What is Truth?

I recently read True Words by Nicholas Wolterstorff and would like to interact with his article.

Wolterstorff defines truth by saying this: “I suggest that the root notion of truth is that of something’s measuring up – that is, measuring up in being or excellence.” I agree with this because it makes the definition of truth more inclusive and comprehensive. The definition’s inclusiveness and comprehensiveness are what I consider this definition’s significant strengths. If truth is something’s measuring up, there must be a standard of which that something is measuring up to. With this meaning, the context defines the standard to which something is being measured.

When Wolterstorff uses the verses John 5:31 and 8:17, he is displaying that “true” is more than the philosopher’s standard sense of ascribing to something asserted. I agree with him because then you must judge what about Jesus’s testimony is being asserted, which can be too interpretive and even nearsighted. If Wolterstorff’s definition is used, then Jesus’s use of the word “true” means his testimony measures up in being or excellence. The words “true” can be substituted in such fashions as follows: “If I bear witness to myself, my testimony does not measure up; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me measures up.” “In your law it is written that the testimony of two men measures up.”

In the following examples, the of uses “true” and “truth” cannot even be assertions (John 2:8). In John 3:21 “truth” is an action. In John 4:23, John 15:1, John 17:3 “true” is no longer even actions, it is an adjective. Then in John 3:33, 7:28, 8:26, 14:6, and 17:17, “true” and “truth” are nouns. Wolterstorff’s definition works in each case here as well. “Measuring up” can be an action, “measuring up in excellence” can be an adjective to describe the nouns, and “measuring up in being” can be the noun. Again, some form of “measuring up” can be inserted for every “true” and “truth”. The point here is that each time something is being measured up to a standard, and the standard is different or similar in each context. This definition and way of looking at it provides inclusiveness and comprehensiveness.

This definition of truth is not relativism because as Dr. Glenn Kreider put it “relativism would be the view that everything is true, that all statements are true, that every interpretation of reality is legitimate.” Furthermore, as Richard Rorty supports that there are no relativists because if everything is relative, that is an absolute statement, which means it cannot be relative and nothing would be relevant. Wolterstorff’s definition is claiming that truth is relative to a context. This would be considered contextualization and not relativism.

The only significant weaknesses I can think of for Wolterstorff’s definition is that the standard that something measures up to can often be subjective. So, if not everyone has the same standard, then the “truth” can be different to everyone as well.

 

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Relativism and Postmodernism

The self-identified postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty asserts: “Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good.The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” (Consequences of Pragmatism [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982], 166.) Elsewhere he describes relativism as “self-refuting.” (“Solidarity or Objectivity,” in The Rorty Reader, ed. Christopher J. Voparil and Richard J. Bernstein [Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010], 229.)

Similarly, literary critic (reader-response) Stanley Fish asserts: “While relativism is a position one can entertain, it is not a position one can occupy. No one can be a relativist because no one can achieve the distance from his own beliefs and assumptions which would result in their being no more authoritative for him than the beliefs and assumptions of others, or, for that matter, the beliefs and assumptions he used to hold.” (“Is There a Text in This Class?” in Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980], 319.)

Alister McGrath states this about postmodernism “Reason is to be seen as a contextual and relative affair, defined in relation to the prevailing narratives and power structures of a society or institution.” Although he says reason is a relative affair, I do not think he is intentionally drawing a parallel between postmodernism and relativism. I think the charge that postmodernists are relative persists, because both points of view challenge the idea of having a black and white, right and wrong view of everything in existence. Postmodernism challenges the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, and challenges the weight of metanarratives. That does not automatically translate to every idea is as good as the next one. Richard Rorty states “Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good. The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” Given that he is a self-identified postmodern philosopher, I think this supports my point. Even though postmodernism challenges the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, it does not make any sense for every belief to be as good as every other. If that were true, there would not be a point in believing anything; and everything would seem pointless. Yes, postmodernism supports the idea that beliefs can be contextualized and relative, but that is not the same thing as every belief being as good as every other. Furthermore, taking the position that “every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other” is an absolute itself. Therefore, Rorty says the view is “self-refuting and is an impossible position to hold.” On top of that, it would still separate relativism from postmodernism because postmodernism is opposed to the idea of any absolutes.

Postmodernism in “The Lion King”

Watch this excerpt from “The Lion King”.

This excerpt is provided as an illustration of postmodernism and includes numerous explicit Christological allusions and images. Whether or not those images are intentional or not, they are there and they are clear.

