“Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” Romans 16: 5-16
Last week I said the way of life that we are born into is not a philosophy, it is not a set of rules, and not a morality — our way of life cannot be reduced to an essence, boiled down to some nitty-gritty — the upshot is that there is no such thing as an abstraction of this way of life. It is a community, a community that was already here when we were born into it through our supernatural birth from above through Holy Baptism. Our community, the Church, is identified by the way we act and by our language, the stories we tell one another, as well as images and symbols that are meaningful to us because of what we believe. If there is anything you should take away from our study of Romans it is that St. Paul is certain that the community we have been born into is the family of Abraham. Now that may not sound correct to you; it may seem too strange an idea to be right, and if you feel strongly enough about it not seeming right, you may try to change it by interpreting it in a way that makes you more comfortable. For example, you may eliminate the strangeness of St. Paul’s consuming interest in Abraham, his faith, and his family by taking it as a metaphor for the Church or one’s individual faith and salvation. You may conclude, “Our community is not Abraham’s family, but it is like Abraham’s family. Abraham’s family is a metaphor for our community, the Church.” To do that, as many people have in the past, is a failure to grasp the intelligibility of what St. Paul wrote to the Romans because of a failure to pass over to St. Paul’s horizon which as I have said before is radically different from our horizon today. If you do not respect St. Paul’s horizon you will interpret his use of the family of Abraham as a metaphor and you will go on to develop something like the Reformation doctrine of Justification by Faith alone; you will ignore the obvious reality in the text for abstractions that are false. But once you have an abstraction you have a concept and the concept is taken to be distilled truth; once we have a concept that is thought to be distilled truth all we have to do is to make logical deductions to arrive at other truths. So thinks the man who is baptized into the error that becomes his foundation and not only his foundation, but the foundation for movements and cultures. The same is true if you read what is before us today, chapter 16, without understanding that St. Paul is addressing, not merely individual Christians, but his sibling members of the family of Abraham: you will be abstracting Christ, the Christian and the Church from (the historic and theological) reality. Let me read the mysterious text in italic in the bulletin. It was written by Ludwig Wittgenstein:
“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity one is unable to notice something because it is always before ones eyes the real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all unless that fact at sometime struck him and this means we fail to be struck by what once seen is most striking and most powerful.”
I have arranged this text in the bulletin pretty close to the layout of a New Testament text if you saw the original. The New Testament Greek texts did not have the paragraphs that you see in your Bible. In fact it had no paragraphs at all, nor sentences, as we understand a sentence, because they did not use periods to show where a sentence ended. The reason I am saying this is because we get the impression that what we see on the pages of our Bible is what Paul wrote. But that is not accurate. Furthermore, some of the words frequently used in the newer translations which seem perfectly natural to us would be as strange to Paul and the Romans as periods, paragraphs, or a red letter edition. We have a great demand for these new translations today not because people want to understand what St. Paul was saying to the Romans but because they want something they can understand easily and without much work. The problem is that what you understand to be obvious, simple, and familiar is error. So, for example, we have the NIV translation of Romans 16: 1
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”
Which translation is entirely political and lazy and I am not sure which is worse since in either case we have a very popular translation that presents error to the reader as a reality. That contemporary translation of the word diakonon is based on our horizon and the politics of our horizon and the general self-absorbed concern of our horizon, while ignoring St. Paul’s horizon as though we have no responsibility to retrieve it, as though we are exempt from doing the hard work of grasping Paul’s meaning first. If the translators of the NIV were consistent, which they are not, they ought to have had a hard time with their translation of the word diakonon which is only used one other time in the New Testament and that occasion is in chapter 15 of Romans when Paul applies the word to Jesus and his relation to the Circumcision. Their translation should read:
“For I tell you that Christ has become the deacon of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth…”
But they do not translate it that way, instead they return to what Paul probably had in mind in the first place because in the world that he and the Roman Christians inhabited the word diakonon meant “waiter” as in one who waits upon tables, in short a servant:
“For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth…”
The point that I am making is that it is possible to understand what St. Paul meant, but one has to pass over to his horizon in order to accomplish that task. Every person mentioned in chapter 16 of Romans — Jews, Greeks, Romans, free men, slaves, and aristocrats — had a much better chance of immediately reading and grasping what Paul was saying than we do because they already shared a horizon with him. And this is also why I am very much in favor of using the King James Version, not because it is without error, but because (1) it is an excellent translation, frequently superior to contemporary translations and (2) it is harder for us to read and understand the King James Version than it is for us to understand contemporary versions. And today that is a virtue, it is good for us that the spell of familiarity is broken by the strange world we enter through the King James Version. What Wittgenstein wrote is accurate:
“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity… and this means we fail to be struck by what once seen is most striking and most powerful.”
