Author

About the Author
The editorial team at University Assembly is comprised of several writers for the Thinker Sensitive blog. It is responsible for keeping the blog up-to-date, and for publishing articles that were the result of a collaborated effort.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Saturday

This is the sixth and final installment in a series of devotional guides, briefly introducing each day of Holy Week and the corresponding events in Jesus’s life and ministry.

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

Holy Saturday is the third and final day of the great triduum, the three days of the paschal celebration. On this day, many High-Church traditions observe the so-called Paschal Vigil, a service that commemorates Christ’s death and awaits his return in glory.

Jesus, of course, lies dead in a Jewish tomb on Saturday. Accordingly, hardly anything is recorded about this day in the Gospels, except for a brief story in Matthew 27:62–66, which recounts how the chief priests and Pharisees devised a way to secure the tomb as securely as possible. We encourage you to read this passage in preparation for the astonishing turn of events that follow tomorrow. Other readings in the Revised Common Lectionary include Job 14:1–14 (or Lamentations 3:1–9, 19–14); Psalm 31:1–4, 15–16; and 1 Peter 4:1–8.

We conclude with a prayer from the Revised Common Lectionary Prayers:

Christ our God,
your love is poured out in death for our sakes.
Hold us in your embrace
as we wait for Easter’s dawn.
Comfort us with the promise that no power on earth, not even death itself,
can separate us from your love;
and strengthen us to wait
until you are revealed to us
in all your risen glory. Amen.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Friday

In this fifth installment of our devotional guides, we introduce Good Friday and the corresponding events in the life and ministry of Christ. As we’ve seen in previous posts, the events of Jesus’s final week before his resurrection can be squared with each day of Passion Week in the following way:

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

The events of Good Friday more specifically include:

  • the conclusion to Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1 and parallels [pars.]);
  • Jesus’s hearing before Pilate (Mark 15:2–15 pars.);
  • the mocking and flogging of Jesus (Mark 15:16–20 par.);
  • the crucifixion (Mark 15:21–32 pars.);
  • Jesus’s death (Mark 15:33–41 pars.); and
  • Jesus’s burial (Mark 15:42–47 pars.).

In light of these agonizing episodes, why is Friday of Holy Week called Good Friday? Some scholars think that “Good Friday” is a linguistic evolution from “God’s Friday,” much as our “goodbye” evolved from “God be with you.” Others think that “Good” is a label original to the medieval church, thereby reflecting the inherent goodness or holiness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. Whatever its origin, church historian Chris Armstrong is certainly right to point out that “the current name of this holy day offers a fitting lesson to those of us who assume (as is easy to do) that ‘good’ must mean ‘happy.’ We find it hard to imagine a day marked by sadness as a good day.”[1] And yet that is exactly what we get on Good Friday: a day of sorrow for Christ and the suffering he endured on our behalf, but also a day that is intrinsically good and holy, as we commemorate the love with which Christ “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

For today, we recommend reading all 47 verses of Mark 15. If interested, the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary also include Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9 (or 10:16–25); and John 18:1—19:42. University Assembly, together with its partner church Gloria de Sion, will actually be reading John 18–19—in both English and Spanish—in its Good Friday service later tonight, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. If you’re able, please consider joining us for this reverent and highly meaningful event.

Grieving God,
on the cross
your Son embraced death
even as he had embraced life:
faithfully and with good courage.
Grant that we who have been
born out of his wounded side
may hold fast to our faith in him exalted
and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.

[1] Chris Armstrong, “The Goodness of Good Friday,” Christianity Today, August 8, 2008, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/goodness-of-good-friday.html.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Thursday

This is the fourth installment of our devotional guides, which introduces Thursday of Holy Week and the events in Jesus’s life and ministry that dovetail with this momentous day. As we’ve seen in previous posts, the events of Jesus’s final week before his death accord with each day of Passion Week in the following way:

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

Thursday of Holy Week is notoriously called Maundy Thursday. Beginning the great triduum, the three days of the paschal celebration, the day gets its name from the French term mande, which translates the Latin mandatum novarum (“a new commandment”; John 13:34).[1] In Christian tradition, the primary purpose of this day, and any services held on it, is to celebrate Jesus’s giving of the “new” commandment to love one another, a commandment given in the context of the Lord’s washing of his disciples’ feet.

