Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Separate Yourselves from Unclean things

The title of this essay is drawn from 2 Cor 6:17, where Paul encourages the Corinthian gathering to separate themselves from the “unclean things” of the world (2 Cor 6:14-18). The statement is from a quote from the Greek translation of Isaiah (52:11). One also runs across a similar idea of separation from the world in the Gospel of John attributed to Jesus. In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father:

They1 do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world (John 17:14, 16, NRSV).

Earlier (John 8:23) in a debate with “the Judahites,” contrasting himself with them, Jesus asserts: “you are of this world; I am not of this world.”2

Paul’s statement effectively calls his followers out of the world and sets them apart from “the world.” The idea that Jesus and his followers do not belong to the world, i.e., that they are separate from the world leads them into a kind of world denial, found in ancient Cynicism3 Such an attitude has encouraged many sorts of separations from the “world” through history, from religious hermits4 to asceticism.5 It has also encouraged other forms of religious withdrawal from the world that some choose as a vocation in the modern world, such as coenobitic monasticism.6

            The truth of the matter, however, is that Paul, Jesus, and their disciples do belong to the world. They were “made” for the world, as all human beings are: they breathed oxygen, and their bodies required sustenance for energy and life. Their hearts circulated blood and their bodies were comprised of the same star-stuff of which our species is made (dust thou art and to dust you shall return, Gen 3:19). They voided like the other animals of the planet. They had the ability to sense objects tactically and visually. They used their brains and experienced emotions, as we all do. They even participated in the “world” to a point: attended social functions (like weddings, dinner parties, feasts, synagogues, the Judean Temple, etc.), enjoyed libations, engaged religious leaders in debate, aided the suffering, etc. Thus, to say that they were not “of the world” did not mean there was no involvement in society; it rather suggests an attitude they held about themselves and everyone else, although there is no denying the mystical implications of the statement attributed to Jesus about himself.

            The author of John uses the term “world” in different ways. For example, world can refer to the physical creation (John 1:10; 17:24; 21:25; compare 3:31). World can refer to other people who are a part of the world order (3:16), while in John 17:14, 16 world appears to comprise an oppositional spiritual realm that has a ruler (14:30; 12:31), referred to as “the evil one” (17:15). This evil empire is alien to Jesus who came “from above” (6:38; 8:23) in order to pass judgment on the ruler and his empire (9:39; 12:31) and to cast out its ruler, the prince of this world (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In the world Jesus’ disciples are exposed to evil (17:15), but Jesus prays that they may be made holy (17:16-19).

            This kind of mythical complex seems quite different from the potentially ethical lapses that many contemporary Christians associate with negative aspects of living in the world: gambling, bar hopping, “houses of ill repute,” etc. For example, in my teen age years I was reared in the church, where I was encouraged to be “in the world,” but not to be “of the world.” What this meant practically was that I should avoid certain kinds of activities that were deemed religiously unacceptable for Christian folk, like smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, dancing, and watching movies, etc. There are sound health reasons for avoiding some of these activities and no good reason for avoiding others. The neighborhood of the average teenager is much more dangerous today.

            The bottom line of this essay is that if one is to be a positive influence in the world, one must be part of the world. Religious people in my view should not separate themselves for religious reasons from aspects of the world to which they object. I know a man, for example, who practiced what he called a “bar ministry.” Although he himself was not a drinker of alcoholic beverages, he was there in the bar to provide a positive influence within a setting generally frowned upon by the church. According to Mark, Jesus also attended dinner parties, and was accused of being a heavy drinker.7

If one thinks of oneself as a follower of Jesus, one must ask oneself should there be parts of the world that are left devoid of the comforting ministry of presence in the form of followers of Jesus. Military chaplains of all faiths, for example, join the army to render spiritual comfort to soldiers in garrison, and to wounded and dying soldiers on the battlefield. To do that they must be part of the soldiers’ world.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1That is to say: those the Father gave Jesus “from the world,” i.e., his disciples (John 17:6, 12).

2John is highly suspect as a historical source; see Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths, 151-63. Thus, this statement attributed to Jesus may simply be a case of the author of John’s Gospel overriding history with his own brand of religious faith.





7One finds the accusation that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard in the early hypothetical source Q, Luke 7:33-34 = Matt11:18-19. And there is also to consider the infamous incident in John, where the host at a wedding ran out of wine and Jesus turned water into wine for the guests, whom the chief steward accused of being drunk (John 2:1-11).

Monday, November 6, 2023

Inspired Writings

From where do thoughts come to us? Logically, one would think they arise out of the life experiences, reading, and the pondering of the thinker. A letter that a distraught friend finds inspiring, a creative solution to a complex problem, and sage advice at the right time (Proverbs 25:11-13), all constitute the essence of an inspired thought arising within a person. A successful writer will write what s/he knows. If s/he wants to write convincingly about something in an unfamiliar area, s/he must live the subject area until it becomes like a second skin, and then, just perhaps, s/he will have a pregnant thought that can be nurtured and expressed convincingly.

