Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Chapter 5: Is God Judging America?

Caution Point 1: Joseph Prince (JP) misreads 2 Timothy 2.15 as a supporting passage for his teaching. He takes that passage as St. Paul asking Timothy to divide what belongs to the old covenant of law and what belongs to the new covenant of grace.

The context of JP bringing up this is in respond to someone’s suggestion that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorah is an evident that “God rains judgment to punish His people” (p.50). And the reason that someone brought that up is because he/she views September 11 terrorist attack as God’s judgment on America.

JP disagrees with that. He thinks that:
  1. God’s fiery judgments take place only in the Old Testament and before Jesus’ crucifixion (p.51).

  2. The fact that God willing to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous men means He would spare America even more, especially when now there are millions of American who are clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness (p.52-53). Hence JP concludes, “what happened on September 11 was not an act of judgment from God” (p.53).
Thus JP urged that someone to learn how to “rightly divide the Word of God”.

That is the background.

Before we turn to discuss Caution Point 1, I need to clarify that I am not disagreeing over whether is God’s fiery judgement still applies today. Nor am I arguing that the September 11 terrorist attack is God’s judgement. All I am taking issue with is JP’s usage of 2 Timothy 2.15 that I think is a misreading.

JP wrote,

You need to understand how to rightly divide the Word of God. When we read the Bible, we need to follow the advice that Apostle Paul gave to his young apprentice, Timothy… Paul told him to be “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

God wants us to be able to rightly divide the Word. He wants us to be astute in rightly dividing and clearly separating what belongs to the old covenant of law and what belongs to the new covenant of grace. He wants us to be able to distinguish what occurred before the cross from what occurred after the cross, and to understand the difference the cross made…” (Bold original, p.51)

Quoting from the KJV Bible, JP is saying that 2 Timothy 2.15 shows clearly that St. Paul was asking Timothy to divide the Word, distinguishing the difference between the old covenant which consist of judgment and the new covenant which consist no judgment.

But St. Paul was not talking about this.

See an alternative version of 2 Timothy 2.15-18:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. (Italic added, NRSV)

There is no hint that St. Paul was referring to the importance to distinguish the old covenant and the new here. If St. Paul was warning Timothy to distinguish the old covenant from the new, he would had provided a more appropriate and relevant example rather than the one about Hymenaeus and Philetus.

The fact that St. Paul quoted Hymenaeus and Philetus’ false teaching about the resurrection in verse 18 helps us to understand what was in his mind at that time. He was worried over the spreading of false teaching among the believers; and particularly the one about false resurrection.

This suggests that the issue on the difference between the old and the new covenant was not in the apostle’s mind when he wrote that passage.

On the other hand, the Greek word ορθοτομουντα (orthotomounta) does not merely means ‘dividing’ per se. St. Paul was using the imagery of a ‘workman’ (v.15) who is in the process of crafting vessels (v.20). The word ‘orthotomounta’ itself carries the literal meaning of ‘making a straight or fine cut’. That is another way of saying, “handling something rightly and with utmost care”.

Just like modern day’s phrase “cutting edge technology” does not mean a technology that is being used to cut edges.

Or “hair-splitting argument” does not mean an argument that can split hair.

These are figurative usages of language. And St. Paul applied such literary style here. This can be further observed in his depiction of empty talk being like ‘gangrene’ (v.17). I do not suppose St. Paul was suggesting that gibberish would mutate into viruses or bacteria that cause infectious skin diseases.

Hence to some extent I cannot help but sense that JP is manipulating this Bible's passage to serve his purpose rather than learning what the text really says.

Click here to go to the Contents page of this review series.


peter said...

Hi Joshua,

Can I try and sum up what your review of JP's D2D is coming to.

Generally, a review of a book is a summation of the author's main points and the reviewer comments about the author's points - whether the reviewer agrees, what he agrees/disagrees and why.

What you have done is to "pick bones" only.

