Thursday, January 29, 2015

Christians and Drinking Alcohol






CHRISTIANS AND DRINKING ALCOHOL
Explaining a Few Things From the Bible

by Rev Dr B Ward Powers
(ward@bwardpowers.info)

VIEWPOINTS IN THE CHURCH

It is very widely accepted by responsible members of our society that while “binge drinking” and drunkenness is a bad thing, the drinking of alcohol is a pleasure to be enjoyed: it is only the excess that is wrong. And there are many Christian who would agree with this. For some Christians, drinking wine, beer, or whatever you like, is such a normal part of life that it really does not need any justification. But other commentators have thought about it care­fully, and have concluded that there are five good reasons for accepting that we are free to enjoy alcohol in moderation - reasons (they maintain) all based on the Bible. A Christian who upholds his “freedom to choose to drink” may tell you: “How, in the light of these Bible teachings, could anyone possibly contend that alcohol is something a Christian should avoid?”
But there are solid grounds for recognizing that these “five biblical reasons” are actually in error: these five assertions are based on a misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of the Bible. The real facts are not what these assertions claim them to be. Indeed, there is good reason to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind, even in (so-called) “moderation”.
What are these “five biblical reasons” which are said to endorse the drinking of alcohol, and thus to grant us the “freedom” to be a drinker today? And on what grounds could these biblical reasons be called into question, and held to be mistaken? If we wish to be “biblical Christians” in this matter, we should certainly give these five reasons our thoughtful consideration.

THE FIVE BIBLICAL REASONS
ADVANCED IN SUPPORT OF MODERATE DRINKING

1. The Bible specifically approves the drinking of alcohol, for wine is said to be one of God’s good gifts to us, for our enjoyment: only excess is condemned.
2. The term “wine” in the Bible is obviously referring to alcoholic wine, for it is drunk all year round and clearly grapes and grape juice would not keep unfermented all year round. (Thus the wine at Passover must be fermented, as this feast falls so long after the grape harvest.)
3. In the New Testament, Jesus himself is described as a wine drinker - in this, he is giving us his own example.
4. There cannot be anything wrong with our indulging in drinking alcohol seeing that Jesus miraculously supplied a huge amount of it for a wedding feast.
5. Jesus chose alcoholic wine to represent his blood in the celebrating of the Holy Comm­union, the Lord’s Supper.
These five assertions seem at first glance to present a pretty impressive case for accepting the drinking of alcohol, drawn as they are from both Old Testament and New, from precept and practice and circumstance. But do they really stand investigation?

ASSESSMENT, SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

This article examines and assesses the biblical evidence that is claimed to support drinking of alcohol if in moderation. It shows that the conclusion approving “moderate” drinking is based on a misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of the Bible. The real facts are rather different.
The article sets out, to the contrary, good reasons to abstain from alcohol altogether.


Ward
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mars Hill Athens, and The Nature of the Gospel Message

Extract from B. Ward Powers (2008), First Corinthians: an exegetical and explanatory commentary, Wipf and Stock. In 1 Corinthians 1:17b Paul embarks on an Excursus which raises the question: did Paul make a mistake at Athens? (pp.35-37).

Some scholars have seen in Paul’s Excursus a deliberate repudiation by Paul of the policy which (on their view) he had followed in Athens, the city from which he had just come, where he preached philosophy and logic rather than the simple gospel (Acts 17:22-31). Paul’s approach at Athens was a failure (these scholars say), and thus he changed his message for his ministry at Corinth to a simple gospel presentation, as he outlines in his Excursus.

But this is reading some rather far-reaching conclusions into the text on the basis of flimsy evidence. It is highly probable that Paul’s comments on the Greeks seeking wisdom (1:22), and not being able to perceive the wisdom of God, are indeed made against a background of his recollection of his difficulties in proclaiming Christ at Athens. But what he did at Athens was, in accordance with his established policy (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), to seek for a bridge for the gospel to the thinking of his hearers. He began with their religious beliefs and practices (Acts 17:22-23) and quoted their poets (Acts 17:27-29) to gain their attention and goodwill, and to win a hearing for himself. In this he was successful - but in his sermon, just as soon as he reached the subject of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:31), they laughed him to a standstill (Acts 17:32). He never got to finish his address: they sneered at him; they said, “We will hear you on this subject some other time” (NEB): but they would not let him continue his presentation of the gospel to them then, and he was forced to leave them (Acts 17:33 - note particularly the force of the word “so”, ESV/RSV/TEV/NEB, “at that”, NIV). There was a small response (Acts 17:34), but the attitude of the Athenians was such that Paul could see it would be pointless to persevere there, so “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth” (18:1).

