Categories
Theology

Dust Shakin’

Introduction

I was given an opportunity to share the gospel to an unbelieving Jewish friend.  He did not accept the gospel but kindly listened, asked good questions, and thanked me for sharing my beliefs with him and for listening about his beliefs.  It was a good discussion and I’m hoping to this day that seeds were planted.

Within a few weeks, some friends let me know that they didn’t like it that I was friends with this Jewish unbeliever. They told me that I should have cut things off with him since he didn’t believe the gospel and was living a homosexual lifestyle. According to them, one of several reasons given was that I should have obeyed the “biblical command” to “shake the dust off my feet”.  Since we weren’t in a sandy Middle Eastern setting, I was informed that this scripture meant I needed to simply have nothing more to do with my Jewish friend. They meant well, but they were leaning on their American, conservative, Baptist cultural background instead of looking at simple, scriptural context at that moment.

The flesh wants us all to tack on what a scripture “means to us” or to lean on “that’s what I was taught” or to find a sermon or article on the Internet that agrees with our bias in order to feel good about our lifestyle choices and preferences, whereas when believers in Jesus are yielded to the Spirit in them, then they can begin to honestly pursue the question “what did God mean in this scripture?”

A Greek word study is unnecessary for this article because the false teaching is so sloppily constructed that a simple contextual study is sufficient.

The commands given

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Matthew 10:5-15 (ESV)

In this context, Jesus was commanding the 12 disciples to shake the dust from their feet if nobody in a house or town would receive them or listen to what they had to say as they entered exclusively Jewish towns and healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed lepers, and cast out demons, among other things.  This command was not given here in the context of the New Covenant believers in general.  If it was, then contextually we are specifically commanded to avoid sharing the Gospel to non-Jewish people, to do exorcisms, and to do healings.

However, it is unlikely to be applicable to believers since this was a specific mission for the 12 disciples.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Mark 6:7-13 (ESV)

Once again, in context, if someone rejects Jesus’ disciples then they were to shake the dust off their feet.  Once again, they were also given authority to perform exorcism, and were not permitted to put much preparation into their journey.  This was a separate mission from Matthew 10, since in this mission they were permitted to bring a walking stick and in Matthew 10 they were told not to.  Once again, if this scripture applies to New Covenant believers in general, then New Covenant Believers are also commanded to travel in pairs, are given authority to perform exorcism today, are commanded to not prepare food or clothing (other than what they were wearing) when going to towns and cities to share the Good News, and are commanded to stay at only one house for the entirety of a stay in a given city or town.

However, it is unlikely to be applicable to believers since, once again, this was a specific mission for the 12 disciples.

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Luke 9:1-6

Given that the commands and context are the same and given that both this passage and the Mark 6 passage are immediately followed by Herod’s reaction, it is likely that this is the same story.

The historic usage

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium.

Acts 13:48-51

The one time that we see believers shaking the dust off their feet as a testimony against unbelievers, it was when the Jewish people of a given city disrupted their ministry, persecuted them, and drove them away.  It was NOT done simply because someone who was steeped in their sin heard the gospel didn’t believe right away.

Conclusion

Changing a specific command to a metaphor, and changing the offending audience to someone who doesn’t believe the gospel and lives a sinful lifestyle is to ignore or neglect the reading of these passages in context.

I do have some concern for those who have taught this false teaching, since the scripture says:

…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

James 3:1
Categories
Theology

Bad company in Ancient Jewish Thought

Credit goes to my friend Sam Stephens, who provided review and thoughtful ideas. A few sentences are verbatim from his input.

Introduction

Should Christians avoid befriending unbelievers?  A common passage referenced by Christians regarding the befriending of unbelievers is 1 Corinthians 15:33. Here are three popular translations of the passage:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

(ESV)

Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.

(KJV)

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

(NIV)

The assumption made is that befriending an unbeliever is to hang out with bad company.  Does Paul consider unbelievers (including sexually immoral unbelievers) to be inherently bad company?  What was Paul talking about in that section of 1 Corinthians 15?  And what does “bad company” mean in a Jewish context?

What is “company”?

The Greek word for “company” in 1 Corinthians 15 is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament.  The Greek word is ὁμιλία (“homilia”) from where we get the word “homily” (another word for “sermon”).

Given the variety of lexical definitions and translations available (look up Strong’s Greek number G3657 if you want to see them all), the best way to anchor in a higher likelihood of an accurate lexical definition of the word is to observe the usage of the Greek word in Jewish literature that was highly probable to be in use during Paul’s time.  The Septuagint (which we’ll refer to as LXX going forward) is the best source since it is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that is quoted verbatim by authors of the Greek New Testament.

