Monday, February 17, 2014

Ephesians 3:1-13 – A Mystery

Our Life Group lesson this week was on Ephesians 3:1-13, our sixth lesson on this marvelous epistle of Paul. The apostle is about to pray for the Ephesians, in his letter, but first he goes on a digression. He begins, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—". Then, if we skip to verse 14 we read, "For this reason I kneel before the Father...[vs. 16] I pray that...." Everything between verse 1 and verse 14 is digression.

Why this digression? Why everything in these verses? I said in class today that I have to know the why of things—knowing what isn't good enough. I built my lesson around the mystery (vs. 3, 4, 6, and 9) that the Gentiles would be saved through Christ, and Jew and Gentile be brought into one fellowship. Why did God choose to do things that way and leave his ultimate plan a mystery for so long? As opposed to, millennia earlier introducing the system that ended up with salvation through Christ?

But something I didn't take note of or mention in class is that this passage is directed to the Gentiles. Paul begins the letter by addressing it "To God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus." In chapter 2, verse 11-23, Paul seems to be speaking to both Jews [circumcised; near by] and Gentiles [uncircumcised; far away]. But now he says, "I, Paul...for the sake of you Gentiles...." Is he now saying there are only Gentile Christians in the Ephesus church? Or is just changing focus to address those of the church who are Gentiles?

Paul has just described himself as "the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles".  Except, that's not really what he's saying. He's actually saying that for the sake of the Gentiles he's "a prisoner of Christ Jesus." A subtle difference, perhaps, but a difference. Is what Paul's about to say for the Gentiles' sake, or is he a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles? The notes in the NIV Study Bible don't cover this, so I reached back to two older commentaries I have: Adam Clarke and Matthew Henry.

Clarke states it is the latter: Paul is a prisoner because he preached Christ to the Gentiles and insisted they could be Christians without first becoming Jews, thus raising the ire of Jewish leaders. Those leaders grabbed him in Jerusalem and he was prisoner there, in Caesarea, and in Rome. Clarke glosses over that Paul says he was "the prisoner of Christ Jesus," not prisoner of the Jews or Romans, nor did he say he was in prison or in chains. Matthew Henry attributes the phrase "for this reason" as pointing back to Chapter 2, wherein Paul said God had made Jew and Gentile one, refers to why Paul is a prisoner (rather than why Paul is about to say what he says beginning in verse 14). At least Henry spends time on the fact that he is Christ Jesus' prisoner. But I didn't find much help in Henry on the question of what "for the sake of" means.

Could this verse actually mean something slightly different? I'm working only in English here, since I don't know Greek. When we say something like "I'm doing this for your sake," I see two possible meanings, one causal, one a result. It could mean I'm doing this because of something you did [e.g. I'm drive to the hospital for your sake, because while jumping around in the basement you fell and broke your arm]. Or it could mean I'm doing this for your benefit [e.g. I'm making you do your homework, child, for your sake, not mine—because you will learn and grow as a result]. It is in this latter sense, I believe, that Paul means "for the sake of you Gentiles." So my conclusions concerning verse 1 are:
  • "For this reason" refers of course to what went before in the letter, that Jew and Gentile are brought together in Christ; and it's prefacing what Paul is about to say.
  • "the prisoner of Christ Jesus" is Paul's recognitions that no matter who restricts him he is really a will prisoner of God in Jesus.
  • "for the sake of you Gentiles" most likely refers to his imprisonment being for the Gentiles' benefit, not something caused by them or his preaching to them.
What now shall we say about the lesson? Having spent so much time and space on the first verse, I have no more of either to tell you of administration (vs. 2, 9) being koinonia, or going in depth into the mystery (vs. 3, 4, 6, 9), or the marching orders for the church (vs. 10), or deal again with the heavenly realms (vs. 10) and who the rulers mentioned are, or how this ties together with 1:3, 1:20, 2:6, and 6:12.

How rich is this book! I could almost devote my entire blog to it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Additional Review of "In the Blink of an Eye"

Andrew Parker’s book In the Blink of an Eye was the subject of an earlier review post on this blog. I had intended to come back and do two more posts. Alas, way led on to way and I never got back. I’m finally circling round, however, and will do at least this one more post about it.

The premise of Parker’s book is that the evolution of the eye, long thought to be a very weak link in the evolutionary chain, because of the length of time that it would take, could in fact have happened in about 500,000 years. Which is, in evolutionary terms, just the blink of an eye. He says this happened at the beginning of the Cambrian Epoch, which would have been approximately 543 million years ago.
Well, actually, according to Parker there’s no approximate about it. Dating of fossils is so exact that he says it took place exactly then, give or take a million years. This corresponded with what scientists call the Cambrian Explosion, which was a rapid increase in the number of species in a short amount of time (evolutionary speaking). Other things taking place at that time, in addition to species suddenly having eyes, is the sudden appearance of hard body parts and eyes. All the phyla we know now are found in fossils know to be after the explosion, but not in fossils known to be before the explosion. Parker says this happened precisely 543 million years ago. It was the sudden evolution of eyes, he says, that caused the need for animals to evolve hard body parts, which in turn gave rise to the explosion in the number of species, all because eyes changed the whole relation of prey and predator.

The book goes on, in great detail, to state what happened at that time, as determined from the fossil record. Finally, toward the end, Parker gives us his view on the why: “Why it happened is the puzzle this book sets out to solve.”
Those who doubt evolution say this explosion would correspond to certain parts of the Creation account in the book of Genesis. Parker and his peers would reject this (though see his book The Genesis Enigma for a lengthy discussion of the Genesis account of creation), saying that God, if He really exists, had no part in any creation of all things animal, vegetable, or mineral. Everything had to happen by natural causes.

