Women in the Church: Critical Passages

Several people have recently asked some version of the question, what does the Bible say about women in the Church, often in the context of women in leadership roles. In response, I try to provide the following list of passages. While far from an exhaustive list, these are often the key passages that conversations about women in the Church center on. Translation often sways interpretation, of course, so all these passages should be consulted in their original languages as well. But at the very least, here’s a starters list of passages to understand when discussing women in the Church.

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Genesis 1.26-28

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 2.18-24

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Judges 4.4-24

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.

2 Kings 22.14-20

14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,[a] my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

So they took her answer back to the king.

Matthew 28.1-10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Mark 14.3-9

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Luke 2.39-56

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

John 20.11-18

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Acts 18.24-26

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Acts 21.7-9

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

Romans 16.1-7, 12-15

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Greet also the church that meets at their house….

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was….

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.

1 Corinthians 11.2-16

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

1 Corinthians 14.26-40

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Galatians 3.26-28

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Ephesians 5.21-33

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Philippians 4.2-3

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

1 Timothy 2.8-15

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

1 Timothy 3.1-13

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 5.1-21

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Titus 1.5-9

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Titus 2.1-8

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

1 Peter 3.1-7

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

All passages from the New International Version 2011, unless otherwise indicated.

What Does 1 Thessalonians Say about Masks?

This post is a few months in coming because I’m woefully behind on my writing for all kinds of personal reasons (maybe more on that some other time). But we’re also preaching through 1 Thessalonians at Arise Church right now, so I was reminded about a post I’d started a while back. I write this post not as any sort of personal attack, but rather as an example of the importance of reading and interpreting the Bible contextually.

The genesis for this post was a conversation that I had with a fellow Christian with whom I was having a conversation about COVID world and the American church.

As we were talking about the various things that our churches have done in response to COVID, this person mentioned “a verse in 1 Thessalonians that prohibited the wearing of masks.” This struck me as odd, so I asked them to send me the verse. Sometime later, they sent over 1 Thessalonians 2.5, which in the NIV reads: You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.

Now certainty, in the NIV the word mask appears and is used in a negative sense. Paul is saying that he never masked. On a very surfacy reading of this passage, I’m not terribly surprised that someone used this as a prooftext for not wearing masks. “Look, Paul says that he didn’t wear a mask, why should I?”

Putting aside the fact that throughout his writings, Paul is very consistent in his calls to serve another in love and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, I want to be crystal clear: Paul is not even remotely addressing the issue of wearing masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in this passage.

In the first place, the context of this passage is Paul’s recounting of his time spent doing ministry in Thessalonica. At issue is the truthfulness and authenticity of their work. In contrast to his Judaizing opponents who chased Paul and his companions from Thessalonica, Paul claims that he and his companions only spoke the truth. Nothing in this passage points to medical masking or political motives; the issue is the importance of honesty and telling the truth rather than hiding behind flattery or greed.

Reading this passage in another translation will make this clear. The ESV renders this phrase as “a pretext for greed,” the CSB “greedy motives,” and the NRSV “a pretext for greed.” Even the KJV translates this as “a cloak for covetousness.” No masks to be found.

In the Greek, the word in question is πρόφασις (prostasis), which the LSJ defines as “a motive or cause alleged.” There’s certainly evidence of this term appearing in ancient legal and medical contexts. Indeed, this is the context suggested by the seven appearances of this term in the New Testament.

Prostasis does seem to have had one other primary use in the ancient world: the theater tradition. In Thessalonica (which, we must member, is in Greece) a prostatis may well have been understood as a reference to the theater tradition. The Greeks had been putting on plays for hundreds of years (if not longer), plays which often incorporated the use of masks. And while entertaining, there is evidence that the theater was viewed with an air of skepticism and incredulity. It was, after all, people pretending to be something they were not.

But even if the NIV is right in rendering prostasis as mask here, the issue remains Paul’s authenticity before the Thessalonians. He’s communicating that he wasn’t acting, that he wasn’t pretending to be something he wasn’t, and he didn’t try to deceive or flatter the Thessalonians.

All of this is to say that you should absolutely form your own opinions on masking (and other COVID responses). But please, for the love of interpreting the Bible contextually, don’t bring 1 Thessalonians 2.5 into the conversation. This is about telling the truth and being authentic, not a statement about pandemic procedures.

Book Review: Spurgeon and the Psalms

In trying times, there are few things more comforting than the Psalms. And in an era when contemplative faith is increasingly difficult, fewer pastors bring the depth of insight than Charles Spurgeon. I was delighted, therefore, to receive the new text of Spurgeon and the Psalms from Thomas Nelson.

This slim volume includes each of the Psalms along with devotional readings from Spurgeon. Accompanied by a short introduction and plenty of space for notetaking, this book features the New King James Version of the Psalms in easy-to-read type. While devoid of certain study features common to other Bibles, numerous cross references are included.

