Barry Newman's Blog

May 30, 2012

The Gospel and its Proclamation (part II)

Filed under: Proclaiming the gospel,The Gospel — barrynewman @ 10:37 pm

The Gospel – “Euaggelion in the New Testament

It can be a temptation to give a once and for all, neat and concise definition of the gospel according to the New Testament but that is to be at odds with the New Testament itself.

This is of course not to dismiss Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15: 1, 3 ff, “I would remind you in what terms I made known (gnorizo)to you the gospel I proclaimed (euaggelizomai) to you … For I delivered to you as of first importance … that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared …  It is a relatively brief statement but of course not a definition of the gospel . However, it certainly indicates those features of the gospel Paul considered as “of first importance.” or what he considered were conveyed “at first” or “at the beginning”.  For Paul, the gospel he proclaimed had the death and resurrection of Jesus at the forefront.

A much broader reference to the gospel is found in Mark’s Gospel in his preface with the headline: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Seeing both these statements alongside of one another should serve as a good reminder of the breadth and the depth of the gospel, its focus and its expanse, how rich it is, how simple it is, and how profound and extraordinary it is.  Indeed the gospel is spoken of throughout the pages of the New Testament in many ways and in many places without the word “gospel” even being mentioned.

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May 28, 2012

The Gospel and its Proclamation (part I)

Filed under: Proclaiming the gospel,The Gospel — barrynewman @ 6:20 am

The Gospel and its Proclamation

The Greek word “euaggelion”, is commonly translated, “gospel” or “good news”.  “Good news” it certainly is, though sometimes we point out that what is good news for some is bad news for others.  It is intimately related to the verb, “euaggelizomai” which we sometimes translate as, “proclaiming the gospel” or simply “proclaiming”. As alternatives to “proclaiming”, translators, often refer to “announcing”, “declaring” or even “preaching”.  In one way or another, the verb has the noun written into it. While the word “gospelising” delivers us from introducing the noun when translating the verb, it is not a commonly accepted word.

The gospel is so extraordinary and proclaiming it so much an imperative that I thought it would be a good idea to produce a blog series reminding ourselves of what the New Testament says about the gospel and its proclamation.  Furthermore it might prove to be informative to see how these two Greek words are used outside of the New Testament, say, up until the end of the 1st century A.D.  There are indeed some interesting differences between New Testament usages and the way the words are used in the Greek literature external to the New Testament.

May 17, 2012

A Table of the Lord (Full Series PDF)

Here is the full series

May 16, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XIII)

Concluding Thoughts

As Thiselton commented, we are particularly prone to writing back into those texts that we associate with the sacraments, our current practices and beliefs.  Worse, I believe, is writing back into certain texts, sacramental notions of any sort which are not there in the first place.

One might want to argue that “a table of the Lord” is a reference to something like a Holy Communion Table, albeit in primitive form. However, the lack of the definite article in the phrase, though not definitive in itself, the surrounding context which has to do with not eating or drinking idolatrously, the word for table being readily understood as a prime reference to a meal, and the immediate context being a reference to toasting or drinking in honour of the Lord, rather than “drinking from a communion cup”, suggest otherwise.

One might want to see the reference to “table” being not to a physical object but a reference to a meal, albeit a meal that was somehow meant to reflect the Last Passover Meal or similar. But Paul makes no such explicit connection. Additionally, neither the context for chapters 8 to 10, nor the order in which “table” and “cup” appear in 10: 21, nor the lack of definite articles in this verse, support such a notion.

Verse 21 is forbidding the drinking and eating in such a way that allows the gods to be seen to have significance when only the Lord and eating and drinking under his auspices are to be so recognised. The Lord is the only Lord.  There are no others.

May 13, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XII)

                       1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 34

I should now mention that in a previous blog series I argued that though there is a reference to the Last Passover Meal in Chapter 11 it is not because Paul sees that there was some aspect of their meal that was especially undertaken to reflect aspects of the Last Passover meal.  Nor indeed that he was somehow or another writing about three “meals” in this passage – their meal, a special meal “the Lord’s Supper” and the Last Passover Meal. In fact there are only two meals clearly referred to – their meal and the Last Passover Meal. The passage is fundamentally about what they do when they come together to eat – that is, their meal. It occupies central stage. Additionally he clearly refers to the Last Passover Meal.  But he does this by shifting from their meal to the last Passover meal and then back to their meal as though it were the Last Passover Meal.  In this striking fashion he contrasts the Last Passover Meal and its significance, with their regular meal and its significance, to shame the Corinthians.