The difference between Athens and Corinth was not that he preached an unsuccessful message at the one and had more success after changing his message for the other city, but that the Athenians were not prepared to grant him a hearing and he gave up the attempt as futile, whereas at Corinth there were significant numbers who were at least willing to listen to his message (Acts 18:4-11).

It would be interesting to learn what Paul would have said at Athens had he been permitted to finish his address. He had reached the presentation of the resurrection when the sophisticated Athenians stopped him in his tracks and said to him, “Some other time” (Acts 17:32). I suspect his message would have been very like his outline of the gospel that we find in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2: for, he says (1:23), “we preach Christ crucified - to both Jews and Gentiles.” Note the “we” and the “preach”. In context we can see that Paul is speaking of himself and his fellow apostles and evangelists. And “preach” is present tense: this is their universal and their habitual message: “Christ crucified”. There is no other.

The full gospel message is found in here, in Paul’s Excur­sus, plus 15:1-10. It has an objective and a subjective element.

Objectively, historically: Christ was crucified, dead and buried, and rose again. This is “the message (λογοσ, logos) of the cross”, which is utter foolishness to those who are lost (1:18) - but which is the demonstration of the power of God to those who are being saved (1:18, 2:4). Subjectively, personally: It was for our sins that Christ died (15:3); and the gospel becomes effective in our individual lives when we encounter the resurrected Christ ourselves, as Paul did (15:8, 10), and experience the forgiveness of our sins that he died to accomplish for us. This is what Paul and the others preach (15:11, again present tense), this is the gospel message in which the Corinthians had placed their faith (2:5; 15:11), and by which they are being saved (1:18; 15:3). This must continue to be the center of our own proclamation, and we can thus have confidence that, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (2:4), we shall then see God at work saving those who believe (1:21).

Ward
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Fracturing and Fragmenting the Church of God

Extract from B. Ward Powers (2008), First Corinthians: an exegetical and explanatory commentary, Wipf and Stock. Comments on Dissension in the Church as a theme of the letter introduced in chapter 1 (pp.33-35).

In 1 Cor 1:10-12 Paul speaks, in some considerable concern, about how the Corinthians are plagued with divisions and quarrels. They are dividing themselves into factions clustered around the names of Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter), and Christ himself.

Commentators are agreed that the factions were neither started by nor supported by the men whose names they bore. We have no real knowledge now of the basis for these factions, nor do we know what they were differing about. Various conjectures have been made. For example, that the Jewish Christians laid claim to Cephas and probably Apollos, and the Gentiles to Paul. Or those who were (or wanted to be) married pointed to the marital status of Peter, while those who were unmarried elevated Paul and Christ himself as their exemplars (the married status of Apollos is not mentioned in 9:5-6, and remains unknown). Or the differences between the factions may have centered in differences of methods, of preaching, of behavior, or the like, which the Corinthians detected (or thought they detected) between the persons around whose names they gathered themselves. The fact is, we do not know.

But for the Corinthians - and for Paul - the matter was a serious one. Paul has many important issues to raise, requiring careful consideration and extensive change. But before discussing any of these, Paul feels obliged to tackle this issue of their disunity. It is dividing brother from brother in a destructive way (3:17). It must be faced. It must be dealt with. It must be stopped. Paul’s approach is, first, to reiterate the nature of the ­gospel, which is the major factor which unites them all; then, to emphasize that he and Apollos (and the others) are equally inspired and led by the Spirit, and are colaborers, even if their ministries may perhaps differ in some ways (“I planted, Apollos watered”).

