Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Role of the Pastor: Wrestling with the Text

I heard recently about a pastor who was printing his sermons from off the internet and preaching them as his own. If you ask me, this is nothing short of plagiarism. I would fire the pastor instantly because it shows a low amount of character.

However, even if one CAN justify the use of printing off a sermon from online and using it as your own, I would still fire the pastor. Why? Because he is failing his church. He is not soaking up the text in order to preach it. Rather, he is stating what someone else has said.

Simply put, the pastor's role is to wrestle with the text.

This is not an easy task or even (at times) a fun one. I give one such example of how frustrating and difficult it actually can be. As our test case let's look at Ephesians 1:17.

Different translations render Eph. 1:17 variously. So the NET Bible states:

"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him."

The ESV (my translation of choice) renders it, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him."

The NIV renders it, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better."

The issue in question is that last line "may give you...". Is it a reference to the Holy Spirit? Is it a reference to the human spirit? Is it a reference to God's granting us spiritual wisdom and revelation?

Commentaries are divided down the issue. Gordon Fee sees this as a clear indication of the Holy Spirit. Life Application Bible Commentary agrees. NET Bible argues that it makes what was stated earlier concerning the giving of the Holy Spirit (vs. 13-14) as redundant and argue that the Greek is more consistent grammatically and theologically if rendered "spiritual". Commentator Francis Foulkes agrees and states, "So probably here we should take it as NEB 'the spiritual powers of wisdom and vision', and understand these as posssible only as the gift of the Spirit who makes wise (see on verse 8), and who alone reveals the truth." (p. 60)

The Greek itself provides no real answers to be perfectly honest. pneuma could be understood as an adjective or a proper noun. The following genitives after pneuma (sofias and apokalupseos) could be attributive.

My point? The answer COULD be any one of those things. Some pastors might say, "It doesn't matter" and move on. However, Paul clearly thought IT DID matter and so we should try hard to discern his thinking as much as possible.

Since the passage itself does not really give any solid answers, we must attempt to look at the thought flow of the entire passage. I would briefly note that verses 13 and 14 militate against it being rendered as "the Holy Spirit" since God has already given us the Holy Spirit. However, that does not negate the fact that the Holy Spirit is present here. More on that later, though.

It is also unlikely that this is referred to the human spirit. While it is true that pneuma can refer to the human spirit (Eph. 4:23; Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 7:13), in each case the person already possesses his human spirit. Paul, to be consistent with his theology, would have to render the passage, "God may give to your spirit wisdom and understanding." But he doesn't say that and it would violate Paul's other theology elsewhere. This is why what the ESV renders is grammatically possible but theologically inconsistent.

The problem also with the ESV here is that their translation almost entirely removes the Holy Spirit. Paul is not vague in his theology concerning God in Ephesians 1. He is quite overpoweringly clear to be honest. "A" spirit doesn't cut the cake here. Especially not with such a theocentric/christocentric theology which he is building.

It seems, to me, the most consistent translation should be "spiritual wisdom and revelation" because it takes the best of all three translations. The Holy Spirit is clearly behind the wisdom and revelation (see v. 8). It is spiritual in nature and is applied to our spirit. We do not have to sacrifice anything with this translation! Not only so, but we are given the multifaceted dimension and interplay of God's work with the Holy Spirit. It is consistent with Isaiah 11:2 (which is likely where Paul is drawing from) so we also have the OT cheering for us.

So the question now is this: why does it matter? Pastors are busy! Why waste your time over such a small exegetical issue.

First, I might note that any time we spend studying God's Word is not wasted. While I agree that we can miss the forest for the trees (and many commentators do this), we ourselves are trained to think logically, consistently and biblically when we think through exegetical issues like this.

Second, we must be careful never to fall into a pragmatic view of teaching and preaching. "Give me something I can use this sunday! If not, it is a waste of time!" Tragically, that sort of mindset wins out and leads to shallow preaching. You see, with this mindset the pastor grows lazy. Also, I believe the hard work of exegesis is meant to uproot our existing worldview and is meant to replace it with a profoundly biblical one--one where every nook and cranny of our thinking is filled with God. This might seem like a small exegetical detail but the devil is in the details.

Third, is it really irrelevant? We have established: 1) that the Holy Spirit is part of the ongoing process of providing wisdom and revelation to our spirit, 2) that the Father works through the agency of the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and revelation (which agrees with John's theology of the Spirit) 3) We are shown that the Trinity is part of the entire process of wisdom and revelation 4) We have safe guarded ourselves from false conceptions of the Holy Spirit and 5) we have elevated spiritual wisdom and revelation to its proper due in this modernistic world that emphasizes the purely scientific.

Fourth, the pastor has great material to pray now! Not only so but he has a tremendous amount of doxological material, with which he can celebrate God! This is perhaps one of the most essential points of all! The pastor must study God's Word so that He thinks rightly about God (see A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, chapter 1) and can praise and glorify God! Is that not the entire thrust of Ephesians 1? It is to God's glory!

Exegetical work is important! Let us never grow tired of doing exegesis, no matter how busy our schedules might be! Our very life of worship and praise and the life of worship and praise in the church, depends on it!

1 comment:

  1. You are so right about the pastor and his study!!
    Now about this verse and "the spirit of wisdom and revelation". Back up a little and read it in the context of the prayer itself. Then learn a little 'Paul speak'. You should first look at all of Paul's letters for this phrase, spirit of. Then maybe the whole NT. THIS will answer all your questions!
    Since I can't speak for the accuracy and literalness of translation of other versions, here are the references in the KJV:
    Rom_1:4; Rom_8:2; Rom_8:9; Rom_8:11; Rom_8:14; Rom_8:15; Rom_11:8; Rom_15:19
    1Co_2:11; 1Co_2:12; 1Co_2:14; 1Co_3:16; 1Co_4:21; 1Co_6:11; 1Co_7:40; 1Co_12:3
    2Co_3:3; 2Co_3:17; 2Co_3:18; 2Co_4:13
    Gal_4:6; Gal_6:1
    Eph_1:13; Eph_1:17; Eph_4:23; Eph_4:30
    Heb 10:29