Are You Worthy?

The Following is a sermon I wrote for my Graduate Class at Johnson University (Knoxville, TN). My prayer is that my thoughts from this glorious passage of scripture bring much encouragement to you in these seemingly treacherous of times.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:1-14)

“Do you think you’re worthy…? Strange question I admit, but ponder it for a moment. Do you think you are worthy…? Sit back, and consider it briefly. Allow it to soak in a bit; do you think you are worthy? What is your response? Your first inclination I am sure is to ask “worthy of or for what?”  Allow me to elaborate. Do you think you are worthy to fix the brokenness of life? The pains, the struggles, the hurt, the tears of sadness felt all over the globe—are you worthy to fix it? You might be nervously thinking “what kind of question is that—am I worthy to fix the brokenness of life—of course not! Who would ask that sort of thing? And how is that any way to begin a biblical sermon? Thanks a lot for the encouragement pastor!”

Well, before we get carried away and dismiss the question, I truly believe it deserves a second glance. Because when we begin to think about the significance of the world’s brokenness combined with our unworthiness (and by that I mean our inability to carry it out), then we are left with a sincere, deep, and heavy problem—one of hopelessness, despair, and doom. It’s bleak I admit, but it’s a reality if in fact the only resolve to our world’s brokenness is dependent on our worthiness, because as we have already admitted, we are in fact not worthy.

Revelation 5 perhaps helps us resolve this terrifying and complex situation. It is my desire that at the conclusion of all that has been said, concerning this most majestic text, that each of us will have a renewed sense of hope and awe of Christ; that our only response will be one of true worship. But first, may we set some context for our passage.

CONTEXT

Revelation, as we are aware, deals primarily with future events. John, the author on the isle of Patmos writes down visions that are supernaturally given to him regarding “last things” that is, events that will transpire during the last age of history, the church age (the time between Christ first and second coming). In fact John tells us the clear outline of the book in 1:19: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are (chapters 1-3) and those that are to take place after this (chapters 4-22). Thus, while chapters 1-3 discuss the present situation facing the seven churches in Asia Minor, our present passage until the end of the book depicts how the rest of human history will unfold, climaxing with the final return of Christ.[1]

It may be important to remind ourselves that the book Revelation is written in a special type of genre. One in which has been appropriately called “apocalyptic (taken from the very first word of the book, ἀποκάλυψις).” In its very nature the book is to be taken symbolically and not literally. Therefore, as we unfold the main points of the passage we will have to unpack a few images John describes for us in order to get the overall idea.

Our specific passage (5:1-14) picks up in the midst of a tremendous worship service held in the splendor of Heaven itself! The transitional word “then (καί in Greek, but no doubt a note of sequential transition, thus rightly translated “then”) in 5:1 points us back to the events described in chapter four. There we discover John being transported to the doors of Heaven. The imagery given reminds us of the similar picture pained for us in Isaiah 6 as Isaiah also observed the majesty of Heaven. Here we are introduced to God himself—a description that is seemingly indescribable, and yet John with the best of precision, pictures God in all His splendor being worshiped by all of creation (depicted by the four living creatures of verses 6-8), and the twenty-four elders (most likely the superior order of  angels, so Morris, p. 88).  And they never cease to praise God:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8)!”

So, the setting of our passage is Heaven, and the focus is on the creator of the cosmos, Yahweh, the Great I AM. But the focus takes a slight shift as we enter into chapter five. And it is here that we are introduced to the dilemma—who will fix the brokenness?

OUR UNWORTHINESS

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

The scene seems somewhat simple but it may be helpful to unpack a few images here. First, it seems obvious that the one on the throne is God (see 4: 1-8). Second, we observe a scroll with seven seals. Some have suggested that this scroll is (1) the lamb’s book of life, (2) The OT scriptures, (3) or perhaps a testament that guarantees the inheritance of the saints. But most likely the scroll simply contains, as Mounce puts it, “the full account of what God in His sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the World (Mounce, 142).” In other words, the scroll contains the events of the rest of history—the events between the time of Christ ascension and His second coming. The scroll is protected with seven individual seals which when opened will reveal the description of what will happen during the end time events.

Now, it is here that we discover a complicated dilemma. As we read in verses 2 through 4 there was a call for someone, anyone, in Heaven, on earth, goodness…even under the earth, who was worthy enough to open the scroll and unveil the events of History. And all at once it’s as if the overwhelmingly joyful, hopeful, majestic, and praiseful, mood of 4:1-11 takes a complete downward spiral to despair and dismay. No one is worthy. No one was able (δύναμαι) John writes in verse 3, to open the scroll.

The implication seems to point toward a hopeless and saddened conclusion. John himself begins to weep (κλαίω, carries the idea of weeping loudly or intensely) in verse 4 because “no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”

But why…? Why such saddened emotion at the fact that no one was found worthy to open the scroll? I think it lies in a couple of factors. First, John was told earlier in 1:19and in 4:1 that he was going to be shown what would take place—that is, how history would unfold in God’s grand plan. Upon hearing that there was no one worthy communicated the sad possibility that this amazing revelation would actually never come to fruition.