As Jesus’s final full day before his crucifixion, Thursday also corresponds to much in the Gospels:

  1. preparation for Passover (Mark 14:12–16 and parallels [pars.]);
  2. Jesus’s washing of his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–20);
  3. his prediction of Judas’s betrayal (John 13:21–30);
  4. the Last Supper/Passover meal (Mark 14:17–26 pars.);
  5. his prediction of Peter’s denial (Mark 14:27–31 pars.);
  6. the Farewell Discourse (John 14:1—17:26);
  7. prayer, betrayal, and arrest at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32–52 pars.);
  8. the initial hearing before Annas (John 18:12–14, 19–23);
  9. the trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53–65 pars.);
  10. and Peter’s denial (Mark 14:66–72 pars.).

Note that most of these events have parallels in the other Gospels. John, though, is the only one to include the foot-washing episode, the prediction of Judas’s betrayal, the Farewell Discourse, and the initial hearing before Annas.

Again, like Tuesday, there is a lot of reading material for today. We suggest either reading only the material from Mark (i.e., 14:12–72) or dividing the reading, including the material from John, into two sittings: the first five events above in the morning (in order: Mark 14:12–16; John 13:1–30; Mark 14:17–31); and the last five in the evening (in order: John 14:1—17:26; Mark 14:32–52; John 18:12–14, 19–23; Mark 14:53–72).

We conclude with a prayer from the Revised Common Lectionary Prayers:

God of the covenant,
as we celebrate the beginning of the paschal feast,
we come to the table of the Lord
in whom we have salvation, life, and resurrection.
Renew the power of this mystery
in our service to one another and to you,
so that with Christ we may pass from this life
to the glory of your kingdom. Amen.

[1] Robert E. Webber, “An Introduction to the Maundy Thursday Service,” in The Services of the Christian Year, vol. 5 of The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber (Nashville: Star Song, 1994), 317.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Wednesday

In this third installment of our devotional guides, we introduce Wednesday of Holy Week and the corresponding events in Jesus’s life and ministry. As we’ve seen in previous posts, the events of Jesus’s final week before his death can be squared with each day of Passion Week in the following way:

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

Wednesday of Passion Week is something of an anomaly. If you’re following along in the Gospel of Mark with us, it may seem as if Jesus’s anointing at Bethany would have taken place on this day. This is because Mark discusses this event in between the events of Tuesday (e.g., the Olivet Discourse) and Thursday (e.g., the preparation for the Passover meal). The time indicators in Mark, however, are notoriously loose, and readers should not assume a chronological order (as here), unless the Greek text undeniably requires it or a cause-and-effect relationship demands it. Further, the parallel in John 12:1–11 places Jesus’s anointing at Bethany a day before the so-called triumphal entry (cf. John 12:12), on the Saturday before Passion Week. If this is right, then Jesus’s anointing at Bethany does not take place on Wednesday; instead, within the context of Mark’s Gospel, it serves as a kind of backstory to set up what follows.

In this vein, scholars are agreed that very little that has been recorded in the Gospels can be confidently ascribed to Wednesday of Holy Week. Only little snippets of text suggest what Jesus and his enemies may have been doing this third day before the crucifixion. Matthew 26:55 and Luke 19:47, for example, note that Jesus was teaching in the temple courts each day of this week—Wednesday, no doubt, included. More than that, Mark 14:1–2 suggests that the chief priests and teachers of the law were continuing to scheme against Jesus, to arrest and kill him (cf. Mark 11:18; 12:12–13).

Since no block of text is unambiguously devoted to this day, we recommend following the Gospel of Mark by reading Mark 14:1–11—with the caveat that Jesus’s anointing likely occurred on the day before the “triumphal” entry. We also encourage you to compare the parallels in Matthew 26:1–16 and John 12:1–11. (The parallel in Luke 7:36–50 probably refers to a separate incident.)

Of course, an alternative to this recommendation would be to follow the Revised Common Lectionary and read Isaiah 50:4–9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1–3; and John 13:21–32. Either way, we pray you are growing in your appreciation of our Lord and Savior this week. May our minds, hearts, and wills continue to conform to his demands.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Tuesday

This is the second in a series of devotional guides, briefly introducing each day of Holy Week and the corresponding events in Jesus’s life and ministry. As we saw in yesterday’s post, these events square with each day of Passion Week in the following way:

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

Tuesday is unique in that it is devoted by and large to Jesus’s teaching. Whereas Monday focused on his dramatic purging of the temple courts, Tuesday includes (1) the conclusion to the fig tree incident (Mark 11:20–25); (2) various teachings in the temple courts (Mark 11:27—12:44); and (3) the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:1–37). While the first of these is brief and fairly straightforward, Jesus’s temple teaching requires some unpacking. Here we follow eight discrete subsections of stories and teachings:

  • the questioning of Jesus’s authority (Mark 11:27–33);
  • the Parable of the Tenants (12:1–12);
  • teachings about the payment of the imperial tax to Caesar (12:13–17);
  • teachings about marriage at the resurrection (12:18–27);
  • teachings about the greatest commandment (12:28–34);
  • teachings about the Messiah (12:35–37);
  • warnings against the teachers of the law (12:38–40); and
  • teachings about the widow’s offering (12:41–44).

