Archive for the 'Revelation' Category

Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

https://i0.wp.com/veritas.kr/files/fckeditor/image/kimhubyoung/africa_2013.jpg

(photo courtesy veritas.kr)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has brought many positive dimensions into the church, one of the chief being the teaching on every-member gifts to the church gathering or small groups. See my articles that deal with some of these issues:

clip_image001 Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

clip_image001[1] Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

clip_image001[2] Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

clip_image001[3] Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

clip_image001[4] St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

However, there is….

1. A BIG negative of Pentecostalism

One of the most devastating influences on the church from Pentecostal-charismatic theology has been the subjectivism and esoteric knowledge that has replaced sound interpretation of the biblical text and solid exposition of Scripture. I encounter it in a growth group led by a Pentecostal and in posts on the Internet. Let’s examine a few examples from Christian forums on the Internet.

I came across a group of Christians who wanted to use types and shadows from the OT to present their subjective opinions of the meaning of these types and shadows. I began this thread,

2. Old Testament types and shadows need New Testament support[1]

Trees With Late Afternoon Shadows(photo courtesy publicdomainpictures.net)

 

A person claimed that these OT words were direct references to Christ and not types or shadows? The words to which he referred were LORD (YHWH), LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), God (Elohim) and Almighty (El Shaddai).[2]

Is it true that we need to go beneath the surface of a word or statement to gain a true understanding of the meaning? Is Noah’s Ark a type of Christ? See 1 Peter 3:20-22 (NIV).

I raised some biblical examples of types from the OT that are affirmed as types in the NT:

clip_image003 John 5:45-46 (NIV), ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me’.

clip_image003[1] Rom 5:14 (NIV), ‘Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern [tupos = type] of the one to come’.

clip_image003[2] In I Corinthians 10:11 (NIV) Paul spoke of the OT patriarchs, ‘These things happened to them as examples [tupikos = typically] and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come’.

clip_image003[3] Colossians 2:17 (NIV) ‘These [laws] are a shadow [skia] of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’.

clip_image003[4] Heb 10:1 (NIV), ‘The law is only a shadow [skia] of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’.

We are told in 1 Cor 10:4 (ESV) that ‘all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, the Rock was Christ’. To which rock is Paul referring in the OT? We know that there are two Meribah incidents involving the rock (e.g. Ex 17:6-7 ESV; Num 20:10-13 ESV) that were about 40 years apart. The first one was at Horeb, Mt Sinai, which was near the start of their wandering in the wilderness. The last one happened at Kadesh which was as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (ESV) confirm Jesus as the Rock and the 1 Peter 2:6-8 example cites various passages from the OT to lend support for the statements. In 1 Cor 10:1-7a (ESV), Paul tells us:

For I want you to know, brothers [and sisters] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were….

The issue I am raising is: Do Christians have the right to create their own understanding of what is a type or shadow from the OT that is fulfilled in the NT or do we need the NT’s confirmation that it is a type or shadow? To me, the latter seems to be the biblical means of identification.

How can we confirm that YHWH, Yahweh Elohim, Elohim, and El Shaddai are references to Christ in reality and not in type or shadow? What’s the biblical evidence?

3. New Testament confirmation needed of types

What kinds of responses do you think the above statement would engender?

clip_image005’I agree there must be relevance to Jesus in the names used, but we read in 1 Cor 10:11, Now all these things (Judgments?) happened unto them for ensamples (analogies): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As a type or description of Jesus I read the word “Image,” and that being other than spirit we read of in Col 1:15.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God, the Holy One of Israel (Jesus?), thy Saviour (Jesus?).
Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD (Jehovah); and beside me there is no savior (Jesus)?
In power Jesus is described as the almighty in Rev 1:8 during His reign.
He is the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:45.
Other OT references are in Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.[3]

My response was:[4] Apart from 1 Cor 10 (ESV), I don’t think you are giving examples of types or shadows in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, as demonstrated by NT statements.

In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows. My question is: Is it legitimate for Christians to make up, create, decide their own opinion on what is a type or shadow of Christ or some other theology – without the NT confirming that such is a type or shadow?

I’m not discussing the fulfilment of OT prophecy as in the example you gave from Isa 9:6 (ESV), which is fulfilled according to Luke 2:11 (ESV). My discussion is about types and shadows that Christians want to push from the OT, but with no confirmation of such in the NT.

