Posts tagged ‘Origen’

“For Thine Is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory” – Where Did That Come From?

“Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Heinrich Bloch

This past weekend in worship, we studied the most famous prayer of all time:  the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus offers this model prayer as part of His Sermon on the Mount:

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Whenever I teach on the Lord’s Prayer, someone inevitably notices that, in Matthew’s account, the doxology often included in traditional versions of this prayer – “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever.  Amen” – is missing.  Where did it go?

Interestingly, the old King James Version includes the doxology because the Greek manuscripts from which the translators of that day were working incoporated it.  As biblical textual criticism has advanced over the past four hundred years, however, we have learned that the doxology is absent from the most ancient and significant manuscripts of the Bible, including Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the fourth century, and is also omitted in early patristic commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer including those of Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian.[1]  Thus, these words are not included in more modern translations with the understanding that they were probably not a part of the original biblical text.

It is important to understand that the exclusion of the doxology as part of the biblical text does not mean that it is errant or inappropriate to the prayer.  Quite the contrary.  It reflects the spirit of 1 Chronicles 29:11: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours.”  Moreover, the doxology has been included as a liturgical strophe from the earliest days of the Christian Church.  The Didache, a manual of church practice from the turn of the second century, includes a truncated version of the doxology: “For Yours is the power and the glory for ever.”  The Didache goes on to encourage the faithful to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.[2]  Christians, then, were speaking these words from the earliest days of the church…a lot!

More than likely, this doxology began as a response of the people, gathered for worship, to the words of the Lord in this prayer.  It is much like, at the end of a Scripture lesson in worship today, the reader will sometimes conclude, “This is the Word of the Lord” and the people will sometimes respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The doxology, then, was a way for those assembled to praise God for the prayer His Son had given them.  With time, however, the liturgical function of this doxology was forgotten and people began to assume that the words were part of the prayer itself.

We, along with many others, continue to pray these words because, finally, they are a statement of faith in the heavenly Father to whom we are praying.  We believe that the reason He can bring His kingdom to pass, give us our daily bread, forgive our trespasses, and deliver us from the evil one is because the Kingdom, power, and glory are at His disposal to do with as He wishes.  And His wish, as we delightedly learn from the Lord’s Prayer, is to bless and save us.  And so, we continue to praise God with this doxology and pray as Christ has taught us.

[1] See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London:  United Bible Societies, 1971), 16-17.

[2] Didache, Chapter 8, “Concerning Fasting and Prayer.”

August 6, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Christ was there. Christ is here.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend and he shared with me a dark time he had gone through years ago.  He was in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and he decided to move overseas and explore the world.  Unfortunately, his move away from home only precipitated his fall.  He fell in with the wrong crowd, he did the wrong things, and, one night, he found himself at a point of despair.  Walking alone along a dark street, he cried out, “Jesus, if You’re there, I really need You to show up right now.”  After making his way to a phone booth, he fumbled through the phone book inside, deposited his change, and called the first church he could find.  The pastor of the church answered.  The next day, the two of them had lunch.  And thus began my friend’s re-awakening to the glory of God and the grace of Christ.  My friend felt all alone on that dark night.  But he wasn’t.  Christ was there.  In that phone booth.

One of the texts that has long been compelling to me is 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Paul is here recounting the history of Israel during the Exodus.  And he uses Israel’s history to warn the Corinthians against the dangers of unrepentance:

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.  We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10)

In the midst of the unrepentance, evil, and rebellion of the Israelites, Paul says, Christ was there.  In that rock.  The same rock which poured forth water in the wilderness for the Israelites to drink (Exodus 17:1-7).  What a strange place for Christ to be!  And yet, Christ was there.

The other day, I was reading an article by a prominent evangelical theologian, who was bemoaning the dangers of inserting Christ recklessly and relentlessly into every page and phrase of Scripture.  He wrote, “Christ cannot be found under every rock.”[1]  I would agree – in part.   It is dangerous to present Christ in ways that the biblical text does not mean present Him.  For instance, the Church Father Origen, famous for his excessive allegorizing of the Bible, reads Exodus 17:9 – “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight’” – as “Moses said to Jesus,” since the Hebrew name for Joshua, Yeshua, comes to us in English as “Jesus.”  Origen comments:

