A Way Out (1 Corinthians 10:11–13)

In 1 Corinthians 10:11–13, Paul writes:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

M. Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with three simple words: “Life is difficult.” Life’s difficulty results from bad things that happen to us and bad thoughts that happen in us. The Greek word peirasmos encompasses both aspects. Depending on context, the word means either “trial” or “temptation.”

In 1 Corinthians 10:11–13, Paul uses the word peirasmos to describe the Corinthian situation.

In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to the gods. They gave some of the meat to the priests, and they consumed some of the meat in a religious feast at the temple. The priests sold leftover meat in the public market, which was then consumed in private homes.

Paul permits eating idol-food privately on a case-by-case basis (10:23–11:1). But he prohibits eating idol-food at a pagan religious feast, reasoning that it is a form of idolatry (10:14–22). This prohibition puts the Corinthian Christians on the horns of a dilemma: If they eat, they commit a sin. If they don’t eat, they commit a crime, for in the ancient world, idolatry is woven into the fabric of politics and markets. They are tempted to be bad Christians or tried by being bad Corinthians.

For Paul, being a Christian takes priority over being a Corinthian, so he offers the Corinthians five lines of thinking to help them make the right choice.

First, the scriptural line: “These things” refers to the four examples of idolatry Paul cited in 10:6–9. They are “examples” of sinful behavior and “warnings” of divine judgment.

Second, the eschatological line: Paul describes Christians as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” Paul uses the Greek word telos, which means “purpose,” “goal,” or “end.” For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit fulfills history by inaugurating its telos, which is the new age of justice and peace. He calls on Christians to live with integrity in light of this new age, rather than to compromise with the idolatry and unrighteousness of the old age.

Third, the confessional line: Paul calls on the Corinthians to eschew self-deception and embrace confession. We are tempted to “fall” when we think we are “standing firm” on our own, rather than leaning on God’s grace.

Fourth, the psychological line: Peirasmos is “common to man.” When tempted/trial, we think we are alone, but we are not. Others have faced down temptation and trial. We can too.

Fifth, the theological line: How you view God shapes how you live your life. Paul writes, “God is faithful… when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Life is difficult. God is faithful. Our choice is to face the first in light of the second.

Interview with Andreas J. Kostenberger, Co-author of “The Heresy of Orthodoxy”

Check out my online interview with Andreas J. Kostenberger, co-author of The Heresy of Orthodoxy. If you can’t view the video on this page, go here.

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Like the interview? Check out my review!

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Shaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway: 2010). $17.99, 256 pages.

In 1934, Walter Bauer published Rechtsgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im Ältesten Christentum, translated into English in 1971 as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Krueger summarize the argument of that book, the “Bauer thesis,” as follows: “close study of the major urban centers at the end of the first and early second centuries reveals that early Christianity was characterized by significant doctrinal diversity, so that there was no ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘heresy’ at the inception of Christianity but only diversity—heresy preceded orthodoxy.” In light of that diversity, Bauer concluded that the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy reflected the triumph of a particular Roman form of Christianity over other forms in the fourth through sixth centuries, which was subsequently projected by the newly minted orthodox back onto their opponents in the theological debates of the second and third centuries, who now were described as heretics.

In The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Köstenberger and Kruger argue that the Bauer thesis is demonstrably false, on both historical and exegetical grounds (Part 1). Despite these manifest failures, however, the Bauer thesis continues to influence our understanding of the historical development of early Christianity.