Eugene’s response was: ‘Can you give an example? I may also be guilty of that, although I don’t always attempt to prove the OT with proof from the NT’.[5]

3.1 Example of New Testament application

There are at least 4 different interpretations of 1 Cor 10:3,[6] ‘And did all eat the same spiritual meat’. This is not the place to discuss these. They are articulated by Charles Hodge in A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 172-174. See HERE.

We see Israel’s example in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV) and that example applied by giving a warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-13 NIV).

In vv 1-5, it is a powerful type with the language of ‘our fathers’ and their form of ‘baptism’ and the ‘Eucharist’. It prefigured our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
What was the purpose of the type given from the OT and articulated in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV)? It continues with some of the events in Exodus to warn the Corinthians (vv 6, 11-12). These Corinthians enjoyed blessings like those of Israel but the Corinthians were in danger of losing those blessings because of their idolatry: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters….’ (1 Cor 10:6-7a NIV).

These things in Exodus happened to be ‘examples’ to the Corinthians ‘so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ (1 Cor 10:12 NIV).

That’s my understanding of this type. But it is important to realise that it is only a type or shadow because it is specifically mentioned as such in the NT. We are not left to speculate that types and shadows are on nearly every page of the OT. That isn’t true.

Yes, there are types and shadows that are mentioned in the NT that draw attention to examples from the OT, but the NT has to mention them as examples to make them types.

3.2 You limit us too much. Be free to encounter Jesus in other ways

clip_image005[1]This one came out of left field, but it demonstrates the spiritual subjectivism of some people. I don’t know if this person has any Pentecostal leanings. She wrote:

I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?
The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that relationship. I see Him all over the O.T., as one poster said from the other thread. Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises.
So is the prophetic scripture and the fulfillment scripture not valid unless one of the N.T. writers speaks of it as such? I am trying to understand you better. When I open up my bible, am I entering into a classroom?
Could it be that ALL must be said or it is not valid? Was EVERYTHING written down? John 21:25
1 Corinthians 10:3
All ate the same manna. Jesus is the new manna which does not rot after one day but lasts forever. We must, even today, all eat the same manna.
Manna = Spiritual food.
Jesus is the new manna.
Jesus is our spiritual food.
Now very learned persons will have 3 other meanings for this scripture.
But most of us are not learned and will be satisfied with the above.
I mean, how much do you want us to know??[7]

That one did press my theological buttons, so I came back with,[8]

3.3 Individualistic interpretations

If there is no NT confirmation, then the alleged OT types become no more than individualistic interpretations with no more weight than a person’s assertions or experiences.

Now to some points (not comprehensive) from this person’s post:

  1. ‘I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?‘ If you invent the types and shadows, that amounts to postmodernism in action. There is no hermeneutical way of countering anyone who comes to this forum and says, ‘Jesus told me X, Y, Z’ and it is not endorsed by Scripture. There are droves of people in my region who have existential experiences of ‘mystery’ that are a country mile from biblical fidelity. I have no way of knowing whether the postmodern, existential interpretation is for real unless I have my thoughts firmly planted in the revealed Scripture. In fact, I have no Gospel to proclaim unless it is biblically based. If I am free to encounter Jesus wherever I have a new revelation of him, are you going to extend that same ‘Jesus encounter’ privilege to the Mormon in the Temple or the New Age practitioner in an occult group?
  2. ‘Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises’. That kind of demeaning put down is totally unnecessary on an evangelical Christian forum. If it were not for people with knowledge of the original languages, you wouldn’t even have a Bible you can read in English.
  3. One more, ‘The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man’, you say. Try telling that to the Amalekites who were slaughtered by Saul, ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’ (1 Sam 15:3 NIV).

There are many other red herrings that this person raised in her post that are unrelated to the topic of my original post.

3.4 Postmodern reader-response

clip_image005[2] An earlier poster came again with input:[9]

Stating that many Christians today create their own understanding of shadows and types I think is the product of precept upon precept, and line upon line as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Over the years I’ve changed certain views; some due to experience, and at other times maturing in the word of God.
I’ll just give one example how I’ve use (sic) the striking the Rock instead of speaking to it. At first Moses was instructed to strike the Rock, and that to me was a type of the crucifixion of our Lord in Exodus 17: 5-6.

