Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I love reading Paul’s letters and have been studying them for over 50 years. I was initially impressed as a young Christian by the fact that God could use a man of such great intellect. Especially when, then as now, intelligence and reason seemed to be held in little esteem in the Christian community that I was part of. I still believe that, next to Jesus himself, Paul was one of the smartest men who ever lived.

I loved (and still love) his well-reasoned arguments and his “Socratic” style of engaging his readers. When I attended seminary and learned to do exegesis in the original Greek, I was even more impressed.

Yet there are many other facets of Paul, which are unfortunately often neglected in doing detailed exegesis. We often overlook the forest for the trees. Paul was more than a brilliant scholar, logician and rhetorician. He was a man of passion. He was a man with a deep love for his Savior. And he was a poet.

Now I’m not a poet. My eyes glaze over when I attempt to study the mechanics of poetry. But I think I know beautiful poetry when I see it. I love the poetry of the Old Testament and have even taught it, even though its forms often have eluded me. And Paul wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible, rivaling that of David or Solomon or the other Psalmists.

The problem is, we may often miss it. Our translations don’t always print it in poetic form. Even printed Greek texts may miss it. Early Greek texts often simply ran words together without much regard for form. Much is left up to the reader to find.

Then too, commentaries and commentators can also be a hindrance. Even when they recognize what is obviously poetry, many seem unable to give Paul credit. They’ll tell us things like “Paul is here quoting from an ancient hymn (or ‘fragment’)”, or “Paul may be alluding to some Old Testament passage.” But why couldn’t Paul simply be waxing poetic on his own? This would seem to be the simplest understanding. Often the poetry fits in perfectly with his argument. His best known poem – the ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13 – fits perfectly between chapters 12 and 14, his lengthy argument concerning the use and abuses of spiritual gifts.

I have attempted to translate this chapter as literally as I could. I’ve supplied only a few words that are not in the Greek text.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13:
12:31b And now I'll show you the most excellent way:

13:1 If I talk with the tongues of men -- even of angels,
but I don't have love
I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and I know all the mysteries and all the knowledge,
and if I have all the faith -- so as to remove mountains,
but I don't have love,
I am nothing.
3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor,
and if I hand over my body that I may be burned,
but I don't have love,
I gain nothing.

4 Love is longsuffering,
is kind;
love is not jealous,
does not brag,
is not puffed up
5 does not behave shamefully,
does not seek its own,
does not get provoked,
does not take a wrong into account,
6 does not rejoice in injustice
-- but rejoices together with the truth,
7 covers all things,
trusts all things,
hopes all things,
puts up with all things.

8 Love never fails;
but if prophecies, they will be done away with,
if tongues, they will cease,
if knowledge, it will be done away with.
9 For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part
10 but whenever the perfect comes,
that which is in part will be done away with.
11 When I was a child,
I used to talk like a child,
I used to think like a child,
I used to reason like a child.
Now that I've become a man,
I have done away with the things of the child.
12 For now we see in a mirror,
with an unclear image,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part,
but then I will fully know,
just as I have been fully known.
13 And now remain faith, hope, love -- these three,
but the greatest of these is love.

There’s also another poem on love in the twelfth chapter of Romans that fits perfectly with the rest of the chapter. I have also attempted to translate this one as literally as I could. Most of the verbs are usually translated as imperatives, although Paul didn’t use imperatives. He could have, but he chose instead to use participles, for poetic reasons, I believe. It should also be noted that the participles are masculine in gender while the word “love” is in the feminine gender. Though the poem seems to end at verse 15, I have translated through verse 21.

Romans 12:9-21:
12:9 Love unhypocritical.
Abhorring the evil;
clinging to the good;
10 in brotherly love to one another, devoted;
In honor to one another, taking the lead;
11 in earnestness, not lazy;
in the Spirit, boiling;
the Lord, serving;
12 in hope, rejoicing;
in tribulation, enduring;
in prayer, persisting;
13 in the needs of the saints, sharing;
the love of strangers, pursuing;
14 -- bless those pursuing you – bless and don’t curse.
15 Rejoice with those rejoicing;
weep with those weeping.
16 Having the same mind with one another,
not setting the mind on high things,
but with the lowly being carried away together;
-- don’t be wise in yourselves –
17 To no one paying back evil for evil;
taking forethought for good in the sight of all men;
18 if possible, as much as is in you,
With all men being at peace;
19 not avenging yourselves beloved,
but give place to the wrath,
for it is written, “To me (belongs) vengeance,
I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 But “if your enemy is hungry feed him;
if he’s thirsty give him a drink;
for by doing this, coals of fire
you’ll heap on his head.”
21 Don’t be conquered by evil,
but conquer the evil with the good.

