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Author: Eddie (page 8 of 12)

The Death Penalty Denies the Gospel

A good word from Melanie Weldon-Soiset from God’s Politics on the abhorrent practice of the death penalty. I’ve dropped in a wonderful statement below, but have a read of the original.

The death penalty also denies the transformative power of the gospel.  If we as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit can restore even the worst of sinners (2 Corinthians 5:17), then who are we to deny anyone the chance to become a new creation in Christ?

What I Tweeted for 2009-07-12

  • Excellent article from our Lois Henry on why we need to ban personal fireworks! "Idiots blowing it on 4th of July" #
  • Gotta love Lois Henry: "morons endangering large swaths of the community so they can make things go boom." #
  • Also forgot to mention I'm reading Richard Cassidy's "Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke's Gospel" on my walks to and from work. #
  • RT @smashingmag: 2009 Web Design Trends and How-To’s – (via @DannyOutlaw) #
  • You know…having DIN on my work machine could be helpful. Very helpful! #
  • the freebie Bebas is, eh, alright…but it's not DIN. It's not cuttin' the mustard. #
  • Sadly true. RT @kouya: (via @paconmiller, @zulusafari) Map of Africa: The way the world sees Africa #
  • RT @VECTORTUTS: Top 15 Logo Design Inspiration Galleries #
  • We have a Harry Potter look-a-like contest brewing at the newspaper. Been doing a lot of promo design for that. #
  • If you're in Bakersfield, into harry potter, and want a chance to win some free movie tickets, give it a go: #

Churches and Guns: If violence was okay…

Ninthly, he has said that if the Turks should invade the country, no resistance ought to be offered them; and if it were right to wage war, he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the Turks; and it is certainly a great matter, to set the greatest enemies of our holy faith against us.

This was the last of nine charges laid against Michael Sattler, early leader of the Swiss Brethren in the 1520’s. In those days, as well as the centuries surrounding the Reformation, the Roman church would arrest people for far less than nine items and have them tortured or executed if they did not recant—or even if they did depending on when they recanted or how grievous they thought the heresy was. This particular charge against Sattler was a major offense, but obviously more political in nature—recall that the church was quite tied to the state to the point where you could not distinguish the two—then the others. This last charge alone was likely enough to have the former prior arrested, convicted and executed, at least by the Roman church’s standards.

But, as with many of these similar situations, the Roman church was trying to make an example of the heretic, to show the people the egregious errors and what happens to those who act and believe contrary to the church. After conferring with his fellow prisoners, he responded with these words:

If the Turks should come, we ought not to resist them; for it is written: Thou shalt not kill. We must not defend ourselves against the Turks and others of our persecutors, but are to beseech God with earnest prayer to repel and resist them. But that I said, that if warring were right, I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians, who persecute, apprehend and kill pious Christians, than against the Turks, was for this reason: The Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith; and is a Turk after the flesh; but you, who would be Christians, and who make your boast of Christ, persecute the pious witnesses of Christ, and are Turks after the spirit.

You might be wondering just how this declaration from Sattler fits into the Churches and Guns series. Quite well, actually; at least once I make a minor adaptation into my context. What Sattler said was spot on. But I will take it a bit further.

If violence is okay—if the use of the sword against others is sanctioned by Christ—and someone in my congregation took up a weapon against a violent person who stormed into our service, I would use what force I could against the Christian in hopes of stopping him from doing our enemy any harm.

Even if you leave the Scriptures as they are and declare a sanctioned use of force, we absolutely must show love to our enemies. Killing them is not showing them love. Maiming them is not giving them the loving witness of Christ. Someone outside of the perfection of Christ likely has no idea what the love of Jesus, the grace of God, the mercy of the Lord, looks like. They are Turks of the flesh. They are not citizens of the Kingdom, so how can they be expected to act like they were?

But a Christian knows full well—at least they are supposed to—the teachings and commandments of our Lord, Jesus. And for a Christian, a disciple of Jesus and citizen of the Kingdom, to disavow what the Master said and did, and take up the sword (or gun in this case) against the enemy instead of showing them true Kingdom of God love, is unequivocally not Christ-like. They are Turks of the spirit.

They are more the enemy of the Church than is the enemy.

