Category Archives: Bible Study

An Introduction to the Book of Job

 

Recently I had the opportunity to begin a 6-week series teaching through the book of Job.  No doubt, due to size and complexity, this will be one of the more difficult books I’ve taught through.  Job can be somewhat daunting and intimidating, so in order to help you navigate through its complexities, I’d like to include some introductory thoughts that I used in my opening lesson.

First, let’s briefly address some general introductory points common for most biblical studies, namely the author, date, and genre.  Simply put, there’s no certainty with the first two points.  The author is unknown and dating the book is fraught with difficulties.  The best estimations seem to put the time period for Job somewhere around the patriarchal period, but a later date is sometimes suggested as well.  However, because Job is mentioned in Ezekiel 14 (alongside Noah and Daniel), a limit on the date would seem to rest here.  A side note, there’s no reason to assume that the writing of Job has to occur within the time frame that events unfolded.  Meaning, it’s certainly possible that God in His divine superintendence of Scripture had the actual book of Job penned well after the events.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that Job lived in a pre-Mosaic time and himself was a non-Israelite.  It may be safe to conclude that Job had far more in common with Melchizedek than with Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.

Job falls within the wisdom section of Scripture and also contains some poetic elements.  Some have attempted to subdivide Job’s genre into either lawsuit, lament, or disputation.  While each of these elements are certainly present in Job, it’s probably pressing too hard to fit Job cleanly into one of these categories.

Job offers its readers a myriad of theological themes, not the least of which is the sovereignty of God.  From the opening chapters where the supremacy of God is observed in His questioning of (the) Satan and granting him permission to test Job to the concluding chapters where God makes Himself fully known to Job, the sovereignty of God is central to the book of Job.  Similarly, the justice and goodness of God are centrally brought into view by means of the affliction that Job endures and the “counsel” that his friends provide.  Bringing these themes into focus, Joseph Caryl summarizes the book of Job by posing two critical questions:

  1. Whether it doth conflict with the justice and goodness of God to afflict a righteous and sincere person, to strip him naked, to take away all his outward comforts.  Or, whether it doth conflict with the justice and goodness of God, that it should go ill with those that are good, and that it should go well with those that are evil.

  2. Whether we may judge of the righteousness or unrighteousness, or the sincerity or hypocrite or any person by the outward dealings and present dispensations of God towards him.

Additional themes to note when studying Job are faith under trial, as we are given insight into the horrific events that Job experienced and then witness how God preserves the faith of His servant when all others have turned against him.  Similarly, patience in perseverance becomes a central theme through the various responses of Job as well.  Given the manner in which Satan challenges God by bringing His integrity into question, through Job we are witnesses to the vindication of God’s grace in his life by means of the previous two themes, faith under trial and patience in perseverance.

Finally, the doctrine of retribution, lex taliones, or an “eye for an eye” dominates the book of Job, particularly as it is misunderstood and wrongly applied by the friends of Job.  We must resolve the tension that exists between the circumstances of Job and the misapplication of this doctrine by his friends with the Scriptural fact that God does punish the wicked and reward the faithful.  Proverbs 11:21 and Galatians 6:7 say just that.  Additionally, we know that sin has consequences, catastrophic at times, as with Adam and Eve, Moses, and David.  However, before we find ourselves championing the views of Job’s friends, we must be reminded that God does not submit Himself to this principal, rather it submits to God, meaning that it is within God’s divine prerogative to determine when or how to apply it.  Likewise, affliction, as in the case of the blind man in John 9 and as we will see with Job, is not a clear indication of the effects of divine retribution.  As with each, it is simply so that the glory of God might be made known.  Caryl again summarizes by way of a syllogism, the misapplication of retribution by Job’s friends.  He writes:

He that is afflicted, and greatly afflicted, is certainly a great open sinner, or a notorious hypocrite: But Job, thou art afflicted, and thou art greatly afflicted; therefore certainly thou art, if not a great open sinner, yet a notorious hypocrite.

