We, as Jesus’s followers, may be perceived even by those in our own families as “having lost our minds.” Why follow a Jewish carpenter who was crucified two millennia ago? Why forego a comfortable life, forsake the American dream, and choose deprivation and suffering for his cause? By the world’s standards, we’re out of our minds.
Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. When his family heard this, they set out to restrain him, because they said, “He’s out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20–22 CSB)
The Professor and the Madman
In his bestselling novel, Simon Winchester tells the harrowing tale of The Professor and the Madman. The professor, James Murray, served as the longtime editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The “madman,” William Chester Minor, was a prolific contributor to the work. Minor, a medical doctor who had fought in the Civil War but was plagued by a severe mental illness. He had murdered an innocent man in a case of mistaken identity that led to Minor’s incarceration.
Confined to a lunatic asylum, Minor found meaning in immersing himself in linguistic research, sending copious notes to Murray. For the longest time, Murray was unaware of the background of the lexicographic prodigy. The mystery man preferred to remain in obscurity until Murray eventually tracked him down. To his amazement, he discovered that Minor was, quite literally, out of his mind. As the fascinating story of the professor and the madman illustrates, at times the line between erudition and lunacy can be fine indeed.
You Might also like
By Alan Shlemon — 2 months ago
Pro-gay theology advocates have tried to undermine the historic Christian teaching on sexuality for decades. The problem with their approach has often been their inability to follow commonsense interpretive rules that help determine the meaning of any text, not just the Bible. When they violate these rules, they can make Scripture say anything.
“Did you know that Jesus helped his friend come out?” That’s how one pro-gay theology activist starts his video. Then he shares a New Testament passage in which Jesus supposedly tells LGBT people to come out of the closet and show their true selves, implying that Jesus affirms living a life satisfying LGBT desires. Before we get to the passage, we need to unpack how to interpret an important literary device: the idiom.
An idiom is a phrase whose meaning can’t be deduced from the individual words. For example, if I say, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you know I mean it’s raining hard, not that felines and canines are falling from the sky. Notice the meaning of the phrase doesn’t emerge from the words “cats and dogs.” Rather, the combination of words has an established usage that’s understood by modern English speakers.
Idioms, however, lose their meaning when they are translated into another language, moved to a different culture, or transported to another time period. If I translate “It’s raining cats and dogs” into Russian, the phrase will lose its meaning. You would have to use a different group of words that carries the same meaning in Russian. It’s also possible that in 2,000 years (assuming the English language remains), the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs” will no longer be understood to mean it’s raining hard.
That’s why it’s important to remember the Bible was not written in English, in our culture, or in a remotely similar time period. Biblical languages have their own figures of speech, and, most relevant to my point, idioms don’t time travel. Words used to create idioms back in the first century don’t mean the same thing today and vice versa. Sometimes, though, a reader today will see a group of words in Scripture and interpret them through the lens of modern English when the biblical author neither used English words nor meant to communicate the idiom they have in mind.
By Scott Clark — 7 months ago
We are all Romans 7:25 Christians. There is no other kind of Christian. Any Christian who pretends to have reached perfection (complete sanctification) in this life is deluded and has redefined sin out of existence. Discouragement about one’s sanctification is a tool of the Evil One, who wants us to give up but we should not give up the struggle of the new life because it is only those who have new life who struggle. It is only believers who cry out to God as Paul does in Romans 7 and it is only believers, free from condemnation, who are able to speak as Paul does in Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, consequently, on the one hand, I myself serve the law of God with my mind but, on the other, with the flesh I serve the law of sin.1
“Certain are the faithful about final victory and full liberation.”2 These were the opening words of Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) on this verse but we might suspect that were this verse not in holy Scripture that one would find oneself in trouble for even uttering v. 25b. Nevertheless, this is just how, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul spoke about his struggle with sin as a Christian and about his assurance of his right standing with God (justification) and salvation despite his ongoing struggle with sin. In short, this is Paul’s doctrine of simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinner).
The perfectionists (e.g., Wesleyans and the Nazarenes), however, cannot speak this way and neither can the legalists or moralists. For the latter group our “final salvation” (as they say) is always in doubt and for the former, the struggle with sin has ostensibly ended. In the history of the Christian church, one of the first and most influential perfectionists and moralists was Pelagius, a British monk who appeared Melchizedek-like in the late fourth century. He was attracted to moralistic preaching, i.e., preaching that featured a great deal of emphasis on law and our obligations as Christians and very little talk of grace or God’s free acceptance of sinners. He was also deeply offended by Augustine’s prayer in his Confessions to God, “Give what you command and command what you will.”3
Like all perfectionists and moralists, however, Pelagius knew a priori that Paul could not have been speaking about his Christian experience. He knew a priori that Paul must have created a persona for the purposes of Romans chapter 7.
