Pauline Sentences – Ephesians 3:14-19

This, believe it or not, is one sentence in the original language – a state of affairs that would not be tolerated in any English class.  Then again, Paul did not take English!

Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV
    For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Seminary we were taught to outline sentences (similar again to English class) to help see the flow and structure of a passage.  This particular passage seems to defy such analysis.  One NT scholar finds two main points (fullness and knowledge) but then footnotes that to say, “This is my personal analysis of a difficult passage.”   

We think that analysis is good, so far as it goes, but sometimes a passage, such as this one is not subject to analysis (remember I am talking the Greek, not the various English translations.)  It is a bit like the scene at the start of the movie, “The Dead Poets Society”, where Robin Williams reads a scholar who wanted to turn poetry into a graph.  He instructs the class to rip out the offending page, and then “feel” the poetry.

Our analysis would put the emphasis on the phrases “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” and “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (NIV)  On the other hand as a preacher, one could dip into this sentence and talk about any phrase.  It is so rich with meaning, that even the secondary phrases are worth study, for example “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”  (Greek “Father” is “pater” and “family” is “patria” – a word play lost in English).

Perhaps this is a passage to learn, repeat, pray and meditate upon with some freedom – as one would savor a poem.  Not only with “feeling” (sorry Robin Williams) but with an ear to Biblical themes.  (Does “dwell” suggest the tabernacle/temple where the Lord dwelt with his people?  How about “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in John 1.)

In the words of this passage, “to know the love…that surpasses knowledge.”  That is to say, not be be uninformed or ignorant of grammar and analysis, but to launch understanding from that pad into the outer space with its “breadth and length and height and depth….”


Prophet meets Sage

In our congregation’s reading schedule we have been in Isaiah.  Now Isaiah contains some of the most elevated language of the bible – not just well known passages such as chapters 44, 53 and 55 and to think of it 2, 7, 9 and 11 regarding the Messiah and peace and justice.  It is a diamond field of great passages such as this.

Isaiah 33:5-6 ESV
    The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
        he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
    [6] and he will be the stability of your times,
        abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
        the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

In the New International Version that last phrase is:  “the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”  So we have a good prophetic sounding affirmation of the majesty of God – a concern with his justice and righteousness – concepts that we tend to separate more than the biblical authors.  The last phrase is reminiscent of the prominent theme of wisdom literature – the Fear of the Lord.  This attitude of respectful awe and willingness to follow is seen in Wisdom Literature as an opening to Wisdom.  “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” is a well known statement from the opening chapter of Proverbs.

I have seen a few scholars suggest that the prophets and the sages (wisdom teachers) were in conflict – but this one suggests a harmony of purpose.

Hey, look what we found on Google images:


Isaiah 33:6



We are in a book group discussing O. T. Theology.  The author of the book, Bruce Waltke, says that the bible is a revealed, inspired text.  The text is open to all for reading and scholarly analysis, regardless of ones spiritual commitment.  However, the idea of revelation means that somehow God has “spoken” by the biblical text.  The idea of inspiration is that somehow the authors were brought to the place where they wrote the message God wished to make.  He says that these latter two categories indicate that a spiritual commitment is necessary for a full reading of the Scriptures as they were intended to be read.

So we are getting into the difference between scholarship and faith.

Also, Waltke speaks of the need for “illumination”.  That is the text is in some way dark or incomprehensible to me apart from a spiritual clarifying of the text.

Said one in the group  of a highly regarded biblical scholar.  “he fully understands the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), but he just does not believe it.”

So is the text open to all? Does the author need to help the reader get it?  Can one read it fully in only a scientific manner?

Good questions all.

Check out: Ephesians 3:14-18; I Corinthians 1,2; and the frequent expression “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  e.g.. Mark 4:9 and it’s context.


Scripture and Culture

We are part of a multi-lingual congregation.  In recent years we’ve had the experience of sharing a message or study on the same passage with different cultural groups.  It can be a challenge.  Here in Wisconsin, preachers are used to using football illustrations, for example.  That is lost on at least one of the groups here who come from Asia where American football is not big.  So we are constantly confronted with how much we are influenced in our thinking and reading by our culture. 

If that is a bad thing, too bad.  We can not escape culture.

It is  a good thing to find ways to listen through the eyes and ears of another culture.  One way is to simply read books from other eras, or books in translation from other cultures.  C. S. Lewis suggested that readers ought to alternate between historic or classic texts and contemporary ones. 

Another way is to be associated with people who are from another country, ethnicity and/or language.  Listen and observe.  Notice the differences and see what you can learn from them.

We have noticed our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters use the expression “for the love of Lord” much more frequently that we do.  (“…para el amo de dios..”).  We have noticed an attitude of quiet reverence with our Chinese speaking fellow believers – hmmm.  We have seen that our own kids, separated by 30 years of culture, TV, Internet, Face book, You Tube, i Pod, etc. are also of another culture.

The saying goes, that is why we have two ears and only one mouth.

We think culture is good, and the more you are open to listening to others, the better you are.  We will not be served well by the posture of the Ostrich, with our heads in the cultural sands.


Galatians and Faith

Here are a couple of startling verses for these times when we use the words “inclusion” and “diversity” so freely.

Galatians 1:1
    Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Galatians 1:11
    For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

    The NIV on 1:11 says, “…the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.”

So then we can understand these words in terms of history and theology.  The meaning of what Paul is saying is not hard to grasp.  He is referring to his conversion (recorded in Acts 9 and repeated on other plaes as well.)  Paul and Luke say that no teacher, preacher, mentor or evangelist introduced Paul to Jesus;  Jesus himself made his own introduction on the Road to Damascus.

It is a passage that calls for a decision from the reader.  This blog is about reading the bible for what it says, not for what you have heard others say that it says.  It seems as if you can disbelieve Paul – that somehow he made it up, or was confused.  Perhaps he took a dream, from his sub-conscious, and believed that it was a message from God.   Or you can believe Paul, that he did encounter Jesus, after the crucifixion, on that dusty road.

Sooner or later, as we read the biblical text, we have to decide if we can believe or not.  Is there a God, are there miracles, did the Red Sea part for the Israelites, did Jesus heal the sick and walk on water, and can God speak to us clearly and truthfully?

This is one of those passages where you, the reader, will inevitably make a decision.  Neutrality is itself a decision – for if Paul’s message is true, you do not gain anything from neutrality.

This is why faith is a central theme in the scriptures, both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.


This is a book that you love or hate.  Fresh Read happens to like dark coffee, dark chocolate, brown mustard, sour kraut and marzipan. (No, not not all at once.)  So of course we like this book as well.  It is not sweet.  It is a slap up side the head.  It says, “Death changes everything…it erases all that matters ‘under the sun’, so we better find out what does matter.”

Don’t try to outline it in a linear fashion.  Don’t obsess over seeming contradictions – a skilled author uses “contradictions” to get our attention.

Our favorite commentator is Jacques Ellul’s out of print Reason for Being, where he advocates a literary reading of the book, and sees not an outline so much as a tapestry of themes.  It is worth searching Powells, Amazon or your favorite source of used books to find this gem.

Our favorite short quote from the book:

Eccles. 2:24-26   ESV
    There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25] for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? [26] For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

    Wisdom, as a gift of the Creator, is Qoheleth’s (“the preacher”) other option for the Rat Race.

FR is a preacher bc of this book, and some other personal narrative for another time.