However, I think this text points to a more subtle truth. This scroll containing the rest of human history would undoubtedly reveal not only how the world would end but more importantly how God would make all things right (the point of the entire book for that matter)! There is magnificent hope within the content of that scroll. Within its pages lie the greatest news ever—God’s complete plan for mankind’s final redemption! So, when John heard that no one was worthy—that no one had the ability—to open the scroll, it conveyed a huge message: the world’s brokenness would never be fixed by our worthiness. The fact remains that we are completely unworthy to bring hope to our final destination. We are unworthy!

These verses develop, I think, a most fundamental truth about understanding our relationship to God. Worship must begin with an understanding that we are unworthy. Our first acknowledgement when faced with the reality of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, should always be the overwhelming sense of our inadequacies and inability to fix the problems of sin and pain that this world is saturated in. In light of this, one of the greatest obstacles each of us face when seeking to relate and acknowledge the almighty God, is our self-pride. Deep within us, we may feel like we are worthy— that we deserve and are able to open the scroll, break the seals and reveal the divine plan for humanity! How egotistical of us!  Instead what we need to do, what we must do, is respond like John, weep bitterly. John realized, just like Isaiah, that he was a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips! And if no one was worthy to unseal the scroll then what was to become of the state of humanity? And I believe that when we get to this point we begin to realize genuine worship. We begin to realize that God is longing for brokenness, humility—when we get there, we begin to worship. N.T. Wright articulated this realization well:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian.).”

And this text seems to indicate that a part of glimpsing the reality of God involves acknowledging our unworthiness. We then begin to look for someone who may fit that description. And that brings us optimistically to the rest of the passage.

CHRIST’ WORTHINESS

The sorrowful tone of verse 4 is quickly interrupted by the enthusiastic news of verse 5.One of the 24 elders reassures John that there is no need to cry, there is in fact someone who can open the scroll, an individual who is in fact worthy to do so! Look at how the elder describes him in verses 5-9:

 

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

I don’t believe there is any other passage of scripture that elevates Christ in a more dynamic and significant way. As an announcer at a boxing event introduces, to a highly anticipated crowd, the undefeated champion of the world, so the elder announces the reigning Lion and Lamb! It is Christ—He is the one, and the only one, who is able…who is worthy…to open the scroll and its seven seals!

And let’s refrain from reading too quickly the text to miss a most profound imagery of Christ here. Verses 5 and 6 convey a rather significant truth about the conquering Messiah, and the means by which He has established His kingdom. Read closely again verses 5 and 6:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

As we know, the Jews of the 1st century were looking for a messiah who would in fact be an earthly King establishing an earthly Kingdom, who inevitably would put away all oppressing rulers and authorities. So, when Jesus entered the scene claiming to be the anointed one, the religious rulers were more than a little suspicious about the claim. In fact, they counted it as plain blasphemy. And as a result they had him executed on a cross. So much for Christ reigning as king—or so they thought.

In verses 5 and 6 we get a glimpse of how Christ actually did conquer as the reigning king and messiah—he conquered through his death! He is the lion of Judah, the root of David—this points to his kingship. But he’s also the “lamb that was slain”—this is the means by which he conquered. Through his death on the cross Christ conquered sin and death and by his resurrection overcame the power of death allowing all to live forever (1 Cor. 15:53-58).

And so based on his work on the cross Christ then approaches the throne of God and takes the scroll—He alone is worthy to break the seals. And as a result the entire heavenly assembly shakes the walls with adoration, praise….worship!

The song sung to Christ offers us the reason why Christ is worthy to open the scroll (notice the “for” in verse 9, ὅτι equals a causal conjunction) .These statements differentiate clearly the unworthiness of man and the worthiness of Christ:

First, Christ is worthy because he “was slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God.” It’s clear, is it not, why in verses 1-4 there was no one to be found worthy? The fact remains, the only requirement worthy of opening up the pages of History, and revealing the outcome of God’s divine and redemptive plan (and by implication resolving the salvation for the world), was the perfect and unblemished sacrifice of God himself. This is the heart of the Gospel! It was “He who knew no sin, becoming sin, that we might be the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21).” And it was by Christ’ sacrifice that our sins were “ransomed,” that is, purchased, bought. Our redemption and salvation was not free—it cost Christ taking the form of a servant, walking our ugly sod, and dying a wretched and spiritually overwhelming death! And as the end of verse 9 makes clear, that salvific event of the cross was available for every nation in the world!