Part 2 examines this influence in the debate over the extent of the New Testament canon. If earliest Christianity was irreducibly diverse, as Bauer claimed and as scholars such as Bart Ehrman continue to claim, then the 27 books of the New Testament reflect the literary choices of the winning side. Köstenberger and Kruger challenge this interpretation of history in Part 2. They argue that the canon begins to arise, in the New Testament period, as a result of the authority inherent in the apostolic office, whose teachings were committed to writing for future generations. From a very early period in the late first century, the writings associated with the apostles—especially the fourfold Gospel and the collection of Paul’s thirteen letters—were known, cited, collected, and distributed among churches. Other writings, such as the Gnostic gospels, which often claimed apostolic provenance, were not even written until the second century, when the apostles had passed from the scene, and espoused ideas that had no rootage in first-century Palestinian soil, the milieu in which Jesus was formed and to which he ministered. Moreover, despite exaggerated claims that the proto-orthodox (Ehrman’s preferred name for orthodox Christians in the first three centuries) arbitrarily excluded Gnostic gospels and other second century writings from the biblical canon, the historical record reveals that they were never considered in the first place, precisely because of their late date and non-apostolic provenance. What evidence we do have indicates that 22 of the 27 canonical New Testament books were early on and almost universally agreed to be authoritative, forming the core of the canon.

In essence, Part 1 argues that there is such a thing as normative Christianity. Part 2 argues that the New Testament canon evolved naturally out of this early orthodoxy. Part 3 considers whether modern readers can know that the New Testament documents we have accurately reflect these early apostolic documents. Through writings both academic (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) and popular (Jesus, Interrupted), Ehrman has argued that the answer to this question must be no. Textual criticism has revealed the massive number of textual variants in our extant manuscripts of the New Testament. Further, close study of these variants has revealed—in many cases—a tendency by orthodox scribes to make the text explicitly theologically orthodox. Consequently, one simply cannot know what the apostles themselves taught, for the winning side in the debate of the second and third centuries has corrupted the Scriptures beyond all possibility of repair. The problem with Ehrman’s argument is both logical and factual. Logically, we cannot know that the orthodox corrupted the text unless we have a pretty good idea of what the text originally said. Factually, text critics are confident that we have a pretty good idea of what the text originally said because, when it comes to the number of New Testament manuscripts, especially contrasted to the number of manuscripts for other ancient documents, we suffer from what Eldon Jay Epps called “an embarrassment of riches.” The overall quality of these manuscripts indicates that Christian scribes took their copyist duties seriously and performed them professionally. Moreover, the vast majority of the textual variants that have been documented are entirely trivial, while those that are major do not affect any doctrine, since they are not the only biblical texts that speak in favor of a doctrine. Luke 7:53-8:11 is a well-known textual variant, which textual critics are certain (or as close to certain as textual critics can be) was not part of the original Gospel of Luke. It is not in the earliest and best manuscripts, it was not known to early second century commentators on Luke, and it is sometimes found appended to late copies of the Gospel of John. Remove that wonderful story of Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery and what happens theologically? Nothing. No doctrine hangs on any textual variant, even the major and still disputed textual variants.

In sum, contrary to Bauer and Ehrman, orthodoxy preceded heresy. It was original and normative, while heresy was late and counterfeit. The question that rises as the result of Köstenberger and Kruger’s demonstration is why the Bauer thesis still has legs. If it has been refuted in the particulars, why does it live on in general? “The reason it does so, we suspect”—write Köstenberger and Kruger—“is not that its handling of the data is so superior or its reasoning is so compelling. The reason is rather that Bauer’s thesis…resonates profoundly with the intellectual and cultural climate in the West at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” That climate, “contemporary culture’s fascination with diversity,” is a thoroughgoing relativistic pluralism. I suspect that the authors are onto something important with this observation. The major failing of The Heresy of Orthodoxy, in my opinion, is that they didn’t argue this thesis with as lengthy and well-documented a case as they offered in demolition of the Bauer thesis.


P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Four Sinful Behaviors (1 Corinthians 9:6–10)

The Daily Word for 1 Corinthians 9:6-10 will begin after the following book review blurb.


Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (New York: Doubleday, 2010). $19.99, 240 pages.

American Christians live in a transitional age. Christian America is dead. American society is increasingly pluralistic, postmodern, and post-Christian. How should American Christians respond to this new cultural reality?

