December 2012

The church militant and triumphant

One of the seemingly most ambiguous of Jesus’ statements is this;  “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.’ This New International Version rendition could imply that we should be aggressive in the way we advance the interests of the Kingdom of God.   Today’s English Version, on the other hand, translates it as;  ‘From the time John preached his message until this very day the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violent attacks, and violent men try to seize it.’ This seems to imply that the Kingdom of God is currently under attack by violent men. So which is it? Do forceful men forcefully advance the Kingdom or do violent men attack the Kingdom?

Both understandings of Matthew 11:12 fail on a number of counts. Firstly, ‘from the days of John the Baptist till now…’ was, in the original historic context, just a matter of months. The ‘now’ is not our day, or the past 2,000 years for that matter, it is the ‘now’ of Jesus’ day. How then can a Bible translation read, as in The Message, ‘For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God’s kingdom’? Secondly, the context of the verse concerns John the Baptist and his Elijah-like ministry. The point is that John went ahead of Jesus as an ‘Elijah’. The subject matter concerns the ministry of John the Baptist, not the forceful nature of the Kingdom of God or its antagonists. Thirdly, we can adequately translate the Greek language used without resorting to extensive interpretation. The New King James version translates the Greek word beadzo as ‘suffers violence’, but the word more literally means ‘to crowd into or out of’. A Tokyo subway train at rush hour presents a good visual aid to the meaning of this word.

A literal and Hebraic translation of Matthew 11:12 would read ‘… the kingdom of heaven is breaking forth and those who are breaking out, break out in it.’ To understand what Jesus meant by this strange statement we need knowledge of the rabbinic commentary on Micah 2:12-13. This Old Testament passage reads, “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.” The rabbinic Midrash (interpretation of texts) explains that the Lord God is like a shepherd who builds an enclosure for his sheep. He then enters the enclosure for the night and his assistant closes the entrance with rocks and other loose material. In the morning, the assistant comes and breaks open the entrance. The shepherd leads his sheep out of the confines of the pen into the freedom of the pasture. The sheep ‘break out’ behind him, pushing, and straining to get out. The assistant, known prophetically as the breach-maker, is Elijah, and the shepherd is Jehovah God. Jesus is indicating that he is the divine shepherd and John the Baptist was the breach-maker, the one who prepared the way for him to lead his people out of the sheep pen of this sinful world into the green pastures of the Kingdom of God. John 10:2-4 helps us understand the truth to which Jesus was alluding; ‘The man who goes in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice’. (TEV)

Jesus’ intended meaning is to inform his followers concerning who he is as well as the role played by John the Baptist. This is the intended meaning of the text and it is certainly not a mandate for Christians to extend the Kingdom of God by aggressive or violent means.

This is one of the clearest examples of how some knowledge of Jesus’ Jewish roots can help us to correctly interpret his sayings. If you would like me to deal with any particular seemingly ambiguous Gospel statement then please comment on the blog or send me an email.

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Binding and Loosing

Series: The impact of the Jewish roots of Jesus

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where someone loudly binds the devil? Perhaps you have done this?  I don’t want to be offensive but I do want to pass on some helpful information. Apart from the fact that prayer is to God and not to the devil, the practice of binding demons has no biblical support whatsoever.

The Pharisees accused Jesus of performing miracles by the power of the devil and he responded by pointing out how ridiculous such an accusation was. He used the analogy of someone breaking into a house and said; “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27 ESV). This statement is not a warrant for the practice of binding the devil in prayer; it is simply a statement of the obvious fact that Jesus was able to heal all who were afflicted by the devil because he had overcome Satan.

The Greek words which we translate as ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ appear in two New Testament texts. The second of these, Matthew 18:18, has to do with church discipline. Jesus explains the procedure for bringing correction and ends with the instruction that if the erring party does not respond then the matter is to be brought before the church leadership who will decide the matter. Jewish religious leaders had the responsibility of deciding what was permissible according to the Law of God and what was not. They ‘bound’ or prohibited, that which they deemed to be unlawful and they ‘loosed’ or allowed, that which they judged to be lawful. Jesus said; “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. In other words, “God will back up and authenticate whatever you leaders deem to be right in cases such as this.”

The other reference to binding and loosing comes in the famous declaration concerning Peter. In my previous post I wrote about what happened at Panias when Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be. Peter proclaimed his divinity and Jesus responded by saying to Peter; “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  In Jesus’ day Jewish Rabbis had the authority to determine correct interpretation of the Torah, the Law of God. When they decided on an interpretation they were said to be loosing the people to the determined beliefs and practices. The Wikipedia entry on this subject states that, ‘the poseks (the term in Jewish law for “decider”—a legal scholar) had, by virtue of their ordination, the power of deciding disputes relating to Jewish law. Hence the difference between the two main schools of thought in early classical Judaism were summed up by the phrase the school of Shammai binds; the school of Hillel looses’.

Binding and loosing have to do with establishing church doctrine and discipline and have nothing to do with presumptuously taking authority over Satan in ‘prayer’. 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.