Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Bible Challenge: Day 222

The scriptures read are Isaiah 19-21, Psalm 32 and 1 Timothy 1.

Isaiah 19. Judgment is declared on Egypt. But, as with Moab, there is a change of tone. Here God does not weep but he heals Egypt. They will turn to God. As will the Assyrians. Along with Israel. The chapter concludes, "Blessed be Egypt, my people!...Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands!...Blessed be Israel, my heritage!" Isaiah's visions reveal a universal God, not one who is a tribal deity, but one who is concerned for all and works with all.

Isaiah 20. Isaiah does an enacted parable. God has Isaiah walk around the city, stark naked. This dramatises the way the people of Egypt and Ethiopia will go into exile, as slaves, stripped bare.

Isaiah 21. Disjointed visions of Babylon falling to the Persians, the silence in Edom, God's judgment reaching even into Arabia.

Psalm 32. A song of confession and forgiveness, here sung in a reflective spirit.

1 Timothy 1. The first of the Pastoral letters, called that because this is Paul writing not to churches but to proteges and colleagues about leadership issues. Again the language is different and some attribute this not to the different subject matter and audience (don't your business letters gush like your letters home?) but to them not being written by Paul. They also object to the amount of church organization found here. Because, of course, 30 years after Jesus, the individual churches would function just fine without anybody running things while the apostles were traveling around planting more leaderless, structureless churches! I've belonged to Dr. Who and Star Trek clubs and the first thing you do is elect a president and secretary. Deacons were based on a similar position found in the synagogues. Synagogues usually had a group of elders who ran things and a president of the synagogue. Elder (presbuteros in Greek) became over time priest and the overseer (episkopas in Greek) eventually became the bishop. As the church grew, the overseer of the one house church in a city became the overseer of several. The elder or priest was his representative in the local parish and the parish's representative to the overseer or bishop. The deacon assisted the local priest. Think of them as district manager, local manager and assistant. Rather than being an elaborate hierarchy, it is the most basic one a growing organizational could have and still function.

BTW, Biblical scholar Ben Witherington III thinks, from the style, syntax, grammar and vocabulary that Luke acted as Paul's secretary in these letters.

Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with problems there. Especially troublesome are people adding all kinds of fanciful elements to the gospel. He emphasizes that the core of the gospel is faith and the command to love.

Paul lists a lot of alarming sinners, among them people who kill their parents and slave traders, but Paul considers himself the worst. By his own admission he was a blasphemer, persecutor and a violent man. It is only by God's mercy that he was called to do this work. With that humble confession, he will soon talk about church leadership.

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