May we just pause for a second and take in the implications of all of this?! I think we may begin to see the foundation of true genuine worship taking place here. Notice, that the assembly in Heaven expresses their gratitude and praise, their adoration and worship, in light of the worthiness of Christ. Worship must always be Christological. It must always be Christ-centric. Once we acknowledge our unworthiness to fix the brokenness of life—our inability to unseal the scroll— and shift our eyes to the only one who is worthy to bring salvation to all—Christ Jesus—then there is nothing left to do but to worship! When we come face to face with the realization of Christ and his salvific work on the cross we must worship! This is what it means to truly worship in spirit and in truth.

  • This is Moses taking his sandals off on Mt. Sinai
  • This is Abraham raising a knife to slay his only son
  • This is David dancing naked in ecstatic joy
  • This is Isaiah in the presence of Yahweh
  • This is Thomas falling down and saying “my Lord and my God.”

May I repeat Wright’s words once more:

“When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.

OUR WORTH IN CHRIST’ WORTH

We are unworthy, Christ is worthy. This seems to be the formula given in our passage for

true worship. But I am drawn to one more simple truth this text seems to indicate. Let us read slowly verses 9-10 once more:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

    from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Notice again the words “you ransomed a people for God.”  Worship is acknowledging our unworthiness, Christ worthiness, to bestow unto us His worthiness! Worship happens when our unworthiness meets Christ’ worthiness. Worship therefore, is an expression of our overwhelming gratitude to Christ for redeeming us to God. And di d you notice the rest of the passage? Through Christ’ sacrifice he has made us a “Kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth!” That’s incredible! The story of Revelation, and the Bible for that matter, points to God, in His divine mercy, taking our brokenness and replacing it with Christ’ perfection! Through Christ, God has adopted us in to His family, called us His own, and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that is in Heaven! He has taken our unworthiness, and replaced it with Christ’ worthiness! It’s no wonder that for the rest of the passage everyone represented in Heaven can only respond with worship. It’s no wonder that verse 14 ends with these words: “and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Let me ask you, are you worthy? Perhaps now you pause a moment before answering. Because the answer to that question depends on a proper perspective doesn’t it? If we are asking if we are worthy to fix the brokenness of life based on our own worthiness then the answer is a resounding No! However, if one was to ask if I am worthy to be fixed, then the answer is an overwhelming Yes! Based on the worthiness of Christ I am worthy! I find my identity, my worthiness in Christ. So, may we this morning take time to confess our unworthiness, acknowledge Christ supreme worthiness, and bask in the blessings of Christ’ worthiness in us! As we do I am sure we will find ourselves bowing in worship to our Savior Christ Jesus!

 

 

[1] I am aware of the various viewpoints regarding the structure and interpretive stances in the scholarly community. I personally take what is popularly known as the “spiritual” interpretive view and see Revelation in light of the cyclical structure view held by many amillennialist. Due to time restraints I neglected to go into further detail concerning the books structure and its relation to the passage at hand.

What about women preachers?

Note: The following is a response to a question submitted in conjunction with a sermon I preached on 9/20/15 at SonRise Christian Church, Summerville, SC. 

QuestionMy question to today’s question is, if women can’t be leaders or preachers or lead a church is Joyce Meyers wrong?  What’s the difference between a Children’s Sunday school teacher and a preacher?

Answer: Great question! The New Testament teaches that women are to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4), teach children (2 Timothy 1 :3-5), evangelize and disciple (Acts 18:24-28), and serve in the life of the church body (1 Cor 12). However, as far as authority (i.e. Oversight and leadership) and teaching the Bible in the corporate body of the church 1 Timothy 2:12-15 makes it clear that this role is to be done by men. Therefore, I humbly disagree with our sister Joyce Myers. I feel that if she is taking on a role as pastor-teacher then she is ignoring the clear point of 1 Timothy 2:12-15. Furthermore,  those who teach children seem not to be in violation of  1 Timothy 2 because they are not taking on the role as the pastor-teacher of a local church assembly.

It is admittedly a touchy subject and the stance that I take confessedly goes against the cultural norm. However, the Bible must take precedent over our cultural inclinations. Thanks so much for your willingness to dig deeper and for being a great Berean! Here is a fantastic resource to further your study: http://cbmw.org/topics/complementarianism/50-crucial-questions/

The following is a follow-up question along with my answer:

Question: Thank you Pastor Will. I guess I am still a bit confused with my Joyce Meyers question. Not because I think your wrong, the word clearly says that.  I just don’t see how he could deny her heaven due to not following the word. She has saved so many souls. But I wonder by saving so many souls and being she is doing it wrong is she still saving them or leading them to damnation. Surely not right? I know someone that will be knocking on suicides door but listens to Joyce and can be routed in another direction. She gets peace from her sermons and able to put things back in perspective. I hope God has compassion on her (Joyce). Thanks for your never ending patience and love for me.