Kids can get it; give them a chance

My older three boys and I have been reading through the Scriptures at night before bed. (The oldest of the boys is just shy of 6 years young.) Last week we finished our first text, The Good News According to Mark. We are now in the early portion of The Good News According to Luke.

I’ve chosen to read through these texts from the Scriptures themselves (using the New Living Translation), and not from the children’s Bible story books. A few months ago I read to the boys one of our children’s versions of the Tower of Babel story. Then I read about Moses, then Joseph and his brothers. I then picked up the NLT and said, “Alright, now let’s see what these stories are like in the bible, guys.” They were okay with that idea. The first one I read was about the Tower of Babel. Immediately our oldest, without my asking any questions—all I did was read the short passage—said, “So there weren’t any angels?” He recalled in the children’s book the story mentioned angels leading the different groups into different regions after the languages were confused. No angels showed up in the Bible’s version.

I wanted to cultivate that keen listening and curiosity that at least our older two boys have (the two year old likes to chatter on about whatnot and whatever while I read, silly lad). So I took them through the other stories (e.g. Moses and Joseph) from the NLT. Whenever there were tough words or concepts, they were quick to ask for a bit of clarity. And at least the oldest has been quite able at distinguishing the differences between the kiddy versions and the originals. The kids then wanted to read about Jesus, so I jumped into my favorite of the Good News accounts, Mark. After finishing that up, we started Luke.

And by golly the kids get it. Without dumbing down or repackaging the life and teachings found in the Good News accounts, with some simple questions and discussions, our kids get it. For example, we read through the sixth chapter of Luke’s account the other night. This was the key portion (this is from the NET):

But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Lk vi.27-36 NET)

I told the boys if someone was being evil to mommy and daddy, we have to show them love in return. If they were hitting us, we were not supposed to hit back because that’s not love. If they were treating us poorly, we’ve got to treat them beautifully.

And our oldest said to me, “Maybe that’s what I should do. Because sometimes my brothers hit me, and I hit them back. I should not hit them.”

I responded, “Show them how to act, right? Show them love and that hitting is wrong?”

“Yeah,” he said quite contently.

Excellent Bible translation points

Via Wayne Leman from Better Bibles Blog pointed out some excellent statements on translation from Michael Burer of the NET Bible.

Here are the points:

  1. Just because something has always been translated a certain way does not mean that it is correct.
  2. We should always value the light ancient documents shed on our understanding of the Scriptures, even for an issue as mundane as the meaning of a single, obscure word.
  3. We should always use the most up to date, accurate tools available. (In this instance, HALOT has the more accurate information as opposed to the other well-known Hebrew lexicon BDB.)

Take a gander at Michael Burer’s post. Good stuff.

What I Tweeted for 2009-07-05

  • Currently pondering the significance of Jesus' body being taken by Joseph of Arim. versus the alternative: being tossed into Gehenna. #
  • finally gets it right: #
  • Oooh. Checked our mail stash and we just received the July Voice of the Martyrs mag! (see @VOMC) #
  • holding baby and researching intentional communities (IC), in hopes of getting guidance on starting an Anabaptist IC here in the lion's den. #
  • I do not like image file size limits for the web. This is the broadband, high speed age folks. Why must we have size limits? #
  • Working on a newsletter layout for my wife's #MOPS position. Just 4 pages, but still tedious with InDesign. #
  • RT @VOMC: Islamists in Somalia behead two sons of Christian leader. #
  • Working; just finished listening to Praxis Podcast interview of Andrew Marin (@lovesmesomeyou); excellent stuff. Very challenging. #
  • I've got the day off, so I'll be home. Doing…stuff #

4 July arrives again

And I wanted to share a story of exemplary freedom and independence.

‘The opinions for which men go to war,’ he said, ‘do not deserve those great tragedies of which they make us spectators. Let there be no longer any question among us of Zwinglians or Lutherans, for neither Zwingle nor Luther died for us, and we must be one in Christ Jesus.’

J.H. Merle d’Aubigne

During the Reformation era in England, John Frith was burned at the stake on 4 July 1533 at the famous Smithfield. Officially he was executed for his statements against transubstantiation. But, Thomas More despised the man for more than simply the one teaching.