Likewise, the Olivet Discourse can be divided as follows:

  • Introduction (Mark 13:1–4);
  • The destruction of the temple (13:5–23);
  • Signs of the end of the age (13:24–32); and
  • The appeal to wakefulness (13:33–37).

Admittedly, this is a lot of reading material for one day—and still, we’ve avoided mentioning the parallels and extra didactic material in the other Gospels. As such, we make two recommendations. First, rather than attempting to read all of today’s material in one sitting, try reading in two: Mark 11:20—12:44 in the morning and Mark 13 in the evening. Secondly, since discipleship consists in large part of learning to obey our Lord’s teachings and commands (see Matthew 28:18–20), take the readings today as an opportunity to grow as a disciple of Christ.

Holy Week Devotional Guide: Monday

Here at University Assembly, we value the opportunity to observe Holy Week. We find this to be a vital component of growing in our knowledge of and affections for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our sacrificial “Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Accordingly, we invite you to join us each and every day of this week to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–3), to prayerfully read and reflect on the events leading up to his death and, ultimately, his resurrection.

This, then, is the first in a series of devotional guides, briefly introducing each day of Holy Week and the corresponding events in Jesus’s life and ministry. Since it is the first, it might help to get a sense as to how these events correspond to each day of the upcoming week. They are as follows:

Monday: The fig tree incident and Jesus’s cleansing of the temple courts

Tuesday: Conclusion to the fig tree incident, Jesus’s teaching in the temple courts, and the Olivet Discourse

Wednesday: Further teaching in the temple courts, continued scheming to arrest and kill Jesus

Thursday: Preparation for Passover, the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourse, betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane, and Jesus’s initial hearings

Friday: Jesus’s final hearings, sentence, crucifixion, and burial

Saturday: . . .

Monday of Holy Week is unique in that the Gospels record very little about this day, but what is recorded is notorious and momentous: Jesus’s cursing of the fig tree and his cleansing of the temple courts. These events are recorded in Mark 11:12–19, which has full parallels only in Matthew 21:12–22; Luke and John only record the cleansing of the temple courts (see Luke 19:45–47 and John 2:13–17, respectively). Please join us in reading and prayerfully reflecting on these brief passages today.

Also, if you’re interested in following the Revised Common Lectionary this week, the other readings included for today are Isaiah 42:1–9; Psalm 36:5–11; Hebrews 9:11–15; and John 12:1–11.

Soli Deo gloria.

Must I Believe in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus?

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9–10; New International Version)

I’ve always tried to keep a very short list of things I insist people have to believe to be saved. I joke that I’m a panmillennialist (it will all pan out in the end), though I certainly have my views. I became a Baptist by choice as an adult, being immersed for the first time as a believer at age 25, ten years after my conversion, but I don’t agree with baptismal regeneration. I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, but I don’t believe you have to believe even that to be saved, so long as you do accept Jesus yourself as Lord and Savior. (It’s like the used car dealer who might claim all the cars in his lot run when only one does, but as long as you get in that one you will get to where you want to go.)

So I was caught a little aback a number of years ago when some seekers at a Bible study, quite interested in many facets of Christianity, asked me point blank if they had to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus to be saved. After all, everyone knows corpses don’t come back to life, they insisted. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I so wanted this not to be the deal-breaker. I waffled and finally said something like “well, I am convinced that Christ had to be bodily raised from the dead if any one is to be saved, but that might be a separate issue from whether everyone who follows him has to consciously believe it.”

By the time I got home that same night, I was already haunted by remembering Romans 10:9–10. We regularly refer to that verse to insist that “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest Christian confession and to stress that you can’t separate having Christ as Savior from having Christ as Lord. But notice how it continues: “and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.”