The most beautiful of all is the poem to Christ in Philippians 2:5-11 (See: HOLIDAY IMAGES and WHAT’S IN A NAME?). Paul could teach heavy theology in poetry.

Other texts are Colossians 1:15-20; 1Timothy 3:16; 6:15, 16.

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I received the following question the other day:

In our small group we have begun Randy Alcorn's study of his book, HEAVEN.

He writes, on pages 10 and 11, “Revelation 13:6 tells us the satanic beast ‘opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.’” In the page 11 footnote he writes, regarding Revelation 13:6, "The NASB supplies words not in the original (here, in italics), which make the three things that Satan slanders appear to be only two ‘And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.’ It equates God's dwelling place, his Tabernacle, with the people who live in Heaven. Hence it retains the two familiar ideas of the objects of Satan's slander-God and his people-while not recognizing the less familiar one, God's dwelling place, Heaven. The NASB reading offers an alternative understanding of the passage."

What would the Ball theologian have to say?



In reply to your question of Tuesday, September 22. Sorry I took so long to respond. What translation is Randy Alcorn using? You can usually find this out by looking at the page behind the title page. It will say something like “Scripture quotes are from the ____________ Bible … used by permission." I believe he’s using the NIV.

This is really a problem of textual criticism. I’m not sure if you are familiar with this science, so I’ll try to briefly explain. As you undoubtedly know, we do not have a copy of the original text of the New Testament.

There are literally thousands of ancient texts on the New Testament and no two are exactly alike. So, many scholars have devoted their lives to comparing manuscripts to try to determine which readings are as close to the original manuscripts as possible. They use various criteria, such as the age of the manuscript, its geographic distribution, possible reasons for errors, the possibility that it was wrongly “corrected,” etc.

I use the Nestle Greek text, 27th edition. It contains not only the text which was determined by scholars, but also a critical apparatus, which gives alternate readings and their sources. Most scholars use this text and it is the basis for most of our modern translations.

There are actually three alternate readings for the text in question. I’ll try to give a reasonable literal rendering of them.

“And he opened his mouth in blasphemies toward God, to blaspheme His Name and His dwelling, those in Heaven dwelling.” This reading is found in a great number of early manuscripts. It is the one used in the Nestle text and is the one used in the NASB, the NET Bible and the CSB. As you can see, there is no connecting word between the word “dwelling” and the word “those.” Both the NASB and the NET Bible supply “that is,” which I believe supplies the sense. The CSB simply supplies a dash. (There was no punctuation in the early manuscripts.)

A second reading supplies “and” between those words. This is found in a number of Greek manuscripts as well and is used in the NKJV and possibly the NIV, though I suspect the “and” may have been added by translators. This is the reading Mr. Alcorn prefers.

There is also a third reading which is based on one early manuscript. It reads simply .”… His Name and His dwelling in Heaven.” Most scholars write this one off.

So which one is the correct reading? I believe the first one. It is easy to see how some scribe may have added the “and” to make the reading smoother. I’ll not be as dogmatic as Mr. Alcorn.

This might appear to be a trivial matter as are many textual problems. However, it does make a difference in our interpretation, which is why, I suspect, Mr. Alcorn made such a big deal of it.

Taking the text I have chosen, we have God’s dwelling equated with the heaven dwellers as Mr. Alcorn states. Mr. Alcorn apparently dislikes this idea and wants the two to be thought of separately.

However, this reading makes perfect sense and is consistent with a theme found all through the Scriptures: that of God dwelling among His people.

Revelation 7:15: “… and He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.”

Revelation 21:3: “Behold the dwelling of God is with men, and He will dwell with them …”

Exodus 25:8: “And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.”

Zechariah 2:10: “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst.”

John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Add to that what Paul tells us – that we are God’s sanctuary (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16.)

So, when the Antichrist blasphemes God’s dwelling, he is really slandering us. We are God’s dwelling place. Here on earth in the present and as well as in Heaven! Isn’t that great?

Kris, I got so involved in this and put so much study into it that I figure I needed to post it on my blog.

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Barter, it seems, is having a resurgence in popularity in these tough economic times. People exchange goods and services. It’s a great way of getting something you want without a great outlay of cash and without being taxed. I have heard of sites on the internet that promote barter. It’s a good thing.

