James Loewen (2007) has written an interesting book on American history, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. As the title intimates, this is a book about the errors and omissions of our history textbooks.
One observation Loewen makes about our curriculum strikes me in particular.
Loewen complains American history textbooks tend to make our ancestors look like heroes by ignoring sordid details. He suggests:
A certain etiquette coerces us all into speaking in respectful tones about the past, especially when we’re passing on Our Heritage to our young. (Loewen, 2007, p. 28)
This claim is reasonable and well founded. Blatant, hyperbolic hagiography litters the landscape of recorded history. Kings look like gods. Monks become saints, and so forth. That our textbooks should share in such self-serving representation is unsurprising.
So how does Loewen’s observation relate to the Bible? Well, the Bible doesn’t tend to do that. It can actually be quite unflattering in its descriptions of the heroes of our faith, and that suggests it is telling the truth. After all, why lie about stuff like that?
For example, the Gospel writers include Peter’s denial of Christ. Remember that Peter would be a major figure in the New Testament church and in all of church history. If there is any character you would want to clean up through redaction, if there is any episode you may want to omit, it is Peter and his embarrassing denial. But there it is, as plain as day, for 2000 years of church history.
Little details like this may not answer every doubt, but they do suggest a high level of authenticity.
Can you think of some other unflattering Bible stories that suggest authenticity?
Loewen, J. W. (2007). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (Revised edition). New York: Touchstone.
This post is overdue. I’ve been meaning to write it. I just haven’t.
Honestly, it’s a strange topic. But here we go…
I have changed my understanding of Genesis six and the question of angels having sexual relations with humans.
What I Thought
The passage in question reads this way:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4 ESV)
In a previous post, which, interestingly enough, has become the most viewed post of all-time at Hobo Theology (probably in part because of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah movie), I said:
The details from the text are so scant that it seems excessive to read into this brief allusion a story of demonic, half-breed angel children. This interpretation would also introduce all kinds of theological complications with regards to materiality/immateriality of angels and the fate of these offspring. As renowned Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch point out, “the expression ‘sons of God’ cannot be elucidated by philological means, but must be interpreted by theology alone.5 In other words, there’s more to consider here than just vocabulary and grammar. We must consider if our interpretation is in keeping with the theology of the whole Bible.6
So who were the Nephilim? It seems most likely the Nephilim were not giants or superhumanish angel offspring. They were simply a mighty warrior clan.
But there was a problem with my reading of the text. I was reading it independent of Jude.
What I Now Think
Nearly a year later, I found myself preparing to teach Jude for a college retreat. As I immersed myself in Jude, I became convinced my previous interpretation of Genesis six could not be right. This is a great example of “Me versus the Bible.” Sometimes I want the Bible to say something else, but I can’t with intellectual integrity get it to bend. As much as I’d prefer a neater, less weird explanation, I can’t get there, not reading Jude at least.
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:6-7 ESV)
So several details became apparent in looking at Jude. Thomas Schreiner in his commentary of Jude provides an excellent summary of these points (my formatting):
We can be almost certain that Jude referred here to the sin of the angels in Gen 6:1-4. The sin the angels committed, according to the Jewish tradition, was sexual intercourse with the daughters of men. Apparently Jude also understood Gen 6:1-4 in the same way. Three reasons support such a conclusion. First, Jewish tradition consistently understood Gen 6:1-4 in this way (1 En. 6-19; 21; 86-88; 106:13-17; Jub 4:15, 22; 5:1; CD 2:17-19; 1QapGen 2:1; T. Reu. 5:6-7; T. Naph. 3:5; 2 Bar. 56:10-14; cf. Josephus, Ant. 1.73). Second, we know from vv. 14-15 that Jude was influenced by 1 Enoch, and 1 Enoch goes into great detail about the sin and punishment of these angels. Jude almost certainly would need to explain that he departed form the customary Jewish view of Gen 6:1-4 if he disagreed with Jewish tradition. The brevity of the verse supports the idea that he concurred with Jewish tradition. Third, the text forges a parallel between the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the angels (“In a similar way,” v. 7; hos and ton homoion tropon toutois). The implication is that sexual sin was prominent in both instances. ((Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 447-448.))
I wish I could quote the full discussion that follows in his commentary. Some great stuff in there. He even mentions the origins of the now-famous “Watchers” in Jewish literature. But you’ll have to buy his book. Anyway, the short of the discussion is simply that there’s no way Jude didn’t think angels had sexual relations with humans.
A couple quick side notes. This explains in part why antediluvian earth was so exceedingly wicked and worthy of total destruction. As for the reference to the Nephilim in Numbers 13, it is likely this is a hyperbolic comparison. The Israelites compare themselves to grasshoppers and the Canaanites to giants (Nephilim). And for those who wonder if this kind of unnatural union could still occur, the answer is most certainly no. Remember, Jude said these offenders were locked up until the day of judgment.