Right away, you get the idea that there is good news being proclaimed. Whether it’s the loud voice shouting the good news, or it’s a visual sign. Regardless, the animals are all reacting by shifting their attention to something in the distance and immediately heading toward the good news. This depicts the shepherds reacting to the good news of their Savior being born and following the North Star to the newborn. You can see that they are heading the same direction in packs of their own breed. They are acting in community by traveling together and helping each other out a bit along the way, with concern for the “other”, which are characteristics of postmodernity. The way they are caring for one another can be seen in the way Christians are to love their neighbor. There is even overlapping of communities when all the different breeds come together along the way and at the face of the mountain. Just as in Christianity, Jesus came for all people, not excluding any breed or race. On top of that, their communities are overlapping at the face of the mountain is also a characteristic of postmodernity and Christianity, in that Christians are accepting of other breeds and cultures and often overlap.

The lyrics of the opening song also display postmodernity.

“From the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun

There’s more to see than can ever be seen

More to do than can ever be done

There’s far too much to take in here

More to find than can ever be found”

This excerpt is characteristic of postmodernity because it could be perceived as rejecting of the idea of the need for an ultimate foundation of human knowledge and is skeptic about anyone’s ability to know everything.

It goes on to say:

“It’s the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life”

This also supports the view of postmodernity, considering the previous lyrics, because it again rejects the idea of modernity trying to explain life with reason and rationality. The lyrics acknowledge that there is a truth of the “Circle of Life” that can be accepted and understood without having a comprehensive explanation of any “master story” of life. This also supports the idea of having faith seeking understanding.

Once all the animals have arrived at the mountain, you can see more imagery of Christianity. The good news the animals were heading towards is greeted by the father lion, who alludes to Joseph (in this context and God, The Father in others). The baboon who greats the father lion could symbolize the wise men. Then you see that there is a lion cub, who alludes to Jesus, being held and nurtured by the mother lion, or Mary. The way the scene is set, you can see the imagery that this lion cub is born of royalty and will someday be the king of that land. All the animals of the kingdom celebrate this. Just as Jesus became the King and was celebrated by his followers.

Towards the end of the scene, the father lion takes his son to the top of the mountain to look over all the kingdom and tells him that one day his time will end and the son’s time begins. This is an image of Christianity where God, The Father, has ruled throughout the time of the Old Testament, and then when Jesus is born and grown of age (in the New Testament), The Son’s reign begins. Even when the father says the kingdom is “everything the light touches” and excludes “the shadowy place” (and the introduction to the character Scar earlier) indicates that there is some tension of good and evil, just like in Christianity. Then as they walk among the kingdom, the father lion tells his son that “everything exists together in a delicate balance” and that everyone is to be respected. This again portrays community and care for the “other”, which are characteristics of postmodernity. He ends the scene by saying that we are all connected by the great circle of life. This can allude to Christians all being connected by the Holy Spirit.

I believe the Christological imagery of this film has significance because, for those who aren’t familiar with Christianity, they are introduced to part of the narrative probably without expecting to, or perhaps without even realizing it. For those who are already Christian, or are familiar with the Christian teaching, this imagery serves as a good reminder of the characteristics of the Christian narrative: God, Jesus, community, caring for one another, good, and evil.

Defining Postmodernism

The term postmodernism is often used but seldom defined. I hope to clarify its meaning. I hope to define postmodernism and culture and discuss the role culture plays in my theological mind, and discuss specific ways that theology/ministry is contextualized in a postmodern world.

Jean-Francois Lyotard is credited as the first author to present the term “postmodernity” in his book Postmodern Condition in 1979.  Lyotard positions postmodernism as a cultural shift following the Enlightenment period.

Alister McGrath’s cites Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hans-Georg Gadamer as figures who influenced the philosophical foundations of postmodernity. McGrath states that the underlying theme of these authors is “their rejection of the need for an ultimate foundation of human knowledge by recognizing that philosophy rests upon commitments whose truth has to be assumed and cannot be demonstrated.”[1]  This was a shift  away from the Enlightenment and instead arguing that not everything can be completely understood by humans through our own information or demonstrations, but instead that there are certain things that can be committed to be supposed to be correct. In other words, the overview for modernism is “understanding seeking faith”, while the overview for postmodernism is “faith seeking understanding”.