Christ is the foundation (3:11): all of us (Paul indicates) are building upon that foundation - and we must be very careful just how we build (3:12-15). As we shall see in subsequent chapters, there are various kinds of differences to be seen at Corinth. In addition to those indicated in this first chapter (whatever in fact they were), there are the different builders of chapter 3; the differences between the “libertarians” and the “ascetics” in the church in regard to their attitude to sex (chapters 6 and 7); between the “knowers” and the “weak” in relation to food offered to idols (chapters 8 to 10); between the “haves” and the “have nots” at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11); between those more obviously gifted by the Spirit and those less so (chapters 12 to 14); and between those with various views concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). Where there were moral or doctrinal errors involved, Paul pointed these out clearly and called for change. But, these apart, Paul did not ask them to become what they were not. His basic approach, which we can see exemplified in 7:20, was, “Stay as you are.”

What he did ask was that there be no disunity, no quarreling, “but that you all be united in the same mind and the same judgement” (1:10).

Some churches of today, in seeking to put into practice the spirit of this teaching of Paul, have adopted as their policy not to make any changes to the status quo unless the whole church (or at least the whole body of the leadership of that church) are unanimously agreed. So till then they will continue to pray and to “wait upon God”.

But there are so many issues which Scripture leaves open for our own determination (e.g. various aspects of how we conduct our worship of God), and so many ways in which we will differ (perfectly legitimately) from one another, that when this approach is followed rigorously it often happens that that church moves very slowly in any matter, or not at all. In some ways, some matters, this may be to the good; but overall it inhibits progress in adapting the eternal gospel to the circumstances of a changing world. Often this means that those people who are most vocal or have the strongest personalities (or who simply get in first to express their views) carry the day, because the less vocal, or the less pushy, or the more reticent, do not want to jeopardize the “unity of the Spirit” by expressing a different opinion.

Some have had, historically, a different approach: when (say) 75% want this and 25% want that, and they cannot agree or accommodate each other’s differences, they split - often acrimoniously. Then in their separate enclaves they can each have their “unanimity” over the issue. And thus perhaps another denomination is created. Then because of our investment (both emotional and financial) in the whole situation, the divisions and the divergences become so totally entrenched that they continue long after the basic causes have been forgotten and the original antagonists have passed from the scene.

Sometimes God blesses them all in this situation, and good may result. It can happen. The most famous example in Scripture is the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41), which resulted in two missionary parties going out, each under an experienced leader. But more often, in modern times, this simply results in bad feelings, a more divided Christian witness to the world, the waste of precious resources through the doubling-up on church infrastructure, and the fact that the one group can no longer benefit from the gifts of ministry which the Lord has given to members of the other group. Oftentimes the fact that a minority dissents over an issue will mean that the whole matter receives more careful consideration. Issues should still be decided by majority, but it will happen with an awareness of how often in history significant progress was made in any given field of endeavor only because a minority - or a single voice - dissented from the accepted outlook or the consensus of the majority or the status quo. It may indeed be that he or she is a voice in the wilderness, but they could be voicing prophetic insights from the Lord. Or not.

Paul’s earnest plea in this section is not a call for uniformity. Or unanimity. We need to distinguish clearly between the danger of the factions forming in our church which was of so much concern to Paul, on the one hand, and on the other, the expressing in valuable robust discussion of differing points of view. Different people espousing differing views and opinions is no justification for fracturing the unity of the body of Christ in a given church.

Ward
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weighing A Message at Corinth

Weighing A Message at Corinth (1 Cor 14:29)

The “weighing” of prophecy in this verse is just the same as our “weighing” of what is said in a sermon: which every congregation does today after a sermon. You have - or should have - an opinion about the sermon, a response. And it would be totally informal, and usually also totally private and personal. So this instruction is as important a challenge to the church of today as it was to the church in Corinth when Paul first wrote it. Paul is saying to us today: Don’t automatically believe everything you hear, not even everything you hear in a sermon! Assess it! Evaluate it!

It is actually easier and clearer to us today to do this, because we have the complete Scripture available and accessible. They would have had their knowledge of true teaching, pure doctrine, from what they had heard from Paul and others like him. But just as they - and we - are to resist evil, so also it is important to resist error. Jesus himself warned (Matthew 7:15) that false teachers would come like wolves in sheep’s clothing, false followers who would be capable of wreaking havoc amongst the flock of God.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 Paul said again the same kind of thing: Put everything you hear (even from prophets) to the test, and hold fast to what is good. Later, to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-30) he was to exhort them to guard themselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit of God had made them overseers, for savage wolves are coming to ravage the flock. (What a clear reminiscence of Jesus’s teaching!)