He was a man of peace, who sought effecting change among the people not by coercion but through his writing and preaching. And as much as he wanted that physical security, knowing he was being hunted, he decided to go back to England and face the fire among his people then stay in hiding with Tyndale. That decision ultimately led to his exposure and arrest, but his life and death gave such a mighty witness of Christ to the people.

I’ll finish this off with another quote from d’Aubigne:

A true catholicism which embraced all Christians was Frith’s distinctive feature as a reformer. He was not one of those who imagine that a national Church ought to think only of its own nation; but of those who believe that if a Church is the depositary of the truth, she is so for all the earth; and that a religion is not good, if it has no longing to extend itself to all the races of mankind. There were some strongly marked national elements in the English Reformation: the king and the Parliament; but there was also a universal element: a lively faith in the Savior of the world. No one in the sixteenth century represented this truly catholic element better than Frith. ‘I understand the Church of God in a wide sense,’ he said. ‘It contains all those whom we regard as members of Christ. It is a net thrown into the sea.’ This principle, sown at that time as a seed in the English Reformation, was one day to cover the world with missionaries.

For some more articles on John Frith:

On this special day, 1 July 1523

Not long after the Diet of Worms and the subsequent Edict in 1521, Augustinian monks Johann van den Esschen (Johannes Esch) and Hendrik Vos (Heinrich Voes), sympathetic to Luther and his teachings, were taken captive and branded for execution. On 1 July 1523, van den Esschen and Vos were burned at the stake. They are now touted as the first martyrs of the Reformation, or “purified Christian truth.”
Voes and Esch Burning
Despite the acclaim, their names and stories are very seldom, if ever, told in the scheme of the Reformation. Even less is mentioned of the third man who endured prison and torture along with Vos and van den Esschen, Lampertus Thorn. At his trial Thorn requested four more days to mull over whether he should recant or not. Going forth in the strength God had granted them at their appointed time, van den Esschen and Vos went not merely defiantly to the stake, but with courage and readiness, knowing they would soon be baptised into a new life.

What were these men charged with and sent to their deaths for? They believed and taught the following (though this list does not contain all they charges brought against them):

  • no on should be deterred from reading the works of Martin Luther;
  • worldly authorities had no power over conscience;
  • all Christians are priests;
  • Christ is not sacrificed again during Mass (or Communion, the Eucharist);
  • Scripture must be the foundation doctrine and practice (sola scriptura);
  • Baptism, Communion and Confession are the only sacraments instituted by Christ (rejecting the other four);
  • Jesus Christ Himself works good deeds through men; men do not contribute except for allowing Christ to use them;
  • appointing successors to Peter as Pope, or Bishop over all churches, was not the act of Christ;
  • if the sinner believes he has been absolved, his sins have been forgiven.

For these and other charges, the Roman Catholic hierarchy turned the two men over to the civic courts to handle the official execution orders. Interestingly, these charges were not read to the crowd at the execution site prior to their burning, as was the typical procedure. Apparently they thought the ignorant crowd might consider these men wrongly executed. Eyewitness reports mention the men singing a hymn, praying and admonishing the crowd. Yet another picture of beauty in such a horrific and horrendous act.

These are unsung, generally unknown heroes of the Reformation. For the most part, their story is limited to being told in Ludwig Rabus’s The History of God’s Chosen Witnesses, Confessors, and Martyrs. The problem is that so few even know such a sixteenth century martyrology exists. Due to the limited amount of martyrs, and relatively little persecution, in the Germanic land at the time (there is no comparison between Rabus’s country and John Foxe’s country in the 1550’s), interest in the martyr book fell away quickly. I pray their story can live on, and encourage us Christians today to be strong in our faith. We may not all be called to the fire as these brothers were, but we will endure our own struggles from the world because we bear Christ’s name.

To read more of their story, check out the Lutheran Church’s “They seem like roses to me,” a story of these men and their ordeal.

Frequent and harmonious meetings

Therefore make every effort to come together more frequently to give thanks and glory to God. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which all warfare among those  in heaven and those on earth is abolished.