This week I was debating a well-known liberal Christian scholar and author. Like others before him, he finds many of the biblical narratives that the church traditionally has taken as historical to be “metaphors.” Other eras have at times preferred terms like “myths” or “legends.” Does Job have to have been a historical character for the book bearing his name to teach profound theology about suffering? Probably not. What about Jonah? After all, the Gospel of Matthew attributes to Jesus a comparison between Jonah’s time in the great fish to Jesus’s time in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40). Yet if I referred to a well-known character in Christian fiction and declared, “Just as Aslan came to the rescue of the human children in Narnia, so Christ died to save us from our sins,” no one familiar with the novels of C. S. Lewis would ever think I was claiming The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe really happened. So while I personally suspect the events in the book of Jonah really happened, I refuse to get bent out of shape when others don’t.

Why can’t we take the same approach to the resurrection narrative itself? The disciples had a genuine, profound, mystical experience of some kind with the “Risen Lord,” which need not have involved an empty tomb—so went the argument of my partner in debate. Of course, I had heard this approach many times before. It was what I was taught in the liberal Lutheran college that I attended in the mid-1970s. This time I was ready. I replied by turning to Romans 10:9–10. And I added, “cut and paste Tom Wright’s 800 pages of The Resurrection of the Son of God here. No Jew, like Saul of Tarsus, ever meant anything but bodily resurrection by this kind of language.”

For my debate partner, the resurrection meant two things—that Jesus’s cause lives on, and that God vindicated Jesus’s life and ministry so that it is a supremely good thing that his cause lives on. But his body probably rotted in its coffin in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. It would be nice to be able to say to such people, “OK, well I believe more than that, but that’s good enough, if that’s all you can believe.” But that’s not what Paul says. Without a supernatural, bodily resurrection, we are still dead in our sins and of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12–19). Without Christ’s bodily resurrection, we have no bodily resurrection to look forward to. Death ends everything and we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry” (in moderation of course, so as not to get sick) and not bother with any of the sacrifice and self-denial that even just following Christ’s cause requires.

But it’s not just the liberals that don’t get it. Going back to the 1970s again, I remember a well-known Christian rock/gospel band that had a hit tune, the recurring refrain of which asked the question, “If heaven never were promised to me, would I still serve my Lord?” All of the stanzas talked about all of the warm fuzzies that Christ can give us now in this life, so that the obviously implied answer to the question that the song repeatedly asked was, “Of course, even if there were no afterlife, it’s worth it just for the difference it makes in this life, to be a Christian.”

I can only try to imagine Paul’s shock and horror and vehemence in opposing such a notion. Read his repeated catalogues of suffering, especially in the Corinthian epistles. If there is no life after death, indeed if there is no embodied life after death as in the new heavens and new earth (not just a disembodied “heaven”) then we are idiots to be Christians and should give it up immediately. If there is, on the other hand, then being a Christian makes all the difference in the world—and in the next!

Does Illicit Sex Exclude One from Heaven?

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; updated New International Version [NIV])

In our last blog, we argued that the updated NIV, printed above, treated the last two Greek nouns of 1 Corinthians 6:9 as well as any English translation and better than most, inasmuch as the words referred to the more passive and more active partners in male homosexual intercourse (thus “men who have sex with men”). But what does the entire two-verse sentence in which these problematic nouns are embedded mean?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6, has been arguing against believers suing other believers. In verse 9 he generalizes to speak of all wrongdoing. The word translated “wrongdoers” is adikos—the “unjust, unrighteous, dishonest, untrustworthy.”[1] Then he offers not just one example, those who sue one another, but quite a few more, several of which have to do with sexual sin. But Paul also mentions those who worship idols; who steal in various ways, or are covetous and would like to; drunkards; and those who tell lies about others. The list could go on much longer as other New Testament vice lists make clear. Verse 11, however, introduces a contrast by continuing, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

What exactly is Paul’s point? It would be easy to imagine that he is doing something similar to what he does in Romans 1:18—3:20—hammering home the point that everyone is a sinner of some kind, that no one therefore can save themselves by good works, even works of the divinely given Law, and that therefore all of us need a Savior, who is Jesus. But here Paul is not setting out the logic of the gospel in systematic fashion as in Romans. He is going through a checklist of problems in the Corinthian church, among those who are already believers, trying to get them to stop behaving so badly. While every person does wrong at various times, it doesn’t seem that Paul is thinking of all people here, including all Christians, but of those who habitually are involved in serious offenses against God and others. Those who keep on suing one another over and over again show by their actions that they have not really embraced the forgiveness that characterizes God’s love poured out in believers’ hearts. Something similar must be true of the other categories of sinners that Paul lists.