McGrath goes on to proclaim, “the Enlightenment had tried to legitimate itself by telling a story of how its thinkers overcame ignorance and superstition thanks to their appeal to reason.”[2]  Postmodernism turned from this and challenged the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, and that “metanarratives are merely narratives that have secured influence through power structures.”[3] The idea from Enlightenment that truth is something that can be collectively understood and rationalized is challenged and is no longer favorable with the turn of postmodernism.  Postmodernism supports the thinking that reason and truth is not something that is collectively understood and universal in all contexts.  Postmodern thinking promotes a high degree of cynicism and skepticism, particularly about anyone’s ability to know universal truth.  Truth is redefined and applied and interpreted in different contexts.  Postmodernism pushed for more contextual and communal thinking.  Furthermore, postmodernism promoted the outlook of life with a more holistic view and that everything is connected.

Another way I think of this is that our own human knowledge is filtered through our own lenses.  Our filter or lens is created from our own experiences and settings.  This I agree with.  Just like there are many different definitions of success in the modern world, based on experience and setting.  Someone in an affluent area may define success as a having a career with a six-figure salary and a big house.  While others, in a different area, may define success as simply having a paying job.  The underlying attributes might be similar, yet the specificity of the definition is different.  This is an example of how postmodernism can be viewed as having an impact on culture.  There is not necessarily an absolute and universal definition of success.

Another example of this, in my own life, is the education system.  Going through school, I was only taught one view when it came to the history of the earth and humans.  The theories of The Big Bang and Evolutionism were the only views taught, with no mention of alternatives.  To me, this implies they are absolute and universal truths.  When at best, they are only theories that some, not all, believe are true.  These theories are what I accepted as truth early on because I was not consciously aware of any alternative.  I had been taught aspects of Genesis, Noah’s ark, and the global flood in church; but not enough to completely understand the implications and context, considering Creationism and how it opposed The Big Bang and Evolutionism.  The school system wanted us to trust and accept The Big Bang and Evolutionism where universal truths.  Postmodernism would argue this truth was the product of those in power and should not be trusted. Postmodernism argues no external authority should be trusted.  Now that I am old enough to have found information on my own and studied each of these views further, I am now strongly leaning towards Creationism, rather than Evolutionism.  This is a personal example of another agreement I have with an affect postmodernism has had on our culture.  I support the argument for why metanarratives and external sources may not be worth trusting.  My view is not necessarily one of distrust, but I am going to do my research on alternative thoughts before I form my own opinion or pick a side.

Another distinct way postmodernism challenged critical thinking, was the way text was interpreted. Alister McGrath claims two methods of thought developed with the new postmodern method to written word:

  1. Anything that is written will convey meanings which its author did not intend and could not have intended.
  2. The author cannot adequately put into words what he or she means in the first place.[4]

This shift in thinking has significant implications on the Christian approach to interpretation of Scripture.

McGrath notes Frank Kermode and Harold Bloom confronted the notions of “institutionally legitimized or scholarly respectable interpretations of the Bible.”[5]  These ideas became highly questionable during postmodernism and Stanley Fish’s shift introduced the idea of “interpretive community.”[6]  This shift in thinking supports the idea that interpretations are more up to the reader, and even leads to communities being formed around different interpretations of the text.

Another distinction of postmodernism is the affect it has had on systematic theology.  As indicated with the attitude towards meta narratives, anything involving “systems” is questioned, along with the idea of anything having any absolute meaning within theology.  Thus, everything is open to your own interpretation. McGrath notes that Mark Taylor develops some postmodern ideas about theology as such: “Taylor argues for the elimination of such concepts of self, truth, and meaning. Language does not refer to anything, and truth does not correspond to anything.”[7]  This doesn’t even support the idea of pluralism, which claims there are multiple ideas about what is truth.  What Taylor says eliminates truth altogether.

His viewpoint sounds to me like you can believe whatever you want about anything because there is either no right or wrong and we can all agree to disagree about anything. This is absurd.  If this were true, there would be no morality and no order.  Everything would be chaos.  For example, if there is no truth and language does not correspond to anything, what would traffic look like?  What would be the point of traffic signs?  Everyone would be running stop signs, speeding, and there would be complete chaos that would put everyone in danger.

If we look at this Biblically, John records a statement from Jesus about truth: John 18:37 (NIV)

“’You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. 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.’”[8]

Therefore, truth does exist, and it is absolute and universal in this context.