But it can also be a bad thing. The barter spirit or principle can have a destructive effect on our relationships – with God and with each other. Yet much of our relationships and religion is just that, or at least something like that.

For example, take marriage.

When I have taught or counseled couples, using Paul’s instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5:21-33, I find that the barter principle is interjected often unconsciously.

The passage says, “Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord … Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the Church …” (verses 22 and 25). Seems pretty clear, but often it’s understood to mean, “Wives submit to your husbands if they act in love toward you; husbands love your wives if they submit.” But the text doesn’t say that. The commands are unconditional.

And of course, it goes beyond this, even into the smaller details of marriage. Each spouse has his or her specific role assigned and if one fails, the other is free from obligation. Of course, sex is often used as a bartering means by some women – and men.

Or take religion.

Televangelists proclaim to us that God wants to make us rich, or to “give us a blessing.” However, there’s a catch: God wants us to make the televangelist rich by sending in some money (“seed faith”). It’s not grace, it’s an exchange!

Then there are those who preach a “gospel” that tells me that in order to have eternal life, I must “give my heart to Jesus” or “make Jesus Lord of my life.” Again, that’s not grace, that’s an exchange!

Most of us are familiar with the so-called “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:11-35. We’ve heard it in Sunday school lessons and sermons. Actually, the title really doesn’t fit. It’s really the story of a father who had two sons (verse 11).

We all know the first half of the story: the younger son asks his father to divide the inheritance. The younger son then liquidates his share of the property (probably 1/3), then goes off to a “far country” and blows it all on “loose living.” When he has sunk as low as he can, he decides to return to the father and simply ask for a job. The father receives him and welcomes him back into the family with a party. For many the story ends here. If it’s part of a sermon, it’s often followed by an invitation to those who are “sunk down in the pigpen of sin” to repent and turn to Jesus.

But the story doesn’t end here! There’s another brother – the older brother, the dutiful brother who has never gone astray. In fact, if we examine the context, it is this brother, as a representative of the nice religious folks that the story is aimed at. See verses 1-3.

“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to Him (Jesus) to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling saying, ‘This man is receiving sinners and eating with them.’ And He told them this parable …”

Anyway, the older brother comes in from working in the field, hears a party going on. He inquires and finds out that his kid brother has finally come home and that his father has welcomed him with a party and killed “the fattened calf” for him.

Big brother throws a fit. The father comes out to plead with him. His reply to his father shows his complete misunderstanding of love and grace. “Look! I’ve been serving you like a slave (douleuo) all these years and I’ve never disobeyed a command of yours but you’ve never given me even a kid so I could party with my friends! But when this son of yours came home, who has eaten up your wealth with whores, you killed the fattened calf for him!”

This poor guy, like many people, like those Pharisees and scribes, seems to have no concept of love. He has been serving his father in a sort of barter or exchange system. This is what I believe he’s saying: “I serve you for years and you don’t reward me with even a little goat. That’s slavery! This guy blows it all and you reward his bad behavior with the fattened calf.”

The older brother’s thinking matches the thinking of many religious people – perhaps all of us at least some of the time. God wants to shower us with grace – freely. But we want to do something to earn it. Or we “serve” in some way – by church work or giving or clean living, and then expect Him to bless us. And if He doesn’t keep what we feel is His end of the bargain, we think He’s unfair.

But God doesn’t work that way. He gives His grace freely. He blesses freely because He loves us. And He expects us to give back freely out of love for Him.

There is an old hymn with the lines: “Oh, to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.” I’ve been told that Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, refused to sing the verse with those words in it. He said that if we owed anything, it wouldn’t be grace.

“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).


Bill Ball

Friday, September 4, 2009


“Remind them to submit to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to be uncontentious, to be kind, showing all gentleness to everyone.” Paul’s letter to Titus 3:1, 2.

If we’ve turned on the TV news in the last few weeks, we have been confronted with images of people screaming in anger at their congressmen and senators at town hall meetings. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my life. The only thing that comes close is the anti-war protests of the 60s and 70s.

But this is different even from that! The folks we see now are not long-haired hippies, not young people – but older, normal looking, decent looking middle class (usually white) Americans – the kind of folks we might have as neighbors or see on Sunday morning in church. And they’re not protesting a long drawn out war in which tens of thousands of Americans have died. They’re screaming out in fear of a proposed government health-care plan!

Their faces are red and contorted with anger. They shake their fists. They accuse their President and congress of being Nazis or socialists or communists. They scream out about “death panels” and other myths. They carry posters with a picture of their President altered to make him look like Hitler. Some even carry guns.

