Biblical Quizzes for Really Smart People
Quiz III--Movies II
Quiz VII--X rated
Quiz VIII--X rated
Quiz X- The Numbers
Quiz XXIX (Messiah)
Quiz XXX (Messiah II)
Quiz XXXI (Mess. III)
Quiz XXXII (Mess. IV)
Quiz XL--vivid images
Quiz LIX--weird doct.
Quiz LXV--doctrine II
Bible Quizzes for Smart People LXIV
Bill Long 2/28/07
When I was in theological seminary in the mid-1970s it was popular to derive Christian doctrine (things you should believe or, at least, what the Church has historically believed about faith) from the Scripture. Though Roman Catholics probably have a more healthy view of the relationship of Scripture and Tradition than Protestants, I didn't pay much attention to the Catholics because I went to a Protestant seminary. Thus, I got a heavy dose of how you moved "from text to life," without really reflecting much on whether that was possible or even desirable on the doctrinal level. Nevertheless, here are a few verses which were first burned into my consciousnesss in those days. In 2007, however, I look at these verses with gentle irony rather than as teaching permanent doctrinal truth.
1. "What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin."
One problem we agonized over in seminary was the importance of the Jewish law once Christ had entered the picture. If you thought about if for more than 30 seconds, you could see how this was simply a schoolhouse question; no one, while speeding down the LA freeways, is concerned about the continuing power of the Jewish law for Christians. But the problem was a real one for the first generation of Christians. It was because the basis of Jewish religion was studying and observing Torah. Torah is something broader than simply "the laws" of the OT; it is a way of life which incorporates study, prayer, ethical living and sacrifice. The entire way of life is called "the way of Torah." The earliest Christians, most of whom were Jews, had to ask themselves how this inherited tradition, which bulked so large in any Jewish person's consciousness, would continue to relate to those "in Christ." Had Christ "replaced" the law? Had he "intensified" it? Had he "supplemented" it? And these quoted words are only one-word summaries of extremely complex positions.
The author who tried to tackle the problem "head on" was Paul. But, as I soon learned in seminary, it was possible to use Paul "against himself." At some points he appears to give credence to one theory; at other points to another. In the passage quoted above, for example, Paul seems to suggest that the law was something good (perhaps someone had suggested--indeed had they "misheard" Paul?--that the law, displaced by Christ, now displaces sin and takes the role of sin in the person's life) even though the law uses sin to make sin even worse. Paul's theory in these lines, then, is that the Jewish law is like some kind of searchlight illumining our lives. Without the light we might not know what exists in the dark places of our lives. But now, with the light of the law, we do. Thus, for Paul, it isn't the light which is bad; it is rather neutral. But then, later on, he will say that the law is a positive good.
And the problem is made more complex as one looks at the various expressions of law. Is "Torah" or "law" one or many? The Reformers began the tradition of dividing the law into the moral and ceremonial law, the former of which was "permanent" and the latter of which was "temporary." Do we have biblical warrant to do that? Well, you can see the dilemmas created. Indeed, when I was in grad school a favorite topic of Paul scholars was "Paul and the Law." I remember papers delivered at conferences--"Once More, Paul and the Law," or "Paul and the Law: A Clarification." I ultimately decided that it was a problem that was their (the first Christian generation) problem; I had others to deal with. But this verse helps bring you into the world of the problem of Paul and the law, if you want to go there. Where is the verse?
2. "But who are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?"
Another problem rears its ugly head in these verses. One of the long-time debates in Protestantism was between the Calvinists and the Arminians on the issue of free will. Again, this debate could get quite complex (witness the fights between infra and supralapsarians), but it boiled down to the issue of the role of the human will in the process of salvation. Both sides believed that only God could save, but they differed in emphasizing what role the "unbeliever" could play in "preparing" the heart for grace. Could a person "incline the heart" to God; "confess sins" on their own, etc. or was every act of the heart something that had to be first "led" by the Spirit of God? You see how you can get into quite some useless discussions very quickly, not the least of which is how you know when you make a decision what from the spiritual realm, in fact, influences the decision. You just don't know. But that doesn't keep people from arguing about it. The real Calvinists, which always seemed to be rough-speaking Pittsburgh (PA) males, emphasized the full Calvinist position. They loved the verse bolded above. God is the potter, we are the clay. God can do whatever He wants with us and we have no say in any of it. We are passive vessels waiting to be awakened or enlightened by the Spirit of God.
But, as I studied the bolded passage again and again, I realized that Paul (again, he is the culprit) was using it in a completely different context. He was talking about one of his favorite subjects--why the Jews hadn't responded in great numbers to the call of Christ. His response at this juncture is simply that God can do whatever God wants and that we are not to question God. This is good, I suppose, for a while, but then the truly inquisitive person asks the question, "Is this really the way things are?" Or, "Why should what Paul teaches about Israel's 'hardness' concerning the Gospel be determinative for how one looks at the general question of predestination and free will?" Well, you can get yourself so tied up in knots on this issue that Houdini would have trouble escaping. Why don't you just tell me where the verse is found.
3. "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
Of all the Pauline verses bandied about in seminary, however, this one was the most loaded. I recall a charged debate between Krister Stendahl, Dean of the Harvard Divinity School at the time, and John Gerstner, a conservative Presbyterian, over the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scripture. The actual issue was the ordination of women to the ministry, a subject that roiled the mainline churches in those days. Gerstner first had the floor, and claimed that he was "bound" by the language of the NT, especially that of I Tim 2:11-12, not to permit women to teach or have authority in churches. Stendahl's approach was more nuanced. Rather than simply accepting any particular words as determinative for life, he used this verse as a sort of hermeneutical center from which he operated. Christ's presence in the world meant that all social distinctions were, in some mysterious way, eradicated. Even though there continued to be "Jew or Greek," in Christ these differences mattered little. From this point Stendahl argued that any kind of limitation on church ministry for women would violate the "spirit" of Paul. Thus we had two worlds passing in front of each other. Even though I was brought up to be a "Gerstner sympathizer," I really was more taken by Stendahl. Now, I spend very little time thinking about the issue at all..