Another major characteristic of postmodernism is the concern for the “other”, which is evident from the rise of liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology, and gay theology.  The thought is, before postmodernism, these groups were not recognized enough and postmodernism promotes the acknowledgement of these “other” groups.

The real irony of the postmodern views of highly questioning systems, meaning, and meta narratives is a system, meaning, and meta narrative in itself.  Even claiming that there is no absolute and universal truth is an absolute and moral truth in itself.  The very things postmodernism is questioning, it is creating.

Although I believe that there are some truths in Christianity that are meant to be absolute and universal (such as creation, the fall, substitutionary atonement, The Trinity, Jesus being fully divine and fully human, Jesus being the Son of God, inerrancy of the Bible, etc.), my view of postmodernism is that it is a healthy movement because it helps us all to open our minds to diverse ways to look at truth.  The ideas of having multiple truths or the idea of rejecting all universal truths, I would disagree with.  However, I would not be surprised if this postmodern turn has brought people closer to Christ because they are able to believe in Christ without having to agree with the same absolute and universal truths that I believe in.  To me, if someone is becoming closer to Christ, that is progress.  One cannot be expected to go from 0 mph to 60 mph in a heartbeat.  Everyone must start somewhere with their beliefs, thoughts, and understandings; and we do not all have to agree on everything.  Just as I have started studying at Dallas Theological Seminary so I can learn more about what I do not already know or have not thought about God, and knowing I may not agree with every viewpoint of every professor; others must start with some knowing and believing and progress at their own pace on their own path as well.

[1] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[2] Ibid., 64

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[8]  The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.)

Who Needs Theology?

I recently read the book Who Needs Theology? by Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, and I would like to interact with their thesis, discuss the argument, evaluate its helpfulness and consider how it has impacted the way I think about God and the nature of theology.

As a financial planner by trade (until recently) and only having studied business and finance, theology is a whole new field of study for me.  The only knowledge I had on theology coming into seminary is my own assumptions and preconceived notions.  Overall this book laid the foundation and parameters for me on what is considered theology, the different levels of theology, and why theology is important to engage in and study.

From the very beginning, I was presently surprised to learn that I am already a theologian. Per Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, theology is considered “any reflection on the ultimate questions of life that point toward God.”  Without having taken completed a theology degree, I am proud to claim the title of theologian, as I have reflected on ultimate questions of life that point toward God.  However, this challenged my thinking.  At one point, I had thought carrying the title of theologian required some sort of prerequisites, credentials, or proof.  After all, to be a financial planner I have had to put in ample amounts of time doing extensive studying, taking rigorous exams to earn licenses and certificates, and staying up to date with the latest data and education.  Thinking on this further, I began to have mixed thoughts about the way being a theologian was defined and the study was explained.  I was a bit skeptical and yet excited.  The definition and description in the book made sense to me, but I found it too easy to call myself or anyone else a theologian.  I began to wonder how individuals with degrees in theology would feel if I called myself a theologian after reading one book.  I know I would roll my eyes at anyone who called themselves a financial planner, who didn’t have what I consider the necessary credentials.  Yet, the way Grenz and Olson explained theology, they would argue that anyone who engages in keeping track of how much money is saved and spent would be considered a financial planner.  And I would argue to them there’s obviously much more to it than that, such as retirement planning, investment planning, estate planning, tax planning, etc.  I even went as far as thinking to myself, “surely there’s more to being a theologian than what they claim, because I wouldn’t need to pay so much money in tuition and take so many courses if I could simply call myself a theologian without a degree.”

As I continued reading, things started to become more clear to me.  The levels of theology spelled out on the “spectrum of reflection” Grenz and Olson referred to really helped me come to a better understanding of their claim and thesis.  Given that there is folk theology, lay theology, ministerial theology, professional theology, and academic theology, this made me feel better about calling myself a theologian.  Before reading further, I had some immediate thoughts about this spectrum. I thought I might fall somewhere between folk theology and lay theology, and then I wondered what the difference even was.  I also wondered what the difference between ministerial and professional theology was.  Purely out of my own assumptions and rationale, I thought maybe lay theology was some form of workplace ministry or something one does part time when they have a full-time job in a different trade, like I had been doing.  I thought ministerial theology was for the ministers and pastors of the world, and academic theology encompassed professors and all those who are writing articles, journals, books, etc. whose full-time jobs are in the academic realm.  But then what was professional theology?  This showed me just how naive I was when it came to the study of theology.  Then I related it to the example of my own previous trade.  If I told someone outside my field that there was a financial representative spectrum that consisted of stockbroker, financial advisor, and financial planner (in that order), they would probably not understand the differences between each either.  So, I found it interesting and helpful to relate my own naivety of theology to the naivety of most of my previous clients.