Spurgeon’s notes, while certainly the devotional center of this volume, enhance—rather than distract from—the text of the psalter. Far too often with these kinds of writings, the words of Scripture become secondary. In this reviewer’s perspective, this book does an admirable job pairing the devotional commentary with the psalmists’ words.

If there is any deficit in this book, it is the paper. While not the tissue thin paper that some Bibles are printed on, the paper stock is definitely on the lighter side for a volume that highlights its note-taking capacity. Even a slightly more robust paper quality would have made an excellent resource even better.

That aside, I highly recommend Spurgeon and the Psalms for anyone looking for a tool to engage the Psalter, as well as for any Spurgeon fans. May this book bring profit and pleasure to all who read it.

I received this volume from the publisher in coordination with Bible Gateway in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

How Can We Respond?

“How should we respond when terrible things happen?”

It’s a question that I’m asked all too frequently these days. Our world is filled with senseless violence, abuse, coverups, disagreement, and brokenness. And while none of these tragic things are new, the media and technology of our present moment enable us to see and experience these terrible realities up close and in real time.

What can we do? How can we response to the evils that surround us? What’s the appropriate reaction from someone following Jesus? Let me offer seven suggestions.

Weep. In Romans 12.15, Paul tells us to weep with those who weep. This should be our first response to evil. We must weep with those who are weeping. We must grieve with them. We must focus first on those who have been deeply wounded by evil and stand beside them as they mourn. And here, we must resist the urge to swoop in and explain the tragedy away or offer our solutions. First, we must stop and weep.

Slow down. In our culture of hurry, every tragedy evokes a flurry of responses, oftentimes with pundits weighing in even before pertinent details are known. We must resist this impulse. It’s okay to take time and process something. It’s okay to take time to reflect. It’s okay to not have an answer an hour, a day, or even a week after something terrible happens. It’s okay to slow down.

Seek justice. Those following God are commanded to seek justice and correct oppression (Is 1.17). When evil occurs, we must do that which is within our power to right the wrong that has been done. People and systems must be held accountable. And this is not the place for empty rhetoric, blame games, and politicization, where people act like there are easy answers to complex problems. Christians must pursue holistic justice, as challenging and difficult as it may be.

Pray. Our postmodern world pokes fun at those who offer “thoughts and prayers.” And if those words are only a social media token of concern, then those criticisms are well-founded. But followers of Jesus are called to bring everything to God in prayer, including the burdens and wounds of others (Gal 6.2, Phil 4.6, Ps 55.22). Prayer is a right and ready response in the face of evil, not something to be glibly tossed around, but an avenue for providing peace, presence, and perspective when tragedy strikes. And when all other words fail, we can simply pray, “Lord, have mercy.”

Get tangible. If something breaks your heart, do something about it. Don’t just post about it on social media or talk about it with your friends. Get tangible, put your money where your mouth is, do something about it. Passive concern is no substitute for action. Do your research and connect with an organization or person who is doing something to make a difference.

Remember. Christians are called to be people with long memories, and so we must remember the plight of the downtrodden and destitute even after the news cycle has moved on. The crisis that dominated the news and effected people five years ago is almost certainly still a problem for people, even if we don’t think about them in the day-to-day. And so we must remember what has happened and continue to stand beside those who are hurting.

Hope. Those living in a dark and broken world will often experience evil and suffering; but those who follow the Risen King need not despair, for we can have hope. Hope that, one day, evil will be destroyed. Hope that, someday, there will be no more tragedy. Hope that, one day, everything broken will be made new. Even as we weep, slow, pray, get tangible, and remember, we can hope that evil is not the end of the story. And so we hope and we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Hilary of Poitiers: Commentary on Psalm 53

Translation of Hilary of Poitiers’s Commentary on Psalm 53 (LXX 52)

In the end; according to Maeleth; understandings to David. The fool said in his heart: There is no God and the rest.

The present psalm is almost harmonious with the thirtieth psalm, but it does have in this a little understanding, not a likeness of words, first in the power of the inscription itself. For the thirtieth (psalm) is thus written: In the end of that David, by which title it is being indicated that the psalm was by the prophet David. This/here truly: In the end; according to Maeleth ; understandings to David. For wherever there is: in the end understandings, there is the signal of exhortation and of admonition, the end of which was ordered to apply knowledge to our understanding of judgment, in order that we understand to be announced in the psalm that which will be accomplished in the end according to the apostle: Then is the end, when he will hand the kingdom to Good the Father; when he will empty all principalities and powers and strength, and then he will place under himself all those having been placed under him. But death is the last enemy he will empty. This, therefore, is the end, which is being understood in the psalm. Those, however, which are being titled the psalm of that David, are all being revealed to be prophesied about Christ, who is the real David, because where of that is being inscribed, there shows him who will speak; truly where to that is, there reveals him to whom it is being said.