To read my complete review of The Next Christians, go here. If you’d like to subscribe to receive my book reviews via email, go here. The subscription will go live when you respond to the confirmation email.


Four Sinful Behaviors (1 Corinthians 9:6–10)

In 1 Corinthians 9:6–10, Paul writes:

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

Paul refers to four sinful behaviors in this passage: idolatry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord, and grumbling. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

First, idolatry, which is religion without truth: 1 Corinthians 8:1–11:1 examines the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul agrees with the Corinthians that idols are objectively unreal and that idol-food is therefore objectively insignificant. Whereas the Corinthians go on to eat idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples, Paul absolutely prohibits the practice (10:14–22), although he allows eating idol-food at dinner parties in private homes on a case-by-case basis (10:23–11:1). Why the distinction? Because eating idol-food at religious feasts in pagan temples involves the eater in a web of religious practices that are based on lies. Paul cites the example of Israelites worshiping the golden calf instead of God as proof (Exodus 32:6). Aaron told a theological lie—“These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4)—thus misleading Israel about the identity of their liberating God. His lie shaped Israel’s unethical behavior: “The people…indulge[d] in pagan revelry.” A religion that begins with bad theology ends with bad ethics.

Second, sexual immorality, which is pleasure without fidelity: The phrase, “commit sexual immorality,” translate the Greek word porneuomen, which is cognate to the Greek word for prostitute. In the ancient world, idolatry and sexual immorality are often, though not always, closely linked. Some prostitutes plied their trade at pagan temples, sexual intercourse being part of the religious ritual. This connection between idolatry and sexual immorality lies in the background of the Old Testament example Paul cites (Numbers 25:1–9). For Paul, the prohibition of sexual immorality extends beyond idolatry, however, to sex outside the confines of marriage (compare 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 and 7:1–7). God intends sexual pleasure to be experienced by a couple who vow to remain faithful to one another throughout life.

Third, testing the Lord, which is questioning God’s good intention for us: Paul refers to the Old Testament example of the Israelites complaining about the lack of water at Rephidim (Exodus 17:1–7). There, the Israelites ask a rhetorical question—“Is the Lord among us or not?”—whose answer they presume to be, “No!” But God has just led them through the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) and given them food (Exodus 16), so the answer to their question is obviously, “Yes!” The Israelites have plenty of evidence about God’s intention for them. As constant skeptics, however, they continually ask for more.

Fourth, grumbling, which is questioning the truth of God’s revelation: Paul refers to the Old Testament example of the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16). Korah and his followers doubted the truth of God’s command that Aaron and his descendents alone serve as priests before God. They wanted to serve as priests. God settled the matter by judging between Korah and Aaron in Aaron’s favor. Despite this evidence, “the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (16:41). The sin of the people is presumption against God, even in the face of contrary evidence.

Israelites committed each of these sins on its journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. In our journey from slavery to salvation, we should be careful to avoid committing these sins ourselves. If God judged them, Paul reasons, why should we expect a different outcome for similar behavior?

“The Next Christians” by Gabe Lyons

Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (New York: Doubleday, 2010). $19.99, 240 pages.

American Christians live in a transitional age. Christian America is dead. American society is increasingly pluralistic, postmodern, and post-Christian. How should American Christians respond to this new cultural reality?

In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons sets out to answer this question. He depicts two broad types of Christians interacting with culture: separatist Christians and cultural Christians. Then he proposes a better type: restorers. “I call them restorers,” he writes, “because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision.”

Lyons roots the work of restoration in the biblical narrative. “God’s story is made up of four key parts: creation, fall, redemption, restoration (and ultimately consummation).” Historically, in the 18th and 19th centuries, evangelicals kept these four parts together, emphasizing both social reform (creation, restoration) and evangelism (fall, redemption). In the 20th Century, however, their fundamentalist heirs separated evangelism and social reform, emphasizing only the former. This led to an imbalanced spirituality. “The truncated Gospel that is often recounted is faithful to the fall and redemption pieces of the story, but largely ignores the creation and restoration components.” The next Christians rejoin evangelism and social reform. “These missing elements [i.e., creation and restoration] are at the heart of what a new generation of Christians are relearning, and subsequently, retelling.”