What ought to strike us is that we keep trying to abstract Christ, the Christian and the Church from its reality. Though Paul states over and over again in his epistles his conviction that the community of the Church is in reality the family of Abraham, we wish to dismiss his conviction and we prefer to call it “Christianity” which is also an abstraction. There is no such thing as “Christianity,” — there is Christ, the Christian, and the Church. The word “Christian” is used 3 times in the New Testament but it does not mean what it is generally taken to mean which is a demographic, a person who identifies Jesus Christ as his favorite religious leader, nor does it mean merely a “follower of Christ.” Rather the word Christian combines two words, the word for Christ, Christos and an ending modifier borrowed from Latin that designates not a follower, but more faithful to the Apostolic horizon, it designates ownership as in slave ownership; it means that you understand yourself to have been purchased for the price of the blood of Christ so than you now belong to him and to him alone. So when a person called himself a Christian in the Apostolic days it was shorthand for that ever recurring phrase that Paul used to describe himself, “a slave of Christ.” All this is a matter of honoring and respecting horizons which are always strange and thus jarring. I want to say just a couple of things about horizons.
A horizon is the limit of my field of vision, and as a metaphor it is the limit of my understanding, my commitments, desires, feelings, my hopes and my fears. Furthermore, my horizon is the very condition for growth or for decline. The point that I want you to grasp is how very different your horizon is from St. Paul’s horizon because unless you take that seriously you will almost certainly attribute to St. Paul notions that never occurred to him. But if you do understand how different his horizon is from your horizon, you will be able to passover to his horizon, you will be less likely to flee from the strange, the unexpected, the baffling and your chances of understanding what he was saying increase. Now there are two things about different horizon — sometimes different horizons may agree and develop even when it is not obvious. And sometime different horizons are forever incompatible and one has to be forsaken. Forsaking one horizon and turning to another horizon is what we call conversion.
But, as I said, different horizons may be compatible and even develop. Such is the case with what matters most in St. Paul’s horizon and our horizon. Horizons involve features like understanding, beliefs, commitments, desires, hopes and fears that we may think of terms of something like a genetic code. In the case of horizons that are permanently incompatible conversion is the only way out of a dead end. St. Paul’s horizon as a pharisaical Jew who was devoted to Israel and the Law was permanently opposed to Jewish Christians. Within Saul’s horizon the destruction of Christ and his Church was a noble and righteous devotion because Christians were leading other people to destruction, but his conversion to Christ shattered his pharisaical horizon.
Even though his horizon is very different from our own, there is profound agreement and complimentarily between St. Paul’s horizon and ours. For example, the word “homoousion” is a very important word for the Church and it took her 265 years to say that Jesus’ is one person with two natures — Jesus is a real human being, but he is also the God who is God. He is not like a man, but really and truly a man; and his divine nature is not similar to the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but his divine nature is one with, is the very same nature as the nature of the God who is God. That is what the word “homoousian” means: of the very same nature. But St. Paul never uses the term “homoousian.” But even though St. Paul never used that word, because it was impossible given his horizon, he did in fact affirm exactly what the Church affirmed at Nicaea by intentionally using the word “homoousian”: that Jesus was really and truly a man and also really and truly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What I am saying is that even though the horizon of the Bishops of the Church who met in 325 at Nicaea was very different from St. Paul’s horizon, and even though the crisis in St. Paul’s day was very different from the crisis before the congregation of Bishop at Nicaea, this particular feature of their horizons was not only in agreement, but the Bishops of Nicaea developed what was genetically contained in Paul’s understanding of the mystery of the nature of Jesus Christ. This is an example of progress in the development of doctrine. Progress, development, growth, maturation is possible when one is building on reality and understanding. But in addition to progress there is also the possibility of decline. But I have already said enough about decline and the foolishness of building on the shifty sand of error.
“Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus… Greet Mary… Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me… Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.”