God certainly punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous, as we have seen.  But this does not always fit within a nice and tidy box, as Job’s friends assert.  Instead, God’s justice is meted out in clear black and white lines at the final judgment.  Those who are without Christ, the wicked, are condemned to eternal destruction, while the righteous, those who have repented of sins and trusted in Christ will be eternally rewarded.  Pressing this reality into this age, an over-realized eschatology, is the great crime of prosperity gospel peddlers.  As we will see, there’s been little change from the time of Job’s friends to the prosperity gospel preachers of today.

Because the book of Job deals with complex issues by means of  difficult dialogue, there’s been no shortage of interpretive issues.  In the next post in this overview of Job, we’ll look at several of these interpretive challenges as well as suggest some interpretive keys and things to observe when studying through Job.

 

Three types of believers – and how to interact with them

 

The apostle Paul was intimately familiar with “church folk.”

As he traveled from city to city, planting churches and discipling believers, he undoubtedly met and became acquainted with the 1st-Century equivalents of our modern-day church people types. The young believer, so full of zeal and evangelistic passion, jumping at the chance to serve in a community outreach event. The young married couple, with one toddler and one infant, trying to keep the oldest quiet and teaching him to be respectful while the Word is being taught. The older, mature believer that others seek out for their wisdom on issues of everyday life. Maybe you can connect these descriptions to real people you interact with each Sunday at your own local gathering of Christ’s global “ekklesia.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul gives instruction for relating to and dealing with a few specific types of “church folk.”

He begins with interactions with their church leaders. In 5:12-13 he says: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

I want to target verse 14 today because we can all benefit from it in our churches. It reads, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

As I look at this verse I see some really interesting things. First, there are three types of people Paul mentions. Second, Paul specifies a certain way we should interact which each type of people. Third, patience must rule when dealing with each type of person.

The first group is made up of believers who are idle. The Greek word translated idle here in the ESV is translated “unruly” in the NASB, and it means someone who is disorderly or out of rank. In Greek society, it was used to describe someone who didn’t show up to work. Paul says we should “admonish” these people. This Greek word means to warn or exhort. I get the sense that it may be a stronger word, one that would encourage us to be a little tough on them and get them into line.

The second group is made up of the fainthearted. This Greek word is only used once in the Bible, and that is right here, but it comes from two other words that mean “little” or “small” and “breath” or “soul”. Paul says to encourage them, either by admonition or consolation.

The last group Paul mentions is the weak, which is translated elsewhere as infirm, feeble, or without strength. Paul says we are to “help” them, which can mean pay heed to them, aid them, or care for them.

It is interesting to think about why he commands one type of response for one group and not another. It would make no sense to admonish or warn those who are fainthearted, because that would probably cause them to recede further into their shells. He also does not say to encourage the idle or unruly person, because they do not need someone to console them. They need someone to straighten them out and maybe show a little tough love to get them back in line.

The blanket that must cover our interaction with each type of person is patience. Sometimes, dealing with folks in a patient way takes a lot of intentionality. But patience is extraordinarily beneficial for both us and them. It helps us maintain self-control, and not lose our tempers. It benefits the other person because it shows them we want to be Christ-like in our interactions with them, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

At the end of the day, we have to remember we have all been in these categories during different phases of our lives. Consider who in your life has reached out to you in one of these appropriate ways over the course of your relationship with Christ.

The Foundation of Ekklesia

 

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20

In the passage cited above, we have what may be properly called the first confession of Christ’s ekklesia, given by Peter via revelation from God the Father.  Our Lord Jesus’ reply has led to numerous interpretive challenges that have caused no shortage of division and schism among those who profess the name of Christ, at least outwardly.

To address the first of these controversies, we begin by asking, “Who or what is this rock upon which Christ will build His ekklesia?”

Historically, there has been recognition given to a word play between Peter (masc. – petros) and the rock (fem. – petra) that some have used to help support their interpretation.  There may be something to this and our Lord seemingly is making a distinction between the two, i.e. “You are Peter (little rock) and on this rock (rock cliff) I will build my ekklesia“.  Despite the obvious differences, I do not lean on this distinction to determine the meaning of the passage.

Traditionally, the Roman Catholic Church has asserted that the “rock” in this passage is Peter, which for them sets up the doctrine of Apostolic succession upon which they fabricate their doctrine of the Pope.  Some, even well-intentioned Protestants, affirm that the rock does indeed refer to Peter, their implications simply being that the church was built upon the apostles, of which Peter may have had preeminence.  Of course, this latter, Protestant interpretation in no way allows for the establishment of apostolic succession from Peter to popes.