Often the host of a formal Greek meal would supply the basic wine and bread.  Under those circumstances the invited guests would then bring the main elements of the first course and then eat what they themselves had brought. This might not matter too greatly if the difference between the background and means of the guests were not too great, as would have normally been the case.

It would appear that the Corinthian believers were now operating the same way. But in their case, because they came together as believers, their backgrounds differed enormously. The result was that those who were poor brought little and ate little while those who well off brought rich fare and ate well. The consequence was that a great inequity was created between the haves and the have nots, though all were believers in the one Lord.  It was not the difference in what they ate that was really important. It was how they were treated differently. All should have been treated as of equal worth. The inequity which should not at all have existed among the people of God for whom the Lord died was considered by Paul to be an offence against the death of Christ itself and deserving of strong language and strong condemnation.   The Lord’s death was not proclaimed by their actions.  The solution he offered to their problem was that when they came together to eat they should share (rather than they should “wait for each other”, as some translations render that part of the text)!!  The passage has Paul dealing with how they conducted their meal – an ordinary though formal meal (they had come together in a formal way, “as church”), how disgraceful that was, and how it had to change.

Furthermore I argued that grammatically, “the Lord’s Supper” (there is actually no definite article) is not a reference to any type of ceremony.  The statement in verse 20 is, “When you come together to eat it is not a Lordly meal”.  That is, Paul is claiming that their meals would not be owned by the Lord (the adjective “kuriakos” is used, not the noun, “kurios”).  The Lord could not associate himself with them.

It should also be noted that there is no immediate connection between chapter 10 and verses 17 – 34 of chapter 11.  The subject matter of 11: 1 – 16 sets a clear divide between the two.

May 11, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part XI)

A table of the Lord

But what does “a table of the Lord” or “a meal of the Lord” mean? These believers, who once saw a meal as under the eye of the gods, a table of demons, probably a meal in some way or another, sometimes viewed as shared with the gods (see below), were of course now to see all their meals as under the eye of the one and only Lord.  He was the one who brought them together and so now he is the one who now rules over them.  The Lord was the one who presided at all their meals.  The believing Corinthians were not meant to see some of their fellowship meals as their own meals and some as the Lord’s, as we might be prone to do! They shared their meal with the Lord not in any physical sense but as a meal enjoyed with each other under his auspices.

Recognising that they were meant to see all their meals this way could probably justify a translation which did refer to “the table of the Lord”.  If that is how Paul meant the text to be understood, “the table of the Lord” would then stand in stark linguistic opposition as well as theological opposition to, “a table of demons”, if that is how the latter phrase was meant to be understood.

Perhaps they were meant to realise that in their fellowship meals there was some reflection of a special meal, maybe even the Last Passover Meal.  Perhaps they were meant to see their fellowship meals as reflective of the great banquet where the Lords’ people would sit at his table. However in chapter 10, Paul makes no explicit mention of the Last Passover Meal, as much as one might wish to write that into verses 16 and 17, nor does he make any mention of the great eschatological Dinner.

A table of demons and a cup of demons

The references to the table dedicated to Asclepius and the table of Zeus earlier are clear examples of tables that were specifically associated with a particular god.  The table of Fortune mentioned in Isaiah 65: 11 “As for you who forsake the Lord … who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny …” is perhaps also a reference to a pagan deity. But note: one table – one demon.  “A table of demons”, could be Paul’s way of saying a table of any demon.  Perhaps more likely it is a reference to the fact that at any formal pagan Corinthian meal, there would be the mention of a number of gods, throughout the whole meal though mainly via the use of wine in toasting them.

For further reflection, according to Cheung, Jews referred to idolatry “with appellatives like ‘table of demons’ even [when this was] apart from a temple setting.”[1] Paul could have simply been adopting the viewpoint and phraseology of his fellow Jews, though it would still seem that the idolatry he would have had in mind was the idolatry associated with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, whatever the setting of the meal.