The fool says in his heart: there is no God. Shameful eloquence is (that) of human fault with the words of the mouth, not to intend to bring together, but, the urgent instinct of interior wickedness (that within the heart speaking) is the necessity of desire struggling against public decency with unevenness, provided that anything makes ashamed to say (but) not ashamed to be thought. And on that account the fool says in his heart: there is no God, because, unless he desires to speak this by the words of the mouth (to be a fool, as he is), he would prove the judgment of public belief.  For who does not believe that God is looking at the universe? But it frequently happens that, although the necessity of truth compels us to confession of God, the fool nevertheless is persuaded that our God is not delighting, and because we believe against confidence, we nevertheless speak out from the heart concerning wicked counsel. About which that (word) of God was spoken through the prophet: This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, because they do not desire to believe that which they are not able to deny.

He reveals the true cause of the most foolish speech in his heart, speaking: They are corrupt and they are detestable in their iniquities. Unjust is whatever is beyond the law. And they are first exceeding the law of God in the corruption of subordination, then in abomination, because iniquity brings corruption, while corruption merits abomination. For when anyone will transgress the law of God, then he will deny God, and corruption is to deny God. For to drive out corruption, our Lord became the fleshy word. Indeed, according to the apostle it is right (that) corruption be clothed in incorruption. But whatever is unjust and whoever does not believe that the Word is God become flesh, because he will say in his heart God does not exist, he will remain corrupt and abominable. Insofar as the thirtieth psalm (says) They were made detestable in iniquity, so it says They were made detestable in his invention. He neither puts off sense and guilt, because pursuing men (those who themselves are pleasing) transgressed the establishment of divine law.

Then follows this complaint: There is none who does good. We will treat this verse in its own place, because it was exposed below also (together with the approach). Now, however, everyone was suitably and properly (increased), all parts having been corrupted and detestable, no one to have learned in good works, because, although we are in the habit to speak of things which are good, nevertheless he persists in the same difficult things which are good.

And lest the will of God consider to be careless toward men, he adds: The Lord looks out from heaven upon the sons of men, in order to see if there is one understanding or seeking God. With the Lord gazing down from heaven, much was being known, often the agitation of the sins of the human race, the cause of our salvation. He chose Noah before the flood, justified Abraham through faith, promised the heir Isaac of the solemn promise, shaped the birthright of the people in the posterity of Jacob, put the prophet and leader Moses in charge and instituted the mover of the law, and inspired the prophetic law in all time. Therefore, through these thing of his own power and influence of that manner He look out upon the sons of men, in order to see if there was one understanding or seeing God.

Ammonius of Alexandria on the Psalms

Ammonius of Alexandria

Commentaries on the Old and New Testament which Remain

Relatively little is known about Ammonius of Alexandria (5th-6th century CE) apart from his service as presbyter in the Alexandrian and church and his brief literary fragments. This being the case, he has often been confused with an earlier Ammonius from Alexandria, the neoplatonic philosopher Ammonius Saccas (3rd century CE). According to Minge, around the year 458 CE Ammonius may have written letters for the bishops of Egypt to Pope Leo concerning the Council of Chalcedon. He did, however, have a penchant for writing Biblical commentaries, as fragments from his works on the Psalms, Daniel, John, Luke, Acts, I Corinthians, and I Peter remain extant.[1]

Translations from Fragments of Ammonius on the Psalms[2]

PSALM 3.4 “You, however, Lord, are my guardian, my glory, and you exalt my head.” First indeed it is said that God is his guardian, then his glory, and afterward the one exalting his head. Certainly he is a guardian, in order that he may liberate him from many tribulations and surroundings. Truly, then, after guardianship is glory: for first God guards, then he glorifies, and finally he exalts the head of him whom he has glorified.

PSALM 3.7 “I will not fear the thousands of people who have surrounded me.” For just as you all supply those to whom you are favorably inclined, the favorable Savior and King considers the well-being of his very own.

PSALM 3.8 “Because you struck all my adversaries without cause.” He certainly stuck his adversaries; he truly destroyed the animosity of sins. Indeed that he may heal those again: For I strike and I will heal again. Moreover, he crushes the bitterness of sins, that is, perverse things, gossips, and carnivorous actions, desiring to thoroughly destroy them. Truly, perhaps, he crushes even the same accused adversaries and sinners. For in Christ all are against sinners, but especially that infidelity of the Jews, of whom animosity was exhausted. Truly, this is the ill will of those about whom in another Psalm it is said: Whoever devours my people in the food of bread, God will not pray for. For this animosity—that is, the sly words of the Jews—he thoroughly crushed, when he rose from the dead.

PSALM 3.9 “The Lord is salvation, and your blessing is above your people.” On account of this, there was the name, and this event: And you will call his name Jesus.