Who are the Nephilim? I don’t know. Maybe they are the product of the unnatural union between angels and humans. Or maybe they were just mighty warriors as MacArthur supposes (which would explain Numbers 13 in a different way). But regardless, Jude clearly affirms that at one point in human history angels had sexual relations with women. Does this seem a little farfetched? Yes. But this is what the Bible teaches, and “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
I love it when someone rethinks an old convention. Adam Lewis Greene has done that with his new printing of the Bible. The project is called Bibliotheca. And the goal is to produce a Bible that is physically and typographically elegant and beautiful and therefore more enjoyable to read.
Check out his pitch video. You will quickly get sucked into the vision for the project.
The mashup of scriptures in my Daily Light reading seemed perfect for the big and busy day ahead. I thought you may need and appreciate it too. Here it is:
Be strong and courageous
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? – He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
If God is for us, who can be against us? – The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? – Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us. – We are more than conquerers through him who loved us.
How do we grow in love? Have you ever thought about this difficult question? In some ways, it’s quite easy to fall in love. In other ways, it’s out of your hands. I remember falling in love with Jess. It was natural and unsought. It just happened. Other people were around, but I fell in love with her. And without much deliberation! So how do we grow in love when it’s somewhat out of our control? Of course you could say love is a choice. You choose to love more. That’s kind of true, but it’s kind of a cop-out too. For love must involve your affections too. Anyone who has given flowers to his wife knows you cannot do it out of just obligation and choice. You must not only choose to love but actually love from the heart too. So how do we love from the heart? We are commanded to love God and love people. That’s the essence of the Christian life, but how? How do we grow in love for God? How do we grow in love for people?
Paul was facing similar questions with the believers in Crete.
They had discovered the gospel and a church had been planted. Love had abounded. Lives were changed. But now things were slowing down. Affections were waning. Sin was creeping in. False teachers were creeping in. Distraction and idle chat were creeping in. How could Paul turn the ship around? How could he stir their affections? How could he get them going in the right direction again? As we’ve looked at Titus 1 and 2, we’ve seen some of how Paul has tried to push and prod these believers. He’s called for the appointment of godly leaders. He’s condemned the false teachers. He’s called for godly living.
But as we come to the close of the final chapter, he only has time to make one last plea, one last push. And the question is: What will he say? How will he stir their affections? How will he spark them on to greater love for God and others? How will he get the engine going again? Let’s listen in.
Titus 3:3 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
Paul begins by reminding them of their story.
This is a hard place to start. For they were a mess in every way. They weren’t free. They were haters and hated. But it’s a necessary place to start because it is the backdrop of the gospel. The beauty of a sunrise comes from the light splitting the darkness. So also the gospel shines brightest as it splits the darkness of sin.
Against the backdrop of sin, Paul brings forth the beauty of the gospel.
[Titus 3:4-7] “4 But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This is the gospel and it is glorious. Notice it’s many facets.
It is a love anchored deeply in God. “But” highlights the distinction of all we did before (v. 3). “Loving kindness” literally means “love of mankind” (φιλανθρωπία). “Not because of works done by us in righteousness” (v. 5) shows our further inadequacy. “According to his own mercy” (v. 5) anchors his motivation within his character. “Being justified by his grace” (v. 7) reveals the gift nature of salvation.
It is a love poured out completely (Triune). God the Father initiates: “He [God] saved us” (v. 5). God the Son agrees with and volunteers to follow the will of his Father, even to the point of death on the cross: “Through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v. 6). Father and Son then send the Holy Spirit to apply salvation: “[The Holy Spirit] Whom he poured out on us richly” (v. 6).
It is a transforming love. We are resurrected from spiritual death: “By the washing of regeneration…of the Holy Spirit.” We are given new life: “By…the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” We are made heirs: “That…we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Now, why on earth would Paul review the Gospel?
These people don’t need the gospel. They’re believers. Why the review? These people don’t need the gospel. They just need to get their act together. Imagine if false teachers crept in West Park and started creating divisions. In response, I sat everyone down and said, “Now remember, God loves you.” You would wonder what that had to do with anything.
So why does Paul do it?
First, the Gospel points to the only means of true change, God himself.
The Gospel is not just a headset shift. It’s a real life transformation. It is news about what God has done and will do for you through Jesus Christ. Because of the Gospel, we are in fact…
Justified: “Being justified by his grace” (v. 7)
Regenerated: “By the washing of regeneration…of the Holy Spirit” v. 5
Renewed: “By…the renewal of the Holy Spirit” v. 5
Heirs: “That…we might become heirs”
Only the Gospel can do this. That may sound exclusive, but only 911 provides rescue. And only the Gospel saves. That’s just the way it is. So all hope of rescue and change and revival and renewal must always start with the gospel. Not programs. Not self-help. Not systems. Not republican or democrat. No set of principles or ethics. Only the Gospel can bring true change.
But still. Why does he go back to the gospel? Presumably, they had all already experienced that change the Gospel brings. Why go back to it?
But before we can answer that question, we need to read the first part of verse 8 and answer another question, one of interpretation.