Ignatius of Antioch, to the Church at Ephesus (Ign., Eph. xiii)

Keeping the death chamber windows open

This letter from Sister Helen Prejean is positively stellar. Writing to the California Department of Corrections on a recent proposal, she made wonderfully and graphically clear how depraved we can be as humans. She urged California to

KEEP THE WINDOW OPEN during the administration of the poisonous chemicals and as the person is dying as well as after the person has been killed, as the medical professional verifies the death and as the corpse is put into a body bag and removed. Do not conceal any part of the killing process, and do not hide the identity of the personnel who carry out the killing, including the medical personnel. If we feel no need to protect the identity of legislators who have enacted death as punishment on the statute books or district attorneys who seek and secure death sentences, or juries who sentence people to die or judges who pronounce sentence, why do we hide the identity of those who carry out the killing, including those who concoct and administer the lethal chemicals and the medical personnel who supervise the proceedings?

As I said, this is stellar. Take a read of the letter. It will only take a few minutes to complete, and will cause (hopefully) a lot more time of contemplation and action. Here’s the link to her letter.

Thanks to Mike for the link.

The debate over hell continues

Thanks to the help of a brother I’ve been reading through Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes. No, I don’t need help reading; he’s graciously allowed me to borrow the book (he’s also let me borrow the Fudge and William Peterson dialogue, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue).

On page 48 I came upon a very familiar statement that I just wanted to touch on. This has nothing directly to do with Hell, but is very telling when involved in a conversation or debate on Hell (or any other theological concept for that matter), After putting forth a small argument on how to view the term aionios, Fudge wrote:

Like most of the conditionalist arguments, this one has simply been ignored. If the traditional understanding of hell is to stand, a cogent and persuasive answer must be forthcoming. Since all we want to know is God’s truth as revealed in Scripture, no one needbe threatened on either side of the discussion. This is a challenge which calls for careful exegesis and prayerful study within a commitment to the final authority of the Word of God.

I could almost see the semi-smile on Fudge’s face as he wrote those words. Almost always, some statement along these lines comes from the mouth or pen or keyboard of a spokesperson for a minority perspective. I myself have said these words. Whether in arrogance or with a truly humble heart, you say these words knowing the outcome of going through the Scriptures for the answer, or openly dialoguing and testing the arguments.

“There’s nothing to worry about. We’re all here to just find the truth. It’s the truth that matters, right? Well, then let’s figure it out together.”

But, unfortunately, the tendency from the spokespersons of the traditional perspective (on whatever issue it might be) is to be a bit more close minded, unwilling to have a simple dialogue. The roadblock could be fear, or a feeling of arrogance coming from the other side, or simple ignorance or naivete. No matter the reason, a dialogue simply goes nowhere. And in this case, Fudge is saying that the traditionalist (someone who believes hell is eternal conscious torment somewhere) has to present a reasonable, understandable, and Scripturally authoritative response. By ignoring the argument and assuming the traditional view is right just because it’s been that way for so long, dialogue and growth get tossed out the window, and truth along with it. Truth is revealed to be merely traditions.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say about that at 12:30 am. I’m sure a lot more could be said, but you get the idea. I’m just going to start rambling.

Good night.

What I Tweeted for 2009-06-28

  • RT @SteveFouch: change ur location in Twitter Settings 2 Tehran. Officials are trying to find all twitterers. Make their work impossible. #
  • RT @ERBks: #churchcalendar 6/22 St. Alban 1st Martyr in Britain (c. 304) #
  • Ryan, Theaker and Elf shots are awesome! RT @smashingmag: 29 Amazing Long Exposure Pictures – (via @abduzeedo) #
  • RT @smashingmag: If you employ web designers, listen to their advice! Don't overrule them by your probably silly design decisions! @yatil #
  • Quality article! RT @davidairey: @Vonster talks about the dumbing down of creativity — — well said, too. #
  • Testing something real quick. Don't mind me. Εν αρχη ην ο λογος #
  • ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δύναται οὐδεὶς εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ εἰσελθὼν τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ διαρπάσαι, ἐὰν μὴ πρῶτον τὸν ἰσχυρὸν δήσῃ – Mk. iii.27 #
  • At work. Just barely. Was almost run over by a white sedan. "Probably American." :-) Anyway…please watch for humans. They might be parents #
  • So is news of Jackson's and Fawcett's death going to trump the deaths in the ongoing Iran protests, US torture, high unemployment, etc.? #
  • RT @Camfed: 2,670/4,000 girls will stay in school, thx to our exciting Facebook match grant this month. Please join & RT. #
  • Trying out Readernaut to track my reading in the Greek New Testament. Looks useful for any variety of books. #
  • RT @kamusiproject: Tanzania Linux Users Group is hosting a blitz to complete at least 15 Tanzanian language locales this week. Inputting … #
  • Evanescence is helping me along as I'm creating a massive amount of artwork at work today. Except it's on My Immortal now. Too slooooow. #
  • And I will continue to voice my disgust with this inhumane love for diamonds. #
  • Currently creating a couple very interfaith banner ads. Something odd about this. #
  • How would/do you translate εγγικεν in Matt. iii.2 & iv.17? "is at hand" or "is near" or "has come" or "is coming soon"? Or something else? #