As it turns out, ὁμιλία is used 4 times in the LXX! Two of them are in the canon (LXX contains some non-canon, if you didn’t know already).  We will focus on the canonical uses but quickly cover the non-canonical too.

The first occurrence is in Exodus 21:10. It is the Mosaic covenantal law regarding men having a polygamous martial relationship in which one of the women is a Hebrew bondservant.  The translation of ὁμιλία is in bold:

If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.

(ESV)

If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

(KJV)

If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.

(NIV)

There is strong agreement across the translations on the meaning of ὁμιλία in this passage: an intimate, sexual form of “company”!

The other occurrence is in Proverbs 7:21, regarding the seductress who entices the foolish boy. Again, the translation of ὁμιλία is in bold:

With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.

(ESV)

With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.

(KJV)

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.

(NIV)

Once again, strong agreement on the word meaning in the translations.  It’s communication, but of a sexual nature.

In the non-canonical LXX passages it is used in the context of being close to wisdom as a husband being close company with a spouse (Wisdom of Solomon 8:18), and it is also used to describe a party involving drinking and “revelry” (3 Maccabees 5:18).

In biblical Jewish literature, this word is always used to mean company of a particularly intimate nature. Within the scope of the LXX it’s used for marriage, drinking buddies, or sex.

So what was Paul talking about?

We must marry the Jewish lexical use with the context of the passage.  Pun intended.

In the context of verse 33, Paul is saying that a hedonistic lifestyle is logical if the resurrection isn’t true.  However, being in company with people for the purpose of loose living is known to be bad for you, so therefore hedonism is false.  Which also means the Corinthians, who have been tolerating sexual immorality in their own congregation (1 Cor. 5), must needs stop living like hedonists and live in the light of the resurrection!

If you do not subscribe to the above contextual interpretation, there are two other probabilities:

  1. The “bad company” may be referring to the “some” who “have no knowledge of God” in verse 34.
  2. The “bad company” may be referring to the person asking “how are the dead raised” in verse 35.

For these two warnings, perhaps the warning is a bit more dire: Simply engaging in a close way with people who doubt God’s ability to raise the dead (by extension, people who do not teach proper doctrine) can itself lead to morally sinful living, even if that idea wasn’t on the table to start with.

The end is the same, though. The “bad company” is not friends who are unsaved or horribly sinful. It’s close conversation motivated by a desire to be like people who willfully disbelieve God.

Did Paul believe that unbelievers were inherently bad company?

It is contextually clear in the New Covenant sciptures that Paul allows for believers to at least have some degree of association and to even have meals with unbelievers who are sexually immoral, idolaters, and who even take advantage of other people!  Avoiding to even eat with such a person is reserved for those unrepentantly practicing this lifestyle while claiming to be believers.

It is clear that sexually immoral, idolatrous, and even exploitive people are not inherently the “bad company” of 1 Corinthians 15:33 unless they are working to seduce you to sin, or if you are trying to hang out with them for the purpose of disobedience.  The scriptures warning us to not participate in the sins of our unbelieving friends are numerous!

In conclusion, Christians are NOT being commanded in this passage to avoid friendships with unbelievers (including the sexually immoral). This common misapplication of the passage ignores the passage’s surrounding context and the historical Jewish usage of the word for “company”. An appropriate use of this passage is for warning people who are in relationships with either professing believers or unbelievers for the purpose of going along with their sin. Being in such relationships will corrupt character.

Categories
Theology

What is love?

I frequently hear the phrase “falling in love” and “falling out of love”.  It is very common even within Christian circles for people to assume that love is an emotion: something that happens (like a lightning bolt or a chemistry experiment).  It is perfectly reasonable to reconsider a dating relationship if it is certain one will not be happy if the relationship grows into the lifetime relationship of marriage.  However, many marriages miserably fail because of the assumption that if the associated emotions are missing, then love must be absent, and therefore the lifetime commitment made at the wedding should be reconsidered.

Jesus the Messiah is the embodiment of perfect love and therefore the prime example. Ultimately, love is a choice that, while emotions are definitely involved, transcends emotion to commit selflessly to others.

When Jesus was about to be sacrificed for our sins, he experienced strong emotions that stressed him.  He naturally did not want to go through with this.  Nobody would.  He pleaded to his Father:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.

Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Yet he knew what his mission was, let the love for his father and for his creation transcend his feelings, and conceded:

Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.

Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Even after his concession, and even after an angel ministered to him, he still experienced agony:

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:43-44, ESV

Yet the Messiah still chose to complete his mission, became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and changed history for the better ever since.