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15 Articles

Where a Vain Youth Presumes to Say Something About Marriage

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

In marriage, the reality will always exceed our expectations of what a person should be to oneself if we keep our eyes on the cross of Jesus. Expectations always limit. Before there is any expectation the possibilities are endless. But as soon as we define a certain desire in our heart concerning another person, we have placed a limit.

The shortcomings and sin of another person is frustrating, saddening, even angering. But God has so willed that those who are in Christ Jesus have put on redemption. That is, sin is paid for and it was paid for by death. So those who put on Christ, now experience all suffering and sin as part of the cross of Christ, where all sin and death was experienced, consumed, and overcome by his resurrection.

So then, when God places another person in my life, he does so for my good. I accept that person as a divine appointment to my very soul, a true soul-mate. When I have any sort of relationship with another person, then I recognize that God is sharpening me and working toward my holiness through that person. But when God puts a person in my life for marriage, then he is saying that this particular person is meant to be part of me, along with that person’s sins and pains. If I do not have Christ, then my perspective is to bear along with the sin, and hope to survive, perhaps “become stronger” through it. But in Christ, when his name has been placed on us, I know that whatever sin and trial this relationship brings, it was already born on the cross. So now when I experience anything, be it joyful, sad, frustrating, exhilarating, or angering, they are ways in which I come to know Christ himself

Acts 22:16

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

When approaching this passage from Acts, there are two questions that we need to ask by way of understanding the grammatical structure: 1, what is the central idea of the verse, and 2, what is implied about this central idea?

For context, we will note that Saul has just been struck blind by God, heard Jesus’ voice, and been sent a Christian man named Ananias to explain why this has happened to him. Previous to being struck blind Saul was a hater and persecutor of Christians, now he is completely incapacitated.

In the first place we may note that the structure of the verse is chiastic. It is arranged as follows:

The verbs are put in bold to underscore the chiastic form: participle, imperative, imperative, participle.

The purpose of a chiasm in ancient thought is to place the main idea or point to be made at the center of the construction. In Western thought we often emphasize a point by placing it at the beginning of an argument (deductive method) or at the end of the argument as the natural conclusion of the stated arguments (inductive method). The ancient world employed these methods as well, however they had a third method of ordering thought and this was the chiasm. In this method central ideas are place almost geometrically in the center of the argument, making them the “center of gravity” if you will. The chiasm then naturally draws attention to this central point.

This Acts 22:16 Ananias’ instruction to Saul is stated chiastically, so our attention should be drawn to the center of the structure. The center of this chiasm is the compound imperative:

Our attention is now drawn to the conjunction και. This construction is fairly common in scripture; two imperatives are linked by και form a single idea. This is in contrast to English grammar where the conjunction “and” could be substituted with a comma. The και is taking two ideas and making them into one. This is seen elsewhere in scripture. In John 1:46 Nathanael asks Philip “can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip replies “Come and see.” In Greek these are two imperatives linked by a kai to form a single idea of coming “for the purpose of seeing.”

There are a wealth of examples in the NT of an imperative being linked to a future indicative by και. Grammarian Daniel Wallace makes the case that these constructions all carry the implication of a conditional statement (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 1996, p.490). One example would be Matthew 7:7 where Jesus says aiteite kai doyhsetai umin (“ask and it will be given to you”). The implication is that “if you ask then you will receive.” Wallace points out that this holds true with imperative + και + future indicative, but not necessarily imperative + και + imperative constructions. This means that we should not necessarily translate the imperatives in Acts 22:16 as “if you are baptized then you will wash away your sins.” Although the possibility remains open for the Greek to be used in this way, it cannot be argued with certainty.

The purpose of the above paragraph is to point to the fact that in Greek και is not used simply as a comma that builds one idea upon another in a linear fashion. If we make the mistake of associating the use of και with our use of “and” then we may think that the commands of Acts 22:16 is a composition of two ideas, each with their proper imperative accompanied by a participle, translated something like the following:

“Having arisen, be baptized, and (or *pause*) calling on God’s name, wash away your sins.”

But this rendition of the text fails to appreciate two things that we have demonstrated above:

  1. The chiastic structure indicates that the participles are both ancillary to, and explanatory of, the central compound command by virtue of their placement at the beginning and end of the structure.
  2. The two imperatives are indeed a compound idea, as reinforced by the και conjunction between them following NT Greek precedent, and also by the synonymous definition of the two verbs (baptizw means “to wash”).