The heart of The Next Christians outlines six characteristics of the way restorers interact with culture. They are:

  • provoked, not offended
  • creators, not critics
  • called, not employed
  • grounded, not distracted
  • in community, not alone
  • countercultural, not “relevant”

    Lyons fleshes out these characteristics with biographical sketches of contemporary Christians working toward the restoration of all things. The vast majority of them work in secular professions, including non-profit charities. They work toward “the common good,” defined as “the most good for all people.” They seek to make a culture that “celebrates beauty,” “affirms goodness,” and “tells the truth.” Their work includes but is not limited to what traditionally falls under the rubric of evangelism and discipleship. Indeed, Lyons de-emphasizes the vocations of the clergy in order to focus attention on the vocations of the laity.

    Evangelism and discipleship, traditionally conceived, do not disappear among the next Christians. Rather, they take place organically. Lyons writes, “The fact is, where Christians restore, people get saved.” In simple terms, good works create an environment in which people come to faith. And people who come to faith go on to good works. The gospel may begin with the salvation of the individual, but it doesn’t end there. It encompasses the whole of his or her life, not just the spiritual component.

    Without citing it, The Next Christians recapitulates the typology of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture for evangelical readers. In place of “Christ against culture,” we have “separatist Christians.” In place of “Christ of culture,” we have “cultural Christians.” In place of “Christ transforming culture,” we have “restorers.” What is missing, of course, are “Christ above culture” and “Christ and culture in paradox.” I largely agree with the transformation/restoration position, but it is always helpful to keep in mind that even our best cultural achievements are ephemeral and tinged with sin. The restoration toward which Christians work in this age finds perfection only in the age to come.

    Still, the inability to achieve perfection doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. The 18th– and 19th-Century evangelicals—such as Wesley, Wilberforce, and Finney—who led both religious revivals and social reform movements knew this. So did Jesus and the disciples, who left a better world—spiritually and materially—in their wake. Their 21st-Century descendents would do well to relearn this lesson, and Gabe Lyons’s book is a good place to start.

    Eight Terrifying Words (1 Corinthians 10:1–5)

    In 1 Corinthians 10:1–5, Paul writes:

    For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

    I grew up in a Christian home. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ at an early age and was baptized in water a few years later. I entered full-time ministry. I edit a religious publication. And I am terrified by eight words in this passage: God was not pleased with most of them.

    My fear is not grounded in theology. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Why would I fear such a God?

    Rather, my fear is grounded in anthropology. Notice the condition John lays down in verse 9: “If we confess our sins.” We have nothing to fear from God if we are honest with him about our sins. But how often are we honest about ourselves? Verse 9 is preceded and succeeded by two verses that hint at our extraordinary capacity for self-deception: “If we claim to be without sin” and “If we claim we have not sinned” (verses 8, 10).

    All human beings practice self-deception. We lie to ourselves about ourselves. But in religious people, that self-deception takes a special form. We tell ourselves that we are saved because we were baptized or because we take communion or because we are members of this or that church.

    The ancient Israelites to whom Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 10:1–5 participated in the Exodus. They saw God inflict plagues on the Egyptians. They walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. They ate manna and drank water from the rocks. Paul goes so far as to state that they experienced Christ in some way. And yet, God was not pleased with most of them. Their external circumstances changed, but their hearts did not.

    As I read 1 Corinthians 10, I infer that Paul cited the Israelite example because the Corinthians’ practice was so similar. The Corinthians possessed doctrinal knowledge. They had spiritual experiences. They had received baptism, and they ate the Lord’s Supper. And yet, God was not pleased with them. They had the external trappings of religion, but their hearts were not filled with love of God and neighbor.