For example, in this present chapter review, you don't say anything about JP's views on whether God is judging America. Instead you pick on his interpretation of 2 Tim 2:15.
How can you say then you are reviewing the chapter?

About 2 Tim 2:15 - I am not saying you are wrong.The general sense is to “handling something rightly and with utmost care”.
But there can be a more specific sense interpretatively to say it includes being able to divide between the Old and New Covenants.

When you rubbish the whole chapter, you are in your own words, "splitting hairs" and no more on the cutting edge!


Sze Zeng said...

Hi Peter,

I have to say that I don't know what do you mean by "pick bones".

Focusing on JP's handling of a passage is no less a review.

JP's understanding of the event is based on his understanding of the Bible. So my approach is to finding whether is his understanding sound. Hence I focus on the passage he uses to justify his teachings.

On 2 Tim 2.15, it my post, I've stated clear enough that there is no hint that passage is talking about differentiating "old covanent of law and new covenant of grace".

The most obvious hint that we get from St. Paul is that he is concern over some false teaching on the resurrection, NOT the "old covanent of law and new covenant of grace" which JP read into the text, and which you insist that it can be found in the passage.

Thank you for your comments.

davinci said...

Hi sze zeng,

I suggest you do review of the book
; "leap over a wall; an earthly spirituality" by Eugene Peterson.

Eugene P taught courses of narrative spituality, and received good response from students in Regent.

This book is about the story of King David, and Peterson illustrates david's life and expouse the biblical spirituality therein.

This is good piece of work using narrative analysis, lots of insight for devotion, sermon, and christian living reflection. and too, it is down to earth.

sometimes, too many theology discourse and giants, as seen in your blog, suffocate me!!!

Considering Eugene Peterson? Maybe my concern is biased towards pastoral...thats why i suggest this.

As for the review of Joseph Prince; I think waste of time, because ppl who patronise the Mega church are mediocle in mindset, baptised by jabez prayer, prosperity gospel, they would not understand your review. and ppl who dont buy Joseph Prince, too would not care much his nonsense....

I think you again would not publish this comment in your blog..haha!

yu censor heavily , like singapore and malaysia government...haha...

Sze Zeng said...

Hi davinci,

Thank you for the recommendation.

Ya, Eugene Peterson is a good pastor, theologian, and author. I use his 'The Message' quite often.

The pastoral intake that I take is mostly from friends. If to name some books, I find Gordon Smith (was the dean at Regent College), N.T. Wright, and Rowan Williams helpful.

Once in a while I still find myself suffocate by theologians and biblical scholars!! :)

You are not the first one who told me not to waste my time to do the review. My other caring friends also gave me the same advice. I really appreciate you all.

The reason that ignited and kept me going in doing these reviews is due to my concern for my fellow Christian bro & sis on one hand and for the identity of Christian on the other.

Allow me to elaborate a bit more.

I have been hearing about Joseph Prince for some time. And there are about 20,000++ Christians who follow JP's "gospel of grace" and differentiate his teaching from that of the mainline churches. The very fact of such huge following is a evocative. I think Christians need to know what is he really teaching. So I make myself to find out what is he really teaching that is different to see if it is really the gospel of Christ.

My other concern which flows from the above is the identity of Christian in the public. If the followers of JP claim themselves as 'Christians' and start talking about his teachings as 'Christianity', and IF his teaching is not similar with that of what is known to Christianity and Christians throughout the ages, then the public need to be alerted.

These are the 2 reasons why I do the review. And in fact I see these reasons no less pastoral than other tasks done by the pastorate.

On censorship, I'm quite flexible. As long as I sense the comments are sincere and constructive to the post it refers to, I'll publish it. So comments that are nasty (eg. 'ad hominem') or don't talk sense (eg. can't even work with simple logic), I'll have to moderate.

Again, thank you for pointing out Peterson's book to me. I'll take a look at it when I have the opportunity. :)

Teck Chuan said...