Up to this point the Scripture has never anywhere mentioned the blessed name of Jesus.  Here for the first time the brightness of the name shines forth.  For the first time Moses makes an appeal to Jesus and says to him, “Choose men.”  Moses calls on Jesus; the Law asks Christ to choose strong men from among the people.  Moses cannot choose; it is Jesus alone who can choose strong men; He has said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”[2]

Origen’s words here certainly strain the bounds of responsible biblical exegesis.  To so immediately equate Joshua with Jesus presents a whole host of problems, not the least of which is that Joshua was flawed and fallen (e.g., Joshua 9:1-14), something which Jesus was not.  Thus, we must be careful in how we interpret biblical texts.  However, there is a sense in which, contrary to what this scholar says, we can indeed find Jesus under every rock, for Jesus is the center, focus, and locus of the Scriptures.  Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 10:4, we don’t just find Christ under a rock, He is the rock!  Indeed, this is the very doctrine of the incarnation:  that Christ shows up in the strangest of ways and places – even under rocks.  Christ was there.  In the phone booth of my friend.  Christ was there.  In that rock.  Christ was there.  In the manger.  Christ was there.  On the cross.  And Christ is here.  In the pages of Scripture.  Christ is here.  In the waters of baptism.  Christ is here.  In the bread and wine of Communion.  Christ is here.  In our hearts.

Christ was there.  Christ is here.  This is the mystery and glory of the incarnation – and of Christmas.

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[1] Ben Witherington III, “Towards a Biblical Theology – Part Two” (11.21.11).

[2] Origen in Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 86.

December 26, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra: Not So Neighborly

When I moved to Austin in 1996 to go to college, I was a scrawny seventeen year-old. As I settled into college life, hung out and ate Top Ramen in our 1950’s rundown dorm, and turned eighteen, I felt the need to “bulk up.” After all, I was on my own now. And I was eighteen so I was a “man.” And so, I hit the gym with one of my buddies. Almost immediately, my eyes darted to the bench press. “This is exactly what I need!” I thought to myself. “I’ll be benching a couple hundred pounds in no time at all.” Of course, I needed to start with a little less than two hundred pounds. After all, I hadn’t bulked up yet. And so, I lugged four twenty-five pound plates onto the bar for a mere one hundred pounds. “I’ll just lift this to get warmed up,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t even lift the bar. So, I switched out the plates and reduced the bench press to eighty pounds. Still no dice. Finally, I tried fifty. This, I managed to lift. But I also forgot to put the pins on the ends of the bar. And the plates quickly came crashing down.

I thought I was strong. But I wasn’t nearly as strong as I thought. A similar thing happens when many of us think about our righteousness and goodness. Most of us like to think of ourselves as “good people.” I was recently reading an article by Dr. Neal Mayerson, founder of the VIA Institute on Character. In his article, he noted what psychologists refer to as an “actor-observer bias.” This refers to the tendency that we all have to excuse our immoral behavior by appealing to circumstantial reasons that we had to act the way we did. In other words, we think we’re good. But we’re not nearly as good as we think. And when we are confronted with our own immorality, we try minimalize and rationalize it.

The “actor-observer bias” comes out in our text from this weekend from Luke 10 when an expert in the law approaches Jesus with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25)? Rather than responding to his query directly, Jesus instead prods this so-called “expert” to answer his own question. And so the expert does. He gives his take on the requirements for eternal life. You must “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Jesus is impressed: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Notably, the Greek word for “do” is in the present tense, denoting a continuous action. So it’s not just that this expert in the law is to love God and his neighbor once. Or even regularly. It’s that he is to love God and his neighbor continually – as in constantly. And no matter how highly the expert in the law might think of himself, this is something he cannot do. This expert in the law may think he is good. But he’s not nearly as good as he thinks. Indeed, Jesus’ subsequent parable makes this sobering fact all too clear.

In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus relays the story of a man who is mobbed and robbed as he is traveling the steep trail which leads down the side of a mountain from Jerusalem to Jericho. Indeed, in the first century, this road was well known as a haunt for thieves and thugs. Being beaten unconscious and left for dead, a priest passes by and sees this man, clearly in need of assistance. But probably due to concerns for ritual cleanliness – for, according to Old Testament law, to touch a dead person would render one ceremonially “unclean” for a whole week – he passes the man by. The same thing happens with a Levite, also probably out of concerns for ritual cleanliness. It is a Samaritan – a person from a nationality despised by the Jews – who stops and helps this man.