[1] CPG III, 5500-5509. PG 85: 1361-1610; 1823-1826.

[2] PG 85: 1361-1364.

Paul and Justin: Conclusions and Bibliography

This post marks the end of our series on Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism.

In this series I have argued that the reception of Paul’s letters in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho demonstrates a transformation of Pauline concepts. Although Paul and Justin shared certain foundations—such as the authority of the scriptures of Judaism and ancestry of Abraham for the people of God—they worked from different contexts and divergent philosophical trajectories. The different theological grammars and cosmologies of Paul and Justin led them to conceive of pneuma differently, which caused Justin to misread Paul on the relationship between the Judaism and the Christian community. This “parting of the ways”[1] advocated by Justin would only deepen in the decades and centuries following his Dialogue. By the mid-second century, “Christian and Jew were clearly distinct and separate.”[2] By the fourth century, the model for Gentile inclusion had been transformed into an argument for Jewish exclusion.[3]

Justin’s theology thus marks a seminal moment in the history of Jewish-Christian interactions, a moment influenced by the shift from Paul’s Stoic conceptions of reality to Justin’s Platonic ideals. It is not that Justin failed in his reading of Paul or purposely misread the Apostle. Rather, we may more properly think of Justin as attempting faithfully work out the implications from Paul’s theology, and (unwittingly) finding himself operating under a different set of interpretive lenses. Although he was not the sole perpetrator of this misreading (which the pseudepigraphal Third Corinthians also employs), the Dialogue proved to be a considerable influence for later Christian understandings of the separation between the Way and Judaism.[4] Justin’s Platonically-informed misreading did effectively finalize early Christian grammar concerning the relationship of the Church to Judaism. The migration from Paul’s arguments for Gentile inclusion within the covenant promises of God to Justin’s arguments for Jewish exclusion from Gods purposes offered a new understanding of the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, now rooted in faithfulness and ontology rather than ethnicity and genealogy. One can only wonder at how Paul would respond to the reception and transformation of his theology.

Bibliography

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Aeschylus. The Suppliant Maidens. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953-56.

Cicero. On the Nature of the Gods. Translated by H. Rackman. LCL 268. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933.

Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by Robert D. Hicks and Herbert Strainge Long. LCL 185. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History. Translated by G.A. Williamson. Edited by Andrew Louth. London: Penguin Books, 1989.

Justin Martyr. Apologie pour les christiens: Introduction, Texte Critique, Traduction et Notes par Charles Munier. Edited by Charles Munier. Paris: Cerf, 2006.

—–. Dialogue avec le Tryphon: Edition Critique. Two Volumes. Edited by Philippe Bobichon. Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2003.

—–. Dialogue with Trypho. Translated by Thomas B. Falls. Edited by Michael Slusser. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

New Revised Standard Version: Harper Collins Study Bible Revised Edition. Edited by Harold W. Attridge. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 28. Online: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2015. http://www.nestle-aland.com/en/home/

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Bird, Michael F. and Joseph R. Dodson. Paul and the Second Century. Library of New Testament Studies 412. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

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—–. “Justin martyr: ‘etude stylistique du Dialogue avec Tryphon, suivie d’une comparaison avec l’Apologie et le De resurrection.” Researches augustiniennes et patristiques 34 (2005): 1-61.

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—–. “Justin Martyr Invents Judaism.” Church History 70.3 (2001): 427-61.

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—–. The Parting of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity: Second Edition. London: SCM Press, 2000.

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Westerholm, Stephen. “The Judaism Paul Left Behind Him.” Pages 353-370 in The Making of Christianity: Conflicts, Contacts, and Constructions: Essays in Honor of Bengt Holmberg. Edited by Magnus Zetterholm and Samuel Byrskog. Winona Lake, I.N.: Eisenbrauns, 2012.

White, Benjamin L. “Justin between Paul and the Heretics: The Surprising Salvation of Gentile Christian Judaizers in Dialogue with Trypho 47.” Under Review. Online. https://www.academia.edu/13325138/Justin_between_Paul_and_the_Heretics_The_Surprising_Salvation_of_Gentile_Christian_Judaizers_in_Dialogue_with_Trypho_47

Willitts, Joel. “Paul and Jewish Christians in the Second Century.” Pages 140-168 in Paul and the Second Century. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson. Library of New Testament Studies 412. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.

Wilson, Stephen G. Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.

—–. Related Strangeness: Jews and Christians 70-170 CE. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Wright, N.T. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

Wright, Walter C. “The Source of Paul’s Concept of Pneuma.” The Covenant Quarterly 41 (1983): 17-26.