In the same way Peter (in 2 Peter 2:1-3) warns that, as there were false prophets of old, so there will be false teachers invading the church in his day, promoting destructive heresies.

In recent centuries down to present times - as indeed before, throughout church history - there have come false prophets in the church, enemies of the gospel masquerading as children of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). And also quite often there are earnest and genuine followers of the Lord who, in their teaching, simply are sincerely astray, sincerely wrong.

Too often the church of God has been too slow to weigh the teaching of the teachers against the Scripture, and to denounce error for what it is. The combined result is to be seen in parts of the church today: places where believers were previously true to the Scriptures but who now have accepted wrong teaching about the things of God, and wrong moral and ethical standards which are contrary to the Word of God.

And if we ourselves are called to a ministry of prophecy, of preaching - instructing, exhorting, and encouraging the people of God - this underlines the responsibility we are undertaking. James 3:1 reminds us that teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Paul says to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3), “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine.” And Paul says here, “Weigh carefully what is said.”

Let us do this conscientiously, testing what is being taught against the whole teaching of the Word of God. Isaiah said (8:20) “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light.” To do this requires that we are diligent and teachable students of the Bible, so that we put ourselves genuinely in a position today to evaluate preaching accurately by biblical standards, and we do not reject something just on the grounds that it is at variance with something else we learnt before. Like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, we must be active in searching the Scriptures for ourselves, as to whether these things are so.

The general teaching of the Scripture is that we are to accept the leadership of our leaders, and give them our loyal obedience (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 16:16; Hebrews 13:17). But this is to be balanced by a healthy scepticism which weighs up what is being said by the preacher: for Paul here puts this into balance. The fact that something is said by a prophet, a preacher, a leader in the church, does not automatically guarantee that it is right and true, and a word from God. Perhaps if those in earlier generations had been more alert to assess, identify, and counter wrong teaching, we may not have to the same extent the doctrinal and moral confusion which exists in many parts of today’s church. Perhaps if we heed now these words of warning from Paul, we may do a better job of guarding the deposit of God’s truth and handing it on faithfully - and accurately - to the next generation, as Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 challenged Timothy to do, and as Jude 3 also exhorts us.


Ward

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Christians and The Law of Christ

Christians and The Law of Christ

There are those who live under the law and to them Paul became, he tells us, as one under the law (“though not being myself under the law”), that he might win them. And to those who do not have the law he became as one “without law” (ἀνομος, anomos) that he might win them also. He cautiously qualifies this by saying also, “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ”. He is careful to show us that he is not without law, or outside the law, i.e. “lawless”, but he is subject to the law of Christ. So there are those who are under law, and those without law, and those who are subject to the law of Christ.

And what exactly does this “law of Christ” mean?

The New Testament regards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as authoritative and definitive. We have seen that Paul has already cited teachings from Jesus as the decisive word of the Lord on a point (7:10 and 9:14). Jesus himself referred on a number of occasions to his “commandments”, and in the ­Missionary Mandate of Matthew 28:20, when commissioning his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples from all nations, he instructed them to teach these converts “to obey all that I have commanded you”.

Paul refers specifically to the “law of Christ” in 9:21 and also in Galatians 6:2. John refers several times to his commandments in his First Epistle. James writes of the “Royal Law” in James 2:18 and of the “perfect law, the law of liberty” in 1:25 and again of the law of liberty in 2:12. And there is, throughout the New Testament, an attitude that in Jesus God has spoken and is to be obeyed at all costs (e.g. Acts 5:32).

Jesus placed his imprimatur upon the two greatest ­commandments as “love God” and “love your neighbour” (Matthew 22:37-40//Mark 12:29-31), and Paul summarized all the commandments of the Mosaic law as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Romans 13:9-10). John emphasized that we are to “keep his commandments and do what pleases him”, and identified in particular that “this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23; cf. 2:8).

Jesus made his commandments definitive of the relation of the disciple to him. “If you love me, you will keep my ­commandments” (John 14:15). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). And supremely, this is because it is to be recognized that “The word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24). Again Jesus said, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). John echoes this: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3.)

The Lord’s primary commandment is love (John 13:34-35). There is a sense in which all the rest of the teaching of Jesus is explicatory of how this commandment is fulfilled in practice, as Paul has said (Romans 13:10). But those “explanatory details” are important for clarifying how we are to behave in day-to-day living.

