Not Many of You Should Become Teachers

If there is one text of Scripture that I here poorly exegeted, in the name of preserving sound exegesis, more than any other it is James 3:1; which reads,

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

I have heard numerous individuals and pastors encourage others and their churches not to become teachers because of the damage and subsequent judgment that an unbridled tongue will incur.  But is that the meaning of this text?  Are these pastors, who claim to use a literal, historical, grammatical, contextual, redemptive hermeneutic, exercising sound hermeneutical principles as they derive this application of the text?  Is their proposed meaning of this text, “not many should become teachers,” really the meaning of this text?  I think not.

I had originally wanted to take the time to walk through the whole of chapter three; however, after typing endlessly I felt it best to offer only a brief synopsis.  If you would like more information I would gladly leave it in a comment.

James 3

Historical Context

While it is located near the end of the New Testament, it is actually the first New Testament book written.  James, the half-brother of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9) wrote the letter to Jews scattered as a result of persecution (Acts 8; 12).  The letter’s failure to mention the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), which addressed various issues concerning Gentile believer, means that it was written before that council.  Subsequently, the book of James is thoroughly Jewish in character.  Because of this much that is said here must be examined on two levels; first, the language and the meaning it bore within a Jewish cultural context and second, the meaning which these terms came to bear within the church.

A Paul works among the Gentiles who do not share a common theological heritage with him; he must establish patterns of right thinking so that patterns of right acting can flow from them, which is why many of Paul’s epistles are viewed primarily as doctrinal treatises.  James, on the other hand, is writing to Jews, partakers of the covenants of promise, who all share a common theological heritage and therefore his concern is right practice.  This is why James 4:17 reads, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” because right thinking is assumed and their failure is one of practice.

Synopsis

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a more intensive judgment” (italics my translation).

The theme throughout this text is teaching; using this text to address gossip or other issues is pure eisegesis and should not be tolerated.  The opening admonition sets the tone for everything that follows.  At the outset of this admonition several things are immediately clear.  By the use of “my brothers” James is clearly speaking to believers, albeit immature ones as will be evident later, furthermore it is clear that even the teaching of the apostles will be judged (I Corinthians 3:10-15).  Interestingly enough the word for judgment that is used here is a neutral word that is often used to describe the process of a legal suit where the outcome may be positive or negative; condemnation or reward.

2For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

There are two prominent ways in which this verse has been understood.  First, it can be understood as a hypothetical situation in which James describes the perfect or ideal individual who has both subjugated his speech and conduct and is self-controlled in all he does.  Obviously all but Christ would fall miserably short of this ideal and thus James has both grabbed our attention and demonstrated our need for sanctification of both speech and conduct.  Secondly, it has been understood in terms of spiritual maturity.  The word used for perfect is teleios (τέλειος); this is the word from which the English word teleology, the study of ultimate purpose or ends, is derived.  If understood in this sense the text then addresses spiritual completeness/maturity as one who demonstrates his maturity by right speech will likewise demonstrate his maturity by right conduct as well.

Which of these interpretations of this text fits best within the context of this epistle?

Clearly within the book as a whole the emphasis would rest on the latter interpretation as James focuses heavily on spiritual maturity and the practical application of truth.  Within the immediate context a similar emphasis must be noted.  In the immediate verses that follow (v.3-12) James illustrates how if one can control the tongue he can control the rest of his members as well as the tongue’s destructive potential.

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

Wisdom and understanding were critical within Jewish culture.  Wisdom denotes the correct application of knowledge while understanding carries the connotation of using knowledge effectively, as one would know a trade or skill.  Combined they speak of one who can correctly and effectively make use of knowledge.  The heart of James’ request is that the wise and understanding individual should demonstrate his wisdom and understanding not by his speech but by his works, his correct and effective use of his knowledge.  In the verses that follow (v.14-18) James compares and contrasts false and true wisdom, demonstrating that godly wisdom bears fruit.