    The question you and I must answer is this: Are we like the Israelites and the Corinthians? Is God pleased with us? First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” To the extent that we fear, there is need for improvement in our love of God and neighbor. That tinge of fear is the conscience calling us to reject self-deception and embrace open confession.

    Rights or Responsibilities? (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)

    In 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:11, Paul examines the practice of Christians eating food sacrificed to idols. In the ancient world, people sacrificed animals to the gods. They gave some of the meat to the priests, and they consumed some of the meat in a religious feast at the temple. The priests sold leftover meat in the public market, which was then consumed in private homes.

    Chapter 8 lays the theological and ethical foundation for Paul’s argument, while chapter 10 builds a house of practical application. At first, chapter 9 appears to be a digression from the main argument, but it is not. Rather, to continue the building metaphor, chapter 9 describes the person who lives in the chapter 10 house built on the chapter 8 foundation.

    In chapter 8, Paul agrees with the Corinthians that idols are objectively unreal and idol food objectively insignificant. This knowledge led the Corinthians to eat idol food whenever and wherever they desired. Paul seasoned his knowledge with love, however. In chapter 10, he prohibits the practice of Christians eating idol food in religious feasts at pagan temples because—as we will see—this requires them to participate in demonic deceptions. However, he allows them to eat idol food in dinner parties at private homes, if—and this if is crucial—no one has scruples about the practice. Love of neighbor determines what one should do.

    The Corinthians exercised rights based on knowledge. Paul exercised restraint of his rights based on love. The entire point of chapter 9 is that restraining the exercise of one’s rights confers advantages on those who share the gospel. And since saving others is more important than serving oneself, Paul offers his personal example as a lifestyle worthy of imitation.

    In verses 24–27, he uses athletic imagery to challenge the Corinthians to pursue the same lifestyle with equal fervency:

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

    On several occasions, I’ve noted that the issue of food sacrificed to idols is not a live one for most of us in America. (A missionary emailed me, though, to tell me that it’s a life issue in his cultural context.) The relevant question for us American Christians is this: Do we spend more time and effort cultivating our rights or cultivating our responsibilities to those who need to hear the gospel?

    It’s a tough question. I can’t answer it for you. But I am certainly examining my lifestyle and asking it of myself.

    Means and Ends (1 Corinthians 9:19–23)

    What would you change about yourself in order to share the gospel with other people?

    Paul answers that question for himself in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23:

    Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    Paul’s answer is both paradigmatic and problematic.

    First, paradigmatic: Before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he gave his disciples the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16–20). In Greek, the word for nations is ethne, which refers to people groups, not nation-states.

    People groups differ from one another. Their languages differ, as do their religious beliefs, social customs, diets, and worldviews. If you want to communicate the gospel effectively to people, you must take these differences into account.

    So, for example, Christian missionaries to Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, which is not kosher to Jews or halal to Muslims. They don’t consider eating pork to be inherently sinful. Rather, they consider eating pork a stumbling block in the path of Jews and Muslims who are on the way to faith in Jesus Christ. Since faith is more important than food, they sacrifice their freedoms for a greater good.

    This personal sacrifice for a greater spiritual good is Paul’s paradigm of missionary behavior.

    Second, problematic: Unfortunately, this personal sacrifice can look hypocritical. When Paul communicated the gospel to Jews, he didn’t eat pork. When he communicated the gospel to Gentiles, who loved pork, he sometimes ate pork. Depending on the situation, in other words, he acted like either a Jew or a Gentile, depending on whom he was trying to reach.

    The Corinthians criticized Paul for this seemingly hypocritical behavior. They knew two things: (1) food was objectively insignificant so that (2) they had a right to eat whatever they wanted. They lived in a state of freedom.

    Paul agreed with this theology. But Paul knew two further things: (3) People are ignorant, and (4) love is more important than knowledge. If we take only (1) and (2) into account, but if we factor in (3) and (4), we will act like Paul.

    Paul writes, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” I ask again: What would you change about yourself in order to share the gospel with other people?

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