As I read the explanations of each of these different levels of theology, I had more clarity.  The clarity came from understanding what each of the different levels are.  With understanding, also came appreciation because I can appreciate that not everyone’s knowledge or understanding of something is equal, just as the corresponding chapter name (Not All Theologies Are Equal) implies.  Yet this new understanding stirred up new thoughts.

Starting with folk theology, I began to wonder how many people I’ve encountered who would fall into this category, and whether I was ok with that.  If folk theology is defined by Grenz and Olson as “unreflective believing based on blind faith in a tradition of some kind”, I have mixed thoughts on what that means for those people’s minds and souls.  I’ve had these thoughts for some time, but never had a label or term for this type of theology.  I think it’s safe to say we all know people or have encountered people who seem so overjoyed almost all the time and are always smiling.  When I see these people, I honestly think it’s a little weird for them to be constantly smiling.  I also wonder what that type of joy feels like.  Then when I engage in a conversation with them, I begin to wonder if it’s authentic.  I even wonder if it’s an instance of ignorance is bliss.  In the cases where it is ignorance, I envy them and feel a sense of sorrow for them at the same time.  I envy them because they are so joyful all the time, and seem like they don’t have a care in the world.  I also feel a sense of sorrow because I wonder how much they really understand and what their relationship with God is really like.  Then I wonder if I ought to do something to challenge their thinking and reflection so they can grow in their understanding, but I’m concerned about bursting their bubble.  Yet I don’t think it’s fair for them to have blind or false faith; so, I feel both compelled to poke the bear and, not ruin their joy. The use of “spectrum of reflection” by Grenz and Olson really clicked with me.  I never put my finger on the “reflection” piece of my own reflection (as odd as that sounds).  What it comes down to is these people may be completely fine with sticking to their shallow traditions or blind faith because they’re simply not as reflective as other people.

After really thinking through this, I thought “I must be a lay theologian.”  But I must confess: I doubted myself too. I thought “What if I am a folk theologian, and I’ve been too blind to realize it?” Then I came to understand what Grenz and Olson considered lay theology and accepted that is probably where I presently fall on the spectrum, hoping that I will continue moving on the spectrum as my time continues at seminary.

When I read about ministerial and professional theology, I found the differences very interesting.  I had no idea that there was some sort of formal delineation and hierarchy like this.  I had seen the pastors at my church often reading books from other more well-known and established pastors, and assumed that’s where some of their thinking and material came from or was provoked by; but it was a bit of a surprise to me to me that there were designated theologians out there to assist pastors in their vocation.  I once boarded with a former pastor who now ministers to other pastors in his area and state for his vocation, but it didn’t really click with me that he would be considered in a different tier of theology or that he was more reflective.  It makes sense to me now, but it makes me wonder exactly what these support systems and delineations really look like in a regular and practical sense.  It was both eye opening and intriguing, to say the least.

Then the last level of reflection, academic theology, got me back to a deeper level of provoking thoughts and my own reflection.  Going into this I had not expected academic theology would have a negative connotation to it.  However, after reading their explanation, I can understand why.  I’ve heard many times recently from my own church members that there can come a point where someone gets so convicted because they may have the head knowledge of God and the Bible, but it never touches their heart.  Then when it does, there’s obvious transformation.  I can see how academic theology would fit the mold of those who don’t allow the head knowledge to travel to their hearts.  I can also see how there can be a dangerous line of being reflective in a positive way, and then going so far as to “cutting reflection off from faith and seeking understanding for its own sake”, as Grenz and Olson put it.  I can honestly even see how I’ve toed that line in my own life already, with the little knowledge and understanding I do have.  I’ve gotten to points where I’ve gotten so caught up in the mystery of something that I lose sight of the point of trying to understand the mystery – to understand God.  Similarly, to the thoughts I had with folk theology, I began to wonder what the lives of academic theologians looked like and how much it affected their relationship with God.  I also began to wonder if academic theologians really knew that they were academic theologians, and that it wasn’t a good thing to be one.  How many people in the academic realm had gone down this path without even realizing it?  I also found it interesting that two professors could publish a book about theology and identify being academic theologians as negative.  I even thought “they must have confidence for knowing the irony of this and facing it head on anyway.”