Next I read in Num 20:8 that Moses was to speak to the Rock, but he struck the Rock twice, and God said to him in Num 20:12, And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Here there was evident consequence, and we read in Deut 32:50, And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Deut 32:51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.

Now how could or would I use this as a type pertaining to Christendom? We read of a sin that is unto death in Rom 6:16, Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Did Moses die as the result of his unbelief? Of course, but do any think he went to hell; we see Jesus with Elias and Moses on what has become known as the mount of transfiguration in Mt 17:4. As an example of things, 1 Cor 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (or warnings), upon whom the ends of the world are come. Could lying [to] the Holy Spirit be justification for such judgment such as that of Ananias & Sapphira of Acts 5:1? I think so.

Image result for clipart reader-response public domain(image courtesy clker.com)

 

My reply was:[10] Have you ever heard of postmodern reader-response criticism? Do you know what it means?

For a brief mention of its meaning, see D A Carson & Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 61, 62, 66 (online). How do you think your comments here fit with reader-response criticism?

His reply was interesting and revealed some lack of knowledge of the content of the link I gave:

I had no idea that my discussion to a question was a criticism rather than tossing some ideas around concerning types and shadows portrayed in scripture.
Having read the excerpt of Post Modern Reader-Response Error Theology, it seems to suggest there is no right or wrong leading me to wonder at God’s purpose in having the Bible written.[11]

How should I reply? Here goes:[12]

It seems that you are misunderstanding the theory and practice of postmodern reader-response criticism in your own writing. What you did in #10 was give us a string of verses that were interpreted as Eugene’s postmodern reader-response theology.

So, prior to my giving you the link to reader-response theory, it seems that you did not have an understanding of what you have done with these verses at #10.

Reader-response errors happen when a reader accepts that the writer of any document does not determine its meaning but that the reader’s understanding and response are what matters, i.e. the reader’s meaning is the meaning of the text. That seems to be what you have done with the verses you gave in #10.

This is such a serious error infiltrating the Christian church that Kevin Vanhoozer has addressed it in an entire book, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan 2009)

Do you think you would read the local newspaper like you did the verses you gave in #10?

9780310324690(image courtesy Zondervan)

 

Now the discussion progresses to:

3.5 The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks

Could you imagine that spiritual individualism and Holy Spirit magic would deteriorate to this point. A fellow wrote,

clip_image005[3]‘We don’t need everything written when we have the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks’.[13]

That’s like a red rag to me as a theologian and apologist, so I responded:

Subjectivism, whether by the Spirit or any other measure, is very difficult to discern because of the variation from person to person. ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for me’ is in competition with ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for you’, the Mormon, the occult practitioner, and the information provided may be very different for the same topic. Subjectivism, whether spiritual or humanistic, is a poor measure of competent content of revelation.[14]

3.6 Multi-faceted wisdom

clip_image005[4]Another said, ‘That’s why it’s called “multi faceted” wisdom, because the truth that is found in wisdom, is like a diamond or precious stone and is relevant as God sees each circumstance’.[15]

The rag for the apologist’s bull is getting redder and more worn from over-use:[16]

That’s why it is called subjectivism and/or Gnosticism as it is impossible to obtain objective information from that ‘revelation’. Your subjective revelation has no more impact than another believer’s or a Gnostic’s insight of esoteric knowledge. I understand this person is using ‘multi faceted wisdom’ as esoteric knowledge, which means:

“Esoteric” refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or “wisdom tradition” that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness (Kazlev 2016).

This definition of ‘esoteric’ comes from Kazlev who is involved in analysing the philosophy of Ken Wilber and his ‘psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da[17] and Andrew Cohen[18])’ (Kazlev 2016).

It seems to me that these Christians on Christian forums who are advocating ‘multi faceted’ wisdom and deeper meaning revelation, are following a parallel path with these mystical gurus or postmodern, reader-response advocates. It is a dangerous, subjective and mystical experience that is outside of Scripture and runs the risk of contradicting Scripture.

