Saturday, November 29, 2014


Who Was Onesimus?

That is a good question. It has caused some debate among Bible students. The traditional and majority opinion is that he was a runaway slave belonging to Philemon. Philemon lived in Colossae, and Onesimus ran away, perhaps stealing money from his owner (verse 18). He ended up in Rome, and was converted to Christ through the ministry of Paul (verses 9-10). He uses the image of Onesimus as his son, just as he does with Timothy (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17). This view has been questioned because of the following reasons: First, nowhere is Onesimus called a fugitive. Second, we are seemingly told only of the possibility that he wronged Philemon (verse 18).

What does the epistle itself tell us? In reality, very little. First, that he was a slave (verse 16). Second, he had a relationship with Philemon of some type, but it is not defined. Third, he was looked upon in the past as unprofitable (verse 11). Fourth, there was a change in Onesimus that turned him into an asset (verse 11). He evidently wronged Philemon in some way (verse 19). He was converted to Christ through Paul (verse 10). Sixth, nowhere is he said to be a runaway, but there was a separation between the two (verse 15). If one looks honestly at the text, there is much that is ambiguous about the details behind what is revealed. Of course, part of that may be that these details were not ambiguous to Philemon, and he would have known what we not are told.

Because of the ambiguous element in the epistle, some other views have emerged. These include:

Messenger View. This view holds that Onesimus was a sent messenger from the church to minister to Paul. He was sent to minister to Paul and bring supplies or support to Paul from the church. He therefore is considered a slave or servant of the believing community in Colossae. This view is hard pressed to explain for the following reasons: First, why he referred to as useless up to this point. Why would they have sent a useless servant to aid Paul? Second, the phrase “separated from you” indicates more than just absence, but suggest being gone without consent. Third, the term anapempo has the contextual meaning of being sent back; not that it refers to a higher authority. This is a historical statement (cf. Colossians 4:9) of what actually happened.

Unknown Reason View. This view holds that Onesimus was not a fugitive, but no real reason as to why he left Colossae is stated. The reason is unknown to the readers.

Family View. This view holds that Onesimus was not a slave of Philemon, but was in fact a brother of Philemon. This comes from verse 16 with the argument that they were physical brothers. This view confronts us with some problems between being a slave and a brother. It sets up a contradiction in verse 16, that says do not accept him any longer as a slave, but as a brother. This view causes a murky interpretation of verse 16. I agree with Moo, that this “is the most improbable of all the options.”[1]

Of these views, the traditional and the unknown views are the most acceptable. The unknown reason has it merits. However, I still hold to the traditional view. The reasons for this are:
·        It is tolerable to the data and tone of the text.
·        It conforms to the historical setting where runaway slaves sought freedom as a common occurrence in the Roman Empire. It clearly speaks of him as a slave.
·        In conformity of Roman law, Onesimus was sent back to his master.
·        The possible wrong doing was stealing, which was common among runaway slaves. This scenario fits with the request of charging Paul’s account for that which was taken.
·        One of the clear purposes for the epistle is reconciliation between Onesimus and Philemon (verses 12, 15).
·        There seems to be an appeal for Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom (verse 14).


Friday, November 21, 2014

Snapshot of Jesus in Mark #7

Mark 8:36-37

The job of a photographer is to capture a moment of time on film. In a sense that is what every photograph does, no matter what the subject. However, there are instances where the photograph captures more than just time. It captures not only time, but the character and essence of the subject. It captures not only the subject but the viewer, and lifts him to new heights of perception, feeling, and understanding. These types of photographs are exceptional.

One such snapshot is found in Mark 8. It is a group snapshot, not of Jesus, but by Jesus. In it we see that he gathers a crowd—unbelievers and disciples alike. It is a snapshot of a larger snapshot by Mark of Jesus being confessed as the Christ by Peter. While Mark takes his snapshot of Jesus; at the conclusion Jesus takes his snapshot of the group. It is as if Mark is taking a picture of Jesus taking a picture of the crowd. In this snapshot by Jesus, he captures the character and essence of the crowd, and lifts them to new heights of perception, feeling, and understanding.

The snapshot is found in the words of verses 36 and 37: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” These are exceptional words that bring us face to face with ourselves. It forces us to look internal and see ourselves the way we are. I believe it was Moody who once said that an untouched portrait of ourselves will show warts and all. The camera does not lie. This portrait forces us to look at our warts and all, to examine our own hearts and minds, to examine our values and priorities, and to come face to face with our own delusions.
·        We delude ourselves by sacrificing honor for profit.
·        We delude ourselves by sacrificing principle for popularity.
·        We delude ourselves by sacrificing the eternal for the temporary.
·        We delude ourselves by sacrificing love for lust.
·        We delude ourselves by sacrificing repentance for reformation.