Answer: Those are compelling questions, and ones that I admittedly struggle with myself. The basic foundation of your thoughts revolve around the question of how someone so successful and influential in communicating God’s truth could miss such a straight-forward passage of scripture. I must admit, I am boggled by it as well 🙂 That moves us into an even more difficult situation–that is, how is it that all of us can read the same Bible and come up with completely different answers and beliefs? Again, not an easy question to resolve. My humble response would be as follows:

First, while I believe that Joyce Myers is incorrect in her application and interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15, I don’t believe that necessitates the basic message of the Gospel that results in people receiving Christ as Lord. God can, and does use miss-guided messengers(like myself at times I’m sure)  to reach effectively people with the basic message of the Gospel. A great case study of this in the Bible is Philippians 1:15-18 in which Paul distinguishes between the “Motive” of the speaker and the Result of the “message” given. In other words some can even preach the Gospel with false motives and it still do the job of convicting the lost listener!

Secondly, as to how so many devoted Bible-believers can disagree I propose a few thoughts: First, I think all Bible-believing Christians agree on the “essentials” of the Gospel–The “Bulls-eye” points. That is, what we believe about salvation, Jesus deity, God, The Work of the cross, the resurrection, and the fact that Christ will definitely come again.

However, on the secondary issues (for example women preaching) there are definitely disagreements. I think in light of this we must avoid two extremes.

On the one hand, some respond with subjective relativism. That is, there is no way we can come to the ultimate truth and thus every person’s individual interpretation is fine, so long as we don’t subject anyone else to hold our position. This is dangerous however, to those who believe in the inerrant word of God. We believe that when God wrote the Bible he didn’t mean to communicate 2, 3, or a thousand different ideas, but one. Therefore, the Bible has one interpretation and our job as Bible students is to find out what that is.

On the other hand, there are some who go to the opposite extreme and believe that if you don’t adhere to every belief on every verse of the Bible as they do, then your completely wrong and sinful! This is completely unnecessary however. While we do need to agree on the essentials, we also need to have room to lovingly dialogue about our differences.

So while I think Joyce Myers teaches  some important issues incorrectly I would never advocate her as sinful or unsaved or the like. I do feel compelled to caution others when there are areas of biblical teaching that are off base in my view of Scripture. But these need to be done in a spirit of grace, love and patience. In conclusion I think it is helpful to follow the old adage: “in essentials unity, in opinions liberty, in all things love.”

Love ya, keep up the growth!

Christian Liberty and Starbucks

Note: The following is a response to a question submitted in conjunction with a sermon I preached on 9/20/15 at SonRise Christian Church, Summerville, SC. 

Question: Paul said to not worry about buying meat that was previously used in Pagan rituals. As in consuming the meat didn’t mean that they were supporting or condoning the sin of idol worship. Could that principle be applied to a florist, Baker, etc, providing wedding services to a homosexual couple?

Answer: I think your right in one way . For example , I go to Starbucks. Starbucks openly advocates homosexuality. My buying Starbucks does not mean I support their view of homosexuality. It could be argued however that I may want to spend my money somewhere else ( a Christian coffee company for example) . Nevertheless, the point is I am free to eat and drink anything no matter the source. However, I need to use wise Christian discernment when doing so and not foolishly use my Liberty as a stumbling block to others . Furthermore, in the example you have given, I believe one must do what’s right in their conscience . If it is wrong for a person to sell goods to a homosexual couple then they shouldn’t do it ( see Romans 14-15) .

23 Characteristics of a Church Elder

In Acts 20:18-38 Luke records a most heart-felt speech from the Apostle Paul to his close companions—the elders at the church in Ephesus. Besides discovering the emotional investment Paul developed with the spiritual leaders of the local chushepherdrch, we learn some vital characteristics of a faithful local church overseer. Below are twenty-three such characteristics that Paul alludes to in this penetrating message. These several characteristics may offer tremendous benefit to anyone seeking to lead as an elder of a local church today.

  1. Invests time in the lives of his flock (v. 18)
  2. Has a servant’s heart (v.19)
  3. Maintains an attitude of humility (v. 19)
  4. The ability to persevere through trials (v. 19)
  5. Never refrains from sharing the truth (v.20)
  6. A devotion to teaching God’s Word (v. 20)
  7. An evangelistic urgency (v. 21)
  8. A yielding to the Holy Spirit (v. 22)
  9. An acute awareness of persecution for the sake of the Gospel. (v. 23)
  10. Self-denial (v. 24)
  11. Dedicated to preaching the scriptures in its entirety (v.27)
  12. Sensitive attentiveness to the dangers of temptation (v. 28)
  13. Protects the members of the local church from dangerous threats to their spiritual growth (v. 28)
  14. Care for the church (v. 28)
  15. Ability to recognize false teachers (vv. 30-31)
  16. Allowing those the elder has trained/disciple, the freedom to lead others (v. 32)
  17. No desire for materialism (v. 33)
  18. Strong work ethic (v. 33)
  19. Takes care of his own financial responsibilities (v. 33)
  20. A heart for the marginalized, weak, and oppressed (v. 34)
  21. A generous giver (v. 35)
  22. Emphasizes prayer (v. 36)
  23. A genuine and emotional love for the local church (v. 37)