It should also be noted that in the Graeco-Roman world, the thought seems to be that the meal was shared with one or more of the gods at least on some occasions. The association of the notion of “table” with a feast of the gods at festive meals does not seem to have been an uncommon one.[2]

The reference to “a cup of demons” could be a reference to a cup of any demon, and some cups were reserved by some people for toasting one god only. And although one could also chose to toast a number of gods from the one cup perhaps it was more likely that only after the cup was “refilled” would one go onto the next toast.


[1] Cheung, A.T., Idol Food in Corinth: Jewish background and Pauline legacy, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 1999, p. 204

[2] See Smith, D.E., From Symposium to Eucharist – The banquet in the Early Christian World, Augsberg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 2003, pp. 81 – 84.

May 8, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part X)

                      1 Corinthians 10: 21

The surround verses for verse 21 have as their main concern that the believers should not in any way being caught up in idolatry.  One should expect this to be the main concern in verse 21.

Whatever one makes of 1 Corinthians 11: 20 and its usual reference by exegetes to “the Lord’s Supper” or similar, there is no mention whatsoever of “the Lord’s Supper” or similar here.  Again, similar to verses 16 and 17, the reference to “cup” comes before the reference to  “table”.  This not what one would expect if Paul is making a comment with the “the Lord’s Supper” or the like in mind.  It is however not a surprise when one considers the dominance of wine in the normal formal meals in the Graeco-Roman world.

Furthermore, it is possible that by his reference to “a cup” and then “a table” he is referring to “drink” and then “food”, or even “drink” and then the first part of a formal meal, consisting mainly of food rather than drink. If that is the case, it becomes difficult to see, in Paul’s usage here, “table” as a reference to a meal as a whole or as a reference to a table or tables on which both the food and the wine were placed. In discussion above and below, I have chosen to use the word, “meal” as though it covered both “drink” and “food” but that may be misleading in so far as my comments relate to verse 21.

Additionally, we need to note again that there are no definite articles in v. 21.  The phrase, “a table of the Lord” and “a table of demons” does not automatically suggest that some specific table, one dedicated, in some sense or other, to the Lord, is in mind.

Earlier I suggested that we may choose between the word “table” being a prime reference to the object, a table, or to what is associated with the table – a meal. Taking this latter view, “partaking of a table” would imply, in normal circumstances, “partaking of the meal that is on that table” or more generally “partaking the meal that has been supplied”.  As has already been stated, Paul’s overall concern in chapters 8 to 10 has been that the believers should not knowingly have any pagan element in what they eat and drink – the drink is never to be used as a toast to one or more of the gods, and the meal is never to consist of food that has knowingly been offered to idols. Hence his statement in verse 21 should come as no surprise – “Drinking a cup of the Lord alongside of drinking any cup of any demon is not on.  Participating in a table (meal) of the Lord and at the same time any table (meal) of any demon is not on.”

May 6, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part IX)

1 Corinthians 10: 18 – 20

I also recognise that 1 Corinthians 10: 18 – 20 is concerned with the offering of sacrifices.  However Paul’s argument is to show that just as those people of Israel who ate of the sacrifices and so participated in the altar – had some connection with the altar and so had some connection with the true God, so those who in any way participate in the sacrifices to demons, though the demons are nothing, also participate in some way with demons.

Paul’s argument is not one intending to convey that in his reference to “a table of the Lord” and “a cup of the Lord” he is also referring to a sacrifice made to the Lord. He is referring in some sense to participating with the Lord but not in sacrificial worship. Verse 14 began with “Flee from idolatry. And now in verses 18 – 20, the sense is – have nothing to do with idol worship and participation with demons.  These are an absolute no no for the Corinthian believers.

1 Corinthians 10: 22 – 30

Verse 22, asks the question, “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” – A very suitable question when one is faced with the worship of other gods! Verses 23, 24 relate to being careful to not lead a fellow brother astray by appealing to something like” Everything is permissible.”  This is a theme he had previously dealt with in more detail beginning in chapter 8 where clearly the concern is with eating meat offered to idols. Verses 25, 26 caution about asking questions concerning the origin of meat when buying it at the meat market and verses 27 – 30 relate to what response should be given by the believer when he is invited to a dinner and someone points out that a certain part of the meal has been offered in sacrifice.

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