Jesus’ snapshot of us confronts us with us. Are we sacrificing the moment for the eternal? Jesus is showing us the important, sensible, and most satisfying decision which we can make—to follow Him (cf. 8:34).   

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Facts when Studying Theology

Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel remind us of FIVE FACTS TO NEVER FORGET when studying theology and the same could be said of when studying the Bible. They are:

  1. God is knowable and has made Himself known.
  2. God reveals Himself through various means.
  3. Scripture is true in all it affirms.
  4. Jesus Christ is the center and goal of Scriptures.
  5. The goal of theology is transformation, not just information.

Source: Nathan D. Holsteen & Michael J. Svigel, EXPLORING CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, Volume 1, Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN. 2014, 77.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dispensation of the Mystery

Ephesians 3:1-10

Our God is a revealer of truth. He revealed truth in a certain way: Progressively. There are certain truths that are mysteries to us, until God reveals them. Our minds cannot comprehend these truths until they are revealed. When God makes them known they become “revealed mysteries.” Now they can be understood.

One of these mysteries is the dispensation in which we live—the dispensation of the mystery or grace. A dispensation is a distinct economy in the redemptive plan of God. The Greek word is oikonomia, a compound word meaning “a law of the house.” It signifies an administration or management of a household. In the history of God’s household there have been different administrations or dispensations. Most dispensationalists recognize seven: Innocence, conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Kingdom. Today we are under the dispensation of grace.

In Ephesians 3:1-10 we see an amazing truth: the dispensation of grace is also the dispensation of the mystery. The text is clear on that point. There can be no doubt but that the phrase “dispensation of the mystery” (3:9) is identified as the “dispensation of grace” (3:2). They are not two distinct dispensations, but one and the same.

As we study this present dispensation, this passage tells us five things:

This passage twice tells us that this dispensation was “hidden in God” before it was revealed (3:3, 5, 9; cf. Colossians 1:25). This great secret was hidden in the heart of God and was never revealed to man in past generations—not to the prophets, the writers of the Old Testament, or anyone else in the past. Therefore, this dispensation will not be found in the Old Testament revelation. It was unrevealed, a secret in the heart of God. Unless He revealed it, no man would know of it. God was its revealer.

Paul was the instrument to whom God gave and revealed this present dispensation (3:2). He revealed it to Paul and Paul revealed it to the world. Lewis Sperry Chafer was correct when he wrote: “It was not Peter, James nor John…but to Paul only that this distinctive revelation came.”[1] C.F. Baker makes a good point when he writes: “Many dispensationalists teach that this dispensation was given to the Twelve Apostles at Pentecost, but is it not strange that not one of the Apostles said anything about it, either in the book of Acts or in their epistles?”[2] To hold that this revelation was given to anyone before Paul is a contradiction of what is taught in Ephesians 3. No wonder Paul refers to the revelation of this mystery as “my gospel” (Romans 16:25), for it was revealed to him to proclaim to the world.
Ephesians 3:6 declares the nature of the present dispensation—God is now making a joint body of Jew and Gentile. The Gentiles and Jews are now on an equal basis. There is no longer a distinction between them. Both are being reconciled into one new man, the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11, 16). Chafer writes:
This declaration must not be treated lightly. That the gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body is not a recognition of the Old Testament prediction that, during Israel’s coming kingdom glory, Gentiles will be raised to a subordinate participation in those blessings (Isa. 60:12). Those predictions were of an earthly calling, and being revealed in very much Old Testament prophecy, could not be part of the heavenly calling of the mystery hid in God. This mystery is of a present uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one body—a new divine purpose and therefore, in no sense the perpetuation of anything which has been before.”[3]
Campbell states that the importance of this is seen in the fact that: “The mystery is the sole source of authority that we Gentiles have for claiming equal status with the Jews in the body of Christ, the church.[4]
Jews and Gentiles in this dispensation are “fellow-heirs,”—sunkleronomos, meaning co-inheritors. It denotes equality in inheritance. We are also of the “same body”—sussomos, a compound word indicating a united body. And we are “fellow-partakers”—summetochos, meaning partakers together with one another, denoting equality in participation. A Jew is not above a Gentile, nor is a Gentile above a Jew. There is no distinction; all are equal in the Church, the body of Christ. This is that nature of the dispensation of the mystery.