This does not mean that the commandments of the Old Testament have been abrogated or discontinued in some way, but rather, that they are now internalized and reapplied: and this, initially and primarily through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, a major distinction in the New Testament era in which we live is that all the commandments of God are now internalized: for the Christian, they are written by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone (like the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai), but on the tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). This happens as the Christian responds to the exhortation to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Lord himself instructed, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Matthew 11:29).

Paul reminds us that we “are not under law but under grace”, which means that Christians, “who were once slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:14-17).

Then, thus knowing the commandments of the Law of Christ, he and she will keep them because of the motivation of love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Paul is not “lawless”: he lives in submission to the “Law of Christ”. So also must all Christ’s followers do.



Ward

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Meaning of “the Breaking of Bread”

The Meaning of “the Breaking of Bread”


The expression “the breaking of bread” occurs five times in Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7,11; 27:35). This is quite frequently interpreted to refer to the rite of the Lord’s Supper: indeed, some expositors take this meaning for granted, as self-evident. If it does, it gives us no real information at all about it: except that it would testify to an early date for its observance.

However, how confident can we be, on the evidence, that any of the references to the “breaking of bread” do in fact refer to an observance of the Lord’s Supper/the Holy Communion/the Holy Eucharist? The easy confidence that that is its meaning should be more carefully examined - we shall consider further the relevance, for our understanding, of the passages about the breaking of bread.

All the New Testament references to the breaking of bread (including Gospel parallels) are (NIV):

(a) Mark 6:41 (cf. Matthew 14:9 and Luke 9:16) Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.

(b) Mark 8:6 (cf. Matthew 15:36) He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so.

(c) Luke 24:30,35 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. ... Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

(d) Acts 2:42,46 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. ... Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

(e) Acts 20:7,11 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. ... Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.

(f) Acts 27:35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.

Is the expression “the breaking of bread” being used in the New T­e­s­­­t­ament with reference to the Lord’s Supper? Let us examine this widely-held assumption.

The “breaking of bread” is in fact a standard Jewish expression from pre-Christian times which refers specifically to the action of “breaking bread” at the commencement of a meal, and then, by extension, to the meal itself. The act of breaking the bread was performed by the head of a household or by the host presiding at the meal.

The form of blessing used by the Jews for the bread was: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.”

The breaking of bread was thus associated with the prayer of thanksgiving, and had a religious significance of joint ­fellow­ship in sharing and enjoying the blessings of God. A.B. MacDonald, in his Christian Worship in the Primitive Church (125), points out:

“The taking of food was accompanied, or rather, preceded, by a certain formal and conspicuous action, namely, the pronouncing of a blessing over the bread that was to be eaten, followed by the breaking of the loaf in two, preparatory to its distribution around the table. This was an old Jewish custom, corresponding to our grace before meals, but conveying far deeper suggestions of religious fellowship, and carried through with greater solemnity and ceremony, and reserved for certain meals of a pronouncedly religious character.”

The blessing pronounced over the bread applied to the other food eaten in conjunction with the bread; A. Edersheim, in his The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, 206, writes:

“Bread was regarded as the mainstay of life, without which no entertainment was considered as a meal. For the blessing was spoken over the bread, and this was supposed to cover all the rest of the food which followed, such as the meat, fish or vegetables - in short, all that made up the dinner, but not the dessert.”

Similarly we read, in the IVF Bible Dictionary, 750: “‘To break bread’ was a common Jewish expression for the sharing of a meal.”

All of the New Testament usages of this expression are set out above. The three Gospel references to the breaking of bread, in ­accord with normal use, are clearly to the com­­­­mence­ment of a hunger-satisfying meal (the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand, the two dis­­ciples at Emmaus).

The first two of these are particularly so, for the hunger of the crowd was the motivation behind the feed­ing taking place, and it is equally clear that the two disciples were inviting the unrecognized Christ to an ordinary meal at Emmaus, for they expected him to stay the night with them.

Occasionally we encounter some fanciful interpretation of these accounts (e.g. Schweitzer in Quest for the Historical Jesus, 374, held that at the feeding of the five thousand Jesus administered an “eschatological sacrament”, giving a minute portion to everyone, much as we would today in a celebration of the Lord’s Supper); but the accounts in each case make it clear that the “breaking of bread” marked the commencement of a meal intended to feed the recipients.

