Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Christ, Lost in Translation

Christ is not Jesus' last name!  Palestinian Jews of the 1st Century did not have surnames.  Since you would most likely have shared your name with many others, you were distinguished by identifying your father: "James the son of Zebedee...James the son of Alphaeus" (Matthew 10.2-3, ESV), or, as in the case of "Jesus of Nazareth," by identifying where you were from (Luke 4.16, 34, ESV).

Christ is not a surname but a title.  That is why he is so frequently called "Christ Jesus" or can simply be referred to as "the Christ" (Romans 1.1; Mark 8.29, ESV).  Many Christians recognize the title "Christ" as equivalent to "Messiah."  That's true.  The label "Christ" is the New Testament Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew term "Messiah."  In fact, in some English Bibles the word "Messiah" appears instead of "Christ" in some New Testament passages (Mark 8.29, HCSB, NLT, NIV 2011).

The fact is, however, that neither "Messiah" nor "Christ" is an English translation.  Rather, both terms are examples of transliterations.  With the word "Messiah," the original Hebrew letters have been changed (transliterated) into the equivalent letters in the English language.  When you read or say "Messiah," you are in essence reading and speaking Hebrew.  With the word "Christ," the original Greek letters have been changed (transliterated) into the equivalent letters in the English language as well.  So again, when you read or say "Christ," you are in essence reading and speaking Greek.

The problem with transliterating words instead of translating words is that the reader may remain unaware of what the word he is reading actually means!  The process of translation involves learning the meaning of the word in its original language and then finding a word (or words, if necessary) that effectively conveys (or convey) the same meaning in one's own language.  "Christ" is an accurate translation of "Messiah" only if you speak Greek!  (See John 1.41, ESV.)  Neither "Messiah" nor "Christ" is an accurate or meaningful translation for an English speaker because neither word is intended to be an English translation but only a transliteration into English.

So what does "Messiah" mean?  What does "Christ"mean?  And what English word (or words) best captures (or capture) that meaning for the native speaker of English?  How should it be translated in our English Bibles?  Both "Messiah" and "Christ" denote anointing, being anointed, or the anointed one (Psalm 2.2, ESV).  According to the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, anoint means "1.  To apply oil or ointment to, esp., in a religious ceremony.  2.  To choose by or as if by divine intervention."

In the Hebrew Scriptures, anointing was practiced to initiate men into three separate offices.  Kings and priests were anointed with oil by their fellow Israelites according to God's instruction (Exodus 29.7, 21; 1 Samuel 10.1; 16.12, ESV).  Prophets were anointed with the Holy Spirit by God.  Kings could be prophets (like David or even Saul) and be anointed with oil and the Spirit (1 Samuel 10.9-13; 16.13, ESV).  Priests could also be prophets (like Ezekiel, although he never served in the Jerusalem temple) and also be anointed with oil and the Spirit (Ezekiel 1.3, ESV).  But kings could never be priests, nor could priest ever serve as kings (Numbers 18.7; 1 Samuel 13.8-14; 2 Chronicles 26.16-21, ESV).

Only One Person would ever hold all three offices.  Only One would ever be anointed as prophet, priest, and king simultaneously.  Only One would ever fulfill the meaning and significance of all three offices.  Only One would not only fulfill those three roles but "fill them full."  Only One would ever be anointed to fill all three roles perfectly.  Only One would be anointed to fill those three offices eternally and permanently.  He, of course, is Jesus the Anointed One!  The Anointed Jesus is our Prophet-Priest-King!  I do not say "prophet, priest, and king" because those offices are now made one in him and in him alone.  He was not anointed on three separate occasions to three separate offices.  He was anointed once for all!  (See Luke 3.21-22; 4.16-21; 9.28-36, ESV.)

This precious truth is what is at stake if we mistakenly go on thinking of "Christ" as Jesus' last name.  It does our Anointed Lord great disservice to perpetuate this misunderstanding by an inadequate and insufficient mere transliteration of his glorious title that speaks so highly of his incomparable Person and work!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Portable Paradise!

