Friday, September 30, 2016

Intepreting Scripture: Every Language

EVERY LANGUAGE                                       10/2/16

John 19:19-22, Revelation 5

I have been involved in a series of meetings alongside our Presbytery’s Urban Mission Group.  After several meetings, we have come to the conclusion that the very word for which we gather is an elusive word;  urban.  It is amazing how many rabbit trails you can go down when there is no collectively agreed upon definition of a word.   And before we place too much blame upon these Presbyterians, a simple google search of the word urban shows how little agreed upon definition there is midst the scholarly world, and even the United States government in their census endeavors.

Today’s theme is about language.  We will be providing ourselves keys this fall for Intepreting Scripture.  So far, we have looked at how Scripture defines itself, and last week, the genres (literary types) of the Bible.  Today we consider languages.

Let me be clear that I am no linguist, but the little I know, as I set out on my journey of research, only led to a wide world where I am but a stranger.  And the more I discovered, and was excited by, this led to ten more questions.  So today, I want to keep this really simple.


1.     Identify the 3 languages that Scripture was originally written

2.     Talk about how today’s passages in worship speak to language

The three languages that the Bible was originally written in are Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.  For those with strong Roman Catholic backgrounds, you might have thought that Latin was the third answer.  Up until Vatican II, the language of mass was Latin, and hundreds of years ago, Jerome translated the Bible into the Vulgate, that is Latin Bible.  But no biblical book was originally penned in Latin.

Most of what we call the “Old Testament” or Hebrew Scripture, was written in Hebrew.  It was the language of Jacob, renamed Israel, and his descendants.  This language is under a larger family umbrella called Semitic languages, all of whom are born in the Middle East.

Scholars readily agree that great care was taken by the scribes.  This was proven historically by the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were a 1000 years older than the previously oldest Hebrew documents that we had.  The differences between the two collections were minimal. 

 From historian Scott Manning,  The Process Used by Jewish Scribes for Copying Scrolls

1.    They could only use clean animal skins, both to write on, and even to bind manuscripts.

2.    Each column of writing could have no less than forty-eight, and no more than sixty lines.

3.    The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.

4.    They must verbalize each word aloud while they were writing.

5.    They must wipe the pen and wash their entire bodies before writing the word “Jehovah,” every time they wrote it.

6.    There must be a review within thirty days, and if as many as three pages required corrections, the entire manuscript had to be redone.

7.    The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted, and the document became invalid if two letters touched each other. The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.

8.    The documents could be stored only in sacred places (synagogues, etc).

9.    As no document containing God’s Word could be destroyed, they were stored, or buried, in a genizah – a Hebrew term meaning “hiding place.” These were usually kept in a synagogue or sometimes in a Jewish cemetery.

Aramaic has a long history (it is older than Hebrew), but weaves in and out of the story of the Bible.  For example, there is an Aramaic word for Covenant used in Genesis.  Aramaic was the language of political treaty’s in the ancient world.  Half of the Book of Daniel and 2 chapters of Ezra are in Aramaic.  Before the time of Christ, Aramaic becomes the conversational language of the people, with Hebrew preserved for religious purposes.  In the New Testament, Jesus is often quoted speaking Aramaic, such as Eli, Eli, lema Sabachthani.  Jesus spoke at least, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  While Paul knew these three, as well as Latin.

Greek has a long history of influence, affecting languages from Ireland to Pakistan.  One of the earlier forms of Greek, Attic, was called in one book I read, “the most expressive medium ever developed for human thought”.  Through the conquests of Alexander, some 300 years before Christ, Greek becomes the dominant language in the world, used across nations and cultures.  This form of Greek is called “Koine” or common Greek.  It is what the New Testament was written in.  The point of Koine Greek was to get the message out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

I want to provide 2 brief thoughts:

1.  When reading the Old Testament, stop and read what the Hebrew names for people and places mean.  They are always helpful to the story.  Most translations will include their meanings at the bottom of pages.

2.  The Hebrew and Greek languages provide a perfect complement to what our Faith should be.  The Hebrew language reminds us of the care and devotion and attention to detail that should be in our faith.  And the Greek language reminds us of the urgency of this gospel message for the world and all people.  So we have two languages that make up all but less than 10 chapters of Scripture:  one that had little change over a 1000 year period, and one that announced good news of great joy for all the people.  In our lives, there is the important work of preservation, and the important work of proclamation.


Today, we weave three passages that are interesting because of how they use language and voice.