On page 224, Parker begins his discussion on the rapid evolution of the eye. First a patch of light-sensitive skin occurs, for whatever reason. Mathematical modeling done has shown that, from that small patch of light-sensitive skin, 364,000 generations would be needed for a fully developed eye to evolve if the rate of evolution were just “0.005 percent from one generation to the next.” He then says this is pessimistically slow, and that a much faster rate of evolution is likely. Based on the life span of the species living 544 million years ago, those generations would pass in about a half million years. The 0.005 percent change per generation was based on a light-sensitive patch of skin changing in length, width, or protein density by 1 percent for each generation.
But, what I don’t get is why evolution should happen at 0.005 percent from generation to generation. Does evolution happen from “adaption”—that is, the slow process of survival of the fittest then breeding offspring who are even more fit—or does it happen by “mutation”—the sudden, unexplained occurrence of a change in the animal that just happens to be fitter than a non-mutated offspring?

Say that a larger animal is fitter than a smaller animal, because it will win a fight between the two. Or it will have more success in predation, and thus will live longer and breed more often, and it’s offspring will be more likely to be like it than like those smaller/weaker members of the species at the opposite side of the bell curve. In any species I suppose no two critters are exactly alike. There will be a range of sizes, for example, with some kind of distribution around a mean or average. Those few of the species who are a standard deviation or more above the mean will have greater success at predation and living and breeding. After some generations of this, the mean will change; it will be larger/stronger/fitter. But the species preyed upon will be adapting too, and will have a new mean after those generations and be fitter to fight off the predation of the other animals.
Now, the animals in question don’t will this to happen, as I understand evolutionary theory. The stimulus to adapt must come from external pressures, not internal causes. They don’t say, “Our species has to grow larger and stronger or we won’t survive. Let me produce larger and stronger offspring.” It takes place through natural selection based on success and failure of the various members of the species. Over a long period of time the specie changes or, as evolutionists believe, a whole new species develops.

This idea that evolutionary change by adaption should take place in nice 0.005 percent steps seems to me to be ridiculous. It assumes that at each change the species is fitter than it was before the change. Parker says that is obviously true, but it’s not obvious for me.
So, while I enjoyed this book and took in a lot of information, I am not persuaded by the conclusions, which are:

  • The eye evolved precisely 544 million years ago
  • The eye evolved in a period of 500 thousand years in a series of tiny steps, with each step producing a species mean that was fitter than the one before
  • That the impetus for this natural process was probably a rapid increase in the intensity of sunlight
Parker’s book is good. It is, however, neither a practical, popular book nor a scientific text. It is somewhere in between these two species, too non-academic to be used as a text, and too full of scientific terms to speak to the common man. It is an interesting experiment, but I predict this species will find itself extinct somewhere down the road.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Two Made One - Ephesians 2:11-22

Yesterday, Sunday, was not my day to teach Life Group. But on Friday the few-days-old adopted grandchild of my co-teacher underwent surgery at Children's Hospital in Little Rock, so I knew I would be called on to substitute. I went ahead and read the scripture for the lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22.

This is our fifth lesson in Ephesians, a book that is, or should be, well known to Christians who are long established in their walk with Christ. I this passage on Friday, and was immediately struck with how rich it is, and how full of wonder statements. Here are the ones that stood out to me.
2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
2:14 For he himself is our peace....
 2:15b His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace....
2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
2:19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household....
2:20b ...with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
2:21 In him the whole building...rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

How rich! how full! how memorable! are these fragments, all worthy in their own right to be memorized by the devout Christian, as well as in place as part of a full passage.

The context of these in Ephesians is easy to understand from reading the full passage. Paul speaks of the Jew and Gentile as those who were near to and far away from God, respectively. The work of Jesus, specifically through his blood (i.e. his death) is the method God used to bring these two groups together to the point where they could put aside their natural animosity toward each other and become one church, one holy people devoted to God. Paul had alluded to this in a statement earlier in Ephesians:
1:9-10 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In our modern world it's difficult to understand the division there was at the time of Paul, and of Jesus, between Gentile and Jew. Or is it? In the class I gave an illustration of a sermon I once heard preached by a leader in our church. He was in South Africa, helping people at an altar of prayer, people praying for salvation. One man expressed joy at having prayed through and found assurance of salvation. This preacher started questioning the man. "Do you love your neighbor?" "Oh yes!" "Do you love your family?" "Oh yes?" "Do you love the Dutch?" The man praying was of English descent, and he hesitated at this question. The preacher told him to keep praying, and went off to help others.

Later he came back to that man and said, "Do you love the Dutch?" "Oh yes!" "Do you love the black man?" Again the seeker hesitated, so the preacher told him to keep praying, that he had not really prayed through.

Alas, our world is full of such divisions. How often have you heard it said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: Texans, and those who wish they were Texans." Or maybe its corollary: "There are two kinds of people in the world: Texans, and those who are glad they aren't Texans." We are still divided racially, ethnically, nationally, by language, by customs and culture, by doctrine and worship practices, by social status, by economic status.

The answer for breaking down all these barriers isn't better understanding of the other group. It's not intermingling, though that can help. No, the answer to this is the blood of Christ, working in the human heart and changing that heart, casting aside sin and its guilt, and creating a new heart, a new man.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross...
How I wish it were so! That sin did not now separate man into hostile camps.

Come, Lord Jesus.