3.7 Do we need NT confirmation for a type or shadow?

That’s the question I asked for this forum thread? This was one retort:

clip_image005[5]‘Only if you want to impress it upon someone as undeniable fact. Otherwise you can only share it using your best efforts of honest debate you can muster and leave the rest to God’.[19]

How should I counter?[20] Here goes!

That makes you a supporter of subjective interpretation and reader-response ideology. It also makes you a sitting duck for any kind of hermeneutic that comes along and wants to dethrone your reader-response. It makes no fixed interpretation possible.

Try that approach with your next electricity bill, a letter from a lawyer, or reading a local newspaper. Creating your own reality in reader-response theology or esoteric revelation amounts to Gnosticism in action in the 21st century.

That approach makes Jesus a moving target of any kind of interpretation. If you don’t believe me, take a read of John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998).

What is reader-response theory?

Reader response is a school of literary criticism that ignores both the author and the text’s contents, confining analysis to the reader’s experience when reading a particular work. Reader response theorists are particularly concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply that a work of literature has a particular interpretation. According to Louise Rosenblatt, one of the primary figures in reader response, all reading is a transaction between the reader and writer (as represented by an immutable text). She further posits that the “stance” of the reader, either “aesthetic” (reading by choice or for pleasure) or “efferent”(reading by assignment or because one has to), has a major influence on the textual experience (source Chegg).

In Christian scholar, Kevin Vanhoozer’s, words, ‘Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader…. Meaning is the product of the interaction between text and reader (e.g. the “two horizons”)’. The more radical reader-response practitioners such as Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida agree that ‘there is no such thing as “disinterested,” that is, innocent or objective reading. All reading is ideological and guided by certain interests’ (Vanhoozer 1998:27-28).

This fellow came back with this response:[21]

3.8 No fixed interpretation with plain words of the Bible

clip_image005[5]It makes no fixed interpretation possible in regard to hard and fast and plain words of the Bible. That’s all. That hardly means it can’t possibly be true.

That’s not a good argument to make [about the example of the electricity bill].

No one is suggesting that personal interpretation – meaning that interpretation isn’t spelled out in the Bible word for word – can somehow be inconsistent with what is written in the Bible. Perhaps that is the big mistake you are making about this. This isn’t about saying your electric bill is $30.00 when it plainly says it’s $150.00 on the written bill.

What is being defended in this thread fails to meet the criteria for this being a matter of ‘Reader Response’:

1. Personal interpretation does not ignore the author of the Bible and the context, nor content, of the Bible. One of the rules of personal spiritual revelation not spelled out in scripture is that it can not contradict what the Bible already says.

2. Personal interpretation is not about ‘confining analysis to the reader’s experience’ because it does not consist of analysis confined only to the reader, and is not based on an experience other than the experience of spiritual revelation itself. It’s not about having experiences, and an analysis of spiritual matters that contradict what the Bible does say about a particular subject.

3. The spiritual interpretation that is being defended here is exactly the opposite of being “concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply a work…has a particular interpretation”. Because it is open to a greater spiritual depth and insight and understanding of scripture it sometimes grates against the traditional interpretation of scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 NASB. Not a terribly good example because so much of the non-traditional interpretation of that passage is directly supported by the Bible).

This promotion of reader-response, subjectivism became more obvious in that post, so I responded:[22]

And that’s the problem. If there are no hard and fast rules for the plain words of John 3:16 (ESV), then you have postmodern reader-response Gnosticism in action. It leads to hermeneutical shipwrecks. If there were not hard, fast and plain meanings to words of the Bible (and to any other writing), what you and I write on CFnet would not be understood. I think you are whistling in the wind of subjective vagueness.

It is a good argument to make [analogy with an electricity bill] because personal, subjective interpretation, is a bummer when it comes to understanding the meaning of your electricity bill. You must read it literally to obtain its plain meaning. There is no other means of interpretation of your electricity bill and it is a fixed interpretation. Esoteric, deeper knowledge ideology will not work.

He also asked if Joseph (OT) was a shadow and type of Christ. My reply was that, as I’ve stated a few times in this thread, an OT person or incident is not a type or shadow unless it is confirmed in the NT as such. Some see the OT story of Joseph (Gen 37-45) as a type of Christ because of Joseph’s humiliation and glorification that could be compared with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. However, the NT does NOT confirm that the OT Joseph is a type of Christ. Joseph’s story is an illustration with a parallel with Jesus – but it is NOT a type or shadow because the NT does not confirm it as such.