Taking notice of torture…again


Clever. But, more importantly, will Christians who currently support either terror or harsh interrogation, especially those who do not consider something like waterboarding torture, take a minute and reflect?

Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for the original posting of this cartoon.

What I Tweeted for 2009-06-21

  • Interesting. Will have a peek. RT @smashingmag: HTML5 Gallery – – A showcase of sites using html5 markup #
  • you've got to be kidding me! Seriously? #
  • RT @living3368: RT multiple sources: "140 characters is a novel when you're being shot at." #iranelection #
  • RT @VOMC: Foreigners abducted and killed in Yemen #
  • I like this headcut effect for our newspaper staff pages on the website: #
  • ooooooh. nice. RT @smashingmag: 100 New and Beautiful Seamless Patterns – (via @webdesignledger) #
  • so you know, I am loving History Channel's Expedition Africa: Excellent stuff. #
  • I think the US is fighting New Zealand for worst team in the 2009 Confederations Cup. #football #
  • That was not a red card. Sorry #
  • Very good statement. RT @martin_kelley: Anabaptist culture vs faith (holding on to shoo-fly pie!) #
  • RT @smashingmag: jQuery Function Builder – – use this tool to build functions that will be called when the page loaded. #
  • home at lunch, watching Egypt v. Italy. Are you joking? Egypt up 1:0. And they look strong. #
  • I've gone back to TweetDeck and am really liking 0.26.2. Good stuff, and seems to be running faster, not as power hungry. #
  • Putting together the plans for the duck house. We need to get these ducks out there this weekend. We've got wood! #
  • I'm the grandmaster of the skilsaw. … or the grandmother #
  • Happy Father's Day to all the big daddys out there. #

Meme on books that influenced my reading of the Bible

I don’t typically…or, ever…do these memes. But when I saw this one come around, I thought it was pretty cool, pretty challenging, and helpful to see what others give in their response.

There is one of those memes going around in which people volunteer a list of books that influenced their readings of the Bible.  The rules say that works are not limited to Biblical studies literature, but can include religious works or works of literature. I guess there should be at least five, but I’m no master theologian.

This is tough to nail down, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

Salvation at Stake

Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (1999). This is an absolutely stunning and enthralling text. Not only in the top 3 necessary reads for any student of Christian martyrdom, but this is easily a must read for anyone learning about the Reformation. The reason this book is on this list is because this text gave me an introduction to the Anabaptists that literally changed my life. I was driven to take a look at the Scriptures from their perspective and within their context (persecution and martyrdom from all sides).

Choosing Against War

John Roth, Choosing Against War: A Christian View (2002). After already beginning down the road to more fully embracing the Anabaptist legacy, I borrowed this book from Borders. (No, I did not steal it. I worked there for about a year and a half, and employees could check out books for a couple of weeks.) Seeing the peace perspective in such a developed way caused me to experience the Scriptures in a very different way. I began to look at the New Testament, indeed the Good News within the New Testament, in a radical way.

Apostolic Fathers

Michael Holmes, Ed., The Apostolic Fathers (1998). While I now have the 2007 hardcover edition (thanks to an amazing brother in Christ across the pond), when I went through these texts and got to know more of their history, when I saw how these early century authors were using the letters of the Apostles and other New Testament writers, when I saw the practical importance of the New Testament texts, I saw the New Testament as real historic documents. I began to take the individual letters and gospels of the New Testament on their own terms, the same way I was reading and examining the letters and works of the Apostolic Fathers. I was reading through Mark and looking for what Mark had to say, and not look at Mark’s text through the eyes of Matthew or Luke or Paul. My Greek was developing really well at this time, so I was really getting into the individual styles and emphases of the authors. And taking this historic perspective on the New Testament has made me appreciate and embrace the text so much more.