In each of these three incidents the breaking of bread is coupled with giving thanks to God for the bread. It is interesting to note that in John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand he mentions our Lord giving thanks (John 6:11) but not his breaking of the bread, though this is implied.

It is readily recognized that Paul’s breaking of bread and giving thanks during the storm at sea (Acts 27:35) falls into the same category with the other three passages that I have mentioned. Thus these passages all illustrate the current Jewish custom of commencing a fellowship meal with the giving of thanks and the breaking of bread, thereby investing the meal with a religious significance of conscious joint participation in enjoying the blessings of God.

The circumstances of Jesus’s life with his disciples made it inevitable that they often ate together, sometimes on their own and sometimes as a guest in the house of others (e.g. at the home of Mary and Martha at Bethany). On many of these occasions Jesus would preside, and thus would be the one who broke bread and gave thanks. It would seem that he had a unique and distinctive way of doing so; certainly it was through his breaking of the bread that the two at Emmaus recognized him (Luke 24:30, 35).

It is clear that after the resurrection of Jesus the disciples began to meet together in fellowship assemblies and that they shared meals together. The risen Christ on occasions joined in eating common meals with them (Luke 24:29-31; 24:41-43; John 21:9-15; [Mark 16:14]). After the Lord’s ascension and the events of the day of Pentecost, the disciples continued their fellowship together. Their common meals would now also be a conscious remembrance of the meals they had shared with the Lord during his physical presence among them, and as they broke bread and gave thanks they would be reminded of the times he did this in their midst and they would be conscious of his continued presence with them through the Holy Spirit.

There is absolutely no reason at all for doubting that they would continue the pattern of their years of association with Jesus (and in fact the pattern of all pious Jews) by beginning their ordinary hunger-satisfying meals with the breaking of bread and thanksgiving. The question is, is this all that is meant when Luke speaks (Acts 2:42,46) of the breaking of bread? Certainly it is possible that this exhausts the meaning of the expression “breaking of bread” in these verses.

However, it is claimed by some that after the crucifixion and resurrection the disciples would have in their minds one particular occasion when Jesus broke bread: the Last Supper. Moreover, as the remembrance of that occasion would fill their minds whenever they broke bread together, so the ­signi­ficance which Jesus placed upon the broken bread (“This is my body which is [given] for you”) would be primary in their thoughts. Thus they would be consciously remembering the death of Christ and its significance when they broke bread together, and thus the expression “breaking of bread” must refer to a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

But is it to be maintained that every main meal which the disciples had (on which occasions bread would be broken at the commencement) is to be regarded not only as a meal per se, but as a celebration of the Lord’s Supper? It could be answered that only at one meal a day, the main meal, would bread be ceremoniously broken, and that this meal was also a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, this meal being seen as the meaning of Acts 2:46, “And day by day, attending the temple together, and breaking bread in their homes ...”

But if the custom of a daily observance of the Lord’s­ ­Supper was ever followed, it clearly was not long continued. After it became weekly (which in the view of many commentators is what shortly happened), was the term “breaking of bread” to be then used for the observance of the Lord’s ­Supper alone and no longer to be used for the breaking of bread which Christian Jews would still observe at the beginning of their regular daily meals? Or are we to assume that Christian Jews discontinued the practice of breaking of bread at the beginning of their main daily meals?

It is much more likely that in Acts 2 and also in Acts 20 (Paul at Troas), Luke uses the expression “breaking of bread” or “to break bread” in exactly the same way he has used it in his Gospel, and in accordance with the regular usage of the day, to denote the preliminary act at the commencement of a fellowship meal in which God’s gracious gift of food is gratefully accepted.

If so, then the meals referred to in Acts would indeed have a definite religious significance and would doubtless be regarded as a remembrance of Jesus and a conscious participation in fellowship with the risen Lord, and may well therefore have been invested with a special significance for Christians - but they would not be comprised of the six characteristics which (as we shall see) were features of an observance of the Lord’s Supper as Paul sets it forth in 1 Corinthians. So what the ­disciples did when “breaking bread together” could not be called an observance of the Lord’s Supper.