Ephesians 3:10 gives us the purpose of this dispensation. We have a mission on earth to win others to Christ (2 Corinthians 5), but our eternal purpose deals with the heavenlies. “That the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly place.” The word “that” (iva) expresses purpose. This verse expresses three things: (1) what our purpose is. We are to make known the manifold wisdom of God. We are revealers of God’s wisdom. A wisdom that is foolishness to the world (cf. 1 Cor. 18:30). The word manifold (polupoikilos) indicates the variety and beauty of the wisdom of God as it is revealed in our salvation. (2) When it is revealed. It is “now.” The Greek word is nun and denotes time, the immediate present. (3) To whom we are revealing it: “To the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly place.” God is educating the angles through us. The phrase probably refers to both good and evil angels. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the angels want to now about our salvation and desire to look into it (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9). This wisdom was hid to the “princes of this world” or age. Who are these to which it was hid? It was not only the political rulers at the time of Christ, but the real rulers behind these men, are the demonic rulers of the age. The word “world” is aion, meaning age, not kosmos meaning the world or the earth. The real battle is not with earthly princes, but heavenly ones (Eph. 6:12). They did not know simply the wisdom of God, but the hidden wisdom of God, which was ordained “to our glory.” It is “through” the church that these principalities and powers are learning what they did when they crucified our Lord. Had they known this manifold wisdom of God; they would not have crucified our Lord. Why? It is because through the cross Christ has disarmed them (Col. 2:15). This was His eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 3:11).

Paul says in this dispensation of the mystery or grace, we have free and confident access without distinction to God (Eph. 3:12). Now there are no national, racial, or social distinctions. Under this dispensation of grace there is NO difference, all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and all can come to Christ on the basis of faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross (Eph. 2:8-10). Now we who believe are “one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). All have free and equal access by faith during this dispensation. No wonder Paul said that he wanted to bring to light the dispensation of the mystery. It is the manifold wisdom of God that was once hidden, but now revealed.

[1]  Lewis Sperry Chafer, THE EPHESIANS LETTER, [Dunham, Grand Rapids, 1935], 96.
[2]  C.F. Baker, UNDERSTANDING THE BODY OF CHRIST, [Grace Bible College, Grand Rapids, 1985], 28.
[3]  Chafer, 99.
[4]  Ernest R. Campbell, A COMMENTARY OF EPHESIANS [Canyonview Press, Silverton OR, 1986], 107.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Snapshots of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel #6

Mark 5:25-34

I tend to think of Mark as a photojournalist of words. In photography a photojournalist is a unique form of journalism that employs images in order to tell the story. Photojournalists like Mark are storytellers. It works in a rigid ethical framework to capture an event that is honest and impartial in telling the story in a powerful way. It gives visual narratives and feature stories that help illuminate and clarify issues with images. Mark does it with words.

My favorite word image in Mark is that of the woman with a hemorrhage for 12 years. What does this snapshot show us:
  • Desperation. She had tried everything to no avail. The Talmud had at least 11 cures for hemorrhaging.[1] These included such treatments as various tonics, carrying an ostrich egg, and carrying a barley corn found in the dung of a she-ass. Nothing worked for her. She visited doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment and nothing worked. In fact her health was deteriorating. “Her problem extended beyond the reach of medical skills![2] In spite of her physical weakness, and her being ceremonial uncleanness she made her way through the crowd.
  • Hope of Faith. Mark shows that the words of Jesus are the source of this hope. His words spurred her hope and faith. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). She exercised her hope in an act of faith. She also expressed her faith by saying to herself over and over again, [3]If I just touch His garments, I will get well” (Mark 5:28).
  • The transforming touch. We are told two facts about the touch of the hem: (1) An instant cure. The blood immediately dried and she was healed (Mark 5:29). (2) He perceived the touch. He felt the transforming power leave his body. While there is no question that Jesus knew who touched him, he still makes the inquiry. He saw the woman and gave her the opportunity to confess. This was the confession of acknowledgement and worship. Notice that Jesus tells her that it was not the touch that healed her, but her faith made her well. Lane tells us:
It was the grasp of her faith rather that her hand that had secured the healing she sought. Here touch had brought together two elements—faith and Jesus—and that had made it effective. Power had gone forth from Jesus to the woman for the precise reason that she sought healing from Him. The woman’s faith that Jesus could make her well expressed an appropriate decision with respect to his person.[4]
She can go in peace. The exercise of faith in Him brings peace (cf. Rom. 5:1).

[1]  William Barclay, DBS: MARK, [Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975], 129.
[2]  D. Edmond Hiebert, THE GOSPEL OF MARK, [Bob Jones University Press, Greenville SC, 1994], 142.
[3]  Imperfect tense indicating repeated action.
[4]  William Lane, NICNT: MARK, [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1974], 193-194.