Therefore a ‘conceptual’ translation of this text is as follows:

“What now remains for you? Having gotten up, and while calling on His name, Be baptized/wash away your sins.”

(It may also be noted that the form απολουσαι could be an aorist infinitive, in which case the translation of the command would be: “Having gotten up, be baptized even to wash away your sins, calling on his name.” But we will not press the point.)

This understanding of baptism being linked to the washing of sins is theologically consistent with the context and flow of the narrative. It is demonstrated that Saul is incapable of pleasing God as he is bound and determined to persecute God’s Son Jesus. He must be knocked off his horse, struck blind, led to wherever he must god, be told by Ananias what happened and why, be told what lies before him for the rest of his life, he must be healed, be washed and be made into what God wants him to be. It is therefore consistent that the washing of his sins does not follow is own calling upon God’s name, but of the washing which God himself does through the hand of Ananias as he invokes the Trinitarian formula in baptism. The ‘getting up’ and the ‘calling on God’s name’ (stated in the participles) are the two actions which Saul himself does, and so they are appropriately place on the chiastic periphery of the central command which is actually a command to submit to God’s own washing in baptism. Lest Saul get the impression that his righteousness comes from his own efforts and ability to call upon God, God has humbled him to the utmost and unilaterally delivered to him the gift of salvation in baptism

Jettisoning Modernity

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

“The Church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery of emotional satisfaction. The church is the site where God renews and transforms us–a place where the practices of being the body of Christ form us into the image of the Son. What I, a sinner saved by grace, need is not so much answers as reformation of my will and hear. What I describe as the practices of the church include the traditional sacramental practices of baptism and Eucharist but also the practices of Christian marriage and child-rearing, even the simple but radical practices of friendship and being called to get along with those one doesn’t like! The church, for instance, is a place to learn patience by practice. The fruit of the Spirit emerges in our lives from the seeds planted by the practices of begin the church; and when the church begins to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, it becomes the witness to a postmodern world(John 17). Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence. but the church will have this countercultural, prophetic witness only when it jettisons its own modernity; in that respect postmodernism can be another catalyst for the church to be the church.”

— James K.A. Smith

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernity?

The Pure in Heart

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God

“How does one obtain a pure heart?

“By believing in Jesus Christ and so that your sins may be washed away by his blood.

“Why is it that such people will see God?”

“Because Jesus is the one who brings us to God.”

“What does it mean to ‘see God’?”

“There are two promises in this statement, which are actually one promise with two fulfillments. The first promise is that those who are pure in heart, that is, those who have been washed with Jesus’ blood, will be with him forever. This is God’s plan for the fullness of time, to present everyone blameless before God to dwell with him forever.

The second promise is really the same one, but is fulfilled even right now. There is so much evil in the world, and our own minds are so shaped by the sinful desires of the flesh, that we are prone to regard everything with selfishness. But when we belong to Jesus we know that everything belongs to him, and so everything belongs to us through him. So we learn how everything is to be used by looking at how Jesus uses it and how he teaches us to us it.”

“So what does that have to do with seeing God?”

“Well we have physical eyes, and God is spirit. So we see God by getting spiritual eyes. That’s what it means to be pure in heart. To see the things of this world with spiritual eyes. When we do that we see God and enjoy him in his creation.”

“For example?”

“Well, take anything that people are bound to abuse. That thing is intended for a good purpose, but it is missused. The easiest way for a person to become impure is to think selfishly. One of the easiest sins to commit is sexual sin. People think that chastity is a hard rule. But in fact sexuality is one of the greatest gifts from God for our enjoyment. But like everything, it has to be in is rightful place to be good and useful and thoroughly beautiful. God explains in scripture that the image of marriage and sexuality are a picture of god’s love for his church, giving himself to her that she might produce the fruit of life in this world. So sexuality is an awesome gift to marriage as a way for people to see God through their own bodies, to see him as a God of love and pleasureable communion. So in this way if someone is pure in heart, then they have spiritual eyes to see God in sex. But impure eyes would see it as a means only for physical pleasure; this would be selfish eyes that are of the flesh and they would not see God.”

