Logos BridegroomHere is some good news on my book, Jesus, the Bridegroom. It will be available in the Logos Library as a part of a two-book bundle. The “Wipf & Stock Eschatology Bundle” is on pre-order along with Jonathan Menn’s Biblical Eschatology. Menn is the  director of Equipping Church Leaders-East Africa, and his book runs over 600 pages! I guess I am the junior partner in this bundle at 300 pages. I hope that once my book is published in the Logos library it will become available separately, but it is exciting to see it on the Logos site.

Jesus the Bridegroom has been reviewed in a couple of places. I posted a notice of Peter J. Leithart’s review at  First Things a bit earlier. Don K. Preston reviewed the book at Amazon, saying he loves “the research that went into this. While Dr. Long’s emphasis is on ‘source’ and my focus is on theology, Nonetheless, I did find this book to be very helpful.I particularly appreciated the linguistic studies, showing the marital language that is used in some texts (e.g. especially Isaiah 4-5) that I had never seen before, and I truly appreciated it. His inter-textual notations were also fruitful. Long’s conclusion that Jesus drew together several strands of Jewish thought, and conflated those strands into a harmonious message, thus, suggesting that Jesus stood well within the framework of a Jewish prophet, is very good”

The book is available through Amazon and the Wipf & Stock website and retails for $33 (Amazon and Wipf & Stock sell it for discounted price). The Kindle version is only $9.99 and claims to have real page numbers, but I cannot see them reading the book with the Kindle App on an iPad. Still, the book looks great in Kindle. If you live in the Grand Rapids area, I have a few copies in my office if you want to get one directly from me.  If you do get the book, leave a nice review on Amazon, I would appreciate that.

Obviously I would love for you to buy a copy, but that is not always possible. Here’s how you can help get the word out for me:

What is the book about? The full title of the book is Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels. The book is an edited version of my dissertation. As I was working on my dissertation, people would ask what I was writing on. I usually said “an intertextual study on messianic banquet imagery in the Synoptic Gospels.” After a moment of awkward silence, I clarified: “Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Wedding Banquet – what’s up with that?”

The book attempts to study the marriage metaphor / motif in the teaching of Jesus. There are a few places in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a Wedding Banquet, Matt 22:1-14 and 25:1-13 are the most obvious texts. But there are a few places where Jesus describes himself as a bridegroom, and a marriage metaphor appears in a number of other places. My proposal is that Jesus combined the metaphor of an eschatological banquet with the common Old Testament marriage metaphor and described his ministry as an ongoing wedding banquet to which all Israel is now invited. The long period in the wilderness is over and it is time for Israel to return to her Bridegroom.

00_PICKWICK_TemplateIn order to make this case, I apply what might be called an intertextual method to traditions or set of metaphors. The “text” in this intertextual study is the Hebrew Bible, but that text was heard by Jesus’ original listeners rather than read. They knew the metaphors because they heard them taught in their homes and synagogues. Jesus used these metaphors because they were current, but by combining them to describe himself, he created a new image of the eschatological age as a wedding banquet.

I first examine the eschatological “victory banquet” motif in the Hebrew Bible, starting with Isa 25:6-8 (ch. 3), the use of the Wilderness Tradition in Isaiah 40-55 (ch. 4), and the Marriage Metaphor in Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah (ch. 5).  I trace the development of these three themes through the Second Temple Period in chapter 6, and finally apply that database to the sayings of Jesus in chapter 7.

There are a few things that you will not find in this book. First, I did not cover John’s gospel, although there is much there that can be described as “wedding motif.” My reason for this omission are simple-the dissertation was already too long to include another major section on John’s Gospel! Second, there is nothing in this book on the application of the Bridegroom metaphor to the church. I wanted a study of Jesus’ use of the metaphor, not the (much) later theological development of that metaphor. Again, the reason for this is simply that I was writing a New Testament dissertation, doing “biblical theology” rather than “systematic theology.” I wanted to focus on the teaching of Jesus and the origin of the wedding banquet metaphor.

I would really like to hear feedback from anyone who reads the book – feel free to send me an email to continue the discussion. Thanks!

smurfs-world-cup-carnivalThe June 2014 Biblical Studies Carnival will be hosted be hosted right here at Reading Acts. This is a “call for links” to blogs of interest published in June 2013. Email the links to me (plong42 at gmail.com) or leave a comment with a link.  June and July are usually a bit slow for bibliblogs, so take a break from the World Cup help me out by posting something really spectacular in the next few days!

What makes a good post for a Carnival?  Any Blogs that contribute something to the discussion of biblical literature theology, and culture. For example, what posts made challenged you to think more deeply about a topic? What blogs offered insights into Scripture and theology?

Send your links and look for the Carnival around the first of July.

I am also looking for more volunteers for the 2014 Carnival Season. Jonathan Homrighausen at Linguae Antiquitatum is hosting in July (due August 1) and Rob Bradshaw is our host in August (due September 1). That means from September (due Oct 1) through the end of the year is wide open for volunteers. Please email me (plong42 at gmail.com) and pick your month! Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs.

If the church is living their lives worthy of the Gospel, they will be striving together for the gospel and not frightened by any opposition they face. The verb Paul uses here is cognate of ἀθλέω, “to compete in a contest,” implying strenuous action. The book of 4 Maccabees 17:14ff uses this word group to describe martyrs, and the cognate (ἄθλησις) appears in Hebrews 10:32 to describe the hard struggles of the church at Rome as they were persecuted by civil authorities. By the end of the first century, Clement describe the apostles who had given their lives for the gospel as “contending to the death” (1 Clem 5:2).  Paul uses a form of the word that stresses the unified action of a team (συναθλέω) with a prefix which is something like the English prefix co-. They are “co-strivers,” hence the ESV’s “side by side.” The related noun (συναθλητής) refers to a fellow athlete (LSJ).

The church does not have reason to be frightened by their suffering.  The verb Paul chooses to use in this verse (πτύρω) is not the usual word for fear in the New Testament. While it can be translated “terrified,” it is better translated “shy.” In secular Greek it was used of horses that were shy, easily frightened, etc (D.S.2.19). Since it always appears in the passive, and in this case the agent of the passive verb is “opponents,” it is probably best to translate this “do not let yourself be intimidated by your opponents.”

Tiananmen SquareWhy would the Philippians be intimidated? They are a tiny minority with a view of the world that is radical in Greco-Roman. They have no temple, priesthood, or sacrifice. They do not worship the gods in Philippi, nor do they even recognize their existence! They worship in homes, sharing food and fellowship with people of various social classes. Remember the photograph of the man in Tiananmen Square. One man stood in front of the tanks, refusing to move. This one man stood alone against an ultimately powerful force. The Philippian church is something like that man, a single example of a Christian community in the vast work of Roman Philippi.

Paul’s call, therefore, is for the Christians at Philippi to live a life that is consistent with the Gospel. In the context of Philippians, this means unity of heart and mind as well as willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

In fact, by living a worthy life, the church will suffer for their faith (v. 29-30). Contrary to public expectations of success, a life worthy of the Gospel will lead to conflict with culture, resulting in suffering. A Roman would compete for honor, but he expected to win! Paul says here that even if the church is doing everything right, they are going to suffer loss.  This is the same conflict Paul is fighting. He is in chains on account of the Gospel of Christ, yet he has already described this “loss” as a “gain.”

“The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that Christians are suffering persecution in more places today than any other religious group; between 2006 and 2012, Pew says, they were targeted for harassment in 151 countries— three-quarters of the world’s states.” (From Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed, see also Paul Marshall’s original story at The Weekly Standard.) While it is hard to look at suffering of innocent people as a gain, from the perspective of this passage, it is if people are suffering on account of their testimony.

Paul’s encouragement to life a life worthy of the Gospel anticipates his description of Jesus in chapter 2. Just as Jesus humbled himself and took on the form of a servant, so too the church at Philippi must humbly serve others.


CrossPaul begins the next section of the letter to the Philippians by calling on the church to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

By living a worthy life, the church will stand firm in one spirit (v. 27-28).  One’s “manner of life” (πολιτεύομαι) refers to being a good citizen. If someone was a Roman citizen, there were a number of expectations for proper behavior in the public forum. This refers to both a legal responsibility as well as conduct in public. By analogy, a “good citizen” in America pays their taxes and votes in elections, properly registers and insures their car, etc. You cannot call a person who refuses to pay taxes, breaks the Law regularly, or runs around burning American flags a “good citizen.”

“Manner of life” can be used as a metaphor for living in accordance with the Law. In 3 Macc 3:4, for example, it describes the way of those Jews who had kept themselves separate with respect to foods, but had gained a good reputation for various good works. But these differences were so significant that they fell under suspicion as “hostile and greatly opposed to the government” (3 Macc 3:7) and eventually the government oppressions the Jews because their “manner of life” was so different than the Greeks in Egypt (3:11-30).  The same sense of the word appears in 4 Macc 2:8 where one whose “manner of life” conforms to the Law stands in contrast to a number of typical vices. Josephus refers to keeping the Law, but also paying the Temple tax and other civic duties (Ant. 12.142). The word appears in other Jewish literature to describe proper conduct of life with respect to the Law. It is not insignificant that the Jews in 3 and 4 Maccabees were perceived as hostile to their culture and were persecuted for their “manner of life”

To have a manner of life “worthy” of some ideal is a common way of expressing the goal of spiritual life in the New Testament. Perhaps this might be thought of as “live up to an expectation.” For Roman citizen, the expectation is to live like a Roman citizen should; for the one who is “in Christ,” they are to live worthy of the Gospel!  Paul begins the second half of Ephesians with similar words (“walk in a manner worthy of the calling”); in 2 Thess 2:12 he encourages his readers to “walk worthy of God” (cf. 3 John 6); in Col 1:10, it is “walk worthy of the Lord;” in Rom 16:2, it is “walk worthy of the saints.” Deissmann reports this word was used on inscriptions in Pergamum (Biblical Studies, 248). Athenaios, a priest of Dionysus and Sabazius, is extolled as “worthy of god.” Whatever these priests did, they were considered good examples for other worshipers.

The goal in Philippians 1:27 is the Gospel of Christ. The one who is “in Christ” is not a citizen of Rome. Nor should they conform their lives to the Law quite like the martyrs in 3 and 4 Maccabees. Their loyalty is to the Gospel of Christ only. Everything the individual Christian or local church does ought to be viewed through the grid of the Gospel.


Paul expects that his imprisonment will not end in shame (v. 18b-20).  Paul’s desire is to be free of this legal threat, to be delivered from the charges and return to the ministry to which he has been called.

Paul’s expectation is that everything that has happened will turn out to be his salvation. The word here is used literally for getting out of a boat (John 21:9, ἀποβαίνω). The word comes to be used as a metaphor for getting an expected result: “things turn out as planned.” “Deliverance” is usually translated salvation, the word does not always mean “salvation from my sins,” sometimes it means “saved from a bad situation.”  “Eager expectation” (ἀποκαραδοκία) is a rare word only found in Christian writings, although the verb appears in Herodotus for “awaiting the outcome of a war” (vii.163, 168).  Paul used the word in Rom 8:19: all creation has an “eager expectation for revealing of the sons of God.” The impression the reader has is of Paul looking forward to his release so that he can return to his long-delayed mission.

Philippians-1-21Being under house arrest is something most people in the Roman world would consider “shameful.” Shame in the Roman world was serious, people would do all that they could to avoid something that brought them shame awhile at the same time trying to increase their honor in society. This pursuit of honor often took precedence over wealth or love. Just to be under house arrest for any reason was shameful. To be in prison for preaching the story of a man who was crucified (the ultimate shame) would be enough shame to doom most people.

Yet Paul He has “full courage” that “Christ will be honored in my body,” implying that things might not go as well as he hopes. Even if he should die as a result his trial, death is still a gain! (v. 21-24) This is one of the most cherished passages in Philippians because it expresses the hope that when we die, we will be with Christ, which is “far better.” Paul’s life is defined as “Christ.” Whatever he does in this life is for Christ and Christ alone. Roman life was defined by their pursuit of honor. Whatever a Roman might do in order to gain honor for themselves, yet Paul willingly gives up in order to reach others for Christ.

“To die is gain” runs counter to how a Roman person would think. If Paul dies, then he proves his shame! Many famous Romans chose to commit suicide rather than accept greater shame, “death before dishonor.” Socrates is an example of this, although much closer to the time of Paul Cato the Younger killed himself in 46 B.C. because his army was defeated by Julius, so too Brutus, who killed himself in 42 B.C. after it was obvious Octavian would prevail (Brutus participated in the assassination of Julius, Octavian’s adopted father). Both Seneca and Nero killed themselves a few years after Philippians was written (A.D. 65 and 68).

This anticipates what Paul will say about Jesus in the next chapter. Jesus is the ultimate example of “to die is gain.” Paul is not talking about a “noble suicide.” Just as Jesus gave his life on behalf of others, Paul is also willing to lay down his life so that the Gospel will continue to advance.

Paul is “hard pressed” between these two good things. If he lives, he can continue the ministry to which God has already called him, especially to continue working with the Philippian church in order to build it up spiritually. Paul is not expressing some sort of morose acceptance of his impending death, nor is he giving up on this life because of his hardships. If he is not executed, he will continue his mission; if he is executed God has already raised up other leaders who will continue to preach the Gospel.

Because he expects the gospel to continue to advance, he prays for the Philippian church to continue to grow spiritually (v. 25-26). In spite of his imprisonment and competition of rival preachers, all that matters to Paul is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Paul’s imprisonment may have been controversial, allowing an opportunity for rivals to “afflict” Paul.  When your rival in business has troubles, you benefit. When Toyota recalls a million cars, other car companies benefit because Toyota’s public image is shamed.

First, Paul’s rivals preach the gospel out of envy and strife, not good will. Envy or jealousy (φθόνος) usually appears in vice lists along with strife (ἔρις, Romans 1:29, 1 Cor 3:3). This word is always negative, there is another word for zealous/jealous. Strife (ἔρις) is a rare word, but in the wisdom literature it is the opposite of wisdom (Wisdom 6:23) “Strife” describes the Corinthian church (1 Cor 1:11, “quarreling”). The Romans could think of themselves (ideally) as ruling without “jealousy or strife” (1 Macc 8:16). 3 Macc 6:7 describes Daniel as subject to “jealous (φθόνος) slander.”

EnvySecond, they preach out of selfish ambition (ἐριθεία), thinking to afflict Paul, not out of sincerity.  Ambition is not bad, but this word refers to a self-seeking ambition and usually has the sense of a “feeling of hostility or opposition” (LN 39.7). The word originally referred to a day-laborer and became associated with the “attitude or disposition of the day laborer” (TDNT 2:660). In Phil 2:3 Paul will encourage the congregation to do nothing out of self-ambition, but rather seek the needs of others first. Someone who is a “team player” is usually respected because they are willing to sacrifice their own honor and statistics in order to help the team win. Someone who only tries to increase their own honor often hurt the team.  In contrast, the idea preacher of the Gospel does so out of sincerity. This adverb refers to purity of motives. Think of a kid who gives his parent a gift totally unexpected; the first thought might be, “what do you want?” For Paul, there is no ulterior motive for the preaching of the Gospel, he is not trying to build his own reputation or personal wealth.

Third, the rivals preach out of pretense, not from love and truth. A pretense or pretext (πρόφασις) is the reason someone has for doing something. There is a difference between “a reason” and an “excuse.” This word has a little bit of a negative connotation carried by the English word excuse. Perhaps they have some sort of a hidden agenda, some other reason for preaching the Gospel other than the advance of the gospel. This pretense may not be particularly bad or sinful. There are other places where Paul attacks a false teacher for their greed (such as opponents in 1 Timothy, for example).

Who are these rival preachers?  Paul does not identify them, other than saying they preach the genuine gospel.  These rivals are not the same as his opponents in Galatia who do not preach the gospel at all, or like the opponents in Colossae who have such theological errors that they cannot really be considered “Christian” anymore. These rivals are at least preaching the Gospel, even if their motivations are wrong.

Paul concludes by saying that he rejoices in the successes of his rival preachers while he is in prison! It is a wonderful thing that they are bringing the Gospel to new parts of the world, planting churches and training leaders.

There are two specific ways the Gospel has advanced as a result of his imprisonment. First, the whole “imperial guard” has heard Paul’s imprisonment is on account of Christ. The word Paul chose here is refers to the praetorium (πραιτώριον), or the headquarters of the Roman guard. In any major city with a Roman presence there might be such a headquarters, certainly Herod’s palace in Caesarea could be called a praetorium and “all the rest” are the people living in the palace. If Paul is in Rome, then the term could refer to the Imperial guard. In either case, everyone who has contact with Paul knows why he is in prison.

Second, “most of the brothers” have grown in confidence and are speaking the Gospel more boldly and without fear. Paul’s example of boldly preaching the gospel despite his chains has convinced timid believers to be more open in their faith. This verb (τολμάω) has the sense of daring to do something (as in Rom 5:7, someone might dare to die). Joseph of Armethea, for example, has the courage to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43). This request was courageous since Joseph might have been seen as rebellious or revolutionary by Pilate, potentially he too could have been executed for providing an honorable burial for Jesus.

FearlessTo be “fearless” has the connotation in contemporary English of doing something dangerous, such as skydiving or base-jumping. People put “fearless” on t-shirts (although usually not the people who jump off skyscrapers). But the word in Greek can have the connotation of shameless actions as well. To be brave and bold might mean that you do something dangerous and risky, but it also might mean you do something that is socially embarrassing (the old “truth or dare” game?)

It is possible some Roman Christians (again, assuming the traditional view) were in fact believers, but quite timid in making some sort of public proclamation of their faith. They were afraid to tell friends and family they were a part of this new religious group that worshiped a crucified man. Their belief in Jesus as the Messiah and savior would be shameful if they were Jewish or Roman and in either case could result in a loss of status, threatening their position in society. To boldly declare you are believer in Jesus was more than socially awkward, it was potentially life threatening!

Paul’s imprisonment, therefore, is good because the Gospel continues to advance despite his chains.  His example to other believers has emboldened them to publicaly declare their faith in Jesus, even if that declaration is socially dangerous.

Paul begins the second section of his letter by saying what has happened to him has in no way hindered the preaching of the Gospel. “What has happened” is Paul’s arrest and imprisonment.  Assuming the traditional view, Paul was placed in protective custody in Jerusalem when a crowd at the Temple thought he might have brought a Gentile into the Jewish section of the Temple courts. He spent two years under house arrest in Caesarea, used a pawn between the Roman governor Felix and the Temple aristocracy from Jerusalem. After he appealed to Rome, Paul spent a significant time traveling by ship to Rome, was shipwrecked and washed ashore at Malta. By the time Paul writes this letter, he has been under house arrest for more than two years, perhaps as long as four years. He does not know whether this long time under Roman guard will end in acquittal or execution. (Here is a post on the options for where Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. If Paul was in prison in Ephesus or Caesarea, his point is still valid.)

In PrisonPaul believes all of this hardship has actually advanced the gospel.  To “advance” (προκοπή) has the sense of progressing towards a goal or an “advanced state” (BDAG). People sometimes say “we made good time” when they travel, or if they get a great deal of work done on a project they says “we made good progress.” The word is used in contemporary Greek for advancement in a career. On a tombstone found in Rome, the word describes the career of a man named Rufinus who was advancing his career in public service in Egypt when he suddenly died (NewDocs 4, 36). To die suddenly, in the midst of one’s career is something potentially shameful. One is cut off mid-life, perhaps because he has offended a god.

Perhaps Paul is using this somewhat rare word in the New Testament in a similar way, even if his personal career is cut short, the Gospel will continue to advance. There may have been people who observed Paul’s career (the selfish preachers in the next section) and thought that Paul’s arrest would end his Gentile mission, or that his death would mean the end of the preaching of the Gospel of the Grace of God. But just as the book of Acts ended, Paul might be in chains, but the Gospel is not.

This is an important point: There is no single person in the history of the church so important to a ministry that the Gospel will be hindered if they were to leave! It is possible some pastors have thought that they were the only person holding a ministry together, or a person thought if they were to leave a particular ministry within a church would fail. In fact, I might consider a person who thought they were that important to the advance of the gospel to be deluded (and possibly leading a cult of some kind). If a pastor (or professor) looks at their career advancement as the goal, they have failed already. The goal for Paul was the advancement of the Gospel alone.

It is probably true that some small churches are held together by a single, dedicated pastor, so much so that if that pastor died the ministry might cease. But this is not at all the same as the Gospel failing. Paul’s point in this section of Philippians is that the Gospel will continue to advance whether God prospers Paul’s career or not.

I want to make one last comment on the opening prayer in Philippians 1. Paul prays in these opening verses that the church at Philippi about in love. The goal of “abounding in love” is eschatological. If the church abounds in love all the more, on the day of Christ they will be found pure and blameless, filled with fruit of righteousness. The “day of Christ” looks forward to the believer’s ultimate vindication at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-15).

But pure and blameless are not the usual way of describing purity in an eschatological sense.  First, “pure” (εἰλικρινής) has to do with one’s conscience (Acts 24:16, Paul has a clear conscience), perhaps sincerity (2 Peter 3:1) concerning his motives for preaching the Gospel. In the context of discerning what is right in verse 10, if one who is in Christ is abounding in love, they will be able to discern what is excellent and not offend their own conscience. By discerning the excellent, the believer is found pure on the Day of Christ.

Offended1Second, blameless (ἀπρόσκοπος) concerns offending someone. In English is sounds like Paul is saying the believer will stand before Jesus without any blame – but this is true because the person is “in Christ.” This word, however, concerns our giving offense to other people. Related words (προσκοπή, προσκόπτω) have the sense of stumbling, or causing someone to stumble (“a stumbling block”).  In Sirach 31:17 the word is used in the context of having good table manners (“do not chew greedily, or you will give offense”). “Blameless” (ἀπρόσκοπος) is used in 1 Cor 10:32; Paul does not want the church to give an offense to either Jews or Gentiles by what they eat or drink.  Again, in the context of discerning what is excellent, it is possible the believer must give up some practice deemed offensive by a culture. In a Jewish context, a Gentile could eat food that is simply offensive even though their conscience is clear.

Perhaps the first word refers to offending one’s own conscience; the second refers to offending another person’s conscience.  If the believer is “abounding all the more in love,” then they will realize when a particular behavior violates their own conscience or causes another person to be offended and sin themselves. This is an incredibly fine line to walk, since it requires one to think about their behavior as well as how that behavior affects other people.

The believer will have “fruit” on that Day. “Fruit” is a regular metaphor for the Christian life. In Gal 5:22-23 Paul describes the goal of the Christian life as bearing the “fruit of the Spirit” as opposed to the deeds of the flesh. As “in Christ people” we bear naturally fruit. The quality of the fruit is the subject of the judgment, not the presence of the fruit.

The source of the believer’s “fruit of righteousness” is Jesus Christ. It is not the fruit which they have produced themselves, but rather the fruit Jesus has borne in them. This is a simple observation, but it is not often made. Christians have always had a sense that they ought to be working very hard to do good deeds in order please God lest they be punished like a bad child. While I am always in favor of people being nice to one another and behaving ethically, the “fruit of righteousness” Paul describes here is the natural result of Christ working through the believer. It is not what we produce through our effort or skill, but what Christ produces through us.

Paul concludes this opening prayer by giving God all the glory and praise. His goal is not to increase his own power or reputation, but to fully glorify God.

The point of Paul’s opening prayer is that the congregation’s love would “abound more and more.” Similar to Paul’s prayer in 1 Thess 3:12, he wants his readers to “abounding in love” more than they already do. Perhaps this is an allusion to God’s character, in Exod 34:6 he is “abounding in love,” a verse that resonates in many other texts in the Hebrew Bible (Num 14:8, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:5). To “abound” is fairly simple, it means to have enough to go around and then some. It is used for the food Jesus provides in the wilderness (Matt 14:20). If you have an abundance of something, you are “rich,” so this word (περισσεύω) can be translated in that way, “be rich in love.”

bible-philippiansSomeone might ask, how do I “abound in love”? First, study the character of God, who is the one who ultimately “abounds in love.” Second, observe how Jesus reveals the character of God’s love in his ministry. Third, love is not a commodity that can be hoarded; it does not bear interest when it is not used. You know someone is a loving person because they are acting in some sort of a loving way!

Since love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, it is possible that Paul uses love as a kind of shorthand for all the things that characterize the person who is “in Christ” and bearing fruit. Knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) refers to intellect, knowing “facts.” In the New Testament it is often “knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4, for example). It is very common in Paul’s letters to find this kind of balance between the practical (love) and doctrinal (know). The more you know God and his story (the Bible), the better you can demonstrate love (peace, patience, etc). The more you bear the fruit of the Spirit, the more you understand God. There is a balance between the two.

“All discernment” refers to the capacity to understand something. Rather than facts, Paul has in mind here the wisdom to understand and apply those facts. This particular word for knowledge (αἴσθησις) is rare in the New Testament (only here). In the LXX it is almost exclusively found in Wisdom literature (only once in Exod 28:3).  “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7), and that knowledge is better than choice gold (Prov 8:10).

If the church is abounding in love, they will be able to “approve” of what is excellent. This does not mean the church serves as a “board of approval” for what is excellent in a culture (and disapproving of what is not). The verb (δοκιμάζω) refers to a critical examination of something to determine genuineness (BDAG). I think of the people on the Antiques Roadshow who examine a Civil War sword in order to determine if it is real (and very valuable) or fake (and worthless).

The subjects of this test are “different things.” The ESV translates “what is excellent,” and this is not bad. The verb (διαφέρω) refers to two different things and in the context of a test between them: which is better? Paul used the same phrase in Rom 2:18: the believer will be able to weigh various options in order to discover the best course of action. This follows Paul’s use of wisdom language in his prayer since wisdom is often described as the ability to choose the better of several options. What he likely has in mind here is living life as a believer in a Roman city like Philippi.  Every day the believers were confronted with a bewildering array of cultural options. How does an individual believer decide how they should eat and drink, whether they can go to the theaters or participate in civic events? Some of these should be obvious (no, worshiping a false god is not an “excellent thing”), but others were more difficult. Should a slave follow his master’s orders even if they conflicted with his Christian convictions? Could a businessman work in the marketplace if it was dedicated to several gods?

This kind of discernment is still necessary for believers today. Many readers of this blog are living in countries where Christianity is not the majority religion. Most Christians in the world have to daily make these kind of discerning decisions – how does my faith as a Christian change the way I think about some culturally accepted practice?  But this discernment is important for Western Christians as well.  American culture has become post-Christian. Behaviors once not even considered by the culture are now common Christians have forgotten to even think about them.

The Christian  person must develop this discerning heart so that “love may abound.”  In what ways might this be applied in your cultural context?

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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