Conclusion

From this one can gather that James is writing to spiritually immature Jewish followers of Christ whose are living hypocritically as they boast of their wisdom and yet fail to demonstrate it by their lifestyle; theirs is a dead and workless faith.  Now that we have looked at what the text says it is important to note what the text does not say.  James is not writing to admonish followers of Christ and to persuade them against becoming teachers; such an admonition is directed only at the spiritually immature.

To the spiritually mature; however, Scripture provides a unanimous and contrary exhortation, extolling the spiritually mature, the wise and understanding, to become teachers.  Scripture as a whole argues for a church comprised of teachers.  Regarding the leadership/offices within the local church Scripture argues for a plurality of teaching elders (Acts 14:23, 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14), men marked by self-control, discipline, doctrinal soundness, blamelessness, respect, and hospitality (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).  In Ephesians 4:11-13 we see that the teacher is a specific office given that the saints may be equipped for the work of the ministry.  Beyond these specific offices Scripture paints a picture of the church as an interdependent body comprised of various members who teach one another.  Ephesians 5:19-20 and Colossians 3:16 describe a church where individuals teach and admonish one another using songs of various kinds.  Titus 2 describes the teaching role of various members of the church, even the teaching role of women, a role that is further described in I Timothy 2:15.  Above all Paul even exclaims, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (I Timothy 3:1).  Rather than seeing an argument in Scripture against the proliferation of teachers within the church we see a consistent exhortation towards such an end, so long as they hold to sound doctrine and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

2008-03-26 The Brief

It has been almost three months since I have done one of these and I am thankful that Tim Morrison and Justin Sok are always faithful to keep me up to date on all of the latest news since I have not had much time to scour the web lately.

Ignite

For those of you who do not know Ignite UK recently began podcasting you can visit The Ignite UK Podcast or read “The Joys of Podcasting” for more on this.  For those of you who wish to see all of our sermons and download both MP3’s and PDF files please check out the Ignite UK Sermons webpage and come back as it is frequently updated.

Culture

Leaving on a jet plane?  If so your tickets are likely to get cheaper among several other benefits as a result of the “open-skies agreement.”  Foreign Policy has more on this and the declining value of the US dollar over at their blog in a post entitled “Tourism Cage Match: Paris v. Detroit.”

Preaching

I am not a big fan of politics and have a particular distain for modern evangelicalism’s replacing the kingdom agenda with a political one.  For most of you this is no surprise.  Over at Reformation 21 Rick Phillips, commenting on the Barack Obama – Jeremiah Wright controversy make one of the most profound and succinct statements on the travesty of kingdom politics that I have ever read.

From the article:

Surely the church pulpit is intended for higher and better matters than the small concerns of national politics!  The pulpit is not an institution of the republic, but of the Kingdom, and it’s only legitimate use is the preaching of King Jesus.  Politics should be kept out of the pulpit not merely for reasons of church-state separation, but because the pulpit is for matters of such greater significance.

The article can be read in its entirety here.

Theology

Biblical Theology and Justin Martyr: In what I found to be a surprising reminder to read theological works we often take for granted, in light of the new and the novel, Russell Moore shares hermeneutical, biblical theological, and missiological insights gleaned from reading Dialogue with Trypho.

Happenings at Southern Seminary: I really wanted to attend the Gheens Lectures at SBTS this semester but was unable to due to work.  Erickson and Goldsworthy are two of my favorite contemporary authors and they bring immense theological insight to any topic.  Below are the lectures from these two speakers.  Other SBTS audio resources are available here.

Millard Erickson

“Can Theology Learn from History?” (MP3)
“Can Theology Learn from Physics?” (MP3)
“Can Theology Learn from Economics?” (MP3)

Graeme Goldsworthy

“The Necessity and Viability of Biblical Theology”  (MP3) (PDF)
“Biblical Theology in the Seminary and Bible College” (MP3) (PDF)
“Biblical Theology and Its Pastoral Application” (MP3) (PDF)

Missiology

Earlier this month Russell Moore did a fantastic series on the Great Commission at The Henry Institute. 