“So really the promise ‘blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’ is a promise both for this life and the next!”

“Yes, and this applies to every area of life. If we find that there is a law that is burdensome to us, or a rule or moral that we would prefer not to have, then we are not seeing with spiritual eyes. But if we are pure in heart, we see that all of life is a way to see God through our relationship to Jesus Christ and his creation. This is what it means to say that the law is fulfilled in Christ, or that Jesus has “done it all”. This doesn’t mean we stop doing good, on the contrary! It means we get his heart, his pure heart, to love seeing God in everything we do.”

Thoughts on Cloning

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Cloning is a complicated ethical issue because it involves the possibility of huge advances in medical illness treatment, while raising many questions about the personhood of an embryo-questions which are very familiar to an America steeped in the abortion debate.

Some would argue that it is unnatural for scientists to “play God” and create a human embryo in a laboratory by means other than the unification of a sperm and an egg. I am unconvinced by this argument. Although I understand that it seems somewhat unnatural, as a Christian I understand that God is sovereign over all the occurrences on earth. That humans discover how to mimic what God performs in nature already (i.e., identical twins) does not mean that we are playing God any more than if we put a person on life support while they are in surgery. As Boss points out, “good” and “natural” are not necessarily synonymous. It is often quite good to interfere with the workings of nature to preserve and improve life. On this basis I find that cloning holds many promising medical benefits as it pertains to cloning animals for agricultural and human applications.

However, I am more hesitant when it comes to cloning humans. Research has shown how hazardous it can be to attempt bringing a clone to full term and enabling it to survive after birth. The deformities and illnesses that ensue from most clones is frightening enough in animals. Any attempt to clone humans seems to be out of the question. We certainly do not want to create life knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t survive more than a few days after birth. Neither do we want to do so knowing that it may live a miserable existence if it does survive. There are many children in the world who need good adoptive parents, people are complaining of overpopulation; it seems ludicrous to think that there is any need to clone a human being who likely will not survive.

But I am even more inhibited. As a Christian I value human life as sacred. At this point of my thought life I have not come to a firm conclusion whether I believe that an egg cell in a petri dish that has divided a few times can be considered a human being. But I respect human life such that I am not willing to say that it is not. “Where does life begin?” the philosopher asks. “In the garden of Eden”, is my answer. Since humanity came into existence all of human life is sacred. Whether an embryo is in the womb or in a laboratory, it is part of the continuum of human life that God has chosen to use to reveal himself to the world. Jesus was once an embryo. This thought in itself is reason to pause.

Because of these considerations I am also opposed to human cloning as long as it involves the creation and subsequent destruction of human embryos. I am not concerned with whether or not these embryos are living souls. Such is a mystery that is too deep for me. I am concerned with regarding the potential human life as sacred as it too may have a part in God’s plan for the fullness of time.

To the secularist I would say that if there is no respect for human life in its earliest and most delicate stages, then there is no respect for human life at any point. Just because we can, and science encourages it, does not mean that it is worthy of the dignity of humanity.

I struggle with the argument that cloning is a human right, falling in the jurisdiction of autonomy and reproductive rights. This schema understands that the making and bearing children is a right of the individual to serve herself. I understand the creation of life to be the fruit of love. Hate begets hate and love begets love. When two people love each other they produce a child whom they will love sacrificial for their entire lives. God provides in the schema of love-making, a way to continue loving. This is diametrically opposed to the understanding of reproduction in terms of rights. To have a child is to give of one’s self, it is not a personal therapeutic choice but a sacrificial one.

The Body of Christ

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

When the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their lack of love in I Corinthians 11:17-22, he is attacking a church-wide problem; he is attacking a collective sin. When he says that “each one ought to examine himself” (v. 28) we are to take this command as being given for the purpose of the unity of the church, and not just the repentance of individuals for various sins. He says that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17) in order to reinforce that taking the bread and cup is a matter of communal identity. That is, when we all, as individuals, share of the bread and cup, we are made a part of Christ Body in the world, which is unified throughout all of time by his Holy Spirit.

It is true that we go to the Lord’s Supper to receive, personally, a gift from Christ. But let us understand the gift. The gift is that we are made to be participants of God’s plan in all of history to bring about one entity, a union in and with Christ, referred to as his “body”. This is the plan for salvation; to unite all things in Christ. Salvation from sin is necessary because sin stands in the way of this unification.

