven spirits of God” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). While enigmatic, the symbolic use of the number seven in Revelation gives credible explanation: The seven spirits are God is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the perfect and complete Spirit of God. In no way does the number represent something contradictory to the triune nature of God (three-in-one), nor does it crassly suggest there are seven spirits who represent God. Rather, as with so many images in Revelation, the numeral seven represents the fullness of the Spirit abiding in God’s throne room and dwelling with the churches. Wonderfully, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s heavenly temple (1:4) has been sent to dwell in local churches (5:6).

At the same time, the sevenfold spirit of God may also refer to Isaiah 11, where the Spirit of the LORD is said to “rest upon” the shoot of Jesse (i.e., the forthcoming king from David’s tribe). Greg Beale affirms the plausibility of Isaiah 11 (and Zechariah) being in the “background of the ‘seven spirits.’”[1] In that passage, which “shows that God’s sevenfold Spirit is what equips the Messiah to establish his end-time reign,” the prophet writes,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (11:1 –5)

Verse 2 is where the seven descriptors of the Spirit are found, in that the Spirit is

  1. Of the Lord
  2. Of wisdom
  3. . . . and understanding
  4. Of counsel
  5. . . . and might
  6. Of knowledge
  7. . . . and the fear of the Lord.

This sevenfold description locates the work of the Spirit in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. While Lordship and might (גְּבוּרָה) are mentioned, the primary emphasis is cognitive. Significantly, this stands behind much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel (see 14:26; 15:26; 16:13–14). As mentioned in a previous essay, the working of the Spirit is not seen primarily in visible acts of supernatural power, but in granting spiritual life and mental receptivity of God’s work of salvation. While the Spirit has power to restore creation (Isaiah 32:15) and raise the dead (Romans 8:11), the primary way he works today is in the granting spiritual understanding, what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16. Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Cultivates Church Unity (1 Corinthians 1–2)

 

paulHere is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.

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What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?

Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.

Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. Continue reading

Being and Building a Better Church: Temple Language in Paul

buildingIn Jesus the Temple Wheaton professor and New Testament scholar, Nicholas Perrin, makes an important correction on the way we read “temple language” in the letters of Paul. He writes, “When we come to the apostle Paul, we find a corpus of literature permeated with temple imagery” (65). What Perrin observes is the way Paul’s Second Temple Judaism forms a vital backdrop for Paul’s choice of words. Instead of being an incidental metaphor, Perrin argues Paul is leaning heavily on his Jewish background and its temple theology.

Whereas modern Christians might use temple language in more abstract or metaphorical ways, Paul uses it in specific, concrete ways. After all, he writes in a day when Jews continued to worship in a physical building. Therefore, when he speaks of the church as a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; Ephesians 2:21), “building” (1 Corinthians 3:9), or “household” (1 Timothy 3:15), when he speaks of the apostles as “pillars” (Galatians 2:9), or when he speaks of the body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), his life as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6), and ethical living as ritual purity (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1), he is not using an accessible metaphor. He is speaking concretely about the fact that the church of God, erected from the cornerstone of Christ, is the new and living temple of God.

Perrin makes his point emphatically as he comments on 1 Corinthians 3:9–10.

Although some readers suppose that Paul’s analogy between the Corinthian community and ‘God’s building’ was more or less arbitrary, as if ‘God’s building’ could just as easily have been exchanged with, say, ‘God’s pyramid,’ with limited difference in meaning, I find this approach unconvincing. After all, had any building served Paul’s analogy, he could have quite easily omitted the qualifier ‘of God,’ but obviously chose not to do so. Second, the effortless slide from ‘God’s field’ to ‘God’s building’ in v.9 is not an abrupt mixing of metaphors, but an appeal to two lines of imagery (architectural and horticultural) that in the Jewish literature finds their convergence in the temple. Third, the very fact that vv. 16–17 of the same chapter explicitly compare the Christian believers to a divinely inhabited temple — and from the Jewish point of view there was only one of these — should further disincline us to think that Paul has anything but the temple in mind here. God’s building is not any old house belonging to God; it is God’s unique temple. (67)

In truth, a brief survey of Paul’s letters shows that “temple language” shows up in a variety of places and a variety of ways. Sometimes the language speaks directly of a temple, a building, or “parts” of the edifice (e.g., foundation, pillar, etc.). Other times the temple language is more veiled, as in the metaphorical “building up.” Such language can be read without any recognition of the temple, but that’s the problem. Such a reading misses the fuller picture.

To correct our vision, let’s consider a number of these references. (Feel free to suggest others in the comments). Continue reading

What Demonstrates the Power of God? Miraculous Signs or Spiritual Resurrection

powerAnd I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
— 1 Corinthians 2:3–5 —

A number of years ago I visited a church where the pastor proclaimed that God would build the church “on signs and wonders.” From his statement, the pastor revealed his theology—the miraculous gifts of the early church (e.g., tongues, healings, prophecies, etc.) are still normative and should be pursued, even promoted, as the normative means by which God builds his church.

More recently, Bill Johnson, a popular-but-false teaching ‘pastor’ from Redding, California, has argued that “working miracles is closer to the normal Christian life than what the Church normally experiences.”[1] In his bestselling[2] When Heaven Invades Earth, Johnson makes apology for the place of the miraculous today. He argues that denial of miracles has to be taught to Christians, stating, “The doctrine stating signs and wonders are no longer needed because we have the Bible was created by people who hadn’t seen God’s power and needed an explanation to justify their own powerless church” (105–06).

That’s a strong claim, and one that bears examination. Is it true the church—for most of the nineteen centuries leading up to the birth of the Charismatic movement (1906)—hadn’t seen God’s power because they failed to pursue the miraculous gifts? Is it true that God’s power is, as Johnson defines it, in “working miracles”? Or might it be the case that power as emphasized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3–5; 4:14–20, for instance, is something different than what these Charismatic pastors mean? Continue reading

The Cross of Christ Shapes Every Area of Life

obc-1 corinthiansYesterday, I preached on “The Wisdom of the Cross” from 1 Corinthians 1:18–25. While most of the message concentrated on the doctrinal message of the cross and its radical contrast to way the world approaches life (i.e., man’s wisdom), I closed the sermon with a handful of quick applications, listed below.

For the church, the cross must be our shared story that shapes our communion.

For individuals, the cross must be the wisdom that shapes every area of our lives.

  • In your hour of decision, let the self-sacrifice of Christ crucify your false desires; let the promise of resurrection embolden you to take God-honoring risks. (Luke 9:23–27)
  • In your hour of temptation, remember you are already dead to sin; sin no longer has dominion over you. (Romans 6)
  • In your hour of faith, praise Christ for purchasing your belief and obedience. (Ezekiel 36:26–27; Ephesians 2:8–9)
  • In your hour of failure, look again to the cross for your pardon and acceptance. (1 John 1:9–2:2)
  • In your hour of prayer, come boldly before God because of Christ’s blood. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

As we go into the week, may we give praise to God for Christ’s work on the cross. And may we continue to center our lives on Christ and his cross. As Paul teaches he is not an additive to our already full lives; he is the wisdom of God to bring our lives in conformity to God’s will.

May Jesus receive all praise and glory, as we live with ever-deepening dependence on the wisdom and power of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds