Four Branches – December 2020

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Exegetical Theology: Tell Me Up Front – More on Topic and Focus

We’ve seen two reasons why words are moved to the front of the clause: As foci, to mark them as the most important information, or as topics, to put hearers in better position to understand what’s about to be asserted. This month we look some more at how speakers can use these devices to communicate in subtle yet important ways, with examples from 1 Peter 3:18-22 (CWS Epistle for Advent 1B).

Focus (moving the most important word forward) doesn’t just happen on the sentence- or clause-level, but also on the phrase-level. Within a noun-phrase, the default is to begin with the noun, but a modifier can be moved to the front to be marked as the phrase’s focus.

Verse 21:             | οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου | ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν |

| not a fleshly removal of dirt, | but a legal-claim-laying[1] to a good conscience with reference to God. |

The genitive modifier flesh was moved to the front to mark it as the most important information in its phrase. This is the phrase’s most important information because that is what is being negated with regard to baptism. Baptism is a removal of filth, just not the fleshly kind. The genitive modifier good conscience too was moved to the front of its phrase as the most important information within it. As opposed to a fleshly dirt-removal, baptism is a legal-claim-laying to a good conscience, as in, the kind of washing that claims from God the squeaky-clean conscience he himself has promised.

Topics (moving words forward to set up something else) can be used to set up two contrasting assertions with μέν…δέ. What comes before these particles are the topics, setting up two contrasting assertions. The assertion introduced by the μέν-topic is always backgrounded to the more main point, which is the assertion introduced by the δέ-topic.

Verse 18:             | θανατωθεὶς μὲν | σαρκὶ | ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ | πνεύματι |

| Though put to death | in a fleshly mode, | he was made alive | in a spiritual mode. |

The two contrasting topics are was put to death and was made alive. The assertions are what follows them. The first assertion is the mode in which Christ was put to death: fleshly. But the second and more important assertion is the mode in which Christ was made alive: spiritual.[2]Peter points us to the fact that, despite the humble state Christ was in when killed, his state was perfectly glorious when he rose. He says this in anticipation of and as evidence for his later encouragement (4:6) that Christ’s people too, despite their mistreatment at the hands of the world in a fleshly state, will have life with God in a spiritual state.[3]

Rev. Aaron Jensen serves as associate pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Adrian, MI.

[1] The meaning of ἐπερώτημα, glossed here as legal-claim-laying,is famously debated. For a helpful overview of the interpretive issues—both linguistic and theological—and an explanation for the rendering presented here, see Steven Geiger, “A Word About Baptism: ἐπερώτημα in 1 Peter 3:21,” WLQ 113:3 (2016).

[2] For a further discussion of the use of these terms spirit and flesh to speak of Christ’s two states here and elsewhere (Rom 1:3-4; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 5:7), see the classic article by Siegbert Becker, “The Christological Flesh-Spirit Antithesis,” WLQ 76:3 (1979). This article is also available on the WLS essay file.

[3] The terms flesh and spirit when used of Christ end up being equivalent to our more common dogmatic designations state of humiliation and state of exaltation, respectively. However, one benefit to Scripture’s own terms flesh and spirit, over against the dogmatic terms humiliation and exaltation, is that they can be directly applied also to believers and their two states. While we can speak of our future resurrected state as being an exaltation, it would be more difficult to describe our present state as being a humiliation, because this is our starting point and the mode of our present life is the direct result of human sin and not of a gracious setting aside of any majesty proper to us. But just like our Savior’s, our present life is in a lowly fleshly state, and just like our Savior’s, our resurrected life will be in a glorious spiritual state. The fact that faith in Jesus incorporates us into him and places us on the same life-trajectory as him from fleshly state to spiritual state reminds us that scriptural encouragements to imitate Christ in enduring suffering are far deeper than a call to treat Christ as merely example, but such encouragements rest on the promise that, through what he accomplished by his suffering, our suffering will dissipate into resurrected glory just as his did, which is what gives us the confidence and perseverance needed to withstand suffering until then.

Exegetical Theology: The Valley of Dry Bones – Part 1

Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (37:1-14) shows God’s amazing ability to give life.[4] The word “live” (חָיָה) is used six times in these verses.[5] But what kind of life is God promising here? We will explore this question in this series of articles on this vision given to Ezekiel.

Commentators explain that with this vision God was showing Israel that he would bring them back to life as a nation.[6] In verses 11-14, we get God’s own interpretation of the vision. In verse 11, the LORD says that “these bones” are “the whole house of Israel (כָּל־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל).”

The LORD seems to have given the vision in response to something that the Israelites were saying. They were “saying” (אֹמְרִים), “Our bones are dried up” (37:11, NIV). The Hebrew words for this are יָבְשׁוּ עַצְמוֹתֵינוּ. These words connect back to the vision itself. The valley which Ezekiel saw was “full of bones (עֲצָמוֹת)” (37:1, NIV). The bones were “very dry (יְבֵשׁוֹת מְאֹד)” (37:2). Therefore, this vision was very appropriate to what the people were saying.

By saying, “Our bones are dried up,” it seems that the people meant that they had no hope as a nation.[7] Horace Hummel explains that the second line of what the people say is explanatory: “Our hope is gone” (37:11, NIV).[8] God responds to their despair by giving them this vision.[9]  John Jeske says it well: “This vision was God’s assurance, first, that the people of God would not die out in Babylon but would be restored to their homeland and, second, that God would put his Spirit in people to create spiritual life where there had been only death.”[10]

God promised the Israelites, “I will bring you back to the land of Israel” (37:12). “I will settle you in your own land” (37:14). God brought Judah back from captivity in Babylon. Although not mentioned in this passage, one result of God giving Israel new life as a nation is that he kept his promise of a Savior alive. If the nation would have ceased to exist, what would have happened to God’s promise of a Savior? But God brought Judah back from captivity, and the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, just as God had promised (Micah 5:2). He is the Savior who came to bring life.

Daniel Waldschmidt serves as pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Burlington, WI.

[4] The idea for these articles was sparked partly by Jonathan E. Schroeder, Planning Christian Worship: Year A, “Third Sunday of End Time – Saints Triumphant,” (Ezekiel 37:15-28), p. 172.

[5] Cf. Horace D. Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), 1075.

[6] Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 379-380; Hummel, Ezekiel, 1075-1076; C. F. Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel in C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, reprint), 121, 126; Keith Bernard Kuschel, Ezekiel, People’s Bible (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1986; Second Edition, 1999), 217-219.

[7] Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, 119; Kuschel, Ezekiel, 219.

[8] Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, 1069. Cf. Block, Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, 380.

[9] Kuschel, Ezekiel, 217; Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, 119.

[10] John Jeske, “The March of Prophecy,” p. 15. WLS Online Essay File.

For further Reading

Block, Daniel. The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Duguid, Iain. Ezekiel. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Hummel, Horace. Ezekiel 21-48. Concordia Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia, 2007.

Keil, C. F. Ezekiel, Daniel. Volume IX in C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christians Origins and the Question of God 3. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003. Pages 119-121.

Systematic Theology: PROPHETIC PRINCIPLES Part I: Types of Prophecy

We are in the middle of the season of prophecy. From December to March our worship life is filled with the prophecies about our Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. With that in mind, now might be a good time to brush up on some principles of Old Testament prophecy so that you can not only comprehend the deep truths of God’s Word yourself, but so that you can also better explain to your people what these prophecies mean to their lives today.

Although we are familiar with the different types of prophecies in Scripture (typical, intermediate, and direct fulfillment), those distinctions are not universally held by all Christians – even those we would consider “close” to our confessional stance.

In the Missouri Synod’s “Concordia Theological Monthly” (their equivalent to our Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly), William Hassold traces the teaching of prophetic principles in both synods. This is what he concluded in 1967: “The exegetical tradition of the Wisconsin Synod, then, so far as it can be traced, has been receptive to the idea of typical Messianic prophecy. This is in sharp contrast to the views of the Missouri Synod exegetes, most of whom rejected the typological approach to prophecy.”

This might surprise some of us, but Hassold does note that there have been some in the LCMS that promoted typical prophecy. Professor William Arndt was the first to hold to that view, laying out seven principles of typical prophecy, the first three copied below.

(1) The entire Old Testament has a typical character.

(2) Where the Scripture itself points out a type, that is, of course, an absolutely correct interpretation.

(3) When the New Testament points out that there are types in the Old Testament, the interpreter’s task is carefully to search the Scriptures themselves for an authoritative interpretation of these types.

In his research, Hassold also quotes Paul Kretzman and Martin Franzmann as adhering to the possibility of typical prophecies. Interestingly, at the end of his article, the author is of the opinion that the Wisconsin Synod’s stance “carries greater conviction” than the position the Missouri Synod historically held up to that point.

The brief article is worth a read as a succinct summary of prophecy in the Old Testament. You can find the article online HERE.

Rev. Matthew Frey serves Living Word Lutheran Church in Montrose, CO, and as chairman of the Colorado District Mission Board.

Historical Theology: Sifted in Satan’s Sieve

Upon his death in 1676, the church Paul Gerhardt served as pastor hung a portrait of their faithful shepherd, now in glory. Under the portrait were written the words, “Paul Gerhardt, a theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve, and after found faithful.”

Perhaps for some (or many) of us, ministry in 2020 has felt a little like being “sifted through Satan’s sieve.” Ministry challenges that would have been unthinkable less than twelve months ago are now the norm. (Who would have ever dreamed of trying to keep attendance low?) Perhaps your preparations during Advent and Christmas, together with the most recent current events, have brought some of those challenges to the forefront. At the same time, however, I pray that all of you have at least some time to forget the stresses of the moment to “recline before the paradise of the manger” and behold God’s grace “brightly shining” there.

With his life, Paul Gerhardt showed us how to do that. Despite the real struggles and heartaches our world may be facing, I think it is still fair to say that many events in Gerhardt’s life would make 2020 look insignificant in comparison. Gerhardt saw the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War destroy his childhood village of Gräfenhainichen, including his church and family home. Lacking anywhere else to go, the young Gerhardt spent fifteen years (1627-1642) studying at the University of Wittenberg. Even after all these years of study, he still had to wait another seven years until finally in 1649 he received his first call into ministry. In 1657, he accepted the call to become senior pastor at St. Nikolai in Berlin.  However, that was  at a time when secular authorities demanded compromise between Lutheranism and Calvinism.  Gerhardt’s refusal to disavow the Lutheran Confessions resulted in his dismissal. Gerhardt endured the deaths of his wife and four of his five children before he arrived at the congregation he served in Lübben, until his death.  With the trials and heartaches Gerhardt endured both in his personal life and in his ministry, who could disagree that he did indeed experience the “sifting of Satan’s sieve?”

And yet, his tribulations are not the reason we remember Gerhardt. We remember him for his hymnody that both expresses such rich doctrinal content and at the same time so poignantly appropriates that content to the individual Christian. No doubt, it was his life of hardship combined with his devotion to Scripture that resulted in the rich heritage he left behind.

Safe to say, it was also divine providence that brought Gerhardt into a friendship with cantor and organist Johann Crüger. Combined with his musical compositions, Crüger brought Gerhardt’s poetry to the masses with Praxis Pietatis Melica (“Practice of Musical Piety”). Its publication in 1647 established Gerhardt’s place as one of Lutheranism’s most beloved hymn writers. By the time of his death, Gerhardt had composed more than one hundred hymns, many of which have continued to grace Lutheran hymnals to the present day.

During this Christmas season that may be a little more challenging than others, perhaps a little more like Gerhardt experienced during his life, take some time to find comfort and peace in the newborn “Savior that Gerhardt so beautifully proclaimed.

Softly from his lowly manger Jesus calls One and all,

“You are safe from danger. Children, from the sins that grieve you

You are freed; All you need

I will surely give you.”

Come, then, banish all your sadness!

One and all, Great and small, Come with songs of gladness;

We shall live with him forever

There on high In that joy Which will vanish never.

 (Christian Worship 37:5,6)Rev. Jacob Behnken serves as pastor of Good Shepherd in Midland, MI

Practical Theology: Ministering to the Suffering  – The Abused

“Kate” was one of four children living in the group home where I worked during my college years. Like others her age, she was just another bubbly eight-year-old who had a love for board games. But unlike many others her age, she had challenges from a spectrum disorder and from a horrific childhood.

Bedtime was when “Kate’s” past crept into the present. Every night she would unroll a flimsy sleeping bag on the floor. Every night she would choose to crawl into that sleeping bag instead of cozy bedsheets. Every night I wondered, “Why does she sleep on the floor instead of in a bed?” A co-worker informed me, “It’s because that’s where her father sexually abused her when she was five. She associates beds with the abuse.”

Pastors might be able to think quickly of members who have battled or are battling cancer. We decry the suffering the disease brings to their bodies and inflicts upon their souls. Consider this. Research indicates that the rate of child abuse is 10 times(!) the rate of cancer.[11] As many as one out three girls and one of seven boys will be sexually abused before turning age 18.[12]

Can you think of those members as quickly? Many victims of abuse suffer in silence. Their suffering is buried away by time, by shame, or by not knowing what to do or say. Their suffering is buried away so that it might be forgotten, and yet it never is. The body, the mind, and the soul keep the score with memories that haunt. Anxiety that paralyzes. Pain that lingers. Darkness that surrounds.

When one body part suffers, the whole body suffers. The aim of these three articles is to call attention to three examples of suffering we might find among fellow members in the body of Christ. More than that, these articles will seek to offer one point of encouragement and one resource to equip you for ministering to the suffering with the light of Christ.

An Encouragement – Where textual application allows, speak to the abused heart in a sermon. Mourn with those who mourn. Offer comfort to those who mourn. Here is one sample sermon on Matthew 2:13-23 (“The Slaughter of the Innocents”) where I attempted to mourn and comfort those who mourn.

A Resource – If you aren’t familiar with the “Freedom for the Captives” ministry resources, become informed (You can access the website here). These excellent resources and the free abuse prevention training course (“Standing Up for the Children”) equip the body of Christ to protect children and empower abuse survivors.

Rev. Joel Russow serves Faith Lutheran Church in Tallahassee, FL

[11] Source: Blair L. Sadler, The Summary Chapter—The National Call to Action—Moving Ahead, 23 Child Abuse & Neglect 1011, 1016 (1999).

[12] Source: David Finkelhor, et al, Sexual Abuse Survey of Adult Men and Women, Prevalence, Characteristics and Risk Factors, 14 Child Abuse & Neglect 19-29 (1990).