            In my experience, sudden “inspiration” enters my brain, as an unprompted, errant thought that surprises me. It does not enter firing all synapses in my brain, fully formed, like an authoritative dictating voice. It is fragile and malleable, and I must massage it into a “solid” abstract idea, that will, with pondering, perhaps, become a concept forming the basis for writing.

Inspiration begins as a passing brief thought that must be fleshed-out into a formal idea, which I must work at developing into a concept.1 The ephemeral thought that quickly passes through the mind constitutes the essence of inspiration. Ideas and concepts, on the other hand, must be hammered-out of experience by the hard work of the one who had the errant thought. People that are inspired may produce a written text that others may come to value as inspiring because it speaks to them. In our culture we generally call a written text inspired if it inspires us. The exception to this general practice is the Bible. In our culture it is generally regarded as inspired, when most of it is anything but inspiring. It does, however, contain inspiring passages that have even made their way into secular culture.2

Calling a written text inspired or inspiring is a judgment that others bestow on the significance of the writing. It is a personal judgment. Nothing at the level of paper and ink inevitably makes the written text inspired; the author’s written ideas and concepts may inspire others, but it is the writer that is inspired and not the written text. The written text is a record of the inspiration that previously came to the writer, which others may or may not find inspired or inspiring. One can never know if the author of a written text was actually inspired to write.

In Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (OT) and the seven deuterocanonical writings that one finds in the Catholic OT,3 it is always the writer who is described as being inspired by God (Job 32:8, Wis 15:11; LJr 6:4; 1 Mac 4:35; 1 Esdr 9:55). Only once (so far as I can tell) are written texts in the Bible (both Protestant and Catholic) described as inspired. Second Timothy 3:15-16 claims that the “Holy Writings” (iera grammata) are inspired (theopneustos, or literally, “God-breathed”). The term “Holy Writings” is “the name for the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament in Greek.”4 Second Timothy, along with First Timothy and Titus, is one of three texts in the New Testament (NT) attributed to the anonymous writer, dubbed the “pastor,” because the content of the three texts is concerned with church matters. That the pastor claims to be Paul, and is not, makes the pastor a pseudonymous author. The earliest evidence for the three “pastoral” writings is a papyrus fragment of Titus, which has been dated from 100 to early 3rd century common era.5 In general, however, the pastoral texts are thought of as 2nd century.6 In the early second century the NT did not even exist. Hence, the writings that later came to be included in the NT had not yet achieved the status of canonical literature in the sense of the Greek translation of the OT. Hence, the author of 2nd Tim 3:15-16 was referring to the OT Scriptures. The NT had clearly achieved the status of canonical texts (Athanasius calls them “Divine Scripture”) by the 4th century however, to judge by the Easter letter (39) of Athanasius Bishop of Alexandria in 367,7 although he stops short of calling the NT writings “God-breathed,” as the pastor did.

Why would someone think the 27 NT written texts are “inspired”? What is it at the level of the written text that might lead someone to the idea that they are inspired as their authors may have been? Is it because one believes the original writers to have been “God-breathed”? Such a belief says nothing specific about the written texts themselves, and believers in other religions counter with their beliefs in their own special religious literature, which they find inspiring or inspired, such as for example, the Koran (Islam), the Rig Veda (Hinduism), the Avesta (Zoroastrianism), Tao Te Ching (Taoism), Guru Granth Sahib (Sikhism). But believing a thing to be so does not make it so.

Is it because one regards the ideas of the written texts as inspired or inspiring? That, of course, is something everyone must decide for themselves, because if any inspiration happened, it happened to the original author of the text. The written text itself is produced by the flawed abilities of the human author. Whether the original author’s written ideas are to be accorded the quality of inspired or inspiring is a personal decision for every reader. What does your dentist think?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1These three words are generally conceived as synonyms in English.

2Hedrick, “Is the Bible Inspired?” Wry Guy Blog, Thursday, December 5, 2019:

3The seven deuterocanonical books, not a part of the Hebrew Bible or the Protestant OT, were originally in the Christian Bible (the Septuagint) before being removed by the Protestant reformers. They were later declared canonical for the Catholic OT at the fourth session of the Council of Trent 1545-1563:

4Martin Dibelius, Die Pastoralbriefe (HNT 13; 2nd ed.; Tϋbingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1931), 74.


6W. G. Kϋmmel, Introduction to the New Testament (H. C. Kee, Trans.; rev. ed.; London: SCM, 1975), 384-87.