[1] On the parting of the ways, see Richard Bauckham’s Middle Judaism model (Richard Bauckham, “The Parting of the Ways: What Happened and Why,” Studia Theologica 47 [1993]: 136-8), James D.G. Dunn’s broad stream analogy (James D.G. Dunn, The Parting of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity: Second Edition [London: SCM Press, 2000], 301-11), James McGrath’s pushback against Dunn (James F. McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context [Urbana: UI Press, 2009], 90), Alan Segal’s two powers heresy thesis (Alan Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism [Leiden: Brill, 1977], x.), Judith Lieu’s work on the influence of perceived persecution (Judith M. Lieu, “Accusations of Jewish Persecution in Early Christian Sources, with particular reference to Justin Martyr and the ‘Martyrdom of Polycarp’” in Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity [ed. G.N. Stanton and G.G. Stroumsa, Cambridge: CUP, 1998], 284.), Stephen Wilson’s divergent times and places model (Stephen G. Wilson, Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004].), and Daniel Boyarin’s siblings model of Judaism and Christianity (Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism [Stanford: Stanford Press, 1999].).

[2] Dunn, Parting of the Ways, 318.

[3] See Christine C. Shepardson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem’s Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2008).

[4] Livesay, “Theological,” 79. Segal, “History Boy,” 234. Laato, 122.

Paul and Justin on the Identity of Israel

This post is part of an ongoing series on Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism.

As noted previously, in Paul’s day the conflagration centered on whether or not the Gentiles could be brought into the people of God.[1] For Paul, belonging to Christ did not negate the importance of proper genealogy; on the contrary, genealogical descent continued to be of the utmost importance.[2] Gentiles were brought into the Abrahamic People of God—although not into Israel proper—through Christ. The Gentiles, therefore, do not replace Israel as the People of the Covenant, but instead stand alongside Israel as Peoples of the Covenants. Perhaps no writing of Paul makes this clearer than Romans, where on multiple occasions Paul espouses the continued importance of the Jewish people.[3] Paul demonstrates great concern for Israel (Rom. 9:1-5, 10.1, 11:1-2a, 11:13-16), lamenting over their stumbling and seeking to explain why they have not immediately accepted the Messiah (Rom. 11:11-16). For the Apostle, Israel still possesses the adoption, glory, covenants, law, worship, promises of God, patriarchs and ancestry of the Messiah (Rom. 9:4-5). Even circumcision retains its value for Jews when properly practiced and understood (Rom. 3:1-2). Although “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true seed” (Rom. 9:6b-7a), Paul looks forward to the day when all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25-26). In sum, for Paul the identity of true Israel included actual Israel, although the nations were being inaugurated through the power of Christ.

In contrast, for Justin Martyr true Israel no longer included ethnic Israel, only those who belong to Christ. Dialogue 11.5 reads, “For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham…are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ,” a turn of phrase that is widely recognized as dependent upon Galatians 3:6-7.[4] By faith Christians have become children of Abraham (Dial. 119.5) and as a result of Christian faith the faithless Jews have been removed from the “righteous nation” of God (Dial. 119.6, 123.9).[5] In a word, Christians have become true spiritual Israel. Contrary to Paul’s expressed concern and hope for Israel, Justin offers little lament for the ethnic children of Abraham. While Jewish Christ-believers who did not advocate Torah observance for Gentiles were acceptable, in Justin the destruction of the temple and defeat of bar Kokhba illustrate the truth: Judaism as a whole was coming to an end.[6] According to Justin Martyr the “true spiritual Israel” consisted of spiritual genealogy in Christ, not the Jewish race.[7]

But why was this happening, why was ethnic Israel replaced by the Church as true Israel? Justin suggests three reasons. First, proper interpretation of Old Testament prophecy reveals the superiority of a supercessionist Christian hermeneutic (Dial. 29.2, 32.2).[8] Second, the end of Judaism serves as punishment for the rejection and killing of Christ and his followers (Dial. 16.1-4, 25.5, 108.3).[9] Third, the Jews have misunderstood circumcision. Whereas “Abraham received circumcision for a sign” the Jews have interpreted it as “justification itself” (Dial. 23.4).[10] Because of this, circumcision became “not a sign of a covenant with God, but rather ‘a medium for punishment.’”[11] For their inaccurate interpretation of the scriptures, rejection of Christ, and misunderstanding of circumcision, Justin argues that God disinherited the Jews and made the Church true Israel. In similar manner to how Justin began with Pauline thinking on Abraham and developed it, so also on the topic of true Israel Justin began with Paul’s thought and recast its meaning. True Israel still descends from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now genealogy depends on faithfulness rather than ethnicity. As a result, ethnic Israel now stands on the outside of the people of God looking in, in no small part due to the fact that they do not possess the pneuma of Christ that enables them to interpret properly or belong to Christ. Once more, then, Justin’s development of the Pauline notion of true Israel represents a transformation of Pauline thought, here based on differing concepts of who belongs to the truly spiritual Israel.


[1] Thiessen, 107.

[2] Ibid., 115

[3] Livesey, “Theological,” 74.