As to personal interpretation not ignoring the author, context, etc., I wrote: That might be what you see, but in this thread I’ve seen too many personal interpretations that were subjective impositions on the biblical data. So you say that a rule of personal spiritual revelation (not revealed in the Bible) must not contradict the Bible. That’s your own personal opinion and it is open to contradiction by another personal interpretation. You are building your interpretation on the slippery sands of personal revelation.

As to his point #3, I wrote: That’s subjective Gnosticism in action and it is what the church apologists had to battle in the first few centuries of the church’s existence. Seems like it is alive and well in your posts.

He didn’t seem to like this labelling of subjective Gnosticism, so gave his deconstruction:[23]

I think what you really mean to say is the idea of esoteric knowledge upon which Gnosticism relied seems alive and well in my posts.
If being able to discern things by the Spirit of God that others can’t, or aren’t yet able to discern, is considered esoteric knowledge, then yes, that broad definition and application of esoteric knowledge is alive and well in my posts. That is the very foundation of teaching. I guess your problem is that you feel that is not allowed.
“we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood…” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB)
By pure definition, if that isn’t esoteric knowledge, then nothing is.
All I’m saying is, it is allowed as long as it does not contradict, or can not be reconciled with what we already know to be true in the Bible. In Paul’s case, his esoteric knowledge did not contradict, or not reconcile with the scriptures of his day, what we call the OT.
The use of Paul’s esoteric knowledge to teach spiritual truth shows us it’s okay to say that Joseph, for example, is a type and shadow of Christ. Does Christianity and the truth of God come crashing down in a worthless heap if, technically, God did not say it’s a type and shadow of Christ? Of course not. You’re tossing out all privilege of personal interpretation and suggestion and it’s value in spiritual education just because there certainly are those who would abuse it. Yours is a misguided, contentious argument. What you should be arguing against is not esoteric knowledge, but esoteric knowledge that has no basis or support in scripture.

Esoteric knowledge in 1 Cor 2:6-8 when it speaks of ‘God’s wisdom in a mystery’?? I replied[24] Where does the Bible provide an exposition of the need for and the meaning of ‘esoteric knowledge’?

Another definition of esotericism is: ‘Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, cover’ (source).

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB is hardly an explanation to cover this meaning of esoteric knowledge in the secular world or in a biblical worldview.

3.9 The shifting sands of ‘biblical discernment’

clip_image005[6]Another person entered the discussion:

This is supported [Adam & Eve as types] by the NT (see Ephesians 5 and other passages). Ideally, we should have NT corroboration, but that may not always be found, yet the interpretation will not be in violation of Scripture. There are things which can be spiritually discerned.[25]

I do not find a word in Ephesians 5 that supports what I asked: ‘In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows’.[26]

4. The plot thickens: ‘Esoteric knowledge’ enters

I’ve already mentioned this promotion by one person of 1 Cor 2:6-8 in support of esoteric knowledge endorsed by Scripture – so he said. It is necessary to respond.

4.1 What ‘secret wisdom’ is not[27]

Image result for esoteric public domain (image courtesy esotericonline.net, public domain)

 

This person seemed to have missed the meaning of the Greek musterion (mystery) used in 1 Cor 2:7. Paul confronts his Corinthian opponents with the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:26ff) as he is dealing with ‘the mystery cults and gnosticism [that] are directly dealt with’. Wherever musterion appears in the NT it is found in association with verbs that denote revelation or proclamation. ‘It is a present-day secret, not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling. This is vividly expressed in Col. By his office the apostle “fulfills” (Col. 1:26) “the mystery of Christ” (4:3), i.e. by bearing in his own body that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ (1:24), he gives practical expression to the “mystery” and carries it on towards its final consummation’ (Brown 1978:504).