When God instructed Moses concerning the construction of the Tabernacle, what did He have in mind?  What was the purpose of this structure?  Why did it include the furnishings it did and the materials from which they were made?  Why was it set up and organized the way it was? 

Moses was commanded by God to build it "[e]xactly as I show you shall make it" (Ex 25.9).  The instructions are detailed and specific and take up several chapters of Exodus.  These chapters are quite a challenge to Bible readers.  The detailed instructions are followed up with precise accounts of how these instructions were carefully obeyed in the actual manufacturing process.  This arrangement of the literary material has the effect of bringing the exciting, dramatic events of the plagues on Egypt, the Exodus of Israel, and Israel's meeting with God at Mt. Sinai to a standstill.  Only the golden calf incident breaks up this lengthy record about the Tabernacle (Ex 32-34).

It obviously is included for a reason.  What is the point that's being made?  What is the significance of this account of the Tabernacle?  Instead of jumping into a detailed study of the minutia, let's focus on the Big Picture.  Let's get a view of the forest before we start fixating on each individual tree.

Much about the Tabernacle is familiar.  We've seen it before.  There's gold (and plenty of it).  The breastpiece of the High Priest is covered with precious stones.  Water is present in the laver of cleansing.  The seven-branched candlestick (menorah) is shaped and carved to resemble a tree.  All the priests wear special garments (tunics).  Cherubim are embroidered on the curtain separating the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies that contains the ark of the covenant) from the Holy Place (with the menorah, the table of the bread of the Presence, and the altar of incense).

The Tabernacle reminds us of the garden of Eden!  It's a picture of Paradise.  The Tabernacle is a portable Paradise!  Read again the opening chapters of Genesis and you'll discover the elements that make up the Tabernacle were originally present in Eden.

The menorah reminds us of the trees in the garden, esp. the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The water in the laver reflects the river that flowed out of Eden to water the garden.  Like the High Priest's breastpiece, there were precious stones in Eden.  And we are told that "the gold of that land is good" (Gen 2.12).  After the Fall God killed and skinned an animal (a priestly activity) to clothe Adam and Eve in garments ("tunics," the word used to describe the priestly garments).  Like the cherubim embroidered on the curtain of the Most Holy Place to warn people to keep out, God placed cherubim "to guard the way to the tree of life" after Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden for their sin (Gen 3.24).

While we know the Levites were to serve as priests in Israel, we are also told that the nation as a whole was to fulfill a priestly role to the surrounding nations.  God's covenant with Israel included His call that they be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19.6).  Even this vocation seems to find its origin in the Genesis account of the creation of man.

The ESV translation of Genesis 2.15 is typical of most translations: "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."  The translation leads us to believe that God put man in the garden to take care of it.  God created Adam to be a gardener or groundskeeper.  That task hardly seems in keeping with being the only creature of all God's creation made in His image and likeness and given dominion over the rest of creation!  However, the pronoun "it" does not match the gender of the Hebrew for garden in the original; "garden" is not the antecedent to the pronoun "it."  Also, the words translated "work" and "keep" are understood in the covenantal context between man and God as "serve, minister, worship" and "heed, obey."  Adam's original calling was to serve as priest in God's creation.

Clearly, then, God intentionally sets forth in His Word this Tabernacle-Paradise connection.  In it the point is made that God is moving forward with redemptive history.  The Paradise that Adam lost by virtue of his sin and rebellion against God, God Himself is actively pursuing to restore.  God is moving history toward His intended goal of renewal, recreation, redemption, and restoration. 

It is equally obvious that the Tabernacle, the Law, the Mosaic covenant, the OT priesthood and sacrificial system is not that goal.  This set-up is not the last word, is not the solution.  Paradise may be pictured here, but it is not achieved by these means.  It is anticipated.  It is pre-figured, promised, and prophesied, but not accomplished.  Sacrifice is made for sin over and over and over again.  Day after day.  Year after year.  Generation after generation.  And still the way into the Most Holy Place is barred.  Ever notice how many barriers exist in the Tabernacle?  The vast majority of Israelites never even saw the furnishings of the Tabernacle.  They were covered in transit and hidden behind curtains when set up.