Gossip: A deadly virus in the church

Inevitably, when a community of people live life together problems will occasionally arise. It was true for the first century church (just read 1 Corinthians!), and it is true for the church today. One of the issues prevalent in today’s church is the issue of gossiping. Our human nature simply enjoys the desire to talk about the problems of other people. However, such negative talk always leads to the tearing down, rather than the building up, of the body of Christ. As the issue of gossip has shown up from time to time in the church I serve in, I thought it would be beneficial to jot down some biblical principles for my church to live by. The following are some general guidelines our church seeks to follow. I believe they are helpful in avoiding the temptation to gossip:

Speaking negatively about any ministry or individual among a private group of peers, only serves to tear down the Body of Christ rather than build it up. If there are areas or individuals that you feel need to be addressed for the purposes of improvement, the proper procedure is to personally approach the individual responsible for the problematic area (Matthew 18:15-20). For no reason should your concern be discussed with anyone outside of this context; this results in gossip and inevitably leads to the tearing down of individuals. A good rule of thumb is to simply follow the guidelines of Ephesians 4:29 which states: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. May we always desire a unified harmony with each other that revolves around grace and kindness.  

 

What do you think about these guidelines? Would you add anything else? 

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES? (Part Two)

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES?

Part Two: Internal Evidence

             In the first part of this article we discussed the external evidence for Pauline authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles. What follows is a look at the internal evidence.

          

             The issue of the genuineness of the PE becomes even more complex as the focus shifts from the external evidence to the internal. There is no questioning the undeniable truth thaPault the PE differ significantly from the other ten Pauline letters. As a result of these differences, many scholars have concluded that the PE must have been written pseudonymously.  Moreover, it is pointed out that the writer must have been highly familiar with the teaching of Paul. “The writer. . .  addresses the problems of his own day as one who has drunk deeply from the Pauline well.[1]” While the arguments based on the apparent differences between the PE and the rest of the Pauline corpus appear scintillating, the content of the PE are better understood as genuinely Pauline. The following issues make up the primary areas of dispute.

           

           

            The first internal difficulty deals with reconciling the events mentioned in the pastorals with those recorded for us in the book of Acts. Some are not convinced that the events in the PE coincide with the accounts written in acts and therefore, submit that the writer must be manufacturing allusions that would give the impression of an historical setting.[2] For example, 1Timothy depicts Paul on his way to Macedonia, while Timothy is back in Ephesus, and Paul is longing to return there to see his protégé (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14). This seems to conflict with the picture in Acts 20 wherein Timothy meets Paul in Macedonia rather than remaining in Ephesus. Titus 1:5 indicates that Paul had spent time in Crete and left Titus there to continue the work of the ministry. However, the only reference of Paul being in Crete is the brief comment found in Acts 27:7-13 and fails to imply any reference to ministry work. A final example is found in 2 Timothy 4:13 in which Paul requests a cloak left at the house of Carpus at Troas. In order for the request to be understandable it seems logical that Paul must have recently visited Troas. However, this is difficult to line up with the timeline given in Acts 20.

           

            Several insightful responses have been given to these objections. First, it is important to realize that the book of Acts was not meant to be an exhaustive description of the early church,[3] highlighting every detail of the apostle’s journeys. We know fairly little of what Paul did during those years and there are huge gaps when other events could be squeezed in[4]. For example, when did the events mentioned in 2 Cor.11:23-27 occur? Or what about the three years Paul spent in Ephesus recorded in Acts 20:31; none of Paul’s trips are recorded during that time. The second imprisonment theory offers credence to those who affirm Pauline authorship. This theory suggests that Paul experienced a second imprisonment after the one mentioned in Acts 28. This means that Paul was released from his imprisonment spoken of in Acts 28, served for a few more years and eventually was imprisoned a second time in which he was soon martyred. This theory can be attested by the fact that the book of Acts seems to indicate reason for Paul’s release. Furthermore, 1 Clement 5:7 reports that Paul journeyed “to the outer limits of the west” (i.e. Spain), which would only happen after Acts 28, and  numerous patristic sources mention Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment. While it cannot be made certain, it seems more favorable to fit the PE within the timeline of Acts rather than apart from it.