Augustine Versus The Pelagians On Romans 7
The Augustinian and historic Reformed understanding of Romans 7, however, is that Paul was speaking about his struggle, as a Christian, with sin. Against the Pelagians Augustine wrote,
And it had once appeared to me also that the apostle was in this argument of his describing a man under the law. But afterwards I was constrained to give up the idea by those words where he says, “Now, then, it is no more I that do it.” For to this belongs what he says subsequently also: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” And because I do not see how a man under the law should say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man;” since this very delight in good, by which, moreover, he does not consent to evil, not from fear of penalty, but from love of righteousness (for this is meant by “delighting”), can only be attributed to grace.4
Calvin took the same approach. In his commentary on Romans 7:25 he wrote,
“So I myself, &c.” A short epilogue, in which he teaches us, that the faithful never reach the goal of righteousness as long as they dwell in the flesh, but that they are running their course, until they put off the body. He again gives the name of mind, not to the rational part of the soul which philosophers extol, but to that which is illuminated by the Spirit of God, so that it understands and wills aright: for there is a mention made not of the understanding alone, but connected with it is the earnest desire of the heart. However, by the exception he makes, he confesses, that he was devoted to God in such a manner, that while creeping on the earth he was defiled with many corruptions. This is a suitable passage to disprove the most pernicious dogma of the Purists, (Catharorum,) which some turbulent spirits attempt to revive at the present day.5
In a footnote to the older translation of Calvin here, the editor reports that Theodore Beza wrote on this verse, “[t]his was suitable to what follows, by which one man seems to have been divided into two.” By the flesh, wrote Pareus, “is not meant physically the muscular substance, but theologically the depravity of nature,—not sensuality alone, but the unregenerated reason, will, and affections.” Pareus was reflecting the older Reformed way of using the term “regeneration,” meaning sanctified. E.g., Olevianus wrote that, even after we have been given new life by the Spirit, we are still only “partly regenerated,” i.e., partly sanctified.
The Structure Of Romans
In order to overcome the Pelagian presumption, which is surprisingly widespread in Presbyterian and Reformed circles, we need to understand the structure of Romans and where Romans chapter 7 falls in Paul’s argument and why it does.
Like the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Romans is in three parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. We may consider Romans 1:1–17 the prologue to the epistle. The guilt section runs from 1:18–3:20. Here Paul is preaching the law in its first use to convict the world of sin and its need for a Savior. Failure to understand how Paul has structured Romans and what this entire section is has led to serious confusion and misunderstanding about e.g., Romans 2:13, where, contra one popular modern misinterpretation, Paul was not offering eternal life to Christians, under a sort of legalized covenant of grace (were such a thing possible), who cooperate sufficiently with grace. He was re-stating the covenant of works: do this and live (Gen 2:17; Lev 18:5; Luke 10:28).
By David Huffstutler — 2 months ago
God puts us through suffering as we encounter various trials from time to time. When He does, we must be patient to let Him accomplish whatever His purposes may be, whether we know these purposes in time, in full, or neither. As we are patient, God will show compassion, mercy, and blessing—in this life, perhaps, and certainly forever in time to come. May God help us to persevere like Joseph whenever suffering comes our way.
After repeatedly commanding his readers to be patient in suffering (Jas 5:8–9), James points to the prophets and Job as examples for us today: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:10–11).
Joseph received and interpreted dreams from God, marking him as a prophet. So, surveying his life in Genesis 37–50, let’s consider his suffering and patience, being steadfast in the Lord’s purpose, and experiencing the Lord’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in time.
Suffering and Patience
When Joseph was “seventeen years old” (Gen 37:2), he was taken captive by his brothers and sold to some Midianites who sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, in Egypt as a slave (Gen 37:24, 28, 36). This suffering began thirteen years of hardship and affliction that would end at age thirty when Pharaoh appointed him over the land (cf. Gen 41:46).
“After a time” in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph (Gen 39:7). When he ran from her advances, she falsely accused him of the same, unfairly landing him in prison (Gen 39:17–20). Nonetheless, as the Lord had blessed him with favor in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6), the Lord gave him favor in the prison as well (Gen 39:21–23).
“Some time after this,” Joseph interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:1; cf. 40:5–22).