Although I obviously understood (to some degree) who needs theology and why it’s important to study (otherwise I wouldn’t be in seminary), being introduced to this “reflection spectrum” was eye opening.  Understanding the different levels of reflection and theology helped me come to a deeper level of understanding why theology is important for everyone and why it’s needed by everyone.

Defining Theology

When it comes to theology and what I will be discussing on this blog, it’s helpful to know how theology is defined. Below are the key theological terms to know at this point:

Theology – the study of God, his attributes, and his relationship with man and the universe.[1]

Biblical Theology – the discipline that attempts to restate and summarize the teaching of the biblical text, responding to the progressive revelation of God in the Scriptures and limiting the Bible as the only source.

Historical Theology – deals with the history of the church, its practices, and the development of doctrine.

Systematic Theology – Humans responding in a systematic way to revelation (especially in Scripture), expressing the truth about the triune God in language informed by culture and the Christian tradition.

[1] Lanau, Sidney I. The Doubleday Dictionary for Home, School and Office. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.

Abiding Truths of Philemon 4-7

As we come to the end of the Bible study of Philemon, we must recognize that no study of the Scripture is complete until the main point of the passage in its relationship to your life is understood. Therefore, I’m now going to help derive the main principle or theme from the text.

I order to accomplish this, I will use five principles of correlation and clearly show each step. The final result are principles stating theological truths and a simple statement of the main theological proposition of the passage in Philemon 4-7.

Step 1: Six Interrogative Questions

Who

Paul

Philemon

God

Jesus Christ

Saints

What

Thank

Mention

Prayers

Love Faith

Fellowship

Knowledge

Joy

Comfort

Love

Hearts

When

Present tenses

thank my God always

making mention of you in my prayers

hear of your love

have toward the Lord Jesus

have come

Future tense

may become effective

Past tense

have been refreshed

Where

Why

Love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints

For Christ’s sake

Come to have much joy and comfort in love

The hearts of the saints have been refreshed

How

Making mention of you in my prayers

Pray fellowship of faith become effective through the knowledge of every good thing

Come to have much joy and comfort in love

Step 2: Record All Truths of the Passage

Believers should thank God.

Christians should pray about others.

Believers should have love and faith toward the Lord Jesus.

Christians should have love and faith toward other Christians.

The Lord Jesus and the saints are not the same.

It should be evident to others of a believer’s love and faith.

Fellowship of faith can become effective through the knowledge of every good thing.

We should pray for other believers to have their fellowship of faith to become effective.

The knowledge of every good thing is in all believers.

The knowledge of every good thing is for Christ’s sake.

Joy and comfort can be found in love.

Believers can experience joy and comfort.

Believers can experience other believers’ love.

Hearts of saints can be refreshed.

Hearts of saints can be refreshed through other Christians.

Step 3: Group Truths Together

Prayer

Believers should thank God.

Christians should pray about others.

We should pray for other believers to have their fellowship of faith to become effective.

Love and Faith

Believers should have love and faith toward the Lord Jesus.

Christians should have love and faith toward other Christians.

It should be evident to others of a believer’s love and faith.

Fellowship of faith can become effective through the knowledge of every good thing.

Joy and comfort can be found in love.

Believers can experience joy and comfort.

Believers can experience other believers’ love.

Jesus

The Lord Jesus and the saints are not the same.

Knowledge

The knowledge of every good thing is in all believers.

The knowledge of every good thing is for Christ’s sake.

Hearts Refreshed

Hearts of saints can be refreshed.

Hearts of saints can be refreshed through other Christians.

Step 4: Set Aside All Non-Demanding Truths

Believers should thank God.

Christians should pray about others.

We should pray for other believers to have their fellowship of faith to become effective.

Believers should have love and faith toward the Lord Jesus.

Christians should have love and faith toward other Christians.

It should be evident to others of a believer’s love and faith.

Step 5: Theological Principles

Believers should thank God always in their prayers.

Christians should pray for other Christians to have their fellowship of faith to become effective.

Followers of Jesus should have love and faith toward Him.

Believers should have love and faith toward each other.

Love and faith in a Christian should be evident to others.

Step 6: Main Theme

Believers should have faith and love in the Lord and practice the same with one another.

Now that you now the main theme, how will you apply it to your life?

How does an understanding of Roman Slavery in the first century help one understand what Paul is saying in the book of Philemon?