Theology Bleeds: Great Commission Emphasis 

Triumph of the Warrior-King: A Theology of the Great Commission, Part 1 

Triumph of the Warrior-King: A Theology of the Great Commission, Part 2 

Triumph of the Warrior-King: A Theology of the Great Commission, Part 3 

Triumph of the Warrior-King: A Theology of the Great Commission, Part 4 

Triumph of the Warrior-King: A Theology of the Great Commission, Part 5

Meaning versus Significance: Hermeneutics and Evangelical Political Activism

The presidential primaries are in full swing and so are the Evangelical political activists.  Yes, another post on politics . . . do not worry, there are nine months until November and I am already sick of it too.  My concern here is not to propose a full-blown theology of politics, but to briefly examine the hermeneutics behind the “political mandate,” namely the idea that Christians are required to be highly involved in the political process.

Hermeneutics 101

Before continuing a biblical hermeneutic must be established so that it can be contrasted with the hermeneutic of Evangelical political activism.  In the simplest of terms a biblical hermeneutic operates upon five key principles.  A common thread is woven throughout these principles, namely the importance of context.

Literal: Scripture must be interpreted literally.  Scripture is not a fairytale, it does not begin with “once upon a time,” it is history and future revealed authoritatively, inerrantly, and infallibly by the one who spoke the world into being.  The first step to understanding any passage in Scripture is to understand its literary context; as the Word of God it is unlike any other piece of literature known to man and as His Word it lays claims upon us that can be made by no other piece of literature.

Historical: Scripture must be interpreted within its historical and cultural setting.  God who exists outside of time has chosen to act and speak both within time and at particular times.  The paradox continues as one considers how the timeless Word of God is composed of words whose meanings are inextricably tied to the time and culture into which they were spoken.  The second step to understanding any passage in Scripture is to understand its historical context.

Grammatical: Scripture must be interpreted according to the rules of grammar.  Scripture is a series of words arranged into phrases and phrases arranged into sentences and sentences arranged into paragraphs etcetera.  Because the unified Word of God is comprised of the “words of God” one must understand the structural relationships that exist between these words.  The third step to understanding any passage in Scripture is to understand its grammatical context.

Contextual: Scripture must be interpreted within the context of the surrounding Scripture.  Because the multitudinous “words of God” comprise the unified Word of God one must be diligent to understand every particular passage as it both relates to and correlates with Scripture as a whole.  The fourth step to understanding any passage in Scripture is to understand its textual context.

Redemptive: Scripture must be interpreted as it properly relates to Christ.  Throughout the Gospels, most notable the road to Emmaus encounter, it is clear that both the Disciples and Jewish community as a whole suffered from a critical flaw in their understanding of Scripture, namely its relationship to the Messiah.  The fifth step to understanding any passage in Scripture is to understand its redemptive context.

Even beyond the aim of this post, I hope the outline above proves useful in your own study of Scripture.

Examining the Political Mandate

The aim of this post is to examine the hermeneutic of Evangelical political activism, namely as it pertains to the “political mandate.”  The “political mandate” is often justified or explained by the gross misuse of the metaphors of “salt and light” found in Matthew 5:13-16.  I am assuming that most of you can read and do so according to the basic rules of grammar so rather than go into a lengthy technical discussion of the relationship between these words I want to define them and then make several overarching observations.

Salt: This was an extremely valuable commodity; in ancient times it was referred to as divine, used to ratify covenants, and even used as money in some cultures.  The salt used in this region was from the Dead Sea and was often polluted with Gypsum a mineral that degrades the salts flavor and effectiveness as a preservative.  Various commentators have noted and argued for varying functions of salt: as a seasoning, as a preservative, as a chemical that induces thirst, and as an irritant to name a few.  Regardless of these particular functions salt was an extremely valuable commodity.

