Monday, August 14, 2006

Ashamed of the Gospel

Continuing with misunderstood passages from the Bible…

Today’s passage is
Romans 1:16–17.

The meaning of these verses seems rather straightforward. John MacArthur speaks for the popular interpretation in his book,
Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World. This is, in essence, that we are often afraid to proclaim the gospel in its stark reality. Instead, we must stand with Paul and declare the blunt truth of the gospel. The alternative is compromise and accommodation.

I want to suggest that Paul is saying something rather different.

The word translated “ashamed” is epaischúnomai. According to the Analytical Greek Lexicon by Friberg, Friberg & Miller, this word has three possible meanings: To feel guilty and remorseful, to be embarrassed because one’s expectations have been (or might be) proven false, to be afraid of being humiliated.

In this letter (Romans), Paul uses this word and another word formed from the same stem in several places. Here are some of them.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:5).

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).
In the first instance, Paul is saying that hope does not let us down. In the second instance, Paul is saying that those who trust in the “stone” will never be let down. Paul is saying essentially the same thing in the third instance.

(Notice that this is meaning #2 from the Analytical Greek Lexicon.)

In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament) Jeremiah 2:36 uses one of these words: “You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria.”

I would suggest that what Paul is saying here is that he is not concerned about being disappointed by the Gospel “because it is the power of God.”

In the verses immediately preceding, Paul says that he hopes to come to Rome and preach the Gospel to them. There is no hint in this passage that he (or the Romans) has any inclination to compromise the truth of the Gospel or to accommodate the Gospel to popular culture.

The problem is that the word “ashamed” has such strong associations for us that once we read it we think we understand what Paul is talking about. But a look with fresh eyes reveals something very different.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Karen said...

Ashamed of the Gospel correlates to the psychology of the believer and what we are constantly fighting.

Don't you think the meaning of biblical words is carried through time in ways that make Lexicon picking and choosing somewhat shallow?

Like someone two thousand years from now (if that is possible in God's plan) looking up the meaning of 'blown save' and "just not seeing" how it could mean "choke" or "loss" in the ancient sport of baseball. "Blown just doesn't have that meaning, I'm sorry." Somebody challenges that opinion, and he responds with: "Do you have a degree in ancient English?"

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for visiting and for taking the time to contribute.

You are essentially making my point for me. It is the context that determines the meaning of a word, not a dictionary.

Each word has a possible range of meaning. This is determined by research and by study of the various ways the word is used in various contexts. A lexicon list those possible meanings.

The interpreter must examine the context to see which of the meanings is indicated. Often, more than one meaning "fits." In that case, the interpreter selects the one that makes the most sense.

The meaning of "I am not ashamed of the gospel" seems so obvious to modern readers that they no longer engage in this process.


Karen said...

You didn't address by point. Lexicons are not pure authorities, they just look authoritative and seem authoritative when referenced. How was the word interpretated going back to the earliest translations? A translation like the AV benefits from more than the mere choices made by translators in the early 1600s. It's a culmination of translations going back much farther than even just previous English translations. I just found your post interesting in that it was linked at Phil Johnson's site just after one of his contributers wrote a post about how 1 Kings 19:12 was a 'wrong' translation...

Pastor Rod said...


I'm not sure what would qualify as a "pure authority," except maybe the 1611 KJV :-).

I don't understand the problem you seem to have with lexicons. They are just tools, but useful tools nonetheless.


Karen said...

The lexicon is a side issue. I'm asking you what value you give to the witness of time in determining what God providentially preserves -- His Word.

The Word of God is the authority of a believing Christian. It's not something we manipulate vainly with our intellect and opinions.

And to be a pastor and treat Scripture like you do is horrible. "This part is wrong here. It's been wrong going back many, many centuries, back to the beginning even. I'll tell you what God meant to say here. I'm his sole means to providentially give you the truth of this passage. Until Pastor Jim down the street decides I'm wrong, which is his right, as he's got a piece of paper from a seminary too."

Pastor Rod said...


This sounds a little like special pleading to me. You want to give place to the "witness of time" but apparently only after 1517.

The question is what the Word of God does in fact say. There are many ideas of what the Bible says that are rather modern, but they are deeply believed by the average person. Try to tell them that it does (or might) mean something different, and they say, "Wait a minute! You're changing the meaning of the Bible."

You said, "to be a pastor and treat Scripture like you do is horrible." Karen, that's a rather arrogant thing to say, don't you think?

In the end, what really is your ultimate authority? Is it really the Bible? Or is it what John MacArthur tells you the Bible says?


Karen said...

In the end, what really is your ultimate authority? Is it really the Bible? Or is it what John MacArthur tells you the Bible says?

You leave the Holy Spirit out of the equation. This is typical of those who take the approach of dictating to Scripture rather than seeing Scripture as supernatural revelation (yes, special revelation is supernatural revelation, it is also preserved supernaturally, and that can be discerned. I specifically mentioned translations that were made befor the AV that fed into the AV. There is a manuscript line as well. It's called the Traditional Text.)

I'm not familiar at all with John McArthur, but I do recognize inspired teachers. Such as John Calvin. But my authority and standard is the Word of God itself.

When I hold the traditional text in my hands, in a faithful translation (and for whatever reason there is only one [KJV], plus a quasi update [NKJV]) I'm holding God's supernatural special revelation preserved by God through time in my hands. Then I approach it not as if I'm weighing it and judging it and determining its meaning by my own standards, I approach it humbly and gratefully, with faith, and the discernment given me by the Spirit of discernment, and I know it is complete and pure and not full of holes and 'wrong' renderings that need to be 'corrected.'

This is the difference between being man-centered or being God centered; between having the fear (and reverence) of man or having the fear of God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It gets you above yourself. Above vanity. Above pride. Above self-will. Vanity, pride, and self-will are bad filters for God's Word.
They would dictate to God's Word what it means and put God's Word in a scale and judge it and weight it and find it wanting, justifying its actions a thousand different ways all along. A broken heart, and a contrite spirit are what is needed whan engaging the Word of God. Faith, repentance, and an absolute high valuation for God's will... Gratitude that God didn't give you a Bible you can't trust or that is full of holes, and humility in approaching it...

Karen said...

I won't berate you about it, though, I think I've made my point. Grateful for your enduring it in a gentlemanly manner... :)

Pastor Rod said...


I'm not sure what your point is anymore. It seems to be that the KJV is the "Word of God itself."

You spend considerable time at the Pyromaniacs and you don't know who John MacArthur is? Phil will be surprised to know that he is more popular than his boss!

Thanks for the little sermon on pride. It's definitely something we all need to be warned about.


Anonymous said...

Don Johnson says

As I see it, all translation involves interpretation. No translation is above scrutiny, as it is the work of people, subject to error and therefore possible improvement.

The KJV has its translation choices, some of which can be shown to be incorrect. But I do not think this is the place to discuss this.