It is probably significant that Paul uses a series of nouns throughout 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. He is not talking about those who occasionally act in a certain way—whether by committing heterosexual or homosexual sin or stealing or slandering, etc. He is talking about those whose lives are so characterized by certain sins that they demonstrate no difference from those around them who do not claim Christ. That’s why he uses the past tense in verse 10 to explain that some of the Corinthians used to be among such people, but they were cleansed, they were sanctified, they were justified. By putting the verbs in that order, he also suggests that he is not thinking merely of God’s treating someone as if they’d never sinned (justification). He is thinking of actual moral change for the better (washing and sanctification).

In other words, while genuine Christians do, sadly, commit sexual sin, steal, covet, swindle, slander, and so on, and may even struggle over a lifetime with one or more of these sins, somewhere there is a threshold, known only to God, where someone’s life is so characterized by a particular sin or set of sins, where there is no perceivable behavioral difference from an unbeliever, that one has to ask if the Spirit has ever truly come to indwell them and begun, as he always will do, a process of transformation in their life, however erratic that process may be. At that point they can be characterized not just as someone who has often swindled another person, but someone who is a “swindler,” not just someone who struggles with premarital heterosexual sex, or adultery, or same-gender sex, but who is a fornicator, an adulterer, or a homosexual practitioner. Just like the couple on a date who ask the wrong question when they inquire “how far” they can go without sinning, we ask the wrong question when we wonder how close to such a threshold we can be without crossing it. The right question for the dating couple is how much they can do to build each other up in Christian love, and the right question for the reader of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 is how far away from being characterized by one of these nouns he or she can get.

[1] Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 21.

Perverts, Pederasts, Prostitutes, or . . . ?

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men . . . . (1 Corinthians 6:9; updated New International Version [NIV])

Guest post by Dr. Craig Blomberg

One of the more depressing studies one can undertake with a computer program or website that allows you to compare a large number of translations of a given Bible verse is a survey of the ways the last two nouns in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 6:9 (malakos and arsēnokoitēs) have been rendered in English. The King James Version read, “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.” I have no idea what a person fluent in Elizabethan English in 1611 would have understood by that last phrase, but it doesn’t communicate much to me! The New King James Version reads “nor homosexuals nor sodomites.” But what’s a sodomite? The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines sodomy as “anal or oral copulation with a member of the same or opposite sex.”

The Revised Standard Version decided to replace the two Greek nouns with the one English expression “sexual perverts.” The New Revised Standard Version returned to two expressions, “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” The New Jerusalem Bible makes it sound like malakos has nothing to do with sex at all, translating it as “self-indulgent,” and it returns to “sodomite” for arsēnokoitēs. The New American Standard Bible has “effeminate” and “homosexuals.” But with so many individuals who self-identify as homosexuals, and with most theologians and psychologists distinguishing between a person’s sexual orientation and actual sexual actions, even if same-sex activity is in view, just to use the noun “homosexual” without further qualification can be misleading.

The original NIV read “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.” At least here, there is a word qualifying “homosexual,” but it leaves open the question of what a homosexual non-offender would be. The New American Bible makes one further improvement with its “boy prostitutes” and “practicing homosexuals,” the latter expression at least suggesting a contrast between those who are sexually active and those who are celibate.

But does anyone really know what these words mean? Have modern translations at time been influenced more by supposed historical backgrounds than by the actual meaning of the words used here? Malakos is a word that often means “soft.” Its only other use in the New Testament comes in the passage in which Jesus talks about those wearing soft clothing living in kings’ palaces (Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:26). Arsēnokoitēs does not occur in Greek literature prior to Paul; most likely he coined the word. Etymologically it comes from two words that refer to “male” and “coitus,” so it would most naturally be taken as male homosexual intercourse.

There is a growing consensus among evangelical scholars, however, that by combining the two words, what Paul meant was to refer to the more passive and more active partners in a male homosexual relationship, respectively. Thus the New English Translation appropriately translates the first word as “passive homosexual partners” but then curiously generalizes with the second to “practicing homosexuals.” The English Standard Version does better still with “those who practice homosexuality” as its way of rendering the two words put together. The Complete Jewish Bible gets it almost exactly right with “people . . . who engage in active or passive homosexuality,” although one could ask if a person practices or engages in homosexuality (an orientation) or if a person performs homosexual actions (actual behaviors).