Yesterday I posted the Historical Background of  Philemon, but you may have noticed there was something missing. Clearly, the issue of slavery is central to the book of Philemon and I included very little information about that institution in the Roman Empire at the time of Paul. I did this intentionally, to single out this issue and approach it with a narrowed focus.

The Roman law of slavery at this time was extremely intricate, and slaves were regularly treated inhumanely and the average condition of a slave was horrendous.[1] Considering the average condition of a slave being horrendous, one can conclude from the following papyrus quote from AD 298 that no practical limits existed for slave masters to express their anger on runaways. “[A]nd when you a [slave-catcher] find him [a fugitivius] you are to deliver him up, having the same powers as I should have myself, if present to […], imprison him, chastise him, and to make an accusation before the proper authorities against those who harbored him, and demand satisfaction.”[2]

We can see in the New Testament that slavery was not yet abolished or opposed by Christians, at this time. Paul instructs both slaves and masters on how to work and behave in Colossians 3:22-4:1: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. ” As you can see, Paul doesn’t suggest slavery should be banned, nor does he really state he’s opposed to it. He tells the church that slaves should obey and serve both their masters and the Lord. He also tells the church that the masters should treat their slaves justly and fairly, like God treats them.

Given the disrespect paid to slaves by the secular, Roman culture and even the Christian view of slavery; for Paul to request that Onesimus not only be freed, but seen as an equal brother in Christ, (Philemon 16) would have been radical in Roman society at that time.

                [1] McNaughton, Ian S. Opening up Colossians and Philemon. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006.

                [2] Cho, B. “Subverting Slavery : Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul’s Gospel of Reconciliation.” Evangelical Quarterly 86, no. 2 (2014): 99-115. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed October 27,

Historical Background of Philemon

The need for researching and the benefits of understanding the historical background helps inform a proper interpretation of the text of Scripture.

Here I have researched the historical background of Philemon that sets the stage for other studies of Philemon I’m going to post later on.

 

About the Author: Paul

Family Heritage:

  • His parents were strictly observant Jews living in the city of Tarsus, the prosperous capital of Cilicia, a province of the Roman Empire.
  • His Jewish name was “Saul”.

Educational Background:

  • He could write Greek and probably knew Hebrew or Aramaic.
  • In his adolescence, Paul studied the Jewish scriptures under famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel.
  • He knew the scriptures well enough to quote them by memory.

Occupational Skills:

  • Paul was a tent maker.

Cultural Advantages:

  • Paul was not just a resident but a citizen of Tarsus, which suggests that his family was wealthy. He also claimed Roman citizenship by birth, a status that carried considerable prestige.

Religious Experiences:

  • He declared that he was “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” (Acts 23:6, NASB)
  • He stated that he was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” (Galatians 1:14, NASB95)
  • His religious zealotry led him to persecute Christians.
  • At one point, Paul was determined to go to Demascus to persecute more Christians: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1–2, NASB95)
  • On the way to Demascus, Paul was confronted by Jesus and blinded by Him. This experience showed Paul that the claims that Jesus was the Messiah and rose from the dead were true. During this confrontation, Jesus gave Paul instructions to fulfill a radically different mission in life. That mission was to preach the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Paul continued to Demascus and was healed of his blindness, baptized, and then began to preach the Gospel in the Jewish synagogues.
  • Paul began traveling around the region preaching the Gospel and even returning to check on some of the new Christian communities he planted.
  • Paul also wrote letters to churches and individuals, including Philemon. Paul ended up writing more books of the Bible than any other author.
  • While living out his new mission, he faced remarkable persecution that included house arrest and several imprisonments. The book of Philemon was written during one of his imprisonments in Rome.

About the Audience:

Philemon

Who is he?

  • Philemon was the host of a house church in Colossae and used his own house as their meeting location. (vv. 1–2)
  • Philemon is the slave master of Onesimus.

Where is he located?

  • The probable location of Philemon is Colossae.

When did the writing take place?

  • The epistle was written about the time when Paul was imprisoned in Rome (A.D. 63-65).

What is his situation?

  • It is believed that Philemon’s slave, Onesimus had either run away or had done something to cause Philemon to be upset with him.

Apphia & Archippus

People associated with Philemon. (vv. 1-2)

Colossae Church

Paul is referring to the Christians who were meeting in Philemon’s house at the time. (vv. 1-2)