It is not esoteric knowledge (he needs to note the difference in meaning between knowledge and wisdom). It is wisdom that was previously hidden that God has revealed – in 1 Cor what is revealed is ‘the message/word of the cross’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Leading evangelical Greek scholar, Dr Gordon D Fee, does not agree with this person in his exegesis of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (he uses the NIV). In his exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (partially available online pp 102-106). He states this about the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 2:7-8:

Vv 7-8  In these verses Paul elaborates the two sides of v. 6. V. 7 explains the nature of God’s wisdom that made it impossible for the wise of this age to grasp it; v. 8 repeats the failure of the “rulers” in terms of their responsibility for the crucifixion.

He begins with a sharp contrast to the negative side of v. 6. “No,” he says, “we speak God’s wisdom,” which he immediately qualifies in four ways. The first three describe its nature, so as to distinguish it from the wisdom of this age. First, it is wisdom “in mystery” (NIV, “secret wisdom”).[28] One cannot be certain whether this phrase modifies “wisdom” as an adjective (hence the NIV’s “secret wisdom”) or the verb “we speak” as an adverb. The former seems preferable. God’s wisdom is not some inaccessible teaching, spoken in secret. As Paul will develop more fully in Colossians and Ephesians [see Col. 1:26-27; 2:2: 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9: 6:19], in the singular the term “mystery” ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but how revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. The seeds of this idea are sown here for the first time in Paul; in particular it embraces the paradox of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Second, and to clarify the phrase “in mystery,” God’s wisdom – salvation through a crucified Messiah – “has been hidden.” The perfect tense, plus the phrase that follows (“before time began”), indicates that such wisdom has been hidden in God from eternity until such a time (“now”) as he was ready to reveal it. What follows in v. 8 suggests further that God’s “secret” remains hidden from the “rulers, ” the representatives of the “wise” of this age.

Third, God’s secret wisdom, long hidden – and still hidden to some – was “destined” by God himself “for our glory before time began.” This is the clause that begins to clarify both the content of “wisdom” and the identity of the “mature” in v. 6. The verb “destined” is an intensified form of the ordinary verb for “determining.” The emphasis lies on “deciding upon beforehand” (BAGD);[29] therefore, to “predestine.” As in [1 Cor] 1:1, God’s call is the expression of his prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”). What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation – “for our glory.” What has been predestined technically is God’s wisdom; the larger context indicates that Paul has in view God’s gracious activity in Christ, whereby through the crucifixion he determined eternal salvation for his people – including especially the Corinthian believers. Just as God chose the foolish and weak for salvation and thereby “shamed” the wise and powerful, who are being brought to nothing (1:26-28), so now Paul repeats that God “destined” his people for glory (not shame), and has done so in contrast to the rulers of this age who are “coming to nothing.” “For our glory” is eschatological language, referring to the final goal of salvation, namely that God’s people should share in his own glory. Hence the crucified one is in this context also called “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Fourth (v. 8a), God’s wisdom is something that “none of the rulers of this age understood.” With this clause Paul elaborates the negative side of v. 6, but now in light of the preceding description of God’s wisdom. The reason for their failure is that it was “hidden in God” and could only be grasped by revelation of the Spirit (v. 10). The reason for repeating the idea seems twofold: first, to reestablish the contrast between “us” and “them” that is crucial to his argument; and second, to confirm their part in the historical event itself, which both demonstrated their “ignorance” of God’s ways and implicated them in the carrying out of his plan. What they did not understand was the nature of true wisdom – God’s wisdom, as spelled out in 1:18-2:5 – which stands in contradiction to human understanding; and because they were thus “ignorant” they did what human “wisdom” demanded – they crucified the one who for them was one more messianic pretender. Thus the divine irony: The very ones who were trying to do away with Jesus by crucifying him were in fact carrying out God’s prior will – “destined for our glory before time began.” Instead of crucifying a messianic pretender, they killed “the Lord of glory” himself, the one who, as Lord of all the ages, is therefore Lord of the final glory that is both his and his people’s ultimate destiny. The Pauline irony, of course, is that the Corinthians in pursuing sophia [i.e. wisdom] are pursuing what belongs to this age, which is passing away and whose rulers were implicated in the divine irony (Fee 1987:104-107, italics emphasis in original; bold emphasis added).

4.2 How to interpret Scripture

To assist with the interpretation of Scripture and any other piece of literature, see my articles:

clip_image007 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image007[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image007[2] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image007[3] Does God have a physical body?