The Gospel passage reminds us of the power of language.  Jesus was executed by the Roman Empire as an enemy of the state. The cross was the technique commonly used for execution.  And on this cross, Pilate has the phrase printed “Jesus, King of the Jews”.  This was not done unintentionally.  First, the message is written in Aramaic for the nation Israel: here is what we have done to your king.  Second, the message is written in the language of the Empire, Latin.  Third, the message is written in Koine Greek, whose influence extended geographically further, and still the most common language of Jesus time. 

There was power in the language that Pilate used.  He chose his words carefully.  The gospel message challenges Pilate’s intent. This death had redemption, and this King was a lion who was also a lamb.  Truly this was the Son of God.

Psalm 109 teaches us the practice of language.  In this song, both the wicked and the righteous use language for their purposes.  The wicked open their mouths, and concerning results occur:

Lying tongues (vs 2)

words of hatred  (vs 3)

accusation (vs 4)

cursing (vs 17)

no pleasure in blessing (vs 17)

The righteous practice language in a different way:

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord” (vs 30).

Let us keep in mind the words spoken by James, “With our mouths we praise our Lord and Father, and curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness…My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (3:9-10)


In Revelation was see the purpose of language.  In this picture of the heavenly throne, how are voice and language used?  We see the Angel inquire of the creation regarding someone worthy to approach God.  The Lamb, that Lion of Judah takes and opens the scroll.  4 living creatures and twenty four elders gathered around God’s throne break into song.  Then ten thousand angels squared circle the creatures and elders, giving their praise.  Finally, every creature in heaven, earth and under earth praise God. 

Voice asks a question

“The angel proclaimed in a loud voice, “who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (5:2)

Voice sings a new song:

“And they sang a new song:  You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9)

Voice comes from many:

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” (5:11)

There is volume in voice:

“In a loud voice they were saying” (5:12)

God’s intent for language is that every language of the earth give praise to God.  None are to avoid the honor of blessing God’s name.  This is why Jesus died on that cross.  He was King of the Jews.  And He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

And this title for Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters, are the best words that our mouths can speak. 


Friday, September 9, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Truth in an Uncertain World

There are 51 references in the Gospel of John to the word “Truth”.   At the start of today's sermon, here are several of them to hear.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.    1:14, 17

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.  3:21

God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.    4:24

I tell you the truth.    –multiple references

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   –8:32

I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me 


When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.   –16:13

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.   –17:17

Jesus answered Pilate; In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.   ---18:37

“What is truth?”  retorted Pilate  --18:38


Truth in an Uncertain World                                                9/11/16

Acts 17:10-34, John passages

Passages of time always strike people differently, but it amazes me that it has been 15 years since the attacks in New York, Washington and the skies of Pennsylvania.  You can be in high school and your whole life has been lived in a post-9/11 society.

As we look back, two distinctive ideas have occurred:  people throughout the world felt connected, even brought close by that day, and at the same time, terror, conflict, war, death have separated people and nations.

Fracture in the world is one of the consistencies of the post-modern world.  We live in a world that experiences philosophical and epistemological crisis.  Epistemological is a fancy word for “how we know”.   There is a sense in which this has always been true, for it was Pilate who 1980 years ago scoffed at Jesus Christ, “What is truth?”  But it continues to ring true today, and in our world.

The more we know, the more questions we have.  And our questions are born out of crisis.  How do we know?  How can we know?  What should we know?  These are the questions that come from a fractured world.

It was into this world that Jesus came, and his Spirit placed within our hearts:  We can know truth, because Jesus Christ is truth.  He is the answer to our deepest questions.

Part of the fracture that has occurred in part because of our access to unattainable amounts of knowledge and opinions.   Google searches reveal a million sites of opportunity in a second.  What are we to do with that?  One response has been that for humans, it is easy to deconstruct; that is to use questions to tear down, to challenge in unhealthy ways if there is any knowledge or truth in the world.  I find this true in my life:  I can be just like anyone in a chat room or blog and tell you what is wrong with the world.  The challenge is to use knowledge in a way that builds something, not simply bringing accusation and deconstruction to the table.  If truth exists, then it is by definition, helpful and good for people, all people, regardless of time and geography and age.

As we contemplate the John passages where Jesus mentions truth, what should truth do for the Christian?

Truth should equip us for life and living.  Truth is an enduring reality, and able to shape us for good.  Truth isn’t simply something to talk about in playful manner (as the Athenians did in the Acts story).  Truth is meant to shape our lives, and all the living we do.

Truth and grace are woven together in the gospel.  We are to be people of truth.  Christians should announce the truth of Jesus Christ, challenge falsehood, live truthfully.  But we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we are never wrong about anything.  Jesus was full of truth and grace.  We, in our efforts to lift up Jesus Christ as the truth, should also model and experience grace too. 