[Titus 3:8a] “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things…”
Insist on these things (v. 8a)
Paul says to “insist” on these things, and “insist” is a heavy word. “Insist” is a fine translation, but we should note it takes the heavier side of the English word. It is not the “No, I insist” of etiquette. It is closer to “demand.” (Cf. “speak confidently” NASB; “stress” NIV; “insist emphatically”). Now, the big question is: What are “these things”? I spent about an hour working on this, but it’s a pretty big deal. The short answer is “these things” refers to the Gospel reminder found in vv. 4-7 (Click here for the long answer). That’s a big deal because we now have Paul reviewing the Gospel and then telling Titus to emphatically insist on these things. So our tension just grew worse. So again, why on earth all this fuss?
The answer comes in the second part of verse 8.
Titus 3:8 “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
Insisting on the Gospel actually becomes the method of true change.
Did you see it? Not only does insisting on the Gospel connect us with the means of true change (God), the actual insisting on the Gospel compels us to good works. The two are linked. “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (v. 8). The gospel is both a moment of rescue and a mantra of renewal. A proper understanding of the gospel compels us to a new life, new affections.
Imagine yourself a prisoner of war sitting in a jail cell, chained to the wall. An American soldier comes busting in, declaring victory, the war is over. He opens your cell. He unlocks your chains and heads off to help others. You’re left sitting their in disbelief. You don’t move. The chains still dangle around your ankles. You stare at the open door. At that moment, do you need a book on 5 steps to leaving jail cells? Do you need every last detail of what’s next to move forward? No. You just need the news again. There’s victory! You’re free. Now go live in this new reality!
Or, we might say with the gospel the way forward is the way back. I know this may sound a little kooky, but we recognize this phenomenon in other areas of training. In chess you go forward in complexity. There’s always something more to learn. But in other sports, like tennis, you go back to the basics to go forward. Perfection is already there. It’s just a matter of aligning ourselves to it. So going forward means constantly going back.
So the gospel is the EVENT, the ENGINE, and the END of our salvation journey. Thus Paul can say, “These things are excellent and profitable for people.” That is, they are excellent in themselves. And they have an effect in our everyday lives.
Now we have the answer to our earlier question! How do we grow in our love? How do we become better Christians? How do we grow in our love for God and people?
Love grows in response to loveliness.
How does true love grow? It grows by beholding greater loveliness (J.D. Greear). When I met my wife and fell in love, I was responding to her loveliness. And my love grew as I got to know her more. In the same way, our love for God will grow as we come to a greater understanding of his loveliness in the Gospel.
This is all over the new testament. How could you sell everything and buy a field? By glimpsing a treasure in it? How could you forgive some of their sin? By glimpsing God’s forgiveness of you? Paul always starts with the gospel indicatives and then moves to gospel imperatives. It’s the rhythm of every letter. I think of it most clearly in Philippians 2 where Paul writes, “ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” For this reason, we must insist on the Gospel.
Of course, the opposite is true too, and that’s how Paul ends this section.
[Titus 3:9-11] “9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
If insisting on the Gospel transforms lives, then not insisting on the Gospel doesn’t.
“Foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” It’s not necessarily heresy here. Could be, but not necessarily. This is not as strong a rebuke as the Galatians receive, where Paul refers to the teaching as “another gospel.” But the effect is the same in the end. It corrupts the hearers. It’s a bad investment: “they are unprofitable and worthless” (v. 9). It’s the very opposite of sound doctrine that is “excellent and profitable” (v. 8). It also corrupts the teachers: “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (v. 11). If the false teacher persist in their teaching, we should avoid them: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” (v. 10).
That may sound controversial but it’s common sense. What do you do when someone comes to work with a fever? You get mad! And rightfully so. You know that knowing and avoiding their sickness is will not necessarily prevent you from getting sick. That’s how sickness works. It just takes a germ or two and you’re off to the races. Sick doctrine is the same. Just a few sick seeds and you’re way off down the road.
So then, Paul’s point is crystal clear. We must insist on the Gospel because the Gospel is both the rescue and rhythm of salvation.
We must insist on the Gospel for our church.
Don’t tolerate the five steps mumbo-jumbo. There is a tendency in the modern, American church to teach steps. Now steps aren’t necessarily bad, but we often lose the gospel in the process. Don’t go there! Sometimes we also a see churches highlight minors. We will leave a church over worship style, scheduling, end times prophecy, etc. Find a church that talks more about the gospel than anything else.
We must insist on the Gospel for our world.
We’re in the middle of a cultural revolution right now, but is the answer more laws? No. Insist on sound doctrine. Insist on the gospel. We know this gospel of grace is the antidote of legalism in the church, but it is also the antidote to licentiousness in our culture (and church). Yes, we can take practical steps to promote an ethical culture, but our ultimate and primary hope for true transformation should be in the Gospel.
We must insist on the Gospel for ourselves.
Preach the gospel to yourself. Not self-helf. Not distraction. Take everything and run it through the gospel. Gaze on God’s loveliness in the Gospel. Insist on the gospel when you’re tired, insecure, scared, arrogant, dry, prayerless, and watch it compel you to good works, to love for God and love for others.