5. Conclusion

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, in its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, has rightly pursued the biblical mandate to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:1 NIV). However this movement has introduced a down side.

That negativity is related to the subjective, Gnostic type of knowledge that entered Christian circles through existential experiences of the Holy Spirit. This article has attempted to show through posts on a Christian forum how Holy Spirit encounters, even to the point of thinking this is receipt of esoteric knowledge, has derailed the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The result can lead to Gnostic error.

Image result for Gnosticism image public domain(image courtesy gnosticteachings.org)

 

I suggest that the New Gnosticism is alive and well on this Christian forum. Part of Michael Horton’s assessment is:

Both liberals and evangelicals disdain doctrine for personal experience, and objective truth for personal transformation, and in this sense, each is, in its own way, Gnostic. The anti-intellectualism is understandable, according to Lee. “If God is immanent, present within our psyche, if we already have the truth within, then why go through all the hassle of studying theology?” [Lee 1987:111]. Isn’t this precisely the point of the division many of us grew up with between head knowledge and heart knowledge? The former is intellectual, the latter spiritual – that is, gnosis….

Pentecostalism represents an even greater dependence on Gnostic tendencies…. The outer edges of Pentecostalism are especially blatant in Gnostic emphases, as a number of works have shown, including The Agony of Deceit.[30] Salvation is knowledge – “Revelation Knowledge” (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and other “faith teachers” use the upper case to distinguish this from mere written revelation). The Word that truly saves is not the written text of Scripture, proclaiming Christ the Redeemer, but is rather the “Rhema” Word that is spoken directly to the spirit by God’s Spirit (Horton 2016).

If spiritual insight is used as an interpretive measure and esoteric knowledge is permitted as a means of gaining a biblical understanding of the text, then expect pooled ignorance to infiltrate the church. My series of interactions on this topic have demonstrated that ‘no fixed meaning’, ‘esoteric knowledge’, and ‘my understanding’ can derail biblical interpretation.

The New Gnosticism is with us and the landscape does not look pretty. There is a heightened need for apologists and theologians to be involved in addressing this heresy that is invading the church.

6.  Works consulted

Brown, C (gen ed) 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Horton, M S 2016. The New Gnosticism: Is it the age of the Spirit or the spirit of the age? Modern Reformation (online). Available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=695#footnote13 (Accessed 17 May 2016). The article originally appeared in Modern Reformation, “Gnosticism”, July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-12.

Kazlev, A 2016. Integral esotericism: A new integral paradigm in theory and practice. Integral World (online), June 04.[31] Available at: http://www.integralworld.net/kazlev5.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

Lee, P J 1987. Against The Protestant Gnostics. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also available at: https://arcaneknowledgeofthedeep.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/againstprotestantgnostics.pdf (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, 13 May 2016, ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Apologetics & Theology, OzSpen#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/types-shadows-needing-nt-support.64532/ (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[2] They were raised by Malachi#33 at Christian Forums.net, ‘Underlying types & shadows’, The Lounge. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/understanding-types-shadows.64517/page-2 (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[3] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Eugene#2.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[5] Ibid., Eugene#5.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[7] Ibid., Wondering#8.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[9] Ibid., Eugene#10.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[11] Ibid., Eugene#12.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[13] Ibid., Sinthesis#15.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#16.

[15] Ibid., JLB#17.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[17] Adi Da was the Hindu god-man cultist who was head of an abusive personality cult. See: Timothy Conway (2007). Available at: http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Da_and_his_cult.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[18] On his homepage, Andrew Cohen describes himself as, a ‘modern mystic, cultural critic, and award-winning spiritual journalist’. Available at: http://www.andrewcohen.org/ (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[19] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#18.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[21] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, op cit., Jethro Bodine#22.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[23] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#27.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#28, #29.

[25] Ibid., Malachi#34.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#40/

[27] This is my response, ibid., OzSpen#44.

[28] Fee’s footnote is, ‘This is another phrase that has caused some to see Paul as reflecting the mystery cults or Gnosticism. But again that not only misses Paul’s own Jewish background, but the whole point of the argument as well’ (Fee 1987:104, n. 27).

[29] BAGD = Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker Greek lexicon (dictionary).

[30] See The Agony of Deceit, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[31] It seems that this date is a roving date that will change daily.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.