The updated NIV, therefore, appears to be the best of all the options thus far: “men who have sex with men,” with the footnote that goes on to explain, “The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.” The Common English Bible (CEB) also catches almost all the necessary nuances with “both participants in same-sex intercourse,” rephrasing things in their footnote, “submissive and dominant male sexual partners.” The only possible quibble here would be that nothing in the CEB text limits the referents to men as the updated NIV does, but those who bother to read the footnotes will catch on. And it’s not as if Paul endorses lesbianism (see Romans 1:26).

Having established the most probable translation, we next need to interpret the entire sentence (which continues into 1 Corinthians 6:10)! But that will have to await our next blog on the topic.

Do All Teachers Go to Hell?

Guest post by Dr. Craig L. Blomberg

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (James 3:1; King James Version)

I suppose the only good thing about this translation of this verse is that it might have dissuaded a few antebellum Christians from becoming slave-owners if they were sitting on the fence!

The word rendered “masters” in Elizabethan English, however, is correctly rendered in all modern translations as “teachers.” But of course that raises major questions for people like me. Did James really think that all teachers, or at least all teachers in the church would be condemned? Surely not. Lest there be any doubt at all, James includes himself as one of the teachers involved, but it would be strange theology (and history) that viewed James as condemning himself, especially when condemnation in the Bible usually refers to hell!

Again, modern translations rectify the problem by typically rendering the final words in accurate twentieth or twenty-first century English as “judged with stricter judgment” or “judged more strictly.” But I’m still not entirely assuaged by being told that those who teach God’s word will be judged more strictly, especially when I see some commentators still trying to relate this to degrees of reward in heaven. Of course, I decided a long time ago that Martin Luther had the better side of the Reformation-era debate over that disputed doctrine in denying differences in believers’ status or state in heaven beyond the inevitable differences they would experience as they stood before God on Judgment Day. I even wrote an article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society way back in 1992 to that effect (long before anybody made digital copies, I might add, just in case somebody might be hoping that I could e-mail them one).

But then what is the stricter judgment of which I should beware? The larger context of James 3:1–12 is all about the power of the tongue for both good and evil. Teachers in James’s day, even more than in our own, relied on speech. In fact, what typically distinguished the teacher from other forms of leaders or speakers was that they were responsible for passing on a fixed body of catechetical tradition related to the subject at hand. Many times this information was carefully memorized and students were expected to memorize it as well. The rabbis often argued that until you had a passage of Scripture committed to memory you could not discuss it because you might misrepresent it. Ah, if we could reinstate that in our churches . . . . But it won’t happen, I know.

The point is that teachers were committed to a higher standard of accuracy than others because they were the bearers of the tradition. But teachers were also expected to practice what they preached. In ways not nearly as frequently true in our modern, Western world, students were meant to observe their teachers in every situation of life, so that they could learn how to act in all those situations, including those in which a person sinned and had to repent. So the second way in which teachers could incur stricter judgment was in the poor choice of words they spoke (or in the way they spoke them) in contexts outside of rote memorization. Teachers, both ancient and modern, inhabit settings in which they experience virtually every kind of temptation to speak sinfully: “arrogance and domination over students; anger and pettiness at contradiction or inattention; slander and meanness toward absent opponents; flattery of students for the sake of vainglory.”[1]

Why are these sins more serious when committed by teachers rather than by other people? (1) More people may be affected. (2) A closer relationship of trust may be violated. (3) The very person who should be the student’s best model fails in that capacity. (4) The resulting hurt may be greater. Apologies can be made and errors can be corrected, but the damage from untruthful or unloving words may not be able to be fully eradicated. Forgiveness may, in some instances, come quickly, but trust always takes longer to be re-earned. The stricter judgment against which James warns may, therefore, at least in large part, have to do with negative consequences of the teachers’ sins in this life.

The past two election campaigns have involved some of the most vicious rhetoric I can recall in my lifetime. No, not primarily by the candidates, but often by Christian leaders and teachers anathematizing one of the candidates and anyone who would vote for them. The blogworld, on just about any topic, seems to bring out the worst in people, including Christian leaders and teachers, perhaps because of the impersonal and distance-creating nature of the medium. People say things and say them in ways they would never say to someone’s face. Email and Facebook create the same temptations. The non-evangelical world already thinks far too many of us are far too combative. Let’s take James 3:1 to heart and work hard at a much kinder, gentler character.

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 37A (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 263.