Mark as Story

Rhoades, Dewey, and Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (1999). Fairly self explanatory, don’t you think. This sort of pushed me onward in my historic view of the New Testament. Mark came to life, as did the other Gospel texts. Instead of seeing Mark and the other Gospels as a set, each text was a special work by their respective author, created with the intent to tell a story about Jesus from their special, privelaged, inspired perspective.

I would love to see your list of books, and especially the story behind it.

Paul, Hell, Citizenship, and The Cyclops

Somewhat on the side, I’ve been doing a slow-going study on the doctrine of hell. Kimbrah, my wonderful bride, was doing some of her reading in Philippians and came across a reference to hell in the translation she was using. But far from a simple word study in Paul’s short letter, when I had a look at the passage I got far more than I bargained for.

Here’s the passage we’re talking about:

Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example. For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! (Phil. iii.17-iv.1 NET)

First, the reference to hell. In a few translations that I’ve looked at (e.g. GNT, CEV) verse 19 showed “hell” for απωλεια. Most of the translations, though, have some variation of “destruction.” This is another case, as I’ve been finding more and more, where the doctrine of an eternal conscious torment for those not redeemed or saved—a.k.a. hell—must be placed into the text in order to see the doctrine in there. If you go with the “destruction” translation you at least can dialogue about what that might mean. The assumption that Paul is talking about eternal conscious torment is just that: an assumption. I believe those assumptions are a problem for a man like Dr. Norman Geisler; in a different post in the future I’m going to discuss a couple of articles he put together for his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, specifically his article on hell (in which he favors eternal conscious torment) and the one against annihilationism, where he clearly stumbled in his argumentation, revealing his assumptions and traditions, not allowing the text to dictate teaching.

Oh traditions! They constantly rear their ugly heads, and yet we are so blinded to the fact we have them. And it’s never us, right? We’re led by the spirit and not our traditions, right?

Paul was not declaring that the enemies of the cross will end up in eternal conscious torment. He said they will be destroyed. That conjures up different ideas than does an eternity of conscious torment. But the question is “What does ‘destroyed’ mean?”

Second, as I read through that passage certain words caught my attention: “But our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul was making a strong point in this paragraph about the true citizenship of those who were “brothers and sisters.” There’s a clear juxtaposition: those whose citizenship is of this world do for themselves, serve for their own good, are enemies of the cross; and those whose citizenship is in heaven serve the Lord Jesus, recognize their bodies are weak and will be transformed, and recognize that Jesus is Lord over all. And if I’m not mistaken, those who are considered “enemies of the cross” are people professing to follow Jesus; to be followers of The Way. They were Christians by name and maybe association (as in joining with the congregation, meeting at the houses, etc.), but their status was not evidenced by their deeds. Or, maybe, their true status was evidenced by what they did.

Consider this thought from Paul: You can call yourself a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus. But where is your citizenship? Who is your ruling authority? Who do you live for? Yourself or the Lord? The world or heaven? This kingdom or His Kingdom? You cannot live for both, and your deeds show everyone exactly which k/Kingdom you are a citizen of.

And third (and this one was a blast to work on) Paul proved himself quite the classicist. I knew of his strength with education and rhetoric, but I am always impressed by his usage of classical mythology. I guess I just haven’t looked into it that much. I’m referring to what he said in verse 19 (which he also mentioned in his letter to Rome):

Their end is destruction, their god is the belly (ων ο θεος η κοιλία) (vs. 19; cf. Rom. xvi.18)

While looking into some of the commentaries on this passage, I got to one of my favorites of yester-year, John Gill. On these words Gill said,

the belly was the god of the Cyclops, they sacrificed to none but to themselves, and to the greatest of the gods, their own belly

Gill was referencing a passage from Euripides’ work The Cyclops. Now, I am not sure if Gill made this classic reference on his own or if he believed Paul was bringing in the fifth century BC imagery. Regardless, I am convinced Paul was drawing on the mythological reference. Vincent’s and Wuest agree; or, that is, I agree with Vincent’s and Wuest. I am fairly surprised more commentaries don’t make mention of Euripides. The Apostle was very familiar with the Greek myths and classical literature. He was writing to Greeks, and about those Christians who held on to Epicurean ways (who believed self satisfaction was the highest goal). I believe having a look at the text of The Cyclops will help us understand what Paul was trying to point out about those “enemies of the cross.”

