Language

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“And God said, Let there be light, 

and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bible takes words seriously. God uses words to create the universe. The Apostle John equates those words with the pre-immanent Christ:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

The original Greek of this passage uses the Logos, which translates into the noun  “word” in English, but in Latin and in modern Spanish Logos is translated as the “verb,” which emphasizes the action implied in the theology of this statement.

The seriousness of words is highlighted elsewhere in the Bible. In Genesis, Jacob tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, but when his deception is discovered, his father refused to take back the blessing. (Gen 27:35) In Exodus, two of the Ten Commandments in the Mosaic covenant govern proper speech: taking the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness (Exod 20: 7, 16). Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus heals and casts out demons with nothing other than verbal commands (e.g. Mark 5:13).

Pentecost Reverses the Curse of Babel

The importance of language in the formation of communities is highlighted in the Tower of Babel narrative, as we read:

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:1-4)

A couple of points need to be stressed about this account. First, having a unified language is explicitly related to the formation of community, in this case the city of Babel. Second, these people are proud, wanting to make a name for themselves, and they rebel, lest we be dispersed, explicitly against the divine commandment to: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) So God cursed them to be confused by language and thereby forced them to disperse as commanded earlier(Gen 11:7-9).

The giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost occurred in this way:

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they [the disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

Pentecost is celebrated today as the birth of the Christian church. Whereas language differences divided people in the Tower of Babel narrative, the gift of understanding and speaking different languages unite people through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church.

Christian Culture

Unlike other religions, Christianity does not assert that God prefers any particular language. The Bible is translated into more languages than you can name even though the Old Testament is written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament is exclusively written in Greek. The “language of the church” is our understanding and worship of God, not the speaking of any particular language. This characteristic is a direct consequence of Pentecost and it is formative.

We know, for example, that many modern languages, such as English and German, evolved in response to translations of the Bible into local dialects and the support that the church has given to literacy and education over the centuries. Left to themselves, many languages fragment along class and ethnic lines leading to greater divisions and conflict. Likewise, national cultures fragment into sub-cultures and lose their cohesion as we have seen in recent years with the development of slang and music traditions more representative of generational and political divisions than of ethnic identities.

The idea that somehow postmodern culture is inherently superior to Christian culture because of new cultural insights suggests primarily a lack of insight into the history of the church. Because Christian culture is truly transnational, multicultural, multiethnic, and transracial, the Christian message need not be watered down or changed to accommodate a local culture so much as be expressed in culturally sensitive language. As at the original Pentecost, the church’s message should be heard by each in their own heart language.

Language

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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Creation and Trinity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bible starts telling us that: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) What do these simple words tell us about God?

In the Beginning

The phrase—in the beginning—tells us that God is eternal. If creation has a beginning, then it must also have an end. This implies that creation is not eternal, but the God who created it must be. If our eternal God created time, both the beginning and the end, then everything God created belongs to God. Just as the potter is master over the pottery he makes, God is sovereign over creation (Jer 18:4-6). God did not win creation in an arm-wrestling match or buy it online or find it on the street, he created it—God is a worker (Whelchel 2012, 7).

Transcendence

God eternal existence suggests that as mortal beings we cannot approach God without his assistance, an immediate consequence of God’s transcendence. The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 makes this point in a physical sense, but it also stands as a metaphor for philosophical towers that we might attempt to build, such as the Enlightenment Project.

Sovereignty

God’s sovereignty is reinforced in the second half of the sentence when it says: God created the heavens and the earth. Here heaven and earth form a poetic construction called a merism. A merism is a literary device that can be compared to defining a line segment by referring to its end points. The expression—heaven and earth—therefore means that God created everything.[1] Because he created everything, he is sovereign over creation; and sovereignty implies ownership.[2]

Holy

So, from the first sentence in the Bible we know that God is eternal and he is sovereign. We also know that he is holy. Why? Are heaven and earth equal? No. Heaven is God’s residence. From the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush (Exod 3:5), we learn that any place where God is becomes holy in the sense of being set apart or sacred. Because God resides in heaven, it must be holy. Earth is not. Still, God created both and is sovereign over both (Rev 4:11).
Genesis paints two other important pictures of God.

Holy Spirit

The first picture arises in Genesis 1:2; here the breath, or spirit of God, is pictured like a bird hovering over the waters.[3] Hovering requires time and effort suggesting ongoing participation in and care for creation. The Bible speaks exhaustively about God providing for us—God’s provision. Breath translates as Holy Spirit in the original languages of the Bible—both Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).[4]

Immanence

The second picture appears in Genesis 2, which retells the story of creation in more personal terms. As a potter works with clay (Isa 64:8), God forms Adam and puts him in a garden. Then, he talks to Adam and directs him to give the animals names. And when Adam gets lonely, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib or side—a place close to his heart.