Truth is something we can know.  Jesus is the truth.  We can know him, and knowing him should open the door to knowing what is true.

Truth liberates.  “the truth shall set you free…when the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed”.  We must take great care when we come together as a congregation to be people of truth, to tell the truth, to find the truth, and to build our story not on what isn’t true, but what is.  If we construct congregational life on what isn’t true, then there isn’t a reason for us to exist.

Paul Tells the Truth
The Areopagus was the highest court in Ancient Greece, with honored citizens who had to go through nine levels of testing to be on the council.  The court pre-dates democracy in Greece, and the council could summon any person to punish serious crimes, (I found interesting that idleness was among the serious crimes listed).  Because this outsider Paul stirred up the crowds in the marketplace, and challenged the establish idols of Athens, he is brought before the court.

This story models how we are to act as messengers of God’s truth.  First off, we meet the Bereans, who are described as noble in character because they search the Scriptures when Paul proclaims the message.  They did not blindly follow, but used their minds, considered their sources and history, and engaged with what he taught.  They used Scripture as the foundation of what they were listening to. 

Paul went to the marketplaces to debate and proclaim his message.  This is a good reminder to us, to interact with people in our workplaces, in our shopping, our walking down the street:  these are the places where truth likes to travel.  

Paul spoke the truth when he was asked to testify.  He brought his best, his logic and reason and message, based on his understanding of Athenian society.  He did not avoid the difficult topics of idolatry, resurrection and judgment. 

Paul remained open to how God wanted to use him.  The Areopagus invited him back to hear more from him.  Paul was available.  The message of truth will stand on its own merit, and a number of people were transformed because Paul spoke the truth.

Today, we conclude our summer sermon series called “How Did We Get Here?”  We have attempted to consider the state of the Church throughout the world, and how it has experienced Scriptural Values modeled throughout Western Civilization.  I want to close our series by briefly reviewing values and warnings that we’ve highlighted, and a one sentence explanation of why they are important to the church today.

From Oral History, we learned that The human story has always been about more than survival.  
This is true of our faith in Christ, and equally important for congregations to know, understand and practice:  if we are serving God, we have more important things to concern ourselves with than survival.

From Greek history, we learned about wisdom together.  Our Christian faith relies on the wisdom of brothers and sisters, and our congregations are gatherings of people who should be wisdom for each other.

From Roman History, we learned about seeking values which endure.

It was during the time of the Roman Empire that Jesus Christ was born.  We are to announce his good news amidst the empires of this world.

The Medieval world stressed the importance of community.  We are created for community, with God and neighbor.  We should always be seeking to nurture community with God and neighbor, and congregations are to be leaders in modeling community.

The Renaissance invited people to behold beauty.  We serve the God of all glory and majesty.  Christians should lift up that which is beautiful.

The Reformation was an age of correction.  People of faith should always be open to being corrected, for repentance leads to salvation.  Churches must be on the forefront of being communities of grace and truth where correction is received.

The era of nation building helped define the roles of authorities.  We are to respect authorities while staying on message that all authority is given by God, and will answer to God.

The Enlightenment emphasized progress.  While we always want to improve, Jesus Christ, and not the idea of progress, is our ultimate focus.  We can remember that one definition of progress is the parade route of a Sovereign throughout his or her realm.  God is to be announced to the masses as human history sees his presence.

The age of industrialization brought mass production, but our job is not to get more, but rather, take care (be a steward) of what we have been given.

Today, truth exists, even in an uncertain world.  Jesus is the truth, and Christians have the responsibility to make truth claims to the world on behalf of our God.

If we consider the final saying from the John readings, Jesus told Pilate that he was the truth and that everyone with Christ will side with truth.   Pilates response was to scoff “What is truth?”. 

As we go out into an uncertain world, who are you more like, Pilate, with your philosophical scoffing of the existence of truth, or your Lord, whom you are called to become like?

Jesus is the truth.  He is the truth, all the truth, needed for an uncertain world.  As ambassadors, the most lasting thing we can do is point people to Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Stewardship

Taking Care                                                                           9/4/16

Psalm 105, I Corinthians 1:1-9

How did we get here?  We’ve been considering the state of the 21st century church through the lens of history.  We’ve lifted up some stories from Western Civilization where biblical values were expressed:  meaning to human existence, wisdom, enduring work and values, being created for community, beauty, correction, authority and progress.  Today, we turn to 19th Century Great Britain for a look at how industrialization changed the world.

For our purposes, I am suggesting that Industrialization provides a warning to the church.  For the church is the steward of God’s message.  We are to be stewards of every expression of the gift of life.  Ultimately, the church, and our individual lives are to be care takers of God’s story.  God’s story is so important that we are to help announce it, model it, proclaim it, even challenge systems that ignore it.  Our focus should not be on our story, but on God’s story. 