All this remained in place until "the fullness of time had come" (Gal 4.4).  Christ is the fulfillment of the Tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrificial system, the Mosaic covenant, the Law.  Read the book of Hebrews especially.  Christ is our great High Priest.  When He makes purification for sins, He sits down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1.3b, note: there were no chairs in the Tabernacle/Temple!)  Christ Himself is the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1.29).  He is the Priest who presents Himself as the sacrifice for sins, and not for His own sins but for the sins of the world! (1 Jn 2.2).  The offering for sin He makes, and the death that He dies as the sinners' substitute, is once for all!  This High Priest alone can cry from the cross, the place of His atoning work, "It is finished!" (Jn. 19.30).  The Lord Jesus Christ brings humanity's exile to an end.  Not only is the veil in the Temple torn in two from top to bottom, but He tells the repentant thief on the cross next to Him, "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise!" (Mt 27.51; Lk 23.43).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

VIVA VOX: The Word of God and the God of the Word

Why so much emphasis on the Bible?  We read it, study it, memorize it, and meditate upon it.  We gather to hear it preached to us and to have it taught to us because the the Bible is the Word of God.  In the Bible God speaks to us.   Francis Schaeffer captured this precious truth in the title of one of his books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  A. W. Tozer emphasized this aspect of the Bible by referring to it as the Voice of God.  Psalms 29 and 95 use precisely that terminology (Qol Yahweh):

The voice of the LORD is over the waters...The voice of the LORD is powerful, The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars...The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.  The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness...The voice of the LORD makes the [oaks to shake]and strips the forests bare....
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.  Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...  (ESV).

The Bible is the Word of God.  He is both its source and its goal.  The Bible is not an end in itself.  We open its pages in anticipation of meeting with and hearing from God.  We are brought nearer to Him and given a better understanding of Him through the Bible.  A day is coming when the Bible will have served its purpose.  Our faith will be made sight when we are in His presence.  In the hands of the Holy Spirit, the written Word (the Bible) creates faith in the living Word (the Lord Jesus).

The Bible is the Word of God that reveals to us the God of the Word.  The Bible is revelation from God of God.  It reveals other things, too, of course (ourselves, our sin, our salvation, His creation, etc.), but even these other things are shown in their relationship to Him.  Nothing makes sense or is truly understood outside of its relationship to God.  That's why the Bible states plainly that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Prov 1.7; 9.10).

Because the Bible is the Word of God that reveals to us the God of the Word, it should come as no surprise that the Word of God is God-centered.  This characteristic of the Bible is seen in its origination, its culmination, its illumination, and its demonstration.

The God-centeredness of the Bible is displayed first in its origination with God the Father.  He is the ultimate source, origin, and author of the Bible.  This is the testimony of the Bible itself in 2 Timothy 3.16 where we are told that all Scripture is literally God-breathed.

The centrality of God to His Word is displayed secondly in its culmination in God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Again, the written Word points us to the living Word.  He is the fullest and final revelation of God to man since He is the perfect God-man.  Hebrews 1.1-2 describes this process of progressive revelation culminating in Christ:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...  (ESV).

Thirdly, the illumination by God the Holy Spirit provides a God-centered focus to His Word.  We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide us in our understanding of the Bible and to empower us in our obedience to the Bible.  Without the Spirit's work of illumination, we are left with our own fallen opinions.  Jesus promised better for His disciples in John 16.13 and Paul repeats it in 1 Corinthians 2.12:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth....

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God  (ESV).

The God-centeredness of the Word is seen fourthly in its demonstration through the Church.  The filling of the Spirit and the word of Christ dwelling richly in His saints produce the same God-glorifying effects (cp. Eph 5.18ff with Col 3.16ff).

The Word of God is living and active, piercing and judging (Heb 4.12).  The nature of the Word of God is determined by the nature of the God of the Word.  Because He is the one before whom "all are naked and exposed," the Bible is equally searching (v. 13).

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to conform the people of God to the image of the Son of God all to the glory of God!