In our day, we like to think of ourselves as the Samaritan. “Surely!” we think to ourselves, “If I someone half-dead on the side of the road, I would help.” But alas, this is merely our own “actor-observer bias” rearing its head. If you don’t believe me, consider these scenarios:

  • Have you ever failed to stop to help someone with car trouble because you were in a hurry?
  • Have you ever not picked up the phone because your caller ID told you who the person on the other end of the line was and you didn’t feel like talking to them?
  • Have you ever lied and told a panhandler, “I don’t have any change” simply because you didn’t want to get into a discussion with them?

If you have ever done any of these things – or a whole host of other similar things – then perhaps you are not as helpful as you think you are.

Finally, when we read the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to think of ourselves not as the Samaritan, but as the priest and the Levite. Helmut Thielicke, the rector of the University of the Hamburg in the 60’s and 70’s, explains the parable like this: “The point of the parable is that we should identify ourselves with the priest and the Levite and repent” (The Waiting Father, 167).

So who, then, is the Good Samaritan if he is not us? The early church fathers thought he was Jesus. Origen says unequivocally, “The Samaritan was Christ” (Homilies on Luke). How did they arrive at such a conclusion? They knew that all of us failed to continuously love God and our neighbor. Thus, only Jesus can play the part of the Samaritan. This does not mean, however, that we are not invited to follow in our Savior’s footsteps. Jesus’ admonition at this end of His parable, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) makes this clear enough. We are called to love our neighbor by being a neighbor. We are called to help others.

So be a neighbor to someone in need today. After all, before you were called to become a neighbor to someone else, Christ became your neighbor on the cross.

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March 21, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Atonement: Universal or Limited?

This weekend in worship and ABC, we continued our “Credo!” series with a study of the doctrine of the atonement.  As I mentioned in ABC, the word “atonement” comes to us via the sixteenth century, literally meaning, “at-one-ment.”  That is, the doctrine of the atonement teaches that whereas sin separates us from God, God makes us “at-one” with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul explains it well:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

With these words, Paul offers a simple, yet eloquent, definition of the doctrine of the atonement.  The atonement is God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself through Christ.  Yet, this definition has caused more than a little debate over the years.

Two opposite and equal errors have been made with regard to the doctrine of the atonement.  The first error is that of “universal atonement.”  “Universal atonement” teaches that, because God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, ultimately, no one will stand condemned.  Everyone will be saved.  Indeed, this what the great church father Origen taught:

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning…so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” (Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3).

Origen’s borrows the phrase “all in all” from 1 Corinthians 15:28 to assert that God will not just save “a few individuals, or a considerable number,” but all people!  Everyone will be saved!  This is the doctrine of universal atonement.  And it is a false doctrine.  Not all people will be saved.

The second error that has crept into the doctrine of atonement is that of “limited atonement.”  “Limited atonement” notes that, even though Paul writes “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ,” not all are saved.   Some are cast into hell (cf. Revelation 20:15).  Thus, “limited atonement” teaches that God did not reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ; rather, He reconciled only the world of the elect, or those He has chosen for salvation, to Himself.  Indeed, this is the teaching of many modern day Calvinists, although it is debatable as to whether or not Calvin himself taught this.

So what is the way through these debates?  Is universal atonement or limited atonement correct?  Actually, neither is correct.  Lutherans have long made a distinction between objective justification and subjective justification.  Objective justification states that when Christ died, He did so for the sins of the whole world.  God sought to reconcile the whole world to Himself in Christ.  Subjective justification notes that Christ’s objective work on the cross must be received subjectively, or personally, through faith.  This is what the Lutheran Confessions call “personal faith”: “Personal faith – by which an individual believes that his or her sins are remitted on account of Christ and that God is reconciled and gracious on account of Christ – receives the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (Apology IV:45).  In other words, the Lutheran confessors teach that Christ’s objective work on the cross does you no good if you don’t trust in it for your forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation!  This is why the Scriptures contain constant calls to personal faith (e.g., Romans 10:9-10).

Both objective and subjective justification are needed.  Subjective justification is needed because it invites us to have faith and reminds us that without faith, we will be damned (cf. Luke 8:12).  Objective justification is important because it reminds us that Christ’s work on the cross is not just for some, but for the whole world.  Indeed, it is for you!  God not only reconciles the world to Himself in Christ, He reconciles you, for He loves you.  This is the true doctrine of the atonement!

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October 4, 2010 at 5:15 am 3 comments

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