Industrialization is a movement from agriculture to Industry as the basis for economy.  It was an era that was born out of an era where farming had become more efficient, and there was more opportunity to pursue other types of work.  The era, started in Great Britain, but quickly spreading throughout Europe, and blossoming in the United States, brought great wealth, but with a cost.

In Great Britain, industry was able to take off because of certain economic changes.  These changes lead to growth in Britain: for example from 1780-1880 there was at least 2-3% economic growth per year. That is every year for a 100 years.  This sustained growth happened in part because of some of the simply amazing technological advancements, as well as the introduction of the railroad and steamboat.  But to simplify the era, industrialization can be described in this sentence:  Bring workers to the machines. 

In the Industrial Age, the factory is born.  Factories are closely built to natural resources of water and coal.

With 20/20 hindsight, the results have not been kind.  Great wealth was created, but at great cost.
Consider some of the negative effects:

*many factories were truly awful working conditions, with dehumanizing and slave like labor in stifling heat and windowless buildings. 


*architecture and town design was mass produced.  Houses and towns were constructed the same way factories were, expediently and uniformly.  There was a complete lack of diversity.   You may have seen pictures of row houses in Great Britain:  street after street of the same looking houses.

*Nutrition and health (infant mortality rate approached 20% in the 1850’s, and there were chronicled height decreases among the working class)

*the growth of wealth was accompanied by the decline of the church tithe (33% was to be given to the work for the poor).  The result is that more needs become state sponsored.

*Increase in disparity of wealth

*Education and voting rights were kept at bay for the large percentages of working poor

There is a final significant harm to the world:  Industrialization and nationalism become connected.  This era of economic growth hastened a competition among the nations regarding, trade, taxes and raising tariffs to keep foreign goods out.  The result is that many nations look inward and not outward. This nationalism particularly shows itself in world war in the first half of the 20th century.  As we look back, Industrialization acts as a bridge between the Enlightenment philosophy of progress and 20th century war (with its technological advancements)

We acknowledge that many of our brothers and sisters throughout history spent much of their life in very difficult working conditions, with a disconnect of enjoyment, pleasure and participation in what they were working for.  They were care takers of their factories mission.  But this mission became oppressive, and dehumanized many. 

Christianity is a different way:  Yes, we should work, and work hard, and sometimes people might have to work hard at jobs they don’t particularly like.  Christians do not have to fall prey to the folly of “more”.  Christians are commanded to keep themselves and their identity rooted in the Lord, and their first job is being care takers of God’s concerns, God’s story in the world.  This is always our first job.

Scripture speaks in other places to the health that comes from putting God first.  Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God, and the other things will be added unto you.  We find purpose when we find God’s will, and there is a tremendous liberty and life shaping aspect of following God’s will.

We are stewards, which is a word for care takers.  We are to take care of God’s desire for the world.  We represent a story bigger than our individual stories.

Psalm 105 shares that we take on the story of Israel. 

--We are to be people who praise the Lord.

--we model strength when we look to the Lord

--we remember God’s saving work for his people

--we remember his promises to patriarchs of the faith

--we watch God fulfill his promises

--we see judgments and pronouncements, we see grace and mercy displayed to the people.  We see life, and death and resurrection. 

--we testify to God’s provision and his saving works.

The forces of Industrialization still attempt to speak to us.  Wealth produced leads to a desire for more wealth.  It is easy to conclude we can compromise spiritual health, physical health, the care needed for the daily living of life, the attention required for details, and encounters, each word, specific actions, every person.  To whom much is given, much is required.

Paul provides good news to the Corinthian church.  God was faithful to them, just as God had been faithful to Israel throughout the generations.  Believers in the Corinth church, like believers gathering as the congregations we are apart of today, had been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy people (set apart), bound together to believers everywhere.  God had enriched the church in every way.  For Corinth that was with all kinds of speech and knowledge—but for Stockton or Titusville, we might be enriched by God in a different way.  God has confirmed the story we speak on his behalf.   We are care takers of a magnificent story of a magnificent God. 

This God has given all the spiritual gifts we need for our work in Christ.  The Lord’s faithfulness will guide the stewardship of these gifts.  God, who is faithful, has called us into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  (1:9). 

When we keep track on God’s story, God provides for all that we need to tell the story.  Telling God’s story requires all of our care, but will also lead to blessing and wholeness. 

We too have been enriched in every way and God has given us every spiritual gift as we wait for our story to receive its triumphant ending:  the Lord Jesus Christ revealed as King of kings and Lord of lords.