[4] On this passage, Adair remarks, “Dialogue 119.5 alludes to Gal 3:7, a companion to the allusion of Gal 3:6 in Dialogue 119.6. This is not a direct quote, substituting ‘children’ for the ‘sons’ of the Galatians passage. Also, the grammatical construction is different, but there is congruence in the meaning—faith has made the Christians children of Abraham. The combination of the references from Galatians in such close proximity makes it likely that Justin is dependent on a Pauline idea here. Also, as noted above, this faith is connected to the confession that has been heard through the voice of the apostles and prophets, the Christological confession.” See Adair, 227. See also Werline, 8.

[5] Daniel Boyarin, “Justin Martyr Invents Judaism,” Church History 70.3 (2001): 435-6. Livesay, “Theological,” 74. Boyarin suggests that “The threat of Gentile Christianity to the borders of Jewish peoplehood represented by the claim to be Verus Israel, first attested in Justin but surely not originated by him, was the catalyst that gave rise to non-liturgically formalized, or even popular, curses on Gentile Christians and reviling of Christ in the synagogues.”

[6] Willitts, 159. Chilton, 83-4. Wendel, 95.

[7] Goodenough, 100. Yontan Binyam, “Depends on Whom You Ask: The ‘Parting of the Ways’ in the Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” (M.A. Thesis, Wheaton, I.L.: Wheaton College Graduate School, 2012), 80-1.

[8] Chilton, 82.

[9] 1 Apol. 47-49. Wendel, 95.

[10] Lieu, Image and Reality, 119. Binyam, 71-2. See also Dial. 16.3, 19.2.

[11] Binyam, 71.

Paul and Justin on the Ancestry of Abraham

This post is part of an ongoing series on Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism.

Paul refers to Abraham nineteen times in his undisputed letters, often citing God’s promise to Abraham, his faith, or status as intermediary.[1] Key for Paul’s theology was the genealogical function Abraham filled. Galatians 3:1-9 suggests that, for Paul, Abrahamic sonship was intimately connected to reception of the pneuma.[2] That is, to receive the pneuma of God was to be brought into the Abrahamic family of God. This new ancestry further transformed Gentiles-in-Christ, legitimating if not actualizing their existence within the pneuma and kinship of the People of God.[3] Both Abraham and Christ stand as faithful followers of God; as Israel participated in Abraham’s blessed faithfulness, so now Gentiles—through Christ’s faithfulness—participate in Abraham as well.[4] Summarizing this viewpoint, Thiessen writes,

“Since those who are out of faith receive the pneuma of Abraham’s seed, Christ, they too become Abraham’s seed. The reception of the pneuma thus provides gentiles with a new genealogy so that they become truly descended from Abraham, not through the flesh, but through the pneuma. Paul does not reject genealogical descent; instead, he envisages a newly possible pneumatic form of such descent.”[5]

Justin refers to Abraham 103 times in the Dialogue, employing him in relation to the question of circumcision, the promises of God, and Christ.[6] While Justin summarily denigrates circumcision as a “sign of suffering,”[7] Abraham avoids this fate. Justin focuses instead on Abraham’s faith before circumcision.[8] He writes, “Abraham, indeed, was considered just, not by reason of his circumcision, but because of faith. For, before his circumcision it was said of him, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him unto justice’” (Dial. 92.3). While Jews and Christians alike may claim Abraham as their ancestor, Jewish emphasis on circumcision clearly aligns them with “later Abraham” and Christian rejection of the need for circumcision aligns them with “early Abraham,” that is, the Abraham who was justified by faith prior to his circumcision.[9] Justin thus divorces Abraham from Jewish faith and practice, using the two stages of the patriarch’s life as the boundary formation between corrupted fleshliness and spiritual faithfulness.[10] 

What then are the differences between Paul and Justin? In the first place, where for Paul Abraham has two sorts of children—those according to the flesh and those according to the promise—Justin argues that only the children of the promise (Christ-followers) are Abraham’s true children.[11] Building on the Platonic notion that the new pneuma of faith must transcend the old, Justin argues that, “And along with Abraham we shall inherit the holy land, when we shall receive the inheritance for an endless eternity, being children of Abraham through the like faith…. He promises to him a nation of similar faith, God-fearing, righteous, and delighting the Father; but it is not you, ‘in whom is no faith.’” (Dial. 119)

Secondly, circumcision—for Paul only rightly part of the covenant with Israel—is entirely useless for Justin. Although he follows a Pauline reading of the Abraham story in Dialogue 23-24 (where Abraham received circumcision as a sign of justification), Justin developed this claim to mean that “the blood of circumcision is now abolished, and we now trust in the blood of salvation. Now another covenant, another law has gone forth from Zion, Jesus Christ” (Dial. 24). That is, the covenant now brought about by the logos transcends and interiorizes the demands of the old covenant.[12] Similarly, in Dialogue 18.2 (and repeated in Dial. 92), Justin builds on Paul’s notion in Romans 2-3 that true circumcision occurs in the heart, enjoining Trypho to, “Wash therefore, and be now clean, and put away iniquity from your souls, as God bids you be washed in this laver, and be circumcised with the true circumcision.” Likewise, Dialogue 19.3 argues that, “Even you, who are the circumcised according to the flesh, have need of our circumcision; but we, having the latter, do not require the former.”