Summary

Genesis 1 and 2, accordingly, paint three pictures of God: 1. God as a mighty creator; 2. God who meticulously attends to his creation; and 3. God who walks with us like a friend. While the Trinity is not fully articulated in scripture until the New Testament, God’s self-disclosure as the Trinity appears from the beginning (Chan 1998, 41).
The Lord’s Prayer casts a new perspective on Genesis 1:1when Jesus says: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) Because we are created in God’s image, we want our home to modeled after God’s.

References

Dyck, Drew Nathan. 2014. Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.


[1] Heaven and earth can also be interpreted as proxies for God’s attributes of transcendence and immanence (Jer 23:23-24; Dyck 2014, 99).

[2] God’s eternal nature is also defined with a merism: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

[3] This bird (avian) image appears again in the baptismal accounts of Jesus. For example, in Matthew 3:16 we read: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.”

[4] Breath itself is necessary for life—part of God’s provision.

Creation and Trinity

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Christ and Culture

Christ_culture_110132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit speaks Gospel into culture.   And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to peak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4 ESV).  Here the Holy Spirit communicates the Gospel among all people groups through languages that previously separated us under the curse of Babel (Genesis 11:7).  Language marks culture.  Much like Pentecost is God’s antidote to Babel, the Gospel is an antidote to culture.

To see this, define culture as the history of our collective decisions[1].  If we consistently made rational decisions based on complete information and an objective decision process, then cultural differences would not exist because we would all act the same.  We are not the same because we make poor decisions and base those decisions on prior experiences.  Consequently, as time passes our societal laws, customs, values, and morals (the lessons learned from our collective history) grow more and more unique.  And this uniqueness separates us from one another.

Because resources are limited and contested, bad decisions, which are more costly than good decisions, leave a larger cultural imprint.  Bad habits trump good ones.  Because pain screams while God whispers, culture can seem like the history of collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain.  Cultural isolation temporarily eases our pain as we look inward, but wounds not cleaned fester.  When the church acts as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, it amplifies God’s voice and speaks Gospel into the context of cultural pain[2].

Culture is to groups what personality is to individuals.  Personality is defined in habitual behavior.  When we tell our personal stories, these stories consist mostly of recounting our wounds, obsessions, injustices, and learning experiences.  It is the rare individual blessed only to recount mountain top experiences.  The ministries of presence, fellowship, and care allow us to amplify God’s voice, like the church more generally, in personal reflection.

What does the Gospel have to do with culture?  If culture is primarily the history of our collective mistakes, griefs, shame, pains, and injustices—in a word, sin, then confession and forgiveness of sin are redemptive and transformative.  Christ redeems us from the guilt of sin and the Holy Spirit transforms our lives abating sin’s pollution.  Our worldly cultures are sanctified.  So Apostle Paul can write:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).   When the church speaks Gospel into culture, it becomes an instrument of Pentecost.

What if we cling to worldly cultures rather than sanctify them?  In effect, we are arguing that our personal and collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain count for more than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  We are relishing our wounds or hiding behind them rather than submitting them to Christ.  Alternatively, Christ is seen as only human, but not divine.  When Paul prays for relief from a personal affliction, God responds:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we hold worldly cultures close to our hearts, we frustrate Christ’s work of sanctification, grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and yield to the itchy ears rather than proclaim the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:3).

What if we become prodigals—insisting on our inheritance without God’s truth and substituting worldly cultures for Christ and His sacrifice?  Think here of overtly idolatrous cultures, such as atheism or hedonism[3].  This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:24 when he talks about God giving them over to their shameful desires.  In this context, Paul takes up the mantle of a covenant lawsuit prophet evoking covenantal curses.  Rejecting the new covenant in Christ evokes the curse of law—reaping what we sow[4].  The Good News is that in Jesus Christ prodigals who return home and repent can be forgiven—not getting what we deserve.  The Apostle John writes:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

At Pentecost we remember that Christ, not culture, is our true shelter from the storm.


[1]Jonathan Edwards (Freedom of the Will (1754). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press, 2009, p. 38) employs a similar starting point (a recursive decision process) in setting up a discussion of free will.

[2]Contextualization is actively studied in missionary circles.  For example, see,: James E. Plueddemann.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, 2009.

[3]Some view modernism from this perspective.  Nikita Khrushchev once said:   Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin).  Khrushchev apparently believed that the USSR had constructed a Tower of Babel.

[4]This is more than just a Pauline rant. The hermeneutic of the prodigal in Romans allows Paul to create space for the redemption of Jews who have rejected Christ (Romans 11:11).  Pentecost redeems worldly cultures, even Jewish culture.  Luke (12:10) and Mark (3:29) are less gracious and consider blaspheming the Holy Spirit (rejecting salvation through Christ) unforgiveable.

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