Others, perhaps recognizing the validity of such an interpretation have affirmed not only Peter as the rock, but Peter + his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  This is the view that I held by default, meaning I hadn’t really studied the passage for myself but relied on faithful teachers who held this view (never a good idea by the way!).  Similarly, some have simply allowed that the rock is the confession that Peter makes or even the faith that he displays.

However, now arriving at this passage with fresh eyes for the purpose of defining my understanding of the church, I find myself in disagreement with all of the above interpretations concluding that, along with John Owen, the rock is none other than Christ.

First, notice the ESV translation of this interaction between Peter and our Lord:

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

In making observations on this passage, the question that I’ve asked first is not who is the rock, but why does our Lord repeat Peter’s name in a formulaic expression, first in saying Simon Bar-Jonah and then declaring “you are Peter”?  The answer, I humbly assert, is to repeat the formula that Peter uses.  In doing so, Christ reminds Peter of the name change that He gave him (John 1:42), the little rock from the larger Rock, so to speak, thereby affirming Himself as the central focus of this confession and passage, not Peter.  Note below:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church

If our Lord was determined to declare Peter as the rock upon which He would build His ekklesia He could have simply said “You are Petros and upon this Petros I will build my ekklesia”, no word play necessary.  The two confessions seem to be directly parallel, but let’s go on.

Second, note the framework for this entire section is the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ/Annointed One).  It begins with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” to which Peter answers, “The Christ, the Son of the living God”.  The section ends with the instruction by Jesus for His disciples to “tell no one that he was the Christ.”  The focus is not that Peter has been in some way given the distinction as the rock, but that Jesus is the Christ,  the Anointed One and Son of God.  This fact frames the entire interaction between Jesus, Peter, and subsequently the other disciples.

Third, almost as if to dispel any confusion that Peter may have been given the preeminent designation as THE rock, Matthew’s gospel follows up this account with a rather inauspicious portrayal of Peter.  If in fact he was just designated as the rock upon which Christ’s ekklesia would be built, then this foundation begins to crumble in the very next narrative.

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:21-23

Fourth, the word our Lord chooses to use here for rock, petras, has a prior usage in Matthew’s gospel.  In Matthew 7:24-25 we read

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Can there be any reasonable argument made that the rock upon which the wise man builds his house is none other than our Lord?

Fifth, outside of the Gospel of Matthew, we have clear passages that designate Christ as the stone, or Cornerstone, upon which His ekklesia is built.  Sometimes this is the word lithos, but other times it is the very word we find here in Matthew.  We can see this in Romans 9:33, 1 Corinthians 10:4, and most notably 1 Peter 2:8 (see also Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22)

Finally, the equivocation of Christ as the primary rock (Cornerstone) and the apostles as the foundation upon which the “church” is built is made in Ephesians 2:20.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Additionally, note the larger context of 1 Peter 2 and the highlights I’ve made below

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

It seems likely that the above two passages, Ephesians 2 and 1 Peter 2, could easily explain the declaration of Peter as little rock and Christ as THE rock.

Peter’s role in the formation of the early church is important, no doubt.  But if preeminence were to be given to any Apostle, we might more easily conclude that this eventually became the Apostle Paul, whose influence was arguably greater that Peter’s.  Additionally, in Acts 15, at the so-called Jerusalem council, a passage we will look at later, James seems to have a position of seniority or superiority, not Peter.

Finally, let’s conclude with a summary statement from Owen,

There is but one rock, but one foundation. There is no mention in the Scripture of two rocks of the church. In what others invent to this purpose we are not concerned. And the rock and the foundation are the same; for the rock is that whereon the church is built, that is the foundation. But that the Lord Christ is this single rock and foundation of the church, we shall prove immediately. Wherefore, neither Peter himself, nor his pretended successors, can be this rock. As for any other rock, it belongs not unto our religion; they that have framed it may use it as they please. For they that make such things are like unto the things they make; so is every one that trusteth in them: Psalm 115:8. “But their rock is not as our rock,
themselves being judges;” unless they will absolutely equal the pope unto Jesus Christ.
Solus Christus!