To summarize:

The expression “the breaking of bread” found in Acts 2 was commonly used amongst the Jews to refer to the sharing of a meal in conscious religious fellowship, and this usage is found in the New Testament, not least in the Gospel by the same author as Acts and even elsewhere in the Acts.

The significance of the religious aspect of the breaking of bread would be greatly heightened for the disciples in the light of the Last Supper, but this is not the same as saying that they held a ritual meal deliberately re-enacting the Last Supper in ­conscious obedience to the command of Christ, commemorating his death through eating bread and drinking a cup; and these features would be necessary if we are to regard the “breaking of bread” as equating with the Lord’s Supper.

Rather, the evidence indicates that in the New Testament the expression “the breaking of bread” or “broke bread” refers to the usual Jewish practice of prayer with which a hunger-satisfying meal commenced. When we recognize that references to the breaking of bread are not references to the Lord’s Supper, we see the significance of what we learn from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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To Whom Is Paul Writing In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40?

To Whom Is Paul Writing In 1 Corinthians 7:25-40?


This final section of Paul’s discussion of sex and marriage - 1 Corinthians 7:25 to 40 - is quite ambiguous for us. Doubtless his readers at Corinth knew exactly what he was talking about. But we do not.

At issue, basically, is the question of just who it is that Paul is addressing in this entire section in general, and in verses 36 to 38 in particular. To a large extent these verses are the crux of the matter, so we need to look at them first of all.

Hurd 171 maintains:

“This passage is one of the most difficult and controversial in the New Testament, because a number of serious ambiguities occur in these three verses.”

Indeed: this passage is possibly the most completely ambiguous passage in the entire New Testament - so much so that translations sometimes give two completely different versions of it (as in the NIV, and Barclay’s translation).

In the Greek text, Paul is discussing the question (quite ­possibly raised by the Corinthians in their letter to Paul) of what a man should do about his virgin. What are we to take this to mean?

There are three views found in the translations: (a) These verses could be referring to a man and his fiancée to whom he is betrothed (taken thus by the ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, TEV, and Phillips). (b) The verses could be referring to a custom that was known from later centuries but is not attested from New Testament times, of “a man and a woman living together under vows of chastity” (Jerusalem Bible margin; also taken this way by the NEB). Or (c) the verses could be discussing the responsibility of a father to arrange for the marriage of his daughter, and who was seeking to know what was the right thing for him to do in the present crisis situation at Corinth in the light of Paul’s teaching (7:26) about “holding to the status quo” (NASB, NIV margin, Jerusalem Bible).

Hodge and Garland present the case for the two main, differing, positions, Hodge taking the older, traditional interpretation, and Garland arguing for the major alternative position.

Hodge 132f. presents his viewpoint on v.36 thus:

“This and the following verse are addressed to fathers, for with them, according to the usage both of Jews and Greeks, rested the disposal of the daughters of the family. Though the apostle regarded marriage at that time as inexpedient, he tells fathers that they were perfectly free to exercise their own judgement in giving their daughters in marriage, or keeping them single.”

Hodge then proceeds to exegete the passage from this ­perspective. Similarly Robertson & Plummer 158f., who say,

“The verse indicates that the Corinthians had asked him about the duty of a father with a daughter of age to marry. The question is what he ought to do, not what she ought to do: his wishes, not hers, are paramount. This is in accordance with the ideas of that age, and the Apostle does not condemn them. ... It is wholly improbable that tis, autou, and hos (v.37) refer to the suitor, the prospective bridegroom. The Corinthians would not have asked about him. It is the father’s or guardian’s duty that is the question.”

To the contrary, Garland sets out the three views I have mentioned above, and then argues against two of them. The interpretation that the reference is to a non-sexual “spiritual marriage” is effectively refuted by his arguments against it, and I consider we can put this possibility aside. Our choice is thus between the other two views: that Paul is discussing (a) a father and his virgin daughter, or (b) a man and his fiancée.

Which approach to the passage is correct? Both are well supported. Hodge’s approach is the traditional one - it was the common interpretation amongst the early Church Fathers. Thus for example on these verses Theodoret says (Kovacs 128):

“If a father thinks that his daughter’s remaining unmarried is a disgrace and so wishes to unite her with a husband, let him do as he sees fit. For there is no sin in marriage.”