           

            “Many scholars believe that the understanding of church life that is  presupposed in these letters could not have appeared during Paul’s lifetime. Specifically, they see a strongly organized church with an ordained ministry.[5]” For example, Banks maintains that the undisputed letters contain a reoccurring theme of familtexty imagery that is somewhat diminished in the pastorals. While the terms in the pastorals are generally similar to those in the other letters, the pastorals display a less dynamic view of the Christian community. Moreover, the authority of leadership has shifted from that of the community of believers to certain roles held by individual leaders within the church.[6] The assumption is that the early church began as a charismatic Spirit-led body of believers. It was only much later that the church began to establish elders, deacons, and eventually bishops for the purpose of combating error within the church.[7] While these points should be seriously considered, a few considerations warrant attention. First, it is important to recognize that Paul began establishing elders in churches as soon as his first missionary journey[8] Second, when discussing the development of ordained ministry within the PE only 1 Timothy should be seriously considered. This is seen in the fact that 2 Timothy makes no mention of ordained ministry and Titus, only a small reference to the appointing and qualifications of elders.[9] Finally, the reference to the overseers and deacons in Philippians 1:1 says just as much about ordained ministry as any of the PE do.

           

            A large amount of ink has been spilled over the linguistic problem found within the PE. Simply put, when contrasting the PE with the other Pauline epistles there arises a significant difference in language. The forerunner of this critique was P.N. Harrison and his work The Problem of the Pastorals.[10] In his effort to critique Pauline authorship Harrison offers a massive amount of statistical data in support of his double contention that Paul did not write the PE and that the language reflects that of a second century author.[11] Harrison’s presentation of the problem is fourfold[12]: First, Harrison points out that one-hundred and seventy-five words found in the PE are found nowhere else in the New Testament (i.e. the Hapax Legomena).[13] Second, there is the problem of the large number of words found in the PE and other New Testament writings but unknown to the other ten Pauline epistles.[14] Third, stands the problem of characteristic Pauline words and groups of words missing from the PE.[15] Finally, Harrison suggests several grammatical and stylistic differences.[16] Harrison’s extensive work has convinced many that the PE could not be attributed to Paul. Harrison’s view carries some significant weaknesses however. That a significant amount of vocabulary is unique to the PE does not warrant non-Pauline authorship. It seems ludicrous to believe that Paul’s vocabulary was limited to only that which we find in the ten Pauline epistles. Moreover, Harrison’s claim that the language used in the PE fits more in line with second century literature is weak on the basis that most of the words shared by the pastorals and the second century writers are also found in writings prior to A.D. 50.[17] Additionally, that some of the words are used with different meanings signifies that only the contexts are different, Paul also uses vocabulary with different meanings in the ten letters. [18] In the final analysis it must be observed that although the statistical data provided by Harrison is impressive, it is unable to offer the reason as to why the differences exist. Too many variables are at stake; Paul is writing to individuals instead of churches, different topics are discussed, the context for writing is different, there could be a different amanuensis, and so forth.

           

             Opponents of authenticity do not neglect to point out what they believe are doctrinal differences between the Pauline epistles and the PE. Some argue that the PE contradict some of the Pauline themes found in the undisputable letters and that some of the theology is un-Pauline.  Several categories are usually given:

           

              It is argued that some of the major Pauline themes such as the Holy Spirit, the cross, and flesh verses spirit are missing in the PE. The importance of this point comes from the idea that certain theological themes are so central to Paul’s thought and message that their omission calls Pauline authorship into question.[19] In light of this argument some considerations should be made. First, Paul is not limited to what we might feel is his core theological themes. Moreover, these types of expressions, while not phrased in the same form as the Pauline epistles have them, often incorporate Pauline terms—perhaps used in a different way, but still Pauline.[20] Secondly, the fact that Paul is writing to two individuals concerning specific historical circumstances speaks to the fact that it was not necessary to discuss basic theological topics. Finally, Mounce rightly observes that in the acknowledged Pauline epistles there may be theological themes common in one book but not in another.[21]

            Paul 2

            Some see an issue with certain Pauline terms being used differently within the PE. For example Banks understands Paul’s use of the word agape as the ethos within which members carry out all their communal responsibilities.[22] However, according to Banks, in the PE agape has lost this significant meaning.[23] It is argued that words such as faith and righteousness are severely un-Pauline. Faith for example is not seen as a gift from God but a “deposit to which nothing can be added,”[24] and righteousness is a “virtue to be sought.”[25] In response to these arguments one only need recognize that words carry semantic ranges. In other words, Paul’s theology was not so rigid that every time he used a certain theological term it always carried the same meaning. This can be attested for in the undisputed Pauline letters themselves. For example, when Paul tells the Roman church that their faith is proclaimed in all the world (Romans 1:8) it is not the gift that is proclaimed but the fact that they are Christians.[26] Therefore, the argument that Pauline terms are used differently in the PE seems insignificant.