Because the bread and cup is the gift of Christ’s own self, it indeed delivers of necessity forgiveness of sins to those who receive it in faith. But the Lord’s Supper reaches beyond forgiveness of sins to bringing about what Christ was sent to accomplish. The bread and cup create of those who participate a living fulfillment of God’s plan; it is the founding and sustenance of his true body in time for eternity.

So as we partake of the bread and cup, even as we examine our hearts individually, our understanding also should reach beyond our individual hearts to the state of the church as a community, locally and the world throughout. The same questions we apply to our heart concerning sin, pride and divided relationships in order to repent and receive the sacrament joyfully are the same questions that we are to ask of our congregation and the world-wide church as we ingest the true and eternally life-giving body of Christ.

Sermon Notes Pentecost Sunday

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

The ghost that moves in rushing wind and fire

Alighting on the heads of those who wait,

To Move tongues of those who still aspire

To heavn’ly life, who fear no earthly fate

(For life of flesh and blood has lost its charm

Since Man the First was cast from Eden’s gate

And Christ’s own body nailed


Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Beauty is a window into eternity. The garden is a play act of the temple. The temple is a metaphor of eternal life. Thus the body is a temple

Maundy Thursday

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

I Kings 19:9-18

“[Elijah] came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.””

It is a very frequent feeling in ministry: abandonment. Exhaustion at the seemingly endless tasks, discouragement that there is no apparent fruit from our labor. It is easy to stick it to God, and ask him why he isn’t faithful. It is also easy to become self-absorbed and wonder what we’re doing wrong, what’s wrong with our methods, or perhaps we just “missed our calling” and are doing the wrong thing.

Elijah may have felt any or all of the above, and so he went and hid in a cave, nursing his wounds. But God did not ask him “what’s wrong?” But rather “What are you doing here?” Clearly, there was more work to be done, but Elijah was at his wits end.

When Elijah shared his woes with God as we often do, God does not seem sympathetic, but only tells him to go stand on the mountain. Perhaps Elijah wanted to see God bring down more fire from heaven as he had done on the mountain only a few days previous, and consumed an altar and its sacrifice. This is our expectation anyway. When we pour our efforts into his service we expect results. It’s like an exchange, we do our part, he does his and when we don’t see the results we think our efforts merit, we are tempted to complain at God that he is not moving. He’s not keeping his side of the bargain.

As with a student who can’t seem to get his lesson, God sighs and says, “Go stand on the mountain.” There God delivered what Elijah wanted; fire, hurricane winds and earthquake, but God was not in them. They were brought by God and demonstrated his power, but he was not in them. God shows many signs by his power. He works miracles, he commands all the powers of nature, but such things do not bring us closer to him. To receive God himself takes a humble and repentant heart, realizing that we have nothing to offer him, and nothing to demand of him. Or works are as filthy rags, and all our efforts are as useful as the dances of string puppets. What God seeks is a people that will be devoted to listening to him. To see God’s judgment and power we may gaze at his miraculous works, to know him we must cultivate the art of listening. Why should he come in the still small voice? Because in order for us to hear it we must shut up the clamor of our own sinful hearts. We have to set aside self-pity and self-righteousness and cover our faces with our cloak and go stand at the opening of the cave and listen.

When Elijah did this God asked him the same question he did before and Elijah gave him the same answer, but this time God revealed to Elijah his plan. The kings who sought his life would execute God’s will apart from Elijah’s work, and apart from Elijah’s great prophetic knowledge God had already set aside seven thousand people who were devoted to him. Elijah didn’t see results because the results belonged to the hidden God who speaks with a still small voice! The results that God sought was the humbling of Elijah, as he set aside time to come out of his little world and listen to his God.

As Jesus told his befuddled disciples when they were not able to cast out a demon “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Jesus shows us what sort of a relationship God desires with those who minister his word. Jesus always sought the quiet Gethsemane. He went to the mountain not to hide in a cave, but the listen to his father in prayer. So in the midst of our exhaustion he asks of us “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” But as we groan and turn over, we do not know that he is already taking the burden of our failures upon himself, for tomorrow he will be crucified.