Now I realize there is much room for disagreement on this matter. I also realize that the TV news media seek out situations such as this and that they are not necessarily typical. But still these scenes are troubling. This is not an aspect of America that I am proud of. I’m ashamed! This sort of hateful, just plain mean, disrespect for those in authority has no place in our public discourse. And worst of all, I strongly suspect that some of these screamers are folks who would claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Why do I suspect this? I see hints on some of my e-mails from Christian friends and things I read on Facebook, especially those that refer me to a video of some talking (shouting?) head.

But Jesus didn’t behave this way. The only people I see Him getting angry at are religious people who didn’t live out their profession. He rather said:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
“But I say to you love your enemies and pray for your persecutors” (Matthew 5:44).

By the way, our President and congress are neither of those two.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The other day I received this note on an e-mail from a friend in Texas, in whose home we used to attend a weekly Bible study, which is still going on: “BTW … some question arose last week and Bob asked how Bill Ball would answer that question. I quickly replied, ‘With a question!’”

I took that as a compliment. Apparently I have a reputation for asking questions, especially in reply to questions. I kind of like being known as “The Bible Question Man.” There are plenty enough “Answer Men.” Just looking back through posts on my blog, I realize that questioning just seems part of my way of communicating. It’s second nature. Why do I do this?

I guess I started doing this when I started teaching adults. I began teaching an adult Sunday school class when I was a fairly young believer, just out of my teens. I think I asked questions at least partly because, though I studied hard, I was never quite sure I knew enough. I felt there were always those in the class who knew more than I, at least on certain matters. So why not use questions? Thus questioning became a way of sort of bluffing my way through. It worked! It actually made me appear smarter than I was.

It wasn’t long before I realized I had a great teaching tool that forced people to think, so I continued to ask questions even when I felt I knew the answers.

One of my first ventures into reading philosophy was the dialogs of Plato and it wasn’t long before I was hooked! In Plato’s hero Socrates, I found a kindred spirit. This guy could win people over to his side of any argument simply by asking questions. I realized that I had been using “the Socratic Method” even before I knew what it was and I studied Socrates to sharpen my method.

Now I realize that Socrates was coming from a philosophical/religious view that included the belief that knowledge was innate or implicit in human beings, because of his belief in the preexistence of the soul. He saw himself as a “midwife,” assisting in the birth of ideas. While this is based on some mythological concepts, it does contain a grain of truth. We all have ideas – many of them biblical – floating around in our minds, often unconnected with each other. The teacher can pull these out and tie them together.

Socrates also used his method to inspire doubt in one’s traditional thinking. I’ve found this also to be necessary when teaching believers. So many of us hold to ideas we’ve accumulated through tradition, which need to be thought through rationally and in light of the Scriptures.

But as I studied the New Testament, I found that this was also the method of its writers. In Romans and elsewhere, Paul batters his readers and their assumed objections with question after question, some rhetorical, with no answer given, others answered with a “no way!” (me ginomai). James does the same in his letter. Both of these men were rabbis and “street preachers” and it’s clear that their writings reflected their confrontational teaching methods.
But it is in Jesus Himself that we find the greatest use of questions. I began marking every question mark (on a questions asked by Jesus or the authors) in my Greek New Testament with red, and have found a question mark on nearly every page of the gospels. Jesus was the Master Questioner. Estimates on how many questions Jesus asked in the gospels vary from 100 to 310.

Roy Zuck (Teaching as Jesus Taught) says “ … according to my count, Jesus asked 225 different questions, thought the total recorded is 304” (many are duplicates). I haven’t counted, I’ll take his word for it.

Why did Jesus ask questions? (I’ll not digress here on the matter of whether He asked them in order to obtain information; that’s a heavy theological question). He did it to get people to thinking, to challenge their presuppositions and prejudices, to force His hearers to commitment. I love His question and answer session with His disciples recorded in Matthew 16:13ff (and elsewhere).

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They said, “Some say John the Baptist,” “others Elijah,” and “others Jeremiah, “or one of the prophets.”

They seem to be each coming up with a different answer: simple information questions.

He says to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Here He asks a question that forces a commitment.

And many of the questions that Jesus asked nearly 2000 years ago are still relevant today. I believe that we would all (myself included) do well to take note – perhaps with a red pencil – of the questions He and the other New Testament authors ask.

I also believe that we should question our belief system. Does it hold together? Or is it full of contradictions? Is it compatible with the Scripture? Is all my thinking in agreement with my belief system? And my behavior?

Bill Ball