Finally, while Paul employs Abraham to argue that both Jews and Gentiles inherit the promise made to the patriarch, Justin uses Abraham in concert with the new covenant to indicate Jewish unfaithfulness and rejection.[13] Dialogue 11, 23, and 119 make clear that the Gentile Church is new, true Israel. Because Christ—the true descendent, the true seed of Abraham—has come, only those fully in fellowship with him belong to the family of Abraham and, consequently, the People of God.[14] Those who think otherwise are deluded and “beguile themselves…supposing that the everlasting kingdom will be assuredly given to those of the dispersion who are of Abraham after the flesh, although they be sinners, and faithless, and disobedient towards God, which the Scriptures have proved is not the case” (Dial. 140).

While Justin clearly relies on Paul to start his thinking about Abraham and Abrahamic sonship, he significantly recasts the apostle’s arguments for his own purposes.[15] Underlying these differences is Justin’s Platonic worldview, which lead him to summarily ignore Paul’s dynamic Stoic cosmology and posit significant differences between the old and new covenants. Justin’s pneumatic ideal presumes a contrast between old and new, and the new covenant ushered in by Christ cannot possibly be identical to the old perceptible law of Judaism. New Israel’s Abrahamic sonship—rooted in the higher reality of Christ—wholly surpasses Old Israel and its fleshly existence.


[1] Rom. 4.1, 2, 3, 9, 12, 13, 16, 9.7, 11.1; Gal. 3.6, 7, 9, 14, 16 18, 29, 4.22; and 2 Cor. 11.22. Jeffrey S. Siker, Disinheriting the Jews: Abraham in Early Christian Controversy (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 18-28.

[2] Thiessen, 107-9.

[3] Johnson Hodge, 76. Thiessen, 122.

[4] Gal. 3.6-9. Rom. 4.16. Johnson Hodge, 91. Thiessen, 126. Sena Pera, 202.

[5] Thiessen, 105-6.

[6] Siker, “Gentile Inclusion,” 34-5.

[7] Dial. 16.2. Livesey, “Theological,” 62.

[8] Siker, “Gentile Inclusion,” 34-5. Siker, Disinheriting, 163.

[9] Dial. 92.2-4, 15.7. Denise Kimber Buell, “Constructing Early Christian Identities Using Ethnic Reasoning,” ASE 24 (2007): 98. Nina E. Livesey, Circumcision as Malleable Symbol (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 125-30.

[10] Livesay, “Theological,” 56. Siker, “Gentile Inclusion,” 35.

[11] Thiessen, 121. Rom. 9.8, 11.28-9. Siker, Disinheriting, 13. Siker, “Gentile Inclusion,” 30.

[12] Werline, 84. See also Andrew S. Jacobs, Christ Circumcised: A Study in Early Christian History and Difference (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

[13] Ibid., 86.

[14] Werline, 93. Sena Pera, 192-3.

[15] Werline, 92.

Paul and Justin on Pneuma

This post is part of an ongoing series on Paul and Pneuma, Justin and Judaism.

Turning to Justin’s views on pneuma, it is instructive that the Dialogue opens with reflections on his philosophical journey to Christianity, wherein he remarks that he learned “nothing new about God” while studying under the tutelage of a Stoic (Dial. 2.3). As Justin goes on to explain his journey through Platonism in Dial. 2.6-8.2, he highlights the Platonic priority of the spiritual—that the eternal and unchanging is superior to the ephemeral and changing.[1] In clear contrast to the Stoic concept of the ultimate, in Justin’s mind the ideal remained detached from materiality.[2] We must be wary to not over-read Cartesian dualism back into Justin’s Platonism. However, his Platonic dualism—wherein God was the transcendent ideal which was distinct from perceptible reality[3]—stood at odds with Paul’s Stoic pneumatology—wherein God was made of the same stuff as the rest of reality, albeit in a higher and more animate form than the rest of the cosmos.