Hi Sze Zeng, thanks for your effort and times in reviewing this book. I have been interested in Ps Joseph teaching.
To me, our God is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no OT God and NT God. Truth found in OT and NT should match! It is not right to divide God's Word.

Keep up the good work!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Teck Chuan,

Nice to have you drop by. Thank you for the comment. :)

Traci said...

Shalom, Zse Zeng,

Thank you for this blog and your review on “Destined to Reign.” I was about to buy his book just to find out what’s wrong with his teaching; I somewhat enjoyed his teaching on grace which has been missing from traditional teaching, but there was something wrong. I just could not pin point it by listening to him, as he talks fast and smooth. By reading your review, in which you cut to the chase!, I was able to identify many of the things about his teaching that bothered me. (I don’t think I’m going to buy his book.)

About 2 Tim 2:15 . . . I agree with your exegesis, that is it is about correctly handling the Word of God. And, I might add that the expression, “rightly dividing,” comes from the fact that the original Hebrew Scripture was written without any spacing between words. Being a student of the Scripture, Paul must have been familiar with such teaching to correctly divide each Hebrew word so that he would not misunderstand the true meaning of the phrase, sentence, or passage, for that matter. Therefore, by saying “rightly dividing the word of truth,” he meant that we must handle the Word with care and read it in the right context.

Also, I would like to recommend a book written by Daniel P. Fuller (a son of Charles Fuller, the founder of Fuller Theological Seminary): Gospel & Law: The Hermeneutics of Dispensatinalism and Covenant Theology.

The reason is that JP’s teaching reminds me of Dispensationalism; discontinuation of the OT and NT, which is closely related to Supersessionism. I agree with Tech Chuan: His grace is throughout the OT and NT. It is dangerous. JP’s dividing “old covenant of law and new covenant of grace" is nothing but a version of Dispensationalism. Fuller debunks Dispensationalism thoroughly. There is much evidence in the OT for His grace, and more grace will be poured out upon the Jewish people at the end of this age. It is crucial at this time of history that Christians realize this Judeo-centricity of the Bible and God’s plan. It’s not the time to preach prosperity and picnic either.

Well . . . You got me going, Zse. Keep up the good work!

California, USA

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Traci,

Thank you for your comment.

I'm glad that you find the post beneficial. I will look up Daniel Fuller's book.

You too, keep up learning God's Word :-)


Maximizer said...

Hi Joshua,

Just leaving a shout-out and many thanks for the great job you are doing in this blog. I always look forward to insights from your new posts. The series on JP's theology is really really much needed - for me at this time, as well as for our other brothers & sisters. Like myself, others might not be able to "pinpoint" the problems because he is so "fast and smooth", as our sis Traci pointed out. I found myself hard up for words even talking to one of his followers :/

Be blessed..!

(P.S. I attended your workshop at FES NC'10 haha)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Maximizer,

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad that you find the post helpful. I try to be as nuance as I can so that my review of JP's teaching is fair and accurate.

So we have met! :-) There were about 30 of you, so which one is you?

Max said...

Oh gosh how embarrassing. -.- I have never commented on blogs before, didn't know my display name was actually Maximizer.

Yeah i think my name's changed now.
I was the one with the iPhone and a victim of everyone's teasing, sigh.

All in good fun :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Max,

I remember you! Nice to bumped into you on the blogosphere.

That's fine with any nick name as long as you have a good reason for it :-)

Regarding new post on JP's book, I have stop posting because I have return my borrowed copy to my friend. Partly also because I have too much to do at this moment. I hope that those reviews here are suffice to contribute to others' own encounter with JP's teachings.

Have a good day!

ravrodriguez said...


You are doing the Body of Christ a service. Those who are convinced of Prince's teaching -will no longer listen to your comments-while those who are being introduced to him will have a sieve to filter now his messages. Thanks again-and be encouraged!

Not all dispensationalist is extreme "cutting" between OT and NT. Some see the grace and law amidst the covenants.