If you are unaware of the story you should become familiar with it. Odysseus and his men, after the siege at Troy, were at the cave home of the Cyclops, Polyphemus (known via Homer’s Odyssey, while in The Cyclops he is unnamed). Polyphemus was a child of Poseidon and deity in his own right: “Did they not know that I am a god and descended from gods?” (Eur. Cycl. 231) Polyphemus found Odysseus and the crew and was getting ready to have a human feast. After Odysseus did some pleading in hopes of getting Polyphemus to change his mind, the child of Poseidon said,

Little man, the wise regard wealth as the god to worship; all else is just prating and fine-sounding sentiments. As for the headlands where my father’s temples are built, I pay them no heed. Why did you bother to put them in your speech? And as for Zeus’s thunder-bolt, I do not shudder at that, stranger, nor do I know any respect in which he is my superior as a god.. . . When Zeus sends his rain from above, taking my water-tight shelter in this cave and dining on roasted calf or some wild beast, I put on a feast for my upturned belly, then drinking dry a whole storage-vat of milk, I drum on it, making a din to rival Zeus’s thunder.. . . The Earth brings forth grass willy-nilly to feed my flock. These I sacrifice to no one but myself—never to the gods—and to my belly (γαστρι τηδε), the greatest of divinities. To guzzle and eat day by day and to give oneself no pain—this is Zeus in the eyes of men of sense. As for those who have passed laws and complicated men’s lives, they can go hang. For my part, I shall not forgo giving pleasure to my heart—by eating you. Guest-presents you shall have—you shall not blame me there—guest-presents of this kind: fire to warm you, salt inherited from my father, and a bronze pot, which when it has reached a boil will clothe your ill-clad bodies nicely. Now go inside in order that you may stand around the altar of the god who dwells within and give me sumptuous entertainment. (316-46)

Pay close attention to what Polyphemus was saying, and how the point or moral might be worked out in what Paul was discussing. The mighty cyclops placed himself on par with Zeus and even his own father (creator), Poseidon, by virtue of Poseidon being Zeus’ brother: “nor do I know any respect in which he is my superior as a god.” He gave sacrifices to himself, never to the other gods, and namely to his belly, “the greatest of divinities.” But don’t minimize that last part because of the translation. The word for “divinities” is the word for deities or gods.

That is exactly what Paul was talking about: “their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.” These “enemies of the cross,” professing Jesus with their mouths but exposing their Epicurean lifestyles with their works, were like Polyphemus:

To guzzle and eat day by day and to give oneself no pain—this is Zeus in the eyes of men of sense.. . . For my part, I shall not forgo giving pleasure to my heart

Paul’s audience, at least a good portion of them I believe, would have understood the connotations of his reference to those who indulge their bellies. Knowing a bit more of the context and background now I can grasp better who and what Paul was talking about. Also this is further evidence that a good handling of the history and mythology and legend of other cultures helps in communicating with those cultures; that it is good and even necessary to read texts that are not in The Bible in order to have better dialogue and growth. It’s okay. God’s cool with that. Paul used non-inspired, non-scriptural sources to make points and give exhortations.

This was not the only time Paul used a Euripides reference. In Bacchae, Dionysus told Pentheus “I would sacrifice to the god rather than kick against his spurs (κεντρα λακτιζοιμι) in anger, a mortal against a god” (Eur. Bac. 794-5). And (at least as far as Luke recorded), while retelling his conversion story to King Agrippa, Paul said, “When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads (κεντρα λακτιζειν)'” (Ac. xxvi.14). The key here is what Paul (Luke?) did not mention, namely the last phrase of Dionysus: “a mortal against a god.” The mortal (Paul) was trying in vain to fight against a god (Jesus).

I know for a fact that there are many Christians who do not like the idea of non-Christian, non-inspired texts being quoted and used in the inspired text of Scripture. Many of them will deny it, say this sort of thing is simply incorrect. When I see something like this I find myself more enraptured by the Scriptures. The text is more real to me, more genuine. Real people in real situations using their skills, education, smarts, abilities, whatever it is, and communicating the good news about Jesus.

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