           

            The fact that the Holy Spirit is only mentioned three times[27] in the PE is considerably significant to some. The problem involves the emphasis Paul gives to the Holy Spirit in his other letters; if so much emphasis is designated in the authentic Pauline letters, why not the PE? While the lack of reference to the Holy Spirit may be, at face value, unlike Paul, it should be noted that such references are not evenly spread over all Paul’s earlier epistles. In the case of Colossians and 2 Thessalonians the Holy Spirit is mentioned only once, and in Philemon not at all.[28]

           

            Seeking to determine the genuineness of the PE may at times create just as many questions as it does answers. Nevertheless, there seems to be a sufficient amount of evidence to satisfy an affirmative conclusion concerning Paul as the author of the PE. The early church’ reception of Pauline authorship is well established under close examination of the external evidence. It may even be probable that P46 points to the validity of the PE rather than speak against them. The internal evidence sheds additional light to Pauline authorship. The difficulties of reconciling the events between Acts and the PE are troubling at first glance. However, the difficulties seem less atrocious when recognizing that Acts is not exhaustive and in light of the second imprisonment theory. Ordained ministry, undoubtedly adapted and fine-tuned in the second century, was by no means unfamiliar to the early church as seen in Philippians 1:1 and the reference in Acts 14. Harrison’s detailed observations on the seemingly problematic linguistic issues failed to satisfy careful scrutiny and any theological terms questioned in the pastorals neglect to take into account semantic domains. Altogether, it seems fitting to conclude that based on the external and internal evidence it is highly probable that Paul is the author of the PE.


               [1] D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 555

               [2] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 561

               [3] Mounce, Pastorals, 35.

               [4] A.T. Robinson outlines a fine argument in favor of the events within the PE reconciling with those in Acts. See John A. T. Robertson. Redating the New Testament. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 67-85.

               [5] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 564.

               [6] Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting. Rev. ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 194-195

               [7] Mounce, Pastorals, 36

               [8] Acts 14:23

               [9] Tit. 1:5-9

               [10] For a helpful summary of Harrison’s points see Carson and Moo, Introduction, 555-558.

               [11] Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles,  54

               [12] ibid, 54

               [13] Harrison, Problem, 20.

               [14] ibid, 21.

               [15] ibid, 31-38.

               [16] ibid, 38-46.

               [17] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 556.

               [18] ibid, 556.

               [19] Mounce, Pastorals, 39.

               [20] Carson and  Moo, Introduction,  565.

               [21] Mounce, Pastorals,  39-40.

               [22] Banks, Community,  195

               [23] In fact, Banks argues that a major understanding of Paul’s is the involvement of community, especially within church discipline and decision making. Thus, Banks questions whether the PE are genuinely Pauline because of the seeming neglect of communal responsibility and a shift to established roles in church leadership. 

               [24] Mounce , Pastorals,  42.

               [25] ibid, 42.

               [26] ibid, 42.

               [27] 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim 1:14; Tit. 3:5

               [28] Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles,  49.

 

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES? (Part one)

DID PAUL WRITE THE PASTORAL EPISTLES?

Part One: External Evidence

           

             For most, there is no questioning the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles.[1] It is assumed that thesPaul letterse documents are in fact part of the canon of scripture and in essence the very words of God. However, it may surprise some that most individuals of scholarship “insist[s] that the pastorals were all written by someone other than Paul.[2]” For conservatives, maintaining such a view would take into question the genuineness or inspiration of the PE. Nevertheless, a deeper investigation of the issues may indicate that such a view is not that farfetched. In reality, the answers are not as easy as merely reading the opening words of each letter. Therefore, it seems that if one could establish authorship for the PE than the genuineness of those documents would develop accordingly. Thus, the purpose of what follows is a pursuit to establish and contend for Pauline authorship of the PE by examining both external and internal evidence. The importance of this endeavor is tersely summed up by Harrison: “We must endeavour to promote a right understanding of their message and a just appreciation of their worth, by seeking first to ascertain and establish, as far as may be, the facts of their authorship.[3]

            It seems fitting to approach the discussion by first observing the external evidence for Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. It has well been established that the early church viewed the PE as authoritative documents along with other New Testament writings in the later part of the second century.[4] Moreover, the genuineness of Pauline authorship was not taken into sincere questioning until the nineteenth century.[5] Strong examples of these second century authorities include Clement of Alexandria who regularly connected his citations from the PE to Paul. Similarly, Ignatius, Tertullian, Justin Martyr and Irrenaeus[6] all allude to Pauline authorship of the PE. Also of significant importance is the PE listed within the Muratorian Canon. While the evidence for these second century attestations seems valuable, they still fail to display convincing conclusions. The evidence from Polycarp however, develops a substantial case for Pauline authorship.[7] Berding points out that in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians he has an unmistakable tendency to cluster Pauline citations and allusions after he mentions the name of the apostle Paul.[8] Interestingly, contained within two specific “clusters” are clear references to passages in 1 and 2 Timothy.[9] The implication is that Polycarp considered the phrases in each cluster to be Pauline. If this conclusion is accepted, then a most important implication is that Polycarp considered the phrases which he quoted from 1 and 2 Timothy also to be Pauline.[10] The significance of this point is heightened with the understanding that Polycarp could be dated as early as 120 A.D.[11] Polycarp becomes the earliest witness to the Pauline authorship of two of the three PE by about 50 years. Moreover, it should be noted that Harrison rightly points out that “if Polycarp knew 1 and 2 Timothy, it becomes a priori more than likely that he knew the Epistle to Titus also.[12]P46