On the other hand, Garland argues for the interpretation that this passage refers to a man in relation to a possible marriage to his betrothed fiancée.

This is the usual one taken by commentators today - though not all of them: for example, in his recent (2000) Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Barnett says (on v. 36), “Apparently a father from the congregation has expressed concern that in barring the way for the marriage of a daughter who is somewhat older than the norm ... he may have acted in an unseemly way”, and Barnett then interprets this passage accordingly. So also does Naylor 150ff. (1996). But unquestionably most of the recent commentaries - and translations - take Paul to be referring to a man and his fiancée.

Do Garland’s arguments against the father/daughter scenario effectively demolish this viewpoint? I do not believe they do. It seems to me that the two possibilities are much more evenly balanced than would appear from Garland’s presentation. Numerous commentators have specifically referred to the difficulty of deciding the case. Garland himself cites one of them - Moiser; Hurd, as we have seen earlier, called this issue “one of the most difficult and controversial in the New Testa­ment”. And Orr & Walther 223f. write, “Few passages ­of Scripture of such length bristle with more difficulties than does this.”

Garland’s arguments against the “father/daughter” interpretation are effectively rebutted in the literature on the ­passage. For example, as to Garland’s arguments #3 and #5 (pages 337f.), regarding “virgins”, and γαμιζω (gamizō), Orr & Walther 223 point out:

“There is considerable ambiguity in the phrase his virgin. Again, no line of argument offers incontrovertible evidence; the explanation given will usually support the overall interpretation adopted ... There is evidence in Greek literature for the use of parthenos as both ‘fiancée’ and ‘daughter’. This passage must finally be understood without a sure decision about this phrase ... By interpreting the person in question as a father, v.38 readily makes sense. The meaning of the New Testament word gamizō is clearly ‘to give in marriage’ in the only other [New Testament] occurrences.”

Robertson & Plummer 159 are definite in their judgement:

“The γαμιζων [gamizōn, give in marriage] is decisive: the Apostle is speaking of a father or guardian disposing of an unmarried daughter or ward.”

How then do we come to a position on this issue? I myself am influenced in my own decision by three factors:

1. What we know of the situation existing in New Testament times, when Paul wrote: that is, what are the background circumstances prevailing behind this Epistle? The ­answer is: that in this society, marriages were normally arranged marriages - arranged by the parents between their families (i.e. marriage had wider implications than just the feelings and preferences of the bride and groom). Frequently we do not give this factor due weight: we are in danger of reading-back our twenty-first century attitudes into the first century world. We shrink from the idea of our parents arranging who we are to marry, and so we recoil from the recognition of the fact that this is the way it was in the first century. Actually, this is still the way it is, in a large number of societies in the world today, and if we think our “free romantic choice” approach is so much better, we could perhaps reflect upon (a) how many people today of both sexes do not marry because they “do not find the right person”, and so they are “left on the shelf”, matrimonially speaking, and (b) the fact that our society’s approach is not all that markedly successful in steering people towards lasting and satisfactory marriages, if we note the number of marriages today that end in divorce or separation. So, given the cultural circumstances of the day - that the person who was primarily responsible for whether a young virgin married or not was her father - there is an a priori presumption, other things being equal, that this is the implied situation Paul is discussing.

2. What the early Church Fathers thought. This is not always decisive - they could be wrong. But they did live so much closer than we do to the apostolic age, and they would in many ways be in a better position than we are to judge how to take ambiguous passages. And in relation to the present ­passage, their common view was that Paul was speaking of a father and his virgin daughter.

3. The actual words Paul used. I take it that Paul chose his words accurately, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we should take careful note of them. And in v.38 Paul speaks of giving or not giving the virgin in marriage, γαμιζω (gamizō). Concerning this word Orr & Walther 223 write,

“The verb gamizein regularly means ‘give in marriage’ and not ‘marry’ in the New Testament, and it does not occur in Greek literature prior to the New Testament literature.”

A fact that Garland omits to mention. So there is no ­adequate reason here for us to depart from its usual meaning, and I do not consider that we should do so. For these reasons I agree here with Hodge’s interpretation, not Garland’s.

(This is one of the “Practical and Pastoral Reflections” upon Paul’s Epistle, taken from
B Ward Powers’ First Corinthians - An Exegetical and Explanatory Commentary.)

Ward

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