Light:  This word can function one of three ways: to describe the light itself, to describe an object emitting light, and to describe something that is illuminated.  Within Oriental, culture light was typically viewed as the means by which one sees in Greek culture, however, light was viewed as both the means and object of sight; a concept which has strong correlations to the idea of spiritual blindness.  Noting the three functions of light described redeemed man is certainly not the object by which blind men see this is an act of a sovereign God.  Redeemed individuals have been both illumined by Christ and reflect His radiance.  If taken in this sense the act of being illuminated is prerequisite to radiating light and thus the latter must be taken as the final function of the word; because Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has given us light to see we are thus fit vessels to radiate His glory.

In summary, those redeemed by God are to be particularly valuable to society and in so doing radiate the glory of Christ, so that fallen man, by both perceiving the value and its source, will glorify and worship God.  Neither the means nor the end of what Christ describes here is explicitly political.  Throughout the Gospels Christ continually refutes politicized interpretations of the Messiah.  The reaction of His Jewish hearers, who were fervently political, clearly did not interpret Jesus’ words as a political mandate as Scripture describes them as being amazed, rather than revolting against Rome.  Overall, the Sermon on the Mount has numerous references to political entities and yet the common response is submission and servitude rather than political engagement.  The early church did not interpret this text as a political mandate, nor did the apostles, who even under intense persecution did not take political action.  Furthermore, interpreting this text as a political mandate renders it irrelevant for most of the known world, as America is one of the few countries where the citizens play such a crucial role in politics and where Christianity is not persecuted by the government.  How is a Christian living in a Muslim country under Sharia law to fulfill this supposed political mandate?  Christian jihad?  Should American Evangelicals reinvent the Crusades and overthrow these governments so Muslim background believers can fulfill their political mandate via democratic process?

Addressing the Real Issue: Meaning versus Significance

The issue here is not one of meaning it is one of significance  “Significance is always ‘meaning-to,’ never ‘meaning-in.’  Significance always entails a relationship between what is in a man’s verbal meaning and what is outside it” (E. D. Hirsch Jr., Validity In Interpretation [New Haven and London: Yale Varsity Press, 1967], 63).  More simply stated, meaning is fixed, Scripture objectively and eternally means what God intended it to mean.  Significance, however, addresses the relationship between that meaning and our present context.  The text means that “those redeemed by God are to be particularly valuable to society and in so doing radiate the glory of Christ, so that fallen man, by both perceiving the value and its source, will glorify and worship God.”  The significance of that meaning will depend upon the context in which you apply it.  The way one goes about being particularly valuable to society and radiating the glory of Christ, although regulated by certain biblical principles, depends largely upon the context in which one is ministering.  This means that there is no political mandate.  This does not mean that redeemed individuals cannot be involved in politics.  It means that redeemed individuals must discern whether political involvement is the best way to be particularly valuable to society and radiate the glory of Christ.  What about me and what about my context?  Judging our current cultural context and the lack of discernment and discretion shown in past events I do not feel that what I see among Evangelicals is either particularly valuable to society or particularly glorifying to God, but arguing that point will have to wait for another day.

Preaching, Teaching, and Studying the Word of God

I cannot stand, I mean really loathe, posting about someone else’s post but I have been busy lately and am going to do just that.  Ryan Townsend has a post over at Church Matters, the 9Marks blog, entitled ‘Preach the Word’: Tools for Interpreting & Applying God’s Word which I found to be informative.  He provides a series of questions, from several sources, which one should answer when studying Scripture.  These questions should be quite helpful to everyone.

On a personal note I have been reading many books lately and should have some book reviews up sometime soon; I have been meaning to work on that section for a while but have not gotten around to it yet.  There are also some interesting happenings in the news, which I hope to post on, in the coming future.