           

          Although the external material seems to favor Pauline authorship of the PE there remains two very important and weighty suggestions that seek to refute the above arguments. First, the PE are omitted from the Chester Beatty Papyri (P46), an early collection of Paul’s writings dating as soon as the early third century. The papyrus is missing its last seven leaves which seem to exclude 2 Thessalonians, the PE, and Philemon (it does contain Hebrews however). Those who deny Pauline authorship point out that there would have not been enough room for the scribe to include 2 Thessalonians, Philemon and the PE. The resulting inference implies that since such an early and well attested manuscript as P46 did not choose to include the PE, then they must not have been seen as attributed to Paul.  While this argument seems substantial on the surface convincing reactions have well been attested. Jeremias has demonstrated that the scribe’s writing grew smaller toward the end of the manuscript as a result of running out of writing space.[13] Therefore, it is possible that the seven missing leaves could have contained the rest of the Pauline letters. A similar case was argued by J. Duff who points out that “there is a chance the manuscript did have space for the Pastoral Epistles, since the scribe’s writing gets more compact as the manuscript proceeds.[14]” Guthrie explains that it was not uncommon for scribes to “add additional sheets at the end of a codex,[15]” and this could allow for the missing PE. The omission of Philemon may indicate that the codex only included Paul’s letters to churches and left out letters written to individuals. This may explain the omission of Philemon and the PE but the inclusion of Hebrews. If however, the above reactions were not taken into consideration this particular argument still fails to stand. This precarious form of argument of questioning the authenticity of the PE because of their absence in the papyri, if taken to its logical extreme, would have to also question the authority of all of the other New Testament books not represented in the papyri.[16]

         

           The second issue revolves around Marcion, a mid-second century heretic. Marcion adapted a belief that rejected any remnant of Jewish theology within the New Testament. Thus, along with the PE he also rejected books such as Matthew, Mark, and John because of their Jewish connotations. Specifically, the dilemma involves Marcion’s omission of the PE in his “canon.” Scholars opposed to Pauline authorship submit that Marcion was unaware of the PE existence and therefore conclude that Paul could not have possibly written them. However, it is Tertullian who stated that Marcion rejected the PE. Some believe Tertullian was mistaken and speculate how Marcion could have rejected such works if in fact they were already accepted by the orthodox community. Yet, it seems clear that if Marcion was willing to reject other well established books such as Matthew and John, then why would he hesitate to omit the PE? Furthermore, the PE do contain teachings that would give Marcion reason to reject them (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:8; 1 Tim. 4:3; 2 Tim. 3:16). Tertullian’s statement therefore, seems appropriate and Marcion’s omission of the PE fails to convince a non-Pauline author.

            Now that we have examined the external evidence we shall swiftly sift through the internal evidence in part two of our examination of the genuineness of the pastorals.


                   [1]  Pastoral Epistles will be referred to as PE.

               [2] D.A. Carson, and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 555

               [3] P.N. Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles (Humphrey Milford: Oxford, 1921), 17.

               [4] cf. Donald Guthrie. The Pastoral Epistles. Rev. ed. (TNTC  Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2002), 20; I. H. Marshall. The Pastoral Epistles (ICC  New York: T&T, 1999), 5; and William Mounce, D. Pastoral Epistles  (WBC 46; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 14.

                   [5] Guthrie outlines a fine list of scholars in the last 200 years who oppose Pauline authorship and those who affirm it. See Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles, 21-22.

               [6] Irenaeus (ca. 188) is the first clear testimony to Pauline authorship, for he quotes phrases from the Pastorals as coming from Paul. See Kenneth Berding, “Polycarp of Smyrna’s view of the authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy,” VC 53 (1999): 349-360.

               [7] Some question the validity of Polycarp’s usage of the PE. Moreover, the author of the PE is viewed as using Polycarp. This claim has been well refuted however. See Mounce, Pastorals, 17.

               [8] Berding, “Polycarp,” 349.

               [9] The first Cluster in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians is 3.2-4.1 and references 1 Timothy 6:10 and 1 Timothy 6:7. The second cluster is 9.1-10.1 and references 2 Timothy 4:10.

               [10] Berding, “Polycarp,” 359.

               [11] The date could be as high as 135 A.D.  See Berding, “Polycarp,” 350.

                   [12] Harrison, Problem, 295.

               [13] Mounce, Pastorals, 15.

               [14]Stanley E. Porter “Greek New Testament Manuscripts.” DNTB  675.

               [15] Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles, 20.

                   [16] Mounce, Pastorals, 15.