Theology


binding-loosingThere are two passages in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus speaks of “binding” and “loosing”:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

I have heard two different types of interpretations of these passages.  The first understands this to give power to the church leadership (whether at the level of the local pastor or the denomination as a whole) to legislate on matters not addressed (or not sufficiently clear) in Scripture.  This often gets applied to morally questionable practices.  For example, some Christians think it is morally wrong to wear jewelry while others think it is morally acceptable.  To settle the dispute, a pastor will either “bind” the issue by prohibiting the use of jewelry among his congregants, or will “loose” the issue by allowing it.  Whatever the pastor binds or looses on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven, so to disobey or contradict the pastor is to disobey God Himself.

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2-or-3-gatheredThe go-to passage for prayer groups and prayer meetings across the globe is Jesus’ words in Matthew 8:19-20:

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The common interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is present when two or three believers have gathered and agree together in prayer concerning any matter.  Even when I subscribed to this interpretation, I always had the nagging question about the implications this had for praying alone.  Is God not present when you are praying by yourself?  I resolved that perhaps God was present in a special way when more people were gathered.  The power of unity, right?

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do-not-judgeThere are few charges Americans dread more than “being judgmental.”  It ranks as one of the worst of the new “secular sins.”  But what exactly is judging?  The way it has come to be understood in common parlance is considering someone’s beliefs or behavior to be wrong.  Both Christians and non-Christians alike commonly quote Jesus saying “Do not judge lest you be judged” as their moral authority for their brand of non-judgmentalism, but did Jesus mean it’s wrong to tell others they are wrong?

If Jesus’ prohibition on judging means it’s wrong to tell others their beliefs or behavior is wrong, then Jesus Himself is both judgmental and hypocritical.  If it’s wrong to tell others that they are wrong, then Jesus was wrong to tell those people that what they are doing is wrong.  When our understanding of “judging” leads us to conclude that Jesus is a hypocrite, we ought to reconsider whether Jesus defined judging the way we do.

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twinkling-of-eyeThose who espouse to a pretribulation view of the rapture typically hold that the rapture will be “secret,” in the sense that no unbeliever will witness the event because it happens so quickly.  The Scriptural justification for this view is said to be 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

If this passage teaches a secret rapture of the church, it would be unique among the raptures recorded in Scripture.  All other raptures were witnessed by those who remained on the Earth.  Enoch was raptured to heaven (Gen5:24). While we are not told of any particular person who witnessed the event, it must have been witnessed by someone, otherwise people could not have known that God took him.  Elijah’s rapture was witnessed by Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-12).  Jesus’ rapture was witnessed by the apostles (Acts 1:9-11).  The rapture of the Two Witnesses will be witnessed by their enemies (Rev 11:3-12).  Why would all other raptures in the Bible be public, but the rapture of the church be secret?  If we could develop any Biblical precedent for the speed of the church’s rapture, it would appear that it will be slow enough for others to witness it.

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“For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  I’ve heard this quoted many times to make the point that you are what you think.  Or shall I say misquoted?  That’s not what the text actually says, nor what it means.  Here’s the passage in context, in three different translations:

Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies; For as he thinks within himself, so he is.  He says to you, “Eat and drink!” But his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten, and waste your compliments. (Prov 23:6-8, NASB)

Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost.  “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments. (Prov 23:6-8, NIV)

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. 8 You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words. (Prov 23:6-8, ESV

The first thing to notice in all three translations is that it doesn’t read “a man” as in any person (as one might infer from the KJV), but rather “he.”  It has a specific kind of person in mind.  What kind of person is that?  A stingy person.  Solomon is warning against duplicitous, selfish people who have their own interests in mind, but act as if they care about you.  They are not showing you their true hand.  Their heart doesn’t match their words.  Outwardly they pretend to be generous, but inwardly are stingy.

While one may be what they think (or conversely, think according to what they are), that’s not the point of Proverbs 23:7.

Keep it in context….

die-dailyA concept commonly advocated in conservative, holiness-minded churches is “dying to the flesh.”  And invariably, while preachers are advocating denying worldly lusts and choosing righteousness, they will appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:31 that he “dies daily” (KJV).  I’ve heard this interpreted to mean we need to make a choice every day to submit our will to God’s or to deny worldly lusts.  Some even cite it in the context of prayer and fasting (i.e. those practices will cause you to die out to your flesh desires on a daily basis).  When Paul penned those words, was he talking about sacrificing our will to God?  Did he have prayer and fasting in mind?  Let’s look at those words in context: (more…)

letter-killsIn Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes:

“[God] has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

This verse is commonly used to argue that “spiritual” things like prayer, fasting, and spiritual gifts are more important than reading the Bible.  I’ve often heard it quoted to me by people who are opposed to formal theological education.  After all, Paul said too much focus on the “letter” will kill you spiritually.  Is this right?

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