The divergence between an immanently accessible pneuma and a categorically ultimate pneuma begins to demonstrate Justin’s shift away from the cosmology and grammar of Paul. For Paul, the boundaries of the People of God are somewhat malleable, as the pneumatic motion of Christ animates the cosmos. For Justin, the ultimate stands as a measure which must be met by those claiming God’s inheritance (Dial. 11.2-3). In other words, “This eternal covenant establishes who is a true, spiritual Israelite and Judaite, and who is not, taking the place of all other aspirants to those names.”[4] Justin still speaks of the pneuma, but when he does so he contrasts its higher reality with lower fleshliness, as in Dial. 135.6, where he compares the two houses of Jacob: “the one born of flesh and blood, and the other of faith and the Spirit.” To summarize the differences between Paul’s and Justin’s views on pneuma: Paul operates under Stoic presuppositions, believing that all reality is material. Justin thinks, like a Platonist, that reality is divided into the ideal and the perceptible. When Paul talks about being in the pneuma he takes that to mean corporeal participation in the stuff that constitutes God. When Justin talks about being in the pneuma he presumes it means existence in an ideal and that there also exists a contrast—the perceptible. Justin believes there is a difference between the new ideal of life in the pneuma of Jesus and the old perceptible law of Judaism. This is a development from Paul, for whom there is only one level of pneumatic reality into which Gentiles can be grafted. These different cosmologies and their attendant theological grammars result in several divergent aspects of practical theology.

First, while Justin would affirm along with Paul that Christ-followers possess the pneuma, he would have understood the implications of that statement differently than Paul. For Paul, participation in the material pneuma meant reception of the “very DNA” of Christ’s body.[5] For Justin, participation in the pneuma meant standing on the “ideal” side of divided reality.[6] Second, where Paul spoke of the pneuma as power to enact the fruits of the Spirit in the Christian life (Gal. 5:25),[7] Justin viewed the pneuma primarily as a one who speaks through Jesus-followers.[8] Third, whereas for Paul the pneuma inhabits all of reality, Justin has moved onto to the logos as that which inhabits all of the cosmos.[9] This is due at least in part to Justin’s interpretation of the pneuma as belonging to the realm of the ideal, thereby necessarily preventing its mixing with the corporeal. For Justin, the incarnate logos stands in the gap, uniting the pneumatic ideal with the materiality of the perceptible in the mystery of the incarnation.[10] Finally, where Paul viewed the work of the pneuma as bringing the Gentiles into the family of God, Justin interpreted language of pneuma and sarx as references to the new transcending the old. Indeed, Justin stands as the first Christian writer to “explicitly argue for the cessation of the Spirit from Judaism following the coming of Christ.”[11] These differing conceptions of pneuma in hand, I now turn to aspects of Justin’s reception and transformation of Pauline thought concerning the ancestry of Abraham and identity of the true Israel.[12]


[1] Dial. 2.6, 4.1-7. de Beer, 376.

[2] Thorsteinsson, “Justin,” 533. de Beer, 376-7. On this, de Beer writes, “Of the utmost importance for the Christian religion is Plato’s doctrinal insistence on the priority of the spiritual: the eternal, unchanging soul is superior to the ephemeral, changing body and precedes it in time, both for the world as a whole and for human beings. It is further maintained by Plato that the highest life, which is spiritual and eternal life, is made possible by the presence of the soul, while the soul is contaminated by matter, including the physical body. Thus, both the Platonist and Christian traditions teach that the invisible things are more important than the visible things.” See de Beer, 376.

[3] John M. Dillon, “Platonism” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 5 (O-Sh) (ed. D.N. Freedman, New York and London: Doubleday, 1992), V.380.

[4] Chilton, 83. Dial. 11.5. See also Isa. 55.3-4.

[5] Thiessen, 117.

[6] Dial. 11.5.

[7] W. Wright, 17, 22. 1 Cor. 6.11. Rom. 8.1.

[8] Dial. 56.14. Kyle R. Hughes, “The Spirit Speaks: Pneumatological Innovation in the Scriptural Exegesis of Justin and Tertullian,” VC 69 (2015): 465, 470. See also 1 Apol. 36.1-2.

[9] Dial. 62.2-3, 128-129.

[10] Dial. 35.5, 39.4-6, 61.1-5, 84-85.

[11] Hughes, 481. Lieu, Image and Reality, 103-48. Susan Wendel suggests that, in Justin’s view, when Jesus received the pneuma, it departed from Israel’s prophets. See Susan Wendel, “Interpreting the Descent of the Spirit: A Comparison of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho and Luke-Acts” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds (ed. S. Parvis and P. Foster, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 97. Dial. 87.1-2.

[12] Another aspect of possible divergence between Paul and Justin concerns the miraculous. See Dial. 30-31, 35, 39, 76, 85. On this Kelhoffer concludes, “Despite their common assumptions, Paul and Justin have strikingly contrasting goals in their appeals to the miraculous. Paul is usually concerned with defending his own authority by virtue of his own miracles…. In contrast with most of Paul’s statements, Justin Martyr refers to exorcisms performed by others and maintains that these wonders demonstrate the validity of certain parts of his larger apologetic enterprise.” See James A. Kelhoffer, “The Apostle Paul and Justin Martyr on the Miraculous: A Comparison of Appeals to Authority,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001): 183-4.